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Master Gardener: Novelty plant

What is it about the novelty of plants that attracts us? Last week I wrote about trees whose novelty was their attractive bark. This week we look at trees that “weep.”

I have weeping Japanese maples in my yard and my neighbor behind has weeping willows. Their relaxed form in comparison to upright, stiff tree forms in the landscape offers an appealing contrast. Depending on branch rigidity, there is also the graceful swaying in breezes. Such trees serve effectively as focal points in the garden. Their limbs, whether leaved or not, show architectural interest in all seasons.

Weeping is genetic and varies with the species. A tree grows in response to gravity (gravotropism) and light (phototropism). Weak response to gravity and/or light results in weeping. Hormonal imbalances (in the tree, not you!) can also cause weeping.

There are advantages to being a weeper. Trees like willows that already weep naturally don’t have to invest the extra energy it takes to stay upright and develop stiff limbs. Those resultant pliable limbs are less likely to break- under the weight of snow, or in our area more often - ice.

Trees that are coaxed to weeping are the result of grafting. A twig of weeping wood is joined to rootstock of a close-related species. If the cambium, or thin, inner layer of cells under the bark is successfully joined from both parts, you have the start of a weeper. Any growth beneath the graft union has to be pruned to keep the tree developing as a weeper. Evergreen and deciduous types can both be coaxed to weeping.

Weeping trees I would recommend include: weeping cherry trees such as the Higan cherry, sporting a profusion of blooms in spring; Japanese snowbell, another Asian import that is covered in sprays of lightly fragrant white flowers in early summer; European white-limbed beech with exfoliating bark and a show of yellow leaves in fall; weeping flowering dogwood; weeping spruce; weeping Katsura whose leaves unfold purplish and glow apricot by the fall, and so many others. Check them out at your local nursery this fall and get planting.

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