Episode 32 – Flowering trees for a fabulous spring

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

In this podcast episode, Stacey and Rick discuss spring blooming trees, particularly those that bloom in April, which is typically a big month for flowering trees and concludes with Arbor Day. Arbor Day traditionally falls on the last Friday of April in many northern states like Michigan, but it falls on different dates depending on the state. They recommend growing dogwoods and crabapples for their unique and decorative fruits, with new crabapple varieties being much more apple scab resistant. Juneberry is also a great option for its fruit and fall color. Redbud, dogwood, cherry, crabapple, serviceberry, and magnolia are must-have trees for spring. Fruit trees such as apple, cherry, lemon trees, and peach are also great options.

Rick shares a poem – a “lim-a-rick,” if you will, about one of this favorite flowering trees:

My beloved redbud tree is a bloomer
but tonight a hard frost is a rumor
A trash fire’s not indiscreet
but overnight will generate some heat
I hope my neighbors have a sense of humor.

I could take the blankets off my bed
and cover the tree with a bed spread
The plummeting degrees
will cause me to freeze
But at least my tree won’t be dead.

They go on to discuss the ornamental pear, Pyrus calleryana, also known as a Callery pear or Bradford pear, which has a bad reputation for being over-planted, weak-limbed, and a poor pollinator species. Stacey explains its invasive nature and how it produces a pungent aroma during spring. They mention the “survivor tree” ornamental pear at the 9-11 Memorial site in New York City, which has a fascinating history and reputation.

Ornamental pear rust is another issue that they discuss, which is getting a lot of attention. They recommend pruning flowering trees after blooming if you want maximum capacity and to remove weak limbs and open up the canopy for light and air movement. They also talk about the two parts of a weeping cherry tree, the roots and trunk, and how the weeping part is a hybrid variety grafted onto a fast-growing sweet wild cherry called “rootstock.”

Lastly, they discuss crape myrtle trees, which are native to China and arrived in England in 1759 but did not bloom due to the lack of heat. It became a favorite in the American South because of its ability to bloom in hot weather. They also recommend Kousa dogwood for its star-like blooms, which are actually modified leaves called bracts that surround small, greenish-yellow, insignificant flowers, making them more reliable and longer lasting.

Why: Many of the plants we put on trial need full sun – at least six hours of bright sun a day – but today’s Plant on Trial is a tree that actually needs part to full shade: Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood. It’s a variegated selection of our beautiful native Cornus alternifolia, a small tree known for its distinctive horizontal branching (hence the name “pagoda tree”). The foliage exhibits an unusual green and gold variegation that’s even more colorful when the new growth emerges with shades of orange and red. The large portions of yellow on the leaves lack some chlorophyll, which means that if this is planted in too much sun, it can burn – so shade it is. And in shade, its beautiful golden foliage absolutely shines, bringing color and luminosity to even the darkest corners of your garden. 

Who: Golden Shadows dogwood came to us from renown nurseryman Don Shadow in Tennessee, whose Shadow Nursery has long been known for not just his unusual plants but for his menagerie of animals from around the world. If the plant sounds familiar, there’s a reason – we introduced it through Proven Winners many years ago, but it proved difficult to produce, practically dooming its entry into the marketplace. We eventually cracked the secret to propagating and growing it successfully, so when we launched Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Trees, we were excited to bring it back and finally get this amazing tree to a wider audience. 2023 is probably the first year that there will be good availability of larger specimens of Golden Shadows, and inventory and size will only improve in the coming seasons. 

How to grow: We’ve already established that this is a plant for full to part shade, and the warmer your climate, the more shade it will appreciate – it’s hardy in USDA zones 3-8. It’s not finicky about soil, but you will want to avoid any extreme dryness, which will cause it to get stressed and be less colorful. No pruning is needed for this plant to take on its unique pagoda shape – it just does that naturally! Like most trees, once it’s established, it needs little fertilizer but will benefit from supplemental water during hot, dry summers. This is definitely one of those plants that deserves pride of place in your yard, and we think it also would make a lovely gift plant to commemorate a birth, wedding, or death. 

If you’d like to add Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Yes, even with the climate warming, you would still time your crabgrass pre-emergent application for when the forsythia bloom. This is because both forsythia blooming and crabgrass germinating and emerging are tied to growing degree days (GDD) – a measurement of how warmth accumulates through the season. So even if the forsythia emerges earlier one year compared to another, it still indicates the same growing degree days have occurred. 

A trimmed evergreen hedge overhangs a sidewalk.

This is a tough one, I’m afraid – it looks like the hedge has grown beyond the point where it will recover well from such severe pruning. Generally, if you have to prune into stems that are much thicker than a pencil to get it back to the point where you want it to be, it will be quite disfiguring. This is especially worse with a shrub like yew (Taxus sp.) that is very slow to recover from severe pruning. Our advice is replace it with something else, but if you want to try pruning it first, just to see how it looks, there’s little harm in at least giving it a whirl. 

Rose Tone is our number one recommendation for fertilizing hydrangeas. After all, roses are flowering shrubs, so what’s good for them is equally good for any flowering shrub, whether that’s a hydrangea, forsythia, lilac, or diervilla. I generally advise against habitual use of Holly Tone fertilizer because it contains sulfur and will acidify the soil. Unless you know what your soil pH is, and that the plant you are fertilizing (as well as its neighbors) wants acidic soil, applying it can push the pH level down to a level that’s unfavorable for growth. Plus, there’s just no need to apply extra nutrients/elements unless you are certain they are needed. 

As for why your Bobo hydrangeas appeared to bloom more when they were fertilized with the Holly Tone over the Rose Tone, there are many possible explanations: it could have been the weather, the way the plants were pruned, or just that the shrub had an exceptional year for flowering, which often happens. While there’s no harm in applying the rest of your Holly Tone, we do not recommend applying it consistently without a soil test. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

Today, we’re fortunate to be joined by Raymond “The Gator” Gates, professor emeritus of biology and amphibian expert and enthusiast. Listen on your favorite podcast platform or click the YouTube link below to learn about the prime conditions for hearing and spotting springtime frogs, how to attract frogs and toads to your garden, and what might happen if you put a frog on your mouth, as The Gator is known to do.

A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

Regrets? We’ve had a few, and maybe you have too, which is why we’re dedicating this episode to the things we wish we had – and hadn’t – done in the garden. Featured shrub: Let’s Dance Arriba reblooming hydrangea.

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