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Beautiful Bark

The heat of summer always temporarily reduces my desire to constantly add new plants to my garden, but by the middle of September prime planting season is back and I am ready. Fall and winter are approaching and are excellent seasons for working and enjoying your time outdoors. Winter is probably the most difficult season to find beauty within your garden, but with the right plant and the right place even one strategically placed tree or shrub can be incredibly rewarding on a sunny winter day.

There are many trees and shrubs with unique bark that can add dramatic winter interest to almost any landscape. It is good to remember winter when you are designing or renovating your garden. Old man winter hides no mistakes and your garden is up for full review, especially the views from inside your home.

Tasteful trees

Many of the trees listed below are excellent for small yards, but several have the capacity to reach 30 feet tall or more. To allow the natural shape to form and for safety reasons, these trees are not suitable for planting under utility lines.

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, has cinnamon-brown colored bark that begins peeling on 2-year-old wood, causing the trunk to stand out well against the snow. Old trunks exfoliate (lose layers of bark), but are still a rich brown color. The Trident maple, Acer buergerianum, develops flaking, platy bark on older trunks that is gray, brown, and orange-toned.

Musclewood, Carpinus caroliniana, also known as ironwood and American hornbeam, has smooth, thin, dark-gray bark. Its name comes from the bark’s solid, muscular appearance with smooth ridges running along the length of the trunk and stems.

Japanese cornel dogwood, Cornus officinalis, has gray, brown, and orange flaking bark. Its bark is more showy than the Corneliancherry dogwood, Cornus mas, a similar species. Both of these have incredible late winter to early spring yellow flowers and stand out in the landscape when very few others are blooming.

Amur maackia, Maackia amurensis, has bark that is a rich brown color becoming exfoliating and curly. An added bonus is that it also has a nice summer display with white flowers borne on 4- to 6-inch stems. This tree unfortunately will be the most difficult to locate of those I have mentioned.

Parrotia, Parrotia persica, has brilliant fall colors as well as exfoliating bark that is gray, green, white, and brown on older branches and trunks. Similar to this is the Lacebark pine, Pinus bungeana, with beautiful bark that exfoliates in patches revealing greenish or whitish-colored patches; and Japanese
Stewartia, Stewartia pseudocamellia, whose bark exfoliates with a more muscular character.

Finding these trees

I consider many of these plants to be underused and generally difficult to locate in Kentucky, but most are commonly available throughout the United States. Your best bet is to ask your local garden center to locate and order one for you this spring. These plants can also be purchased from specialty nurseries by mail order. If you do not receive specialty nursery catalogs but would like to, an excellent resource to locate them is Gardening by Mail, by Barbara J. Barton, available at most bookstores and in the reference section at your local garden center.

Winter is a tough season for the garden, but for me is always one of the most rewarding gardening seasons. Fall always goes so quickly, but when the dreary days of winter set in I enjoy seeing my garden from the warmth of my home. I learn something new each season and appreciate the strength and beauty of all the plants I have grown. I enjoy each fall more than the last and savor the beauty in the winter.

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