Great Small Trees For the Urban/Suburban Landscape

They say good things come in small packages. And when it comes to trees, I’d say that’s certainly true. While tall species like maples, oaks and elms boast lofty canopies, small trees flaunt their beauty up close. They’re a great addition to any landscape. But they’re especially suited to the smaller space, where even one, well-chosen specimen can brighten up a garden.

NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE

Yes, trees are beautiful to look at. But beyond their good looks, they also offer a wealth of benefits to the homeowner. These include the most obvious; shade. Research shows that, when positioned close to the house (especially near the southwest corner), trees can reduce a household’s energy consumption. And that in turn translates into energy savings.

SIZE MATTERS

Ever planted a tree that grew too big for your property? Root interference with walkways and plumbing is a common urban/suburban problem. Many people make the mistake of planting too large a tree in too little a space.

Unlike large trees, however, small trees can provide flexibility. While larger species should be planted 15 to 20 feet from the house, trees like dogwoods can be planted as close as 6. And where space permits, several small trees can be grouped in lieu of one large tree that might be out of scale with the landscape. 

Whatever the size, when choosing a tree, it’s important to select the right specimen from the start. And that involves doing your research on its mature height and width before planting it. Below are some of my favorite small trees that are well suited to the typical urban/suburban landscape. 

JAPANESE MAPLE

Vase-shaped, weeping or compact, there are literally hundreds of Japanese maple varieties to choose from. These elegant small trees provide interest all year long even after they’ve dropped their leaves. Leaf types can differ greatly between varieties.

Boasting deep maroon foliage, ‘Bloodgood’ is one of the hardiest Japanese maple varieties. I use it to create ‘depth’ in the landscape. Or, if you’re looking for artistry, check out the cut-leaf varieties, known for their feathery, finely-dissected leaves. 

REDBUD

Most redbuds available today are hybrids of the native Eastern redbud, or Cercis canadensis. Eastern redbuds grow in woodlands from New Jersey to northern Florida and as far west as the Great Plains.

Native redbud tree

Maturing to around 35′ tall, this early-flowering small tree produces spectacular magenta colored blossoms atop bare branches. It blooms so profusely in fact, that its branches and trunk are often covered with flowers.

Redbud blossoms

FUN FACT: Redbud is a member of the pea family, so its blossoms are edible!

New exciting cultivars include Forest Pansy, named for the burgundy color of its leaves. Other interesting varieties are Rising Sun and Lime Green. Plant redbud in a north facing location where it can absorb morning sun and relax in afternoon shade.

FLOWERING DOGWOOD

Flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is native to eastern North America and northern Mexico. They say that at one time its population extended all the way from Maine to Florida and across to the Mississippi River. Today this small tree is still a denizen of many an American garden.

Native hybrids Cherokee ChiefCherokee Brave and Cherokee Princess were bred to be resistant to anthracnose, which attacked and killed many native dogwoods about a decade ago.

Maturing to a height of around 25 feet, flowering dogwood produces white or pink flowers in spring. The long-lasting, three- to five-inch blossoms are followed by red berries that provide food to birds. In fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red. 

KOUSA DOGWOOD

Kousa dogwood, or Cornus kousa, is native to Japan, Korea and China. It differs from the flowering dogwood in that its blooms are produced on top of the leaves instead of on bare branches. The star-shaped blossoms blanket the tree, followed by berry-like fruits that persist into fall.

Kousa dogwoods typically grow 15 to 30 feet tall. They start out vase-shaped, then adopt a more rounded form as they mature. In fall, their leaves turn a brilliant red. And the grayish, exfoliating bark becomes mottled over time, providing great winter interest. 

STAR MAGNOLIA

One of the earliest small trees to flower, star magnolia, or Magnolia stellata, produces large, fragrant flowers anywhere between late February and mid-March depending on location. Like the flowering dogwood, the blooms appear ahead of the foliage. Since it flowers so early, star magnolia benefits from a sheltered spot as late spring frosts can damage the blossoms. 

One of the smallest magnolias, star magnolias grow 15 to 20 feet tall and wide and have a rounded, shrub-like form. 

