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Top 5 Hardy Magnolia Trees for Iowa

Magnolia trees are not something that many people associate with Iowa. Most commonly, magnolia is associated with the Deep South, where they grow abundantly and perfume the air with their large, fragrant, tulip-like flowers. 

While it’s true that we can’t grow all the varieties that thrive in the warmer climates of the South, there are actually many hardy varieties that will grow and thrive right here in the heartland. There are easily 40-50 different cultivars that are suited to our local climate here in central Iowa. The range of flower colors available is actually quite broad, too, from white to yellow to a whole spectrum of pinks. 

Magnolias are an absolute show-stopper when they’re in full bloom in the spring. Often, the trees will be covered entirely in blossoms without a single leaf in sight, filling the air with their unique citrusy scent. 

There are so many varieties of magnolia available that there’s one for almost every setting, climate, and desired bloom time. There are very tall and very short varieties and some that bloom as early as March or as late as June, in so many different colors. While most of them enjoy lots of sunlight, there are even a few magnolias that will do well in a shady spot. 

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Hardy Magnolias For Iowa

One of the common historical problems with magnolia in the midwest has been that they’d often get hit with a late spring frost during critical blooming periods, and their blossoms would not be hardy enough to withstand the freezing temperatures. Luckily, there’s been lots of research and development put into magnolia breeding. Over time, many later-blooming varieties have been bred to avoid those late spring frosts we often get. 

Here are our top five hardy magnolia trees for your Iowa yard or garden.

Royal Star Magnolia is a fairly compact magnolia that can be pruned as a shrub or tree. It can grow up to a height of 20′ tall and up to 15′ wide. It features large-yet-dainty 6″ bright white double blooms that open to release their sweet fragrance in March. Royal Star performs best in a full to part sun location. This cultivar is a brilliant addition to moonlight or white-themed gardens. 

Ann Magnolia is another compact variety, maxing out at 15′ tall and 12′ wide. It features gorgeous blossoms, with petals that are dark reddish-pink on the outside and pale pink to white on the inside. They open in April and get to be 4-6″ across. Ann magnolia likes full to part sun.

Butterflies Magnolia is considered one of the finest yellow magnolias. It is a medium-sized tree reaching up to 30′ tall to 15′ wide. The blooms of Butterflies magnolia are a beautiful canary yellow with a rich lemony fragrance. They open in April and are about 4-6″ across. Butterflies magnolia likes sunlight, but it can also tolerate a fair bit of shade compared to other varieties. 

Umbrella Magnolia is a medium-sized tree growing up to 20′ tall and 15′ wide. It features very large, creamy-white flowers with huge tropical-looking leaves. It is not as fragrant as other varieties, but its blossoms are exceptionally showy. Its 6-10″ blooms burst to life in May or June. Umbrella magnolia will do well in the shade; it’s native to North America and grows commonly in the understory of the Appalachian Mountains.  

Black Tulip Magnolia is a smaller tree reaching 15′ tall and 12′ wide. It features the darkest magnolia flowers of the bunch, with deep burgundy-red blooms that open in April. Black Tulip magnolia will do best in a full sun location.

There’s nothing like the drama of a magnolia tree in bloom to celebrate the season of spring. If you’d like to consider adding a beautiful magnolia to your yard, stop by our garden center today. We can help you select the perfect variety for your yard. 

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The Best Backyard Plants to Provide Food for Birds in Iowa

Setting up a feeding station and water source for birds in our gardens goes a long way toward helping them flourish. However, there’s even more you can do that requires even less long-term effort. Planting a variety of plants that produce seeds and berries for Iowa birds is a great way to support the local ecosystem. There’s a wide variety of plants that produce berries and seeds that birds love to eat. These types of plants support avian populations all throughout the year.

So what are the best bird-friendly garden plants in Iowa? Generally speaking, the best plants to support bird populations are native plants. Different birds like different types of plants, so its important to grow a mix of native trees, shrubs, and grasses. Birds also prefer sheltered food sources, so plants for birds should be planted where they’ll be a bit protected from the wind by other plants or structures in your yard.

