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Thursday, March 17, 2011


Lining up at the nursery to get the spring season’s first pick, you may want to stake your claim early on the best specimen trees. Although there are many varieties in the maple, oak and birch category that top my list of favorite trees, here are a few suggestions that may deviate from the norm, depending on your growing conditions and space.

Stewartia: The Stewartia is an ideal small to medium-sized flowering ornamental tree. One of its best features is its stunning exfoliating bark, which offers four-season interest. Searching for summertime flowers and fall color to boot? Try the Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia). This sought after specimen is the caviar of the ornamentals. If you have moist, acidic soil with full sun conditions, give this one a go.

Zelkova serrata (Japanese Zelkova): Wondering what might be a good replacement for the diseased-ridden Elm tree? Take a look at the Japanese Zelkova. Related to the Elm, this deciduous shade tree has a similar structure. The Japanese Zelkova can handle some pretty tough conditions and provides fall color without too much leaf clean-up. It makes for a great street tree.

Ginkgo – Ginkgo biloba, another deciduous favorite, is a unique pest-free tree dating back to pre-historic times. Not particularly fussy, this tree can handle extreme conditions (Zone 3 to 9) as well as drought, wind and various soil types. A word of caution with this unique slow grower - don’t get stuck with a female, which you may not know until it is too late! It seldom occurs in the industry but the wretched smelling fruit can be a real show-stopper; and not in a good way. A tree of sacred symbolism to the East, this may be one for the meditative spot within your garden.

Fagus sylvatica (European Beech): Majestic in its own right but a bit slow to mature, this long-lived tree requires plenty of elbow room. It can grow as wide as it can grow tall. These big boys may get the standard, run-of-the mill diseases but if you are looking for massive with long-term impact, this is a primo choice. You can also consider the Fagus grandifolia (American Beech), which is equally bold and beautiful. It’s a tough, native nut tree.

While it’s always fun to play at the nursery, the right location appropriate to its habit, form and growing conditions is essential. With many more choices to pick from like the Yellowwood, Shagbark Hickory, Hornbeam, and of course, the weeping trees that everyone loves, you have to stop your shopping somewhere. So pick a favorite and get in line with your spring order. As the Chinese Proverb reminds us, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. “

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© 2009 Ann St. Jean-Bilowz/Bilowz Associates Inc. (including all photographs, unless otherwise noted in Annie's Gardening Corner are the property of Bilowz Associates Inc. and shall not be reproduced in any manner nor are they to be assigned to any third party without the expressed written permission and consent of Bilowz Associates Inc.)