Plant More Trees Please
Winter is a great time to plant a tree. Come National Tree Day - which tree are you planting? Let us help you by sharing our firm favourites with some handy tips on choosing a flowering birthday tree that, yep, you got it, flowers on your birthday!
Magnificient Magnolias are unbeatable but need protection from strong wind and western sun. Photo - Anthony Collins/Gettyimages.com
The old proverb says that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but tomorrow is the next best. A wonderful harmony is achieved when the appropriate tree is planted in the right place. Yet we all know what happens when the tree and its spot are mismatched – hacked limbs, unhappy neighbours, rucked paving, bad feelings. So while the instant gratification of an impulse buy at the nursery can be exhilarating, it is not a passion that should be indulged when it comes to trees. Instead, research and reflection can really pay off. Here are some points you must consider to make a good choice.
Australian gardens are built on a variety of soil types, all of which will have repercussions on what tree you can grow. What soil do you have: clay, sand, loam, free-draining, or wet? For clay soils consider bottlebrush (Callistemon sp), apples, crabapples, birch and gingko. Sand-dwellers could choose from banksia, buckinghamia, frangipani or casuarina. Gardeners on loam could choose magnolias, cherry, pears and maples. Areas with good drainage will provide happy homes for flame tree (Brachychiton), frangipani, crepe myrtle and grafted flowering gums. Those that are soggy and wet are better for ornamental pears, melaleucas and water gums (Waterhousia).
Cercis, The Judas Tree grows better in cold climates. Photo - Gettyimages.com
Do you want an evergreen tree or a deciduous one? Would it be best if the leaves dropped early or late? If you like a very late show gingko could work as it’s one of the last trees to drop, with luscious butter-yellow leaves. The pyramidal ornamental pear (Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’) is also late to drop. If you need sun into the early winter house, a deciduous tree with an early leaf drop would be more suitable. Consider crepe myrtle, Japanese maples and Chinese tallowwood (Sapium sebiferum). Evergreen trees give year-long shade. We like evergreen magnolias such as ‘Silver Cloud’, melaleuca, flowering gum, banksia and water gum.
Pyramid-shaped trees are stately and provide privacy perfect for boundary screenings that don’t take up too much room. Our favourite pyramids include the ornamental pear ‘Capital’, trident maple, evergreen magnolia ‘Silver Cloud’, and coastal banksia. Wide, domed trees make a great statement in the front of the house and summer shade for north or west-facing frontages. Try golden elm, deciduous magnolia, claret ash, ornamental cherries, or, if there’s room, a grand jacaranda. Of the tiered trees, the autumn hero Nyssa sylvatica has one of the most beautiful sets of horizontal tiered branches in the plant kingdom, but you’ll need plenty of width to show off its beauty.
Magnolia x soulangiana is a great medium sized all rounder. Photo - photo division/Gettyimages.com
For most of the year a flowering tree earns its keep by the beauty of its shape and foliage, but for a glorious brief period it shimmers into flower. Before deciding on a flowering tree, think about the timing of the show. We think a flowering tree, planted to commemorate a birth, is a great birthday present - every year! Here are our favourite choices:
January: frangipani, African tulip tree, red flowering gums, crepe myrtle, ivory curl tree
February: crepe myrtle, frangipani
March: tibouchina, banksia, frangipani
April: banksia, tibouchina, melaleuca
May: banksia, camellia, fried egg plant (Gordonia)
June: Camellia reticulata, fried egg plant (Gordonia), banksia
July: deciduous magnolia, flowering peach, banksia
August: Taiwanese cherry, deciduous magnolia, flowering peach
September: ornamental cherry, ornamental pear, bauhinia, cercis
October: flowering dogwood, ornamental cherry, bauhinia, cercis
November: jacaranda, flame tree, silky oak, flowering dogwood
December: orange flowering gums
Our top ten trees:
1. Ornamental pears (Pyrus sp)
Ornamental Pears have a wonderful display of white spring flowers and lime green new foliage, great summer shade and rich autumn foliage. They also come in a recently released range of sizes and shapes (growing around the 10m mark with a variety of widths). Autumn colour ranges from reds to purples, oranges and yellows. It’s tree that should be planted in multiples to add a real design feature to any space. It tolerates a range of conditions, form waterlogged soils to drought. We like varieties ‘Chanticleer’ and ‘Aristocrat’.
