Column trees give a landscape a beautiful color and strength. They have their own lacy beauty that contrasts wonderfully with common plants. These narrow trees look formal and crisp. Their slim shape often makes them appear well trimmed and neat, even if they have not been trimmed for some time. They immediately add a bit of beauty and grace to a landscape.
But what exactly are pillar trees? Is there a science behind how they grow so straight and columnar? And above all, how do we maintain them so that they look good?
Let us discuss everything you need to know to properly care for these beautiful narrow trees!
What is a pillar tree?
Column trees provide visual interest, can be used as privacy fences and provide excellent wind breaks.
With pillar trees you don't need that much space. Many have fastigiate branches, which means that they grow almost straight up and do not protrude from the tree, reducing the size of the tree tops. This form of growth allows the leaves at the tips of the branches to easily get into the sunlight.
Column trees are extremely effective as wind protection. When you plant a row of them, a green wall is created that breaks strong winds and slows them down as they roll over your property. They are also used with great effect as a privacy fence because their foliage is often dense and thick.
In addition, pillar trees can be a dramatic garden feature. Adding them along a long driveway gives you an impressive visual representation, and a pair on either side of a porch can create a dramatic, columnar effect.
How to maintain your pillar tree
Much of the pruning process of pillar trees is said to improve their upright shape. Since their branches remain upright for the most part, the goal is to reduce the excessive growth that bends the branches outward.
Examine any branch sections that are beginning to curve outward. Is the branch itself thick enough to support the weight of its foliage? If not, look for a leaf knot in the branch. These nodes provide a point from which new foliage can develop in the future. Fasten the knot directly over this knot, leave it in place and remove excess leaf weight. Be sure to use sterile hair clippers.
Whip-like, slender growth that the green cannot support is often the most common goal when pruning. But what about columnar fruit trees that need older wood to produce fruit? Be careful with these, if only to make sure that you maintain some of the necessary older wood on your small garden trees.
If there are dead branches, they can and should be removed. Check that one of the branches is still alive and in this case try to keep the living lower segment. If not, remove it deep on the tree so that other leaves can fill the room.
Most pruning of small trees for gardens occurs in late autumn or very early spring. Choose a time when fruit trees and some other species will rest if possible. If there are broken or wind-damaged sections at other times of the year, you can remove them as needed to avoid damaging the rest of the tree.
Column trees for edible gardeners
If you want to grow fruit trees, pillar trees are available! You care a little more, but it's worth the effort.
Fruit trees, columnar or not, can be trained in a trellis-like manner of growth. The upright fan shape, which is used by many espaliers, is particularly suitable for pillar trees.
While apples are a popular form of the columnar tree, other fruits such as pears are also suitable for this shape. Even some citrus trees like the Key Lime can be trained up to a column style. Most stone fruit or nut trees don't work as well in this style and should be trained on other trellis patterns.
Please keep in mind that most fruit-bearing pillar trees require more than one to produce fruit. Neither of the two varieties presented here is fertile itself. Get at least two to get a good harvest.
Green apple (malus 'North Pole')
A green columnar apple tree can produce a lot of fruit in a small space.
The "North Pole" variety for columnar apple can grow to a height of 8 to 12 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide and is perfect for USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. These are often grown by home gardeners who have an easy-care fruit tree search. This deciduous tree also shows beautiful white flowers in spring.
The fruit is extremely juicy, crispy and delicious and appears from the end of August to the entire month of September. Some grafted varieties can already bear fruit in the first year of growth!
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Red Apple (Malus ‘Scarlet Sentinel’)
Red pillar apples can be both showy and full of fruit.
The “Scarlet Sentinel” apple variety is a deciduous, very narrow, beautiful specimen. Strong branch development is crucial here, as it has fewer numbers than other species. This strength also supports the possible fruits!
In spring, bright white, beautiful flowers form. These white flowers give way to sweet red apples that ripen in September. Like the other apple, it averages 8-12 inches tall and 2-3 inches wide.
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Weeping persimmon (Diospyros virginiana JN5)
Crying persimmons look distinctive and produce delicious fruits.
As a seller claims, this tree is likely to survive you! The average lifespan of a weeping persimmon is 75 years and can reach a height of 25 to 30 feet with a spread of only 5 to 10 feet during this time. In contrast to other forms of columnar trees, the branch habit initially points upwards and then deliberately curves downwards, creating the “weeping” form that offers its unique shape.
Thick, jade-colored leaves produce ivory-white flowers in spring. Over the course of the seasons, the leaf color develops some of the most beautiful shades of autumnal brilliance that you will see in a fruit tree. Brilliant red, yellow and orange leaves fall off, leaving only plump and sweet orange fruits in late October and early November.
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Compact columnar trees
If you want to grow evergreen trees for small gardens, compact column trees are the ideal choice. They take up less space than traditional landscape trees. Many pillar plants are also perfect for growing containers. Place a few small pillar trees on your balcony or in your smaller garden rooms!
Sky Pencil Holly (Ilex crenata "Sky Pencil")
The leaves of the heavenly holly point directly towards the sun.
Sky Pencil Holly is from Japan and is one of the most beautiful trees for small gardens. The name itself reveals its slim shape. It is extremely narrow and can be 8 to 10 feet tall at just 2 feet wide, but it can also be kept shorter by pruning and shaping.
This beautiful landscape tree is evergreen in zones 5 to 9 and relatively easy to care for. It rarely needs to be pruned unless you try to make it a dwarf habit. It is one of the smallest pillar trees you can find, but that in no way diminishes its strong beauty.
