One of the best ways to experience the seasonal transition from winter to spring is to include a blossom tree in your garden. Indeed, why stop at one? Enjoy a succession of blossom from mid winter to late spring by planting several different species.
These trees flower in late winter or spring before they regain their leaves. Think of that haze of white, pink or red flowers on cherries, crabapples, plums or peach trees and you’ve got the picture. This eruption of flowers on previously bare branches is not only uplifting for the garden, but also for our spirits.
Some blossom trees produce fruit (for example plums, apples and cherries), but others are grown for their blooms alone. Ornamental varieties usually include the words ‘flowering’ or ‘ornamental’ in their common names to distinguish them from the fruiting forms (for example flowering cherries, flowering plums and ornamental pears).
We have a row of flowering plums on our footpath. It gives my heart a lift in late winter to see them in flower as I round the curve in our laneway in early spring. There’s also a large flowering plum beside our clothesline. When it’s flowering I peg the washing on the line to the sounds of bees buzzing in the blossoms. If there’s a gust of wind, a flutter of petals falls on me and on the washing.
Cherry trees are among the most desirable of all the blossom trees. These do best in climates with cold winters and mild summers however some newer varieties such as ‘Snow Fountains’ flower well in temperate zones. Where cherry trees don’t do well, grow a flowering plum or almond tree instead.
The crabapple is one of my favourite blossom trees. In my garden it flowers in early spring. If you have the space grow the Japanese flowering crabapple (Malus floribunda), which reaches about 3-5m high and wide.
Crabapples are closely related to apple trees – indeed, both fall into the same genus of Malus. Like the apple, Japanese crabapple has pink buds that open to white. After flowering small, apple-like fruits form. These are called ‘crabs’ and can be used when they are ripe to make a fragrant jelly-like jam.
Growing and Planting Tips
Blossom trees are generally easy to grow and low maintenance. They form small, well-shaped trees that range in height from 2m to 5m or more, which means they’re well suited to a small garden or even a courtyard.
In late winter trees may be available as bare-rooted plants but throughout the year they also available as potted specimens.
Select blossom trees on their flowering time and also their size. Plant the trees where they’ll be sheltered from gusty winter and early spring winds. They do best in a spot with good deep soils and full sun. Fertilise these trees in spring as their new growth returns.
To keep them free of fungal diseases such as shot hole of prunus or peach leaf curl, apply a copper spray such as Liquid Copper in winter before bud burst (the return of new leaves). Ornamental trees that do form small, inedible fruits can be pruned after flowering to prevent fruits forming.