Add drama to your landscape with these perfectly pendulous trees

Story and Photography by Richelle Stafne

Looking for ways to make your landscape smile? Consider adding some sad trees. Well, not sad per se, but weeping. Weeping branches, that is! Weeping trees and shrubs add interest and architectural drama. They can be at home in both formal and informal gardens. 

My number-one favorite for weeping impact is blue atlas cedar. Not only do I find the color to be outstanding, but the arched weeping branches can be quite startling and creepy as they appear to walk across the landscape.

Generally, you can plant them as you would any other tree with the same cultural requirements (soil, sunlight, moisture, etc.), but they are perhaps best used to make a bold statement. Aside from a tree such as weeping willow (Salix babylonica), weeping trees are not planted for shade, but as living sculptures. Plant them as single specimens, giving them plenty of space. For a really dramatic effect, use spotlight to uplight the tree or to cast a cool shadow of the weeping form. 

Maintaining its soft and feathery persona, weeping bald cypress is so beautiful you’ll want to brush the delicate branches as they weep toward your garden floor.

A weeping form tree will often cost a bit more than the usual upright form, but if you have the money, you can plant three to seven, staggered in a line for effect. Fitting examples of this type of planting might be a dramatic entrance to a large property or gated community, or planted off the corner of a large home, referred to as anchoring. In this case, rather than a single specimen as an anchor in the landscape bed, the weeping trees will be planted away from the home in a staggered line that will accentuate the architectural lines of the home, drawing the eye into the landscape. As always when planting near structures, ensure trees are planted at least 10 feet away from foundations and overhangs to reduce future maintenance headaches. Be sure to ask a certified nurseryman if your weeping tree should be staked to ensure an upright form.

For me, growing up with mulberry trees meant purple and red feet most of the summer. Though you couldn’t pay me to eat their fruit, I would gladly pay you to plant a dramatic weeping mulberry in my garden. Non-fruiting varieties are available.

Personally, I would not prune multiple plantings of the same species planted together, but let their branches weep, arch, and flow to their full potential. Over-pruning weeping trees and shrubs can result in “gumdrop syndrome,” which is fine if your design inspiration is Willy Wonka.

If you love the native redbud but find the typical growth habit a bit boring, consider one of several weeping cultivars. After flowering, the heart-shaped leaves will create a lush canopy.

Don’t plant other ornamentals too close to a weeping tree – that would only serve to lessen the full impact of the weeping form. I was recently surprised (and dismayed) to find a weeping shrub completely hidden by a pruned hedge and other ornamental plants in a small landscape. It was as if discovering treasure, but what a sad waste of what was probably a large chunk of change for a weeping specimen. The original placement was probably fine; however, the rest of the design was poorly executed if the goal was to showcase the weeper as a focal point. 

I have many native yaupon hollies in my garden; however, I do not own any with a weeping habit and hope to add one soon. The weeping habit along with lustrous leaves, beautiful bark, and red fruit in winter make this native a top choice for impact in the home landscape.

Avoid planting numerous weeping species in the same landscape, unless of course you have a large yard or are very into “themes.” If you would like to try growing several species, try planting them out of sight from one another so that from any given location in your landscape, you won’t see them all at once. After all, weepers should be made to feel special. 

‘Pendula’ flowering cherry is a lovely weeping ornamental tree with dainty white flowers in spring. Spring-flowering bulbs such as Narcissus and Crocus beautifully complement this tree.

Pendulous trees may occur as naturally weeping, top-grafted to another tree, or unstaked and left to weep along the ground. Design-wise, they can be used as a specimen, focal point, or screen. 

Listed here are five weeping trees – hopefully you can locate one special tree for your garden.

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) ‘Pendula’ and ‘Folsom’s Weeping’ are both pendulous forms of the small native evergreen tree. Lustrous leaves and beautiful, persistent red fruit complement the weeping stems. Hardy in Zones 7-9. 

White mulberry (Morus alba) can be found as both a weeping and a weeping standard (grafted onto a standard form). ‘Chaparral’ and ‘Urbana’ are non-fruiting and ‘Pendula’ is the typical fruiting mulberry; all have weeping forms. Weeping mulberry is frequently pruned with a perfectly trimmed bottom, giving it the appearance of a gumdrop or one of the Pac-Man ghosts. 

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) boasts several weeping varieties, including ‘Cascade Falls’, ‘Falling Waters’, and ‘Pendens’ (which weeps only at the tips of the branches). These bald cypress varieties are proven native landscape trees boasting feathery deciduous needles, outstanding bronze fall color, a graceful weeping habit, and knobby knees in wet soil. Do they weep because they are bald? Hmm, interesting thought.

Lavender Twist redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) triples your pleasure with the classic, purple spring flowers of eastern redbud, pendulous weeping branches, and heart-shaped leaves. You don’t have to drive to Chattanooga to see this Ruby Falls. ‘Ruby Falls’ redbud has amazing blackish purple foliage that will attract visitors to your garden. ‘Traveller’ (C. canadensis var. texensis) is another great cultivar.

Weeping cedars – blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’), cedar of Lebanon (C. libani ‘Glauca Pendula’), and deodar cedar (C. deodara ‘Pendula’) are all weeping cedars with similar appearances. Though taxonomists debate the species categorization, the hardiness and cultural requirements are similar: C. deodora (Zones 6-9), C. atlantica (Zones 6-9), and C. libani (Zones (5)-7). Weeping blue atlas cedar is my favorite by far, as I find both the form and blue color mesmerizing. On a moonlit night its distinctly weeping form seems to be something monstrous crawling across the landscape.

Edgar Allen Poe said, “Deep in earth my love is lying. And I must weep alone.” But you won’t be quite so alone if you plant a weeping tree in your garden. Planted in an area screened for privacy and adorned with a beautiful garden bench, your weeping tree can create an inspirational place of solace and solitude.

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