Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Dogwood You May Not Know

The Cornelian cherry is really not a cherry at all but a wonderful dogwood, appropriate for any home landscape. The common name comes from the cherry-like fruit of the tree, native of southern Europe. Cornus mas is a tree worthy of your consideration.

There are several wonderful features of this small tree. It gets about 20 feet high and 15 feet wide at maturity so the size is perfect for most home landscapes. It blooms very early in spring, when the chill winds make us think spring won’t arrive. The foliage is quite nice and tidy. Birds love the fruit. It is multi-stemmed and low-branched making a nice broad oval screen in the landscape. Pests and disease seem to leave it alone.

The flowers are different from the native dogwood we all love. Instead of white or pink petals (actually bracts), Cornus mas has beautiful small frothy golden yellow flowers that look like they have trapped the sun. The flowers are similar to the flowers of another dogwood, Cornus officianalis shown here:

I’ve taken several photos of the flowers and the tree but never seem to arrive at the perfect moment when Cornus mas is in full flower. Here is a photo taken at Blandy Farm at the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce. Cornus mas is almost in full bloom but not quite. You can still see the wonderful shape of the tree.

I’ve been collecting several colorful varieties of Cornus mas. Mail order plants are generally quite small and I put them into a nearby raised “hospital” bed for care until they are big enough to go out into the landscape. Today I scanned the leaves of these to show you.
Top leaves in this scan belong to the native Cornus florida, our native dogwood. On the lower left is a chartreuse form of Cornus mas, and on the right the smallish leaves of the highly variegated Cornus mas (still in the hospital bed) that used to have a name but cats destroyed the tag.This scan has the Cornus kousa, the Korean dogwood that blooms on top of its leaves and below, a spattered variegated Cornus mas on the bottom. Again, the tag is gone but the plant remains and is subtle and beautiful. I’ve made the variegated one a bit bigger below so the color shows up better.

It’s a wonderful group of trees and I hope folks will consider them for their home landscapes.

Keep in mind that this is an instance where the Latin name will be important. If you ask for a Cornelian cherry at most nurseries, you will end up with a cherry. If you ask for a dogwood, you will likely end up with the native Cornus florida or the Korean, Cornus kousa. The straight Cornus mas is a lovely mid-green and perfectly wonderful for the landscape. If you want a fancy variegated one, I’m afraid the mail order companies will have to provide your special tree. It’s worth the hunt.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Read the Garden Professors

Like any industry, there is a mountain of misinformation in the land about everything from cutting iris foliage into neat triangles after flowering to leaving burlap and wire cages on newly planted young trees. Several years ago I learned about the work of Linda Chalker-Scott. A professor at Washington State University and extension agent in Puyallup, Washington, Linda enjoys finding out the truth of gardening information, gossip, and advertising. Does milk or baking soda really prevent black spot in roses? Do hydrogels or compost teas really work?

She has compiled many of her studies into two new books, The Informed Gardener and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again that help prevent gardeners from wasting time and resources on products or practices have little value or work in unintended ways. She writes in an accessible style and tells us the science behind each issue, why it works or doesn't.

Jeff Gilman, another myth exploder and author of two terrific books: The Truth about Garden Remedies and The Truth about Organic Gardening is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. He and Linda have joined together to develop a great blog at

Local talent Holly Scoggins, associate professor at Virginia Tech as well as other talented and informed educators are members of the blog.

I am delighted that this blog is available. Just today, I read that Linda had looked at the effect of watering bags on trees. Since we all want our newly planted trees to succeed, we often purchase the bags to hold water that continually drips into the root ball of the tree. Early findings indicate that the bags can keep the trunk of the tree too moist, causing bark to rot and insects and disease to multiply.

I love to garden and on most days I don’t want to waste my time on fantasy. Linda, Jeff, Holly, and others are improving the potential for good gardening outcomes by sorting out the really useful nuggets through scientific observation and analysis and sharing the products and practices that work. Read them often.