Sunday, October 15, 2017

Kamikaze Tree Planting

I should have known. If you drop your business card into a raffle bowl of one of your vendors at a trade show, one that you bought more product from this year by a good chunk, odds are you are going to win something. I get it. I've done it, been that vendor. However, when you win a three-inch caliper balled and burlapped dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), you then have to figure out where to put it. Because it's a gorgeous, unusual tree and well, I want ALL the trees. However, 30 to 40 foot wide by 100 foot high tree isn't going to fit in my already tree-packed yard.

What to do?

Hit up the family. Fortunately, my lovely brother and sister-in-law have almost NOTHING in the line of trees in their yard due to a couple of losses over the years. Huzzah! My brother-in-law made the mistake of telling me I can plant whatever I want tree-wise in his yard. Oh, sweetie, you don't know what kind of crazy you just unboxed with that. Fortunately, they live five blocks away from me so I can go visit my new babies. We have small, suburban yards, so we can only plant so many huge fast-growing shade trees. And this one is FREE!

I cajoled the guy who does plantings for work to come with me to the nursery and pick up the tree because he has a big enclosed work trailer. We dropped it in the backyard and I took one look at the transformer in the back corner and realized I'd forgotten to do the JULIE request to locate utilities. So, our new baby hung out for a week before my long-suffering husband and I planted it.

After a week of TLC by our niece, the redwood was already pushing out roots, raring to go.

Step One: dig hole. There's something so satisfying about that first shovel blade sliding into the soil, the first wedge of turf tossed to the tarp. Luckily, this yard has some beautiful soil. Rich, loamy, and easy to dig.           

Ideally, you want to dig a hole about one and a half to two times the width of the root ball. Because this soil is so lovely, we can get away with a little smaller. The fine rootlets will dive right into this beautiful stuff.

I like to use a tarp or a wheelbarrow from the get-go. It makes for infinitely easier clean up. See how gorgeous that soil is? Using the two shovels to measure, I ensured that the hole is not too deep. You want the tree to be planted no deeper than the level of the root flare. A inch or less higher isn't a bad idea. The tree will adapt. Too deep, and you can seriously impact the health of the plant. Woody plants resent being planted too deep and will struggle. Planted several inches too deep and they can die.

Step Two: unwrap tree. I was all happy that initially it seemed that it didn't have a wire cage. It was going to be easy! Breezy! Ha. No. The first layer of burlap was just gift wrapping to make it look pretty. Took that off to find...

Wire basket. Wonderful. Best Beloved did a run home for the tin snips. This is heavy gauge wire, so the average wire cutter won't do. So while, I'm waiting for him to return, I start cutting the twine and examining the top of the root ball. Because these trees are harvested by tree spade, in most cases, soil is thrown up against the trunk before the crews do the burlap.


As I went hunting for the root flare, the part of the trunk that flares out into the root system, it was discouraging, but not surprising, to find it about three or four inches from the top of the root ball. Hmmmm. We'll have to remove some of this soil once we get the tree in the hole.

Here we've taken ALL of the wire basket off. Why? So that when the anchor roots grow bigger than the basket openings, they don't get girdled or strangled. That's heavy gauge wire, remember. It's going to outlive you and me and the tree. Well, maybe not the tree. At any rate, it's best if you can remove it.  If you can't remove it, at least bend it down to the bottom of the hole. Tree roots grow in the top 18 to 24 inches of soil, so bending it below that level will allow our new baby to send out as many roots as it likes.

Step Three: roll this 300 pound puppy into the hole. Some swearing ensued. Thank God it did not have a flat side so we didn't need to rotate it for best effect. Foom! Into the hole we go.

One tree in! Now we unwrap the burlap and let it come to rest in the bottom of the hole. Why? Well, burlap tends to have a bit of nylon in the blend sometimes and that keeps it from decomposing. The goal is to settle in the tree and give its poor roots all the growing opportunities we can so it establishes well. Same deal with the basket, the burlap goes to the bottom of the hole where it can decompose and feed the critters.

Remember earlier when we found the root flare three or so inches down? Once the tree was in and leveled, we scraped off the excess soil from the top of the ball.

Step Four: backfilling the hole. Use whatever came out of the hole to fill in. Trees are by and large very adaptable if given the right sun and drainage. They don't need fancy dancy fertilizers. If you desperately need to give them some love, add in a bit (like a few shovel-fulls) of compost or a couple of cups of mycorrhizae-based root stimulator. This is a healthy soil profile, so we don't need to add a damned thing. It's rich in microorganisms. I water the loose soil in at the one and two-thirds point. This lets the soil settle and fills the pores with water. It also waters the tree.

One more soaking once the soil is completely backfilled! I like to soak the hell out of it. Let the water puddle to the point it lingers a few minutes once you stop. I think the most important part of watering is PAYING ATTENTION! How is the water behaving once it hits the soil? Does it soak in? Does it run off? How long does it take to soak in? How long does it take for the puddle to linger?

OK. Tree is in and soil is in. We dumped the rest along the fence in an existing bed.

Step Five: it's time for mulch!

