Late-blooming trees and shrubs

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: July 12, 2000 - 11:00 PM

QI have a 'Sweet Sixteen' apple tree that is 10 years old and has never bloomed. Why?

AOne important thing to know about your 'Sweet Sixteen' apple is what type of rootstock it is on. Apple varieties are generally grafted onto rootstocks that will make the tree either standard or full size, semidwarf, or dwarf. Standard trees may take five to 10 or more years before they start blooming and bearing fruit. Semidwarf trees usually bear in three to four years and dwarfs in one to three years. If your 'Sweet Sixteen' is a standard apple tree, it may just be on the far side of the normal range for bearing age.

Other factors may affect the health and blooming of apple trees. Is the tree in full sun? Apples really require full day sun to grow and produce well. Is the tree receiving too much nitrogen fertilizer? Nitrogen tends to promote leaf growth at the expense of flower and fruit production. If the tree is planted in turf grass that receives frequent fertilization, it may be getting too much nitrogen. Hardiness of flower buds can be a problem, but it is not an issue in your case because 'Sweet Sixteen' is hardy into zone 3 with temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero or colder. Some varieties that are popular in grocery stores such as 'Fuji,' 'Gala,' and 'Granny Smith' are not hardy here.

QI have been given the gift of a tree or shrub of my choice. Can you recommend something that will bloom in the fall?

AFew trees and shrubs bloom in the fall because that allows very little time for seeds to mature before freezing temperatures arrive. While we admire flowers, their real purpose is to produce seeds, which will develop into new plants.

Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) bloom in mid-to late summer; the cultivar 'Tardiva' is the latest blooming, usually in late August. The large, cone-shaped flower clusters of panicle hydrangeas open white, then fade to pink and eventually tan, so they provide interest for a long time.

Potentilla is a small rounded shrub that blooms almost continuously from early summer through fall. Most of these hardy, drought-tolerant shrubs have yellow flowers, but some have white or pink flowers. Good choices include 'Goldfinger', 'Abbottswood' (white) and 'Pink Beauty.'

One shrub that is truly a fall bloomer is common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). This large shrub (8 to 10 feet tall and wide at maturity) blooms in October in this area and blooms as late as November or early December in warmer regions. Its unique, fragrant flowers consist of clusters of bright yellow straplike petals that roll up on very cold days.

QI want to dig up some wild roses in my yard to give to a neighbor. Can I dig them now or will it destroy the root system? When is the best time to transplant small evergreens?

AEarly spring, before foliage emerges, is the ideal time to dig and transplant deciduous plants such as your wild roses. It's not impossible to move plants during the summer when they are fully leafed out, but more care is required and there is more chance of transplant failure.

In early spring, plants can be transplanted "bare root." The plant is dug and most of the soil is gently removed from the root system before being moved and replanted. During the summer, bare-rooting a plant would cause too much stress, so I recommend you try some version of ball-and-burlap transplanting. In this method, you carefully dig around the plant to create a ball of soil and roots, then wrap the root ball in burlap before moving and replanting. Make sure the soil is moist enough to hold together before trying this.

Try a modified version of this for the roses: Use a spade to cut around the plant, then carefully scoop out the root system with soil attached, place it in a bushel basket and replant in the new location immediately. Any plants moved during the summer will have to be watered frequently and will benefit from shade until the root system starts to regrow.

In this area, small evergreens are best moved in September through mid-October. Use the ball-and-burlap method to keep soil around the roots when transplanting. Very small evergreens may be bare-rooted and transplanted in early spring.

QAt the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum I saw several plantings of purple-leaf smokebush that looked like a tall ground cover, maybe 2 feet tall. I thought smokebush was a large shrub. Are these something different?

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