WITCH HAZEL

This elegant shrub or small tree thrives in both sun and shade. It has an open, airy habit and a classic vase-like shape. The common witch hazel, or Hamamelis virginiana, peaks between mid October and mid November. By contrast, the popular Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, and the hybrid Hamamelis x intermedia, blooms in early spring. Flower colors range from a deep burgundy to a pale butter yellow.

witch hazel blooms in February

Witch Hazel blossoms

This small tree packs a lot into a small space, but it is also very slow growing, so buy big. Individual plants usually top out at 5’ to 6’. Check out 12 great varieties here

CRAPE MYRTLE

This standard small tree of the southern garden now boasts varieties that can take the chill. Most popular among them are the Natchez cultivars, with their gorgeous flower panicles in red, pink or white, held at the end of their branches. Other attractive features include peeling bark and burgundy leaves in fall.

Crape myrtles are some of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, sometimes as late as May. A new, compact series called Black Diamond produce black foliage in early spring followed by vibrant blooms in shades of red, purple, pink, lilac and white. 

SWEET BAY MAGNOLIA

Boasting shiny dark green leaves with silvery undersides, Sweet Bay Magnolia is a glamorous addition to any landscape. In last spring to early summer, it produces creamy white flowers with a slight lemony scent. New foliage, which appears around the time of the blossoms, is bright green. 

In late summer, red seeded fruit appears on its branches. Sturdy and upright, sweet bay magnolia grows 10- to 15- feet tall, making it a great choice for a corner or patio.

 

 

 

Ten Minor Bulbs For Major Spring Impact

One of my favorite places to visit in the spring is the March Bank at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum. The estate’s stunning 60-acre naturalistic garden has one of the finest displays of minor bulbs around. Blooming in succession over a span of a few months, the bulbs weave a thick carpet of purples, pinks, blues, yellows and whites beneath the property’s centuries’ old trees. Faced with all that beauty, I vow each year to plant a few minor bulbs of my own.

Of course, most of us don’t have the wherewithal to plant the 70,000 tiny bulbs it takes annually to produce this magnificent display. Nevertheless, a more modest dose of the dwarf-sized early bloomers can still provide months of spring color. It’s more than worth the effort just to see your lawn or hillside light up come March in shades of lavender, yellow, white and blue.

A FLOWERING SUCCESSION

At Winterthur, they have carefully chosen minor bulbs that bloom progressively over the whole spring season. The first blooms appear in February in a burst of snowy whites and bright yellows followed by later-blooming flowers in shades of lavender, pink and purple that carry the display up through April. And many of the early bloomers remain for the second part of the show, which results in a colorful tapestry of staggering beauty.

It may sound a little intimidating for the home gardener – but creating a miniature show of your own is easier than you think. Just choose a few species, dig a trench and throw a bunch of these small bulbs in, making sure to plant them at the recommended depth on the package. Toss in some bulb fertilizer and backfill. Then sit back and enjoy the expanding color come spring.

To get you started, below is a guide to the minor bulbs that Winterthur plants on the March Bank each year. All of them are easily available at your local nursery or by mail order through White Flower Farm or such great bulbs suppliers as Brent & Becky’s or Breck’s Bulbs. Most grow to only around 4 to 6 inches. The time to purchase them is now.

SNOWDROPS (Galanthus nivalis)

A member of the amaryllis family, the tiny snowdrop is one of the most popular of all bulbous plants. Featuring nodding, bright white flowers atop bluish green leaves, it typically flowers between January and March. The leaves have hardened tips that enable them to poke through the frozen ground in late winter.

WINTER ACONITE (Eranthus)

Featuring bright yellow, cup-shaped blooms, this late winter bloomer appears ahead of most daffodils. Winter aconites make perfect companions to snowdrops.

CROCUS

Not exactly a bulb, the crocus grows from a corm. With over 90 known species, there are numerous varieties to choose from in yellow, white, blue and bicolor combinations. A favorite at Winterthur is Crocus tommasinianus, also known as ‘Tommies.’ Varying in tone from lilac to deep purple, Tommies are one of the smallest of the crocus species, growing to just about 2 inches high.

GLORY-OF-THE-SNOW (Chionodoxa)

Often confused with the early-blooming Scilla to which it is closely related, Glory-of-the-Snow is nonetheless a separate species. Featuring blue, white or pink flowers, the name is derived from the plant’s habit of flowering in alpine regions just as the spring snow is melting. A particularly beautiful cultivar is ‘Alba’.

SIBERIAN SQUILL

As its name implies, this tiny early bloomer with bright blue flowers is well adapted to the cold. A native of Russia, its nodding flowers emerge over tufts of grass-like foliage from March through April.

