Barking Up the Right Tree

As the last leaves drop to the ground, many think the garden season is over until spring. Not so!  We can look to evergreens to provide some interest in the winter landscape, but there are some deciduous trees that offer fabulous color and texture as well. When searching for trees that will look smashing year-round and not give you a lick of trouble, here are a few of my favorite decadently barked zone 5 hardies to consider adding to your wish list for next year:

  • Stewartia pseudocamellia in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

    Stewartia pseudocamellia’s winter bark (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

    Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia): Many gardeners rave over the spring flowers of stewartia, but there is so much more to love about this small tree.  Each spring the Japanese stewartia produces clusters of white, camellia-type blooms that last the briefest amount of time and don’t even smell delicious.  Yes, the flowers are attractive, but what I would shout from the mountaintops are its other attributes: dazzling, fire engine red fall foliage, and a winter display of one of the most intriguing collaborations of color; tan, mauve, grey, copper, all melded beautifully throughout its trunk like a soft serve ice-cream cone .  In zones 5-8 with some late day shade, this gem will slowly grow well over 20 feet tall.

  • Dawn Redwood in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

    Dawn Redwood’s interesting bark (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

    Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides): This is a tree to consider if you have a moist area and the room to accommodate a large tree; in your lifetime it will easily grow 30’ or more.  At maturity, dawn redwood can grow over 100’ tall by 20’ wide in zones 5-8.  Considered a living fossil, metasequoia was once one of the most widespread tree species in the Northern hemisphere during the Tertiary period. The attributes I adore about Metasequoia glyptostroboides are its unusual rippled mahogany trunk and peeling bark, especially attractive in winter, the upright form and unusual branching habit, which provide a comfortable perch for birds, and the soft deciduous needles that turn gold in the fall before dropping.  As it matures, the roots come up from the ground like prehistoric serpents swimming around the base. It is hard to find a good specimen, so take the time to find one with a conical, well branched form and you will be rewarded amply for your efforts.

  • River birch in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

    River birches peeling layers (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

    River Birch (Betula nigra): A more recent introduction to my garden; I have quickly fallen head-over-heels for the river birch.  While other star struck lovers are dreaming of their beloved, (or a box of chocolates), I’m besotted with a tree!  But not just any tree can sweep me off my feet, enchanting me with its ravishing exterior . . .  Betula nigra, an Eastern U.S. native in zones 4-9, subtly compliments any landscape from spring through fall, but ignites the winter scene with captivating ornamental scrolls of bronze gently peeling from its trunk.  Preferring moist soil, but tolerant of poor conditions, river birch is a fast grower even in the driest seasons (in my garden it tripled its size in three years, even during months of severe drought).

  • Elder Paperbark Maple at NYBG in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

    Elder Paperbark Maple at NYBG (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

    Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum):  Unlike the traditional sugar maples, paperbark has a smaller stature (slow growing to 20-30′) and unusual three fingered leaflets that resemble poison ivy foliage.  Similar to its cousins, Acer griseum produces a blaze of fall color in the richest shades of crimson that linger late into the season. However, it is the splendor of paperbark’s exfoliating trunk that captures my attention.  The array of peeling layers in shades of silver, rust, cocoa and khaki, curl and flake from its stems in the most enticing way.  This irresistible tree will grow in zones 5-8, preferring sun, but tolerant of some shade, and requires soil that will not completely dry out.

  • Sycamore at NYBG in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

    Established Sycamore at NYBG (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

    American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis): The towering sycamores that grow along the riverside roads near my home have always been my favorite native tree.  For as long as I can remember, the size and grandeur of Platanus occidentalis mesmerized me.  With its grey marbleized trunk and open, far reaching alabaster limbs contrasting against the blue fall sky, one can’t help but be in awe of this gentle giant.  That said, you need a lot of room (sycamore can grow over 150′), a sunny site and moist soil in zones 4-9 to provide this Appaloosa of trees with the optimal growing conditions.  Because our native sycamore is prone to life threatening diseases (anthracnose and scorch), you may choose the smaller alternative; London planetree (Platanus acerifolia ‘Bloodgood’, a disease resistant cultivar), which is also a fast grower (only up to 80′), more tolerant of dry or clay soils, and has attractive flaking bark as well.

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A Garden for All