Spring is the time for blooming trees

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 2, 2013
- Contributed Photo

While annuals, perennials and shrubs certainly have their place in the home landscape, few sights are as dazzling as a mature tree covered with blossoms. The range of flowering tree species is really quite large and varied. There is a size, shape and color for every yard. Many spring blooming trees steal the show by opening their cheery flower buds long before other deciduous trees have even leafed out.

When selecting a flowering tree, several factors should be considered before choosing the one that is right for the site you have in mind. First, find out the mature height and width of the tree. For a small patio or yard, or near power lines, it is best to purchase a variety that will not overwhelm the site, nor have to be constantly topped so it will not grow into the wires.

Think about what kind of form the tree will exhibit. Some are rounded or oval; others are pyramidal, columnar, weeping, vase-shaped or wide-spreading. The height and the shape should blend in well with surrounding vegetation, as well as the structural features created by buildings, patios, walkways and other permanent landscape elements.

Don’t forget to check a tree’s hardiness rating, cultural requirements, and annual maintenance needs. Does the tree prefer acidic or alkaline soils? Can it tolerate drought or does it require constant moisture? Several flowering trees, most notably crabapples and hawthorns, can be susceptible to diseases. Look for disease resistant cultivars. Another consideration is fall color, which varies from spectacular to virtually non-existent. Bark color and characteristics may also be important for winter interest.

One of the most familiar of New England’s spring flowering trees is the dogwood. Its bracts (not true flower petals) may be pink, white or red. Typically flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) reach about 30 feet in height and are happiest when used as understory trees, which are their natural position in the landscape. A few decades ago, a disease known as dogwood anthracnose, was found to infect dogwoods in New England and in other parts of the country. As it turns out, it is not as devastating here in Connecticut as in other parts of the country, and plants sited correctly and cared for usually just experience some leaf spotting symptoms. The white flowering Kousa dogwood (C. kousa) has shown resistance to this disease. Crosses between the two species are disease resistant but, according to one source, tend to be a bit leggy.

Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are covered with purple-pink blossoms in early spring. Both white and pink flowering cultivars are available, as well as one with variegated leaves. Redbuds reach about 35 feet in height. Its heart-shaped leaves turn a nice yellow in the fall.

The Carolina silverbell (Halesia Carolina), which grows about 40 feet tall, is covered with delicate white, bell-shaped flowers each spring. It prefers a moist well-drained, acid soil. Carolina silverbells are often grown as multistemmed trees and they have an attractive furrowed bark which is attractive in the winter.

Renowned for its drooping clusters of yellow flowers, the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) also produces interesting seed pods. Great as a specimen tree, it does best on a sunny, well-drained site, but once established, this tree is also quite tolerant of air pollution.

Yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea) not only displays a nice display of white flowers in early summer, but since it reaches a height of about 50 feet, it is also a good shade tree. The leaves turn an orangey-yellow in the fall and the smooth, grey bark is notable for winter interest.

A lovely tree for all seasons is the sourwood (Oxydendron arborem). The leaves are a spritely green in the spring, darkening with age and changing to shades of reddish purple in the fall. Clusters of lily of the valley-like flowers are produced in late summer – a time when few other trees are blooming. In the winter, the grey, furrowed bark is attractive, and this tree is virtually free from pests and diseases.

Many other flowering trees are readily available to home gardeners. Next time you are in the market for a tree, don’t overlook the ones that have a notable bloom. You can check out some potential candidates at the UConn Plant Database website, www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/. You can also call for suggestions about what tree to plant, as well as for other indoor or outdoor gardening topics, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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