There are plenty of choices in flowering trees for our area

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Danniel Ward-Packard
Thursday, May 9, 2013

When new garden clients request a specific flowering tree, they often ask for a magnolia, a Bradford pear or a crabapple. While these popular trees are quite showy while in flower, there are many other hardy trees that bloom spectacularly in our area. What’s more, some of these less common trees are hardier and more disease resistant than these over-planted favorites. If you are looking for a slightly more unusual tree, you’d do well to consider these beauties.

Fringetree: While its botanical name is Chionanthus virginicus, don’t let the Virginia in its name let you be fooled about its hardiness. Fringetree is no delicate Southern belle. It is hardy all the way down to Florida, but it is also hardy all the way up to northernmost Wisconsin.

Growing either as a single stem or multistemmed tree, at maturity it is usually a compact 12 feet to 15 feet tall. Native to North America, it is adaptable to sun or part shade, tolerates air pollution and is moderately drought tolerant. Better yet, the male plant produces an abundance of fragrant panicles of creamy white flowers in May, and the female plant produces eye-catching blue fruit in the fall, so be sure to plant at least one of each. It is pest and disease free.

I know of only one “problem” with this tree. I get calls every spring from clients reporting that their fringetree has died over the winter. Nope. This tree is smart: It waits until all chance of frost is over before it leafs out in the spring. Unlike crabs, pears and magnolias, fringetree never loses its bloom to a late frost.

Red Horse chestnut: There are a number of really terrific horse chestnuts or buckeyes for the home garden. Although many smaller ones also should be used more often, Aesculus x carnea, the red horse chestnut, is a large tree with outstanding pink to bright scarlet flowers. Even when not in bloom, red horse chestnut is striking, with large, coarse textured, nearly emerald green leaves.

Like oak and hickory, this tree should not be planted near patios or driveways because it does produce a seedpod that drops in the fall. However, the popular hybrid Briotii hardly produces any seeds at all. Although it will show signs of scorch if it gets dry, it also has moderate drought resistance and is rarely bothered by pests or disease.

It performs best in a mulched bed without too much competition from other plants. Like many maples, mature specimens will cast so much shade that grass will not thrive under it -- something to consider before planting.

Serviceberry: A small tree or large shrub in form, this North American native thrives here in Walworth County, providing four-season interest with its spring flowers, edible (even by humans) summer berries, brilliant fall color and graceful winter form. Of course, you would never, ever eat anything unless you knew for sure what it was. There are plants out there with poisonous red berries, too.

The serviceberry’s botanical name is Amelanchier canadensis, and there are many exceptional cultivars available. Also called Juneberry, its fruit is plentiful and delicious, even on a small tree, although some cultivars are tastier than others. The berries, however, do not store well, so this fruit has never become a supermarket staple.

Serviceberry thrives in part sun to part shade. Although in some areas they are susceptible to rusts, here in Walworth County we have not seen much of a problem. For photos of these and other blooming trees, go to my blog at www.obsessed midwestgardener.com.

Danniel Ward-Packard is a garden writer and landscape contractor based in Lake Geneva. She co-owns Botanica Fine Gardens and Landscapes. Contact her at (262)?248-7513.

Last updated: 8:46 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

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