MINIATURE DAFFODILS (Dwarf narcissi)

Not to be confused with their larger cousins, these minor bulbs begin blooming at the tail end of winter. The best-known species is Tete-A-Tete. Flowering from mid-March to early April, Tete-A-Tete often features two flowers in combination (hence the translation ‘Two people talking to each other’). It even blooms in the snow.

GRAPE HYACINTHS (Muscari armeniacum)

Grape hyacinths look like miniature hyacinths, but they are smaller and grow only to about 6 inches. They produce a tiny cobalt blue spike of flowers that resemble beads (or blueberries). Highly fragrant, grape hyacinths bloom in mid spring.

GRECIAN WINDFLOWER (Anemone blanda)

This low-growing, daisy-like flower with a yellow center has delicate petaled flowers that grow 3 to 8 inches. Anenomes can easily form carpets of color across wide expanses of space. Available in light purple-blue, pink and white shades.

SNAKES HEAD LILY (Fritillaria meleagris)

A member of the lily family, Snake’s Head also goes by the names checkerboard fritillary and Guinea Hen flower due to its characteristic patterned blooms. The tiny maroon checkered flowers appear from March to May and grow 6 to 10 inches.

SPANISH BLUEBELLS (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Also known as wild hyacinths, Spanish bluebells produce 15-20 inch spikes of pink, blue or white bell-shaped blooms in late spring. The plants naturalize easily and can quickly cover large areas. Spanish bluebells will bloom for a sustained period of time, making them excellent companions to all species of daffodils.

RULES FOR PLANTING MINOR BULBS

Bulb planting is easy provided you follow a few simple rules. First and foremost, make sure to plant your bulbs in a well-drained site (hillsides work great) to guard against root and bulb rot. Like all bulbs, minor bulbs do not like waterlogged sites.

All bulbs can grow in full sun but, with the exception of the crocus (which requires sun), most will adapt well to shadier spots since leafless tree branches let in plenty of sun in the early spring when the bulbs are most active. Bulbs typically go dormant around the time the leaves appear.

Lastly, when planting minor bulbs, think broad strokes, not individual flowers. The tiny species are best appreciated in large drifts. Combine different colors and shapes for a long-blooming display in rock gardens, along walkways and sprinkled throughout the woods. Or go bold and plant them in your lawn. You’ll be amazed at the colorful carpet they’ll create come spring.

 

A Beginner’s Guide To 13 Types of Daffodils

At the end of summer, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is precisely the time when you need to be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many other colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your 2021 spring garden. Continue reading

Pruning Hydrangeas: A Step-By-Step Guide For Old And New Wood

To prune or not to prune? This is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Recently, I asked a top landscaper in Virginia to weigh in on the issue. “When is the best time to prune hydrangeas without cutting off next year’s flowers?” I asked. Her reply?

“Never,” she said with a laugh. “But your best shot is after they’ve bloomed.”

It turns out that knowing how and when to prune hydrangeas involves first, identifying what kind of shrubs you own. And it all starts with determining whether they flower on old or new wood. Continue reading

How To Identify Poison Ivy

Even bad boys can have a good side; and so it goes with an unwanted inhabitant of many a garden, poison ivy.  The native plant sure knows how to take over a room. For humans, its ornamental qualities are less than desirable. That being said, poison ivy does have its uses. See below.

WHAT IT IS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plant species found throughout the continental United States. A native of North America, it grows mostly in the eastern and midwestern states where it tends to inhabit forests, fields, and shorelines. More worrisomely, it’s also come to love urban/suburban environments such as road sides and parks. This in turn has led to it taking up residence in many of our backyards. 

Poison ivy is a member of the sumac family, Anacardiaceae, which comprises over 860 known species. Along with poison sumac and poison oak, it is part of the genus toxicodendron, whose toxic properties produce contact dermatitis in affected individuals. 

A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP

So what makes toxicodendron so toxic? The culprit is urushiol, an oily resin with allergenic properties. Urushiol is found in every part of toxicodendron, including dead or dormant plants. When poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac are bumped, damaged or even burned, they release urushiol as a means of protection.

In fact, research shows that only a small amount of exposure can cause an allergic rash. And by small amount, that means just 1 nanogram or one billionth of a gram. There is even evidence that urushiol can remain on a surface for up to five years. The take-away? I’d say avoid these plants altogether.

On a good note, apparently about 10 to 15 percent of the human population is immune to poison ivy and its cousins, and therefore will never experience the rash. And poison ivy is less common outside the U.S., although it can still be found here and there around the globe. 

