Planting A Tree: Chionanthus virginicus
I went to the Morris Arboretum plant sale last Friday. As a member, I got a “bonus” plant for free. The “bonus” plant is a lure to bring you to the plant sale. You pick up your bonus plant at a special tent at the very back of the plant sale, so you have to walk past the tables of annuals and perennials, the dozens of herbs and scented geraniums, seedling tomatoes and peppers and swiss chard, the long aisles of potted shrubs and trees, the section showcasing the offerings of the Rhododendron Society, the little clump devoted to clematis and native wisteria…by the time you get to the bonus plant tent you are weak at the knees, all rational thought has left your brain, and you are certain – certain, I tell you! – that you could easily incorporate two dozen or so new plants into your landscape with ease. Ease! Despite the fact that you still have half a dozen or so potted critters languishing at home from the last plant sale you visited, desperately hoping you will, any day now, create a suitable earthly home for them.
Last year’s bonus plant was a fothergilla, and I wince to think that it spent all summer hastily tucked into a container in the backyard while I dithered about where to plant it before even more hastily chucking it into a barely dug hole in a semi-suitable spot last September. It leafed out this spring, though, and who knows, it may thrive!
This year’s bonus plant will not tolerate such neglect.
It is a fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus.
I have to get that little dude in the ground asap, because fringe trees don’t enjoy being transplanted. They like to set their roots and stay put. That means I have to pick a place NOW and be happy with it. I know where I want it, actually, though it’s going to be a pain for the near future. Eventually it will dominate that square of lawn but for now it will need protected and have to be mowed around. My long term plan, of course, is near total elimination of the lawn.
Apparently I don’t need to dig a giant hole, though. According to my newspaper, the latest guidelines for planting trees say that you really should not dig a huge hole and hugely enrich the soil. The tree has eventually got to put its roots into the nasty ol’ plain dirt all around it. Make too nice a disturbed soil bed around it, and the roots will just coil round and round rather than going forth – you’ll just get a potted root ball in the ground, rather than a truly rooted tree. Here’s some advice on site preparation and other planting tips.
Of course, that is advice for a tree with an actual rootball. I will modify as appropriate for my tiny seedling.
I asked, but they could not tell me if my little seedling was a male or female. It matters, because the males get showier flowers. Time will tell, I suppose. The tree produces fruit that birds like. This is the only thing that makes me question my choice of putting it in the front lawn. I know it would look beautiful there but maybe I really should put it in the back, closer to the forest edge, where the birds might feel safer about dining on the berries. What do you think? There are trees across the street from the front of the house, too, but I seem to see more bird activity in the back yard, because of the woods.
That bonus plant got me into a world of planting trouble. I have a native wisteria sitting on my front porch right now, as well as a new witch hazel. I also bought a ninebark, which I am very excited about but not at all sure where I am going to plant, and then a bunch of miscellaneous herbs and two scented geraniums which I’ve never had before. I was lucky to get out of there without much else clinging to me.
The witch hazel is a replacement for the witch hazel gone bad in my yard. Several years ago I bought a flowering witch hazel so that I could enjoy its bright blooms in late January and February. Except it never bloomed – only on two little branches at the bottom. The shrub grew vigorously, looked healthy all the time. Just wouldn’t bloom. The wise gardeners among you are nodding your heads, knowing what I just recently discovered. Winter flowering witch hazels are grafted onto a non-winter flowering stock that is more vigorous and, if not carefully pruned back, will take over the plant – as happened in my case. The shrub looks great – it just doesn’t flower, which is what I wanted it for. So I’m digging that bastard out and putting in a new one.
I am agonizing over this, though, because it just seems so wrong to take a perfectly healthy plant out of the landscape. Not as wrong, I tell myself, as the practice I learned about at my PHS book club meeting last week. Apparently some people just feel that they REALLY need a change of landscape. Too many dandelions in the lawn, or something. Every few years, they have their entire lawns replaced. They have the sod ripped up, and fresh sod trucked in and laid down. That should just be illegal.
Well, Mr. Z is home, and perhaps we shall plant something together. Let me know what you think about the fringe tree – front yard showy? Back yard better for birds? Are you planting anything yourself this spring?