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Garden Q&A: On sweet-smelling sweetshrub and cultivating apple trees

Sweetshrub, also known as Carolina allspice, produces a 2-inch, reddish-brown bloom with a delightful strawberry fragrance.
Sweetshrub, also known as Carolina allspice, produces a 2-inch, reddish-brown bloom with a delightful strawberry fragrance. (Miri Talabac/For The Baltimore Sun)

Last spring on a garden tour, I discovered a shrub with red flowers that smelled like strawberries. Can you identify it for me and does it grow in central Maryland?

Calycanthus floridus, commonly known as sweetshrub or Carolina allspice, is happy in our Zone 7 and should grow well for you in sun to part shade. The lustrous deep green foliage deters deer and emits a spicy scent when crushed. Reddish-brown, 2-inch blooms have a delightful strawberry fragrance, but fragrance varies widely plant to plant. We recommend you purchase your sweetshrub when it’s in bloom.

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Though not picky about soil, like most landscape plants it prefers rich loam. It is native from Virginia to Florida. Reaching 6-10 feet, with equal spread, it can send up shoots from the roots to form a small thicket but is easily controlled with occasional pruning. Prune after spring bloom. Brown seed capsules remain over the winter.

I purchased Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apple trees about three years ago. Both trees have grown well but never flowered or produced fruit. I pruned last winter but have not done much else. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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For apple cultivars (varieties) grafted on strongly dwarfing rootstocks you would expect to start seeing flowers after 3-4 years. This depends on many factors, however, such as sunlight, pest problems and environmental stress. Both of your cultivars are disease-susceptible.

Apple trees require full sun. Shading and crowding limit growth and fruiting and exacerbate disease problems. Focus on pruning your trees during the dormant season, cleaning up and discarding fallen leaves, and learning how to identify and prevent pest and disease problems. For many backyard gardeners, it is difficult to harvest acceptable fruit without spraying pesticides.

Search ‘apples’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website for all aspects of culture plus disease and pest control. A list of disease-resistant apple cultivars is under ‘Selection and Planting’.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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