HOW TO IDENTIFY POISON IVY

A common adage says ‘Leaves of three, let it be’, while another counsels ‘Leaves of three, run and flee’. I prefer the latter, having suffered from major breakouts throughout my lifetime in the garden. That being said, poison ivy is a chameleon when it comes to appearance. it can be downright hard to identify. Compare the photo below to the two above. You’ll see what I mean.

The truth is poison ivy has so many variations it can baffle even the most seasoned horticulturalist. Take for instance its make-up. It can be a creeping groundcover, or a woody vine (referred to as a liane) which, once it scales a tree, can put on 20 feet of growth in just one season. And full sun can cause it to take on a shrub form.

And while most of us know to look out for a plant with three leaves, from that point on, things can get murky. Poison ivy has a compound leaf, which means that what presents as a single leaf is actually three. Additionally, its leaves can be shiny or dull, and their size and shape can vary greatly. Some leaves are toothed, while others are deeply lobed. And in some rare instances, poison ivy can have five leaves instead of three. 

Poison ivy taking on fall color

Look for bright green leaves during the growing season and bright red ones in the fall.

HERE’S THE RUB

The good news is that, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), poison ivy rashes are not contagious and therefore cannot be spread from person to person. However, it is possible to pick up the rash from toxins stuck to clothing, tools or other items including pets (see below.) And contrary to common thought, the rash occurs only where the oil has touched the skin. So rubbing or scratching won’t spread it. What may seem like a spreading rash is actually the toxin’s effects appearing gradually over time.

Photo credit/medicinenet.com

Always wash your skin and clothes after coming into contact with poison ivy. This is essential to removing all traces of urushiol. And use cold water, not hot. Hot water thins the oil and helps it dissipate more quickly.

CAN ANIMALS GET POISON IVY?

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the answer is rarely. Usually, their long protective coats prevent the plant oils from ever reaching their skin. However, animals can carry the toxin on top of their fur, so don’t let your pet rub against you if you think he or she’s been in contact. Try bathing yours with a colloidal oatmeal shampoo while wearing gloves to eliminate the urushiol.

My cat, Squeaky

IT’S GOOD FOR SOMETHING

Before you decide to remove that patch on your slope, you might want to think again. Like kudzu, poison ivy is great at erosion control, especially on coastlines where it acts as a stabilizer for sandy soil. (It’s a big player along the Eastern coastline.) Moreover, it provides valuable food for many species of wildlife, who eat its fruit, stems and leaves.  And it also functions as a protective shelter for small mammals.

Small animals like rabbits like to feed on poison ivy

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

As with most unwanted plants, the best way to eliminate them is to get to know their seedlings and start early. As poison ivy matures, however, it may require years of patient digging to totally eliminate its root structure.  You can apply an herbicide like glyphosate to the plant’s roots, leaves or vines. However, be sure to wear eye protection and gloves when chopping down vines. And never use a chain saw, which can spread the toxins by air.

 

 

Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

For those of you who think Mother’s Day was created by Hallmark, the real story is much more poignant. It all sprang from a daughter’s love for her mother, the trials of war and a gift of 500 white carnations.

IT ALL BEGAN IN WEST VIRGINIA

It all began in 1905 when Anna Jarvis lost her mother. She and her mother had been very close during Anna’s lifetime. Consumed by grief, Anna made a solemn vow. She pledged to establish a national day to honor her mother and all mothers for the positive contributions they made to society.

Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had raised her family in the mid 1800’s and had suffered great hardship. Of the 12 children she gave birth to, only four survived. The others died from diseases common at the time, including measles, typhoid and diphtheria. 

MOTHERS HELPING MOTHERS 

But despite having suffered so much loss, Anna’s mother was stout-hearted. In the 1850s, she began organizing coalitions of mothers from across West Virginia to combat childhood illness. The women raised money for medicines, inspected food and milk and provided nursing care for those who were sick. 

The coalitions became known as the Mothers Day Work Clubs.

Ann Reeves Jarvis

And when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the mothers acted as volunteer nurses, caring for soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies.

Mother’s Day Work Club members took care of all soldiers

Even after the war, the clubs continued to be a unifying force. In 1868, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which brought together mothers of former foes and encouraged reconciliation among area families.

ANNA JARVIS AND 500 WHITE CARNATIONS

Shortly after Ann’s death, her daughter Anna organized a memorial at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. During the service, she passed out 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to all the mothers in attendance. With this unofficial inauguration, Anna began writing letters to national, state and local politicians to gain their support for a Mother’s Day movement. 

