Ornamental cherry trees thrive in full sun.

The Best Ornamental Trees for Full Sun

by Joanne Marie

If you're planning a home garden and have lots of sun, adding sun-loving ornamental trees can bring many dimensions of interest and color to your environment. While no tree is so superior to others that it could be called the best, many excellent choices exist that can become special focal points in a garden plan.

1. Flowering Trees

Some sun-loving trees are particularly ornamental because they display showy, colorful flowers during the growing season. For spring blooms, dogwood trees are a vibrant choice with many varieties. The kousa or Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) has bright white flowers that open in late spring, making a strong contrast against its deep green leaves, while the common white dogwood (Cornus florida) blooms earlier, usually in April or early May, before its leaves appear. These trees do well in full sun in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8 and 5 through 9, respectively. For mid-summer flowers, the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) thrives in sun and features clusters of pink flowers that resemble powder puffs. It grows in USDA zones 6 through 9.

2. Fruit Trees

Many ornamental fruit trees that don't bear fruit are renowned for their stunning flowers and also thrive in full sun. The Japanese, or Yoshino, cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis) is one of the showiest, growing 40 to 50 feet tall and covering itself in pale pink, fragrant flowers in mid-spring. The weeping higan cherry (Prunus pendula "Pendula rosea") is another ornamental cherry tree that has drooping branches with abundant, showy pink flowers. It grows best in full sun, but can also tolerate a few hours of partial shade each day. Both trees grow in USDA zones 5 through 8. A non-fruiting pear tree called "Bradford" (Pyrus calleryana "Bradford") is also ornamental and prefers full sun. It is covered in white flowers by mid-April and grows in USDA zones 5 through 9.

3. Bark

Some sun-loving trees are especially ornamental because they have showy or interesting bark. The European white birch (Betula pendula) grows in USDA zones 2 through 6, where it is about 30 feet tall at maturity. Its bark is bright white, tends to peel in strips and is easily seen between its spacious, graceful branches. The paperbark maple tree (Acer griseum) is ornamental due in part to its cinnamon-to-orange colored bark, which peels slowly from its trunk and main branches. This tree thrives in full sun, but can also tolerate light shade for part of the day. It grows in USDA zones 4 through 8.

4. Fall Color

Some ornamental trees wait until fall to put on their colorful show with foliage that turns vivid shades of orange, yellow and red. The sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) thrives in full sun and grows in USDA zones 5 through 9. It's a low-maintenance shade tree with fragrant leaves that turn a brilliant mix of yellow, orange, purple and red in fall. The smoketree (Cotinus coggygria) is another sun-loving specimen that has tiny flowers in clusters resembling puffs of smoke. It grows in USDA zones 5 through 8 and turns bright yellow or orange-red in fall. The cultivar "Royal Purple" has deep purple leaves that turn scarlet in fall, while "Ancot" has light green leaves that turn orange.

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