'Exotic' tree update

davidcalgary29(2b)May 27, 2012

Thanks to all who encouraged me last year to try some extrazonal exotics and push the limits of northern gardening in Peace River! I provide the following update not to boast (as all success can be wiped out with an untimely freeze), but to help any others who are thinking about springing for an exotic in their own yard:

No damage:

ginkgo biloba, planted 2009

a. saccarhum 'green mountain', planted 2011

celtis occidentalis, planted 2009

robinia pseudoacacia 'purple robe', planted 2011

rhus typhina, planted 2011

rhus aromatica, planted 2011

'golden spice' pear, planted 2011


celtis tenufolia (to snowline)

morus alba (to snowline)

'valiant' grape (to two feet above ground)


castanea dentata (survived much harsher winter of 2010-2011)


fargesia rufa (tops died, but roots are still alive -- waiting for new growth!)

project for the year: taxodium distichum. This was a 'mistake' tree for a local nursery...and the thing would have died anyway if I hadn't bought it. My prospects of overwintering this are minimal...but I've heard that baldcypress is hardy to Ottawa. Plus, you never know.

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Way to go David. Maybe later in the year it would be a good idea to keep a photo log so you have an idea if these trees grow or just survive.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 10:43PM
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Very interesting zone-pushing, I like that kind of thing!

Good job on the ginko, I had one in suburban Edmonton but it didn't make it through its first winter. Some growing at U of A though, and I know of a healthy older one in Drumheller, which must be about equal to your zone.

I've got a sugar maple that I planted as a seed almost 20 years ago... it's about 5 m tall now but is growing in a bush form since in bad winters it takes some serious winterkill (I don't think it had any winterkill this past winter).

I've tried black locust but they didn't do much for me... lived a few years, growing a foot or two each summer, then killing to snowline. For my relatives near Ottawa (which was my seed source) they grow like rockets. My planting location wasn't the best though...an increasingly shady garden.

Haven't tried sumac myself, but there is one in my neighbourhood that survives and looks good, though it isn't anywhere near as vigorous as the ones I used to see growing wild in Ontario (which is probably good, since they were almost weedy...)

I think the Valiant grape will do okay for you... I get a lot of top kill each year, but they survive and grow so amazingly vigorously over the summer that they end up huge every summer... I end up having to prune them with shears several times per summer just to keep them from overtaking everything. Plus they ripen early for a northern grape, a major consideration (I've had the crop ripen every year with Valiant, no exceptions).

Very cool that you were trying an American chestnut, too bad it died in its second winter. I've always wondered how they might do in Alberta, too bad they don't make it long-term.

Keep us informed on how the bamboo recovers and performs this summer... that's another one I've always wondered about but haven't tried.

Now you just need to try Horse chestnut, butternut, black walnut,... :-)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 2:23AM
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As for the bald cypress... well it's unlikely in northern Alberta, but you never know until you try. The bald cypress trees in Ottawa I would call semi-hardy. They are 5 or 6 metres tall, or at least were when I saw them in 2002, but winterkill is definitely an issue. I recall that there are two bald cypress trees, and this photo is the upper part of the healthiest tree... this was taken in July 2002, and clearly it hasn't yet recovered from the previous winter's damage. Still, they are 5 m or more tall, so have obviously managed to make it through many winters (something in my head tells me these are 40 year old plantings, though I could be nuts about that, so don't quote me.)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 2:38AM
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Wow, thanks for the pictures of the baldcypress! They're not the prettiest trees, but it's amazing to think that they're growing in Ottawa.

I'll definitely post pictures of the trees later in the season when they're in full leaf. I have noticed that older trees seem to survive colder temperatures much better than the seedlings; all of my trees that died were less than two feet tall.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 10:25PM
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Sumac should be okay here, guy a couple houses down has it. Gets about three feet tall here.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 2:44PM
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David, did your bald cypress survive? It looks like such a cool tree.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 4:00AM
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Thanks for digging up this thread, I was thinking about this just yesterday. I'm also interested in an update, particularly for the ginko, bald cypress, American chestnut and white mulberry.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 4:03PM
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Thanks for the interest! Sadly, the following trees died:

Gingko: deer and/or voles girdled the tree last winter and it didn't make it into spring. The top wasn't winter killed; it began to bud. The species would probably survive with some protection here (which I didn't give it), as there's at least one mature tree growing in Edmonton.

Baldcypress: you didn't actually think that this would survive, would you? Neither did I, and it didn't.

American Chestnut: I bought a very small sapling from Acorus Restoration when they still shipped live plants. It puttered along for three years, and just dropped its leaves and died last summer. It's possible that ants got to it: the ants killed a neighbouring apple tree.

White mulberry: still growing! I bend the main stem to the ground to cover it with snow in the winter. It was looking kind of sickly last summer, though; trees have grown up around it and it's growing largely in shade, which it doesn't like.