And unbelievably, in just a little over a decade later, 46 states and many foreign countries, including Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day celebrations. Then in 1912, Anna began campaigning for international recognition of the day.

Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made things official. He signed Proclamation 1268, which created a national Mother’s Day as A public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.

Letter signed by President Woodrow Wilson establishing Mother’s Day

The second Sunday in May became the official day of celebration. And the wearing of a white carnation, Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower, became a tradition.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER MOTHER’S DAY CARDS

Anna Jarvis’ originally intended for Mother’s Day to be a personal celebration between mothers and their families (this is why Mother’s takes the singular possessive and not the plural). She imagined it as a time when millions would visit their mothers and write personal, hand written notes expressing their love and affection.

Vintage Mother’s Day card

With the official recognition of the holiday, however, florists, card companies and other merchants began jumping on the bandwagon. Jarvis became more and more enraged as she watched Mother’s Day drift further and further away from her original idea. And nothing upset her more than the growth in popularity of the printed Mother’s Day card. She wrote,

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. 

By 1920, Jarvis had become so upset over the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she launched a campaign to abolish the holiday. Declaring Mother’s Day a failure, she organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to stop others from profiting off of the day.

In 1923, she even filed suit against the Governor of New York over a Mother’s Day celebration. When the court rejected her plea, she formed a protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace. She devoted the remainder of her life to fighting against the very day she had established.

Jarvis died, childless, in 1948 at the age of 84. She is buried next to her mother in Philadelphia.

THE ROLE OF CARNATIONS

Yet a century later, Jarvis’ legacy lives on in our annual Mother’s Day celebration. And there’s no doubt that carnations have become the official Mother’s Day flower. In her day the carnations were white, but since then pink and red colors have also become popular.

In fact, today it is generally believed that pink carnations represent gratitude while red ones signify admiration. And white carnations are now reserved for honoring a mother who is no longer living.

Red carnations signify admiration

Despite Jarvis’ later efforts, every U.S. president since 1914 has issued an official Presidential Mother’s Day Proclamation recognizing and honoring America’s mothers. And today, the custom is celebrated all over the world (albeit on different days.)

On a personal note, I like receiving printed cards and flowers on Mother’s Day, but have to agree with Jarvis that nothing beats a hand-written note from your child. I’m lucky enough to receive such letters each and every year.

Wishing all of you a very happy Mother’s Day!

 

Why Lily of the Valley Is The Official May Day Flower

Years ago, I was living in Paris when there was a knock at the door followed by the sound of running footsteps. Opening the door, I discovered a basket of tiny white flowers on my doorstep. Little did I know, I had just received a gift of lilies of the valley, a flower exchanged each year in France on the first of May.

A ROYAL HISTORY

In France, lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom started on May 1, 1561 when King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck.

The King liked the idea so much that he decided to start a tradition. From that day forward on the first of May, he presented a bouquet of lilies of the valley to each of the ladies of his court. And thus began in France the Fête du Muguet, otherwise known as May Day. 

Portrait of King Charles IX

MAY’S MOST CELEBRATED FLOWER

Over the centuries, lily of the valley has become one of May’s most celebrated flowers. And for good reason. Depending on climate, it typically blooms in mid April and retains its blossoms for most of May. The species itself is small in size, averaging only 6″ tall.  Each plant has a pair of upright, sword-like leaves and a single stalk of sweetly scented, white or pink bell-shaped flowers. 

Still, for what it lacks in size, lily of the valley rapidly makes up for in numbers. When given ample shade, it will form low, thick masses of bright evergreen color, making it the perfect complement to other shade-loving perennials.  

THE STORY OF LILY OF THE VALLEY AND THE NIGHTINGALE

Once upon a time, the very first lily of the valley was in love with a nightingale. Every night, the nightingale would come to her garden to sing. However, the lily of the valley was shy and hid herself from the bird. So after a while, he grew lonely and flew away.

Alone in the garden, the lily of the valley waited in vain for the nightingale to return. Eventually, she grew so sad that she stopped blooming. She started flowering again only after the nightingale reappeared (in May) and her happiness was restored.

A SYMBOL OF ROMANCE

In the early 20th century in France, men often gave bouquets of lilies of the valley as tokens of affection. They presented their gifts, in accordance with tradition, on the first of May. In their absence, they sent romantic postcards featuring pictures of the flower accompanied by wishes of good luck. French people still practice the card-sending ritual today.