Landscaping for Backyard Birds

Wide-open patches of trimmed grass have no value for birds, so consider giving up some of your lawn to grow more shrubs and garden beds. The best thing about landscaping for birds is that the best plants for them are plants that are native to Iowa. Native plants are, by definition, adapted to our climate and require very little maintenance, and next to no watering once established. Growing a dense shelterbelt, or a few large evergreens, that protect your yard from prevailing winds gives birds a place to rest and take shelter in storms and bad weather. Planting should include a wide variety of heights and shelter for different types of birds.

Here are some of the best bird-friendly plants for our backyards in Iowa.

Pagoda Dogwood produces a navy-blue berry. This tree is popular with woodpeckers, nuthatches, orioles, mockingbirds, sparrows, warblers, vireos, and thrushes.

American Basswood tree, or Linden, is popular with a wide variety of birds. It’s popular with insects, which are a primary food source for many birds. It also produces a small nut-like fruit that birds like. Woodpeckers and Baltimore orioles like to nest in these trees.

Black Raspberry is popular not only as a food source for birds but also as a source of nesting material for native bees. 

Blue Grama is a perennial grass that grows in bunches. It is popular with birds that eat seeds, like nuthatches, finches, sparrows, chickadees, and cardinals.

Goldenrod is popular with a variety of insects and is also a favorite of insectivorous birds like warblers, woodpeckers, swallows, and wrens.

Chokecherry is another shrub that grows food for not just birds, but other small critters as well. 

Buttonbush is a pretty shrub that produces a small button-like berry. The blossoms and berries attract a variety of birds and pollinators.

Common sunflowers are an excellent easy-to-grow source of food for birds. In the fall, you can leave sunflowers standing as they are for the birds, or you can cut them down and prop up the seed heads near the shrubs and trees where birds like to hang out.

Little Bluestem is a beautiful ornamental grass that produces white seed-heads that birds love. 

Prairie Dropseed grass is another attractive ornamental grass that grows seed heads that attract birds.

Juniper berries are also popular with many different types of birds. The pale-blue berries contrast beautifully with the brilliant green foliage. 

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Planting your yard with trees, shrubs, and plants that are popular with birds is an excellent way to increase the biodiversity in your backyard. A garden full of native plants and shrubs supports the wildlife in our region and offers essential support for declining bird populations across the continent. Ready to make your yard and garden into a bird haven? Stop by our garden center today to discover more trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers that your backyard birds will love!

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The Best Colorful Trees and Shrubs for an Attractive Winter Garden

Sometimes it seems like winter in our gardens is very monotone: grey leafless trees and white snow, with a few evergreens here and there. But there are actually quite a variety of hardy trees and shrubs that can add pops of color, shape, and texture to give our gardens a beautiful aesthetic, all year long.

We’ve got plenty of ideas on how to make your garden just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer. Here are just a few of the best trees, shrubs, and grasses for winter interest in Iowa.

Trees

Trees are an excellent addition to your garden for many reasons, not just because they’re beautiful. Trees increase property values, reduce noise, clean our air, and help lower our utility costs by shading our homes. These trees offer all of these benefits while giving your landscape four-season color.

Colorado Blue Spruce features bright blue needles on gracefully drooping branches that look beautiful under the snow. It can be trained for upright growth or a spreading groundcover form. The steely blue color is striking in winter.

White Pine features long silky-smooth needles. It looks a little fuzzy from a distance, which makes it look very cozy under snow in the winter. It is a beautiful shade tree in a brilliant warm green.

Norway Spruce is a durable evergreen with a uniform cone shape. The needles mature to a rich deep green for the winter.

Trembling Aspen is a North American deciduous native. It features striking white bark, the beauty of which is revealed when it has lost its leaves. It’s brilliant white contrasts beautifully with rich blue winter skies or evergreen backdrops.

As River Birch matures, it develops richly colored peeling bark in shades of white, brown, and golden-yellow. The unique bark adds visual texture and color interest in winter.

Red Jewel Crabapple is a small ornamental crabapple. It’s spring blooms are beautiful, but it provides beautiful color all the way through the year with brilliant red fruit that hangs on all through the winter. The fruit is a spectacular pop of color, and the Cedar Waxwings arriving next spring will appreciate them as well.

