On Gardening

Grancy greybeard offers great winter appeal

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 28, 2012 


The Grancy greybeard is native from New York to the Gulf Coast offering springtime white blossoms, blue fruit eaten by birds, and develops a structure that shows out in the winter landscape like a fine piece of statuary. (MCT)


A most picturesque Grancy greybeard or white fringe tree recently had me completely mesmerized. If you are a gardener you may be thinking: Doesn’t it bloom in April? The answer is absolutely – which is the real point.

This tree reminded me of a quote by Gertrude Jekyll: “In summertime, one never really knows how beautiful are the forms of deciduous trees. It is only in winter, when they are bare of leaves, that one can fully enjoy their splendid structure and design.”

This is precisely the reason that a stately 20-year-old Grancy greybeard could steal the show in the winter landscape. If you do not know this native tree, you are missing a great landscape opportunity. It is known botanically as Chionanthus virginicus, which comes from the Greek words meaning “snow flower.” In the spring, they erupt into fragrant white blooms, highlighting the tree’s exquisite beauty.

Though we treasure those spring blooms, something magical is revealed in winter: The tree’s scaffolds are developing into a rare piece of twisting art. Age is everything in the garden, including the maturity of trees. The Grancy greybeard or fringe tree forms multiple trunks and usually tops out at under 20 feet in height.

Grancy greybeard is native from the Gulf Coast all the way to or hardiness zones 4-9. Its stature allows it to be a stand-alone specimen or an accent. If you use it in combination with spring blooming bulbs or shrubs like azaleas, you will create a garden masterpiece.

Unfortunately, these trees aren’t exactly staples at the garden center. When you do find yours, it pays to plant it right. Choose a site with full sun to partial shade. The soil should be moist and fertile but very well drained. Dig your planting hole about twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. You do not want the tree planted too deep. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil surface. A 4-inch berm outside the root ball area will allow you to add about 5 gallons of water that will be directed to the most important zone while the tree is getting established. After a year, you can remove the berm.

Feed in late winter with an application of a balanced fertilizer like an 8-8-8 at a rate of 1 pound per 100-square feet of planted area. This is the area from the trunk to just outside the canopy of the tree.

Trees can be male or female. The male trees have showier blossoms while the female tree produces olive-like blue fruit relished by birds. Ask your favorite garden center to get you one for spring planting; you will be glad you did.

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