The Rockdale Gardener

Gardening Posts From Rockdale Cooperative Extension

A tree walk through a local woodland

oak Georgia oak form

Georgia Oak

If we were to take a walk through a local woodland you would find that Rockdale County is a county blessed with many notable trees. On our walk we might find the Georgia Oak, a relatively uncommon tree. Interestingly, the Georgia Oak was discovered growing on the granite outcrops locally. It is a 15 – 30 feet tall, densely branched tree, with lovely dark green foliage in the summer and nice reddish fall color. I have been recommending this tree as a subdivision shade tree lately due to its relatively small size and handsome form.

On our imagined tree walk we would also see the Chestnut Oak, Post Oak, Scarlet Oak, Shumard Oak, Willow Oak, Overcup Oak, Southern Red Oak. I am fond of the White Oak. This relatively slow growing native tree must have been spared the axe on farms during the farming era. We see large ones here and there. White oaks have lobed leaves and shaggy white bark.

sourwood flowers

Sourwood flowers

sourwood bark

Sourwood bark



Sourwoods were easy to spot in the forest among the other trees due to their very deeply furrowed bark. The tree usually attains a height of 30 feet or so and is a slow grower that forms a pyramidal, round head. In the summer the tree has long, drooping, white flowers in panicles, beautiful fruit, gray-brown bark, and deep green leaf color. The flowers are evident throughout late summer providing us with a rare late summer show.  The majestic tree is the first heralder of fall, changing to a deep red early in October.

The Tulip poplar is easily identifiable in the forest as well, even in the winter, due to their tremendously handsome bark. The stems are olive brown, shiny, and on them are borne many flat, duckbill shaped buds. Bark on the trunk is grayish, ridged, and furrowed. These ridges become very smooth with age giving mature trees a distinctive look. The trees are generally perfectly straight and branchless for 70-80% of their height and form a rounded head upon maturity. As a member of the magnolia family, the Tulip Poplar is found in deep, rich moist creek side or river bottom soils. This tree can grow more than 25 feet in ten years and eventually shade a large area.

tuliptree bloom unopened

Tulip poplar leaves

cercis redbud

Redbud in bloom

Of course we see many native flowering tree and shrubs as well. One such tree was the Eastern Redbud is a small, 20-30 foot tree found in moist woodlands and is one of our most noble native plants. The redbud is an excellent choice for gardeners who desire beauty as well as toughness in a garden plant. The plant provides seasonal interest with showy springtime flowers, lustrous dark-green leaves in the summer, yellow-green leaf color in the fall, and shiny, dark-red branches that delicately arch upward in winter. Flowers are borne directly on the stem, emerging in clusters near the nodes.

dogwood flower

Dogwood flower

In abundance in our local woodlands is the the native Flowering Dogwood, a small, 20-foot tall flowering tree that graces gardens and forests of the southeast with its magnificent white blooms in spring. The four white structures of the dogwood flower are not petals but are actually bracts that subtend small yellow flowers in the center of the bloom. Flowers tend to form near the ends of the branches and, in woodland settings, the natural shade-induced architecture of the tree gives the appearance of long delicate arms presenting a gift of beautiful white flowers.

bottlebrush buckeye flowering

Bottlebrush buckeye flowers.

As we cross creeks, the Bottlebrush Buckeye can be found growing along the stream banks. The plant, a small shrub, has compound leaves with five to seven, 8” long leaflets arranged in a hand shape (palmate) arrangement. The leaflets form a nodding leaf that is delicate and beautiful. Tall white flowers are formed in the middle of summer (June-July), and take on a bottlebrush appearance, hence the name. The striking flower spikes can be up to 18” long. Fall leaf color is a magnificent yellow-green. The plant’s delicate architecture as well as its scaly large leaf buds gives it winter interest as well.