Shrubs

Shrubs add texture, height variation, and depth to your yard, drawing the viewer’s eye through the landscape. They also provide shelter and safety for our important native Iowa birds and critters.

Japanese Garden Juniper is a spreading groundcover juniper. It features bluish-green foliage that turns a purplish-blue in winter.

Montgomery Blue Spruce is a mounded shrub that resembles a short, plump Christmas tree at maturity. Its silvery-blue foliage looks beautiful under snow in the winter.

Green Velvet Boxwood is a mounding broadleaf evergreen that can be pruned into any shape you like, from a clean and uniform hedge to a unique topiary shape. Its leaves maintain a brilliant green through winter, and a totally unique texture compared to other needle-type evergreens.

PJM Rhododendron is another broadleaf evergreen. The leaves turn a dark purple-red in the fall. The dark leaves really stand out against a backdrop of white snow.

Ivory Halo Dogwood forms a rounded mound and has four-season interest. It has showy variegated foliage during the growing season, creamy white flowers and berries in the spring, and eye-catching bright red branches in the winter.

Little Lime Hydrangea is a deciduous shrub, but the blossoms will dry on the stems and last all winter. The conical flower heads and branches fade to rich golden brown and add unique shapes to the garden.

Technically Forsythia is a spring-blooming shrub. But it’s so early in the year, sometimes the very first thing to bloom, that it can still feel like winter when its bright yellow flowers burst into bloom.

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Grasses

Shrubs add texture, height variation, and depth to your yard, drawing the viewer’s eye through the landscape. They also provide shelter and safety for our important native Iowa birds and critters.

Grasses add a completely different look and feel to our yards in winter. Their tall wispy fronds add structure and drama against a snowy backdrop. Their golden yellow color contrasts beautifully with evergreens and snow.

Karl Foerster Reed Grass grows in clumps and up to five feet tall and features a fine delicate texture. A row of delicate golden-tan clumps adds texture and definition in winter.

Purple Fountain Grass grows up to four feet tall and features thick bottle-brush seed heads, and rich reddish-purple color all winter long. The gracefully arching seed heads and foliage are beautiful against snow.

Northwind Switch Grass grows up to five feet tall and turns a brilliant coppery-bronze in winter. It’s rigid upright form, and brick red seed heads are strikingly beautiful.

If you’re finding your yard a little lackluster to look at this winter, come visit our garden center in the spring. Pick out some gorgeous new trees, shrubs, and grasses to fill your yard with vibrant color next year.

Please note: we are currently closed for the season. We will be open on the weekends of January 24-26, and February 7-9 and then we will officially reopen for the season on March 23, 2020. Stay informed – sign up for our newsletter. We can’t wait to see you next year!

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Seasonal Needle Drop

Evergreen Seasonal Teds Gardens Des Moines Iowa

We like to imagine that our evergreens will stay green forever, but that’s sometimes not the case. While your tree isn’t likely to go entirely bald in preparation for our chilly Des Moines winter like deciduous trees do, it isn’t unlikely to see a few needles shed to make room for new ones, especially in the fall. 

Any time your evergreen starts to turn a shade of yellow or brown, we’re quick to be concerned— there are several diseases, pests, and illnesses that could be affecting your tree. If you are noticing discoloration and needle drop, pay close attention to your tree. If the needles are mostly yellowing and dropping from the older branches closer to the trunk, then it is likely to be normal seasonal needle drop, also known as fall needle drop, and it is a natural part of your tree’s life cycle.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Seasonal Needle Drop
Sometimes needle drop occurs so slowly that the aesthetic of your tree and landscape is never compromised, and you won’t even notice the exchange of older needles to newer. Needle drop is most noticeable when several of your trees start to lose needles at the same time– as a seasonal process, this isn’t unheard of. As a natural part of the life cycle, there isn’t much that you can do to fight it, and you’ll have to tolerate the yellowed (or reddish-brown) appearance of your trees for a few weeks to months. 

Throughout normal seasonal needle drop, you may notice color changes on the inner areas of your evergreen, and some bareness with needles carpeting the landscape under and around the tree, all before new needles emerge to take the place of the old.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

When Yellowing Needles Are a Sign of Trouble
Not all yellowing needles are a sign of seasonal drop, and knowing the difference can help to alleviate your concerns or direct you towards taking proper care for your evergreen. 

