Ideas for a Focal Point Tree

everett-readerMay 5, 2006

I need to find a tree to replace the flowering plum that was in the bed between mine and my neighbors house. This bed boarders our two concret driveways and the public sidewalk. It is exposed to full. I consider it a fairly harsh location since there is no shelter from the wind or frost etc that most of my yard has. I know that we don't have the harsh full sun that other parts of the country have, but this area bakes during the August hot spells.

The neighborhood is about 17 years old and has many mature trees, the plum that was there was very sickly for many years before I decided to remove it. I want to replace it with something very showy that will stay a reasonable size. I was thinking of a Stewartia, but would love to hear some other ideas.

The whole bed needs rejuvenating, so some suggestions for a companion planting would be nice. The bed is about 15'x15' long. The neighbor owns 1/3 the planting bed and he just has a couple of low shrubs.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Stewartia must be kept moist, even after establishment. There ARE some apparently successful ones growing on a downtown Everett street but (looking under the discarded cigarette mulch) they appear to be planted in Alderwood glacial till or a similarly concretelike native subsoil that may not dry out much under the sidewalk, which may have a shading effect--as adjacent buildings definitely do. Perhaps these trees actually also get watered occasionally by the City.

The Miller Library (Center for Urban Horticulture, Seattle) used to have an illustrared booklet on file prepared by a CUH student called 'Trees for Everett'.

Here is a link that might be useful: Article - Trees that merit planting in Seattle by Arthur Lee Jacobson

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 3:25PM
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schizac(z8 Edmonds WA)

Deciduous: Acer triflorum
Evergreen: Magnolia grandiflora

All Stewartia are outstanding but perhaps a bit of an experiment in the situation you describe, as stated.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 5:01PM
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Interesting - I had kind of thought about a Magnolia grandiflora. I actually just bought one for my backyard - called "Little Gem" - it is every skinny and upright.

I looked at the article on the link, the one that intrigues me is Smoketree. I guess I think of that more as a shrub, but I wonder if it will get taller in an open situation.

Thanks for the ideas!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 5:14PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Most magnolias are woodland trees with large, soft or brittle parts that do not hold up well in wind. They also require deep, moist soil to have a good appearance. A southern magnolia consigned to a windy, cold, dryish spot would likely have poor foliage color, blemishes, breakage and register its discontent by rattling around in the wind angrily.

Even when well-sited this much-planted species remains "at ground level, a wide tarn of black shade, and a summer litter of big leaves in ones and twos over a long period" (Schenk, COMPLETE SHADE GARDENER, 1984, Houghton Mifflin).

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 6:48PM
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I planted a sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) in a similar site at my old house in S. Everett about 20 years ago - a very beautiful tree when I left. I planted on a slight berm, underplanted with Hino Crimson azaleas. If the new owners havent cut it down you could drive by and check it out. 134th Pl. S.W. - 2nd house on right.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 11:02PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If the new owners HAVE cut it down, rap their knuckles.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 11:47PM
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boxofrox(z8 PNW)

I planted an Aescelus carnea 'Briotti' last year because I wanted something a little different that you don't see everyday and I wanted it to compliment two existing 25 year old maples. One is a sango kaku and the other is a red variety of some sort that I can't remember. The 'Briotti' has lime color leaves like the sango and is currently in bloom with gorgeous red flowers that compliment the red maple. I love it.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2006 at 11:54PM
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If it was me looking for a specimen tree I would go for some type of broadleaf evergreen. A Eucalyptus or a Trachycarpus fortunei or wagnerianus would be first on my list. I also like Magnolia grandiflora. If I had to choose a deciduous tree, then Magnolia offinalis would be first choice. I personally like the types of trees that are not so common in the neighborhood. Joe

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 12:42AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

If a plum was having a hard time there your choices are rather limited unless you rework the soil and add some organic matter. 15 ft. by 15 ft. shouldn't take much work and would be well worth it for anything planted there.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 8:19AM
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I'm not sure I'd necessarily agree about needing to rework the soil re: the failure of the plum. They are notorious for contracting various diseases common to prunus as well as a host of insect problems. And many older ones are cultivars of xblireiana, a particularly weak hybrid for this area.

