A Handful of Flowering Trees to Wet our Appetites

article written for www.patch.com

I think by now we are all experiencing the doldrums of winter and are eagerly awaiting the explosion of color that spring provides. While bark appeal, bud formations and winter skeletal outlines are impressive; there is no denying that the emergence of flowers kicks off spring’s arrival. Honestly, after all the snow we had this winter, who isn’t looking forward to some colorful flowers?

Right around the end of February, I start looking eagerly into landscapes in search of these three harbingers of spring. The first is Corneliancherry Dogwood, Cornus mas, a tree native to southern Europe and western Asia that has been cultivated since ancient times. A small tree with an oval to rounded outline, this dogwood type has magnificent yellow flowers that will be opening soon.  Cornus mas are easily identifiable as there is little competition from other flowering trees this time of year. Equally as impressive, at least for me, is the exfoliating, grey-brown, flaky bark, distinguishable before the dark green foliage appears. The fall is just as exciting with what can be purplish-red leaves and even more interesting are the oblong, cherry-red drupes that are popular for making preserves.

The second, Vernal Witchhazel, Hamamelis vernalis, is another smaller stature tree or large shrub native from Missouri to Louisiana. Fragrant yellow to red flowers arrive on this beauty this time of year and persist for a month or so. Witchhazel makes for an excellent specimen, however I seen an outstanding hedge line of this plant on a private estate in Far Hills, New Jersey. I have always been enamored with the foliage of this Witchhazel as the new growth is bronze with purple hues. The hardened growth has rich green markings on quilted foliage with rich yellows in the autumn. A very “hardy” witchhazel with no serious pests, Hamamelis vernalis has several outstanding cultivars to look for.

Finally, Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is my favorite tree emerging from the winter and is a beacon in any garden. Native from New Jersey to Florida, Missouri and Texas, this genus has tons of great cultivars to choose from. A medium sized tree whose finished outline is 20 to 30 feet tall and wide, Redbuds have shocking, brightly colored flowers. What start off as tiny, colored nubs born on the bark of the tree quickly explode filling the tree with what look like streamers throughout. Complete with long, true pods (legumes) hanging in the tree in the fall and strong yellow fall foliage, the main attraction are the rich, vibrant flowers offered now. While there are white flowering varieties, the lion’s share that we sell has purple and red tones. Most of these neon-colored varieties look as though someone plugged them into an outlet. Be on the lookout for ‘Forest Pansy’, a variety with purple leaves and rose-purple flowers and ‘Ruby Falls’ which has similar markings, however, this one is a weeping form that is new, choice and highly coveted. ‘Appalachian Red’ is yet another that offers deep red-purple buds which open neon-pink.

If you’re looking to extend your gardens interest these three plants will surely help. February can be an exciting month for gardeners and is certainly a precursor of things to come.