Carolina silverbell is a deciduous tree or large shrub that bears pretty white bell-shaped flowers in early spring. The plant naturally forms multiple stems and can be grown in that fashion as a large shrub, or trained into a tree by removing all but one central leader trunk. It's a good choice for woodland borders, or as a specimen lawn tree—rhododendron shrubs are often planted happily beneath its canopy.
Native to North America, the Carolina silverbell is a member of the Styracaceae family—its botanical name, Halesia carolina, was given in honor of Stephen Hales, a clergyman from England who contributed to the world of botany and other sciences. Best planted in the spring, the plant grows at a medium rate, eventually forming ovate-shaped green leaves that are 2 inches to 5 inches in The plant's bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters; the fruits are drupes with four wings, starting out green but changing to white and eventually a papery brown as they mature and dry out.
In landscaping, choose a location where you will be able to stand under the tree or otherwise look upward to it, as this is the best way to see the flowers. Carolina silverbell is a good tree for attracting bees, which can be especially helpful if you also grow fruit trees.
|Botanical Name||Halesia carolina|
|Common Names||Carolina silverbell, silverbell tree, mountain silverbell, snowdrop-tree|
|Plant Size||15–40 ft. tall, 10–30 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Hardiness Zone||4–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Carolina Silverbell Care
Behind its delicate appearance, Carolina silverbell is actually a fairly hearty, easy-to-grow spring plant that bridges the gap between a shrub and a tree and is appealing both when flowering and throughout the rest of the season. It's usually planted from container-grown specimens (found at a nursery or garden center), as seeds take a long time to germinate.
When it comes to caring for the Carolina silverbell, it has few requirements beyond the pH level of its soil—master that (and provide it with enough light) and you're almost guaranteed to have a happy plant that will enliven your landscape for years to come. Additionally, the plant boasts no serious pest or disease issues.
Carolina silverbell plants grow best if living in a partially shady spot, though they can also tolerate full sunlight. Your best bet is to find a place in your landscape that boasts full sun in the morning but partial shade in the hotter afternoon hours so that the plant can soak in the necessary sunlight (six to eight hours daily is best) without burning.
Carolina silverbell plants prefer medium-moisture, well-drained soil that is somewhat acidic—it grows well in conditions similar to those that azaleas and rhododendrons love. If the soil in your landscape is not acidic enough (a pH level of 5.0 to 6.0 is best), you can amend the soil to create the proper environment. Keep in mind, this process will need to be continually repeated over the course of the tree's life—if at any point the soil is not acidic enough, the tree can turn yellow with chlorosis.
To keep your Carolina silverbell happy, maintain consistently moist soil conditions. If you live in a particularly dry environment, it may be wise to set up an irrigation system, especially when the tree is young. Once established, your Carolina silverbell will be moderately tolerant of drought.
Temperature and Humidity
Carolina silverbell's native habitat is the moist, protected forests of the lower Appalachian Mountains, so it will do best in an environment that mimics those conditions. Extreme heat and dryness stress the plant, especially when it is young. As long as you plant according to your USDA hardiness zone, you should not run into issues with the outdoor environment for your plant.
Feed your Carolina silverbell with an organic fertilizer right when you plant it in your landscape, then again each spring until the tree is fully established. After this, no feeding is necessary.
Carolina Silverbell Varieties
There are several different varieties of Carolina silverbell plants, with most differences appearing with the color of the flowers. For pink flowers, plant ‘Rosy Ridge’, 'Rosa', or ‘Arnold Pink’—if you like variegated leaves, look for ‘Silver Splash’ or 'Variegata'.
Pruning Carolina Silverbell
This plant may form multiple trunks, so choosing one as a central leader when it is in its early years and pruning away the lower branches can help give this a tree form. As with any tree or shrub, damaged or diseased branches should also be removed periodically.
Propagating Carolina Silverbell
You can propagate new Carolina silverbell plants by taking softwood cuttings, with the best time to do so being early June. Treat branch cuttings with a rooting hormone, then plan them cutting-side down in pots of growing medium, then enclose using a plastic bag to increase humidity. Cuttings can normally be planted in the landscape the following spring.
If you are trying to germinate seeds, store them first for two to three months in warm, moist conditions between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a similar period of cold stratification at 34 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with this treatment, the seeds may have difficulty germinating—some gardeners report that the process can even take up to two years.