I'd look for something that was pretty drought tolerant once established, if this area presents as harsh a situation as you describe and regular irrigation difficult, which would eliminate the magnolia, stewartia, aesculus, even the oxydendrum, all of which need regular water in our dry summers. How 'bout something like strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo or its hybrid cousin Arbutus x 'Marina'? A modestly sized tree, a broadleaf evergreen, offering a similar red bark feature of our native madrone without the problems and with attractive bell-like flowers. Will need supplemental watering for a couple of seasons to become established, then should be fine with natural rainfall.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 10:20AM
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While I love the Arbutus recommended above, and will probably try planting one again, I would offer the following anecdotal warning; in the 1980's I planted 3 A. unedo in my S. Everett garden. A bad streak of weather in a particularly cold year killed all three. While I realize that many normally hardy plants can be lost during freakish weather, I have read that even when mature, some Arbutus species may need protection from cold winds.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 10:56AM
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schizac(z8 Edmonds WA)

Another smoketree worth considering is Cotinus obovatus, more tree-like, great fall color and pretty darned tough.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 2:20PM
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Lots of great ideas most of which I had not thought about! Like many area neighborhoods, we have an excess of rhodies, plenty of conifers and quite a few flowering trees (especially the weeping ones). The neighborhood is 17 years old and I am pleased to see that as people are updating the landscape they are replacing some of the overgrown builder's plantings with trees with interesting bark, winter branching form and foliage.

I should have mentioned that the deceased plum tree seemed to have some sort of blight. The neighbors plum, about 35' feet away, but surrounded by healhty plants suffered a similiar fate. The plants that have thrived in this bed are asters, enonymous (forgive the spelling) and sun lovers such as zinnias and cosmos. There is even a funky old boxwood that does great there, although it looks totally out of place. I will amend the bed, but it is a fairly difficult spot - definately not a place for a borderline hardy plant.

Thanks again, I have some plant research to do.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 10:28PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

'Briotii' should have dark green leaves, is not a small tree. 'Marina' sold in garden centers tend to lean over sooner or later because big commercial grower(s) sending them up from California badly rootbound. One bought from outside the mainstream might not ever show this defect. American smoketree has great foliage but tends to be rather broad and open. You can also get an intermediate hybrid between purple European smokebush and American smoketree, called 'Grace'.

If I was going to plant a buckeye in a dryish spot I would only plant California buckeye, unusual for its drought tolerance, among other things. The eastern and Eurasian/Asian species are moisture loving. This tends to be small here, but not always (see the two on watered lawn at Ballard Locks) and can be noticeable in flower. Bark, foliage and fruits also good.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 10:55PM
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Ron, you may be interested to know that there are several local sources for 'Marina', so the need to import from the big California growers has been eliminated. Anything we can do to encourage local growers to expand their selection to further reduce the need to buy from these sources with their high transportation costs, careless shipping practices, potbound plants and high prices and minimum orders is a good thing. Unfortunately, they still carry a lot of proprietary stock, cultivars that cannot be obtained from independent local sources, so it is still buy from them or not offer some very gardenworthy plants.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2006 at 9:07AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I know of individual specimens propagated locally, which is why I mentioned the possibility. PLANT LOCATOR - WESTERN REGION lists ten sources, mostly PNW. However, the larger sizes still recently displayed here at local garden centers will have been grown in California.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2006 at 2:17PM
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I'd also avoid Acer triflorum for that spot - it is quite fussy. How about Ilex latifolia.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 2:02AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

While worthwhile for being something bold and different (it's rare here), in a way Tarajo holly merely amounts to a southern magnolia without as much gloss or big fragrant flowers. Wouldn't be expected to be very drought tolerant, either. Most broadleaf evergreen trees litter quite a bit, as do conifers. With deciduous trees it more often comes down all at once, in autumn.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 5:47PM
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lisakk(z7b Issaquah)

You might consider the Chinese Pistachio. We lived in Texas for three years and they were very popular down there because they have beautiful fall foliage, small leaves (didn't need to rake when they fell), could withstand extreme heat in the summer and cold wind in the winter, and thrive in heavy, clay soils. They also grow reasonably fast.

I know Forest Farm carries them, but I'm not sure about who has them in this area.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 10:00AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

PLANT LOCATOR - WESTERN REGION (Black-Eyed Susans/Timber), current as of about 3 years ago lists Colvos Creek Nursery, Vashon, WA for Chinese Pistacio in Washington.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 11:12AM
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lazygardener(z8 OR ,Bverton)

Stewartia's are drought tolerant. I had planted a baby in full sun. It has been a slow grower, but since the last two years it is picking up. It is currently 2 1/2 feet tall only.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 3:36PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

You must have it planted in a soil that stays moist. I would never represent this strictly wet climate genus as drought tolerant, people acting on that recommendation are quite likely to be disappointed.

There used to be three in a south-facing planter in front of a building on 45th, in the University Distict (Seattle). Drove by and enjoyed having something besides pyramidal hornbeam to look at for years. Hot summer came, and they were toast.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 3:57PM
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