Steve Bender

If your dogwoods are dying, your crabapples are eaten up with tent caterpillars, and you're just plain sick of Bradford pears, here's a tree you should plant instead -- the beautiful Chinese fringetree.

 

This one graces one of the ponds at our Southern Living headquarters in Birmingham. Pretty spectacular, isn't it? Actually, it's just one of about a half-dozen such trees planted alongside a breezeway that connects two of our buildings. I braved monstrous waves and giant squids to bring you this captivating picture.

Look for my hair-raising adventures on the Discovery Channel.

Many folks in the Southeast know our native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), also called grancy graybeard. Beards of fleecy, white flowers dangle beneath its branches in mid-spring. Well, its Chinese cousin (C. retusus) is even showier, because its slightly fragrant flowers lay atop the oval, glossy-green leaves and appear 1-2 weeks earlier. Some people compare it to a big, white lilac.

Like native fringetree, this one has both male and female trees. Good luck finding them identified at the nursery though. Males have showier flowers (of course), but females develop clusters of dark-blue, olivelike fruits that are quite ornamental and favored by birds.

 

Chinese fringetree grows 15-20 feet tall and wide and is not fussy at all. Just give it full sun and well-drained soil. It isn't bothered by pests (other than those talking heads on CNN), it rarely needs pruning, and it tolerates heat and drought. It's available at many garden centers, but if you can't find it near you, you can order it through the mail from Digging Dog Nursery and Fairweather Gardens.

Six Plants I Can't Live Without Follow-Up

I hope all Grumpians enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) our recent Blogathon Across America, "The Six Plants I Can't Live Without." Thanks to all the other bloggers who participated -- Pam (Digging), Judy (Diggin' It), Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden), Helen (Gardening With Confidence), Frances (Fairegarden), Meems (Hoe and Shovel), Jim and Sharon (Fresh Dirt), and Carolyn (Sweet Home and Garden Chicago). Let's do it again sometime -- maybe on the six plants we wish we could grow?

 

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