Some trees, if given extra care, can tolerate many different habitats, even if they don’t perform at their best. Not so with stewartias. If the habitat meets their needs, no extra care is necessary. But if conditions aren’t right, no extra care will help them to adapt. Here’s what you need to know about choosing the right stewartia and creating the ideal environment.
Creating the perfect space
- If you do have a suitable spot, with fertile, well-drained, acid soil and partial shade, use it to grow a spectacular stewartia, which easily becomes the focus of any landscape in which it grows.
- This is truly a tree for all seasons. In spring, it is clothed in lustrous, oval, slightly ribbed leaves. Related to camellias, stewartias boast a profusion of delicate, cup-shaped white flowers that open over several weeks in summer. After the leaves turn red and drop in fall, the peeling bark of the trunk is revealed. This trait becomes more dramatic as the tree matures.
- You’ll want to show off your stewartia as a stand-alone specimen, perhaps at the edge of the lawn, by a path, or at the edge of a wooded area. It will draw attention at the back of a shrub border, but keep its companions, such as azaleas and viburnums, short so that the trunk is visible.
- Stewartias also look striking rising from a swath of shade-tolerant groundcover, such as ferns, asarum, or periwinkle.
Different stewartias your should know
All stewartias have the same attractive features, which vary only slightly from one species to another.
- The most popular is Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), which tops out at 18 metres (60 feet) in the wild but usually grows nine to twelve metres (30 to 40 feet) in the garden. Its flowers are five to eight centimetres (two to three inches) wide, the reddish bark flakes in large plates, and the fall foliage colour is reddish-purple.
- Its close relative, Korean stewartia (S. pteropetiolata var. koreana), has bright reddish-orange fall foliage, is hardy to Zone 6 and has wider spreading flowers. It grows to 12 metres (40 feet).
- The tall stewartia (S. mona delpha) can reach 18 metres (60 feet) under ideal conditions, with an informal habit and smaller flowers. It is also hardy to Zone 6.
- Two stewartias are native to the southeastern part of the continent. Showy stewartia (S. ovata var. grandiflora) has particularly large flowers, up to 10 centimetres (four inches) wide, and orange to scarlet fall foliage. It grows to about 4.5 metres (15 feet). Virginia stewartia (S. malacodendron) also has a compact size and large flowers, but the blossoms emerge from leaf clusters and may be hidden by them. Both of these natives do well in hot climates, but are hardy only from Zone 7.
Growing stewartia the right way
- Select a shady, protected site with well-drained, acid soil amended with organic matter.
- Stewartias transplant poorly and should be planted in their permanent location while still small.
- Plant in early spring with the soil ball intact to avoid damaging roots, and keep the soil moist the first season.
- Cover the root zone with an eight-centimetre-thick (3.25-inch-thick) layer of organic mulch and water during droughts by letting a hose drip slowly onto the soil above the roots for several hours.
- A young tree will grow slowly for a few years and then gain 30 to 60 centimetres (12 to 25 inches) of height annually until it reaches full size.
- Stewartias are untroubled by pests and diseases.
- Pruning is unnecessary except to repair damaged limbs.
Keep these tips in mind and encourage your stewartia trees to flourish by creating an environment they will thrive in.