Throughout February, I enjoyed the sight of flowering trees, since I was in California. Beautiful pink or white blossoms adorned trees in yards, along streets, in parking lots and of course, orchards. I could not identify the varieties, but I know there were plum, cherry, almond, and probably, crab apple trees. In southern states, there is no clean cut change from one season to the next. The change is there, but it is gradual with something always in bloom. When spring finally arrives in the north, it can be spectacular and after a long winter, we are all the more appreciative of the show.
Flowering trees and shrubs provide some of the first color in spring, producing flowers before they leaf out. Every homeowner should have at least one in his or her yard. They are wonderful as solitary accents, especially in the front yard. Plant them where they will be happy with the sun and wind exposure, moisture and growing space. Always consider the mature size when you make your selection.
The northern ornamental flowering crab is probably the most awe-inspiring in our area. For one to two weeks in May, many streets are lined with pink, white, purple or red-blossomed trees. After the petals fall the leaves open up with green, copper, bronze or purple foliage and some varieties keep their purple or burgundy leaves all summer. In fall, they are colorful again with various sized red or orange fruit.
There are over 800 varieties of northern crab apple trees. Look for the newer varieties that have inherent resistance to disease. Consider 'Thunderchild,' 'Red Splendor,' or 'Spring Snow' for a large tree. Dwarfs include 'Coral Burst,' 'Tina,' the weeping 'Red Jade' and purple leaved 'Royal Beauty.' 'Royalty' has a good fall leaf color. Some, such as the white 'Spring Snow' do not form apples whereas some keep their colorful fruit all winter. It is wise to site flowering crabs where the petals and fruit do not fall on walkways, your pond or pool. Give them as much sun and room as possible in a place that you can view.
Ornamental cherry trees that put on a big show in Washington, D.C. are not hardy for the north. However, the flowering plum is another member of the Prunus family that we can grow. All plums have many small fragrant flowers that may perfume a whole yard. 'Princess Kay' (Prunus nigra) has double flowers like the cherry. It is an ideal size for the home landscape with shiny black bark and no fruit. The 'Rose Tree of China' (Prunus triloba 'Multiplex') is another double flowering plum. This is a shrub with pink flowers in May. It is hardy, but the buds are not so it may not bloom some years. Give it lots of sun and space. The 'Muckle Plum' (Prunus x nigrella) is a large shrub or multi-stemmed tree. It has bold rich pink flowers making a spring statement, but it is not commonly found.
Another option for a flowering tree is the hardy Ussarian Pear. It is related to the 'Bradford Pear' so popular in the southeast, but not hardy here. The Ussarian is a medium-sized tree that blooms a week or two ahead of the flowering crabs. The cons are that you may not like the fragrance, it has messy fruit and it doesn't grow well in our alkaline soils.
'Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry' (Amelanchier) is a small single or multi-stemmed tree or a large shrub that is one of the first to bloom. In early spring, it is clothed in white and it has blue berries in June. Thus, its common name is Juneberry.
The 'Showy Mountain Ash' (Sorbus decora) is smaller than the European or American mountain ash. It is a good size for yards and has a rounded shape. Showy flat-topped clusters of flowers appear in spring and red fruit in fall. It is beautiful against evergreens.
Some new flowering trees might be interesting to try. The 'Prairie Radience Winterberry' (Euonymus 'Veronica') is a 10-15 foot tree with pink capsules and reddish seeds inside. 'Snow Mantle Gray Dogwood (Cornus 'Jade') may be equal to the flowering dogwoods seen in the south. This small multi-trunk tree is covered with white flowers.
According to Don Engebretson, the Renegade Gardener, when you plant your new tree dig a hole that is two times the width of the container and set the in the root ball. Before you put the soil back in, shovel the sides bigger. Push the shovel straight down about three inches all around and repeat three inches further out, loosening the soil around the root ball. Water the newly planted tree every five days with a watering wand, not a hose. A shrub in a # 5 container needs about three gallons and a larger size needs five gallons every five days. Larger trees and evergreens need 10 gallons every five days.