There was never a better time to celebrate Arbor Day than this year. The destruction of trees to clear land to build commercial stores and other business establishments continues in the Lowcountry.
It makes sense to plant a tree in your yard on Dec. 5 -- as a sort-of replacement for the many trees that have been lost this past year. The Hilton Head Island Garden Council is doing its part with the planting of a live oak (Quercus virginiana) on the grounds of Hilton Head Island High School. This native tree, a member of the beech family, often lives several hundred years, but seldom grows more than 50 feet in height. Its growth is wide-spreading branches and a short, massive trunk that can measure more than 4 feet in diameter.
Too large for your yard? How about a saucer magnolia? Magnolia x soulangeana is a small tree reaching 20- to 30-feet tall with branches spreading about as wide as the tree is tall. It grows slowly, but its gorgeous pinkish-purple flowers will bloom in just a few years after planting. It likes moist soil and full sun. If space is not a problem, you might want to plant a southern magnolia (Myristica grandifolia). Its growth is to 80 feet; it has many-petaled creamy-white flowers that are very fragrant.
A large part of the gardening population grows one or more fruit trees. The trees are often grown in tubs or large containers. When buying an orange, lemon, lime or kumquat tree, look for the word "subtropical." Grown on the back deck, an orange tree (Citrus sinensis), a Ponderosa lemon tree, a fig tree and a kumquat tree have grown and set fruit, despite near-freezing temperatures. With the exception of the fig, they are covered when a freeze is expected.
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Fruit trees are fun, but they do require care and feeding. The native trees once planted require little care and give us that warm glow you get when you've done something to replicate history. Beginning with the first Arbor Day celebration held in the early '80s, the Hilton Head Island Garden Council has planted scores of trees that are disappearing from Lowcounry forests and swamp lands. We've added loblolly-bays, Red Cedars, dogwoods, oaks, magnolias, yaupon holly and a golden rain tree. We asked plant grower and propagator Daniel Payne to tell us what trees we should plant that are important to our forests. He answered with: longleaf pine, pond pine, spruce pine and shortleaf pine -- those are the plants that have suffered from development the most.
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.