Yellowing early in the season or the yellowing on newer growth might be a cause of concern. Look for other causes like drought, pests (such as spider mites), or other symptoms in the needles, bark, or roots that could point to an alternative cause for the needles to be dropping out of season. Normal seasonal needle drop happens across the whole tree in the fall, so if you see yellowing in isolated parts of the tree, or discoloration starting in one area and spreading, it could be a sign of distress. If in doubt, our experts are willing to help diagnose tree issues if you have concerns.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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Evergreen Trees Prone to Seasonal Needle Drop

Not every cone-bearing tree or shrub is an evergreen, and different evergreens may drop their needles at different rates. Some deciduous conifers that grow in Des Moines, such as bald cypress, dawn redwood, larch, and tamarack, seasonally drop all of their needles in preparation for the fall, so yellowing and dramatic needle loss can be expected. 

For evergreens, each species has its own life cycle. Pine trees can be expected to shed every two to five years, while spruce might only shed every five to seven. Others, like the Eastern white pine, tend to have a dramatic shed every two or three years, dropping an entire year or two of needles at once before winter. You might have a sparse looking tree, but it’ll recover in the spring. The Austrian pine and Scotch pines are on the other end of the spectrum, easily covering the loss of their needles so that their seasonal needle drop is barely perceptible. 

It can be alarming to discover your evergreen, a stand-out star in many yards here in Des Moines, is dropping needles and looking sickly in the fall when you expect it to be green all year. Keep an eye out for the telltale signs of seasonal needle drop to explain the loss in needle coverage, or possibly for signs of illness that might be affecting your tree. With seasonal needle drop, it’s all part of a natural cycle intended to have your tree looking fresh and full again in the spring.

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Creating Shade

It’s no accident that many of us wistfully imagine a shady sanctuary, relaxing under the leafy boughs of a tree. The image of a perfect afternoon spent under the cool shadow of a tree has been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries. We can’t deny that there’s something nostalgic about letting our minds drift off underneath a beautiful shady tree – and what better location than from the convenient security of your own backyard?

When you think of creating your own backyard oasis, you aren’t limited to giant trees with decades of growth. There are some fantastic options that provide the shade and elegance that you want, some of which can fit into the corners of even the smallest suburban lots. Here are some of our favorites that you might have seen in your neighbors’ yards:

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

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Best Large Shade Trees for Iowa (over 30 ft tall and wide)

Ted’s Pick: Swamp White Oak

Tall, mature trees are destined to become landmarks in the neighborhood. Thanks to its faster rate of growth (compared to other oaks), Swamp White Oak reaches its mature height sooner, bathing everything around it in cool shade. 

Swamp White Oak is also well-suited to the landscape because of its high tolerance for urban soils. It’s tough, and yet also ruggedly handsome. The thick, straight trunk has attractive peeling, flat-ridged bark. Its leaves spend the spring and summer with dark green surfaces and white, fuzzy undersides. In the fall, the color matures into lovely shades of yellow and golden brown.

Other large shade trees to try:

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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Best Medium-Sized Shade Trees (around 30 ft tall)

Ted’s Pick: Hot Wings Tartarian Maple 

It’s hard to beat a maple when it comes to fall color. What sets Hot Wings apart is the presence of red tones before the fall begins. During the summer, the branches bear clusters of bright red samaras that look almost like fruit or flowers against the brilliant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves take on a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow tones.

A fast-growing specimen, Hot Wings Tartarian Maple grows “out” as much as it grows tall, which gives it an attractive rounded habit at maturity. On top of offering plenty of shade and color, this maple is also very cold-hardy and has no trouble surviving a Des Moines winter.

Other medium shade trees to try:

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fiddle-leaf fig plant

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Best Compact Shade Trees for Patio Areas or Corners of Home (under 30 ft)

Ted’s Pick: Serviceberry

There’s so much to love about serviceberry trees. Not only are they wonderful choices for adding three-season interest, they produce delicious edible berries similar in color and flavor to blueberries. The Autumn Brilliance cultivar is especially beautiful, with its intense orange-red fall foliage.

