Monthly Archives: July 2013

Drought Doesn’t Deter 3 Dazzling Trees

Hot Wings tartarian maple displays showy red samaras all summer long. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

Hot Wings tartarian maple displays showy red samaras all summer long. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

It seems as though drought is the new norm in Colorado. Last year we had a Stage 1 drought; this year we had a Stage 2.  So when we Coloradans hear about trees that thrive in hot, arid conditions, our ears perk up.  When those trees are also gorgeous, we get downright excited.

Three trees that thrill water-conscious homeowners are the Hot Wings® tartarian maple, golden raintree and Clear Creek® golden yellowhorn.

Hot Wings® tartarian maple, lovingly referred to as Acer tataricum ‘GarAnn’ PP 15,023, displays showy red samaras (those “helicopters” containing seeds) all summer long.  You can use this versatile specimen not only in hot, dry areas, but also next to patios and under utility lines.  The tree will eventually grow 25 to 30 feet high and wide.  As for fall color, it ranges from ranges from yellow to orange-red.

Golden raintree's beautiful yellow flowers give way to seed pods resembling small Chinese lanterns.

Golden raintree’s beautiful yellow flowers give way to seed pods resembling small Chinese lanterns.

Golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is so tough that it thrives in a parking lot island at Denver’s Eugene Field library.  You can use this plant next to patios and paths, under utility lines or simply as a focal point in your landscape.  In early to mid-summer, golden raintree rewards gardeners with panicles (pyramidal, loosely branched clusters) of bright yellow flowers.  The flowers then give way to brown seed pods that resemble small Chinese lanterns.  The plant will grow 25 to 30 feet high and wide.

Clear Creek® golden yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium ‘Psgan’) offers feathery green foliage, bright white spring flowers and brilliant yellow fall color.  As a bonus, the tree also produces pods with edible seeds that reportedly taste somewhat like macadamia nuts when roasted.  You can grow this plant as either a tree or a shrub and use it hot, dry areas, such as the west side of your house,as well as under utility lines.  The tree will reach a size of 18-22 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide at maturity.  The yellowhorn is difficult to find in Denver-area nurseries, but I did find a small one at Echter’s Nursery & Garden Center yesterday.

Clear Creek golden yellowhorn's white flowers feature a small blotch at the base that turns from yellow to red.  (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

Clear Creek golden yellowhorn’s white flowers feature a small blotch at the base that turns from yellow to red. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

If you would like more information on tree selection, you can read my Denver Post story, “Choose Tough Trees for Tough Spots in West’s landscapes,” at http://www.denverpost.com/grow/ci_23301547/choose-tough-trees-tough-spots-wests-landscapes?IADID=Search-www.denverpost.com-www.denverpost.com.  Or if you live in the Denver area, you can attend my free workshop, “Right Tree, Right Place: Choosing a Tree for Your Landscape,” from 3 to 4pm Sunday, August 11, at the Schlessman Family Branch Library, 100 Poplar Street, in Denver.

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Experimental Pruning: Maybe Someday My Smokebush will be a Smoketree

As these smoketree leaders grow, I'll adjust their stakes as needed and prune away the lower branches.

As these smoketree leaders grow, I’ll adjust their stakes as needed and prune away the lower branches.

I’ve never seen the tree form of Cotinus coggygria (smokebush/smoketree) for sale at a nursery.  Because I wanted a smoketree to complement my cream-colored house, I bought a velvet cloak purple smokebush (#7 container size) to see if I could prune it into a tree.  After buying it, I planted it and left it alone for the first two years.

Little did the smokebush suspect that I planned to transform it into a single- or multi-stemmed tree that would reach 10 to 15 feet at maturity.

With its gorgeous, translucent, spoon-shaped leaves and fluffy seedheads, a smoketree is a real standout in the garden.  As a bonus, the velvet cloak cultivar displays stunning reddish-purple foliage each fall.

I’ve read that if you want to prune a smokebush into a smoketree, you should begin pruning when the shrub is young.  Smokebushes are notorious for suckering, and once a gazillion suckers have taken hold, pruning the shrub into a tree is extremely difficult.

So early this spring, I selected a leader (central branch) from the smokebush’s branches and pruned all of the remaining branches down to the ground and even a little below ground when possible.  I then staked the leader into an upright position, using a length of bicycle inner tube and a steel T-post.

In the process, I noticed another branch about a foot away that also had leadership potential.  So to hedge my bets, I staked that one, too.

So far, the leaders look promising.  One is about 1 inch in diameter; the other is about 5/8 inch.  Since staking them three months ago, I have seen them grow in height from about three feet to nearly six feet.  Smokebushes grow very rapidly at first before slowing down.

Naturally, new suckers have grown at the base of each leader.  But every couple of weeks, I just go out and prune them away.

Some say that smokebushes can be difficult to establish in Colorado and that they die back to the ground during their first few years.  I didn’t find that to be the case.  My smokebush happily took to my front yard with no dieback during two winters.

I’ll continue to prune away the suckers and, as the leaders grow taller, prune away some of the lower branches as well.  Watch for updates to this process.

4/11/2015 update:  The main leader continued to grow nicely, so I ended up cutting down the smaller 5/8″ leader.  Last month, I sold my house and moved, so sadly, a builder will likely cut down the tree when he demolishes the house.  But at least I now know that it’s relatively easy to prune a smokebush into a smoketree.  Just be aware, however, that the trunk will be somewhat irregular, but that may well be part of the tree’s charm.

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