American Dogwood

Before foliage develops, this American dogwood is a cloud of profuse pink bloom in a partly shaded and sheltered garden.

The state tree of Missouri produces the state flower of North Carolina, which are both the state tree and state flower of Virginia, but no so exploited by the state that it seems to be named for! The American dogwood, Cornus florida, is such a classic American tree that last year, young trees were given to Japan to commemorate the gift of Japanese flowering cherry trees from Japan a century earlier.

Profuse early spring bloom is not what it seems to be. Tight clusters of minute flowers would not be much to look at, but are surrounded by four big white bracts (modified leaves) that really put on an impressive show before green leaves develop. Many modern varieties have pink or nearly brick red bracts, and a few get variegated foliage as bloom dissipates. Foliage can get quite colorful just before it falls in autumn.

In the wild, American dogwoods are ‘understory’ trees that are happiest in forests of larger trees that shelter them from harsh sun exposure and drying wind. In relatively arid western climates, they want rich soil, regular watering and partial shade at least after noon. They are sensitive to reflected glare and wind, as well as alkalinity and salinity. (Too much fertilizer will roast the foliage.) Since American dogwood trees rarely get more than fifteen feet tall in cultivation, they are proportionate to sheltered atriums. Wild trees do not get much taller than thirty feet.

Flowering Apricot

Flowering apricot blooms before flowering cherry.

Even when weather is more typical for the local climate, many types of flowering apricot, Prunus mume, bloom during winter. Flowers seem to be a bit more resilient to wind, rain and frost than those of flowering cherry that bloom a month or so later. Nonetheless, they are delicate and share their white or pastel pink color with wintry landscapes only briefly. 

Although many garden varieties of flowering apricot are fruitless, some, particularly feral trees, produce fruit. Some of such fruit is desirable to those who utilize it. However, most is unpalatable without specialized processing. Flowering apricot works as understock for a few related trees, so occasionally grows from the roots of such trees after their removal. 

Flowering apricot is quite rare locally, which is why it seems to be so unseasonable as it blooms so early. Like flowering cherry and plum, it blooms on otherwise bare stems prior to generating new foliage for spring. Copious bloom of garden varieties is nicely fragrant. Flowers are nearly an inch wide. Mature trees are about ten to more than twenty feet tall, and almost as broad.

Black Locust

White black locust bloom seems oxymoronic.

The natural ranges of black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, likely included only the Ozark Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains, and the Appalachian Mountains south of New York. Early American colonists planted it elsewhere before botanists documented its origins. It was notably used for firewood, durable lumber, erosion mitigation, and soil conditioning.

Modern cultivars are less useful for such applications, but are more appropriate for home gardens. Regardless of elegantly lofty form, delightfully finely textured foliage, and richly fragrant white bloom, the species is aggressively invasive and wickedly thorny. Cultivars can bloom pink or rosy pink, lack thorns, and develop more compact and shapely forms.

Bloom resembles that of wisteria, with many small flowers hanging in pendulous trusses. Deciduous foliage, which was absent through winter, appears in conjunction with bloom, but does not obscure it. Individual leaves are pinnately compound, with small leaflets on central rachises (stalks). Most modern cultivars will not get much more than forty feet tall, to make moderate shade.

Six on Saturday: Festival des Fleurs de Cerise

Beau prefers French. I do not know why. He was born in Missouri. His name is derived from ‘Hobo’ (‘HoBeau’). Since vehicles here are traditionally named after places, he may believe that his name was derived from ‘Boulder Creek’ (‘Beaulder Creek’) or Bonny Doon (‘Beaunny Doon’). Nonetheless, there is nothing French about Beau. I do not argue. Nor do I argue with Rhody if he insists that Beau is a Pontiac rather than a Chevrolet. If he believes that we ride in that kind of style, it is just fine with me. Anyway, after last Saturday, some wanted to see Beau.

1. Two years after we intended to remove this pair of historic flowering cherry tree, they get to bloom one last time. Sadly, their demise can be delayed no longer. Their trunks are too rotten.

