A: The type of tree you are looking for is sometimes referred to as a specimen tree, while larger species, such as oak and maple, are commonly called shade trees.
Many of the popular flowering trees bloom in spring, before the crepe myrtles burst out all their colors. Here are a few that I find particularly lovely and easy to grow, keeping below 25 feet high.
Downy Serviceberry (amelanchier arborea), also called Shad Bush or Juneberry. This small Southern native has a profusion of white flowers in early spring, before it is literally covered in sweet tasting, blueberry like fruits that you must fight the birds for.
Fringetree or Grancy Greybeard (chionanthus virginicus). Another native, this wispy little tree has white flowers that look like crepe paper tassels. It too has berries, but these are not edible. Fringetree is absolutely charming in the spring, with all the little tassels blowing in the breeze.
Virginia Stewartia (stewartia malacodendron), or silky camellia. The Stewartias are uncommon, and have rose-like white flowers that are stunning. This tree likes a little shade, so it would be happy under some taller trees.
Flowering Crabapple (malus species). There are hundreds of varieties of crabapple, with white, pink or red flowers, tiny to large fruits, reddish leaves or green. Birds and bees love them, and though the larger fruits are a mess in the yard, they make great jelly if you are inclined to canning.
PeeGee Hydrangea (hydrangea paniculata). This is the only hydrangea that can be pruned to a tree shape. The flowers are generally white in huge panicles, and they like sun. The popular ‘Limelight’ hydrangea is a paniculata, and can be pruned up in tree like form as an accent in the landscaping.
Autumn Flowering Higan Cherry (prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’). If you’ve been to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., you’ve seen this gorgeous tree. It blooms pink through white in spring, then continues on throughout the summer and fall with more blooms. As if that were not enough, the higan cherry brings beautifully bronzed and gold fall foliage, little berries for wildlife and interesting bark in the winter.
Your best resource for any of these landscape trees will be your local nursery. Though you can order just about any tree online these days. The nurseries here in West Georgia will have selections that have been grown in the South, and the nursery staff will lead you to the best choice for the location in your yard that you’ve chosen for a new specimen. My routine is to do some investigating on the University of Georgia Extension websites for trees that have the features and size I want, and write down a few named varieties that do well in our area. I take my list along with me to the nursery, so I can either purchase one of my choices or, with the help of the staff there, get a similar plant that will thrive here. Any of the small trees listed here will be happy in our acidic clay soil and can handle the stress of our hot climate.