That's our mountain of municipal mulch. We can cart away as much as we like and it's free. Yes, this batch is pretty fresh, but research has shown it doesn't make a significant difference in affecting nitrogen levels when applied. And it's free.

Here we are with a nice two inches of mulch out to the dripline. It is pulled away a little bit from the base of the tree. Never. Volcano. Mulch. Mulch against the bark leads to rot and provides a nice home for critters.

All done! Now my niece can water to her heart's content.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer Means Sunny Flowers

Rudbeckia hirta in the late June raingarden.

My raingarden has been overtaken by Rudbeckia. I have a hard time objecting. How can you not love a billow of black-eyed susans spilling willy nilly and covered in bees? The first to bloom is Rudbeckia hirta in June, but now the Rudbeckia tomentosa and R. fulgida are coming into the fore. I have armloads of sunny flowers for cutting.

Rudbeckia tomentosa is just opening now.  

Rudbeckias are Midwestern favorites for their long bloom season and easy personalities. They love the sun and aren't terribly picky about soil, but perhaps not too wet. I am charmed by their chocolate chip centers that look almost edible. I like cutting them for my desk when the flowers are newly opened. The tiny disk flowers open in sequence like a miniature golden tiara. Lots of pollen, but fascinating to watch the succession. Eventually, they will become seeds and the birds with snarf them down along with the coneflowers. In the meantime, I'm soaking in the warmth from about a hundred little miniature suns.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Experiments in Propagation, aka Operation Save a Rose

Stanwell Perpetual rose - delicious fragrance, tough as nails!

Roses - I love them, but they have to be tough buggers to survive in my yard. They don't get coddled or protected from Chicago winters and they'd better rebloom. This year, I have been seduced by a couple of David Austin English roses. I couldn't resist their fragrance and old garden rose blossoms. We shall see if they make it.

My favorite roses in the yard are the Stanwell Perpetuals. These are old garden roses dating back to 1838 where it was propagated in England. You can read up on a bit of history here. With about three sets of thorns, the bunnies don't eat them. I usually float the flowers in a bud vase, as they are very short stemmed. They are exceptionally fragrant, repeat bloomers and they are handling some shade. Well, they are struggling in too much shade, really, which is why I'm attempting my first rose propagation project. Stanwells are near impossible to find on the market in the U.S. and I got mine via mail order about 15 years ago.

Let's see if I can pull off propagation...

Evidently, rose propagation is relatively straightforward. I'm doing softwood cuttings, which means they are the branchlets that have bloomed already this year. Dipped in rooting hormone, kept in moist potting soil, and topped with a handy plastic bottle to keep humidity and heat high. Fingers crossed that in a few weeks, I have at least one viable start!

Four little Stanwells sitting in the south window. Grow, grow, grow!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Emerging Garden: What's Coming Up Now?

Spring is HERE!

So my snowdrops have been blooming since January and the bulb iris is already done. However, now is the time when plants are beginning to emerge from the soil as temperatures warm and days lengthen. I have a friend who bought a new house in the fall. She is trying to figure out all the new things popping up in the yard. I thought I'd do a permabulation of the estate and take pictures of what's popping it's head up. Call it Name That Plant - Spring Version. Just ignore the creeping Charlie.

How you can tell: Daffodils are monocots, so they have long slender leaves with parallel veins. Look for rounded tips, but for me, what really indicates that they are daffodils is the twist in the foliage. It looks kind of like a group of eels.

Katharine Hodgkin iris
How you can tell: This dwarf iris is in the reticulate group, which means you plant them as bulbs and they'll go dormant in June. These tiny little gems come up in March and bloom for maybe a week. They are fleeting, but so so lovely. After they flower, they will send up grey-green spikes of narrow foliage that should be allowed to wither naturally.

Allium and tulips
How you can tell: The grey green foliage is allium, the kind that send up a purple ball of flowers later in spring. It is narrower than its neighboring tulips and the foliage is held in a stalk at the base. The tulips are beefy mid-green leaves in a big cluster with a little ripple in the edges at this stage.

How you can tell: Well, partly it's because I know where they are and I leave the stalks up for winter interest. However, they do leaf out early in flat clusters of  lightly toothed rounded leaves. 

Bearded iris
How you can tell: The fans of iris are very flat. See how they are organized in one layer? Another monocot, they are usually a grey-green or have a greyish cast to them. Not to be confused with...

How you can tell: Daylilies, although organized in fans, tend to be bunchier, not as flat as iris. They also tend to be a light green with maybe a greyish cast. They are fleshier, too. Mine were none too pleased with our late snow, and are showing some frost damage in the form of seared foliage.
Monarda or bee balm
How you can tell: Most monardas emerge with a purple tinge to their slight fuzzy corrugated arrowhead leaves. The round leaves in the photo are creeping Charlie. Monarda is also minty fragrant when crushed.
How you can tell: They look like brains. Also, they are showing their characteristic red stems. Rhubarb is super cool as it emerges (brains!), so it's something worth checking on if you don't have it front and center.
How you can tell: This minor bulb is just beginning to flower in my garden. They are only about three inches high, have a touch of purple in the stems, and nodding flowers. As the flowers age, they open up more.

