Q: For a housewarming present, my wife and I got a gift certificate from a nursery to buy the first tree we’d plant at the new house! I want a mulberry tree. There was one at the house where I grew up, and it was great for climbing and made really good shade. My wife wants to find a more decorative type of tree and has fallen in love with a tree called a redbud. I haven’t found a mulberry yet, but did see a tree called a purple robe locust that has big purple flowers in the shape of grape clusters that I like. Where can we find a mulberry tree, and of the other two are there pros and cons? – H.U.P., West Side
A: I have bad news for you about the mulberry tree. Planting a mulberry could get you in a bit of hot water legally as they were part of a city ordinance that banned several trees and a few shrubs in order to lessen the pollen counts in the city. Yeah, you’re right that a mature mulberry is a good climbing tree, but they make gobs of pollen, so here in the city, you shouldn’t plant a mulberry. Sorry.
I can tell you about the other two trees you’ve seen and perhaps then you both can decide which tree will grace your new home. First, both trees you are considering grow well here, so that helps.
The purple robe locust is classified as a fast-growing tree and is “well adapted to growing in hot, dry regions,” but that doesn’t mean it is a water-saving tree. That means the locust can deal with the temperatures, the wind, the harsh soil and a lot of sun and still grow!
The locust does have a dark side, though. When you saw the locust, did you notice the thorns? Yes, they can bite! Locusts are notoriously brittle wooded creatures, too. Meaning, they can easily snap apart if the wind tugs at them the wrong way or if there is too heavy a snow load on them. Locust trees tend to sucker freely, too. The biggest drawback: bugs. There are borers that love them and sometimes aphids think they are delicious. Locusts are sometimes difficult trees to have.
As for the redbuds, they are one of my favorite trees. In the spring before the leaves unfurl, the redbud is covered with delicate sweet, pea-shaped flowers that hug the bark. Then as the blossoms fade, the heart shaped leaves pop out! The western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) leaves are sort of blue-green colored during the growing season then turn cheerful yellow-red in the autumn. After leaf drop in the winter, the bark has a marvelous gray-red color to it, making the redbud a tree for all seasons.
Drawbacks for the redbud? They do create a seed pod that’ll mean more raking up after and keeping tidy. They will not deal with drought or shallow watering at all! They prefer consistency to perform their best. I wouldn’t consider the redbud a good climbing tree either. But the tree is so pretty and for the most part pest free.
Now that you know a bit more about the trees that are speaking to you, I’m sure you both can pick a beautiful first tree – why not both? – for your new home. Know, too, there are a lot of other trees out there. Maybe you haven’t found the perfect one yet! Happy Digging In.
Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.