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Slender Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa)
This Hinoki cypress forms a green counterpoint to the nearby coral bark maple. Source: nordique
Technically speaking, the slim Hinoki cypress is not a real pillar tree, but it grows very similarly. Soft, green foliage forms a slender column that grows almost from the ground to the top of the tree. It averages 8-12 feet tall by 4-5 feet wide.
Slightly bushy at its base, it has been popular with large-format bonsai over the years. But even if your cypress plant is not formally trained in detailed shapes, it offers a beautiful addition to your landscape in zones 4 to 8 with minimal space and good height.
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Skyrocket Juniper (Juniperus virginiana "Skyrocket")
Skyrocket juniper has a nice rounded conical shape.
The skyrocket juniper is hardy down to -20 and can grow comfortably in zones 4-9. Native to North America, it is valued for its teal foliage and ability to create stunning privacy screens.
When ripe, the skyrocket juniper can easily reach heights of up to 15 feet with a spread of 2-3 feet. The evergreen foliage is similar to other juniper species and has an additional bonus. This type almost never requires a cut or detailed maintenance to stay in shape.
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Spartan juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Spartan')
Spartan juniper is pest-resistant and tolerant of many climatic conditions.
Spartan juniper is tolerant of drought, a wide temperature range and salt spray and is one of the most popular upright and narrow juniper bushes available today. The deep green foliage offers a lot of color as garden protection or wind protection. The densely packed branch development of this system effectively prevents something from looking through it.
In addition, junipers as a whole are pest resistant, which means that you don't spray them all the time to keep them going. This plant is robust and easy to grow in partial or full sunlight. It is best suited for zones 5-9. It easily hits 15-20 feet high and 4-5 feet wide.
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Large landscape pillar trees
What if you want something that really surpasses the others we suggested and still maintain a narrow visual shape suitable for pillar trees? In this category we also have planting options. People with much greater space availability may find this better to their liking.
American tree of life (Thuja occidentalis)
The American tree of life has beautiful evergreen foliage.
The rounded conical shape of the American tree of life is perfect as a privacy screen for your garden. In addition, it's a visual stunner that reaches heights of up to 30 feet with a maximum spread of 5 feet at its base. A number of them can provide a breathtaking display with top values!
The scaly leaves and fan-like branches are adorned with a rich, red-brown bark. When seed cones are produced, they are narrow and colored yellowish green. It is tolerant of most floor types and requires little maintenance to continue. Of the tree species, I love the narrow look of this species best.
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Brodie Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana "Brodie")
This eastern red cedar from Brodie is a bit heavy on the ground, but can be cut back to a more columnar shape. Source: Mollsie
With one of the fastest growing areas of the pillar tree species we cover today, Brodie can be grown outdoors in Zones 3 through 9. It is hardy up to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, but also tolerates the warm and mild climate in Southern California. The best thing is that this species can easily handle most moisture levels from wet to incredibly dry.
Brodie's feathery foliage is very self-sustaining. Little or no pruning is required to maintain this tree. And if you want it to rise, it can; The Brodie can reach a maximum height of an astonishing 45 feet with a width of up to 10 feet. If you prefer, it stays at a manageable height.
Eastern red cedars provide a lot of bright green in a densely packed room. You will love the beauty that Brodie can offer.
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Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
The Italian cypress tree is a common sight in residential areas.
The Italian cypress is a real column type, narrow in width and perfect for a variety of applications. Their maximum width at full height is 5 feet, but if they are kept shorter, they stay narrow at most 2-3 feet wide. While they can reach heights of up to 40 feet if left to their own devices, they can also be crowned and held at a shorter height.
These are great for growing containers or planters, and their lush green foliage thrives in full sun. They perform best in Zones 7 through 11 and are therefore prevalent in residential areas throughout the southwestern United States.
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Poplar from Lombardy (Populus nigra)
Poplar trees from Lombardy are ideal for protecting privacy.
Have you ever driven past a large property with one row of tall trees on one side? It can be poplar from Lombardy, especially if it is between 40 and 60 feet tall. These beautiful poplars can form a large, solid barrier that makes them a key candidate for wind protection. They are even used to prevent topsoil from blowing farms!
Because of their size, they are also surprisingly effective as shadow trees. They are planted eight feet apart and form a dense visual barrier as a living screen. If you're looking for something massive to create a vibrant, woody border, this is a good choice. They perform best in Zones 3-9.
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Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)
The Colorado blue spruce has nice silvery-blue foliage.
Last but not least, the Colorado blue spruce is on our list. This beautiful evergreen conifer green has silvery blue-green needles and a conical growth. It is most adaptable to the cold conditions of our recommended columns and tolerates cold weather down to -40 ° C. It is mostly grown in zones 2-7.
Most people think of spruces as a Christmas tree, and this one has this rounded, conical habit. Due to its deep root system, it resists strong winds like a champion and requires little maintenance. And since it grows all year round, you get a beautiful silver-blue hue that is characterized by landscaping. In autumn, 3-inch cones also appear in the top crown of the tree.
While it reaches a height of 50 to 75 feet in the wild, it can be kept as a much smaller specimen, even if it is only 10 to 12 feet short. The top of the tree is narrow, but when it falls down, it widens to a comfortable base. All in all, it's a beautiful tree, and when Christmas is just around the corner, you can add white lights to it to enhance its holiday magic!
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