Last week, a most picturesque white fringe tree had me completely mesmerized. If you are a gardener you may be thinking: Doesn't it bloom in April? The answer is absolutely -- which is the real point.
This tree reminded me of a quote by Getrude Jekyll: "In summertime, one never really knows how beautiful are the forms of deciduous trees. It is only in winter, when they are bare of leaves, that one can fully enjoy their splendid structure and design."
This is precisely the reason that a stately 20-year-old fringe tree (also known as Grancy graybeard) could steal the show in the winter landscape. If you do not know this native tree, you are missing one of the great landscape opportunities. Botanically speaking it is Chionanthus virginicus. The name Chionanthus comes from the Greek words meaning "snow flower." In the spring, they erupt into glorious fragrant white blooms, eye-catching in the forest and highlighting the tree's exquisite beauty.
The fringe tree forms multiple trunks and usually tops out at less than 20 feet. Although we treasure those spring blooms, there is something magical going on over time that is revealed in winter: The tree's scaffolds are developing into a rare piece of twisting art. Age is everything in the garden, including the maturity of trees.
The fringe tree is native over a wide range from the Gulf Coast states all the way to Pennsylvania and New York, hardiness zones 4-9. Its stature allows it to be a stand-alone specimen or an accent. If you use it in combination with spring blooming bulbs or shrubs like azaleas, you will create a garden masterpiece.
Unfortunately, they aren't exactly staples at the garden center. When you do find yours, it pays to plant it right. Choose a site with full sun to partial shade. The soil should be moist and fertile but very well drained. Dig your planting hole about twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. You do not want the tree planted too deep or sinking. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil surface. I have really become accustomed to forming about a 4-inch berm outside the root ball area. This will allow you to usually add about 5 gallons of water that will be directed to the most important zone while the tree is getting established. After a year you can remove the berm.
Many gardeners really give no thought to fertilizing trees as they do flowers or vegetables. Once you have a fringe tree, feed it in late winter with an application of a balanced fertilizer like an 8-8-8 at a rate of 1 pound per 100-sqaure feet of planted area. This is the area from the trunk to just outside the canopy of the tree.
Trees can be male or female. The male trees have showier blossoms while the female tree produces olive-like blue fruit relished by birds. Ask your favorite garden center to get you one for spring planting. You will be glad you did.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.