Bridget Abernathy

 

Fall is upon us, and it is the perfect time to think about planting trees. Whether you are planting in the fall or planning for an early spring planting, choosing the right native species for the site is essential for the survival and vigor of the tree.

Native trees are those that are indigenous to a certain area, have evolved in their local environment, and are adapted to the surrounding soils and climate. Native plants help improve water quality by slowing and infiltrating stormwater, provide habitat and biodiversity, reduce the urban heat island effect, improve our mental and physical health, and enhance the aesthetic value of our city centers and urban neighborhoods.

To assist you in selecting trees, I have picked a few of my favorite native species that grow well in Central Kentucky:

 

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Black gum leaves in fall (Wikimedia)

Blackgum’s shiny foliage in the fall, distinct form in winter, and thick, plated bark make this tree an excellent choice for ornamental planting. This tree grows best in moist, well-drained soils, but can also withstand wet conditions and drought. Blackgum will grow in full sun or partial shade. Its leaves are dark green and glossy in the summer, and brilliant crimson, orange, and purple in the fall. Insignificant, greenish-white flowers in the spring are an exceptional nectar source for bees. Small, sour, bluish-black fruits ripen in the fall and attract many species of birds and mammals. Few insects or diseases affect this tree, making it low-maintenance in the landscape. Blackgum can reach a height of 80 feet on moist sites.

 

Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)

Eastern hophornbeam (Wikimedia)

Eastern hophornbeam’s rusty fall foliage, shredded bark, and distinct seeds make this tree a less showy but attractive choice for the landscape. This tree prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils, but can also adapt to wet, dry, rocky, poor, or alkaline soils. Eastern hophornbeam can grow in full sun or partial shade. Its simple leaves are delicate, and turn yellow to reddish orange in the fall. Male and female catkins are visible in the winter and spring, and the fruit, called nutlets, are distinct “hop-like” papery capsules. This tree has no serious insect or disease problems. Eastern hophornbeam can reach a height of 20-40 feet.

 

Alternate-leaf /Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

alternateleaf dogwood

Alternate-leaf dogwood, also known as Pagoda dogwood, is an excellent alternative to the commonly planted flowering dogwood tree. Its whorled horizontal branches, showy flowers, late-summer berries, and vibrant fall foliage make this tree an eye-catching specimen. This tree prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Alternate-leaf dogwood grows best in considerable shade, but can also grow well in full sun. Unlike other native dogwoods, the leaves grow in an alternate, rather than opposite arrangement. Fall foliage, though not brilliant, turns red, purple, and yellow.  In late spring, cream-colored, showy, broad, fragrant flower clusters attract many pollinators. In late summer, bluish-black fruit are born on red stalks and attract birds. This tree is susceptible to twig blight, leaf spot and canker, but these diseases are generally not lethal. Alternate-leaf dogwood can reach a height of 15-25 feet.

 

Photography

  1. Blackgum foliage in fall - (Wikimedia)
  2. Eastern hophornbeam flower - (Wikimedia)
  3. Alternate-leaf dogwood flower - (CC, Distant Hill Gardens)

 

About the Author

Bridget Abernathy is the Urban Forestry Partnership Coordinator with Kentucky Division of Forestry. Email @ bridget.abernathy@ky.gov