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Early Blooming Trees Herald Spring's Arrival
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Redbuds are not the only flowering trees that herald the arrival of spring. One different looking, but gorgeous tree you may have noticed is the Taiwan cherry.
This cherry, known botanically as prunus campanulata, is one of the first bloomers of the new year. It is susceptible to freezes just like the flowering quince, forsythia and Japanese magnolia. This winter has been extremely kind to all of these. Even if they get wiped out by a freeze, they are much loved while they are in bloom.
The Taiwan cherry has beautiful, hot pink, bell-shaped flowers that cover the tree. Its offspring, the Okame, has become popular through hybridization. The Okame has light-pink, bell-shaped flowers with hints of burgundy.
The Japanese magnolia, also known as saucer magnolia and tulip magnolia, have been spectacular this year. They get a bad rap for their tendency to be caught by early freezes, but I will always find a place for them in my landscape.
They were brought to us through the ingenuity of one of Napoleon's retired soldiers who crossed two other species. This magnificent cross yields what we call the magnolia soulangiana. The large fuzzy buds start to swell in January then burst open with six-inch blossoms of light pink to dark purple. The fact that it is deciduous only enhances the spectacular bloom.
Instead of harping on the negative, the nay-sayers should talk about how the Japanese magnolia fits nicely in the landscape as a small tree and has no serious pests. Many Mississippians are looking for trees for small, urban lots or for larger lots needing small treess.
For those of you who want more native plants, then your spring herald has to be the redbud. Many of us forget about planting a redbud until we see them blooming. So let this be your warning: shop now. The redbud works well in sun or dappled shade as an understory tree. Did you know there are white redbuds and varieties that have glossy leaves like a Bradford pear?
Many consider Oklahoma, known as Cercis reniformis, to be the Cadillac of redbuds. It has glossy leaves and a darker purple bloom. Forest Pansy, a variety with red foliage, is definitely for dappled shade and not full sun and probably better suited for the northern half of Mississippi.
Redbuds are outstanding small trees for the landscape, blooming right after the Japanese magnolias and usually before the dogwood. There is not a prettier site in all of spring than a blooming redbud surrounded by daffodils. As part of our Mississippi Medallion trials, we are starting to evaluate redbuds to see if one is superior in performance.
Whether your choice is the Taiwan cherry, Japanese magnolia, redbud or some other tree, now is a good time to be planting. Tree selections are great.
Mississippians have a great opportunity coming up in Jackson March 6 through 8.
The Mississippi Garden and Patio Show will be at the state fairgrounds. The hours on Friday are from 6 to 9 p.m., on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. and on Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and free for ages 18 and younger.
Gardening seminars on landscaping, perennials, gingers, roses and herbs will take place throughout the show's three days. On Saturday, the Mississippi Master Gardeners and others will present various sessions. Hinds Community College will focus on "Landscaping from Scratch."
The show is sponsored by the Mississippi Nurserymen's Association, Mississippi State University's Extension Service and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.