Plant Profile: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)


American Beech

Today’s post was inspired by glancing in the woods behind my house. Everywhere I looked I saw the light tan colored leaves of the American Beech tree (Nancy Ross Hugo describes the color as palomino, like that of a horse). I saw them on the way to work and on the way home…they seemed to be everywhere in the woods around Richmond. When all of the other trees in the woods have their leaves, the American Beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) can go virtually unnoticed. But in the winter when all of the other deciduous trees stand there looking so barren, the American Beech tree shines with its palomino colored leaves.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of brown leaves. They send out the impression that something has gone awry in the garden, that someone forgot to water. Pin oaks tend to hold their leaves in the winter too but the leaves of the pin oak look just like the ones that fall in your garden…brown and dead. There is something about the American Beech’s leaves that are inviting. They are light tan in color and invite your eye to keep searching through the woods for more. I think that it is in the winter time that the American Beech is a standout. Unless…

If you are blessed enough to have a large American Beech on your property, consider yourself a lucky gardener. While it may be true that very few plants will grow well under the canopy of an American Beech, it is still quite an honor to be in the presence of a large, established specimen. As the American Beech trees age, they lose their ability to retain their leaves in the winter but what you gain in beauty through the tree offsets the difference. A large 50′-80′ established tree is a beauty in and of itself. The smooth, gray bark is distinct and quite noticeable, even when the garden is alive with other flowering trees and shrubs.

American Beech is native to the east coast and all of the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. It is hardy to Zone 3 and thrives in all but the wettest soils. It can be hard to transplant, which is another reason you should feel blessed if you have a large beech in your garden. The leaves have distinct ribbing and are a rich green during the growing season. They turn yellow in the fall and can light up a garden. Around the same time that the leaves fall, the American Beech releases beechnuts, which are its triangular seed pods that are edible.

American BeechIf you are thinking of planting an American Beech, site it in full sun and plant it in an area that can be enjoyed by your grandchildren. American Beech is a slow growing shade tree that needs plenty of room to grow. There is a quote by Nelson Henderson that says “the true meaning of life is to plant a tree, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” While you may be able to enjoy an American Beech’s shade, it is your grandchildren who will marvel at its beauty. If you are blessed enough to have a large American Beech, please share the photos with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers by sending me an e-mail at Happy gardening!


February 15, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Plant Profile: Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Baileyi’)


Before we get into our topic today, I want to remind you that our seed give away is this Friday, February 3. To enter, all you have to do is enter your e-mail address in the box to the right. That’s it…no catches or surprises. Of course, I would never sell your e-mail or anything like that; I’m here to help you with your gardening questions, not compromise your trust.

Cornus sericea 'Baileyi'Red Twig Dogwood…you may not recognize the name immediately but if you’ve ever seen this plant glowing in the winter landscape, chances are that it is etched in your memory. This dogwood, Cornus sericea ‘Baileyi’, isn’t what you think of when you hear the word “dogwood”. No, instead it is a shrub that is grown for its striking red stems.

In the winter landscape, Red Twig Dogwood is a standout, especially when grown against a light colored background or when displayed in a snowy landscape. It grows to around 6′ to 8′ tall and is equally as wide. It flourishes in dry soils once established but can also tolerate soil that tends to be slower draining which makes it perfect for that low area of your garden. In summer, it has the appearance of just another green shrub after its white blooms disappear in May. The flowers give way to beautiful porcelain blue berries that are adored by birds. When the days begin to shorten and the temperatures begin to fall, beautiful tones of red and purple are displayed before the leaves drop. Red Twig Dogwood is hardy from Zones 3-8 which makes it a shoo-in for Mid-Atlantic gardening enthusiasts.

Maintenance of Cornus sericea ‘Baileyi’ is minimal once established. There are two schools of thought for pruning to enhance the red coloration of the stems. The first method of pruning is to remove 1/3 of the shrub each spring to eliminate the oldest branches as it is the newer stems that display the best coloration. The next method is the one I prefer as I consider myself a lazy gardener. Going the lazy route involves rejuvenating the entire shrub every 3 years or so by removing all of the branches to within 8″ of the ground. The flush of growth that ensues will be a blazing fiery red…of course you won’t really see it until the following fall when the leaves drop but you will be rewarded with a beautiful show.

I would be remiss to not mention the cousin of the Red Twig Dogwood, the Yellow Twig Dogwood. The latin name of the yellow version is Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ and the growth habit and care is the same with the exception that Yellow Twig Dogwood tends to form colonies through its suckering habit. Let me know your experience with Red Twig Dogwood by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening. Happy gardening!

