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2 Large-Scale Trees for Maximum Impact

American Beech
One of our most stately native shade trees, the American Beech is a common woodland tree that’s great for wildlife and cooling your home alike. Slow-growing but very long-lived (300-400 years or so!), they are easy to spot with their smooth gray bark and the habit of young trees of holding onto their bleached-tan leaves in winter. Lovers of moist, acidic soil, they cast a dense shade when mature that’s great for cooling the house and creating a serene woodland garden. Their roots can be shallow, so avoid planting next to a concrete walk or footpath. Their branches can also stay quite low unless trimmed away over time. Fall leaves turn a lovely golden-bronze, and the edible nuts in the fall are popular with many birds and woodland mammals. Companion plants that tolerate the drier shade that exists under their branches include perennials like ferns, Heuchera, sedges, Epimedium, Hardy Begonia, Wood Asters, Crested Iris, and Hellebores;  groundcovers such as Wintergreen, Himalayan Sweetbox, and Siberian Carpet;  and shrubs like Witchhazel, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Osmanthus, Mahonia, and Yew. While excellent at tolerating competition for light in wooded conditions, they are also fine in full sun if the soil doesn’t get too dry. While gardening under mature trees can be challenging due to their established roots, putting in companion plants while the tree is young is an excellent way to get them established with minimal effort.

Weeping Willow
There’s something quite picturesque about a mature golden weeping willow tree – those swaying branch tips, draping curtains of foliage, and bright winter stems. Willows are very fast-growing, so if you need shade (but not dark shade) quickly and have the space, try them, especially if you have a wet area. Early to leaf-out and late to drop leaves, they’re a welcome sign of freshness in the spring and tranquil in the fall. Golden willows have bark that’s bright yellow when young, adding color to the winter landscape. Classic when used by water – either ponds or streams – willows are versatile and attractive to birds for nesting material (the downy seed fluff can be used to line nests), a food source, and nesting habitat.

by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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