Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gift of a Free Rutgers Dogwood

The 74th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival is this weekend, and trees all over Atlanta are blooming. Coincidentally, last Saturday night an email from an old friend informed me that she had just dug up a "Rutgers dogwood" and wondered if I would like to plant it in my garden, or if she should put it on Craig's List? Being a Rutgers Alum and a practical sort that loves free plants I said, "Sure I would like it!" even though I had my doubts about planting it this late in the spring. Ideally, woody ornamentals and trees are planted in October or November in Atlanta, while the soil still retains some warmth from the summer and the leaves are off the tree relieving water stress.

Since there’s already a large young Florida dogwood on one side of our house, I actually had been meaning to plant a similar one on the other side, so this offer seemed serendipitous. Considered by many as the best all-round flowering trees, Dogwoods are best-loved for their outstanding display of spring flowers, and there are three main types of dogwoods grown in the eastern U.S.

The most spectacular flower display is delivered by the native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) on bare branches, a brilliant show of bright white or pink flowers in early spring before the leaves emerge. This species is also valued for its horizontal branching habit, interesting red “football-shaped” fruit, and burgundy/red fall color. Unfortunately, the native Dogwood is susceptible to Anthracnose, a fungus disease that killed a large number of trees in the 1980s and 90s.

The Kousa or Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa) from Asia flowers nearly a month later after the leaves are out, but its flowers have pointed bracts, not like the familiar native dogwoods. Kousa Dogwoods are valued for their fall color, raspberry-like fruit and interesting bark, and best of all, they are resistant to Anthracnose.

Rutgers Hybrid Dogwoods are the third type, lying between the first two. A long-term project by Rutgers University Prof Dr. Elwin Orton involved inter-specific crosses between the two species to produce hybrids resistant to Anthracnose. The resulting varieties of Dogwood combine many of the good traits of both types of tree.

So Sunday morning we met in the parking lot before church and transferred the tree from her car to ours. The Dogwood turned out to be quite a bit larger than I had realized, nearly 12 feet tall! All but the smallest amount of soil had fallen from its severely-cut root system, making it a bare-root plant. Leaf buds were just beginning to break although there weren’t any flower buds.

I loosened the soil in a 4- or 5-foot circle and centered a planting hole just deep enough to keep the tree at the same level it had been growing. I made sure it was standing straight, then replaced the rich topsoil all around it and watered it in thoroughly. (Photo at left shows the young trunk amidst native azaleas, creeping phlox and assorted perennials.) I’ll be keeping my eye on it, abnd watering to make sure it does not dry out until the roots get established in the soil. I’m not sure which of the introductions my gift Dogwood is, perhaps Celestial, Constellation or maybe even Stellar Pink. Guess I’ll worry about that once I know if it’s going to live.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't keep up with the 90 degree F. temperatures, low-for-ATL humidity, and NO RAIN for 4 weeks; 12-foot gift Dogwood with no roots and crispy leaves was uprooted and recycled today, 7/9/10. So sad.