I always get itchy during the cold-weather months to look aloft outdoors and find branches blooming once again. Their winter nudity becomes a pleasantly distant memory. The spring garments they don are so flashy that they somehow manage to steal some of the thunder even from the colorful spring bulb plants. Flowering dogwood trees are one of my spring favorites and, by fall, they'll be attracting wild birds, to boot.
Yes, our springs would be much the poorer without our blooming specimens. And while their spring colors, alone, would justify growing flowering dogwood trees and other spring beauties, the benefits don't stop there. This article touches upon a few of the many gifts bestowed upon us by the standout trees and shrubs of spring. On Page 2, I rank them in a Top 10 list, headed by flowering dogwood trees. As an alternative to flowering dogwood trees, incidentally, you can purchase a shrub form.
Birdwatching and landscaping can complement each other beautifully. The trick is knowing which blooming specimens are most useful for attracting wild birds. Many decorative berries, while inedible for humans, are a boon to your winged friends. Some of these berries will be snapped up quickly by them, while others, such as the berry on the sumac shrub, serve as emergency food during hard times. The latter are not among their favorite foods, but they will provide you with excellent birdwatching opportunities in late winter and early spring, when their desperation for food makes attracting wild birds easier.
Some blooming specimens serve double-duty, furnishing the fall landscape with colorful foliage or berries. Others offer multiple ornamental qualities, plus edible fruit to boot. They also have a number of functional landscape uses:
- Plant specimen flowering shrubs on either side of an entryway to help direct the eye to it. Do, however, choose a varieties of flowering shrubs with interesting foliage to perform this function, so that the entryway will be enhanced beyond the spring season.
- Hide a high house foundation with flowering shrubs that serve as foundation plantings. Again, be at least as concerned with foliage as with flowers.
- Flowering shrubs can be planted near a home to "soften" the landscape, breaking up vertical or horizontal lines that are too strong.
- Some flowering shrubs are particularly effective in controlling erosion.
- Flowering dogwood trees and flowering shrubs with attractive foliage can be used as a border for landscaping property lines. They can be similarly employed within your own property bounds to define distinct outdoor spaces. Even a driveway can be transformed from a utilitarian component of a landscape to an aesthetic achievement, if planted with such borders.
- Taller specimens, such as some of the larger varieties of magnolia, offer shade.
Flowering Dogwood Trees and Japanese Dogwoods
All things considered, flowering dogwood trees (Cornus florida), an American native, and Japanese dogwood trees (Cornus kousa) win the top ranking for spring bloomers, with an impressive array of landscaping benefits. 'Cherokee Chief' is a popular Cornus florida cultivar. The branching pattern of flowering dogwood trees is rather horizontal, which affords visual interest at any time of year but particularly in winter, when leaves are absent. 'Cherokee Chief' flowering dogwood trees will attain a maximum height of about 25 feet tall (by only about 15 feet wide). The springtime flowers are red and yield to berries that the wild birds eat. In autumn the leaves turn bronzy.
Japanese dogwood trees blossom at a later time in spring than the American flowering dogwood trees do. For example, I have a 'Wolf Eyes' cultivar that puts out its white flowers in the fourth week of May in 2012, whereas my Cornus florida had bloomed in the third week of April. The claim to fame for Wolf Eyes is its two-toned leaves, which don't change markedly when fall comes, but other Japanese dogwoods can sport a purple to red autumn color in their leaves. Cornus florida produces a smooth berry, while the berries of Japanese dogwood trees look more like a raspberry. They last into the winter months, and the wild birds eat them.
On Page 2 we'll have a look at my Top 10 list, and I'll give the criteria for making the list....