Dawn redwood offers resplendent fall color


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The dawn redwood is one of the most picturesque conifers we have at the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden. It has been here for just over a dozen years and grown into quite a specimen. Its upright conical form is simply irresistible. Well, sort of, that is for the first 50 to 100 years and then it may find it spreading on you. This fall its color was absolutely riveting.

You may want to grow it strictly for its botanical name, which is Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Can you imagine spouting that one to your neighbors?

This is one of three trees actually classified as redwoods along with the giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, and the coastal redwoods, Sequoia simpervirens.

Fossils found in several areas United States gave a pretty clear indication that it was probably extinct. Then in 1941 it was found in an obscure valley in Szechuan, China. The rest is history. Now we have the opportunity to buy it at garden centers and grow it in our landscapes.

This is where I always like to start taxonomic fights. If it was here thousands of years ago, is it a native? But seriously, if you are a fan of dinosaur movies, then the dawn redwood is for you as it is one of the oldest living trees on Earth.

Its mature size can reach 70 to 100 feet high and 25 feet wide, although old varieties in China are much taller. It has been known to reach 40 to 50 feet in height after 20 years of good growing conditions. These conditions are acidic soil, ample moisture and plenty of sun. This is exactly where we have ours, which is now slightly over 30 feet after 12 years.

The dawn redwood is fairly quick to form a buttress at the bottom of the tree, which is most attractive in a landscape setting.

Container-grown trees have become so much easier to find at garden centers. While fall and early spring are traditionally thought of as tree planting times, container-grown stock allows us to plant around the year. The dawn redwood has a huge range from zones 4-8.

Correct planting, however, will get your tree off to the best start. Dig the hole no deeper than the height of the root ball. The height of the root ball is less than the height of the container because the nursery leaves space at the top of the container to hold water and fertilizer. Plant the tree so that the top of the root ball is level with or a little higher than the ground. Digging the hole too deep may result in the tree settling too low.

The planting hole should be at least 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball. Measure the diameter of the root ball and multiply that number by 2 or 3. The wider the hole, the better.

When you finish planting, use your hands to form a 3-inch-high mound or berm around the edge of the root ball with the remaining backfill. The mound will help make sure all the water goes right into the root ball this summer. This will usually hold about 5 gallons of water and can be removed after the first year.

At the Columbus Botanical Garden, we have ours along a dry creek bed and in proximity to its cousin, the bald cypress , and not too far away from a cluster of Japanese cryptomerias, which are also stately conifers.

The fall color of the deciduous dawn redwood is a great complement with the evergreen cryptomerias. If you are looking to add a tree, then by all means consider the dawn redwood.

garden

Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.


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