Even Georgia's mild winters can take their toll on a gardener's spirits, making the prospect of spring's flowering trees even more appealing. Georgia in bloom is a sight for winter-weary eyes. Bring some of that fragrance and color into your home landscape with one of Georgia's many native flowering trees, from delicate ornamentals to magnificent 75-foot catalpas.
The largest members of the walnut family, massive pecan trees typically reach 75 to 100 feet. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center reports one standing 160 feet high. While cultivated Georgia pecan trees provide an economically significant cash crop each year, smaller wild trees are also harvested for their wood and nuts.
Pecan's greenish-yellow flowers, both male and female, appear on a single tree in April or May. Male flowers occur in 4-inch long hanging clusters, and female flowers occur in shorter spikes. Female flowers produce pecans that split open in quarters after ripening in the fall.
Mature pecan trees, with canopies spreading from 40 to 70 feet, are excellent shade trees. Pecan wood is harvested for use in furniture, veneers, and flooring. It also flavors charcoal for meat smoking. Pecan trees like full sun and rich, moist, well-drained loam. Mulch them well to prevent the soil from drying out. Prune to remove dead branches and promote strong new growth. Pecans have deep tap roots and don't transplant well.
Northern catalpa (catalpa speciosa) normally grows between 75 and 100 feet, with gray to reddish bark and an oval form than makes an attractive winter landscape feature. Trees have 12-inch long, dark green heart-shaped leaves and breathtaking clusters of bell-shaped white or lavender 2-inch flowers with yellow outer streaks and purple-splotched throats. Trees bloom between April and June.
Also called the cigar tree, northern catalpa holds its cigar-like 18-inch seedpods through the winter. This tree loses visual appeal only in the autumn, usually dropping its leaves before they change color. As landscape features, they require lots of room because their branches break easily. Dead flowers, leaves and fallen seedpods can produce significant litter.
Northern catalpa likes rich, moist soil in partly shady locations. Trees grow quickly but suffer from drought. Plant untreated seeds or root cuttings taken in late autumn. Young trees are commercially available.
Parsley hawthorn (crataegus marshallii) belongs to the rose family. The tree gets its name from the delicate parsley-like foliage that makes it such a desirable landscape feature. Producing pure white five-petaled 1-inch flowers followed by bright red berries, trees remain attractive through the fall when their foliage changes color.
Parsley hawthorn, growing up to 25 feet high, likes partial shade and dry to slightly moist acidic soil. Not fussy about soil type, it tolerates sand, loam and clay and withstands poor drainage. Its flowers attract butterflies, and its berries attract birds and wildlife. Trees are available at nurseries.