First flowering fruit tree blossom of the year
In addition to the recent parade of snowmen characters throughout Columbia, one of the most delightful visual surprises was the spray of deep pink miniature rose–like blossoms of the rounded crowns of Japanese flowering apricots. Prunus mume is a show stopper of the late–winter early spring garden.
The ornamental flowering fruit tree is native to Japan where families take annual pilgrimages to view the opening blossoms. In China, the tree is one of the Three Friends of Winter along with bamboo and pines.
In the United States, the late J.C. Raulston, horticulture professor at North Carolina State University, brought the landscape specimen to the attention of gardeners and horticulturists in 1970. The JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh displays this countries largest collection of cultivars.
There are many outstanding characteristics to endear the tree to a Midlands garden. Early and fragrant single or double flowers of white, pink, or red appear ahead of dark green oval leaves. The frost tolerant blossom bud has staggered dormancy allowing for a prolonged time for blossoms and fragrance.
The tree grows rapidly in full sun to achieve a mature height of 20 feet. It adapts to many soil textures and prefers an acidic pH. Generally, the tree is free of major pests and diseases.
The petite tree fits a small garden or makes a stunning accent in a larger landscape. It may be trained as an espalier on a south facing wall or fence. Annual pruning after flowering keeps growth in shape and promotes heavier bloom.
Municipalities recruit the tree for use in median strips along highways and in buffer zones in parking lots. Its short stature fits safely under utility lines. It’s a people pleaser along bike and jogging trails.
The Japanese flowering apricot is easily rooted from softwood cuttings in early summer. Seeds require cold, moist stratification for germination. Local garden centers carry sporadic shipments of the tree. Reliable sources for online ordering include Ty Ty nursery in Georgia and Woodlanders in Aiken.
On a winter outing, no flowering plant warms the heart more than the Japanese flowering apricot, first flowering fruit tree blossom of the year.