You’d think a small, native tree with pretty spring flowers and pretty fall foliage that’s easier-than-pie to grow would be a staple in our gardens. You’d be wrong. So let me tell you about fringe tree.
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) has always played twelfth fiddle to dogwood, saucer magnolia, flowering cherry, Bradford pear (yuck), and numerous others choices for spring-flowering trees. That’s just wacky. Indigenous to the eastern U.S., it grows from Canada all the way down to the Gulf Coast. It’s tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than stinky Bradford. And it’s beautiful.
Fringe tree gets its name from its clouds of fleecy white, softly fragrant flowers that hang from the branches in late spring and early summer. Other common names here in the South are grancy graybeard and old man’s beard. Trees can be either male or female. Males sport larger, showier blooms, but females form attractive, blackish-blue fruits that birds like. Nurseries don’t sell trees by sex, so you have to take your chances. But either sex is well worth planting.
Just the Facts
So now that Grumpy has convinced you that unless you plant a fringe tree this spring, you will be cast out of the Hoe & Trowel Society, let me provide you with the basics about this charming, native tree.
Size: 12 to 20 feet tall and wide
Shape: Rounded and usually multi-trunked
Light: Full to partial sun
Soil: Moist, fertile, well-drained
Water needs: Moderate, tolerates some drought
Fall foliage: Bright yellow
Hardiness zones: USDA Zones 3-9
Prune: Seldom needed; prune after flowering
Bonus fact: Tolerates air pollution; good for city gardens
Bonus bonus fact: One of the last trees to leaf out in spring
Where to Buy
Independent garden centers are your best bet to find fringe trees for sale. You can also buy them from mail-order nurseries, but of course the trees will be small. Here’s a list of Grumpy-Certified Mail-Order Suppliers.
2. Forest Farm