March in bloom – trees


The Cherry Blossom Festival has begun on the Tidal Basin in Washington and the flowering Japanese cherries are nearing peak bloom, but fifty miles to the west Yoshino and Kwanzan cherries remain in tight bud, still a week or two from blooming. In my garden the early flowering Okame (below) is blooming, and Snow Fountain, the white flowered cherry with compact pendulous branching is just beginning.Okame cherry in mid March

The popularity of the cherry blossoms has created many a problem for homeowners enamored with the blooms, but unaware of the ultimate size of these fast growing trees. I believe that a good guide for visualizing the space required for these trees at maturity is to imagine constructing a two car garage centered on the spot you’ll be planting most of the cherries, as well as most shade trees.

“Oh my, it will block the driveway”you say. Well then, find a different tree that will suit the space, and find another location for your cherry. Better to discover this now, before you have to butcher the tree or give up the driveway. Okame and Snow Fountain (below) cherries will consume a much smaller portion of your property, and might be more appropriate choices if your space is limited. And while we’re on the topic, don’t be fooled by the pink weeping cherry. It will grow to thirty feet, tall and wide, and go out and measure your garage if you think that will fit a couple feet away from your front walkway.Snow Fountain cherry

Now, before we move into the marvelous choices of trees that bloom in March, I have a few more words of caution. Purpleleaf plums are quite beautiful trees, with dark leaves, pale pink flowers, and a modest size that will work well in all but the smallest gardens, but they are a magnet for Japanese beetles (even worse than the cherries). The flowering plum will work quite well in the space that you had planned for the cherry, but be prepared to do battle, or be content to live with the lacy skeleton of the leaves beginning in July.

Which leads us to the carefree flowering pears, beautiful, fast growing trees that are covered in white blooms for several weeks beginning mid March. Their attributes are as fine as any tree, great flowers, fantastic, long lasting fall color, and an absolute resistance to most pests. What could be the problem? After ten or more years, once you have grown to accept the pear as a permanent centerpiece of your garden, a summer storm will rip the tree apart, a third of the branches sheared off and tumbled to the ground. You’ll consider whether the remainder can be left standing, but it shouldn’t, and you’ll remove your lovely pear.

Bradford pear is the most common, and most likely to split, and though other pears are not plagued by this problem so much, all  are among the most invasive of popular trees, sprouting from bird carried berries along fence rows and in open fields. There are better choices.Serviceberry

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, above) is a native, usually multi trunked tree that is often found on lists of plants for edible landscapes. I don’t know who is able to harvest any of the serviceberry’s fruits, except birds, but it is a nice, irregularly shaped tree for the wood’s edge. I would suppose that it could look out of place in the center of the property, but in a natural, informal setting it is a carefree, superb choice.    Dr. Merrill magnolia

The early flowering magnolias are also excellent choices for the edge of a wooded area, though they have a more uniform habit than serviceberry. The star and saucer types (Dr. Merrill magnolia, above), and there are numerous variations, are more shrublike, and many people would prefer that they be planted at the margins of the garden, reserving the center for more interesting forms.Royal Star magnolia

In my garden I have been convinced that Dr. Merrill is the earliest to bloom, followed by Royal Star (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, above), with the purple ‘Jane’ (below) close behind. Dr. Merrill is the tallest, with a narrow silhouette to more than twenty feet. Jane is shorter, but wider at nearly fifteen feet wide and tall, and Royal Star is ten feet or less in height and width.Jane magnolia

The blooms of Dr. Merrill and Royal Star are similar though the habit is dissimilar. Jane is quite different in color, and is known to flower sporadically through the summer. There are many other spring blooming, deciduous magnolias to choose from and all are delightful trees, though the blooms of earlier types are injured by frost on occasion. This has happened a time or two in my twenty years in this garden, but such an infrequent problem does not diminish the value of these wonderful March blooming trees.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Sumers says:

    Thank you for the information on the Bradford Pear. I had to have mine removed luckily before it fell. However, it was in the center of my yard. I am the end house on a cul-de-sac. My front yard is very long and receives full sun. I am looking for a replacement tree and have heard that the Cleveland Pear is a good choice to replace the Bradford. Is this a tree that you would recommend?

    1. Dave says:

      Cleveland pear is superior to Bradford in resistant to wind damage. All flowering pears have some susceptibility, and all have berries that are spread by birds.

    2. Mard says:

      The Cleveland pear bears tiny fruit and has beautiful white blooms in Spring. Relatively narrow upright, not major side-branching, tall. Biggest problem is with weakness of older branches – hold up very poorly in strong winds (better than the Bradford though ), so consider placement. Other than that, I love my Cleveland Pear.

  2. Monica says:

    I have a Kwanzan Cherry that was planted at the end of May, 2009. The other, older Kwanzan Cherries in the neighborhood (Ashburn, VA) are on the verge of flowering, but my Kwanzan doesn’t look like it has any flower buds. I do see some buds that look like they might grow into leaves – they’re green tipped – but they’re still wrapped tight. Should I be worried about the health of my tree? Should I be doing anything to help it? Thanks for any ideas.

    1. Dave says:

      Your description doesn’t sound unusual at all. There are many conditions that could cause this, but it’s likely that your tree is later blooming because it’s root system is not fully developed. However, the cause could be a slightly colder, or shadier, or windier situation that would delay development of the flower buds. I don’t think that it’s anything to worry about.

    2. marie fitch says:

      i purchased a beautiful small kwanzan from lowes last spring. it had many flowers although they were not very showy and i just assumed it was because of the tree being so young and in a pot, so i didn’t give it much thought. now here it is the middle of april, the tree is full of beautiful leaves and looks very healthy, but did not bloom and i don’t see any evidence of buds. this is very disappointing and it’s very sad because i would hate to kill this tree from pulling it out if it’s going to start blooming next year. have you gotten any blooms or more information since you posted this comment in march? could this possibly be the sign that the tree will never bloom? or is there any way to ever know that?thanks, in advance for any help. i am so upset about this, i waited the whole year for this tree, and i’m sure you did too. i found another website where someone else had purchased a kwanzan last year from lowes that is not blooming.

      1. Dave says:

        If you saw the tree bloom a year ago that is all the proof that you need that it is indeed a flowering cherry. As long as the tree has been planted in a sunny location it should bloom, even with a half day sun. If it’s in a sunny spot then I would have to guess the only reason that it wouldn’t bloom would be the odd weather we’ve had this spring, with the week that we had mid eighty and ninety degree temperatures coinciding with Kwanzan cherries blooming in many areas. I’ve seen a few cherries that barely bloomed, or the blooms lasted only a few days because of the heat. I can assure you that the problem is environmental and not with Lowe’s. There is no reason not to expect the tree to bloom in the future.

  3. Mike says:

    Yes, I noticed them today but here in P.A. it will be another few days. What I’m really looking forward to are the bleeding hearts. April I think but maybe a little earlier this year.

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