2. Three similar flowering cherry trees down the road have been recovering from foliar disease during the same two years. They are neither as pretty nor as distinguished, but have potential.

3. Adjacent to #2, this most garish flowering cherry tree is the most prominent. Unfortunately, like #1, it is deteriorating, so will also be removed after bloom. Half of the canopy is necrotic.

4. This one should succumb instead. To me, weeping flowering cherries look weird. This one was in bad condition when I met it. Unfortunately, my efforts to renovate it have been effective.

5. Oh, my favorite. The flowers are double, but not as fluffy as those of #3. It really is as white as it looks, without any blush. The tree is disfigured and shaded by redwoods, but blooms well.

6. Beau was the unseen star of my previous Six on Saturday. He is neither French nor related to ‘the’ Beau of the Frustrated Gardener, but is pretty cool anyway, and drives on the right side.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Star Magnolia

Star magnolia blooms before it foliates.

Spring seems to develop suddenly, and without a very precise schedule. Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, which can bloom as late as early in April, is already finished blooming in most regions. It should be no surprise. Technically, it can bloom before March. Foliage does not compete with bloom on otherwise bare stems. It appears as bloom deteriorates.

The bright white flowers are about three inches wide, and lavishly profuse. Cultivars with pale pink bloom are increasingly popular. Their pink color may be variable, according to the weather. Flowers have more than a dozen narrow tepals. Some are fluffier with twice as many. Fragrance is mild. Stems can be cut and brought inside just as buds pop open.

Star magnolia is more of a deciduous flowering shrub than a small tree. It should not get much taller than six feet, although it can eventually get to be nearly twice as wide. Partly shaded specimens can reach ground floor eaves. The lime green leaves darken through summer, turn pale yellow for autumn, and finally defoliate to reveal sculptural gray stems.

Flowering Peach

Flowering peach flowers produce no fruit.

Since it does not produce an abundance of cumbersome fruit, flowering peach, Prunus persica, does not need the aggressive pruning while dormant through winter that fruiting peach requires, and can get significantly larger. However, tip pruning after bloom instead promotes shrubbier growth that blooms more prolifically the following spring. The fluffy double flowers are clear white, bright pink or rich pinkish red. ‘Peppermint’ flowering peach has red and white flowers, with a few flowers that are only white, and sometimes a few that are only red.

Flowering Fruit Trees Without Fruit

Flowers are sometimes better than fruit.

All of the popular fruit trees produce flowers. Otherwise, they could not produce fruit. The stone fruits, such as almond, apricot, cherry, peach, plum and prune, bloom very impressively this time of year. (Stone fruits have single large seeds known as stones. Almonds are the large stones of small fruits that resemble peaches.) The pomme fruits, such as apple and pear, bloom about as prolifically shortly afterward, followed lastly by related but rare quince.

The difference between these trees and their counterparts known as ‘flowering’ trees is not so much the flowers, but the fruit. ‘Flowering’ is something of a euphemism for trees that might otherwise be known as ‘fruitless’, since they produce either uselessly small fruit, or no fruit at all.

This may seem silly to those who enjoy growing fresh fruit in the garden. However, fruit trees require so much pruning in winter, and can be so messy if the fruit does not get completely harvested. The flowering trees are happy to provide the profuse bloom without so much maintenance and potential mess. Because they were developed as ornamental trees, their flowers are more impressive, with many more shades of pink, as well as white. Many types bloom with big and fluffy double flowers.

Flowering cherry and plum are probably the most popular of the flowering stone fruit trees. Most flowering plums have purplish foliage, so are more commonly known as purple-leaf plum. Flowering almond, apricot, prune and peach are relatively somewhat rare. Most flowering stone fruit trees are completely fruitless, but some purple-leaf plum can produce messy and sour plums as they mature.

Flowering pear is probably not recognized as such because it is more often known as fruitless pear. Ironically, it can produce enough tiny pear fruit to be messier than other flowering fruit trees. Flowering pear blooms only white, and is not as florific as the other flowering trees, but grows large enough to be a mid-sized shade tree, and has the advantage of remarkable foliar color in autumn. Evergreen pear is an entirely different sort of tree that only blooms well if the weather is just so, and lacks fall color (because it is semi-evergreen).

