by Janet Macunovich / Photos by Steven Nikkila
It doesn’t take long to seek second or even third opinions before you place a new plant. Try it this year. Here’s what happened when I checked some trusted, respected sources to learn about two plants’ size and growth rate.
Considering: Upright yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’)
Textbook A: 20 feet in 15-20 years
Textbook B: 8-9 feet in 20 years
Mail order catalog: 4 feet in 10 years; growth rate 1-6 inches per year
Garden Center A: 6-8 feet tall x 3-4 feet wide, growth rate 4-8 inches per year
Garden Center B: 10-12 feet x 5-7 feet
Garden Center C: 12 feet in 10 years; mature height 20 feet; fast-growing
Botanical Garden: 12-20 feet tall x 8-12 feet wide
My own Hicks yews: 12 feet tall x 6 feet wide in 16 years, grew 8 inches in 2011
One of the trusted sources we checked when looking into the Hicks yew’s vital stats was our own hedge. We planted these Hicks yews in 1995. They were then just 36 inches tall. 16 years later their tops are level with the 12-foot pole pruner in my hand.
Left: Even if we couldn’t see the shrubs themselves, we could read a lot from just a branch. The current year’s growth begins at the whorl of side branches, and has green twigs because it has not yet developed wood. Do you see the scaly bark developing on last year’s wood, below the whorl, in the lower part of the photo? Right: That’s 8 inches of growth this year, less than the average they’ve established in this site, but still significantly more than the rate some sources told us to expect.
Considering: Tricolor beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Roseomarginata’)
Textbook A: 9-12 feet in 10 years; full size 30 feet tall x 20 feet wide
Textbook B: 20 feet in 25 years; full size 70 feet
Mail order catalog: 5 feet in first 10 years; 6-12 inches per year
Garden Center A: 6-12 inches per year; 40-50 feet tall x 30 feet wide
Garden Center B: 30 feet x 20 feet; slow
Garden Center C: 15 feet in 10-15 years; mature height 50 feet
Botanical Garden: 20-30 feet tall x 10-20 feet wide
My own tricolor beech: 20 feet in 18 years, grew 15 inches in 2011
Left: We can let plants tell us exactly what they’re capable of, in a given site. It’s there in the growth rate of a branch. See the series of close-set creases that ring this tricolor beech twig? They formed where growth terminated last year, and began again this spring. Measure from that “terminal bud scar” to the branch tip, to discover the annual growth rate…which is just about 15 inches on this (center) branch. Right: On many woody plants, including beech, the terminal bud scars that mark cessation of growth each year remain visible for many years. Notice that the scar is not the only line. Changes in the bark can reveal the line between one year’s growth and the next. In beech, the bark is thicker and less red on the older wood, in the lower part of the photo.
This is six years’ growth on the tricolor beech growing in my own garden. I was able to read backward, and see that this branch grew 76 inches in six years. That’s an average of 13 inches per year. Overall, the tree tells the same tale. It was 6 feet tall when planted and after 18 years is over 25 feet tall.