'Exotic' survivors as of fall 2013:

Catalpa speciosa x2 (but is killed above the snowline)
Acer Saccharum (doing fine)
Celtis Occidentalis (doing fine)
Celtis Tenuifolia (doing fine)
Morus Alba (needs winter protection)
Cladastis Kentuckea ?
Chionanthus Virginicus ? (both were shredded in an unfortunate weedwhacker incident)

My 'experiment' trees for 2013 were Chinese Catalpa (C. ovata) and Devil's walkingstick (Aralia Spinosa). I'm definitely going to try American Beech and another American Chesnut if I can find one this year, and will have to replant the bamboo that I lost last year.

My 'experiment' trees for 2013 were

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 4:52PM
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I should add that both sumachs and the pear are doing just fine, too. Staghorn sumach is a lovely shrub/bush, and adds some much-needed reds to the fall landscape here.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 4:54PM
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Thanks for the update!

No, I didn't expect the bald cypress to survive... but it would have been spectacular if it had!

I wonder if your ginkgo didn't suffer the same fate as mine? I tried one ten or more years ago but after its first winter it budded out and produced tiny leaves, then quickly died. My diagnosis (which could be completely wrong) was that the roots were killed during the winter (a winter of thin snow-cover) so it was able to start to leaf out from sap that was stored in the trunk, but that supply was quickly exhausted and the tree then died.

As for ginkgos in Edmonton, there are probably far more than the two I am aware of, both located at the university. Actually I have only seen one of these, 2 photos from Sept. 2013 shown below, which is planted in a very enclosed courtyard, and right up against the side of a building, so ideal conditions. It is at least 20 feet tall. The other at the university, which I have not yet seen, is supposed to be smaller, more compact, and in a more open exposure.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:51AM
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Don, my experience with ginkgo was somewhat similar. I think it came through its first few winters in decent good condition and put on a few inches of growth each summer. Then, it died after we experienced a near snowless winter.

I still need to acquire a katsura tree, years ago I had seen a beautiful large thriving specimen in west Edmonton. I guess some nurseries do occasionally bring them in.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 12:56PM
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I'll try gingko again, too, if I can find a hardy cultivar at a local nursery. Our snowcover is deep and consistent through the winter, and I think that I could get one to survive here with proper protection.

You'll see from my list of survivors that there are are really very few surprises on it. Most of the survivors are listed as being reliably hardy to zone 3, and this means that their hardiness can be extended by one full zone -- at most. The lone true 'zone skipper' on the list is dwarf hackberry, which is only native to zone 5 (or, doubtfully, 4b). I think that its low natural stature helps, as it's usually completely covered by snow in winter. It's also possible that its present geographical distribution is a just a relic, and that it once grew in more places further north than southern Ontario (doubtfully Quebec).

I also think that mulberry (m. alba) could fruit successfully in the Edmonton region if grown in sheltered locations. I'd like to try m. rubra, but can't find a supplier.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 1:32PM
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Yes, American beech is definitely worth a try, many sites claim it's hardy to zone 3. Last year, at Rona, I had come across a Tricolor beech, the foliage was amazing, but I bypassed it doubting winter survival, though should have chanced it, as it wasn't very expensive. Mulberry is also one I want to attempt.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 6:20PM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

I miss my ginkgo - had to leave it behind at my old house when we moved last summer. I checked on it yesterday (drove by the back lane) and the tree is about 8 feet tall and leafing out. Here we usually have dependable snow cover for the tree, but I did read that ginkgo gets hardier with age so I started with as big tree as I could find, maybe 2-12 feet tall and well branched. For the first few winters I mounded peat moss/leaves over the roots, then snow, then covered with cardboard box until spring melt. This seemed to give it just that extra bit of protection it needed.

Pretty soon my winter protection consisted of surrounding the tree with a wood frame and stapling a tarp around this.

The last few years i chanced it and provided no winter protection other than mounding shovelled snow around the base. Now I'm at my new home starting with a four foot high tree, but it's still sort of a seedling as it had no branches (maybe the branches were up higher and they were cut when they shipped from the nursery). Anyway, if only you can take your yard with you when you move.

At my old house I noticed my catalpa leafed out as well, but they came back from near the base. That's about all I can see, without entering the yard and having them ask who I am, lol.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 10:16PM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

Whoops, I meant to say I started with a 2-1/2 foot tall tree way back when (10 years ago?) I found that some nurseries here used to carry ginkgo as a specialty plant but most don't, hence why i mailed ordered it for my new house.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 10:18PM
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marciaz3 Tropical 3 Northwestern Ontario

I had a catalpa that i grew from seed and babied it for a couple of years before it died over the winter. I don't think i've ever seen one for sale, though.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 8:16AM
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ostrich(3a AB)

David, are you really in Calgary? You mentioned that you had good snow cover - that is not usually the case in Calgary though.... also, your title has zone 2b - I certainly hope that Calgary is not zone 2b!!!

Anyway, have you tried a dogwood with those lovely Asian style horizontal branching patterns? I would love to have one in Calgary.... and I so miss my Japanese maple from y zone 5 garden! If anyone figures out how to grow Japanese maples in Calgary, please let me know....

Thanks for this interesting thread!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 8:19PM
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