Fifty years ago, the “Plant a tree in ’73” campaign was in full swing, followed by “Plant one more in ’74.” Look around the island now and we can see the results: fully grown, healthy Bermuda cedars and Bermuda olivewoods flourishing in our gardens and parks. Trees are vital for our bird, bee and butterfly populations as well as a way of creating aesthetically pleasing shady areas during our hottest months. So now that the New Year is approaching, why don’t we repeat the drive and plant a tree for ’23?
Up until the mid-twentieth century, before the juniper blight, Bermudians used to cut cedars and decorate them as Christmas trees. To cut a cedar for that purpose today would be unthinkable. But why not buy a potted sapling from a local nursery, decorate it for Christmas and plant it in the garden afterwards? And talking of Christmas, low maintenance ornamental trees for floral displays during most of the year make perfect presents for oneself or for friends, especially if they have the added advantage of bearing fruit.
Bermuda Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana)
- Planting Saplings
- Choose a spot in your garden spacious enough for your cedar to grow to its full height—up to 50 feet. Bermuda cedars don’t thrive when replanted.
- Dig a hole at least 3 feet across and 10 inches deep in well-drained soil.
- Plant the tree and add compost or manure to the hole, making sure you don’t damage the roots.
- Water until well established.
- Planting Seeds (Information taken from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources)
- Collect ripe cedar berries and rub with sandpaper to break the seed coat.
- Loosely cover seeds with potting mix.
- Water regularly.
- Germination takes between six weeks to six months.
Note: The Darrell’s cedar (Juniperus silicicola) and Virginia cedar (Juniperus virginiana) are very similar to the Bermuda cedar. When buying a sapling, check with the nursery as to its true species.
- Did you know?
- Bermuda cedars are not true cedars; they are a kind of juniper.
- Bermuda cedars were vital during our history for shipbuilding, construction and furniture.
- Ninety-five percent of our cedars were killed by the juniper scale insects Carulaspis minima and Lepidosaphes newsteadi between 1946 and 1953.
- A cedar seedling placed on a wedding cake is a Bermudian bridal tradition. The couple then plant it in their garden.
Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus; C. viminalis)
Native to Australia, bottlebrush has been here at least from 1913 when botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton saw it at what was then the Agricultural Station.
The distinctive dangling red flowers of this ornamental tree do indeed look like bottle brushes. They are also highly attractive to bees, as well as to butterflies. C. viminalis has a weeping willow effect while the leaves of C. citrinus do smell lemony. Bottlebrush, once established, tolerates drought and salt spray and so is ideal for Bermuda. It can be grown as a shrub or a tree in the ground, or in a tub.
- Plant in a sunny location in well-drained soil.
- Add a layer of mulch over the root zone to prevent weeds and conserve water.
- Fertilise with compost or bought fertiliser for the first time in their second spring.
- Water young trees weekly during dry weather.
- Prune plant to a single trunk if you want a tree rather than a bush. Cut lower drooping branches.
Pigeonberry (Duranta erecta)
Native to South America and the Caribbean, the pigeonberry is a member of the verbena family and is also known as golden dewdrop and sky flower. It’s a favourite in Bermuda as a hedging plant, shrub, or small tree. Its cascading sky blue, lavender or purple flowers, a magnet for bees, contrast with the orange berries which often appear while the tree is still in bloom. For that reason, the tree is a popular subject for botanical painting. It was first brought to Bermuda from Madeira in 1873. Its genus name is after sixteenth-century Italian physician and botanist Castore Durante.
- Plant young shrub in well-drained, moist soil in a sunny location or in potting mix in a container.
- Pigeonberry can easily be propagated from cuttings. Take a cutting and either place in water until it roots or dip in rooting compound; place in potting mix and keep moist until roots sprout. Then plant as above.
- Note: The berries are toxic to children, dogs and cats though not to birds.
Peach (Prunus persica)
Peach trees are common in old Bermuda gardens. Governor Hamilton referred to their presence in 1790, while in Sketches of Bermuda Suzette Lloyd mentions peaches as being in Bermuda during her 1829–30 visit.
They are much appreciated for their pink blossom in early spring and for their small, sweet fruits which are harvested in May/June.
- Because peach trees are self-pollinating, only one tree is necessary to bear fruit. But if you do grow more than one tree, make sure they are placed at least fifteen feet apart.
- Plant when the tree is dormant in late winter or early spring.
- Choose a sunny position in your garden which is as sheltered from the wind as possible.
- Plant in sandy, well-drained soil in a hole large enough for the roots to spread, and place mulch around the root zone.
- The Garden Club of Bermuda’s book Bermuda: A Gardener’s Guide advises fertilising in January and March with half a pound of 10-5-10-3 fertiliser per year of growth.
- Water in dry weather, especially for the first two years of growth.
Note: According to the Garden Club’s Guide, the wood that bears the fruit must be pruned after the peaches are harvested to allow new shoots to develop.
- Propagating by Cutting and Seed
- In the spring, take a 9-inch cutting, dip in rooting compound and plant in potting soil. Roots will form in 3–4 weeks.
- Plant seeds or stones 3 inches deep into the ground.
Note: All parts of the tree other than the fruit are toxic to children and pets.
- Did you know?
- Peaches have been called Persian plums or apples though peach trees probably originated in China where the fruit was the symbol of longevity.
- England’s King John succumbed to dysentery in 1216. It was said he died of eating too many peaches.
- Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal claims that Venus owns the peach tree because “the fruit provoke lust.”
- General Winter Gardening Tips
- The leaves of jonquils and freesias, both hybrid and wild, should be up by now. If they are growing in your lawn, avoid mowing them down. Otherwise, you won’t have narcissi blooming in time for Christmas, or freesias blossoming in late January/February through March.
- Loquat trees fruit in late January to March. Plant some of the seeds to grow trees for next year. The children and the birds will thank you.