October 4, 2012

You Can Grow That - Sourwood

I have posted about Oxydendrum arboreum before. I can't help myself, I love this tree, and I want to tell you about it. You can grow it.

I am joining C.L. Fornari's series "You Can Grow That". You will find many more bloggers' experiences growing plants on her site Whole Life Gardening.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have read about this tree.  But come sit with me in the gravel garden, in one of the Mayan folding chairs. We'll be here a while -- those chairs are impossible to get out of. I'll need to help you when you want to get up, there's just no dignified way.


So settle in and we can talk about the little tree there in front of us. You can grow one too.

Oxydendrum arboreum is called sourwood or sorrel tree. It likes acid or "sour" soil. Most of New England has acid soil, but my yard is not overly so. It is just below neutral, and that seems to be enough.

Sourwood is a southeast native, but you can grow it in the north in zone 5.  It is not completely hardy for the first two years, but if you can protect it at first while it slowly gets roots established, it will be fully hardy in zone 5 after that, tolerating temperatures below zero.

The leaves are glossy and narrow, and the flowers in June and July look like lily of the valley flowers, and bees adore them.


The flowers dry and remain on the tree all season, into fall. That creates a bejeweled look when the leaves turn scarlet in October.

The shot above is of a tree a few streets over in a prior autumn. Even my young mop headed sourwood shows this effect. It is coloring now, and I'll post a picture in a few days, in mid October, when it is fiery red with white dangling sprays.

Sourwood is a very slow grower, but eventually it can get to 30 feet tall. But it remains a trim, smaller shape, the perfect size for patios and yards. I had it sited near a patio wall for the first five years, and it grew but did not thrive.  Perhaps the soil near the stone dust of the wall was not acidic enough. This tree really is particular about soil. I moved it this spring, and it has perked up and grown much better near the pea gravel garden.

I really like the form and color and personality of this tree.  And sometimes I think the Big Gardener Up There does too, especially when I see it lit up in a ray of dewy sunshine on a late summer morning like this.


31 comments:

  1. I love this tree too. And I love the way you've made it a focal point in your gravel garden. What a fabulous seating area!

    After the snow storm last October I found the poor tree practically laying on the ground. I was able to shake off the snow and get it somewhat upright but I think a tree stake might be a good idea going into winter. As slow growing as it is I don't want to lose a six or seven year old specimen and have to start from scratch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue, thanks! I have found that sourwood has very shallow, fibrous roots, and mine was tilted (not lying down, though!!) after the October snowstorm. There is not a lot of root mass to anchor these trees apparently. That was another reason I moved it from the patio wall... it was listing. I hope yours does well, staked back upright. Patience is needed with this tree, but what a reward.

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed sitting in the gravel garden with you, Laurrie. I wish I could do it in person! That is a lovely little tree, but sadly, you're wrong - I cannot grow it in my alkaline soil :(

    ReplyDelete
  3. And now, please help me up from this chair...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are not the first visitor to get stuck in my chairs. Infernal design, but I like their looks. So sad that you don't have acid soil for this lovely little tree. You'll have to come visit mine (and the much bigger, mature one down the street!! )

      Delete
  4. Lovely focal point tree, Laurrie. How did you protect it during its first two years in your garden?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joene, the full story is that the first sourwood I planted in 2006 died over winter. I replaced it in 2007 with the one you see in this post. Originally it was by the patio, which is right off the house, protected from wind and with a warm western exposure, and we did not have terribly bitter winters for those years. It lived. Last spring I moved it to the gravel garden, which is in a more open area, but so far it seems to like the new spot. I think the roots are well established now, even after the move, and it should be ok. Hoping!

      Delete
  5. Sometimes it is nice to have an excuse so you can procrastinate about getting up out of your chair. I like the fact that the flowers stay on the tree into the fall and that color is spectacular. BTW, your little gravel garden is looking great in all your recent pictures of it. Have a great weekend Laurrie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jennifer, thanks! I do seem to spend a lot of time in those butt-capturing chairs. But I enjoy every minute there.

