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Overlooked plants add interest to landscape

Posted: April 22, 2012 - 12:05am

This spring, the bloom has been spectacular.

I don’t know if the plants are blooming more, or if I am looking for them more often. When I see a plant in bloom, my first thought is whether honey bees feed on that flower. If these plants look great in the garden and smell great, then they could have a place in the garden.

I have a plant in my landscape that someone gave me. It was not the prettiest of shrubs. It was just foliage.

The next spring was a different story. The plant bloomed. It was covered with white flowers that smelled great.

It was two years before I learned the name of the plant: sweet mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius).

This is a large shrub that will get 10-12 feet tall and 10-12 feet in diameter. It will bloom more in full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Sweet mockorange will grow in any soil type, but does best in a moist, well-drained soil. This is a plant that blooms on old wood, so the best time to prune is immediately after flowering.

There are many varieties and cultivars of this plant. Some are fragrant and some are not. The best time to buy them is when they are in bloom. Usually, they are in bloom in this area in May, but my plant is in full bloom now. (Most plants are blooming early this year.)

This plant can be hard to find.

Another native tree that has been in bloom is the honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos). These trees have been in bloom for a couple of weeks and they can be seen along the roadsides. They have white panicles, or flower clusters, that hang down.

The problem with honeylocust is that the trunks of the tree and limbs are covered with thorns. These thorns can be 1-2 inches long and as thick as a pencil at the base. It is a tough tree to tangle with. That is why plant breeders have developed thornless varieties for use in the landscape.

The main reason thornless honeylocust is planted in the landscape is the foliage, which turns a golden yellow in the fall. It also will produce large, flat seed pods that can be 7-8 inches long. They will stay on the tree after the foliage has fallen off. This gives the tree character after the leaves have fallen. Honeylocust will get 30-70 feet tall and wide, so give them plenty of room.

Another tree that will add interest in the landscape is the yellow poplar, also called the tulip tree or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). This tree is easily recognized by its unique leaf that reminds people of a cat’s face. Another added benefit, and where the tree gets its name, is the flower it produces.

The flower looks like a tulip. This flower produces a lot of nectar, and honeybees make honey from it.

When the tree is young, the flowers stand out because they can be seen, but when the tree is mature, the flowers are high up and not easily seen. The flowers are yellow, orange, and green. After the flowers fall off, the seed pod is formed. The seed pods will stay on the tree throughout the winter. This adds some interest to the tree at a time when the leaves are off.

The tulip poplar is a fast-growing tree that will get 70-90 feet tall and 40-60 feet wide. Therefore, the tree needs plenty of space. This tree will grow in any soil type, but prefers an area that has moist soil. It is a native tree, and they are usually found growing in low areas and along stream and river banks, but they will grow in higher areas as well.

One drawback to this tree is that it can be susceptible to drought conditions. A sign that the tree is suffering from drought is that the inner leaves will turn yellow and fall off before fall. Because they are fast-growing, the branches can be weaker than other trees.

These three plants are hardy and can add interest to a landscape.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net, or at (706) 836-2152.

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