Spring comes in on a wave of living energy that shows itself in colourful annuals and bulbs, but it’s also the season for blossom trees.
Providing a breathtaking display on a larger scale than bedding plants, there is a tree for every space, from big backyards to balconies.
For masses of blooms year after year, plant a tree to suit your climate zone, with flowers in a colour you love.
The size on the label is an estimate at maturity, or 20 years old, for a plant grown in ideal conditions, so be aware it may be smaller at your place.
Buy them in a bag
When you shop for blossom trees in late winter, you’ll find leafless plants that look like sticks in plastic bags.
But don’t let this put you off, says Wes Fleming, the tree guru from Fleming’s Nurseries, as bagged is one of the best ways to buy them.
‘We field-grow our trees under ideal conditions,’ says Wes.
‘When they drop their leaves and sap movement slows almost to a stop, we lift them from the ground, wash and trim their roots, then bag them in a quality growing mix.’
‘Bagged plants are lighter and easier to transport and care for, so you’ll find that premium plants are much cheaper in bags than pots later in the year.
‘They are very quick to establish, performing brilliantly from their first spring in the ground and for many years to come.’
Choose a fruiting variety
To get fruit as well as flowers, opt for a cultivar of a traditional blossom tree that maintains a compact, even dwarf, form so that you can grow peaches, nectarines, pears, apples or cherries on a sunny balcony or in a courtyard.
Growing to 1.5m tall by 1.5m wide, the spring-flowering dwarf Trixzie ‘Pixzee’ Peach is mouth-watering when dripping with fruit in summer.
Fruiting apples put on a gorgeous display of flowers in spring and make excellent espaliers. Train them to grow over walls or fences.
The miniature fruiting Trixzie Pear grows to 1.5m tall by 1.5m wide, and looks divine in spring when covered in delicate white flowers.
Spring blossom trees are deciduous, losing their leaves in late autumn and remaining bare across winter.
This reduces their usefulness for screening, but the summer shade and winter sun allows for underplanting with spring bulbs.
And as they flower on bare wood before the leaves appear, the impact of their blooming is amplified.
Evergreens shed foliage all year, but deciduous trees do it in one big drop, meaning less mess and one big leaf pile to compost or mulch.
Pick of the bunch
These trees (Cornuscultivars) look amazing mass-planted in a big garden. The petals of the large blossoms are actually modified leaves, called bracts, that surround the tiny flowerheads.
FLOWERS Clear white to magenta-red.
FOLIAGE In cooler areas, many put on colourful foliage displays in autumn.
SIZE Less than 6m tall by 5m wide.
FORM Become domed with age.
Dogwood trees look amazing mass-planted in a big garden
Known as ‘the landscaper’s mate’, ornamental pears (Pyruscultivars) are hardy, adaptable and grow reasonably fast. Use the tall and narrow forms for boundary planting, or flank a path or driveway with a matched pair.
FLOWERS Snowy-white blossoms.
FOLIAGE Boldly coloured in autumn, showing fiery reds and oranges.
SIZE Most are about 7m tall by 4m wide, but some can reach 12 by 9m.
FORM Columnar to pyramidal.
Ideal for small spaces, crabapples (Malusspecies and cultivars) provide spring flowers, summer shade, winter sun and ornamental autumn fruit.
FLOWERS Open pink and turn white.
FOLIAGE Changes to tones of yellow and red before falling in autumn.
FORM Differs with variety for this small to medium deciduous tree.
SIZE Depending on variety, 6m tall by 5m wide, but most are smaller.
Flowering stone fruits
Cherries, plums and peaches (Prunuscultivars) are among the finest spring-flowering trees. They are so spectacular that, in Japan, entire festivals are devoted just to their blooming period.
With a diversity of forms and sizes, there is a variety for just about any garden need, and the stems make beautiful floral displays.
FLOWERS White, pink and red shades.
FOLIAGE Colourful in autumn in the cooler regions.
SIZE Grow up to 5m tall by 5m wide, but most are smaller.
FORM Columnar and vase-like to spreading and weeping standards.
Cherries, plums and peaches are among the finest spring-flowering trees
The Cerciscultivars aren’t as well known as the other spring bloomers and include the ‘Forest Pansy’ and Judas tree. Ideal for smaller spaces, they have tiny pea-like flowers all along the branches and lovely heart-shaped foliage.
FLOWERS Delicate fuchsia pinks to sumptuous rose-purples.
FOLIAGE Heart-shaped with many putting on a colourful autumn show.
SIZE Less than 5m tall by 5m wide with a number of varieties only 3 by 2m.
FORM Varies widely from upright and vase-like to loosely spreading trees.
Planting a bagged tree
Dig a hole at least twice the width of the bag, plant the bare-rooted tree, then water deeply once a week until established.
Remove the tree from the bag and find the original soil line on the trunk below the graft point. Position in the hole with this line at the finished soil level. Backfill and firm the soil to remove air pockets.
Create a dam of raised soil around the tree about 200mm from the trunk as a watering dish. Apply a slow-release fertiliser, taking care not to let it touch the trunk. Mulch the soil, keeping this clear of the trunk, then water in well.
Prune the tree by as much as one-third before or immediately after planting. This will bring the canopy back into balance with the roots that were lost when the plant was cut from the ground.