A tree that might be worth the chance

I've been spending some time doing lots of research on trees, which is an area I'm less familiar with, because we're about to lose two very special trees. The tree cutters were supposed to come this week but the weather has kept them away.

A March snowstorm took out half of this Cedar leaving it angled precariously close to our house. The rest will have to go.
We'll be taking out the rest of the cedar that was badly damaged (and threatening to eat our house) during a late winter snowstorm as well as the giant birch that is sickly and has needed to be removed for years. I'm especially upset about losing the latter and I'll be honest and tell you I might even shed a tear over that one. 

I will really miss this birch tree.
I have a personal goal to plant a new tree somewhere on our property every time we take one out. Part of the beauty of our property is the hundreds of mature trees and I want to make sure that future owners will be able to enjoy them as well. 

We are having the birch stump ground out so we'll be able to replant in almost the same space. It's a special spot—the main focal point in the back yard—and we've enjoyed having a large three there so we're hoping to replace that with something prominent. I'm not sure what that will be yet. I'd love to plant an American beech (Fagus grandifolia) there because I love the other beeches growing on our property and we are in one of the few places in Wisconsin where they will thrive. But beeches are notoriously difficult to propagate in a nursery situation so it's very difficult to find one of any size.

We're going to wait to decide if we need an evergreen for screening purposes where the cedar will be removed. If we do, it won't be another cedar. The deer adore cedar and there isn't a cedar tree in our neighborhood (which happens to be called Cedar Beach) that has foliage below 7 feet. This is fine for mature cedars because they flourish above the deer-eating line, but it is impossible to grown them big enough to get to that point without a deer attack. Deer can destroy a cedar that's 10 feet or less in one night.

If we don't need the screening, I think this might be an opportunity for a small specimen tree. The location is just out the living room window so it has to be something special.

Venus dogwood
One tree I'm very interested in and actively trying to find is a Venus dogwood. I first read about this tree on Deborah Silver's blog a few years ago and when I read a mention of it elsewhere the other day it sparked a mental note I had saved that this was a tree to look into should I ever have a place to put one. 

First of all, I love dogwoods. Most have a lovely layered branching habit that to me is the perfect combination of found-in-nature casual rambling and strict Japanese-style pruning (if such a combination is possible). Secondly, some, including Cornus kousa and Cornus florida have beautiful four-petaled flowers. Unfortunately they are also prone to a disease called anthracnose, which eventually kills the tree.

Check out the size of those flowers! Dr. Elwin Orton showing off his tree. Rutgers photo
Well guess what Venus, a hybrid developed by Dr. Elwin Orton at Rutgers University, has going for it? No disease issues. Huge flowers (up to 4 inches, they claim). Bloom that lasts for maybe as much as four weeks (at least it does for Deborah who lives and gardens in Detroit). Fall color. Fast growing. Pretty bark. Twenty feet wide and tall at maturity. What's not to love? You can see why Deborah calls it, "the most spectacular white flowering tree on the planet." High praise. 

There are questions with hardiness. It is listed as hardy to zone 6 in some places and zone 5 in others. We are technically considered zone 5b ever since the USDA updated the zone map last year, but I'm wary of that qualification. It only takes one bad winter to cause major damage. Deborah says she has planted 80 of them in the last several years and hasn't lost one, but Detroit is definitely a warmer zone than us.

So if I go down this road and can find a Venus dogwood, it will be with a bit of trepidation and finger crossing. Sometimes that's road that a gardener can't help but take.


  1. Interesting post & I do love the dogwood... though I confess I know nothing about trees.
    Funny that you mention the deer & eating of Cedars... we own a Christmas tree farm. 35 acres, & we own for the sole purpose of deer hunting. The trees are planted in sections & when we bought it, they were quite small & still were able to harvest some trees. Now they are very large, but the deer will eat only certain evergreens & we are able to cut just above the line where the deer eat & get a perfect christmas tree or two. I almost always get a balsam. They LOVE Balsam pines. There are some they will not touch... it may be a good thing to research... Sorry about losing your trees, it is hard to see a mature tree have to go.

    1. Deer eat balsams too? My gosh ... what WON'T they eat?

      Your Christmas tree farm sounds lovely.

  2. So sad about the birch. They are one of my favourites too. We live right beside a little parkette and there's a big old birch that needs to come down in there. So sad to see this majestic tree slowly dying.

    As for the dogwood - there's one on the property here (put in by the previous owner) - it has beautiful blooms on it and graceful arching branches. It's glorious!! I can't imagine your winters being harsher than ours here in Ontario. We are in Zone 6a (Canadian zone - different than your American zones) and it's thriving here. You will love this tree is you get it, Erin.

    1. Good to know it's thriving there, Heather! Thanks for the report.

  3. I know how you feel. Parts of our garden look like a war zone with sheared off trunks and piles of logs and sawdust. Ugh! Alas, most of those dogwoods with the big flowers aren't hardy here to my knowledge. I would check with local UW extension or someone at GBBG for some local info.

    We have a weeping Alaskan cedar (Nootkatensis) that is gorgeous and doesn't have the snow damage because it is more open and weeping. Should be hardy for you but not sure if you would have the same deer issues since it is a cedar.

    You might look for some of the newer borer-resistant white birches like White Spire, White Satin, Prairie Dream and Renaissance Reflection. Some of them were developed by Dr. Ed Hasselkus at the UW Arboretum.

    1. Excellent recommendations, Linda. I will look into them. Thank you so much! Of course sourcing trees around here is so difficult. Seems like none of the nurseries want to sell anything other than the basics.


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