In Summer’s Lull, Think Autumn Planting

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Our temperate climate’s change in seasons decided my career path decades ago. I liked the rhythm of seasonal work. Busy, not busy, busy again… then dormant. 

Explosive growth in spring has many garden needs, surging again in fall. Physical and spiritual restoral comes in summer’s reprieve and winter’s rejuvenation. Winter is time to read, research, write and plan for next year’s garden.

This winter was different.

A Boston client wanted a “microforest” designed for spring planting, and a Northborough, grower (Brian Lewis of The Natural Landscape) wanted a list of the showiest trees and shrubs for New England. 

Such as Cary Award-winning plants named by the Worcester County Horticultural Society. All are proven reliably hardy to USDA Zone 4 with exceptional pest and disease resistance and are adaptable to the range of cultural conditions across New England.

Michael Dirr, Ph.D / University of Georgia horticultural professor, is my go-to authority. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is an old-school botanical bible. With two decades of hort experience in the northeast, seven with Weston Nurseries, I have my favorites. 

TREES  Three species of native deciduous trees for temperate New England (that I have planted in the Quiet Corner) were used in Boston: redbud, serviceberry and whitebarked birch. 

·    Redbud (Cercis)   Dark red buds open to purple-pink flowers in early spring before leafout at every node along ascending wide-spreading branches — best at edges of tree plantings to reduce crossing branches. Likes part shade to full sun. Mature height of 20 feet.

One is planted in Chaplin to screen a view.

·    Serviceberry (Amelanchier)   AKA Juneberry and Shadblow because it blooms when the shad (herring) run. Pure white flowers cover the tree in April with tasty berries in June — but birds beat you to ‘em. Orange-to-red fall color; ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a brilliant red. Often available in multi-stem clump form. Height 25 feet.

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a native tree that naturally hybridizes with twenty species of small trees and smaller shrubs like Shadbush (A. canadensis).

Masses of showy, slightly fragrant white flowers last a week or two in early spring before leaves appear. Shadbush blooms a few weeks later. Then fruit for excellent blueberry-like pie, but birds beat you to ‘em. Yellow-orange-to-brick-red fall color. 

Orange fungal galls can mar fruit if near host junipers for Cedar Apple RustSpores can form on eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) a mile away, but the cosmetic damage doesn’t harm the apple-family tree.

Found naturally in woodland borders, full sun to part shade. Vulnerable to caterpillars that I remove by hand or with a jet spray of water or least-toxic pesticide; systemics are not used to protect birds. Grows fast to 25-feet.

Three native A. laevis are planted in Chaplin with one A. canadensis

·    Whitebarked Birch (Betula spp)   Striking white bark in all seasons, more so in multi-stem form. Native cultivar (nativar) ‘Whitespire’ (Betula populifolia) resists native bugs. Height 35-40 feet in full sun. 

Smaller nonnative Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) is the purest white, but suffers caterpillars and borers more than native trees, especially in the country.

TIP  Improving horticultural conditions helps all plants survive pests. I use copious compost and kelp, and pay very close attention. 

Three ‘Whitespire’ and one Himalayan Birch are planted at my Chaplin “Chapel of the Birch” Others are Paper / Canoe Birch, Sweet and Yellow Birch.

Japanese plants are also suited to our temperate coastal climate, such as colorful Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and evergreen Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys). Also planted in the Quiet Corner.

SHRUBS  Deciduous Azalea (Rhododendron) shrubs completed the woody planting in Boston. Flower, fragrance and fall color! Other native shrubs planted in Connecticut are Redtwig Dogwood(formerly Cornus, now Benthamidia), and evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) and Rosebay (Rhodendron)

SUMMER is a welcome lull to consider fall planting. Less plant material is available in autumn but prices are discounted by October. September is a great time to plant and establish roots before the stress of next summer’s heat, perhaps drought.

Large sizes have visual impact, but small plants cost less and adapt better. Both can be planted in naturalistic groups to mimic nature. Dry-tolerant plants are better in global warming. Best using plants native to the conditions of your site’s microclimate — they establish sooner to thrive not simply survive. 

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235    Text 617.957.6611

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