Plants for two seasons Showoffs: Shrubs and trees double the gardener's pleasure with more than one display of beauty during the growing year.

October 04, 1998|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every one loves a deal. In the world of gardening, one great deal is a plant that puts on a new display twice a year - flowers in the spring and berries or impressive foliage in the fall. These plants not only give a lot of show for the money but also attract both birds and butterflies.

Among the shrubs that perform this way is Mahonia. One of the earliest to bloom in the spring, usually early March, it then bears large blue berries in summer. The Fothergilla gardenii is another two-season shrub worth cultivating. A native plant, it has white, honey-scented flowers in May and yellow and bright orange fTC leaves in late autumn. It is a dwarf species and doesn't usually grow above 3 feet high.

The Nandina domestica, an evergreen, has small white flowers in May, and red berries with brilliant red foliage in late autumn. Either dwarf or full size (between 5 and 6 feet), it dries well and is beautiful in Christmas arrangements.

Pyracantha coccinea (firethorn) is popular, with small white flowers in mid-spring and orange berries in the fall. It can be susceptible to scale or other problems such as fire blight, but 'Pueblo' is thought to be a reliable cultivar, and the smaller 'Rutgers' has no thorns.

Viburnum prunifolium is deciduous and native and has large white clustered flowers in late spring; they become red berries by late summer, which turn black by late fall while the glossy green leaves turn a dark reddish brown. This viburnum (there are many other excellent ones of various sizes) grows tall, well over 20 feet, fairly quickly and is therefore useful for screening or hedging. Considered by some to be a small tree, it may need regular pruning. It reseeds itself often, so you might get more of a deal here than you bargained for. When you buy a new shrub or tree, be sure to remember to ask about its expected height, breadth and vigor.

Aronia arbutifolia can also be considered a large shrub or small tree. Known as red chokecherry, it has lustrous leaves that turn scarlet in the fall, and its small white spring flowers become glossy red berries. Another tall shrub or small tree that does double duty is the multistemmed Photinia villosa, which has small white flowers in the spring, and red berries and flaming scarlet leaves in the late fall. This is not the commonplace red-tipped Photinia.

Several native trees have splendid spring and fall displays and make invaluable additions to the garden. Magnolia macrophylla has fragrant white flowers that are 6 to 8 inches wide in the spring, then develops a large red fruit in the summer. Its large deciduous leaves turn yellow in autumn.

And Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood) and Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) are glorious much of the year.

In spring the sourwood first produces reddish leaves, which turn green. Then in July it flowers in long white sprays, which become small, tannish fruits. In fall its leaves turn orangeish red or purple.

The flowering dogwood is controversial these days because it has a propensity to get a lethal black fungus called discula anthracnose. But with its white (or, in some cultivars, pink) petals in April, its heart-shaped leaves, which turn scarlet in the fall, and its bright red berries, which provide high fat nourishment for the birds, it's hard to resist buying one or two, and they often self-seed. Scientists are working on breeding resistant hybrids, but they will be expensive and aren't being sold yet.

So buy Cornus florida from a reputable nursery, be sure not to plant it in full all-day sun, water it during dry spells, perhaps apply a fungicide and prune affected limbs. Most gardeners think it's worth it.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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