This past winter punished many plants. Brutal and lengthy cold temperatures, in early January, coupled with our water deficit from last fall was the recipe for many broadleaf evergreens to succumb to nature’s wrath. Plants simply couldn’t pull in enough moisture to protect themselves from wind and temperature. As your garden awakens and your deciduous trees and shrubs “open their eyes” this April, don’t be surprised if your broadleaf evergreens i.e. rhododendron, azaleas and particularly Skip laurels don’t bounce back as you would like. Particularly those sited on the west side of your property, where the prevailing winds come from at the end of the day, drying plants out more quickly. Should you have an opportunity to replace a plant or two, consider one of the hottest trees on the market this spring with outstanding bracts.
Every year I attend numerous continuing education classes, trade shows, seminars, lectures and meet with industry leaders. To my recollection, not since ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’® has there been such a “buzz” in the industry touting the next “hot” plant. This past winter at the MANTS Show (Mid Atlantic Nursery Trade Show) in Baltimore, Maryland a new celebrity was largely showcased. ‘Scarlet Fire’® Dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Scarlet Fire’® (Rutpink) PPAF blazed to the forefront and many deciduous tree growers advertised this tree in their tradeshow booths. Introduced by Rutgers University, ‘Scarlet Fire’® Dogwood is the first kousa type (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan Dogwood) to be brought to market after 45 years of breeding. An awesome new introduction from the efforts of Dr. Tom Molnar. ‘Scarlet Fire’s’® bracts, “modified, usually small, leaflike structure often positioned beneath a flower or inflorescence,” (Britannica.com) are what most erroneously call its flowers. These bracts appear in June, last almost 8 weeks, and are a consistent dark, strong pink color, said to hold up to even our warmest summers here in New Jersey. Deep Pink to fuchsia at its peak, this new cultivar was also selected for its unusual large bracts, about 5 inches across. “Floriferous and precocious, the original tree flowered heavy at only 4 years old and budded plants can set many floral buds only after two growing seasons” (agproducts.rutgers.edu/dogwood/scarlet_fire.html).
These medium to large size bracts generally don’t overlap themselves. This cultivar, given time, will most likely become my new favorite pink type while Venus dogwood, Cornus ‘Kn30 8’ Venus will firmly remain as my favorite white type. “VENUS is a hybrid dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’ x Cornus nuttalii Goldspot’ x Cornus kousa ‘Rosea’) that was developed by Elwin R. Orton, Jr. as part of the Jersey Star series of dogwoods released by Rutgers University” (missouribotanicalgarden.org). I may be a bit biased though as Rutgers University is my alma mater. Important to note, ‘Scarlet Fire’s’® bracts appear more pointed than ‘Venus’’.
The leaves of ‘Scarlet Fire’® are dark green with hints of purple in its new growth and reportedly bright red fall color. Already described as a floriferous and moderately vigorous grower, another added bonus are its edible 1” carmine-fuchsia, knobby fruits in the fall. Tear through the outer papery shell and enjoy its inner custard consistency. Likened to that of an apple or mango flavor, remember not to harvest these too early as that would surely be unpleasant. And should you like to think “way out of the box,” I once saw a landscape architect spec Kousa dogwoods as a hedge in Far Hills, New Jersey. A design and effort that I continue to admire and see as quantum some 20 years later! The anticipated overall outline of this tree is 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. So please don’t plant this deciduous tree 5 feet off the corner of your home. ‘Scarlet Fire’® will also appreciate full sun to partial shade and its “Hardy” from zones 5-8. Chinese dogwood types, incidentally, are also more tolerant to humidity than our native species.
Perhaps “the most pink, heaviest flowering Kousa Dogwood we know” (pleasantrunnursery.com) thus far, this “intercrossing” type is not a hybrid. Disease resistant, particularly to Anthracnose, you can now obtain ‘Scarlet Fire’® at your local, independent garden center. Appreciable sizes are available, rather than miniscule mail order ones, which can complement your landscape immediately. The task of developing a Kousa dogwood type, showcasing deep pink-red markings, coupled with disease-resistant properties, seems to have been solved. Complex genetic combinations have filtered out and produced a better Japanese dogwood, one that Dr. Tom Molnar, Rutgers University and the Garden State can all be proud of.