What I learned in Gardening School, Part I

Bridge @ Will Rogers Park
The ponds at Will Rogers park

Last Saturday, I attended the Myriad Botanical Garden’s Oklahoma Garden School. This is not a photo of of the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Unbelievably, I don’t have any. It is in Will Rogers Park where I attend most of my garden club meetings in a small, oddly-shaped, early 60s style building that I’m sure was all the rage during that quirky architectural time. I only see this view when I escape.

Since you couldn’t come to school with me, I thought I would post this lovely photo I took of the duck pond in June 2007, while sharing a few things I learned. Anytime I bore you, just look back up at the photo and say “aah . . . .”

The first session was on “New Trees for Oklahoma Landscapes” by Jim Ord, of J. Frank Schmidt and Son Nursery, a wholesale nursery in Oregon, which supplies young trees to Oklahoma nurseries. All of the remaining photos in the post are owned by and shown courtesy of these nice folks. Tree sources in Oklahoma are linked at the bottom.

Jim Ord is a tree expert, and he’s on a mission to help us select the best new varieties for our climate, while he teaches us a few things:

  • Be realistic about the trees you buy and plant. In Oklahoma, Jim said we garden with “. . . ice, wind, drought, heat and pestilence.” Therefore, you should look for trees which are heat resistant and can handle ice and wind load, but trees are living things. If you’re lucky, they mature, grow old, and die.

Autumn Fantasy® maple (Acer x freemani ‘D TR 102’) is a new variety he recommended for its vigor and red fall color. The photo he showed made me swoon.

  • Pick the right tree for the right spot. Expect trees in Oklahoma to reach 70% of the height listed in catalogs. Don’t plant the trees near power lines. He thinks tree topping is just wrong, and I agree with him.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) makes a small tree and has peeling, cinnamon-colored bark.

  • Planting Depth is a major issue. Don’t plant them too deep or too shallow. Use the soil level in the container as a guide.
  • Plant trees that have shiny, waxy leaves like the ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora). They perspire less and are more heat resistant. Serviceberry trees are native to Oklahoma, and Jim told an interesting story about its name. When pioneers came across the plains, if one of their family members died, the ground was frozen too solid to bury them, so they waited until the spring. Serviceberry trees are among the earliest to flower, and the pioneers knew that once they flowered, they could bury their dead; hence the name. The fruit of the Servicberry is edible and high in antioxidants.
  • Tree maintenance is important. With most trees, other than those which grow in a urn shape, you need to allow a central leader. He noted that many of the trees devastated by our ice storm were not correctly pruned and were top heavy. Top heavy trees are also more susceptible to wind damage.

Some of the trees he suggested for our climate are as follows:

Pacific Sunset® maple (Acer trun. x Acer plat. ‘Warrenred’): smaller accent piece; not much ice damage.

American Smoketree (Cotinus abovatus): Good, tough tree.

Urbanite Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Urbanite’): Great for Oklahoma. Tough hardwood, drought and heat resistant.

Closeup of Royal Raindrops Blooms
Malus Royal Raindrops®

Coralburst Crabapple (Malus ‘Coralcole’,) Golden Raindrops® Crabapple (Malus transitoria ‘Schmidtcutleaf’,) and Royal RainDrops® Crabapple (Malus ‘KWS’ Royal Raindrops) were just some of the crabapple varieties he discussed. This photo is a closeup of Royal Raindrops®. He said that, in Oklahoma, we shouldn’t plant cherry trees as they couldn’t take the heat after a couple of seasons. He assured us that the new crabapples have small, persistent fruit. Persistent means that the fruit remains on the tree for most of the season. Birds are very attracted to the fruit and will consume most of it. I made a note on my paper that I wanted Royal Raindrops®. I underlined it three times, so I guess I meant it. Part of what probably swayed me was its bloom color; its leaf color, a dark purple; and that it can be single or multi-stemmed and could be used in place of river birch.

For the trees that grow quickly, Jim suggested a couple, but pointed out that slower growing trees often receive less weather damage.

Emerald Sunshine Elm
Emerald Sunshine Elm®

Emerald Sunshine® Elm (Ulmus propinqua ‘Emerald Sunshine’) is a new elm tree selected by Sunshine Nursery owner Steve Bieberich, out of Clinton, Oklahoma. Emerald Sunshine® is also resistant to Elm Leaf Beetle.

Frontier Elm (Ulmus ‘Frontier’) grows with a central leader and gets red fall color.

Cascade Falls Weeping Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum ‘Cascade Falls’) is a fast grower.

Tree Sources:

TLC Nursery, has two locations on Memorial Road and Northwest Expressway;

Marcum’s Nursery, in Norman, Oklahoma;

Sooner Plant Farm, is located in the community of Keys, approximately 70 miles east of Tulsa Oklahoma on Hwy. 82 S, but they also have a large mail order business; and

Garden House, in Enid. Garden House does not appear to have a website at this time.


