Sourwood is a personal favorite, both because of its seasonal beauty, and its unusual growth characteristics. Unfortunately it is uncommon in our yards. Such a splendid native species being absent from our yards is an error that needs correcting. If you need a beautiful ornamental tree for a small space, sourwood can be a superb solution.
The small, limber branches arch gracefully towards the ground and the foliage has a slight weeping appearance. For several weeks during summer, the smooth lustrous leaves set the stage for a dazzling display of delicate white flowers borne in lacy panicles which are unique to our local sourwood. There is only one species of sourwood worldwide and it’s native to Hampton Roads and the eastern deciduous forest of North America.
In early fall, sourwood is one of the first and finest trees to change color and will adorn your landscape with vibrant purplish-red leaves. It reflects the autumn sunlight light a like deep red gemstone. The fruits are persistent tiny brown capsules and will provide a distinctive outline for the leafless winter branches. Older trees will display blocky bark that add interest to a winter landscape.
The tree grows slowly and only needs minor pruning attention. However pruning the tree properly when it is young will ensure it develops good form and structure. If left on their own, sourwood can develop poor architecture and become aesthetically less pleasing. For a landscape setting, a generally conical shape usually looks best, with lower limbs remaining.
They need to be planted in a well-drained, acid soil. They won’t tolerate poor soil conditions. Perhaps poor site selection and planting practices has led to the death of many sourwoods and has instilled a reluctance in landscapers to plant them. I suspect the reason we don’t see more sourwoods planted in our suburban yards is a lack of availability at local nurseries.
However, with persistent searching, sourwood can be purchased from reputable native plant nurseries. If you cannot find a suitable specimen, give us a call and we’ll find one for you. Don’t let their scarcity from the big box stores prevent you from purchasing and planting one. Be sure and plant it in a prominent position so you can enjoy its year round beauty.