Late, early leafers enrich winter garden
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 8:01 pm
Some trees and shrubs have the ingratiating — or irritating, depending on your viewpoint — habit of hanging on to their old leaves until well into late winter or early spring.
Young beeches (to 10 years or so old), for instance, hold their leaves as we speak. They have, over the long winter of cold and wind, morphed to a parchment color approaching white and stand out prominently in the otherwise sere and vacant woodland.
Likewise, sawtooth (and a few other) oaks have clinging leaves of rusty brown, a fine attraction or again — depending on your attitude about such things — an irritant.
White and post oaks often hold leaves late. As a matter of fact, their branches, cut in early fall, will keep leaves for several years and thus are the choice of hunters for brushing duck blinds. Most other tree branches will defoliate quickly after being cut.
On a more domestic level, some Japanese maples hold their leaves while others, for some reason, don’t. I have two specimens of Viridis green leaved Japanese maples that hold on to last year’s leaves even at this moment, just days before new replacements are due to sprout.
The latter will cause abcision of the old ones which will finally fall, a full year after unfolding in the spring of 2008.
Likewise, leaves of a red Japanese maple variety, Crimson Queen are still hanging, while nearby a red Emperor I and a Red Dragon are clean and bare, ready for the joyful emergence of red replacements within weeks.
The unfolding of leaves in wild woodland or on home grounds is a great moment in spring. Who among us — even non-gardeners — doesn’t marvel at the event?
A sodden, gray landscape, buffeted for months by cruel winter, quietly creeps into pale green, first with the tentative yellow poplars, spireas and other precocious adventurers, then, more concretely, with the crescendo of other species as they multiply onto the scene.
Early leafers are always welcome. Those spireas — and among the many varieties virtually all are early to leaf — are seldom damaged by late frosts that can ruin the first set of leaves on other things. I can’t remember them ever being hurt.
An Ogon chartreuse leafed spirea that has had tiny white blooms already for weeks has also been in leaf for all that time, the bright new leaves unfolding during what passed for mild spells in February. Actually, as long as the temperature was much above freezing, the slow unfolding of its leaves continued.
Another spirea, Fujino Pink, new to us a couple of years ago, is likewise early blooming and leafing. Buds are bright pink, and the blooms open with a tint of pink before turning into white. I have found it to be an excellent spirea. This one had a few blooms back in January and cold seemed not to harm it at all, though I am sure below-zero temperatures would.
Little playthings like these are toys to be enjoyed for their unseasonable effect, and not necessarily for wholesale use, though I would posit that a bank of Ogon or Fujino Pink spireas would make a sensational feature in drab early March.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 3.17.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path