I always get itchy during the cold-weather months to look aloft outdoors and find branches blooming once again. Their winter nudity becomes a pleasantly distant memory. The spring garments they don are so flashy that they somehow manage to steal some of the thunder even from the colorful spring bulb plants. Flowering dogwood trees are one of my spring favorites and, by fall, they'll be attracting wild birds, to boot.
Yes, our springs would be much the poorer without our blooming specimens. And while their spring colors, alone, would justify growing flowering dogwood trees and other spring beauties, the benefits don't stop there. This article touches upon a few of the many gifts bestowed upon us by the standout trees and shrubs of spring. On Page 2, I rank them in a Top 10 list, headed by flowering dogwood trees. As an alternative to flowering dogwood trees, incidentally, you can purchase a shrub form.
Birdwatching and landscaping can complement each other beautifully. The trick is knowing which blooming specimens are most useful for attracting wild birds. Many decorative berries, while inedible for humans, are a boon to your winged friends. Some of these berries will be snapped up quickly by them, while others, such as the berry on the sumac shrub, serve as emergency food during hard times. The latter are not among their favorite foods, but they will provide you with excellent birdwatching opportunities in late winter and early spring, when their desperation for food makes attracting wild birds easier.
Some blooming specimens serve double-duty, furnishing the fall landscape with colorful foliage or berries. Others offer multiple ornamental qualities, plus edible fruit to boot. They also have a number of functional landscape uses:
- Plant specimen flowering shrubs on either side of an entryway to help direct the eye to it. Do, however, choose a varieties of flowering shrubs with interesting foliage to perform this function, so that the entryway will be enhanced beyond the spring season.
- Hide a high house foundation with flowering shrubs that serve as foundation plantings. Again, be at least as concerned with foliage as with flowers.
- Flowering shrubs can be planted near a home to "soften" the landscape, breaking up vertical or horizontal lines that are too strong.
- Some flowering shrubs are particularly effective in controlling erosion.
- Flowering dogwood trees and flowering shrubs with attractive foliage can be used as a border for landscaping property lines. They can be similarly employed within your own property bounds to define distinct outdoor spaces. Even a driveway can be transformed from a utilitarian component of a landscape to an aesthetic achievement, if planted with such borders.
- Taller specimens, such as some of the larger varieties of magnolia, offer shade.
Flowering Dogwood Trees and Japanese Dogwoods
All things considered, flowering dogwood trees (Cornus florida), an American native, and Japanese dogwood trees (Cornus kousa) win the top ranking for spring bloomers, with an impressive array of landscaping benefits.
'Cherokee Chief' is a popular Cornus florida cultivar, but a pink dogwood tree called Rosea was the choice for my own yard. The branching pattern of flowering dogwood trees is rather horizontal, which affords visual interest at any time of year but particularly in winter, when leaves are absent. 'Cherokee Chief' flowering dogwood trees will attain a maximum height of about 25 feet tall (by only about 15 feet wide). The springtime flowers are red and yield to berries that the wild birds eat. In autumn the leaves turn bronzy.
Japanese dogwood trees blossom at a later time in spring than the American flowering dogwood trees do. For example, I have a 'Wolf Eyes' cultivar that puts out its white flowers in the fourth week of May in 2012, whereas my Cornus florida had bloomed in the third week of April. The claim to fame for Wolf Eyes is its two-toned leaves, which don't change markedly when fall comes, but other Japanese dogwoods can sport a purple to red autumn color in their leaves. Cornus florida produces a smooth berry, while the berries of Japanese dogwood trees look more like a raspberry. They last into the winter months, and the wild birds eat them.
On Page 2 we'll have a look at my Top 10 list, and I'll give the criteria for making the list....
Having considered dogwood on Page 1, let's continue on to the other entries in my Top 10 list. I have compiled my list for spring flowering bushes and trees based on the following criteria:
- Showiness of bloom.
- Foliage interest, including multi-season color.
- Interesting branching patterns.
- Cold hardiness: all of the selections in my Top 10 list for flowering trees and bushes can be grown as far north as zone 5, at least.
- Berry output and beauty.
- Ease of propagation or maintenance, including disease-resistance.
Specimens that possess more than one of these characteristics will rank higher than those that meet only a single criterion.
Note: I have divided my selections equally between early blooming and later blooming flowering trees and bushes. By "early blooming" I refer to the flowering trees and bushes that truly herald the spring -- those that flower even in most northern gardens by early april. By "later blooming" I refer instead to those flowering trees and bushes who put on their flowery displays only after spring has fully sprung -- late April, or perhaps early May. Other shrubs (not included in this list) bloom even later: e.g., mountain laurel shrubs and lilac shrubs.
I have divided my selections equally between these groups, lest my choices be skewed in favor of a particular time period within the spring season.
