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I'm thinking of replacing an ugly evergreen shrub in my front yard with a flowering tree of some kind. The location on which I'll be placing the tree is overshaded by some very large old oaks, so I'm looking for something which:

  • is relatively short (ideally 10-15')
  • has attractive spring and/or fall colors
  • tolerates shade well
  • grows in hardiness zone 4

Based on my own searches I'm looking at an Eastern Redbud, but I'm worried that my location is too shaded for the redbud to thrive. The surrounding oaks shadow the potential location for all but a few hours of the day, and if the redbud really needs "full sun" as described, I don't think it will do well.

Does anyone have experience planting redbuds in shaded locations? Is there another tree that meets my requirements that would do better?

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I have a certain plant envy that you can grow one in the shade or not. Too cold where I am. Could you get an arborist to lighten up the oak's canopy so there would be enough light? –  kevinsky Jun 28 '12 at 1:06

2 Answers 2

I've planted many Redbuds for people in semi shaded areas. If they are kept moist and the area does not have dense roots from another tree already occupying the area, they do great. Sometimes they don't even get direct sun. In the wild (where they came from) they are an understory tree in woodland, which pretty much fits your bill. Another good one is Eastern Dogwood, Cornus florida. This grows in the same conditions. There are many cultivars, some of which stay small. These bloom in mid-late spring, and have red/purple autumn foliage.

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I cannot grow Redbuds but according to Michael Dirr's book they will tolerate partial shade. As they grow under the canopy of larger trees in the forest the vigor and amount of flower will be in direct proportion to the amount of light. You have a better chance of getting reasonable performance if the oaks leaf out after the redbud has finished. You would want to observe the oaks and other redbuds in your area to see if this is possible.

They require a "rich, moist, well drained soil". Plants that have less than ideal conditions can get wilts and cankers. Mature oaks can keep the soil area around them dry and weed free if their leaves are left on the ground so good preparation of the planting site is essential.

Alternatives include any of the serviceberries.

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yay amelanchier or how ever that is spelled... may a smoke tree would fit the bill too (Cotinus obovatus)? –  Grady Player Jun 28 '12 at 18:08
    
Cotinus, smoke bush are lovely but need full sun. Also, although sold as a shrub they want to be a tree of up to thirty feet tall. –  kevinsky Jun 28 '12 at 18:28

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