Springing into Bloom
Spring in Sonoma County
By Bill Klausing
Sonoma County Master Gardener
As the short days of winter come to an end, and the rays of the sun gain in intensity, almost every gardener awaits the first signs of spring on the horizon. The earliest bloomers can catch quite a bit of attention; a few Narcissus pop out of hibernation, Ceanothus begins to show bits of blue, and a few trees burst forth with a fury of blooms to catch your eye.
Pyrus calleryana is native to China. Its growth habit is moderate to fast; at maturity it reaches 25 to 40 feet, depending on the variety. The shape and relatively moderate size at maturity make this tree a very popular choice in the urban and suburban setting. The canopy is quite pyramidal in form and the leaves are deep green and glossy, which give a very nice fall show of purplish red. However, it is that early spring burst of white blooms that draw most gardeners to this species. And like most early spring bloomers, it can fall prey to those spring frosts, which won’t harm the tree, but will cause dropping of blooms. P. calleryana is also adapted to survive in less than ideal growing conditions. It is drought tolerant once established and can thrive in even heavy clay soils. It is these reasons that keep this species on the list of approved street trees for almost every municipality.
I took a trip to Urban Tree Farm in Fulton and had a brief conversation with manager Alyssa Hall. She recommended that you might try an alternative species of ornamental pear, Pyrus betulifolia ‘Dancer’. It has the same bloomand growth habits of P. calleryana, but offers stronger branching and more disease resistance. Or perhaps you might want to try another of the great early spring bloomers that are available. Malus sp. ‘Prairiefire’ is a smaller specimen (to 20 feet), but displays an intensely pink bloom, with new leaves that are purple in springtime.