Saturday, January 3, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features I

This is the first in a series on plants to use in the landscape with interesting winter features.

As the trees lose their leaves in fall, many landscapes are left looking bare in winter. Using plants with interesting bark adds sculpture, texture and interest to a sparse winter landscape. Bark characteristics range from bright colors to exfoliating texture to even a quilt-like appearance. These interesting bark characteristics are found on both trees and shrubs and can create a dramatic impact in winter as well as adding a subtle accent to the landscape the rest of the year.

Trees with exfoliating or peeling bark include crape myrtle, river birch, papermulberry, shagbark hickory and paperbark maple to name a few. Crape myrtle has both exfoliating bark and bark color, ranging from tan to gray to a cinnamon-colored bark on different species. Pruning crape myrtle into a nice tree-form also adds sculpture to a dormant landscape. Paperbark maple turns a beautiful red-brown color as its bark begins to exfoliate. The paper mulberry has a gray-brown color that peels off like paper while the tree is young. River birch is well-known for its beautiful bark, which can be gray-brown or red. The cultivar "Heritage" has a beautiful cinnamon-colored bark. The tree adds sculpture to the landscape with its beautiful natural growth form.

There also are shrubs that offer exfoliating bark. Winter honeysuckle combines a winter blooming shrub with an attractive exfoliating bark. Sweet mockorange has an attractive orange- to reddish-brown exfoliating bark that enhances any landscape. Oakleaf hydrangea has both exfoliating bark and dried blooms. Fuzzy deutzia also provides a nice accent to a winter landscape. Other trees with interesting bark include the American beech, sycamore, cucumber magnolia, Yoshino cherry and the Chinese elm. The American beech has a beautiful white-gray bark, smooth in texture and a beautiful natural form. The sycamore has white bark on the upper portions of the tree and gray-brown to reddish exfoliating bark near the base. Cucumber magnolia displays an attractive gray bark that becomes ridged as it matures. It adds nice form and subtle color to any landscape. The bark of the Chinese elm is gray with mottled tan to orange blotches. The use of plants with interesting bark and form adds character to an otherwise dull landscape in winter. The proper choice of plants can offer an exciting landscape year-round.

Magnolia acuminata (cucumber-tree) - bark, copyright 2006 Steven J. Baskauf

Reprinted from "Winter Accents the Bare Features of Plants" by Shane Harris, Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension.

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