Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2006
Regional Report

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Deciduous magnolias are among the first trees to bloom in the spring.

Small Flowering Trees Make a Big Landscape Impact

Remember the days of old, when most people had huge lots with room for several giant shade trees? Now many live in homes with small lots that won't accommodate a large tree. There are a number of small trees that are tailor-made for our modern landscapes. Many offer the added feature of blooms. In fact, they are so attractive and versatile that even if you have the space, you might forgo a larger tree in favor of a grouping of small trees. Groupings are nice because they add interest and can extend the blooming season for many months.

Small trees can serve many useful functions, such as shading a west window, lining a driveway, forming a living fence along a property line, providing a focal point to a patio or entry courtyard, and providing a little shade for a poolside sitting spot. They make great accent plants to draw attention during their blooming season. They can also provide a light shade to give understory plants a break from the blistering summer sun, or serve as understories themselves, peering out from the edge of a larger tree's shadow.

There are many excellent small flowering trees to choose from. I'll bet there are a few you just can't live without! Here are a half dozen species to get you started as you plan a new blooming addition to your landscape:

Deciduous magnolias come in many forms. The taller tulip magnolias (Magnolia. quinquipeta) have purple blooms lined with a creamy white interior; saucer magnolias (M. soulangiana) have saucer-shaped blooms that are purplish outside and white to pink on the interior; and Star Magnolias (M. stellata) produce a bloom with many strappier petals on a multistemmed shrub/tree. These trees are among the first woody ornamentals to bloom in late winter to early spring.

Blooming redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are another sign of spring. The flowers appear before the foliage emerges to announce the arrival of the new season. Two great choices are the variety 'Oklahoma', with its wine red blooms; and 'Forest Pansy', which sports purplish red new foliage that fades toward green as the season progresses.

Spring wouldn't be spring in the south without dogwoods. The white or occasionally pink blooms of dogwood (Cornus florida) adorn the forest edges throughout the eastern parts of the country. Plant them where they get some morning sun, and keep the roots mulched well to simulate a forest floor environment.

Fringe Tree
Fringe trees (Chionanthus sp.) load up in late spring with a profusion of small blooms that appear as white fringe all over the plant. Grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) is our native fringe tree. I must confess a partiality to Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus), which produces showier flowers that last for two or more weeks on the terminal ends of new shoots.

Crape Myrtle
Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are called the "lilac of the south" and "the flowering trees of 100 days." Some crape varieties make nice bushes. Others make superb multi-stemmed mini trees. Still others tower over the landscape. Choose a variety that promises powdery mildew resistance.

Chaste Tree
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is one of the few summer-blooming trees. It produces large spikes of blue (or white) blooms, and blue is a hard color to come by in summer. These multi-trunked trees are tough, and with a little pruning and care they can form a very attractive small tree about 10 to 15 feet tall, or even larger.

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