More April blooms


In mid April pink and white blooms peek out from the forest that borders the highway. Though my morning drive to the office is in darkness, the evening commute is more cheerful with these ornaments as I head back into the country. I’m disappointed when the blooms fade to lush green foliage in May.Redbud blooming in mid April

The pink flowers are from the splendid native redbud (Cercis canadensis, above) that grows readily at the wood’s edge, stretching arching branches to the sunlight. Redbuds are well suited to the home garden, with a number of variations with red, yellow, or variegated foliage, and others with pendulous branching. Certainly one is suitable for every garden, and there are a few handfuls in my garden planted in part shade and full sun. The first redbud planted in the garden, a red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ (below), has suffered considerably in recent years as heavy shade from overhanging maples in the forest has encroached. Now, it has only one long , arching trunk that forks into two branches. It has lost all aesthetic value, but I haven’t the heart to cut it out.Forest Pansy redbud new growth

Despite slight difficulties in transplanting (and intolerance of heavy shade) there’s no reason that redbud should not be considered a sturdy tree. It’s not bothered to a great extent by diseases or pests, though in recent years several trees in my garden have suffered from wind and snow damage. I don’t consider this especially noteworthy since lots of other trees have been damaged, but the two variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds (below) have suffered a number of broken limbs, and the top third of another ‘Forest Pansy’ is gone. Before you are dissuaded from planting a redbud I could threaten to disclose the long list of other trees that have suffered, but that might convince you not to bother planting trees at all.Silver Cloud redbud

And, this is an excellent time to get away from the negative and back to the beauty of the redbud, for there are few trees finer for spring flowers or their exquisite heart shaped foliage, whatever the color. Even with the plain green, native redbud, the foliage has exceptional substance so that it appears lush and vigorous through the heat of summer. The most recent redbud I’ve planted is the yellow leafed ‘Hearts of Gold’ (below). Yellow foliage often looks chlorotic and diseased (I think) but I’ve planted ‘Hearts of Gold’ with just a bit of shade from the late afternoon sun so that it doesn’t fade, and a new introduction, ‘Rising Sun’, promises not to fade at all (or at least very little).Hearts of Gold redbud in early May

Getting back to the drive along the highway, the white flowers scattered at the forest’s edge are a mix of native dogwoods (Cornus florida, below) and serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and seedlings of flowering pears (Pyrus calleryana). The pears are prevalent in sunnier openings, and along fence rows where birds have deposited their seeds. A field not far from my garden is covered by many hundreds of pear seedlings surrounding a farm pond. In bloom this is a magnificent sight, if the gardener is willing to disregard knowledge that these invasive trees will set fruits that will spread many hundreds of additional trees.Dogwood in mid April

The flowering pears were once treasured by homeowners, but the tendency of fifteen year old trees to split apart in summer storms has tempered enthusiasm for ‘Bradford’ and other pears that once dominated suburban landscapes. Unfortunately, disease prone, but magnificent dogwoods have also diminished in popularity, and serviceberry (below) has never gained popular acceptance in home gardens. Both are superb small trees, and when I return in a few days we’ll figure out how we can squeeze one or two into your garden (they’re already in mine).Serviceberry in mid April

4 Comments Add yours

  1. tom says:

    I am hoping you can provide some dogwood planting tips, as i am 0 for 5 in my attempts to add them to my landscape. I admit I am prone to buying the bigger ones for sale at your nurseries, and have yet to try the smaller options also sold alongside them. It is my experience that they die a slow death over the winter, and the once promising flower buds tend to dry up prior to spring arriving. I would really like to have a few in my garden, but it has been a frustrating experience thus far.

    1. Dave says:

      We plant hundreds of dogwoods each year with good success. I find that the root balls of larger trees are usually more stable than on smaller trees, so I don’t think there’s an advantage in planting smaller trees (despite what I often read). Dogwoods have touchy roots, so it is most important that they are planted in an area that is well drained. They will not tolerate excess moisture. Also, it is very important that dogwoods not be planted too deeply. Most often when I see a tree that has died it has been planted below the natural soil line. I recommend that the top of the root ball be planted a few inches above the soil line to provide additional drainage.

      Otherwise, there is no secret to planting a dogwood. I’ve planted dogwoods in only the soil that comes out of the hole, with no amendments (topsoil or compost) at all, and they’ve done fine. In fact, if you are using soil amendments you must mix them thoroughly with the existing soil that is dug from the hole or the rich soil might hold too much water and ultimately kill the tree. When I hear that a tree is slowly declining I usually suspect root problems related to deep planting or waterlogged soil from poor drainage of excess organic soil amendments.

      If you’re ready to give up on the native dogwood the later blooming hybrids and Chinese dogwood are much easier trees. I’ll be writing about the alternative choices in a few days.

      1. tom says:

        Your diagnosis is very good. I have terribly acidic “subsoil” that drains extremely poorly (allegedly because its magnesium content is very high). Trying to find the balance of too much vs too little water in poorly draining soil has proven very difficult with dogwoods.

        Thanks for your advice. Looking forward to your next post.

  2. Tim says:

    I’m glad you mention the service berry. They are overlooked as backyard tree/shrub. I grew up with a wild one in the backyard and a few years ago I found four of them in the “charlie brown” section at a local nursery and snatched them up. Today they are thriving and the birds go nuts for the berries. Every spring I have neighbors stop and ask me what the kind of tree I have in the back yard with the great white blooms and when I tell them they all say that they have never heard of it. A second benefit if you are a fisherman is they bloom just when the shad are beginning to make their annual spawning run up the local tidal rivers. In many areas they are known more by the name shadbush.

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