Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Fringetrees are an ideal size for the typical residential yard, so compact that they easily fit under utility wires. I feel this is definitely one of most beautiful flowering trees native to North America. While the White Fringetree is native to the southeast, their northern form has acclimated very well to the north since they were introduced way back in 1736. John Bartram offered them in his early plant catalog and they were among the many trees grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) is similar in many ways but is a native of China and Japan. Some feel that the Chinese Fringetree is even prettier in blossom than our native Fringetree. So take your pick.
Fringetrees are variable in shape, some shrubby, others lanky. Whether you grow it as a shrub or prune it into a tree, the Fringetree offers incredible blossoms with a wonderful fragrance in the late spring, reasonably good fall color, and in some cases attractive blue berries adored by the birds. Both species seem to be able to handle contemporary urban conditions as well. Fringetrees are attractive to a variety of insects while in bloom, and to birds and small mammals when fruiting. This tree is an asset to any home landscape.
Prune after the Fringetree blooms in the spring. Buds for next year’s flowers will be set later in the season and will be lost to fall pruning. Normally the Fringetree, when left alone will develop kind of round ball kind of shape with multiple trunks. The stems can be thinned out when the plant is young to encourage an attractive look. As the tree gets older it tends to spread out so some judicious pruning later in its life can keep it looking neat and tidy. However it can be trained in a small tree with one trunk and the lower branches removed. Either way the tree is beautiful when in bloom. Clip off suckering stems that seem to want to make it into a bush to establish a single trunk. For more information see the files on Pruning Shade and Flowering Trees and Choosing Pruning Tools
Fringetrees tolerate moderate drought but will look best if irrigated occasionally during extended summer drought. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce for the first year or two until the Fringetree is well-established. For information about tools see the file on Choosing Watering Equipment
When the tree has been in place for at least six months, sprinkle some granular slow-acting fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs on the mulch for the rain to soak in. For more information see the file on Fertilizing Trees and Choosing Fertilizers
Maintain a year round 2 or 3 inch layer of organic mulch over its root zone, but not against its trunk. This mulch will help the soil stay moist, discourage weeds and introduce valuable organic matter into the soil as it constantly decomposes. For more information see the file on Using Mulch.