Savvy northern gardeners know that winter is a gardening season and plants that enhance our long, snowy winters are a welcome addition to our landscape.
Evergreen foliage, colorful shrubby stems, berries and bark color are all attributes of plants that stand out in winter. Keep these features in mind when selecting new plants to add to your gardens, particularly the wood plants that form your garden’s structure.
I love trees that have bark that is an unusual color or texture. It makes the tree special. That is why I have been so taken with this newer birch tree selected in Canada.
Parkland Pillar™ birch was found as a sport of the variety Dakota Pinnacle® at Parkland Nurseries in Alberta, Canada, in 2006. After many years of testing, it has been brought to market and is a superior plant to Dakota Pinnacle. It was introduced by Jeffries Nurseries up near Winnipeg and is an extremely hardy tree. It tolerates USDA Zone 3 conditions well, so it works for all Minnesota gardeners.
Before I get to the lovely bark, it has some other very fine traits. First and foremost, it has a beautiful narrow, upright and dense habit. This is an almost pencil shaped tree and thus can fit into smaller space gardens. If you need a vertical accent, but live on a small city lot, this tree is for you. It can be used as a single specimen or plant several as a hedge or screen. It reaches a height of up to 40 feet but only spreads to 6 to 7 feet wide.
The foliage is a rich dark green and turns a beautiful shade of bright yellow in autumn. It is fast growing and has few insect pests. Be warned: It is not resistant to bronze birch borer. Because of that, you must plant Parkland Pillar where it will be taken care of properly – perhaps receiving a some shade or relief from the hot afternoon sun, and getting plenty of even soil moisture. Lack of stress is the best way to keep the borer from your birch trees. Once established, Parkland Pillar is drought and heat tolerant. And, it can handle alkaline soils very well.
Betula platyphylla is commonly called Japanese white birch, and it is that white bark color that will be a standout in the winter landscape. Very young trees that you see in the garden center will have some brownish tones to the bark, but once you get a tree planted in your yard and it starts to grow to a decent size, you will see the bark color turn a lovely shade of white with a bit of peeling that adds texture and character.
This tree is propagated in the tissue culture lab, so each tree is identical genetically. You’ll find it in containers at most local garden centers, from small 2 gallon pot sizes up to large 10 and 25 gallon trees. It has been on the market about four years now and is readily available.
Debbie Lonnee works in the horticultural industry and gardens in South St. Paul.