Plant of the Week: Sor­bus

Look out for the smaller va­ri­eties of this valu­able au­tumn tree

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Berries are such a vis­ual treat in au­tumn, with many or­na­men­tal trees and shrubs laden with colour­ful fruit. While gar­den­ers are spoilt for choice, if you’re look­ing for a spec­i­men tree to make a state­ment then the smaller, more com­pact rowan, or sor­bus species and va­ri­eties, are re­ally worth con­sid­er­ing. Their long-last­ing dis­plays of berries, which hang on the tree for weeks, if not months, are un­sur­passed, nes­tled among a back­drop of scar­let, orange and yel­low-tinted fo­liage.

Berries vary in tone from red, yel­low, orange and apri­cot to pink and white, many of the lat­ter of­ten pos­sess­ing a deeper pink eye. El­e­gant fo­liage is com­posed of rounded leaflets spaced like the rungs of a lad­der, while the flat­tened heads of white flow­ers in spring is at­trac­tive to gar­den­ers and in­sects alike. Once fully grown, they also cast a light shadow, mean­ing you can plant be­neath with smaller shrubs, peren­ni­als and bulbs.

Rowans come from the cooler, more moun­tain­ous parts of the north­ern hemi­sphere, from the USA and Europe, via the Hi­malayas into China and Ja­pan. They’re tol­er­ant of most soils, do­ing best on moist, well-drained loams. They’re also very hardy, pre­fer­ring full sun and thriv­ing in more ex­posed, windy con­di­tions than many other tree species, but won’t like con­stantly wet soils.

While most are read­ily avail­able grown in con­tain­ers which can be planted at any time, you can also buy them bare root, plant­ing these from Novem­ber to early March.

Rowans are sus­cep­ti­ble to the disease fire­b­light, which causes new growth to look scorched and die back. It at­tacks many trees and shrubs in the rose fam­ily, such as pyra­can­tha. Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no cure, so if you al­ready have other woody plants in­fected by fire­b­light, then it’s best to err on the side of cau­tion and choose some­thing else in­stead.

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