"Japanese Maples, Flowering Trees and Irene Koster," by the Whistling Gardener

April is a grand month to plant a tree and it is no coincidence that most states and our federal government celebrate Arbor Day during the month of April.
April is a grand month to plant a tree. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

April is a grand month to plant a tree and it is no coincidence that most states and our federal government celebrate Arbor Day during the month of April.

This week I would like to talk about three different groups of trees starting with Japanese Maples.

April is the month when the new leaves unfold on Japanese Maples and there is no more diverse of a plant than Acer palmatum when it comes to leaves.

They range from yellow to green to orange or red and the leaf shapes and sizes can be as minute as the variety “Fairy Hair” to large and bold like “Ed Wood”.

Japanese Maples come in a variety of forms as well from the familiar mounding “lace leaf” flavors that can stay under six feet tall to the more upright ones that can reach 25 feet tall.

Many are well suited to growing in containers as my wife has discovered over the years. Some of my customers have become so transfixed with them that their collections number in the dozens.

I think that in the nursery we are currently offering in excess of 120 varieties. In the landscape Japanese Maples offer four seasons of interest with their spectacular spring foliage, attractive summer leaves, incredible fall color and interesting winter form and they are easy to grow as long as you provide good drainage.

Most prefer full sun but many will perform better with some shade.

If you want to learn more about these delightful shrubs and trees I highly recommend coming to our class on Saturday, April 18th where Japanese Maple aficionado Trevor Cameron will share his passion for this group of plants. Prepare to be wowed.

We are fortunate here in the northwest to be able to grow a wide variety of flowering trees and with a little planning a gardener can have a tree blooming from January to August (assuming that said gardener has the room).

Starting with the Cornelian Cherry in January with its delicate yellow blooms and moving through flowering plums and pears to Magnolias in March and crab apples and cherries in April onto Dogwoods in May and Snowbells and Stewartias in June and Sourwoods in August and in a warm year even Crepe Myrtles in September, there is hardly a month that goes by that there isn’t some tree blooming.

For more info come to my bonus class on Sunday, April 19th at 1:00 pm where again Trevor Cameron will regale you with his vast horticultural knowledge and help you find that perfect flowering tree for your garden.

Last but not least, let me tell you about Irene Koster. This attractive lady is in a group of large shrubs called deciduous azaleas which come into bloom in late April.

If you start noticing loud masses of orange, coral, red or gold flowers in people’s yard chances are they are deciduous azaleas. Also known as Exbury or Mollis azaleas, very few deciduous shrubs can equal deciduous azaleas for showiness and color range, not to mention fragrance (it is the fragrance that will knock your socks off with Irene Koster and you can experience it first hand in my garden this month).

The foliage often turns brilliant orange red to maroon in the fall. They will grow in full sun to part shade and generally need the same things that rhodies require only they are much less demanding.

Garden centers throughout the Puget Sound should be moving them front and center this month so you won’t miss them. Perhaps it’s time to add a couple to your garden.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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