Bud_on_Cherry_Tree_440I got married a few weeks ago and to help me celebrate, my coworkers here at the Berkshire Botanical Garden gave me a gift certificate toWindy Hill Farm, a great, local orchard and nursery between Stockbridge and Great Barrington. It was such a kind and personal gesture; anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of giving plants as gifts for all occasions, so I was thrilled to be on the receiving end of that gesture.

Believe it or not, I knew exactly what I wanted. I love flowering trees and shrubs and ever since we moved into our “new” home four years ago, I have been working on rounding out my spring show. I just got a magnolia “Elizabeth” to add a little yellow to the landscape and last year I planted five “Donald Wyman” crabapples that promise an abundance of white along my northern fence line. A red bud I transplanted from my old house provides a burst of tight purple blossoms along its branches and, as I am a Kentucky native, always reminds me of home where they grow wild in the woods. Now, what I really need is a dramatic show of pink and nothing does it better than an ornamental cherry tree.

For me, it’s always a good idea to go into a nursery with a clear idea of what I want. Otherwise, I am just too easily distracted. The nursery can be a dangerous place for a winter-scarred soul getting his first taste of spring. So when Keith Rechenberger offered to help me at Windy Hill, I was prepared when he asked me what I was looking for.Keith_measuring_the_tree_300

Right away we were able to narrow my choices down to two types of ornamental cherry: Prunus accolade and Prunus sargentii or Sargent Cherry. Both were lovely trees, but the accolade had a slight tendency toward double blooms and a more horizontal growth habit, which I was looking for. However, the accolade is only hardy to zone 5 while the sergeant is known to be hardy to zone 4. This caused some discussion. Normally, around here, zone 5 will do just fine. However, I’m in Otis and I usually won’t plant trees that aren’t hardy to zone 4. I’ll roll the dice with perennials and other less expensive plants, but with trees I err on the side of caution.

While I pondered my decision, I asked Keith if he wouldn’t mind passing along some tips for others to help them pick healthy trees. He said the first thing you need to do is look at the trunk. Check for damage and scarring and make sure that it looks sturdy with a clear, central leader. From that central leader, examine the branching habit to make sure the branches are growing in a healthy and consistent manner.

Next, look at the pot that the seedling is planted in. Check to see how the tree is sitting in the container. You don’t want it to be too high or too low in the soil and you don’t want roots that are circling the container (also known as “girdling” roots).  Look for insects and, if the tree has leafed out, make sure there is no discoloring of the leaves or any empty branches.

Never be afraid to ask questions. Even the most experienced plant person can benefit from a second opinion and the experts at a nursery can often be privy to knowledge that only they have the ability to know, which brings us back to my cherry tree. Though I knew the sargeant cherry was the safer choice, I had fallen in love with one of the accolades. It was in my price range, was the right size and it had a gorgeous growth habit. It was my favorite from the moment Keith showed it to me and I was sad to let it go. Because Keith knew where the tree had come from, he was able to call the grower and ask him about my concerns regarding the zone hardiness. The grower told him that this particular tree should be fine in a zone 4 and that I could purchase the tree with confidence, which I ultimately did.

Now it’s time to start digging holes!

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