Gardening With Tony
Even Bare Trees Have Style
By Tony Tomeo
Jan 2, 2013 - 9:53:50 AM

UNITED STATESEveryone knows that flowers provide color in the garden, particularly through spring and summer. As blooms become less abundant in autumn, fall color of deciduous plants and trees becomes more prominent. After most plants are finished blooming, and most of the fall color is gone, the garden may seem relatively bleak for winter. Only evergreen foliage remains. This is when plants that exhibit colorful bark or bare twigs really get noticed.

Various types of birch trees exhibit striking white bark all year. While the trees are bare in winter, the bark becomes even more prominent, particularly against a backdrop of evergreen trees. English walnut trees are not as striking, but are more sculptural. Fig trees (fruiting types) are more gray than white, so are more reliant on a backdrop of rich evergreen foliage or a darkly painted wall for contrast; but they grow fast enough to become interesting sculptural specimens within a few years.


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Perennial 'sticks of fire' produce a thicket of bright yellowish orange stems.

Bright white or light gray bark are certainly no substitute for the colors of flowers or foliage, but are striking nonetheless. They exploit the starkness of winter, and the sculptural nature of bare trunks and limbs.

Even without the sculptural structure of birch, walnut or fig trees, the more colorful twiggy growth of coral bark Japanese maple and osier dogwood trees can be quite an advantage in a stark winter landscape. As the name implies, coral bark Japanese maple has pinkish orange twigs. Osier dogwood can be ruddy brown, brownish orange or pale yellow. Frost improves color.

Unlike other Japanese maples that get pruned only lightly to enhance their form, coral bark Japanese maple can get pruned rather harshly just prior to spring growth in order to promote an abundance of the twiggy growth that is so colorful in winter. Osier dogwoods can get pruned down almost to the ground at the end of winter to eliminate tired older stems and promote colorful new stems for the following winter. They lack the colorful bloom that flowering dogwoods provide; so it is no bother that such harsh pruning prevents them from blooming.

Like trees with white or gray stems, coral bark Japanese maples and osier dogwoods are more striking against a backdrop of rich green foliage. Because winters are so mild here, they should be located where they will be most exposed to chill.

Tree of the Week: English Walnut

Like many 'English' plants, the English walnut, Juglans regia, is not actually from England. It is Persian, so is quite comfortable here in California. However, the foliar litter and husks contain a natural herbicide that can make nearby seed grown plants and annuals uncomfortable. Planted trees are typically grafted onto native California black walnut understock (roots) that is more resistant to disease, and improves stability.

Mature trees can be as tall as seventy-five feet with trunks as wide as five feet, but are almost always significantly smaller, and even proportionate to urban gardens, although notoriously messy with bloom, leaves and nuts. The pinnately compound leaves are generally less than a foot long, with five to nine leaflets that can be between two to six inches long, and about two inches wide. The bark is notably smooth and gray until trees get quite old and furrowed.



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