If you love bright red autumn foliage, look no further than the slow-growing, easy-care sourwood tree. Too often we plant burning bushes (Euonymus alata) for that blast of pure red, but they are awkward, twiggy shrubs with little to recommend them except for their vivid color for a week or so in October. Sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum) turn that same gorgeous scarlet in autumn, plus they're attractive year-round. I wonder why they're so rarely planted in urban and suburban gardens?
Here's a rundown of sourwood virtues:
-they grow slowly to 15-30 feet, with a pyramidal shape that's easy to fit into smaller gardens.
-In spring, their leaves come on with pretty bronze tints
-In summer, the leaves are large (5-8" long), deep green, and showy. Sourwoods flower in summer, with fragrant creamy white flowers that drip off the tips of the branches. Best of all, the seed capsules dry to silvery gray and contrast beautifully with the bright autumn foliage.
-The fireworks begin in late September, when leaves blast red and hang on the tree well into November.
-Sourwoods have a handsome winter silhouette.
Sourwoods can be grown in a container for their first few years. In the garden, they do best in sunny locations with well-drained soil. Keep them irrigated, mulch well in winter and avoid underplanting because sourwoods resent competition. I can't imagine a more beautiful autumn scene than a bright red sourwood planted against the luminescent gold of a ginkgo or katsura tree....
Here's a sourwood in full autumn color growing in a garden along Park Avenue in Langley...there's no photo-shopping on this brilliant color, that's the real thing..