A vintage Fête du Muguet card

A NATIONAL HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

These days in France, the first of May coincides with National Labor Day. As a result, the Fête du Muguet is a public holiday. In the days leading up to the event, lilies of the valley are sold from roadside stands that pop up all over the country. And while it’s normally forbidden to sell flowers on public streets, the ban is lifted on May 1 in honor of this long-standing tradition.

Photo credit/Shutterstock.com

HOW TO GROW LILY OF THE VALLEY

Easy-to-grow lilies of the valley are indigenous to temperate climates and are believed to have originated in Japan. Spreading by tiny rhizomes underground, they naturalize easily and can quickly become invasive in the garden. Unless you’re up for continually digging them out to control them, it’s best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or in a contained area in the yard.

And like most shade-loving plants, lilies of the valley prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil. Never plant them in full sun. If you do, their bright green leaves will lose their color and turn ugly shades of brown. 

DON’T EAT THEM

Finally, you may be surprised to learn that all parts of the lily of the valley are toxic if eaten. So when handling the flowers, it’s best to wear gloves to prevent any residue from being transmitted to food. Symptoms of lily of the valley poisoning include stomachache and blurred vision.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

 

 

Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

When it comes to stunning, early-blooming trees, it’s hard to beat the star magnolia. Every March, it showers the landscape in a flush of bright white. For what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in stature. I love how the blossoms hang like fallen stars from its smooth, bare branches.

THE SMALL GARDEN’S MAGNOLIA

Now, even small gardens can have a magnolia! What’s more, star magnolia is slow-growing, so it won’t overwhelm your landscape. Topping out at a manageable 10 to 15 feet, it makes an excellent specimen tree while also providing a great backdrop to any mixed shrub border. 

Yet for all that, the tree’s most valuable asset, in most people’s view, is its early spring blossoms. Typically flowering in early March, the star magnolia is lush with blooms when most other ornamentals are scarcely starting to bud. Moreover, the flowers are fragrant. Each is composed of more than a dozen ribbon-like petals. And some varieties boast as many as 30.

And while star magnolias are typically associated with white flowers, there are also a number of pink varieties. All are magnets for pollinators, which gives your other plants an early start on the season.

FOR STAR MAGNOLIAS, THE SHOW NEVER STOPS

But, for those who think star magnolias are all about spring, think again. The little trees offer fall and winter interest as well. In autumn, the foliage turns yellow, then bronze, providing an interesting complement to other fall colors.

And star magnolia’s twiggy, many-branched shape provides great winter interest. Colored a shiny, chestnut brown, the branches contrast handsomely with the tree’s smooth gray trunk, which slowly turns silver with age. As an added plus, the buds, appearing in late winter, are fat and fuzzy, just like pussy willows. 

TOP STAR MAGNOLIA VARIETIES TO TRY

Ready to give star magnolia a try? Below are some the most popular cultivars that offer reliable, low-maintenance early spring color. Deciduous magnolias are best planted when dormant, typically in late fall.

‘Centennial’ produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped blossoms in early to mid spring. The large white flowers often have a pink tinge at the base of the petals. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

‘Jane Platt’ produces double, scented, pale pink flowers with long, narrow petals in early to mid spring.

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

‘Royal Star’ has pale pink buds that open in early spring to pure white flowers. In particular, this cultivar is known for its almost 5-inch (12 cm) wide flowers with up to 30 petals. ‘Royal Star’ blooms later than the species. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

‘Rosea’ is a pink-flowered variety. It has a rounded shape and dense bushy habit. This cultivar flowers a month later than the species, or in late April. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’

HOW AND WHERE TO PLANT

Star magnolia flowers are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts, so it’s best to plant the trees in a sheltered spot. While they’ll do fine in full sun, they’ll perform best in morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. Generally, the more exposed the location, the earlier the flowers open. Like most plants, star magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soil. 

Magnolia stellata really shines when viewed against a dark background. Site it in front of a stand of deep green arborvitae, a yew hedge or even a dark brick house and watch its flowers ‘pop.’  Daffodils with cream or white petals and yellow cups make excellent early-spring companions. Check out Narcissus ‘Sovereign’, Golden Echo’ or the orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’ for a dramatic effect.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

Drink To Your Health With These 10 Medicinal Teas

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Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas contain powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before opening the medicine cabinet, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea? Continue reading