The Chinese fringetrees have been on the spectacular side the last week or so, and they will be the same in your garden as they have in Savannah, Ga. Botanically speaking they are known as Chionanthus retusus, with Chionanthus meaning snow flower.
Snow flower is very appropriate and — like our native Grancy grey-beard, Chionanthus virginicus, they make a dramatic statement in the landscape. Though they are native to China, this week I was quick to point out to a business delegation from Korea that this outstanding tree and several others in our garden were also native to their country.
The Chinese fringetree is cold hardy from zones 5 to 9 and much of the country will see the glistening white flowers in May and June as warm weather moves north. The native or white fringetree’s flowers open before leaves, while the Chinese fringetree blooms after leaf emergence. The trees are the perfect size for the urban landscape, reaching 15 to 20 feet tall with an equal spread over time.
The showy flowers offer a delightful fragrance and partner well with other springtime bloomers. At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we have ours in close proximity to a 55,000-gallon water feature that is ever so picturesque. The companions are the almost iridescent blooms of the loropetalum or Chinese fringe flower and hollies that serve as a great green backdrop. A screen of dark green screen whether conifers or hollies really show off the white blossoms.
In the fall the Chinese fringetree offers a good source of yellow along with purple olive-sized fruit.
As the fruit matures it becomes a prized source of food for both the American robin and cedar waxwing — one morning the fruit is there and by afternoon it will be picked clean, which is joyous to observe.
Nursery production has always been a little challenging for the native species giving way to its Chinese cousin. I assure you that you will be making an outstanding choice. When you find yours, it does pay 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 or sinking. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil surface.
Fringetrees don’t like prolonged dry periods so I have really become accustomed to forming about a 4-inch berm outside the root ball area at the time of planting. This allows you to usually add about 5 gallons of water that will be directed to the most important zone while the tree is getting established. After a year the berm can be removed.
Trees can be male or female. The male trees have showier blossoms while the female tree produces olive-like blue fruit relished by birds. Unfortunately, you most likely will not have a choice at the garden center. There also is a wonderful selection called China Snow that is smaller and bears the showy fruit.
Showy white blossoms, fruit for birds and a small but statuesque structure makes this an ideal plant for your landscape. If you could use a small tree, shop your local garden center this spring and see if they might have the Chinese fringetree.