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Plant of the Month May 2017

There are a selection of unassuming trees that for most part of the year blend seamlessly into the landscape providing sufficiently fine form and structure, however at this time of year, really come into their own. Trees such as the Foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa), the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) and perhaps, most gloriously, the elegant Snowdrop tree (Halesia tetraptera), reveal charms of the garden border high up along the skyline.


Paulownia tomentosa

Cercis siliquastrum

Halesia macgregorii

The snowdrop tree  grows to an ultimate height of 5-16m depending on site and habit, and can be grown in a small to medium sized garden with occasional formative pruning keeping it in check. Leaves are simple and ovate, arranged alternately along the stems. In spring,  delightful bell shaped, snow-white flowers hang prolifically in clusters of 2-6 (each 2-4cm long), creating a tree that may be considered as a lesser known, but equally impressive alternative to magnolias and cherries. As long as this tree/shrub is not planted somewhere exposed to cold winds, it is fully hardy and an easy grower. Best grown in fertile, humus rich, moist but well drained soils, it will cope well in partial shade or full sun. Usually free of pest and disease.


Halesia tetraptera (1)

Halesia tetraptera (2)

Halesia tetraptera (3)

Halesia tetraptera (4)

The genus Halesia is made up of 5 species native to China and North America, which are all deciduous trees/shrubs. They belong to the family Styracaceae which includes other very interesting ornamental woody plants such as Styrax, Pterostyrax, Rehderodendron and Huodendron
Specialist woody plant nurseries will sell Snowdrop trees, however if you have collected, swopped or bought seed, they are best sown fresh in a seed pan or pot. The use of a free draining seed compost is ideal to prevent over watering and seed should be covered with a thin layer of fine grit to help prevent moss growth on the surface. A cold period is required to help induce germination and this can be done in two ways, either by leaving the seed pan outside in a cold frame or by placing the seed in moist perlite in a fridge for 3 months prior to sowing. One the seeds have had their cold period, place on a heated mat at 18°C or put on a warm windowsill in the house.  
Propagation from softwood cutting can be done in late spring once the new seasons growth reaches about 15cm. Take tip cutting approximately 12cm long, cut below a node at the base, and remove the lower leaves. Up to 6 cuttings can be struck (rooted) in a 10cm pot, dip the base of the cutting in a rooting hormone powder/gel and push in the compost 2-3cm deep, then firm in using your fingers. Sit the pot in a shallow tray of water for 30 minutes to allow the compost to soak up the water, then remove the pot and place in a propagator or in a zip lock clear plastic bag. Place on a warm windowsill, although not in full sun, and rooting should take about 5-8 weeks.

Andrew Luke Posted by Andrew Luke

Andrew Luke is Supervisor of the Woodland, Order Beds & Grass Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is a hardy plant propagation specialist & plant collector. He can be contacted on twitter @PlantGrafter

1 Comments To "Plant of the Month May 2017"

Nancy Bell On 09.05.2017
I wasn't very lucky with my new plant. It grew a little last year, but this year I'm pretty sure it's dead. Not really sure why :-( Reply to this comment
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