It’s tree planting time!
Why am I so emphatic about that? It starts with the soil being warm this time of year. Winter temperatures and rains are still a ways off and trees can become established in the next few months.
It’s also the time when you can judge the fall color of a tree, in order to enhance your landscape.
Trees can be beautiful all year round. During the wet days of winter they can show off their shiny bark that will glisten when the tiniest ray of sunshine strikes it. Exfoliating bark adds interest too. Some bark is colorful like the reddish bark of some crape myrtles.
The orange/red berries of the Hawthorn lure wintering songbirds all season long. In spring, flowers deck many trees even before the leaves show up. Summer continues the burst of color and a shower of flower petals also. And lovely fall with red, yellow and orange leaves that do their best to let those New Englanders know we have fall color too!
Many homeowners choose trees that are so massive that their house is dwarfed. Most front yards can not provide the space to fully appreciate a Coast Redwood or Magnolia grandiflora. Instead, let’s focus on a few trees that are positive additions to a front yard.
Just about every front yard can be enhanced by a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata). This small tree grows slowly to between 10 to 20 feet in height and about 15 feet wide. The mostly horizontal branches are well-spaced rather than tight and dense. It gives the tree an airy openness.
The bark is silvery gray and shines when wet.
In late winter or early spring the star-shaped flowers appear. They can be white, pink, or even pale yellow. They last for several weeks until the bright green leaves start to unfurl.
The leaves are pea green, which means they will stand out against dark green foliage of other plants. The leaves will eventually turn yellow and then brown when autumn comes.
The tree needs no pruning except for a possible dead or broken branch. It will take average water and can tolerate life as a lawn tree. Just keep the lawn mower and weed whacker away from the trunk.
No fertilizer is needed.
The Washington Hawthorn, crataegus phaenopyrum, is larger than the Star Magnolia, rising to 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide.
It too has many graceful, horizontal branches that are widely spaced allowing sunlight to penetrate and grass to grow if planted in a lawn.
The gray bark is shiny when wet.
After the glossy green leaves unfurl in spring small white blossoms cover the tree, which can be either roundish or pyramidal in shape.
Again, no pruning is necessary except the occasional broken branch. The tree has thorns so do be careful if you should have to prune this tree. It takes average water. It is susceptible to scale. Insecticidal soap is beneficial as is a collar around the trunk spread with a product such as Tanglefoot to stop the scale.
Come late summer and early fall, reddish-orange berries form and provide winter food for the birds. The leaves put on a show of orange, scarlet and purple before they fall in late autumn.
The last of the trees I wanted to mention is the newcomer.
It is the Crape Myrtle, Lagerstroemia Indica, variety called “Dynamite.”
This tree grows to 20 feet high and 15 feet wide.
Crape Myrtles have handsome exfoliating bark that shows well in the winter when the tree is leafless. It has dark green leaves and is resistant to powdery mildew.
It’s also nice to know that deer don’t eat Crape Myrtle foliage. The cherry red flowers appear in mid-summer and stay on the branches for up to four months. The tree also has excellent mildew resistance. Come autumn the leaves turn red and orange before they fall.
Crape Myrtles enjoy the full sun to the point where even an hour or two of shade during the day can stop it from blooming. Crape Myrtles only bloom on new wood , so make sure to prune yours in winter or early spring.
The tree requires no fertilizer.
It can also get by on minimal water.
Although not common in warm, dry climates a Crape Myrtle tree can develop brown spots on the leaves that will later turn the leaves yellow. This is a sign of leaf spot. Spray with a fungicide every two weeks starting in June or July if this fungus appears.
A very specific aphid can attack the tree. The pest is yellow or green and can be followed by black or sooty mold. Just like other aphid infestations, a sharp jet of water from a hose or a complete spraying with insecticidal soap is the best treatment.
Dottie Deems is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.