Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tree & shrub silhouettes provide winter interest

Deciduous trees we take for granted all spring and summer stand out like ink drawings against the winter sky.  Choosing trees with interesting bark can add interest to the winter garden

River birch (Betula nigra)

River birch is a tall native tree that makes a great ornamental for winter interest in the landscape because of its graceful form and attractive, colorful exfoliating bark. Multi-stemmed trees form a more irregular shaped crown, and are often considered the superior growth habit for this tree. The bark on the trunk varies a lot among individual plants, ranging in color from silvery gray-brown to pinkish-brown when young, but always with darker, narrow, longitudinal lenticels. It is either scaly or peels off in curly papery sheets or flakes of gray, brown, salmon, peach, orange, and lavender. More mature trunks are rough and irregularly dark gray with deep fissures that may have some pink color in the crevices.  River birch performs well in sun to partial shade but needs evenly moist soil and may become chlorotic in alkaline soils. Zones 4-9.

Shadows become longer and more prominent in winter as the sun drops lower in the sky and the days become shorter in winter.  

White Oak

Not all deciduous trees drop their leaves when fall comes. This white oak retains its dry leaves throughout most of the winter, creating a tan accent in the garden.

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Pagoda Dogwood has a handsome horizontal branching habit. In winter the bare limbs catch snow and form striking designs in black and white.  A North American native, it is a small tree suitable for the edges of woodland areas or partly shaded landscapes.  Creamy white flower clusters are displayed above the leaves in the spring. It attracts Downy Woodpeckers, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Bluebirds, and many other backyard birds with it's dark fruits. Zones 4-8.

Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)

Red-twig dogwood is a standout in winter because of its bold red stems. It features clusters of small white flowers in spring, white fruits in summer and fall, and bold red-orange autumn color. It grows 6 feet tall and is native to areas of North America. Zones 2-8.

Weeping Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens 'Pendula')

Trees with cascading branches, like the weeping Siberian pea, also provide interesting winter silhouettes. Weeping Siberian peashrub, native to Siberia and Mongolia, is very tolerant of poor soils, alkaline soils, drought, constant winds, cold winter temperatures, and some shade. Growth is moderate to slow to 6 ft. tall or more and about as wide. In late spring bright-yellow 1" flowers appear among bright green leaves attracting hummingbirds.  They are followed by 2" seed pods that  can be eaten cooked and used as a vegetable as an emergency food. This plant has an extensive root system and can be used for erosion control, especially on marginal land. Because of its nitrogen-fixing capacity, it is valued as a soil-improving plant. Zones 2-7.

Climbing Hydrangea

The exfoliating bark of climbing hydrangea affords winter interest. Climbing hydrangea vines are large plants, sometimes reaching 50 feet tall or more at maturity. In early summer, they produce fragrant, lacy ("lace-cap"), flat-topped, white flower heads. These "lace caps" can be 5 inches or more in width and are composed of showy flowers on the outside and less-than-showy flowers on the inside. The leaves of climbing hydrangea vines turn yellowish in autumn.  Zones 4-7.

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