In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Planted next to a walkway at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, these coral bark maples display vivid winter branch color.

Curbside Trees Should Mind Their Manners

A slew of company in recent weeks has filled our usually accommodating driveway and extra parking pad to the brim and overflowing, with everyone maneuvering to avoid the spot under the crape myrtle tree. The cause of our distress, a 'Natchez,' continues to bloom its heart out, oblivious to the inconvenience. Truth be told, it bears no fault for being planted in the wrong place.

Areas near streets, parking places, and walkways should be landscaped with trees that mind their manners -- not ornamentals with messy flowers, fruits, and seeds. Equally unwelcome are trees that ruin a car's finish with sticky sap, or those with roots that buckle sidewalks, split driveways, and wiggle their way into water systems.

Curbside trees should be tidy, stand up to storms, and shrug off disease. Crape myrtles do not fit the bill, I've learned.

Other trees to avoid include Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) which splits easily at maturity, willows (Salix spp.) whose thirsty roots seek water, silver maple (Acer saccharinum) which grows above ground roots and suckers with a vengeance, black walnut (Juglans nigra) which can stain cars and sidewalks, and elms (Ulmus spp.) which are prone to insects and disease.

Also pass up fast-growing trees. No matter how much you yearn for shade or want instant gratification, their wood is usually weak.

To select the best size tree, consider the space available for the mature height and spread of its canopy and look for a shape which suits your needs. Columnar trees grow in less space, but can be quite tall. V-shaped trees have fewer drooping branches than round-shaped trees, but provide less shade.

For a tall tree, consider the Japanese zelkova 'Green Vase' (Zelkova serrata). Zelkovas are an East Asian relative of the elm and make good shade trees. 'Green Vase' grows to 60 feet tall with a 40-foot spread. Its small green leaves turn yellow or orange-brown in fall and quickly disintegrate under foot.

For a medium sized tree, 'Saratoga' maidenhair (Ginkgo biloba) might be a good choice. Maturing at 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide, this tree has a distinct central leader and interesting fan-shaped foliage that turns bright gold in autumn then drops quickly to make a colorful carpet.

If I were considering a small tree to replace my crape myrtle, I would select a coral bark maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'). This highly decorative Japanese maple grows 20 feet tall, has attractive yellow foliage in fall, and branches that are a striking coral-red in winter.

But I think I'll keep the crape myrtle, at least for now. Its spectacular cinnamon-colored bark is a sight to behold throughout the year. And besides, as long as the tree showers our extra parking space with blooms, company is sure to head home before they wear out their welcome.


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