Sorbus

Look out for the smaller varieties of this valuable autumn tree.

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Berries are such a visual treat in autumn, with many ornamental trees and shrubs laden with colourful fruit. While gardeners are spoilt for choice, if you’re looking for a specimen tree to make a statement then the smaller, more compact rowan or sorbus species and varieties are really worth considering. Their long-lasting displays of berries, which hang on the tree for weeks, if not months, are unsurpassed, nestled among a backdrop of scarlet, orange and yellow-tinted foliage.

Berries vary in tone from red, yellow, orange, apricot to pink and white, many of the latter often possessing a deeper pink eye. Their elegant foliage is composed of rounded leaflets spaced like the rungs of a ladder, while the flattened heads of white flowers in spring is attractive to both gardeners and insects alike. Once fully grown, they also cast a light shadow meaning that you can plant beneath with smaller shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  

Rowans come from the cooler, more mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, from the USA and Europe, via the Himalaya and into China and Japan. They are tolerant of most soils, doing best on moist, well-drained loams. They are also very hardy, preferring full sun and thriving in more exposed, windy conditions than many other tree species, but won’t thrive in constantly wet soils.

While most are readily available grown in containers which can be planted at any time, you can also purchase them bare root, planting these from November to early March.

Rowans are susceptible to the disease fire-blight, which causes new growth to look scorched and die back. It attacks many trees and shrubs in the rose family, such as pyracantha. Unfortunately, there is no cure, so if you already have other woody plants already infected by fireblight, it’s best to err on the side of caution and choose something else instead.