Spring is unfolding slowly this year; at least that’s my perception. Certainly it has everything to do with how wide I stretch my occipital lobe in my brain. A while back I decided I needed to focus on those things that bring me the most happiness, which in spring simply means looking to the left and to the right.
Have you noticed the purple bulbs are blooming along Fourth and Fifth avenues along The Esplanade? Remember when the flowering quince meant the town was decorated in hot-pink? Now we’re in the middle of dogwood dazzle.
Mark Carlson gave me a phone call and invited me to his south Chico dogwood hotspot. I couldn’t refuse because the place is almost on my way home from work.
If you haven’t noticed dogwoods in bloom, open your eyes just a little wider. They’re the smallish trees with thin branches with blooms of blazing white and hushed tones of pink. The trees bloom before the leaves arrive, which makes the flowers all the more magnificent.
Mark said his yard is filled with dogwoods, 25 trees to be exact, not including the volunteers he has scooped up and put into pots.
He gave me his address, but I left that yellow post-it note at the office. With a few clues, I drove down his street, sure that I couldn’t miss a house with that many dogwoods.
This isn’t the first time I have been wrong. Driving as slowly as your typical Prius driver, I couldn’t help but notice almost every house has several dogwood trees, all in full bloom. I joked to myself that they should call the street “Dogwood Way.”
After a few laps around the cul de sac at the end of the road, Mark was spotted waving from his driveway.
The dogwood devotee is a retired landscape contractor and planted the trees in 1987, the same year I moved to Chico. For trees that old, I would have expected them to tower over the place. However, dogwoods need a little shade and grow to about 25 feet, often in the canopy of taller trees.
The old-fashioned dogwoods he prefers come in three colors — white, pink and red. He has planted them all. Yet, I must tell you, the “red” he pointed out is really a darker shade of pink.
The tree-tender said there are newer varieties of dogwoods, which he admits are amazing.
Eddie’s White Wonder, for example, sports four-inch flowers in spring. However, Mark really wants to have nothing to do with that. He’s sticking with the old standby.
The flowers last about two weeks, which seems like less than a heartbeat. Yet, wait until fall and there is a “spectacular show” when the leaves change color, Mark said.
The trees lives about 50 years, which mean they are now at their prime. I doubt Mark will ever be dogwood-less. The trees seed easily and he’s frequently putting new sprouts into pots. It was not difficult to talk him into tucking a dogwood into the backseat of my car.
Now I’m wondering if birds spread the joy of dogwoods throughout Mark’s neighborhood, or if he takes a wheelbarrow and offers trees door-to-door.
As for new trees, Mark said matter-of-factly that one in five newly-planted trees will die. That’s just the way it is, he said. Note that he has 25 trees in his yard. He planted 31.
As with any native, the trees are relatively drought resistant. You’ll see them growing like weeds in the Butte Meadows and Forest Ranch areas, as well as in Oregon, he said.
Now is a good time to pick out dogwoods, or dig up a sprout from the side of a neighbor’s yard. When they’re in bloom you can choose one of the three colors you prefer, pink, pink or white. Mark said they’ll survive just fine in a pot until you’re ready to dig a big hole in the fall. As for feeding, Mark said he adds 9-9-9 fertilizer under the trees every other year or annually, depending on the soil.
Mark is now retired, but he put much of his decades of experience into videos on pruning roses and fruit trees. He sells the videos online, secondleaves.com.
The University of California Cooperative Extension recommends against pruning dogwood trees because the wounds heal very slowly. If branches are damaged, it’s best to prune in late summer.