In fact, a mixed planting (early bloomers and later bloomers) of flowering trees and bushes is preferable, so that you may extend your display longer. Unless a plant is labeled as an early bloomer, the reader may assume that it is a later bloomer.
Based on these criteria, here's my Top 10 list, without further ado.
Top 10 Flowering Trees and Bushes for Spring Landscaping
- 'Cherokee Chief' and Japanese Dogwood Trees
- 'Donald Wyman' Crabapple
- Flowering Quince (whether the "Storm" cultivars or 'Cameo')
- Saucer Magnolia Trees
- 'Sunrise' Forsythias
- Eastern Redbud
- 'Tor' Spirea
- Variegated Weigela
- Pussy Willows
- 'Redspire' Callery Pear
Malus 'Donald Wyman' or the 'Donald Wyman' crabapple is disease-resistant. These flowering trees grow to be 15'-25' tall, with a spread of 20'-25'. The berries persist throughout the winter, and wild birds eat them in February and March. The pink buds open to become single white blooms, which are fragrant.
'Cameo' flowering quince bushes (Chaenomeles speciosa 'Cameo') are compact, spreading flowering bushes, well-suited for a low border or hedge. Their double peach spring blooms earn these flowering bushes automatic inclusion in the Top 10 list. The edible reddish yellow berry, ripening in fall, is used for preserves and jellies. Height 2'-4', spread 3'-5'.
On Page 3 we'll continue the countdown of the Top 10 flowering trees and bushes....
In ranking flowering trees and shrubs, I have given highest rank to specimens that do the best job at performing the greatest variety of functions, as mentioned on Page 2. While Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) merit only an intermediate rank based on such criteria, they are nonetheless singularly impressive spring performers. Their performance at this time of year is powerful enough to trump other considerations and reserve a spot for them on my list.
Eastern redbud trees (sometimes misspelled as "red bud") bear bright pinkish-purple flowers all along their bare spring branches. Eastern redbud trees are among the few flowering trees that tolerate shade. Other trees and shrubs may match the color of its blooms, but redbud's chief asset is its gracefulness, as its flowers precede the arrival of obstructing foliage. As redbuds come into bloom, their limbs appear to grow "hair" -- a very colorful hair. Eastern redbud trees grow to be 20'-30' high and spread 20'-30'. The fall foliage of redbuds is an inconsistent yellow.
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) precedes saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) in blooming. But with its large, cup-shaped flowers, the saucer is still considered an early bloomer and is well worth waiting for. Flowers are rose to purple outside, with a soft, white interior. This tree reaches 20'-30' in height, and its spread is also 20'-30'.
For more, please consult the following full articles:
'Sunrise' forsythia "has flower buds which are reputedly able to withstand minus 20 F temperatures," according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, even though its overall cold-hardiness rating is no greater than that of other forsythia shrubs.
Spring wouldn't be spring in my landscaping without the vibrant yellow flowers of forsythia, one of the earliest-blooming shrubs. And in case even forsythia's early bloom time doesn't come soon enough for you, you can force the flowers.
'Tor' spirea also makes my list of the best shrubs for fall color. Its botanical name is Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor'. This spirea is fairly compact, maturing at about 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Wearing dark green leaves in summer, its fall-fashion sense makes it opt for a red color in autumn. In mid-spring to late spring 'Tor' spirea produces white flowers that are small but grouped in showy clusters.
Weigela florida is another old-time favorite that rewards growers with a fine springtime flower show. But the 'Variegata' cultivar, with its variegated leaves, is an improvement in some ways, as it can be appreciated long after the flowers have gone by.
It is a compact, rounded shrub (height 3'-5', spread 3'-5') with green leaves bordered by creamy white. This shrub's pink blossoms are really a bonus: its foliage alone makes it worth growing.
Pussy willows (Salix discolor) are a native North American plant and another early-blooming favorite for forcing. Since pussy willow is a wetland plant in the wild, it would obviously be an ideal occupant for any areas of your landscape that suffer from poor drainage. What, you don't have such a spot in your yard? Consider yourself lucky, as that means you won't need to install a French drain or undertake other such measures to cope with excess water. You'll simply have to be sure to furnish your pussy willow shrubs with artificial irrigation during dry periods.
'Redspire' callery pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Redspire') is a tree with abundant white flowers, whose glossy green leaves turn wine-red in autumn. This early bloomer is resistant to fire blight. The branching pattern tends to remain symmetrical. The pea-sized pear fruits are not messy in the lawn or garden, further promoting low maintenance. However, callery pears, generally speaking, are not the most stable of trees, being prone to wind damage.
But don't confuse low maintenance with no maintenance! It's always a good idea to winterize flowering shrubs. And whether you decide to plant flowering dogwood trees, Eastern redbud trees or any of the other flowering trees mentioned, don't forget to winterize young trees to protect them, as well, from the rigors of winter.