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Plant Now for Spring Color in Your Yard

BY: Dr. Judy Stout, Mobile County Master Gardener |

Q- We’ve been cleaning up the yard and have had to remove two dead Florida dogwoods and several awful looking Bradford pears. To continue to get welcoming early spring flowers should I replant these types of trees or can you recommend something else?

A- Great question! Wow, with the recent heat it’s really hard to even remember the joy of those first warmer spring mornings and the explosion of blooms we get so far in advance of the rest of the country. However, now is the perfect time to plan your purchases and plant trees and shrubs. Fall plantings have time to get well-rooted and established before coping with the heat of summer. Besides, the gardener is much more comfortable planting in the fall. (This photo by Judy Stout shows Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus).

No, do not replant the same trees. The industry may offer some varieties of dogwood reported to be more resistant to the anthracnose fungus that has killed large numbers of dogwood trees in our region, but these varieties have not been widely planted here nor proven in the landscape. As for the Bradford pear, the tree is well known for its weak and fragile branches and relatively short life (20 years or less). Even surviving trees become ragged and unsightly. There are just so many other beautiful options for the Gulf Coast.

To replace the look and architecture of dogwood, consider two-winged silverbell, crab apple, fringe tree (grancy greybeard), Chickasaw plum, Kousa dogwood or Yoshino cherry (think National Cherry Blossom Festival!). Since these flower before putting on new leaves you get the whole, unobstructed view of white ‘lace’ and falling ‘snowflake’ petals. Add a little color to the spring celebration with red maple, star or saucer magnolias (many varieties), redbud and colorful cherries including Taiwan and Okame. These are mostly small to medium size trees that fit well as single plantings or in groups. All are deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter. Some may even give you edible fruit in addition to Spring fever! (This photo is of white buckeye bottlebrush (Aesculus parviflora).

But why stop with just trees? There are great spring flowering shrubs that can add to the usual Mobile azalea palette. Plant as clusters, foundation plantings (be sure to note the mature size before locating them!), as hedges or single feature plants. To continue the red theme try red buckeye, sweet shrub, Florida anise, or fire bush. More subtle pinks are found on mountain laurel (make sure it has Gulf Coast ancestors!) and the ‘Van Cleve’ version of black titi. Mix with the lovely white candelabras on bottle brush buckeye, snowballs of Walter’s Viburnum or the golf ball size Sputnik satellites of button bush! Another nice combination is Forsythia(golden yellow) with chaste tree (blue)! Maintaining shrub size to fit the landscape can be achieved by conservative and careful annual pruning.

Azaleas are a natural choice offering a variety of spring colors and different sizes. However, I have experienced, as I have heard from others, loss of several mature evergreen, Southern Indica azaleas over the past two years. The experts seem to believe that this has resulted from cumulative stress including short periods of hard freezes a couple of winters ago followed by spring and summer alternating periods of heavy rain and prolonged drought this year and last. These conditions are tough on azaleas which have relatively shallow, fibrous roots and not deeper taproots like many other plants. If you have experienced some of these losses, you may want to consider the wealth of native deciduous azaleas and their hybrids available, many developed by Mobile’s local plantsmen. (This photo shows the honeysuckle trumpet.)

Okay. Now you are thinking “what about that mailbox,” “the fence looks so bare,” or “how can I disguise the side of the shed,” “the air conditioner,” etc. How about vines that might include the sweet fragrance of yellow Carolina Jessamine or white Confederate Jasmine? Or the large eye-catching orange to reddish tubes of cross vine or large, white discs of evergreen clematis! This time of year it’s hard not to want coral or trumpet honeysuckle, so attractive to hummingbirds and blooming from late spring into fall.

This doesn’t leave much space for a listing of smaller perennials or specific planting guideline for each plant mentioned above, but internet searches can provide assistance. In all cases, make sure the planting hole is as deep as the plant in the original pot and twice as wide. Loosen and spread the roots in the hole. Water in well and don’t forget to water deeply periodically to encourage deep root growth. It’s easy to forget to water when temperatures do not make us so thirsty, but don’t forget your plants through the winter. A good soaking before a predicted heavy freeze will also protect roots from freezing.

For Your Calendar:

What: Mobile Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale

When: Shop online starting 10/1 with curbside pickups on 10/7, 10/8, 10/9, 10/14.

Shop in-person: Fri 10/16 (9 am-4 pm) and Sat 10/17 (9 am-Noon)

Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile 36608

For More Info:

What: Charles Wood Japanese Garden (walking trail #1)

When: Daylight hours, no fee

Where: 700 Forest Hill Drive, Mobile 36608

What: Mobile Botanical Gardens

When: Wed-Friday, 9 am – 4 pm by appointment

Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile 36608

For More Info:

What: Bellingrath Gardens

When: Daily, 8 – 5 pm

Where: 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore 36582

For More Info:

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