Plant a Spring-Blooming Tree
Trees not only enhance the landscape, they also provide much-needed nectar for emerging pollinators.
Cherokee Chief dogwood | Photo by Dee Nash
Spring is nature’s greatest sleight of hand. Can’t stand bare branches against a blue or, even worse, gray sky a moment longer? Boom! Suddenly, trees burst into flower, and green shoots emerge from dark earth. Soon bees, and other pollinators, begin to buzz spring flowers and, once again, the world is reborn.
By planting a spring-blooming ornamental or fruiting tree, you can make your own yard bloom. Trees not only enhance the landscape, they also provide much-needed nectar for emerging pollinators. Pollinators have trouble finding food in early spring and late fall so it’s good to plant for both seasons. According to scientists, the loss of natural habitat can be overcome by individual homeowners. You don’t have to be an expert gardener to plant a tree either. Just don’t plant them beneath power lines and consider their mature size and growing requirements before choosing the perfect spot in your yard.
When redbuds turn purple in March, almost everyone wants to grow Oklahoma’s state tree, Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma.’ However, many redbuds don’t succeed because they are grown in the middle of a Bermuda grass lawn in full sun. Redbuds are understory trees. Their heart-shaped leaves like a little dappled shade and a wind-break from a tree, a fence, or your home. Redbuds grow naturally along streams so give them well-drained, sandy soil. Although not long-lived—20 years or so—they are harbingers of spring. Other than the native Eastern redbud, some named varieties to try are:
- 'Forest Pansy’ has leaves that emerge dark purple in spring turning to burgundy in summer;
- Black Pearl™ , a new dark-leaved variety;
- The Rising Sun®, purple blooms give way to apricot-orange leaves changing to light green in summer;
- ‘Don Egolf,’ a free-flowering miniature form; and
- ‘Ruby Falls,’ a weeping form.
Other fruiting trees that perform well in Oklahoma are peaches, Mexican plums, Prunus mexicana, and crabapples. Many modern crabapple trees are resistant to most diseases including cedar apple rust and fire blight. Most also have persistent fruit that remains on the tree instead of littering your yard. Of course, the older varieties made excellent crabapple jelly, but convenience and disease resistance are hard to beat. Two Royal Raindrops® crabapples grace my upper pasture stopping traffic in spring with their maroon leaves and pink flowers. Crabapples like full sun and moderately drained, somewhat acidic soil.
Don’t want a fruit tree? Dogwoods may fit the bill. Native dogwoods, Cornus florida, have tiny true flowers, but what people admire are their showy, white, petal-like bracts. Stressed native dogwoods are disease prone especially to dogwood anthracnose, but there are disease-resistant cultivars. Like redbuds, dogwoods prefer partial shade where they show off their fine fall foliage. I grow red-flowered ‘Cherokee Chief,’ but there are also great white cultivars like ‘Pluribracteata’ and ‘Appalachian Spring.’ ‘Empress of China,’ an Asian variety, also has white flowers that emerge later in May.
Another lesser-known group of spring-flowering trees are deciduous magnolias. Although related to the Southern magnolia, they bloom earlier and aren’t evergreen. They not only have glorious flowers, they also sport beautiful bark and limbs providing winter interest. There are many different magnolias, but one of my favorites is the pink magnolia ‘Jane’ hybridized at the National Arboretum. Mine grows in my front flower bed next to a Japanese maple and ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood. Since the dogwood and magnolia bloom at different times, I planted a succession of beauty.
You really can’t go wrong with any of these spring-blooming trees. As this quote attributed to a Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” When you plant that tree, consider a spring-blooming one that beautifies your home and helps pollinators. Your neighbors and nature will thank you.