08 Apr Spring Fever
Living in New Jersey we are privileged to experience the changing of seasons. We can experience them in their entirety, both the good and the bad. Winter can dish out some knockout storms, but it also sets a backdrop for some outstanding color. The redtwig dogwoods and the cinnamon-brown bark of Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) really shine against a white backdrop. And while the palate of color offered to gardeners in the winter is plentiful it is those little nubs that sit patiently through winter, unfolding themselves as spring approaches, that lets us know a new season is upon us. We are welcomed each spring with an explosion of color that raises our spirits and wets our appetites to get back into or gardens.
One of the first deciduous trees to welcome us to spring is the Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis). This modest sized tree with erect branching is literally covered with rose-purple colored flowers in late March and April. The flowers are born directly on the bark, starting as little colored nubs and finishing like a red streamer. Indigenous to central China, this small tree can fit into any landscape comfortably. With a height and width of only 10 to 15 feet, it is a small wonder signaling things to come. Following it’s profusion of color are its heart-shaped, glossy green leaves. Try searching out the cultivar ‘Avondale’ and you won’t believe your eyes. This species is best planted in full sun and while it enjoys well drained soil, it is highly adaptive.
Another exciting deciduous plant with extending characteristics is Fothergilla. This eye-opener offers three seasons of interest. First to show are its fragrant, white flowers which almost always appear before its foliage. Looking like tiny bottle-brushes, these flowers persist for about two weeks. Attractive, dark green, somewhat leathery foliage in the summer is offered, however, some varieties like ‘Blue Mist’ can have more of a blue hue. Finally, in the fall, Fothergilla can serve up extremes in color from brilliant yellows to oranges and scarlets, often on the same leaves. Heights can vary from 2-3 feet on gardenia (dwarf Fothergilla) to 6-10 feet on major (large Fothergilla). Whatever your appetite and garden footprint is you’re sure to find a cultivar that will fit nicely into your garden space, offering up seasonal interest. Fothergilla looks fantastic tucked in with such evergreens as rhododendron and laurels, offering a different texture to the landscape. Whenever possible look for a site that has part to full sun for its best color markings.
A lesser known plant material that acts as a building block for larger plants to sit behind is Sarcococca (Himalayan Sweetbox). An evergreen groundcover, Sweetbox has its name from tiny, white, fragrant, flowers that usually appear each March and April under its foliage. Native to Afghanistan and the Himalayas, Sarcococca has narrow, stylish, dark green foliage. It pairs itself nicely when mass planted amongst smaller deciduous plant materials. A great groundcover that can stay in bounds without fear of running rampant, the variety humilis seems to be the best for northern gardens. Size can vary from 1-2 feet to 4-6 feet. Try to place this plant in partial to shady areas or under larger specimens to block out some sun.
Now that winter seems to be behind us, it’s nice to know that the offerings of spring are on their way. With such diversity in foliage, flower color, fruit set and bark appeal, New Jersey has many plants that will thrive in our climate. Decisions for your garden should not be made capriciously, however many are reversible. As you travel through your local garden centers, arboretums and backyard gardens this spring…take notes and plan well. Remember spring is on its way and the best is yet to come.