Autumn Brilliance serviceberry today
Amelanchier, commonly known as serviceberry, are shrubs or small trees that are native to the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains and northern Great Plains. There are a number of species that range in size from 6’ tall (A. alnifolia ‘Regent’) to 25’ tall, such as my Autumn Brilliance serviceberry, shown here.
Serviceberries are real assets in the landscape: showy white flowers in the spring, edible red-purple fruit in the summer, and outstanding foliage color in the fall. The only downside to Amelancher is the tendency to sucker. As you can see from the next photo, my multi-stem tree began as a shrub. Selective pruning over several years has created the tree form.
Serviceberries prefer full sun, but many tolerate partial shade. Well drained soils are best. Species vary in their drought tolerance, so be sure to ask about the watering needs of the plant you intend to buy.
Autumn Brilliance serviceberry several years ago
I always like to try something new, so this year it’s the Panchito manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Panchito’). Panchito is one of several new manzanitas being offered here that are supposedly both drought and sun tolerant. It’s also a broad-leaf evergreen, always welcome in our climate. Panchito’s ultimate size is 2’ x 4’, Colorado manzanita is 8” x 4’, and Chieftan is 4’ x 9’. I am anxious to see how well they perform here---please comment if you have experience with any of these manzanitas in the Denver area.
The other shrubs going in are well known and reliable: Western sand cherry and Holbert juniper. The Western sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) is a native that will get 5’ x 5’ in size and features white flowers in spring followed by edible summer berries and nice fall color (a dark cinnamon red). The silvery blue Holbert juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Holbert’) will be 3’ x 8’ with irregular, horizontal branching. I know that many people refuse to plant junipers (some folks are extremely allergic), but I think they can be great assets in the landscape. Proper selection, spacing and moderation (as with all things, right?) are the keys.
And as far as our springtime weather goes…get used to it. We often see snow here through May; this is what we call ‘normal’! So sit back and enjoy the greenest lawn that you will probably have all year!
The photos of the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), above, were taken about two weeks ago in north Denver near Berkely Park.
Forsythia do best in a well amended garden soil with moderate moisture. Although they are not featured on the lists of xeric (drought tolerant) plants, I believe that they are quite adaptable to low water situations. Not only do I see them blooming like crazy in rather poorly maintained landscapes, but I’ve also seen them thriving in harsh growing conditions in Santa Fe, New Mexico---a city with less natural precipitation and more severe watering restrictions than Denver has. Two varieties that do well here are 'Spring Glory' and 'Northern Gold'.
A few tips on selecting a site for a forsythia:
1. Choose a protected location that will give it a fighting chance against our late snows.
2. Give it plenty of space. Most forsythia will get 8 feet or more in diameter.
3. Maintain them in their natural, vase/weeping form. It’s incredibly sad to see forsythia hacked into little balls or pillars (see item #2 above!).
4. Forsythia are ideal specimen (single, focal point) plants. Surround them with low growing shrubs such as blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’), or an herbaceous groundcover such as bronze-leaf ajuga (Ajuga reptans) or Turkish veronica (Veronica liwanensis).