Planting and Maintaining Fringe Trees in Your Garden

Growing the Fragrant, Fancy White Fringes of the Grancy Greybeard

White Fringetree
ideonexus/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

White fringetree is a tree native to the savannas and lowlands of the southeastern United States, from New Jersey south to Florida, and west to Oklahoma and Texas. This plant is classified as Chionanthus virginicus in the oleaceae (olive) family.

In late spring an abundance of feathery white flowers appears on the tree for a two-week blooming providing a showy display. The flowers can perfume your garden with their sweet, lilac-like smell, particularly in the evening.

The flowering trees usually thrive in extremely wet river bottoms or in upland areas that are favorable to longleaf pine trees growth.

Where the Tree Grows

The U.S. Department of Agriculture established the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. This is known as the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Accordingly, this plant should be planted in zones 3 to 9 for best results, which encompasses most of the U.S.

Naming of the Tree

The species name was originally cited by historical Swedish botanist Linnaeus as Chionanthus virginica, treating the genus as feminine; however, now the genus is correctly referred to as masculine, which means the species' correct name is virginicus. Besides fringetree or white fringetree, common names that you may see for this tree include old man's beard and grancy greybeard. "Grancy" is another word meaning grandpa or grandad.

Growing Statistics

At maturity, the tree will be around 12 to 20 feet tall and wide. It can have several trunks, making the shape variable depending on the way they grow.

Leaves that are 3 to 8 inches long appear as the tree is flowering in late spring. The shrub is dioecious, which means it can be male or female.

A male tends to flower more elaborately and may have a better show of the white blooms that appear in May and June.

In the fall, clusters of small blue fruit will be produced on the female plants. A relative of the olive family, the drupe fruits can be pickled and eaten.

Tips for Growing

Choose a location with acidic soil for best results. Soil that is a little alkaline will also work, but this shrub does not grow well in most alkaline soils.

The fringe tree is adaptable to a wide variety of soils, which is great for those clay or sandy soils that pose problems for many other plants. It also likes moist or wet soils.

It usually forms an open shrub, but you can train it to have just one trunk and live as a small tree if desired. There usually is not much maintenance work involved with this species besides fertilizing to promote yearly growth.

The fringetree can be grown in full sun to part shade.  

Design Tips

A fringetree can be a delightful addition to your garden if you are looking for a blast of white in the spring. The blue fruit of the female plants can add a touch of color in fall.  Birds like to eat the fruit, so this can be a nice addition to your wildlife garden. Also, a fringetree can be planted in a city yard since it can handle city pollution.

Pests or Disease

If you see small oval shapes on the stems of your plant, your fringetree might have scales. These insects suck the sap from the branches. Small insects called mites may also make an appearance. Horticultural oil can be used to get rid of both problems.

As for diseases, fungal leaf spots and powdery mildews might attack. Cankers may also form. Use an organic fungicide to control the spots and mildews. Prune away the parts with cankers to control the spread.