I have finally gotten around to planting a Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) in my backyard this summer. Known as the Maidenhair Tree, this conifer is thought to have originated in China–growing as far back in time as the dinosaur age. It has a very feminine appearance with its unusual fan shaped leaves which turn a glorious yellow in autumn. While most garden books state that ginkgos grow 50′-80′ feet tall and have a spread of 25′-40′, I have never seen them grow that big in the North. Although they are extremely hardy to zones 3-10 and tolerant of salt and pollution, they can rarely be found growing in Northern gardens which I think is a downright shame considering that there are no needles or cones to contend with. They make a great shade tree. If you travel to New York City, you will see ginkgos lining the boulevards because they are so tough.
Ginkgos flourish in rich, organic soil in full sun providing they receive sufficient water and TLC in their first year to get them well established. My ginkgo came potted in a plastic container so I was able to place the tree in the shade and keep it well watered until I was ready to give it a permanent home. In the North we ensure that the width of the hole we dig is at least three times the diameter of the root ball and that the sides of the hole are broken up to allow for water to penetrate the soil. I tend to practice ‘tough love’ with my trees so I rarely amend the soil in the planting hole apart from adding MYKE and/or bonemeal to promote root growth. Most importantly, though, I take the time to make sure that the tree I am planting is transplanted no deeper than the soil in which it was originally grown.
What most gardeners don’t know (and I didn’t until recently) is that the ginkgo’s male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Apparently the female trees produce yellow fruits that resemble plums (which I like) that smell like rotten eggs (which I most certainly don’t like). According to my research, you really can’t determine the sex of a ginkgo grown from seed until it has flowered which can take up to 20 years so that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if my ginkgo is male or female. I suppose I will have to wait until I am in my mid-70s to find out. In any case, I hope to gaze at this wonderful tree’s beauty for some time to come.
If you are interested in planting a ginkgo, visit your local greenhouse and inquire about the range of male species they carry. “Fastigata” has a wonderful upright form, ‘Pendula’ is a weeping variety and ‘Autumn Gold” is a spreader with terrific fall colour.