By Nancy Buley, Director of Communications, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Jump-start spring in your garden by choosing trees that bloom in late winter or early spring. Sulfur yellow Cornelian cherry blooms, the subtle tufted flowers of parrotia, brick-red blooms of red maples and the bright sizzle of witch hazel flowers herald the advent of spring.
A mantle of snow accents the bright sulfur-yellow blooms of Cornelian cherry.
Bright blue winter skies are a fitting background for the upright branches and narrow form of Saffron Sentinel® Cornelian cherry.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is the first among trees to flower, bursting into bloom even before the forsythia. Tight buds clustered along the winter-bare branches of this unusual dogwood species explode into masses of small, sulfur-yellow flowers in late winter or early spring. They are particularly bold and beautiful when topped with a layer of snow. Glossy dark green foliage and bright red, cherry-like edible fruits appear among leaves of late summer that turn reddish orange in autumn. Golden Glory Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’) is a handsome and vigorous cultivar notable for its bright blooms and abundant fruit crop. Both are rated hardy through USDA Hardiness Zone 5.
Saffron Sentinel® Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas ‘JFSPN4Legacy) is a rare but very promising new introduction – destined to be a perfect choice for narrow spaces. Blooming early on upright branches, its bright yellow flowers are followed by dark green leaves that emerge with a purple tint and turn to deep crimson in autumn. Dark brown bark exfoliates with age. Zone 4 hardiness makes it a fine option for colder climates.
Persian parrotia flower clusters are composed of fringe-like pinkish-maroon stamens that appear in late winter to early spring. Photo by Nancy Buley.
Persian parrotia (Parrotia persica) breaks the spell of monochromatic late winter/early spring landscapes when its small, dark brown buds open to reveal pinkish-maroon flowers. Composed of fringe-like stamens, the blooms are subtle but enchanting when viewed up close. Spring brings deep green, boldly textured leaves that turn to brilliant tones of orange, red, pink, purple and yellow in autumn. This all-season beauty is drought and pest tolerant, and adaptable to varied soils and growing conditions.
If your landscape is space-challenged, look for smaller stature cultivars such as Vanessa, Ruby Vase® (‘Inge’s Ruby Vase’), Persian Spire™ (‘JL Columnar’ PP24951), and the columnar Golden BellTower™ (‘Chrishaven 1’PP28584).
Early spring flowers of Red Sunset® maple.
Red maples (Acer rubrum) are rarely regarded as flowering trees, but I rate them among my favorites as a spring wakeup call. Their small, brick-red flowers are barely noticed by normal people, but we “tree geeks” cheer when these harbingers of spring appear! Individual flowers are tiny, but remarkably bright when in full bloom. Red Sunset® (pictured), Redpointe®, October Glory®, the seedless Sun Valley, and the relatively compact, columnar Red Rocket are among the many fine cultivars from which to choose.
Jelena witch hazel, dripping with beauty and melting snow in the winter landscape.
Arnold Promise witch hazel can be grown into a lovely small-stature tree. Photo courtesy of Nancy Buley, pictured.
Hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) bring bright sparks of living color to the awakening garden when their spidery blooms unfurl in late winter to early spring. Generally low-branched and multi-stemmed, (with patience and time) they can be trained into a small tree like the Arnold Promise witch hazel that took about six years for me to grow from a small potted liner into a lovely small tree of about 15’ in height and 10’ wide at maturity.
Lemony-yellow Primavera, coppery-orange Jelena and crimson-red Diane are popular and readily available cultivars. All lend themselves to cultivation as small trees, as suggested on Page 394 of The Tree Book. Published in 2019 by Timber Press and co-authored by Dr. Michael Dirr and Keith Warren,the authors say of upright-branching cultivars of the Genus:
“They make wonderful small garden trees if pruned with a tree form in mind, particularly as they often develop vase shapes, which allows walking and gardening beneath as they gain size.”
In my mild winter, western Oregon garden, my Primavera, Jelena and Arnold Promise trees have been blooming since early January!
Not to be ignored, the Pink Dawn Viburnum(Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’) shrub viewed from my kitchen window is giving my winter-flowering trees a run for their money by blooming since the December holidays! Tree or shrub, all bring winter/early spring cheer to my garden.
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