By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Don’t chuck those seed catalogs even if you don’t plan to send for seeds.  But only if they originate in the upper tier, i.e. the cold states.  There is a plethora of information in those pages. For instance, if you plan to plant a tree this spring. A seed catalog can tell you how tall and wide that tree will be at maturity. It will also have descriptive information about the tree. 

For instance, “in cold climates, plant in a sheltered area.” Red flag! this tree is probably not reliably hardy here. The description will tell you the fall color if any. If the tree is fruit bearing. 

For instance, If you want a flowering crab it will describe the shape. They can be very upright, round, or wide depending on the cultivar, they come in different colored flowers ranging from dark pink, almost red to pale pink, or white, if you have a red house, you probably don’t want a dark pink tree close to it. foliage on some crabs tends to be red, a nice accent or.” What was she thinking? “The fruit also varies in size and color,  some having none at all.              

Some trees are planted for their shape. The Pagoda dogwood is a very horizontal, small tree and a perfect accent for a tall house. Then there are the evergreens. They also come in several shapes, columnar, round, triangle, weeping, or even ground hugging and in several colors, from dark green to yellow.

A picture cut from the catalog can make your eventual shopping trip to your local nursery much easier.

In the spring, the local nursery will have many shrubs, some blooming, some not. A shrub that gets interesting berries or fall color, or that blooms late, will not catch your eye unless you know what it looks like now. Bring your catalog info with you for reference.

If you are planting in a dry area look for descriptions like, resists drought. This doesn’t mean you never have to water it; it just means it needs less water than usual. Adaptable is another word to look for if you have a difficult site. Some trees and shrubs will grow in sandy or heavy clay soil, but others will grow one season then up and die on you. Windy areas are very difficult for almost any tree or shrub. They lose so much moisture that is hard for them to stay alive let alone prosper,

There are words to beware of. Fast growing for instance. This usually means a weed tree that will grow like mad for 15 years than fall on your house in the next strong wind. A tree that grows slower is preferable, but if you are 70 and want fast shade, plant that weed tree but warn your kids.

The local nursery is the place to buy shrubs, trees or perennial plants. Yes, a big box store may have just the one you are looking for and is cheaper, but where was it grown? If not in our zone, it may not do well or take several years to acclimatize. The local nursery will have stock for our zone and know where best to site it. They absolutely love customers who come prepared, and who know what they want and the growing conditions in their yard.

It is usually not the best idea to get the newest tree or shrub. Give it a few years to see if it actually lives up to its advertisements. Trees are a big investment in time and money. Do your homework before you plant one.