Cornelian Cherry (left) and Redbud (right) in mid-May
Those of you who visited the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival this past April might have received free, bare-root, tree seedlings. I received a cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) from Bartlett Tree Experts and an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) from the Tree Commission of the Town of Leesburg. When I got home that day, I placed them in containers, watered, and placed them in the shade. They were already stressed, a little dried out, and being rootless, they had no mechanism to take up water. I watered about every other day and then of course it rained so much there was no need but gradually the trees develop roots and leaves emerged. At first, I placed the pots in the shade to minimize transpiration and when I saw leaves, I put them in morning shade and afternoon sun. Now that they are leafed out and obviously functioning and surviving, I will put them in full sun. I started with containers instead of straight into the ground because to have control over water/moisture and because I did not know where to plant them at the time.
In the fall, when the temperatures have cooled but the soil is still warm, I will transplant the cornelian cherry in the front yard that is mostly sun. It will grow to about 15 to 20 feet high and wide and has the potential to spread a little by suckers so I will plant it off to the side of the property near the fence. Cornelian cherry blooms yellow flowers in March before the leaves emerge and is known for its bright red fruit, similar to cherries. These are edible but probably best in a jam which I am looking forward to making if the birds don’t beat me to it. Grown as a small tree or hedge, this member of the dogwood family does not seem to be as disease prone as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), tolerates clay soil, and can be grown in full sun to partial shade.
Redbud blooming in April at the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm
The redbud also blooms in the spring before the leaves emerge but the flowers are very small and purple/pink. Redbud grows much bigger, up to 30 feet high and wide. The “fruit” is a long brown pod, similar to a pea pod but larger and flat. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space for this tree so I may give it to a friend.
Kudos to Bartlett Tree Experts and the Town of Leesburg Tree Commission, not only did they give away free trees but they also provided information on planting trees. Bartlett’s tag said to “choose a spot with good soil where your tree will be in the sun and have plenty of room to grow on all sides. Dig a hole as deep as the root system and wide enough to accommodate future root growth (about two feet wide). Place the seedling in the hole so that the top of the root system is even with soil level and back fill with soil from the hole. Water after planting and every other week during the warmer months.”
The Town of Leesburg Tree Commission provided a handout with instructions for the bare root and for planting a large tree. A bare-root tree seedling has to soak in water for “3 to 6 hours” then “dig a hole, wider than seems necessary, so the roots can grow outward without crowding. Remove any grass within a 3-foot circular area. To aid root growth, turn soil in an area up to 3 feet in diameter. Plant the tree at the same depth it stood in the nursery, with plenty of room for the roots. Partially fill the hole, firming the soil around the lower roots. Do not add soil amendments such as peat or bark. Do not use fertilizer, potting soil, or chemicals on your new trees.” Then shovel in remaining soil, water, and mulch, and keep the soil and mulch moist but not soggy.
So the next time someone gives you a free, bare-root seedling, pot it up and water and coddle it until it can stand on its own feet. Then research the plant to learn its cultural requirements, determine the best place in your garden, and use the sage planting advice above. Good luck!