Ornamental trees are trees which are grown primarily for their aesthetic value, rather than for a particular product such as wood, fruit, or nuts. Many cultures all over the world have a long history of using ornamental trees in their landscaping, and it is common to see ornamental trees featured in gardens, along drives, and in downtown districts to add color and texture. Most garden stores sell ornamental trees, usually as juveniles, because young trees are easy to transport, handle, and plant.
Any number of features on an ornamental tree are appealing. Some are grown for their foliage, which may be distinctly colored or shaped, with people growing both evergreen and deciduous ornamental trees. Others are grown for showy displays of flowers, which may brighten up the garden in the spring. Colorful bark, distinctive growth patterns, and bright fruit may also be features of an ornamental tree.
In some cases, ornamental trees do produce fruit or nuts, although the crop is usually viewed as secondary to the aesthetics of the tree. It is also possible to find non-fruiting versions of trees which normally produce crops, such as ornamental cherries and plums, which will bloom in the spring but not set fruit. Many people like to use non-fruiting ornamentals because fallen fruit and nuts can make a big mess, and managing a fruit tree so that it produces a good crop can be labor intensive.
Deciduous trees like maples can produce stunning foliage in the fall, while crabapples, flowering dogwood, redbud, and magnolia all burst into bloom in the spring with stunning color. Ginkgos, myrtles, willows, firs, palms, and pines may be grown for their beautiful foliage, and various exotic and tropical trees may be used as ornamentals as well, in regions where these trees will thrive.
When selecting ornamental trees for the garden, a few considerations are important. The first issue is space. In a small garden, one tree is often enough, as multiple trees can make the garden feel cluttered and crowded. If the tree is being planted close to the house, final height may be a thing to think about, as you don't want the ornamental tree shading the house in the winter. Placement can also be critical, with some trees preferring bright sun, while others prefer more shady regions of the garden. Remember that even if the garden changes, the tree will not, so it is important to pick a spot which will work forever.