This article originally ran in the Ruston Daily Leader on December 22, 2009.
December through early March is an excellent time to plant these trees. Some are native to Louisiana, and some were introduced from other countries.
One of the earliest-blooming trees is the Taiwan flowering cherry (Prunus campanulata). It blooms in late January or in February. The attractive flowers are vibrant, deep pink and blossom in great abundance before the leaves emerge. This is one of the few flowering cherries that grows and blooms reliably this far south.
The Okame flowering cherry also grows successfully in Louisiana and is especially recommended for north Louisiana because it blooms later, and the flowers are less likely to be damaged by a freeze. Pale pink flowers are produced late February through early April.
The Oriental magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is one of the most spectacular spring-flowering trees because its flowers are so large. Unlike the evergreen Southern magnolia, the Oriental magnolia is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter. Appearing before the foliage in February, the fragrant flowers are tulip-shaped, 4 to 6 inches across and may be pale pink to purple on the outside and white on the inside. Long-lived and reliable, Oriental magnolias grow 15 to 20 feet tall and need a sunny, well-drained location.
A smaller magnolia is the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). It grows 10 to 12 feet tall and is more shrublike. Its white or pale pink flowers are star-shape and wonderfully fragrant. Blooming in late January or in February before the foliage, the star magnolia is an excellent choice for small gardens.
The native silver bell (Halesia diptera) is a lovely tree that produces small, four-petal, white flowers that hang down in large numbers from the branches. The thin leaves allow light to filter through, creating a lovely effect under the tree. Silver bells thrive in Louisiana and, once established, grow rapidly, maturing at 25 to 30 feet. They grow well with light shade or in full sun. This tree is being promoted as a replacement for dogwoods.
Hawthorns are a wonderful group of native trees that provide spring bloom as well as fruit for humans or wildlife to eat. Growing 15 to 20 feet tall, the parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii) is an excellent choice in patio or small plantings. The clusters of white flowers appear in March or April and are soon followed by the foliage, which looks like flat Italian parsley. The small red fruit that ripen in fall are relished by mockingbirds. Parsley hawthorn is tolerant of poorly drained soils and grows in full sun to part shade. The hawthorn group also includes mayhaw.
The American fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) produces clusters of flowers with long, narrow, greenish-white petals that grow in masses all along the branches. The narrow petals and hanging habit give the flowers a fringe or beardlike appearance. In the wild, you usually see them growing on the edge of the woods. They thrive in full sun to partial shade in well-drained locations. The Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) also grows well here and is even showier than our native species.
Another excellent spring-flowering tree is the redbud (Cercis canadensis), which usually blooms in late February or in March. Small, pinkish-purple, pealike flowers are produced in unbelievable profusion along the branches (and even on the trunk!) before the leaves appear.
The habit of blooming before the leaves grow out is fairly common among the spring-flowering trees and really adds to the impact of the flowers. Redbuds are relatively fast-growing once established and prefer full sun and a well-drained location. Many advances have been made in redbuds over the past 20 years. A popular variety at garden centers now is Forest Pansy.
Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see our tree-planting efforts and sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to www.louisianahouse.org and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn for more information.
For more information regarding this or any other horticulture topic please contact me or your parish Extension office .