URBANA, Ill. - Each season brings a different look to the garden, and some plants are uniquely beautiful in winter. Rhonda Ferree, horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, says that winter is a great time to see a plant’s texture and form—each unique and mystical.
“Look for the differences between these trees this winter: oak, maple, and redbud,” says Ferree.
Oaks are the kings of the forest. They soar well above the maples and smaller redbuds. Oaks are magnificent in size and texture.
The white and bur oaks are the most majestic. A white oak will grow well over 100 feet tall in the wild. It has a medium to coarse texture in winter, but the wide-spreading branches exhibit a strong, bold appearance. Bur oaks are a bit more coarse in texture and to some even more impressive with massive trunks and stout branches.
There are many other types of oaks too.
A pin oak is much different from the white and bur. Although still medium to coarse textured in winter, a pin oak has a strongly pyramidal habit. It is a strong central leader and has pendulous lower branches. Ferree says her college classmates called this “the 55-mile-per-hour tree” because they could recognize it even at highway speeds.
Maples also come in many different shapes and sizes, from the dainty Amur maple to the sturdy sugar maple to the weak silver maple. Sugar maples grow 60 to 75 feet tall with a rounded character. They are hard, sturdy trees. Their texture is medium in winter. Notice their beautiful bark, which with age becomes deeply furrowed, with long, irregular thick plates or ridges.
Silver maples are very popular because they grow fast. Unfortunately, this is not always a good trait, since fast-growing trees are usually also weak-wooded, often breaking in wind and ice. The silver maples grow a bit more oval than rounded and are a bit coarser in the winter, often looking disheveled.
Amur maples and redbuds are similar in that they are both small, understory trees. The Amur maple is a small tree or sometimes a multi-stemmed shrub, but is usually round shaped. It has very slender, fine branches and thus a medium-fine texture.
Redbud is a small tree with medium winter texture. Although best known for its spring flowers, it also has interesting bark in winter. Look for orange inner bark peeking through the outer black or brownish bark.
“Tree watchers” may notice trees that have been topped. Ferree cautions against topping trees, as this may result in weak trees that are not nearly as attractive.
For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting www.extension.illinois.edu. You can also post questions on Rhonda’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ILRiverHort.