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“New” is a great marketing campaign. Stop by the supermarket and you’ll find all kinds of “new and improved” stuff on the shelves. Gardeners are enamored with “new” just like everyone else. Take a look at your favorite garden catalog and you’ll see lots of space devoted to the new and unusual.
During a recent visit with an old nursery friend of mine, I saw two new plants that have lots of potential for our landscapes: Taiwan cherry and Steeplechase arborvitae.
Flowering cherries like Yoshino and Kwanzan struggle in the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States. Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulata) needs things a little warmer. In fact, we’re about as far north as you can go with this 20 to 30-foot tree without risking lots of injury. That’s why you’ll see much of the work done in recent times on introducing this plant to the gardening public comes from Florida.
Taiwan flowering cherry is native to China and Japan and found its way into cultivation just before the turn of the 20th century. It boasts dark pink flowers that I’m sure someone will swear are red. Folks in the plant world always want to call a flower “red” even when it isn’t for some reason. Whatever you call it, the flowers are striking. I noticed it in a nursery block and thought it was a selection of Japanese flowering apricot; closer inspection revealed the chocolate-brown bark and flowers opening much later than is typical for flowering apricot.
Like most members of the Prunus genus, Taiwan cherry needs plenty of sun and good drainage. If your soils are very sandy or heavy clay, consider incorporating lots of organic matter to make a better place for roots to grow.
While this is not an unusual tree, you probably won’t find it in local nurseries. We’ll be planting one in the Brunswick Botanical Garden in Bolivia this week, so drop by if you’re interested. If we find it does well in our area, we’ll root some cuttings and distribute them to local nurseries. If you just can’t wait that long, you’ll find sources in Florida and southern Georgia.
You won’t find showy flowers on Steeplechase arborvitae, but I think you’ll see lots of them planted in the years to come. Steeplechase is a slightly smaller and denser selection of the popular Green Giant arborvitae.
Green Giant has taken over the spot formally held by Leyland cypress for a fast-growing, evergreen screening plant. Deer don’t seem to bother it and the bagworms don’t enjoy it quite as much as they do lots of other conifers. Green Giant, just like Leyland cypress, may reach 50 feet, overwhelming smaller lots.
These arborvitaes aren’t too fussy about where they grow as long as it’s not too wet. They’ll tolerate a small amount of shade but do best in full sun. Based on what I’ve seen in nurseries, I wouldn’t get excited about planting them where a direct ocean breeze hits the foliage.