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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Tri color beech a Tri-City star

We Midwesterners love our springs! No matter how long or harsh the winter, the memories of ice and snow exit our minds as the sights and senses of spring fill us with rapture!

This year, the very first flowers of spring caught my attention and the enjoyment has not stopped! Spring flowers, flowering shrubs, and blooming trees have put on quite a show! Driving through the Tri-Cities has provided, and continues to provide, a visual feast for one’s eyes.

I don’t have to leave home to enjoy one magnificent sight. My favorite tree, a tri color beech (Fagus sylvatica) dominates my back yard.  I planted this tree many years ago upon the advice of a good friend and nurseryman, Mr. Peter Grathoff.

The late Peter Grathoff knew of trees that were, at that time, rather unknown and certainly seldom used in this area. I am thankful to this day for following Peter’s advice.

This striking tree is best used as a specimen tree; the leaves are variegated and come in shades of green, pink and cream. The tri color beech does well in our zone and grows slowly. As the tree matures, it forms a broad, rounded pyramid. This is one tree that is best planted in the spring.

Mr. Grathoff advised me to plant my young tree in a protected environment out of direct sunlight. The female tree can produce flowers; however the flowers are not showy. With this specimen, the leaves are the stars of the show!

From the start, mulch around the beech, out to the drip-line, as grass and other plants will not grow well under this tree due to its fibrous root system. Remember to make a “mulch bagel” around this tree and all the trees in your landscape; no volcanoes please!

Peter Grathoff passed away almost three years ago.

Peter was a great friend, husband, father and civic-minded businessman who made a huge contribution to the beautification of the city of St. Charles.

His passion for trees, and all things green, provides a wonderful legacy for future generations. My friend is gone, but I see him all throughout this community.

Thank you, Peter Grathoff, for a life well lived.

• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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