Arbor Day suggestions

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     As promised in my last column, I will be making suggestions this week for your Arbor Day tree selections.  I am a gardener, not an arborist, so these selections are made based on the way the trees add to the beauty of a garden.  I hope you find at least one that will fit in your garden, and plant it on Arbor Day.
     For some time, I have spread the word about the invasiveness of the ornamental pears.  I often recommend planting the native serviceberry tree as an alternative.  Serviceberry is also known as shadblow or sarvis tree.  It has racemes of white flowers in early spring and the berries ripen in June.  The name serviceberry is the result of making pies from the berries to take to services on Sunday.  If you want the berries, you have to be quick.  This native tree is also a bird magnet, and they love those berries as much as I do.  The one now growing at Sandhill Gardens is about 20 feet tall, so most of the berries are out of my reach and left to the birds.  There are some cultivars that do not grow that large, and I may try to find one of those to plant myself.
     If you only have a small yard, plant a tree peony.  The peony is Indiana’s state flower, and most people are familiar with the long-living herbaceous peonies.  In fact, most Indiana homesteads had a few peonies in the yard, and many of those are still around.  However, the tree peony is less known, but just as long-lived and the blooms are even more spectacular than those of their herbaceous cousins.  Tree peonies are usually multi-stemmed, but those stems are woody and do not die down in the winter.  They usually bloom earlier in the year than the herbaceous variety.  I have some blooming now at Sandhill Gardens.  If your garden is just a balcony, a tree peony may be planted in a large pot.  It may need to spend the winter in an unheated garage, but it needs a cool period, so do not treat it as a houseplant.
     I could not make tree recommendations without including the majestic oak.  Several oak trees are native to Indiana and oak trees are wildlife apartment complexes.  Many animals find food and shelter from the mighty oaks.  Oaks are great choices if you plan to stay on the property for many years.  They take a while to mature, but oaks are great for tree houses and tire swings.  Of course, oaks drop acorns in the fall, so if that would be a problem for you, plant something else.  It is important to check for the mature size for any tree, but especially with oaks.  Make sure you have room for this tree.  They do not look good if crowded.
     Maple trees are also treasured for shading Indiana homes.  Here at Sandhill Gardens, there are three large maples that my uncle, Robert Hooten, planted sometime around 1930, and another that my dad planted in the 60’s. They are now losing limbs and are frequented by woodpeckers, but I hope they last as long as I do.  Maples grow much faster than oaks, so you will get shade a little sooner from a maple.  Maples also provide a lot of fall color.  Soft maples usually turn buttery yellow, while sugar maples supply brighter oranges and mauves.  If you want bright red, plant a red maple.  Norway maples have variegation along the leaf veins, but I do not recommend planting them.  They have shown signs that they may be invasive in Indiana.  If you just cannot live without that variegated leaf, use a Norway maple as a bonsai specimen, where you will be able to control where the seeds go.  Many Japanese maples are also used for bonsai, but also do well in the landscape.  They thrive on morning sun, but appreciate some shade from the hot afternoon sun.
     If you absolutely do not have anywhere for a tree, you may still participate in the celebration of Arbor Day.  Make a donation of trees to be planted in forests that have been devastated by fires and storms.  Contact the Arbor Day Foundation or the National Forest Service to donate a tree.



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