An Opportunity to Plant Something New

Winter Storm Quinn, the powerful nor’easter that hit our area March 6-8 this year, has many of our customers asking about replacement trees. Quinn came just days after another nor’easter devastated much of the Northeast. Macro-scale cyclones, nor’easter gets its name “from the direction of the strongest winds that will be hitting an eastern seaboard of the northern hemisphere” ( Heavy snow and strong winds resulted in widespread tree damage and power outages. Twenty-two inches of the “white stuff” fell quickly, and the result was pure carnage to our trees. White pines toppled out of the ground, Norway spruce had their heaviest limbs torn from their body and pear and magnolia trees seemed to break right in half. Two things are certain now. First, these more frequent, powerful storms should have you putting value on maintaining your trees, i.e. pruning for structural integrity. Second, garden centers will be busy this spring recommending replacement trees for residential landscapes. Cognizant that many residential lots are a half acre or less, here are a few stellar trees to consider going forward.

Bowhall Maple, Acer rubrum ‘Bowhall’ is an upright narrow to oval shape red maple type. Tightly formed and sturdy, ‘Bowhall’ has medium green foliage in the spring and summer with yellow-orange to reddish orange tones in the fall. Hardy to zone 4, this red maple grows 40 feet tall and only 15 feet wide. Given that Red or Scarlet maples, Acer rubrum, grow 40 feet by 40 feet, ‘Bowhall’s’ ascending branch structure seems to make this cultivar a more suitable contender for smaller footprints.

Chinese Fringetree, Chionanthus retusus ‘Tokyo Tower’ is a tree I have spoken about in the past. Continuing to impress me year after year, this narrow, upright vase-shaped tree gets smothered with large clusters of white flowers in late spring.  Glossy, dark green foliage and golden-tan exfoliating bark are even more appealing to me. And let’s not forget blueberry-like fruit in the summer and remarkable yellow fall color. A full sun to part shade tree, this four season beauty would look stunning banked off the corner of your home or in just about any landscape bed you can imagine. Growing 20 feet tall and only 10 feet wide, Chinese Fringetree will be no threat to your home or garden spaces going forward should these frequent storm surges continue.

Emerald City Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera ‘JFS-Oz’ has impressed me at several arboretum and private gardens. The largest tree in this article, ‘Emerald City’ grows 50 feet tall and half as wide. Another tree known for its glossy, deep green foliage, this tulip tree also has bright, clear yellow leaves in the fall. A refined cultivar, ‘Emerald City’ is a more uniform growing selection, complete with a dominant leader, lending to a straighter appearance. True to form, this tulip trees flowers are yellow to greenish yellow with an orange center. A native tree and hardy to zone 4b, normally I would not recommend a tree notorious for weak wood, however ‘Emerald City’ is not your “normal” tulip tree.

Let’s talk Magnolias! Unequivocally, this tree type had more damage, after Winter Storm Quinn, than any other. For the simple reason, this tree type is a harbinger of spring and sap was flowing more readily and its buds were about to burst. Magnolias seemed to shatter from the sheer weight of the heavy snow. Many Star and Saucer types, stellata and soulangeana, collapsed leaving an opportunity to plant anew. A Sweetbay Magnolia that I am particularly fond of is, Magnolia virginiana ‘Green Shadow’. The evergreen foliage of ‘Green Shadow’ forms a tight oval tree with fragrant white flowers in the summer. Another native and a selection of Magnolia virginiana var. australis by the great Don Shadow, people sometimes forget the versatility of this tree. Reliably evergreen and wet site tolerant, this cultivar is more narrow than other types. ‘Green Shadow’ establishes a center leader more easily and personally I didn’t see any harm to Sweetbay Magnolia types after Winter Storm Quinn. Perhaps because they flower in the summer rather than early spring.

Quite often, customers come into our garden center and seem to be swayed by the largest tree they can buy for the least amount of money, a lesson hopefully learned at this point. After all, “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.”

John Ruskin