Some homeowners with shady lots think they must forgo the spring display that flowering trees can bring to a home garden. Many flowering trees, especially those grown for fruit, require several hours of sun each day. A smaller number, however, will bloom in shade as well as sun. In addition to providing spring color and fragrance, these shade-tolerant bloomers also produce attractive fruit or seeds and autumn color.
The hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), or wafer ash, is native to the eastern United States. A small tree standing up to 20 feet high, it has a crooked narrow trunk with tangled branches. The hop tree's crushed twigs, leaves and bark release a faintly bitter lemon smell. The trees produce small white flowers in April. Butterflies feed on their nectar. Simmer brings the tree's attractive clusters of pale green, wafer-like winged seedpods (samaras). Dark green summer leaves turn yellow in autumn.
Although hop tree tolerates sun, the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends planting it in part to full shade and dry to medium well-drained soil. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that trees planted in full sun and cut back will become very bushy.
Ohio's state tree and namesake, the Ohio buckeye tree stands up to 75 feet high. Its rounded crown results from branches that droop toward the ground before turning upward. Their new twigs produce conspicuous clusters of small yellow, green or brown flowers between March and May. Hummingbirds feed on the flowers
Spiny green seedpods ripen to split open and reveal buckeye nuts. This tree's most dramatic feature, however, is the brilliant orange foliage that lights Ohio's forests in the fall. All parts of the tree are toxic if ingested. Plant Ohio buckeye in sun to full shade. It likes acidic, moist well-drained soil high in organic material. The tree's dense foliage discourages grass from growing beneath it.
A member of the rose family, Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) is a small deciduous tree seldom reaching more than 20 feet high. Its showy, elongated white blooms appear in April, before the branches leaf out. Bright red, edible serviceberries follow them in summer. The tree's green foliage becomes orange or rust in fall for continued garden color.
While serviceberry is susceptible to damage from many insects and diseases, it's seldom serious. The trees grow wild moist woodlands of the eastern U.S., where they are an important food source for birds and wildlife. They like moist or wet, well-drained soils and grow in sun to full shade.