29 Apr The Unfolding of Spring
The Unfolding of Spring
After months of looking at snow and ice and weathering below average temperatures, spring has finally arrived. Spectacular color is once again here to enhance our landscapes, brighten our smiles and warm our emotional sides. While of course we have the crocus, daffodils, tulips and the pedestrian forsythia to admire, a series of plants which I eagerly await is Japanese maples.
Aside from the sensational colors Japanese maples can afford you in the landscape, they are extremely versatile as well. Far too often larger trees, the likes of maple, oak, ash, beech, birch, katsura and zelkova, are planted within a few feet of residential and commercial housing. Whether it is underestimating the potential of these majestic beauties or being swayed by price at time of purchase, one thing is clear, not enough homework was done before making the purchase. Deciduous ornamental trees (those who lose their leaves in the winter) are divided into small, medium and large groups. The largest of this group of trees has average heights of 50 feet and larger. Medium, deciduous trees generally grow between 30-50 feet while smaller trees finish nicely between 15 and 30 feet. Considering the parcels of residential space that most have in New Jersey, 15-30 foot trees are more than sufficient.
Outstanding spring and fall color markings, interesting bark and of course those winter silhouettes punctuated by their unique skeletal patterns are all features to look forward to. More to the point, it is now that buds are swelling and those tiny leaves are unfolding, ready to put on their spring show. While Japanese maples is a huge, diverse group of plants, here is just a smattering of some exciting spring colored ones which should be easy to procure. All are smaller deciduous types.
Still showing off from last fall is Coral Bark Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’. Coral Bark’s bark becomes punctuated as the temperatures begin to drop. Fiery, coral- red bark is evident from Halloween through Mother’s Day. In addition, their soft, green leaves are a bold contrast to its bark for more than half the year. Finally, the fall color matches the Halloween theme as its foliage turns an orange-gold color. Acer palmatum ‘Emeror 1’, ‘Fireglow’ and ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ are all palmate types ( the leaflets or lobes radiate from the base of a leaf appearing more fan-like) and have better red markings. Not to be confused with dissected types where the lobes are divided into narrow, more slender segments like fringe. ‘Emperor 1’ leafs out a deep purple and retains its color even when our heat index rises; which stresses other types. ‘Fireglow’ has five to seven lobes which are a dark wine-red. Raised in Italy and named in the Netherlands, it too keeps its color in the warmer summer months. ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ is the fastigiate type of the three having a husky, columnar appearance. Deep red color, all season long, is held on “numerous apically dominant branches” (Iseli Nursery). A highlight of this plant, found by Ken Twombly of Connecticut, is its deep blood-red branches in the winter. Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, a personal favorite in our garden, is unique in both form and color. Orange-yellow foliage emerges in the spring which is held over bright green bark. Again, raised in Italy by Fratelli Gilardelli, a company and tradition that has been around since 1800. Two variegated types to be on the lookout for this spring are ‘Acer palmatum Butterfly’ and ‘Ukigumo’. ‘Butterfly’ is a vase-shaped tree whose small, dainty leaves emerge blue-green with white margins tinged with pink. ‘Ukigumo’, known as the “Floating Cloud Maple”, has bright white variegation backed by light green. Also known for having pink tinges, this one is a real show stopper. Finally, Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma gaki’ has chartreuse foliage dipped in red. As the months progress so do the red margins becoming more prominent with a light cream center. Incidentally, Tsuma gaki means red nail.
Japanese maples make outstanding container garden plants. Surprisingly hardy and capable of producing year round interest, consider using them in your existing landscapes. Imagine ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ or ‘Sango Kaku’ in a cobalt blue planter dumped into your existing perennial beds to be enjoyed all summer long. Move the same planter to your backyard on a deck or patio for a whole new feel in the winter. These portable gardens of living sculpture are fun, add great highlights to your garden and are low maintenance.