A dwarf weeping crabapple in the middle of a flower garden will immediately catch your eye. It adds color and height in a dramatic way.
Nothing makes a statement in the landscape like a weeping tree or shrub. Your eye is drawn to them because they look so different from the usual. If you have an Asian inspired garden, you must have at least one weeper in it. Well, it’s not a law or anything.
There are four forms of weepers. A classic weeping plant naturally grows that way. Think of a weeping willow. Broadly weeping plants include trees that grow upright but have drooping branch tips. Old weeping crabapple cultivars do, as do conifers with a strong leader trunk but all the branches droop. This makes for a narrow tree. Grafted weepers are created by people. They graft prostrate or cascading shrubs onto a rootstock of a related plant. You may find a Russian cypress available as a weeping tree. Strongly weeping plants will only become tree-like if you train them. These trees are grafted high on the rootstock or staked up and then allowed to weep. They may be your best bet as they offer many design options as their size depends on training and growing conditions.
One caveat, weepers can be difficult to mow around because the limbs cover your face as you mow. The solution is don’t mow around them. Let them droop all the way down to the ground, then mulch under them. Problem solved.
If you are looking for a weeping crab, look for “Louisa.” It has pink flowers and has good disease resistance. First Editions Ruby Tears from Bailey Nurseries is a descendent of Louisa. It starts out with reddish growth in the spring.
For a long-lived small tree, get a weeping mulberry. There are some in a cemetery in St. Paul that are over 100 years old. Pendula produces fruit that the birds go bonkers over. If you don’t want fruit get Chaparral. Look for a cutting gown rather than a grafted one as the grafted type sucker. Mulberries are hardy in Zone 4 and in 3B with a bit of protection from the northwest winter wind.
Want a weeping conifer. You have a good choice. Two native pines have contributed to this group. Pendula is a strongly weeping cultivar of the white pine. It has the blue-green needles of its parents. “Angel Falls” is another white pine cultivar. For a real show stopper, look for “Uncle Fogy.” He is so lazy he practically lays on the ground.
Want a spruce? The Norway spruce has several weeping forms like “Formanek” and “Pendula.” A Siberian spruce cultivar, the “Pendula Bruns” has an upright leader and drooping branches.
Hybridizers and plant collectors are always on the lookout for weeping variants of favorite plants. Quite a few trees not mentioned have weeping forms like aspen, beech elm, and honeylocust. Apparently all you need to look for is pendula in the name. The Arboretum and the Lake Harriet Peace Garden in Minneapolis can give you some ideas for designs with weepers. Or just wing it. You know what you like.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.