Deciduous Trees That Flower Before They Foliate

pink trumpet tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa)

pink trumpet tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa)

golden trumpet tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha)

golden trumpet tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha)

Deciduous trees that flower each year before they produce leaves bring unique drama to the garden. In Los Angeles, more of these special trees come into bloom in February than in any other month.
At the top of this list are saucer magnolias (Magnolia soulangiana). These easily managed trees grow no more than 20 or 25 feet high. When mature, they have a naturally domed canopy and require little, if any, pruning. There are many varieties of saucer magnolia, with flowers in white, pink, rose, magenta, violet or burgundy.
Magnolia flowers are several inches tall and resemble water lilies when they first open. A few days later, all the petals lay down flat, and the flower briefly takes on the look of a saucer. Actually, it is only the outside of magnolia petals that have color, while the inside of the petals is white. When magnolia flower petals drop to the ground, they distribute themselves around the base of the tree like a thin layer of freshly fallen snow.
In addition to their fresh, brilliant blossoms of midwinter, saucer magnolias offer other distinct features that set them apart from most trees. Their leaves are large, flat, oblong and lime green in color. Their bark is a tawny gray and, at maturity, their branching structure is highly symmetrical. They are excellent trees for small spaces and may be trained up the side of a building or onto an espalier. Even their fat, fuzzy flower buds, likened to insect antennae, have charm.
Trumpet trees (Tabebuia) are tropical specimens, from Central and South America, and compete with saucer magnolias in the category of “first trees to flower in the new year.” Two species, a neon yellow and a pink, are locally seen. Both saucer magnolias and trumpet trees may be grown in lawns, as long as the soil is well-drained.
Flowering peaches are also already showing eye-popping floral displays. There are many types with multiple layers of petals in red or pink and a ‘Peppermint Stick’ variety that has blossoms striped in red and white. Flowering plums have white or pink flowers, which are followed by the emergence of purple leaves in many of the cultivars.
The so-called Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is considered by some to be the most fascinating flowering fruit tree for Southern California gardens. It is a tree of great character, possessing a twisted or leaning trunk, yet growing into a demure 15-foot-tall-by-15-foot-wide spherical specimen that emits a spicy fragrance when in bloom.
Locally, the most spectacular display of flowering trees may be seen at Lake Balboa in Encino. Within the next few weeks, the panoply of ‘Pink Cloud’ cherry trees that surround the lake should be in bloom. Like the flowering peaches and plums mentioned above, these cherries are grown for floral display and not for fruit, but their annual moment of glory more than makes up for their lack of edible fare.
Catalogs arriving in the mail remind us that now is the time to think about plants for the spring and summer garden. Flipping through a mailer from K. Van Bourgondien, I was especially taken with some of the new daylily varieties. Daylilies are among the easiest plants to grow in Valley gardens and I had never seen the ruffled and multicolored varieties shown here. You can order a free catalog by calling (800) 552-9996 or by going to www.kvbwholesale.com.
TIP OF THE WEEK: A few readers inquired about growing bird of paradise from seed. The key is to take fresh seeds, which may be harvested as soon as their capsules have dried on the plant. Insert the seeds just beneath the surface of some potting soil, orange fuzzy side up, and they should germinate within a month.

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