Flowering apples are known as flowering crabapples. Unlike the other flowering trees, many flowering crabapples develop a sloppy branch structure if not pruned almost like trees that produce fruit. Yet, the weirdest of the flowering trees is the flowering quince, which is not even the same genus as fruiting quince. It develops into a thicket that blooms before everything else. Fruiting quince instead matures into a rampant tree, and blooms after the other fruit trees.

Flowering Crabapple

Flowering crabapple blooms like flowering cherry.

All crabapple trees flower. Almost all subsequently produce fruit. Those designated as ‘flowering’ crabapples exhibit the most spectacular bloom, but generally produce inferior fruit. A few cultivars are nearly fruitless. Crabapples not designated as ‘flowering’ are not as bold in bloom, but generally produce larger fruit of better quality. Their fruit is useful for jelly and other culinary applications.

Almost all crabapple trees here are flowering crabapples. Fruiting crabapples are rare locally. Their fruit is not as popular as it is in other regions. However, flowering crabapples that produce big fruit are increasingly trendy. Their fruits can get as wide as an inch and a half, almost as big as fruits of fruiting crabapples. If not picked or eaten by birds, even typical berry sized fruits are messy.

White, pink or reddish pink bloom is impressively profuse, just prior to spring foliation. In fact, bloom is comparable to that of flowering cherries, and only a bit later. Most flowering crabapples get no taller than fifteen feet. Aggressive annual dormant pruning is not necessary as it is for trees that produce heavy apples. Instead, mature trees appreciate summer structure pruning and thinning.

Spring Pruning Of Flowering Trees

Some plants prefer pruning after bloom.

Most major pruning happens while the plants that need it are dormant through winter. That is why it is known as ‘dormant pruning’. Such pruning would be so much more disruptive while plants are blooming, fruiting, foliating or growing. Pruning that happens during other seasons is not as aggressive as dormant pruning. Spring pruning, although practical for some plants, is relatively docile.

For deciduous fruit trees, dormant pruning is very important. It concentrates resources into fruit production, but also limits production to sustainable quantities. Otherwise, such fruit trees would be unable to support the weight of their own copious fruit. Spring pruning of such trees is simply too late. By that time, superfluous fruit has already consumed significant resources, only to be wasted.

Stone fruit trees and pome fruit trees are familiar examples of deciduous fruit trees that rely on dormant pruning. Stone fruits include peach, nectarine, apricot, plum and their relatives. Pome fruits are primarily apple and pear. Ironically though, their fruitless but flowering counterparts perform best with spring pruning instead. As similar as they all are, they have completely different priorities.

Flowering cherry trees bloom more spectacularly than fruiting cherry trees, but produce no fruit. Similarly, flowering crabapple trees bloom more colorfully than fruiting apple trees, but produce only tiny fruit. Neither must sustain production of significant fruit. Nor must they support the increasing weight of developing fruit. Prolific bloom is their primary function. Spring pruning accommodates.

Spring pruning allows flowering trees to first bloom as profusely as possible. Pruned out stems have already served their purpose. Because fruit production is not a concern, spring pruning is less severe than dormant pruning. Nonetheless, because dormant pruning is so practical for so many plants, spring pruning may seem impractical. It is tempting to prune dormant flowering trees now. Doing so harmlessly compromises bloom.

Saucer Magnolia

Spring color blooms before winter ends.

Before the deciduous foliage regenerates, saucer magnolia, Magnolia X soulangeana, is already completely overwhelmed with a profusion of big pastel pink and white flowers. Some of the many cultivars bloom white, paler pink or purplish. Some are more purple than pink. Individual flowers are about six inches wide. Some cultivars bloom with globular flowers that do not open quite so broadly. Others open even wider. The largest flowers can get almost a foot wide. Eventually, fading flowers will be replaced with big and soft lime green leaves. Most saucer magnolia trees are grown with several trunks and low branches to display the bloom more prominently, as well as to display the sculptural branch structure while bare through winter. The flat bark is strikingly light gray.