Great Small Tree for Your Yard

April 22, 2009 | By | Comments (23)

If your dogwoods are dying, your crabapples are eaten up with tent caterpillars, and you’re just plain sick of Bradford pears, here’s a tree you should plant instead — the beautiful Chinese fringetree.

Fringe 1

This one graces one of the ponds at our Southern Living headquarters in Birmingham. Pretty spectacular, isn’t it? Actually, it’s just one of about a half-dozen such trees planted alongside a breezeway that connects two of our buildings. I braved monstrous waves and giant squids to bring you this captivating picture.

Look for my hair-raising adventures on the Discovery Channel.

Many folks in the Southeast know our native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), also called grancy graybeard. Beards of fleecy, white flowers dangle beneath its branches in mid-spring. Well, its Chinese cousin (C. retusus) is even showier, because its slightly fragrant flowers lay atop the oval, glossy-green leaves and appear 1-2 weeks earlier. Some people compare it to a big, white lilac.

Like native fringetree, this one has both male and female trees. Good luck finding them identified at the nursery though. Males have showier flowers (of course), but females develop clusters of dark-blue, olivelike fruits that are quite ornamental and favored by birds.

Fringe 2

Chinese fringetree grows 15-20 feet tall and wide and is not fussy at all. Just give it full sun and well-drained soil. It isn’t bothered by pests (other than those talking heads on CNN), it rarely needs pruning, and it tolerates heat and drought. It’s available at many garden centers, but if you can’t find it near you, you can order it through the mail from Digging Dog Nursery and Fairweather Gardens.

Six Plants I Can’t Live Without Follow-Up

I hope all Grumpians enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) our recent Blogathon Across America, “The Six Plants I Can’t Live Without.” Thanks to all the other bloggers who participated — Pam (Digging), Judy (Diggin’ It), Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden), Helen (Gardening With Confidence), Frances (Fairegarden), Meems (Hoe and Shovel), Jim and Sharon (Fresh Dirt), and Carolyn (Sweet Home and Garden Chicago). Let’s do it again sometime — maybe on the six plants we wish we could grow?



  1. Susan DeGroote

    I have a gorgeous Chinese White Fringe Tree that was planted in 1988. It is a show stopper would love to share a photo. It’s as tall as our 2 story house. People ask about it all about it when it is in full bloom. Love that tree!

    April 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm
  2. Grumpy Gardener

    Thus, each of us has the makings of royalty. Just a second. OK, the king will see you now.

    May 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm
  3. Drew

    Well, a throne is a throne no matter who is sitting on it.

    May 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Whoops! The Grump stands corrected. I think this is the first time this has ever happened. Thanks, Drew. I wonder if they’ll auction off Fergie’s toilet seat too.

    April 30, 2009 at 7:42 am
  5. drew

    Camilla is D. of Cornwall. Fergie is D of York.

    April 29, 2009 at 9:39 am
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    I told you to start taking Ginkgo biloba!

    April 29, 2009 at 7:13 am
  7. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    You know, Grumps, it turns out I did have one. I planted it last year; I just forgot. As I was photographing peeking plants, there she was. The good news is, I remember actually planting a tree, and the other good news, I thought I was planting something else. Helen

    April 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener

    Just as long as the enormous crows don’t decide they prefer people.

    April 25, 2009 at 8:28 pm
  9. Barbara E (wildsuburbia)

    I have four Chinese fringe in my Southern California garden, and they are beautiful. The birds do love the berries, especially enormous crows.

    April 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Ummm…..what about it? Do you mean you wish you could grow it?

    April 24, 2009 at 2:50 pm
  11. chathamcorabbit

    What about the red fern?

    April 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm
  12. Vikki

    Yes, I’m kidding about coveting the mimosa. I did have one however, where the fringe tree now grows.

    April 23, 2009 at 8:06 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener

    I think Chinese fringetree would make a good bonsai if you started with a small one. Vikki, you have to be kidding about mimosa. Coveting mimosa is like coveting Camilla Parker-Bowles.

    April 23, 2009 at 3:40 pm
  14. Avis W.

    Wow, I’m from the south originally and am not at all familiar with the fringetree. It’s lovely… Maybe I can grow a bonsai version for my small balcony garden. Cheers!

    April 23, 2009 at 4:48 am
  15. Vikki

    Love it, love it, love it. Every yard should have one of these trees.
    I gave up the much coveted mimosa tree so I could have a place to plant this tree.
    Boo hoo right? Not.
    Yes Cameron, listen to DH and get the tree. It will thrive in your location.
    Steve, your photos are stunning!

    April 22, 2009 at 11:30 pm
  16. Molly

    A stunning tree. I don’t have room for one more tree! But if I did…

    April 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener

    Have you considered wrapping your magnolia in aluminum foil so it would be stuck by lightning?
    You should for once listen to your husband. Yes, you can plant it in full sun.

    April 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm
  18. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    My husband (really — HE wants this tree) has been after me for years to plant this tree. I just haven’t been able to find the right location for it. It deserves to be the center of attention when it is in bloom. Can I really put this in FULL SUN in my garden? I’m talking HOT sun!
    PS the blogathon was fun! Thanks.

    April 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm
  19. Lisa T

    I wish someone would make the giant, messy, grass-blocking, messy, mildewy, messy, magnolia in my backyard go away so I could plant fun trees like these.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:38 pm
  20. Grumpy Gardener

    Helen, you need one! Go get one right now!

    April 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm
  21. Grumpy Gardener

    It’s not great, but the leaves will turn a nice, soft yellow in late fall.

    April 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm
  22. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    I want one!

    April 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm
  23. Lisa T

    Does the Chinese Fringe Tree have any fall color?

    April 22, 2009 at 11:12 am

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