Celebrate Earth Day & Arbor Day

By: Michael Fahey, Merrifield Plant Specialist and ISA Certified Arborist

Every year we get excited about Earth Day and Arbor Day because these holidays mark two special days when the entire country comes together to celebrate and protect our natural resources. We encourage you to celebrate by embarking on a planting project with your family and friends. This year we’re celebrating a few of our favorite spring trees and shrubs that grow extremely well in our Northern Virginia area.

By planting trees and shrubs, you are cleaning the air, creating a habitat and food source for local wildlife and increasing the value of your home. Not to mention, the act of planting itself is a big stress reliever! Head outside this week and plant a tree or shrub in honor of these two holidays.

Blueberries

You can have the sweet taste of blueberries right in your backyard by planting a native blueberry shrub. Blueberries are one of the biggest nutritional powerhouse fruits, providing anti-aging and cancer and disease fighting antioxidants. Lucky for us, these tasty shrubs prefer acidic soils, which makes them well-suited to our Northern Virginia area. They make a great addition to the garden as accent shrubs or even screening plants. The birds love blueberries just as much as we do. Protect your fruit by draping a large piece of bird netting over the shrub or using a large tomato cage.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Fringe tree produces panicles of airy, white, fragrant flowers that hang off its branches. This Virginia native produces beautiful blooms in late spring to early summer. To keep your Virginia fringe tree looking its best, we recommend planting it in moist, fertile, well-drained soil in a part sun to full sun location. The female versions of this tree will produce bluish-black fruits that attract the birds. This tree is very easy to care for and makes a great addition to urban spaces as it tolerates some air pollution and is drought tolerant.

Serviceberry

Serviceberry is a standout native tree that provides four season interest to the garden. It produces beautiful billows of lacey white flowers against bright green foliage in the spring, tasty dark blue berries that our feathered friends enjoy in the summer, standout foliage in shades of red and orange in the fall, and silvery bark in the winter. Serviceberry is very versatile in the landscape as it is drought tolerant and happy in an array of sun conditions. Also known as Juneberry, people often use the fruit to make jams and pies.

Oaks

The oak tree family is abundant with many different species with varying heights and leaf shapes. Oaks are most beloved for their ability to provide shade in the landscape and standout color in the fall. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • White oak: Our national tree, the white oak is beautiful and majestic and feeds more wildlife than any other tree in the country.
  • Willow oaks: Its narrow leaf structure provides dappled light instead of dense shade. This fast-growing oak also thrives in wet soil.
  • Northern red oak: These oaks produce the most stunning, deep crimson fall color.
  • Bur oak: Part of the white oak family, the bur oak is pollution tolerant and has a sprawling growth habit and corky bark. This is a favorite for areas near a pond as it attracts wood ducks.
  • Saw tooth oak: This fast-growing oak has a unique leaf shape, interesting acorn and bark texture.
  • Columnar oaks: These reliable oaks are a great way to add trees to small spaces. A few of my favorites include ‘Regal Prince,’ ‘Kindred Spirit,’ and ‘Green Pillar.’

Azaleas

Azaleas are one of the most popular shrubs in our area due to their ability to produce funnel-shaped flowers in an array of vibrant colors that encompass the entire shrub come spring. Lucky for us, azaleas thrive in acidic soils, making them a great evergreen and flowering shrub in our Northern Virginia area. To keep your azaleas performing their best year-after-year, prune them once the blossoms fade, but before the new blossom buds appear. You can also thin out vigorous, over grown branches to stimulate new growth from the interior of the plants. Fertilize with Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Holly-tone to support healthy growth and flowering for next year.

Rhododendrons

Spectacular clusters of bright, bell-shaped blooms and bright green, large, leathery leaves that remain on the shrub year-round make rhododendron a standout shrub choice in our area. Rhododendron come in a variety of bloom colors and sizes and will produce flowers for weeks with virtually no effort. They prefer moist, well-drained, acidic soil and make great additions as foundation plants, woodland plantings or border plants in sunny to partly shady locations.

Camellias

We love camellias for their ability to provide exquisite blooms in single, double and full peony form when not much else is flowering in the garden. Plus, their glossy foliage is evergreen! These surprisingly low maintenance shrubs come in many forms and range in bloom color from soft pink to dark red to white. These beauties thrive when planted in acidic soil, making them a great choice for a mixed shrub bed, specimen plant or screening plant in our Northern Virginia area. Camellias are deer resistant and prefer to be protected from the hot afternoon sun.

Japanese Maples

The show stopping color a Japanese maple adds to the autumn garden is unmatched! These beautiful trees add instant grace and beauty to the landscape with their delicate leaf structures and vibrant colors that turn to shades of crimson, gold and orange in the fall. Japanese maples come in a variety of forms and leaf shapes, making them a great addition to your landscape as a specimen plant or focal point in a mixed bed.

This elegant tree provides a beautiful canopy of color that offers dappled light to understudy plantings, making it a great companion for shade perennials. Japanese maples are heavy organic feeders. Before planting, work compost or other organic matter directly into the ground. To keep your Japanese maple looking its best, plant it in well-drained, acidic, moist soil.

Kwanzan Cherry Tree

The Kwanzan cherry tree produces an abundance of stunning deep pink, layered, rose-like flowers from mid-April through May. Its new foliage emerges reddish copper in the spring, turns a dark green in the summer, and transitions to yellow, orange or bronze in the fall. Its upright, vase shaped form make it a great choice for a specimen tree or for lining a walkway, road or driveway. Plant your Kwanzan cherry tree in full sun conditions in acidic, well-drained, moist soil. The Kwanzan cherry tree does not produce any fruit, making it an excellent choice for a low-maintenance garden.

Pieris Japonica

Also known as lily-of-the-valley bush, pieris japonica is a dense evergreen shrub that produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges orange-bronze but turns a deep, glossy green when mature. Pieris japonica makes a great foundation shrub or border plant and looks great paired with other acidic soil loving plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.  Plant pieris japonica in organically rich, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun to part shade conditions.