Ornamental pears are good for temperate gardens. Photo - JMH Digital Images
2. Maples (Acer sp)
There are thousands of worthy maples, many better suited to urban parks than home gardens, but one is a stand-out for the garden. The coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sangu kaku’ syn Sengkaki) is a vase-shaped small tree (4-5m) with soft green spring and summer foliage and good yellow-orange autumn tones. Bright red young stems add colour to the garden during winter. It’s a very good all-rounder tree for small to medium gardens.
Coral bark maple. Photo - Gettyimages.com
This family offer another collection of small trees with green or purple leaves for home gardens. ‘Forest Pansy’ has large, dark-purple foliage that turns yellow/mandarin in autumn. In spring a show of small, lilac-coloured flowers encase the branches and trunk. It tolerates most conditions, soil and climate.
Cercis, The Judas Tree. Photo - Gettyimages.com
The gnarled contorted trunks of big seed pods make banksias the trees of Australian legend. There are many beautiful selections. Our favourite is coastal banskia (Banksia integrifolia), with dark green leathery leaves with bright silver reverse. It has a tall, slender form making it an excellent screening tree. Long lemon flower spires begin in autumn and continue through winter, providing nectar and then seeds for native birds. It is quite happy in a range of soils, though its preference is for sandy, well-drained soils.
Coastal banksia are excellent in coastal areas with salt laden winds are surprisingly are tolerant of many soil types. Photo - Dan Rosenholm/Gettyimages.com
5. Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)
This ancient tree from China is a Ross family favourite. It grows to 9m with unusual fan-shaped foliage. It holds onto its the golden-yellow leaves throughout winter. Trees are long-lived and are best planted in medium to large gardens. It comes in a male and female form; the male form is best for gardens (female trees have a yellow, foetid-smelling, plum-like fruit). We like Ginkgo ‘Princeton Sentry’, a fruitless male form, with a narrow conical shape.
Gingko are large trees, but colour in winter, not autumn! Photo - Gettyimages.com
6. Frangipani (Plumera rubra)
Our much-loved summer holiday tree creates a fragrance and shade that can’t be beaten. The original white with yellow centre seems the hardy choice for cooler suburbs but warmers areas will be able to choose from a huge variety of colours and fragrances. Soils must be mounded and well-drained, sandy soils are preferred. Frangipanis dislike frost and in wet humid summers are susceptible to orange rust on the reverse of the leaf. Trees grow to the 5m mark and are become widely domed in later life.
Red frangipani growing on a gold course in Hawaii. Photo - kcezary/Gettimages.com
7. Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia)
Huge heads of bright summer flowers in tones of white to lavender via hot pink tones; a fire of orange-red autumn leaves; and interesting exfoliating bark revealing pinkish-brown beneath, all mark this tree as special. The ‘Indian Summer’ range is resistant to powdery mildew and comes in a choice of sizes: 3m, 6m, and 9m. Unbeatable tree for every season.
You get months of colour with Crepe myrtle, suits dry climates. Photo - Frederic Didillon/Gettyimages.com
8. Deciduous magnolia
These are magnificent late-winter through early spring, with a variety of differently shaped and coloured flowers. Winter shows up bare trunks and branches, which in our garden are laden with interesting moss and lichen. Spring brings bright, lime-green leaves. We especially like bowl-shaped ‘Iolanthe’, purple, goblet-shaped Liliflora and lemon ‘Elizabeth’. Trees grow to 5m and prefer morning sun and rich soil.
Deciduous magnolia. Photo - Gettyimages.com
9. Evergreen magnolia
Magnolia doltsopa ‘Silver Cloud’ (syn Michelia) is another family favourite; the perfect evergreen tree for screening purposes. A lime green cloak of foliage shows off large clusters of ivory, exotic lemon-scented flowers for an extended period of time. This tree has a handsome pyramidal shape. Grows to 5-6m and 3m wide. May be hard to find but worth the hunt!
Evergreen magnolia 'Silver Cloud' is fragrant but you might need a second story window! Photo - Gettyimages.com
What is November in Australia without gazing in awe at jacarandas in full purple glory? This tree originates in South America and has found a happy home in the warm parts of Australia. The leaves yellow and are retained by the tree all winter; it’s not until spring that new flowers push off the remaining yellow and tattered leaves. Its wide domed canopy (10-12m high and wide) means this is a tree for wide blocks. Avoid planting over boundaries and pools. There is a smaller, pure white variety available called ‘White Christmas’.