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Celebrate Earth Day & Arbor Day

Michael Fahey, Merrifield Plant Specialist and ISA Certified Arborist

Every year we get excited about Earth Day and Arbor Day. 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 increase 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, cancer and disease fighting antioxidants. Luckily, these tasty shrubs prefer acidic soils, which makes them well-suited to Northern Virginia. 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 trees produce panicles of airy, white, fragrant flowers that hang off its branches. This Virginia native produces beautiful blooms from late spring to early summer. To keep your Virginia fringe tree looking its best, plant it in moist, fertile, well-drained soil in part-sun to full-sun. The female versions of this tree will produce bluish-black fruits that attract 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 in spring. Lucky for us, azaleas thrive in acidic soils, making them a great evergreen and flowering shrub in Northern Virginia. 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. 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 Northern Virginia. 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.

Japanese Maple, Fall Foliage

Our Japanese Maple Picks

Japanese maples are one of the most popular small ornamental trees in our area. Whether it’s a weeping variety or a larger, upright type, these plants are desirable for their bright foliage as well as their elegant form.

With hundreds of cultivars available, it can be a challenge to choose the best option for your garden. Thankfully, we have a guide for you with some of our favorite picks to get you started thinking about which one is right for you.

Things to Consider

Before selecting a Japanese maple, you will want to consider the following:

  • Where will you be planting this tree? How much space will it have to grow? Some varieties max out at about 30 feet in height, but others can be as small as 3 feet at max height.
  • Are you looking for any particular leaf color? Japanese maples come in yellow, red, green, burgundy and purple, with additional fall colors.
  • Does the tree need to have some color in winter? There are a few varieties whose branches turn vivid colors during the cold season.
  • Are you interested in an upright or weeping variety? Weeping varieties max out at about 15 feet in height, but have a cascading form. Upright varieties can grow much taller.

General Care

Don’t let the elegance and delicate beauty of these trees fool you. Japanese maples are anything but delicate and are quite easy to take care of. They’ll grow in sun or shade, but do best in full morning sun with a bit of protection from the intense afternoon heat. A moist, well-drained soil is important for healthy, vigorous growth Japanese maples don’t tolerate extreme heat or dry conditions very well. If planted in these conditions, the leaves may become scorched.

Our Picks

Upright

Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', Istock

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’

Arguably the most popular of all Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ has been propagated to a wide extent. So you’ll find some variation between trees with the ‘Bloodgood’ name. An authentic ‘Bloodgood’ retains its dark red color through most of the summer and tolerates heat better than many other varieties. One of the faster growing Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ matures to about 20’ to 25’ tall and nearly as wide.

Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum "Emperor I'

Image Credit: “Emperor I Japanese Maple” by dankeck is marked under CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/cc0/1.0/

Acer palmatum ‘Emperor 1’

Very similar to ‘Bloodgood’ in growth and appearance, ‘Emperor 1’ (sometimes called Red Emperor) leafs out a bit later in the spring and tolerates temperature extremes a bit better. ‘Emperor 1’ retains good leaf color through the summer months and turns a fiery red in the fall. 

Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku', Tree

Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ at Pershore College 16 Mar 2014” by je_wyer is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’

‘Sango Kaku’ is prized for its coral-red bark. The young twigs have a bright color, which gradually changes to light brown in two to three years. The leaves are a pale green in the summer and a brilliant, golden-yellow in the fall. ‘Sango Kaku’ matures to a height of about 15’ to 18’. This is a great choice for year-round interest.

Weeping

Japanese Maple, Acer Palmatum 'Crimson Queen' Creative Commons

Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’, La Canada, Descanso, 2017.04.18” by Vahe Martirosyan is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’

‘Crimson Queen’ is a weeping tree that forms a graceful dome. Its branches can even descend lower than the root crown if it’s planted in an elevated bed or near a ledge. With good color retention and heat tolerance, this tree is a slow, but steady grower, maturing to about 6’ tall with a 10’ spread. The crimson leaves turn to a brilliant red in the fall.

Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon'

Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Red Dragon'” by MeganEHansen is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’

Introduced from New Zealand, ‘Red Dragon’ rivals ‘Crimson Queen’ for color retention and durability. ‘Red Dragon’ is a fast grower with a cascading form.

Photo Credit: “150529 25 West Village Walk – Jefferson Market Garden, Acer palmatum dissectum, a ‘Viridis’ type like ‘Emerald Lace’, Nephrolepis exaltata cv, Nymphaea cv, Eichornia crassipes” by cultivar413 is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’

With a graceful, weeping form, ‘Viridis’ makes a great specimen tree with its beautiful, green lace-leaf leaves and mounding shape. The leaves are bright green and look like ferns. ‘Viridis’ will grow to an eventual height and width of about 10 feet. Pair with a red Japanese maple for a striking contrast.