February 1, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Plant Profile: Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)


In Monday’s Did You Know? post, I mentioned the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) and I promised that we’d look at it further in future posts. Well, today’s the day so let’s dive in. Paperbark Maple is a delightful small tree that reaches 20′-30′ tall by  15′-25′ wide at maturity. It is a slow grower so it will take many years to reach its ultimate size. In commercial settings, this plant would perform brilliantly in a courtyard where a more typical maple would overpower the space. In a residential setting, this tree can be used as a specimen or in front of evergreens to show off its beautiful bark. Paperbark Maple is often sold as a multi-stemmed tree but single leaders are available as well.

Acer griseum prefers moist, well-drained soil but will tolerate less. If it is planted in a particularly droughty area of the landscape, it will most certainly languish. This immediately rules it out for streetscape plantings where the trees are planted in those tiny little tree wells in the middle of a concrete jungle. Most gardeners enjoy tending their landscape so once it is established, it can fare quite well in most gardens. Acer griseum is native to China and is hardy in Zones 4-8. This fits the bill for all of the Mid-Atlantic gardening region.

Paperbark Maple is grown primarily for its beautiful, cinnamon colored exfoliating bark that is best noticed when the tree is bare in the winter. It is particularly breathtaking when viewed against a snowy backdrop. The bark peels off in curious thin, curly strips…in fact it’s hard to resist peeling the bark as you pass it by. Another noteworthy characteristic of this species is that it tends to cast dappled shade so ornamentals can be grown underneath…this is very different from the dense shade that a red maple or sugar maple cast.

The leaves of Acer griseum are a bit different from the typical red or sugar maple as well. The leaves consist of three lobes that sort of resemble poison ivy to me (remember the saying, leaves of 3, leave them be). Its leaves are plain jane during the summer but erupt into a magnificent array of colors in the fall. Paperbark Maple is often one of the last trees to change into its fall wardrobe, but the colors are magnificent…they can vary from yellow to orange, and red to pink. It’s interesting to note that the leaves can remain on the tree through the first part of winter in Virginia.

Paperbark Maple is not bothered by any serious pests or diseases so it can fit into almost any landscape. It’s especially at home in gardens where the caretaker is a bit more relaxed and likes for nature to take its course (that’s me by the way). If you have been looking for a tree that can fit into a small landscape and has year-round interest, Acer griseum should certainly be considered. I’d love to hear your opinions and experience with Paperbark Maple. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Oh, just to give you a heads up, I am going to start delving into vegetable gardening in this Friday’s post. I actually have a reader question that deals with veggies so I may begin tomorrow (there’s decisiveness for you). I have to warn you: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE vegetable gardening so this blog may tend to lean heavy in that direction for the next couple of weeks (or months). Send me your feedback and let me know if this is something that you are interested in…I’m here to help you with any gardening questions you have and I want to make sure that I’m meeting your needs. Thanks!


December 21, 2011Permalink 2 Comments

Winter Interest Plants


In today’s post I’ve decided to give you a quick list of plants that offer you winter interest. Over the next couple of months I’ll try to discuss them further in the Plant Profile posts.

Deciduous Trees

Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) - this tree is grown in the winter for its beautiful exfoliating bark

Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple) - the form and silhouette of Japanese maples make them perfect in the winter

Evergreen Trees

Cunninghamia lanceolata (China Fir) – beautiful large trees with striking blue foliage

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula' (Weeping Alaskan Cedar) - large tree with graceful weeping arms








Picea abies 'Pendula' (Weeping Norway Spruce) - if you're looking for a specimen for the garden, this is it!


Deciduous Shrubs

Ilex verticillata (Winterberry) - produces an outstanding crop of berries and available in both dwarf and non-dwarf sizes


Hamamelis x intermedia (Witch Hazel) - this plant surprises people in February with its blooms

Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry) - beautiful purple berries are borne in the fall and often last into early winter if the birds don't get them first

Evergreen Perennials

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) - see my post for more information

Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) - large clumps of evergreen foliage that can reach 3'-4' tall

Arum italicum 'Pictum' (Lords and Ladies) - see my post for more information

Deciduous Perennials – well it kind of goes without saying that deciduous perennials look like mulch since all of their perennial parts are underground for the winter.

I hope that you’ve received some inspiration to add some of these beauties to your garden. Too often we overlook the simpler, quieter parts of plants like the bark or marbled foliage for showy flowers. But it’s during the winter that we can appreciate the exfoliating bark of a paperbark maple or the bright red berries of the Winterberry. I’d love to hear about the plants that you enjoy in your winter garden. Leave me a comment in the section below or e-mail me at Happy winter gardening!

December 16, 2011Permalink 1 Comment