Who doesn’t feel a twinge of emotion upon seeing the wavy fronds of a weeping willow sway in the breeze? Those living waves of leaves that great artists and painters have forever tried to immortalize on their canvas? Of course, might you answer, that’s all very well… but these trees require so much space! That’s true for many weeping tree species, but you’ll be thrilled to discover a whole series of dwarf weeping trees that, even though they’re small, still boast this weeping, trailing branch habit we all love in so-called ‘Pendula’ varieties!
1 – It’s all about genetic mutations
There is a number of species that have acquired their weeping habit after a certain genetic mutation occurred on one of their branches. Let’s say an ash or birch tree exhibits this trait on a branch in its natural environment, for example. Once a savvy eye has noticed this trait, either in the wild or among the thousands of trees in a nursery, the branch is carefully collected and reproduced through both cuttings and grafting.
- Professionals then graft this type of branch at the tip of a conventional tree – say, at a height of 6 feet (2 meters) for instance – then the tree will only weep from the grafted crown.
- When, on the other hand, a cutting or a graft at the base of the trunk is performed, the entire tree will grow into a strange, prostrate and twisted form from the ground up.
2 – Different silhouettes depending on the species
Weeping habits will result in very different profiles depending on the species in which they occur. For species such as sophora, ash or white mulberry, a regular dome-shaped silhouette appears in time. Oppositely, a weeping birch, cherry or apple tree will thrust branches out in a much more disorganized manner.
The human touch is also essential: pruning will play a defining part in how regular or random any given tree will grow to become. Pruning also helps lighten the tree up, since thinning that thick mat of weeping branches will let more light seep through the tree. It’ll give the plant a more transparent, see-through dimension.
3 – Trees with remarkable foliage
Weeping pear tree Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’
This is a modest pear tree native to the Caucasian mountain range and to Iran. Its striking silvery foliage lets it make amends for the tiny bland-tasting pears it produces. Its appeal comes from the long, graceful arching branches that, from afar, look identical to the silhouette of a willow tree. The white blooming in spring is rather discrete, not worth noticing even since it’s buried behind the foliage.
An advantage of this very hardy pear tree is that it can adapt to any type of soil, and copes well with both drought and sea spray. At maturity, its size reaches about 15-18 feet (5-6 meters) high, for about 15 feet across (5 meters).
Weeping ash tree: Fraxinus excelsior ‘Pendula’
Ash was for a time one of the most favored trees in the countryside, not particularly because of its noble silhouette, but rather for the many uses it had for life on the farm. Young branches were ideal for whittling handles out of for tools, leaves made excellent foraging material for beasts, young and tender leaves were delectable in tea…
The ‘Pendula’ habit will drape over a barrel composition magnificently, especially if you prune the weeping twigs to the same length every winter. Typically grafted at a height of 6 feet (2 meters), it will not grow any taller than 15 feet (5 meters) in time, and about 12 feet across (4 meters). Best plant it in cool soil.
4 – Trees with remarkable branches
Dwarf weeping birch: Betula pendula ‘Youngii’
This weeping birch brings an original touch in small gardens, especially when grafted at the tip at about 6-7 feet (2 meters): this forms a perfect umbrella-like treehouse that children love playing in! When grafted to a rootstock stump, however, it will grow into a dramatic twisting contortionist-like shape that can be very surprising as well.
Like all birch trees, the white bark that twinkles in the dappled sunlight adds appeal, too. The superficial root system means this tree can survive very well in containers and large garden boxes, notwithstanding the fact that it’s a slow grower as well. It’ll top out at 15-18 feet (5-6 meters) when planted in the ground, less so for containers.
The pagoda tree: Sophora japonica ‘Pendula’
Ah, the perfect round shape of the pagoda tree excels at enhancing the elegance and structure of exceptional gardens. The very regular branches arch out and kiss the ground at an even height. Composite leaves form a uniform green curtain that is neutral but regular, and becomes dotted with cream-white flowers at the end of summer. These blooms release a pleasant honey-like fragrance, and signal that the entire tree will shift in hue to light golden yellow as fall rolls in.
This cultivar generally reaches 18 to 20 feet (6 to 7 m) high and 12-15 feet (3-4 m) across as it matures, and age renders it ever more circumvoluted. Whichever soil and exposure you have will suit it well, it doesn’t really matter.
5 – Trees with remarkable blooming
Weeping cherry: Prunus x serrulata ‘Kiku-Shidare-Zakura’
The branches of this special Japanese cherry tree shoot out from the trunk like fireworks in April, covered as they are in bright pink double flowers. Other cultivars will do the job just as well, Prunus x subhirthella ‘Pendula Rubra’ or Prunus x subhirthella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’. This last one starts blooming in Fall, and continuously produces new flowers in waves until March-April in mild climates.
Cherry trees also add value to the fall garden thanks to the colors of their leaves. They appreciate cool soil but it should not hold water for very long. Full sun exposure suits it best. The rootstock is what determines the ultimate size they can reach. Generally, they won’t exceed 12-15 feet (4-5 meters).
Weeping apple tree: Malus ‘Echtermeyer’
Ornamental apple trees also come in weeping cultivars, such as the Malus ‘Echtermeyer’, ‘Red Jade’ and ‘Royal Beauty’. The first one’s leaves are deep purple as the open, shifting in hue to bronze-green in summer. Simple red flowers appear in spring, lighting up in tone as they age, ultimately giving way to tiny violet apples that are truly ornamental – not to mention much appreciated by birds in winter!
The ‘Red jade’ shown here will bear white flowers and small light red fruits, whereas the ‘Royal Beauty’ exhibits violet tones (6 x 6 feet, or 2 x 2 meters tall and wide). Plant either in cool acidic soil, or rich neutral soil.
by Eva Deuffic
Weeping far away by Oliver Fuß under Pixabay license
Pendula pear by Wendy Cutler under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Fraxinus pending habit by Wendy Cutler under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Weeping pagoda by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Birch weeping by Józef Babij under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Cherry blossoms by あいむ 望月 under Pixabay license
Malus apple variety by Mark AC Photos under © CC BY-SA 2.0