Late bloomers

Planting: Many trees and shrubs flower long after spring, providing welcome color until autumn rolls around.

August 08, 1999|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,Special to the Sun

In the spring, trees and shrubs produce a dazzling blaze of light and color. From the earliest forsythia to the dogwood, lilacs and azaleas, finishing with the rhododendron and laurel, our world from March through May is transformed by large flowering plants. Then things quiet down, and the trees and shrubs, instead of being front and center during the summer, provide a cooling background of green. A well-chosen few that bloom then give interest to the landscape.

Two caveats seem necessary here. This year's mild winter and dry spring have combined to make most plants bloom earlier than usual, and the current heat spell has propelled the cycles of many plants even faster.

And remember that while you can plant a shrub at any time, trees must be containerized until cooler weather. They're too big to tolerate being transplanted in the heat.

Mike McWilliams, president of Maxalea Nursery Inc., suggests many interesting trees that bloom at different times in the summer. In June, the Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata), which grows to about 20-30 feet, produces long, fragrant white plumes. A pretty cultivar is 'Ivory Silk.'

One of the most attractive flowering trees is the Sorrel tree or Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). This native tree first produces drooping white flowers in July; its flowers gradually become yellowish green pods that fade to brown in the fall. At that time its lustrous green leaves become scarlet to purple, depending on the weather. Sourwoods, which grow to 30 feet with a spread of more than 15 feet, need full sun and acid soil.

The crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), which has pink or white papery flowers in August, may be a little risky this far north, so it's best to plant it in a protected area. If, after a harsh winter, it looks dead, cut it back almost to the ground and it will usually come back. It is worth the care, not only for its blooms, but for its exfoliating bark -- a handsome sight in the winter. McWilliams at Maxalea recommends the white cultivar 'Natchez White,' which is multistemmed and therefore effective in the small garden.

Another late-summer tree is Franklinia, which has a remarkable history. It was discovered along the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1765 by botanist John Bartram but not seen in the wild since 1803. The Franklinia, which has sporadic white blossoms in August and September, is only cultivated and not easy to get. It reaches 20 feet, has showy fall foliage and is named after Ben Franklin.

Of course, one of the great trees, with or without its huge, fragrant white flowers, is Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). This tree can grow to 80 feet and is not for the small yard. Occasionally our winters may be too harsh for the Southern magnolia but 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' is a cultivar that has greater tolerance of the cold. The large, glossy leaves and its reddish, cone-shaped fruits are handsome in Christmas arrangements. A smaller magnolia that works well in less space is Sweet bay or Swamp magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). Both bloom sporadically from June until September. The latter needs more moisture than its smaller cousin.

Sources

* Maxalea Nursery, Inc., 900 Oak Hill Road, Baltimore, Md. 21239; 410-377-7500

* "The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region" (Knopf)

* "Gardening With Wildflowers and Native Plants" (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Inc.)

* "The Random House Book of Shrubs" (Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, Random House)

Shrubs for summer's stretch

Numerous summer shrubs add color to the garden. Butterfly bush (Buddleia) blooms in July and August in a variety of colors. 'Black Knight,' which is purple, and 'White Profusion' are attractive cultivars. There are several hydrangeas -- the Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia) which is native and blooms in June, is an early one. Its foliage turns russet in Autumn. Some later garden hydrangea cultivars that McWilliams recommends are 'Nikko Blue' and 'Mariesii.' (The latter is mauve.) Another variety is Peegee (H. paniculata 'Grandiflora,') which blooms (white) in August and can grow up to 20 feet. Some hydrangeas bloom until fall, and their dried flowers are handsome in arrangements. There is also a hydrangea vine.

Clethra alnifolia, which prefers shade and moisture, is pink or white. It blooms in late summer, is also called summersweet or Sweet Pepperbush and is fragrant. Caryopteris is another August bloomer; a profusion of blue flowers is produced along its branches for several weeks. McWilliams recommends the cultivar 'Longwood Blue.'

A lovely shrub that blooms from late June until the first frost is Abelia X grandiflora. In addition to its long blooming period, it is fragrant. Its small, trumpet-shaped white or pale pink flowers are framed by tiny pinkish outer leaves. Abelia is pretty in flower arrangements. It can grow more than 6 feet tall, but a reliable, shorter variety is 'Edward Goucher.'

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