Like fluffy clouds at dawn, spring-flowering trees delight us with blossoms in billowing masses of sunrise colors. February and March are excellent months to add these and other types of trees to your landscape.
A wide selection of spring-flowering trees is available, and there are suitable choices for many landscape situations. These small trees range in size from 10 to 30 feet and will grow in a variety of conditions, from sunny to partly shady and from well-drained to wet. Many are native to East Asia, but we also have some outstanding native trees to choose from.
Small flowering trees are lovely focal points in the landscape. They can be planted fairly close to buildings (10 feet) and look especially nice by outdoor living areas. Their small size is in scale with porches, decks and patios.
1. TAIWAN FLOWERING CHERRY TREES: I’ve already begun to see these cherry trees (Prunus campanulata) blooming. They often begin to open flowers in late January, and flowering extends over two or three weeks. The attractive, bell-shaped flowers are vibrant, deep pink. They are produced in great abundance before the leaves emerge on trees that mature at about 15 to 25 feet tall.
This is one of the few flowering cherries that grows and blooms reliably this far south, and it is the best flowering cherry for the New Orleans area. It prefers to grow in a sunny to partly sunny location with excellent drainage.
2. JAPANESE FLOWERING APRICOT: A less well-known tree that deserves far more planting in our area, the Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is one of the most beautiful of the spring-flowering trees. Yet, you never see this tree offered in the nurseries or planted in local landscapes.
The large, double flowers are available in shades of pink, rose, red and white, depending on the cultivar. It also blooms early, starting in late January and continuing well into February. Trees reach about 20 feet tall and wide at maturity.
3. JAPANESE MAGNOLIAS: The Japanese or saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana and other hybrids) are one of the most spectacular of the spring-flowering trees because their flowers are so large.
Unlike the evergreen Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), the Japanese magnolias are deciduous and lose their leaves in winter.
Appearing in early February before the foliage, the fragrant flowers are tulip shaped, 4 to 6 inches across and may be flushed pale pink to purple on the outside and white on the inside. Long-lived and reliable, Japanese magnolias grow 15 to 20 feet tall and need a sunny location with good drainage.
4. STAR MAGNOLIA: Growing 10 to 12 feet tall, the related star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is smaller and more shrublike. The white or pale pink flowers are wonderfully fragrant. Blooming in late January or February before the foliage, the star magnolia is an excellent choice for small gardens. The fragrance is very nice when planted near outdoor living areas.
5. SILVER BELL: Native to the north shore, silver bell (Halesia diptera) is a lovely tree that produces small four-petaled white flowers that hang down in large numbers from the branches. I really like the way the thin leaves allow light to filter through, creating a lovely effect under the tree in summer.
Silver bells thrive in New Orleans and, once established, grow moderately fast to mature at about 25 feet. They grow well with light shade or in full sun.
6. PARSLEY HAWTHORN: The native hawthorns are a splendid group of trees that provide white spring blooms as well as fruit for human or wildlife consumption. One of my favorites is the parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii). Growing 15 to 20 feet tall, it is an excellent choice for gardeners who prefer native trees.
The clusters of white flowers appear in March or April and are soon followed by the foliage, which looks like flat Italian parsley, hence the tree’s name. The small red fruits that ripen in fall are relished by mockingbirds.
Parsley hawthorns are tolerant of poorly drained or boggy soils and grow in full sun to part shade. When the trees are young, they have thorns that can be snipped off. Older trees are thornless.
8. MAYHAW TREES: Also producing clusters of white flowers in spring, the fruit of mayhaw trees (Crataegus opaca) ripens in May (and is used to make delicious mayhaw jelly).
Tolerant of poorly drained soils, this Louisiana native does well in New Orleans, growing to about 20 feet. The bark of both the mayhaw and parsley hawthorn peels and flakes off as the tree ages, revealing different colors of gray and rusty red.
9. AMERICAN FRINGE TREES: Also known as Grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus), these trees are decidedly different looking. The greenish-white flowers are produced in masses all along the branches in late March or early April. The narrow petals hang down, giving the flowers a fringe or beardlike appearance.
In the wild, you usually see them growing on the edge of the woods, and they thrive in full sun to partial shade in well-drained locations.
10. CHINESE FRINGE TREE: The Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) also grows well here and is even showier than our native species. It is a fast-growing, resilient tree that produces bright, white flowers in April. It prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade.
11. REDBUD TREES: Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) usually bloom in late February or March. Small, pinkish purple flowers are produced in unbelievable profusion along the branches (and even on the trunk) before the leaves appear.
The cultivar “Forest Pansy” has rich purple spring foliage that fades to bronzy green in summer. Redbuds are relatively fast-growing and, once established, prefer full sun and must have a well-drained location.
Be sure to notice the wonderful spring flowering trees in area landscapes over the next few months, and let their beautiful flowers lift your spirits.
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