When a nursery is off the main drag, it needs something special to draw customers. Plumline Nursery in Murrysville and Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse in McDonald both fit the bill.
These garden centers have to carry things that are unique, diverse and interesting, and right now, their offering their favorite trees.
Russ Bedner, owner of Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse, says this a great time to get trees in the ground. “You just need to be a little more diligent with your watering especially if we’re not getting rain,” he says.
Michael Tribou, operations manager at Plumline, says he’s always stretching when it comes to offering plant selections.
“You get to looking at the same stuff over and over again; what I really enjoy is something different,” he says. That’s one of the reasons gardeners are drawn here. “You can get an azalea anywhere.”
On the way to the trailer he pointed out a Japanese white pine called ‘Goldilocks.’
“It’s actually a pretty old variety,” Tribou says, “but we’ve been able to get some with some size on them and we’ve been able to source them locally.”
It grows to 15 feet, is covered in bright golden needles and since it grows irregularly, no two will look alike. He searches the rows at a tree farm to chose the most impressive specimens — “trees with character,” he says.
Not every variety of tree he discovers is a winner. Once Tribou found a distinctive Kousa dogwood hybrid strain that he thought was remarkable. Unfortunately, they were susceptible to a fungal disease and weren’t as hardy as he would have liked.
“They were beautiful until they weren’t,” he says. It’s part of the price he pays for trying the latest introductions.
Some of the trees he loves include:
• Japanese stewartias, which he says are underused in the landscape. “I just love it from the marbling of the bark to the buttercup flower, to the overall shape of the tree,” he says.
• Sourwood trees are another one of his favorites that are underutilized in the gardens. It’s a great understory tree and has white bell shaped similar to Japanese pieris. “It’s a tree for four seasons,” he says, as it has pretty flowers, nice fall color, interesting bark and a great shape.
It’s not too hard to convince customers to try something new either. “If you love it, then you can make other people love it,” he says.
That’s not true though of everything at the nursery. Enkianthus is way off the beaten path, it’s a shade lover that can be grown as a tree or shrub and Tribou is head over heals in love with it.
“The fall color is as vibrant as any black gum you’ll ever see,” he says enthusiastically. “It gets dangly flowers on it, almost like a Japanese lantern, they come in white and pink. That’s a beautiful tree, but I could not sell one to save my life. No matter how much I love it, I can’t make other people love it.”
Bedner also looks far and wide for distinctive trees and shrubs.
“I like carrying the unique stuff,” he says. “They really make a landscape stand out; that’s what we’re known for.”
Some of his favorite trees and shrubs include:
• ‘Mariesii’ is a variegated hydrangea that has blue flowers and likes shade. ‘Zorro’ has black stems, but needs more sun. Both would enjoy morning sun and afternoon shade.
• The eastern hop hornbeam is a big tree that has flowers that look like hops. It will get 30 feet tall.
• ‘Purple Ghost’ is one of Bedner’s favorite Japanese maples. The ruffled foliage is reddish purple in the spring, as the leaves get lighter in the summer the almost-black stems stand out. It’s a slow grower that eventually reaches 15 feet.
• Kentucky Coffee tree is a native, slow growing shade tree that’s easy to grow and produces edible pods which need to be cooked. “It has amazing bark, he says, very rigid and veined almost.”
There are nearly 20 metasequoia ‘Miss Grace’ trees acting as a border around the patio of his house. It’s a dawn redwood with exfoliating bark that’s salmon colored along with undertones of red too. The tree is a deciduous conifer that grows about 6 inches a year. The leaves (which look like needles but are soft) change from green to yellow, then orange and finally red. This tree can be pruned for shap. It’s a weeping form, which is easily trained.
“It’s one of my favorites,” Bedner says with a smile. ‘Gold Rush’ will be 70 feet tall when mature and is covered with chartreuse needlelike leaves. ‘Hamlet’s Broom’ is another metasequoia that will stay small, only reaching 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Picking and caring for trees
“Be sure you know the space you have to fill before you buy the tree,” Bedner says.
It’s heartbreaking for any nursery professional to see a tree planted where it can’t reach fruition.
“If it gets planted too close to the house or deck and it grows and matures, it will have to be cut down,” he says.
He gets satisfaction out of getting his customers the right tree for the right place.
“It just makes me happy being able to educate them on a proper selection for the right space,” Bedner says.
He tells customers to dig the planting hole twice as wide as the root ball of the tree and to be sure it’s not planted too deep. It’s one the worst things to do to a tree.
“I always recommend planting the root ball up an inch out of the ground,” he says.
Circling roots can be loosened by hand or gently teased apart with a spade. He suggests mixing a little compost or something like Bumper Crop in with the native soil to lighten it up and add nutrients.
“Water it in so that you’ll soak it to the bottom of the hole; that’s going to get all the air pockets out and compact the soil,” he says.
That might mean running the hose for 10 minutes to make sure the water gets where it needs to go. The newly planted tree also needs to be watered until the ground freezes solid if rain is scarce and once a week next season if it’s dry.
Doug Oster is editor of EverybodyGardens.com, a gardening website operated by 535Media.