In the early spring, the serviceberry blooms profusely with crisp white flowers. As spring fades into summer and the flowers are replaced with berries, you’ll notice your yard becoming a lot more popular with the local birds!

Serviceberries are medium growers, which allows them to look well-established after a few years while remaining compact.

Other compact shade trees to try:

These trees are great options for people looking to create shade in their backyard landscape. They provide a relaxing respite for you and your plants, soaking up the sun in any area where you’d rather not. Provided a little bit of space, some good soil, and simple regular upkeep, even a modest tree can be a practical addition to your backyard that gives back year after year. 

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Proper Tree Planting in Iowa

green leaves on a tree branch

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Proper Tree Planting in Iowa

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“I feel a great regard for trees; they represent age and beauty and the miracles of life and growth.”
– Louise Dickinson Rich

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Some gardeners are intimidated by the idea of planting a tree in their yard. While it can seem like a big project, planting trees is actually quite simple, and a great investment in a living legacy that will continue to grow in your yard and with your family for years to come. Trees are the ultimate statement-maker in outdoor decor, providing a number of benefits to your yard and home, while providing a dramatic, stately look that will endure the seasons and years.

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When to Plant :

The best time to consider adding a new tree are the temperate seasons of spring and fall. With autumn fast approaching, we’re getting close to tree-planting season, making this the ideal time to start planning for your new addition. Back-to-school season is full of new beginnings, why not start your property with a gorgeous upgrade, too?

Trees can manage in our mid-summer heat waves, but they truly thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. Planting when it’s cool gives your tree all the low-stress weather it needs to get established before the mercury drops further.

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Steps to Planting a Tree :

Planting isn’t complicated, but approaching it with the right steps is a sure way to succeed. If you’re nervous about taking the project on yourself, though, our landscaping teams are always happy to help make your property dreams come true. For the do-it-yourself crowd, follow these simple steps to get your yard looking perfect with the ultimate classy upgrade.

1. Getting your yard ready:

You’ll want to plant your tree as soon as you get it home, so preparing your planting area beforehand saves time and will have your tree looking its best sooner. If you can’t plant right away, you’ll want to make sure the tree is shaded and that the root ball stays moist until you do plant.

2. Pick the perfect location:

Choosing a spot for your tree is a compromise between your tree’s needs and your aesthetic vision. Match your location to the needs of your tree so it will get the moisture and light it craves – and make sure you plan for your tree to grow over the years, too.

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3. Dig in:

Your house relies on an amazing foundation to stand the test of time and your tree does, too. Start your tree right with a good hole and you’ll be sure to have a healthy and vibrant addition to your home. Dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball, making sure that you’re planting in good soil. If by chance the hole is dug out deeper than the root ball, make sure to add more dirt to the correct level and tamp or pack down the dirt. This will ensure the tree does not sink past the existing soil level. If your dirt isn’t up to the standard, add some black earth, compost, and peat moss to help it get established. If your yard doesn’t have ample soil on top of a largely useless layer of clay or rock, just dig the hole for your tree wider to give it the space it craves to perform its best.

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4. Planting for a good start:

Once you’ve planted, water generously to help the roots get established as quick as possible. Water near the edge of the root ball and be sure to pack the dirt down as you water. This will help to remove any air pockets that are near the root ball. A sufficient amount of water should saturate the dirt and begin to puddle near the surface

A layer of mulch – a simple wood mulch, like cedar – is an absolutely crucial step. Not only does it look polished and professional, but the mulch will help to regulate temperature at the roots for your tree, providing shelter in the cold months of winter, and shading from the hottest days of the summer. Take care not to let the mulch directly touch the tree’s trunk, though. Leave a space between the two to prevent any rotting.

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Planting a tree is simple and doesn’t have to be a chore. Choosing a tree to be your home and family’s companion for years to come is an investment in your future that will grow with you. It’s the ultimate classy addition to your home’s aesthetic and will weather everything to come with your family – promotions, new schools, graduations, new pets, new family members – all with a lush and green flair of style.

If you would like more detailed instructions or have any questions, make sure to contact our experts at Ted Lare Garden Center and we’d be happy to help with any concerns!

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