      Delete
  6. I picked up a container tree last weekend for half price because it had fallen (or been knocked) out of its pot. The root system was indeed quite shallow. Hope we can nurse it through its first winter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ellen, Good luck! Do you plant to grow it in a pot, or will it be planted? These trees do not have the most robust root system, so I hope yours isn't too damaged. I'll want to see a post on how it does : )

      Delete
  7. Wonderful photographs, wonderful colours. I am greeting

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ZielonaMila,Thanks so much and thanks for visiting!

      Delete
  8. This is such a gorgeous tree Laurrie, nice to see it in such a prominent spot where you can see it throughout the year. Your gravel garden is such a lovely spot and this adds a nice focal point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marguerite, thanks. I thought the sourwood would be a focal point near the patio, but after I moved it to this spot near the gravel garden, it is much more prominent and draws attention. It's just in a better place.

      Delete
  9. Your garden just gets more and more beautiful every season! I love this tree, too, and wish I had a spot to plant one. I'm not that graceful to begin with so I'd probably fall out of those chairs in my futile attempts to get up. :o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tammy, thank you! I do think the garden is getting better as I learn more and arrange things better each year. No fears -- when you come to visit I will help you up out of those chairs. It takes some doing, but I can get most people up after three tries : )

      Delete
  10. Laurrie, I loved this tree, Sourwood. I've never heard about it, but now I think 'I can grow it'. I read in Encyclopedia about growing this tree in my zone 5a. It's OK. Thank you, Laurrie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nadezda, I hope you have success if you decide to grow this pretty tree!

      Delete
  11. They do seem to be particular trees. The wild ones on our farm get leafspot and so don't turn that brilliant pure crimson. And I've seen specimens that look worse off than mine, and others that look absolutely magnificent. A beautiful sorrel tree is special.

    You have a great view from your chairs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweetbay, you have commented before about how sorrel trees grow wild around you, and I always think of that when I see my little specimen. Interesting that they get leaf spot --- I hope mine stays free from that!

      Delete
  12. I can see why you love this tree--the autumn color is spectacular! I love your whole gravel area garden, a lovely place to sit and just enjoy. But I do need some help getting out of this chair:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rose, thanks so much. I'll help you up out of the chair, no worries : )

      Delete
  13. Amazing colours, what a lovely little tree. I will never be able to grow one due to fat clay zone 7 soil but I will definitely want to enjoy to watch it grow on your blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laila, You have the right temperate zone to grow sourwood, and if your clay is even slightly acidic, it will grow. But come back here to enjoy my little sourwood, I will surely post on this tree again : )

      Delete
  14. I love this post! You have picked the perfect spot to enjoy your special tree. I was upstairs one day, looking out a window, when a tree high on a hill caught my attention. It was a sourwood, and the lily of the valley type flowers were striking, even from a distance. Later in the year I noticed its fabulous color. Sadly, from ground level, one hardly notices this tree, as there are other trees lower on the hill in front of it. I have hoped to find a small seedling to transplant to a more visible area. You remind me to renew my search!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deborah, I hope you find a suitable seedling and get a sourwood growing. It would be such an addition to your woodland garden, a very striking accent!

      Delete
  15. This is a tree that I really do enjoy. What great fall color! I still remember the first Oxydendrum I ever met; I was on a pruning job as a young trainee and I got to deadwood and shape a 15' tall specimen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forest Keeper, this is a tree you do remember when you first see it. Unusual and eye catching! I've never pruned my little one. I assumed it didn't need any shaping (although nature pruned it pretty severely in last year's snow storm).

      Delete
  16. Laurrie, Sourwood is one of my favorite trees, too. They are so underused, which is a shame. The 'bejeweled look' is certainly one of its best attributes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Debbie, I think they are underused because they are slow growers. It takes a very long time to get any size on these pretty trees. You need a spot in the garden where sourwood can just slowly and leisurely do its thing!

      Delete

Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.