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Get It Growing: Flowering trees and shrubs for Louisiana landscapes

by David Specht

By Heather Kirk-Ballard | LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

It’s that time of year. The deciduous trees are putting on their leaves. The oaks and pines are producing copious amounts of pollen. Live oaks are shedding leaves to put on new growth. Spring-blooming bulbs, trees and shrubs are starting to come life, and a great deal of our fruiting trees and shrubs are flowering. 

Flowering fruit trees and shrubs add both beauty and bounty to gardens and landscapes, with species like Taiwan cherry, flowering quince, apples and blueberries offering a splendid display of blooms, some followed by delicious fruits. 

One of the most stunning displays right now is the Taiwan cherry (Prunus campanulate), known for its vibrant pink-to-deep red blossoms that appear in early spring before the leaves emerge. This small-to-medium-sized tree can reach heights of 15 to 25 feet, making it a striking ornamental addition to any space.

It prefers temperate climates and is quite cold hardy. It thrives in USDA zones 7 to 9. Taiwan cherry trees require well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They are relatively low maintenance but should be monitored for pests and diseases like cherry blossom blight. They are short-lived and can be hard to come by, but if you get the chance to plant one of these, I say go for it! It’s worth it. 

Another spring-flowering fruit tree is the apple. Apples (Malus domestica) are beloved for their springtime blossoms and the delicious fruits they produce in late summer to fall. Flowers are typically white with a pink blush. The vast number of varieties allows for cultivation in a wide range of climates.

Depending on the variety, apples can be grown in USDA zones 3 to 9. Some low-chill varieties for Louisiana include Ozark gold, golden delicious, red delicious, Stayman Winesap, Granny Smith, Gala, Molly delicious, Arkansas black, Anna and Dorset Gold. Apple trees need full sun and well-drained soil. 

Regular pruning, thinning of fruit and pest management are important for producing a healthy harvest. Apples may be difficult in the South for producing fruit, but they are gorgeous trees nonetheless. 

One beautiful spring-flowering landscape shrub is the flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). It is a dense, thorny shrub that produces striking flowers in shades of red, orange, white and pink in late winter to early spring before the foliage appears. The fruit that follows is fragrant but often hard and tart, more suited to jellies and preserves than fresh eating. 

Flowering quince is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8 and adaptable to a variety of climates. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil and is drought-tolerant once established. It requires minimal care beyond occasional pruning to shape and remove dead or crossing branches.

Another great fruit shrub for the landscape is blueberry (Vaccinium spp.). Rabbiteye (Vaccinium virgatum or V. ashei) varieties are native to Louisiana, and there are many improved varieties. Rabbiteye blueberry is ideal for Louisiana landscapes, valued for both its fruit and ornamental qualities. This variety thrives in USDA zones 8 to 10 and prefers acidic soil (pH 4.2 to 5.5). It requires full sun for optimal fruit production, growing up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, with planting recommended at 4-to-6-foot intervals during dormant seasons. Rabbiteye blueberries are known for their pink-to-blue ripening fruit, blue-green foliage that turns vibrant red and orange in fall and white spring flowers.

Fruit production benefits from cross pollination, suggesting the planting of two to three varieties together. Mature bushes can yield more than 10 pounds of fruit per season, with some reaching up to 30 pounds. Care includes ensuring well-drained soil, possibly raised beds for heavy soils, adequate moisture and careful fertilization — especially after flowering and harvest. Pruning is minimal, aimed at maintaining accessibility and promoting new growth.

For Louisiana, select varieties with suitable chill hour requirements. Traditional choices like Premier, Climax, Brightwell, Tifblue and Powderblue are reliable, with newer varieties like Alapaha and DeSoto also promising. The Prince variety, with low chill requirements, is particularly suited to southern Louisiana. Rabbiteye blueberries are an excellent choice for edible landscaping, offering aesthetic appeal and bountiful harvests.

Whether it’s the early-spring blossoms of the Taiwan cherry and flowering quince or the summer fruits of apples and blueberries, these plants offer year-round interest and rewards.

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