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Past Articles Library | Trees | 5 Trees to Plant for their Bark

Have you ever looked outside during the winter and only saw white and maybe some dark brown but nothing else?  Well, if you answered yes then you are missing out on a little known landscaping secret.  What is it?  The answer is to plant for year-round interest.

Many of us plant our landscaping with plants that showoff during the spring and summer months.  Occasionally, we will plant a plant that not only has a beautiful display during the traditional growing months but also produces a colorful show of leaves and/or flowers.  But only planting for a display that lasts only a few months is the downfall of this approach.  To get a bigger bang for your landscaping buck, consider planting vegetation that not only showcases its wares during the growing season but beyond.

Below are 5 trees that do their part in landscape design as specimen trees.  But when Old Man Winter blows by, they really display their unique beauty, which is their bark.

Goldenchain Tree

This delicious beauty is unique in its appearance. In the spring, the tree produces bright, yellow flowers that hang in clusters that can hang down 10 to 20 inches. This floral display actually makes the tree look like a weeping willow. Once the flowers disappear and the leaves drop, this tree has a chance to display its dark green bark.

The goldenchain tree (Laburnum anagyroides) can be propagated by seeds, cuttings and layering. While each technique has its pros and cons, it is much easier to start the goldenchain tree through layering. To begin this process, one is not limited to the time of year, which is a negative to the other two techniques. Once you have decided to layer, the process is easy. The first step is to look at the tree. Is there a lower branch that is long enough to reach the ground while leaving at least 6 to 8 inches of the tip free? If so, simply bend the branch down until it touches the ground and then secure with a rock or wire. Once the branch has rooted, cut it away from the mother tree and transplant to a new location.

As great and beautiful as this tree is it is limited to USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 7. It also requires a well-drained soil that is located only in full sun.

If planning on using this tree, do not limit yourself to using it as a specimen plant. The goldenchain tree not only looks attractive in the landscaping but also in a container and as an espalier.

River Birch

This medium sized tree starts out the spring season with a flush of bright green leaves. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and quickly fall as the winter winds blow but this is not the end of the story for the River Birch. During the winter months, the bark has a chance to shine. The salmon colored bark begins to peel as it ages. As it peels, the bark turns a reddish-brown.

When considering planting this tree, make sure not to place it too close to power lines or buildings. Since it is a moderately sized tree (40-50 feet), it can cause some problems when planted in these areas. Also, avoid areas where soil compaction can be a problem. River birches have shallow roots and compacted soils can mean the death of the plant. As far as soil type goes, this tree prefers to be planted in a slightly acidic environment that is well-draining but moist. If you have an area that occasionally floods but drains quickly, consider planting this tree in that location.

Amur Cork Tree

If you live in an urban environment or are looking for a tree to plant in the “tree lawn,” which is the space between the sidewalks, the Amur Cork Tree is what you need.  In the past, this tree was recommended for areas that were polluted and/or near streets.  While this is still true, it is now recommended to only plant male plants.  This prevents the mess that is created when females produce berries.

This tree’s growing requirements are very flexible.  It can tolerate a wide range of soil types and soil moisture.  One condition it cannot tolerate is a soil that is wet for an extended period of time.   In doing so, while this tree cannot tolerate “wet feet,” it does tolerate occasional droughts. 

When looking for an area to plant this tree, plan for a location that can hold a tree that reaches a mature size of over 30 feet in all directions.  While this tree is recommended for “tree lawns,” make sure there is enough space for the roots to grow.  This tree’s deep roots have been known to uplift sidewalk, driveways and even parking lots. 

Once the above requirements have been met, the only thing left is the light requirement.  The Amur Cork Tree is again very flexible.  It thrives in full sun but does well in partial shade.

Once planted, this tree will begin the season with a spray of green leaves, which turn copper and/or yellow leaves in the fall.  If the tree is female, yellow to green little flowers appear in May.  These flowers then produce black fruits, which wildlife loves.  In the winter, the mature wood will present itself as pale-gray-brown bark.    

American Sycamore

The American Sycamore is a beautiful tree that can be found growing alongside creeks and banks in woodland areas.   While it can easily be grown in the landscape, the mature size of this tree can make it impractical if you do not have the room.  The average mature size of this tree is 60 to100 feet in height so plan accordingly.

The American Sycamore’s growing requirements are flexible.  It likes to be planted in moist soil but not soil that is saturated.  It does well in both full sun and partial shade.  If you are looking for a harmonious display, consider planting this tree in a grouping of yellow poplar, black willow, silver maple, red maple and/or sweetgum. 

While this tree is a large specimen, it will treat the landowner with a unique texture and color combination that brightens any season.  Due to its size, the bark pattern shows through any season and consists of a patchwork of peeling whitish bark that reveals a brown, gray and/or green undercoat. 

Persian Parrotia Tree or Persian Ironweed

The Persian Ironweed is a very seasonally diverse tree.  It starts the season off in the spring with red flowers that are surrounded by reddish-purple leaves.   As spring moves toward summer, the leaves turn a dark green.  Fall for this plant is the showiest when the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange and red.  While this tree does hold its leaf color for a long period of time, you can extend the color by planting the tree in an area with acidic soil.

Unlike other plant material, this tree looks better as it ages.  Bark on older branches and the trunk begins to turn gray, white brown, and green while peeling away.  This display adds texture to the blank landscape of winter. 

When considering planting this tree, one will need to delegate some space.  The mature size of this tree is 15 feet by 30 feet in all directions.  In doing so, use this tree as a specimen plant.  Also, plant it in a location that is well-drained but retains moisture and is in full sun to partial shade.  As stated before, to maximize the fall color one will need to plant the Persian Ironweed in a somewhat acidic soil.

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Check Light Availability

Most shrubs can grow in both sun and shade to varying degrees.

Many flowering shrubs, however, tend to need some sun to flower.

Be sure to double check the amount of light you have available to the shrubs you are planning to plant so you are happy with the outcome.

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