HG: Homegrown Column November 22, 2008

BESS WYNN/Bookcliff Gardens
Plant of the week: Hot Wings Tatarian Maple, Acer tataricum “GarAnn” - This handsome, small and sturdy tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall in a rounded, somewhat irregular form. Its colorful red stems hold thick green leaves that turn a showy mixture of burgundy, red, orange and yellow in the fall. The real show of this tree are the scarlet red winged seeds that appear in June and persist through the summer. They are brilliantly red and quite ornamental. Hot wings tatarian maple has a moderate growth rate and is hardy to minus 35 degrees.

I was hoping you might be able to recommend a replacement tree.
We have a Japanese maple on the south side of the house and the sun hasn’t been kind to it these past three years. We’ve decided to move it elsewhere (it’s probably only 8 feet tall) but want something else to put in its stead.
That “something else” shouldn’t become a tall or wide tree — something that would be comparable to the Japanese maple would be ideal — as it’s fairly close to the house, and shouldn’t be detrimentally affected by southern sun. Any ideas?
— Ralph

You’re so right about Japanese maples here and sun. They just don’t mix.

Our intense sun, low humidity and hot temperatures dictate that we put them in a spot where they don’t get too much of that direct sun, especially hot afternoon sun. They want bright light, but some shade is pretty necessary.

Japanese maple is a unique plant so there’s really nothing that will replace it, exactly, but there are a several small trees that might make an acceptable substitute.

There are several different Maples to think of.

My first choice would be tatarian maple (Acer tataricum). This maple is a smaller growing tree, only reaching 15 to 20 feet in height.

That is perhaps a bit bigger than the Japanese maple will get here but in the ballpark. The tree doesn’t have the distinctive horizontal, “Oriental” feel of the Japanese maple (a big part of that tree’s uniqueness) and I would consider it to be a bit coarser in texture with a wilder, more open and informal feel.

There’s a new variety called “hot wings” that has beautiful bright red winged seeds in summer that will make you swear the tree is blooming. It also has decent fall color, kind of a mixture of yellow, orange, burgundy and green.

A couple other maples to maybe consider would be bigtooth maple (A. grandidentatum) and amur or ginnala maple (A. ginnala).

Bigtooth will eventually get bigger than you want and has a reputation for being tough and drought tolerant, but it looks its best with well-amended soil and regular watering. It kind of behaves like a compact sugar maple. It has pretty decent fall color when it is happy, but is a bit prone to iron deficiencies in alkaline soils.

Ginnala is similar to tatarian but tends to develop iron deficiencies more commonly here because of our alkaline soil. It does, however, have spectacular fall color.

Another choice would be a tree form Rose of Sharon. This small tree only gets 12 to 15 feet tall with about an equal spread. It has a dense, rounded to spreading canopy and beautiful flowers from mid-summer into October.

There are several varieties of this plant, but I’m partial to the showy, single flowered varieties. “Aphrodite” has large single pink flowers with a magenta center. “Minerva” has large single lavender blue flowers with a hint of pink to them. “Helene” has large single pure white with a bright red center.

To be honest, none of these trees gives the feel of Japanese maple, but they’re about the same size (which is hard to find).

In addition, you’ll sometimes find tree forms of pee gee hydrangeas and different viburnums that would make adequate substitutes.

I have several beautiful flower gardens that have been taken over by a tall jointed grass that mixes in with the flowers and shrubs making it impossible to pull out or spray with weed killer.
What can I do to eliminate this grass without killing or pulling out the plants?
— Sid

Could you bring a sample into the nursery so I can take a look at it?

I would really like to know what we are dealing with because there are several possibilities and each possibility may have a different method that I could recommend.

The product that I’ll probably end up recommending is a Fertilome product called Over The Top. It kills grasses while leaving most broadleaved plants alone.

You’re too late to use it this year. You’ll need to wait until the grass starts to green up in the spring.

With most grasses, it usually takes two applications spaced about 10 days apart for good control. Tougher
grasses such as Bermuda grass may take more persistence.

The product is slow acting, so be patient when you’re using it.

It can also occasionally harm non-target plants. The label has a long list of plants that it’s safe to use on,
but they recommend spraying a small portion of any plant not on the list to see if there’s any damage.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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