  1. Nancy Buley says:

    Dee, Great report! Thanks so much for sharing Jim’s tree talk with your readership. It’s such a thrill for us tree growers out in Oregon to meet Oklahoma gardeners who share their stories and experiences on your website. Red Dirt Ramblings is a fun site and now I’m hooked. By the way, last year I planted a line of Royal Raindrops Crabapples down my driveway (a dozen or so), and they are spectacular. I will send a photo when they bloom in a couple of weeks.

    Your friend in trees,

    Nancy Buley/Marketing
    J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
    Boring, OR 97009

    Gee, Nancy, thank you. I really learned a lot from Jim’s talk. I’m glad you like the site. I bet your driveway looks extraordinary. I plan to put three Royal Raindrops along my split rail fence line. I’ll show a photo when I do.~~Dee

  2. Dollybelle says:


    I would love a Royal Raindrop Crabapple too. We have 2 drab colored crabapples that I would love to replace with something with a bright happy color like Royal Raindrop. Wouldn’t a whole tree of that knock your socks off! (Sorry my first post looked so weird cause it was my first one ever and there was some advertising to the side and now it’s gone. I think I’ve got the hang of it now.)

    Laurie, thanks for commenting. Perhaps we’ll both purchase a RRC. I’d like a row of them down my fence line.~~Dee

  3. Anna says:

    That was a great article and well written. Some of the trees you listed are on my must have list for my new home. The Yoshino Cheery is on my list cause it is so hardy here and lived perfectly through our drought this summer. I do have to wrap it’s trunk in the winter. I want to look up that crabapple you mentioned. If you have time, could you email me that list. Our climate is not so different than yours. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Thanks, Anna, you’re too kind. I’ll try to scan the list in and send it to you tomorrow.~~Dee

  4. Cath says:

    Hi Dee, thankyou so much for your beautiful description of the robins springtime behaviour. I have passed your bloglink onto my Mum who loves robins for the memories she has of her childhood in England. (We’re in Australia). It’s just lovely to read your story of listening to the advice from the tree nurseryperson for your area. So different from our requirements here!

    Hi Cath, Thank you for stopping by my blog. I love robins too. They tell us that winter will soon be over, don’t they. Oh yes, your requirements are so very different than ours. You should be going into fall about now, right?~~Dee

  5. Curtis says:

    That crabapple tree sounds really good. Thanks for sharing the class with us Dee.

    You’re quite welcome. I intend to do a post on Proven Winners too. I may do the crabapple. I’m still undecided.~~Dee

  6. Yes, the newer Crabapples have persistent fruit – that is, if you don’t have more persistent squirrels! Good tree advice, especially about planting by powerlines. My only caveat is with the planting advice. I would not rely on the soil level of the container to determine planting depth. Sometimes there’s too much soil in the container & a tree can end up being planted too deeply. A better measure is to find the root flare & plant the tree with the root flare slightly above soil level.

    MMD, good point about the root flare. That is the best guide. I don’t think I would mind the squirrels getting the fruit instead of it dropping on the ground, thus making a mess.~~Dee

  7. Worx says:

    “Plant trees that have shiny, waxy leaves”. Thats a great pointer. I’ve always been planting trees and expecting them to take root without doing the preparation in advance. Thanks for the good pointer.

    Worx, as soon as he said it, I thought, of course. Up until then, I never thought about it at all. Thanks for stopping by.~~Dee

  8. David says:

    “ahhh . . . . .”

    Great report!


  9. deb says:

    Sounds like a good class. I took the landscape design course at A&M. Our tree guy didn’t show up. Rat.

    That’s the pits. I hate it when speakers don’t show up.~~Dee

  10. Frances says:

    Dee, I am envious of your class. Those crabapples are gorgeous and it sounds like you picked the best one. Lucky you to have learned about the right trees for your area.

    Frances at Faire Garden

    Frances, I’ve got to think of a place to put it. I think outside my bedroom window would be nice.~~Dee

  11. Martha/All the Dirt on Gardening says:

    Hi Dee –
    Glad you got to go to the OK Gardening School. I had a great time there last year and was sorry to miss it.
    Thanks so much for posting the tree recommendations for those of us who couldn’t go.
    It’s going down to 16 this week. Yikes our poor daffodils are blooming and will get their heads frozen off.
    I put in Brussels Sprouts and broccoli starts after you mentioned them on your blog – did you get yours planted?

    Hi Martha, I tried to plant some seeds today, but when it started snowing on me, and my hands were freezing through the gloves, I thought to heck with it. I came back inside and wrote a post instead. Don’t freeze in your part of the state.~~Dee

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