An Orchard of Ornamental SplendorPosted by in Garden Flowers
Nothing welcomes spring better than the tiny profusion of flowers that burst from the bare stems of ornamental flowering cherries, redbuds, and plums, to name a few. Their early flowering encourages a perennial hope in many gardeners that spring is soon on its way. A resurgence of new life is promised and born, since each February these flowering trees, along with a host of others, journey through their annual rites of spring. An abundance of prolific lightly scented blossoms emerge, awakening a fresh vigor in the trees’ innermost loins. Sprigs of neon green soon follow, covering the empty branches and miniature fading flowers—another winter has come and gone.
Although we are still weeks away from spring, our mild Louisiana winters offer us extended blooming (and planting) seasons. This year, get the most blooms out of your garden by starting early. Plant ornamental trees like ‘Taiwan’ cherries, eastern redbuds, and purple leaf plums. Include also flowering must-haves like ‘Calloway’ crabapples and ‘Cleveland Select’ pears.
Ornamental flowering cherry trees are becoming more widespread along the Deep South, eloquently taking the place of those fruiting cherries that cannot persist here. Averaging between 20 and 30 feet tall, depending on the variety, flowering cherries make remarkable undersized shade trees. These are fast growing deciduous trees that perform best in full sunlight and fertile, well-drained soil. For excellent late winter and early spring color, plant varieties like ‘Kwanzan’, ‘Okame’, ‘Taiwan’, and ‘Yoshino’.
The ‘Kwanzan’ Japanese cherry (Prunus serrulata) produces exceptionally large double blooms of rosy pink in early spring. As with most cherries, its showy blossoms adorn the limbs before leaves sprout. The most popular and hardiest of the flowering cherries, ‘Kwanzan’ matures at about 20 feet in height. Consider planting the ‘Okame’ cherry (Prunus x incam) for an early spring floral shower of pink and red. Different from ‘Kwanzan’, ‘Okame’ cherry trees are noted for their brilliant red flower stalks and exquisite fall color; dark green leaves turn a deep bronze and then fiery orange-red before dropping.
‘Taiwan’ (Prunus campanulata), the earliest flowering Japanese cherry tree, is native to southern China, Taiwan, and the Ryuku Islands. In late winter, its frozen outstretched limbs are carefully swathed by bell-shaped blossoms of rich carmine red. Reaching a mature height of 30 feet, it yields premium fall color, much like that of the ‘Okame.’ If you are looking for a white or pale pink Japanese cherry tree, plant ‘Yoshino’ (Prunus yedoensis). Its fragrant single blossoms are born in abundance, and its vigorous upright growth habit makes ‘Yoshino’ a perfect lawn specimen or avenue tree. This cultivar in fact, is the predominant flowering cherry planted in Washington, D.C.
Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are small flowering native trees that can be found growing freely from innermost Canada to the hearts of Florida and Texas. In the wild, this tree can reach an impressive 40 feet tall, but rarely exceeds 12 feet in the garden. Performing best in partial sunlight, the eastern redbud makes a charming understory tree, meaning you can plant it under the taller canopies of oaks, maples, or crape myrtles. Magenta buds form in tight clusters in February, with profusions of pinkish purple blossoms opening through March and early April. Thin heart-shaped leaves hang daintily once flowers have begun to fade. Plant ‘Forest Pansy’ redbuds for deep wine colored foliage.
Plant purple leaf plums (Prunus cerasifera). for striking maroon purple foliage spring through fall. Native to Turkey and southwest Asia, this small deciduous plum tree has long been cultivated in Europe. Having a moderately fast rate of growth, purple leaf plums grow 25 feet tall with their limbs outstretched in oval, vase like structures. Although these plums can withstand full sunlight, in Louisiana they retain better coloration when growing in light shade. Plant ‘Thundercloud’ plums for intense shades of purple and iridescent, fragrant pink blossoms. In colder climates, edible red fruits, up to one inch in diameter, hang sumptuously from the limbs during the summer.
Plant Flowering crabapples (Malus spp.) are another early blooming treat for the South. Plant these fast growing trees in full sunlight and well-drained soil for optimum performance. While there are hundreds of species and hybrids listed under this genus, make sure to select cultivars that have been proven to grow in Louisiana; far too many are bred specifically for northern climates. Two varieties best suited for southern gardens include ‘Calloway’ and ‘Robinson’ crabapples.
‘Calloway’ crabapples are festooned with pink buds in early spring that later open to white flowers. Like the other flowering trees mentioned, new leaves emerge as old flowers fade. In the late summer and fall, trees are ornamented with medium-sized edible fruit. These reddish colored crabapples are excellent for use in jellies. Growing similar to the ‘Calloway’ crabapples, ‘Robinsons’ bloom a profusion of rosy pink flowers in early spring. Their dark red fruit persists somewhat longer on the trees than the ‘Calloway’ crabapples, making them perfect victuals for neighboring birds in the winter. ‘Robinson’ crabapple trees are noted also for their gorgeous autumn colors.
Plant ‘Cleveland Select’ Plantornamental pear trees for profusions of snowy white blossoms in late winter and early spring. An improved hybrid of the more commonly known ‘Bradford’ pear, the ‘Cleveland Select’ pear tree grows 25 to 30 feet tall. Having superior branch structure, it can better withstand ice and wind damage, while at the same time it promises better blight and disease resistance. These dense, pyramidal beauties retain lush glossy foliage from spring through fall; their autumn colors glow a spicy mix of fiery orange and reddish purple.
Don’t let spring pass you by this year without seizing the opportunity to grow your own ornamental flowering trees. Plant them in the backyard, near your patio, or along the street. Whichever you choose, you will surely be impressed by the added eloquence and charm of any of these early blooming trees.
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