Tough tree trio

By From page A5 | September 25, 2013

By Brent Dennis

Fall is an excellent time to consider planting trees in your yard in advance of the coming winter rainy season.

When one desires to achieve a low-maintenance landscape design, the primary backbone and overall structure of the outdoor spaces are usually achieved by the proper selection and placement of trees. In the El Dorado County area, three botanical bastions for consideration would be the Thornless Honeylocust, Velvet Cloak smoke tree, and the Winter King Hawthorn.

The Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) is a fast-growing tree popular for its dappled shade, graceful oval/rounded character and rugged character in terms of drought tolerance and minimal maintenance to retain its form. The tiny leaflets turn yellow or yellow-green in autumn and seem to disappear after falling. Its wood is strong and resistant to heavy winds. The Honeylocust’s overall form growing to 30 feet to 70 feet in height and a spread of up to 50 feet has a delicate, open silhouette that lets grass grow underneath its canopy. The Honeylocust flowers provide a good source of food for bees. It adapts to a wide range of soils and prefers full sun. Newly planted trees can be expected to add 2 feet or more per season during its first decade of growth.

A handsome variety of the smoke tree is Velvet Cloak. Smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria) offer a high-impact splash of color to any landscape and possess a whimsical array of dramatic flowers and beautiful leaves. Grown as a small tree (15-foot height and 15-foot spread) the smoke tree shows off rich, dark purple foliage that turns bright red in autumn. It gets its name from the frothy, buff-pink summertime bloom clusters that transform into plume-like seed heads that give a long-lasting, smoky haze to branch tips. It is a very reliable performer in the garden, holding up extremely well in hot, dry conditions once the plant is established. Smoke trees are outstanding specimens in large shrub borders and are a great choice for massing or tall hedges when needing to serve a functional yet aesthetic purpose in the landscape.

The Winter King Green Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis “Winter King”) is an attractive stalwart of more ornamental scale trees (20 to 25 feet in height and 20-foot to 30-foot spread) that has four-season attractive qualities. It’s a highly adaptable tree that can be easily grown in most challenging locales, but does best in full sun or part shade in well-drained soils. This small, rounded, almost vase-shaped tree has strong, horizontal branches with very few thorns. Its dense clusters of showy, white flowers are profuse in mid-May normally. Bright red fruits will persist into winter and attract birds. Another attractive quality is its mottled, multi-colored bark that improves with age.

As most gardeners know, there is no such thing as a “no maintenance” tree or shrub, but when one is seeking a tree that normally requires a lower level of maintenance, these three tough trees are tree-mendous candidates for your landscape. Have a colorful autumn and happy gardening!

Brent Dennis, a landscape architect and garden designer, is general manager of the El Dorado Hills Community Services District.

Brent Dennis


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