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Welcome spring with blooming trees

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[NOV. 17, 2004]  URBANA -- Even though fall is in the air, it is not too soon to be thinking about greeting spring with an explosion of color in your yard, said Barbara Bates, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Kane County.

"Robins and bright blossoms in spring really herald the beginning of a new season," she said. "Flowering trees can add that delicate sparkle of freshness to your home landscape. Whether you are looking for full-size trees that can add shade in summer or a smaller tree for an intimate setting, there are many reliable ones to choose from."

For very early bloom, Bates recommends a star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). This is a very small tree reaching 15 feet at maturity. It is typically grown low-branched so that it resembles a shrub.

"The large, fragrant, white, delicate blooms seem to float in space like stars because they open before the foliage is out," she said.

The cultivars Royal Star, Cody, King Rose and others have pink blooms. Fall color is a rich gold. The prominent, furry flower buds sit up high on the ends of the branches, offering winter interest as they wait for spring. Use it as a specimen tree with a dark background to set off the blooms. Place it in a sheltered spot so that a late frost will not cut short the bloom time.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) are two medium-sized trees recommended for northern Illinois.

"Both will reach about 25 feet at maturity and bear white to cream-colored blooms in the spring," Bates said. "Of the two, serviceberry blooms first, yielding flowers before leaves. Both produce rich hues in fall and have colorful fruit. The fruit of the serviceberry is a blue-black berry, about the size of large blueberry, which ripens in June. Trees typically offer a generous yield that look lovely dangling on the tree but can make a mess of a sidewalk or patio if the tree is planted too close in. 

"Consider using this tree in a border or in a grouping out in the yard."

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Kousa dogwood yields a pinkish-red fleshy fruit like a raspberry, ripening in the fall. Kousa dogwood also has exfoliating bark for interest in winter. Use this plant as a specimen plant near the entry or patio, in the border, or against a blank wall where the horizontal branching habit shows to its best effect.

For a somewhat larger tree, one of Bates' favorites is Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii).

"This 45-foot-tall tree is best used in a border or planting in the lawn," she said. "The small white flowers are borne in large clusters at the ends of the branches. This a very hardy tree with a pea-sized plum as a fruit. One of the best features is the cinnamon-colored, highly exfoliating bark. When lower branches are removed, the bark adds interest in all four seasons."

Bates said homeowners will get the best long-term value for their dollar by choosing a native or adapted species, with few or no pests and multiseason interest, such as colorful bark, fruits or leaves or interesting texture.

"This may seem like a lot to expect, but it is not impossible to find," Bates said. "And remember, as important as proper species selection is proper plant placement. Know and respect the preferred exposure, soil and moisture requirements, and you will be off to a great start."

For additional information about plant selection, proper planting and tree care, go to www.urbanext.uiuc.edu.

[University of Illinois news release]

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