How you can tell: This is a groundcover type of sedum. The leaves are succulent and on wiry stems. They are also a little seared by the snow. Groundcover sedums are up now and hug the ground. Many have a touch of red in the leaves.

Geranium or cranesbill
How you can tell: This is a grouncover type of geranium. Its newly emerging leaves are red as the chlorophyll hasn't kicked in yet. They are palmate in shape and spicy fragrant when crushed. 

Jacob's ladder
How you can tell: See how the leaves are organized like a feather? Jacob's ladder (Polemonium reptans) are pinnately compound and cute as pie. They will be a clean green when mature, but for now have a bit of purple.

Prairie smoke
How you can tell: Another pinnately compound perennial, prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is semi-evergreen and a nice polite native. They are also fuzzy and organize themselves in clumps. Soon their signature flowers will pop up. 

Shooting star
How you can tell: Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) has lettuce-green leaves in small rolls. Part of this is that I know where I put it and I keep an eye on it. The bunnies will occasionally snack. I'm hoping to get some nice big clumps going, but for now I'm just happy it's back.

I hope this is helpful as you stroll the yard and start the spring clean up. Are you ready?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Snowdrop Season

My snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) have been up since January. And climate change is a myth? I think not. We've had an extraordinarily temperate winter in 2016-2017. Temperatures are due to hit around 60 this weekend. Yikes! We've had very little cumulative snow, so I fear that soils are pretty dry right now. We'll see what happens to evergreens as things progress.

Snowdrops. These little magical flowers give me such pleasure. They are stubborn little things for a plant that seems so delicate. The patch pictured seeded itself from the original grouping and every year is a little bit bigger. The original planting had died out to only one plant. I'm happy to report that this year, it has pulled itself together and is up to three little bunches. This is why I let them go to seed. They are among the plants dispersed by ants.

Guess what? Ants are pretty important for seed dispersal for some plants. Snowdrops, wild ginger, and violets among others produce seed with a special appendage called an elaiosome that is rich in fats, sugars, and other goodies that are particularly attractive to ants. Propagators will often call it 'ant candy'. Ants will carry off the seed, consume their treat and the plant is neatly dispersed away from its parent. Cool, eh? This is why I don't get fussed over anthills or ants in the yard. Go, little pollinators, go!

It is fascinating to me to see where these ant candy plants pop up in the yard. My wild ginger is spreading slowly by rhizomes, but it has also appeared in places 20 feet from a patch in full sun. Will it survive? We shall see. I am awash in violets in the lawn and the beds. The back 40 (feet, not acres) resembles an alpine meadow in spring. I love them. As a child, I'd pick violets for tiny bouquets for my dolls.

What plants suddenly appear in your gardens?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Janustory Wrap Up 2017

Well, we've come to the end of the long road that has been this short story. I've really enjoyed the challenge and it has been a good reminder to create art every day. To carve out time for creativity is so important and give me balance. I will attempt to keep this blog up weekly, but as you can tell from past history, life does tend to get in the way. So does gardening, but that is a good thing. I decided to include the whole journey below. Enjoy!

  1. Falling.
  2. Sliding down.
  3. Pillow catches me.
  4. Weird room all yellow.
  5. What is this sticky stuff?
  6. I catch a glimpse of sky.
  7. The walls are too slick to climb.
  8. The sticky liquid is sweet and quite delicious.
  9. My prison trembles and shakes – what is happening now?
  10. Bumblebees are terrifyingly gigantic from a tiny brown ant’s perspective.
  11. The miniaturization process worked, but I am trapped and very afraid.
  12. Although I have sufficient sustenance, I have been separated from the team.
  13. The sticky yellow petal walls of my prison are closing in on me.
  14. I have been startled awake by the inquiring probe of a long bee tongue.
  15. The petal slit, I can now escape, if only I could find a way down.
  16. After crafting a braided rope from the calyx fibers, I’ve freed myself from my narrow prison.
  17. How am I ever going to find the other members of the team with my radio broken?
  18. As I inch down the stem’s thick buoyant hairs, a deluge of water nearly knocks me into space.
  19. I cling aching and helpless as a summer shower tries to drown me, each heavy raindrop a merciless waterfall.
  20. At last I have reached the leaf litter below and I pause to take in this strange huge new landscape.
  21. Each crooked stem, green leaf, and grain of gritty soil has become an entirely new country and I am a foreigner.
  22. I wonder where my other intrepid team members landed after our laboratory shrinking and if they are entirely lost or also exploring.
  23. I have achieved an open patch and looking up to a brilliant sky swept with clouds, suddenly feel that all is not lost.
  24. A warm breeze ruffles my hair as the sun begins to set and I’m going to need to build a shelter for the night.
  25. The last golden orange rays of the summer sunset are fading beneath a clear sky studded with stars while my new fire burns and crackles.
  26. Luckily, I have managed to snare a dinner meal of some kind of white grub, if only I can find the intestinal fortitude to swallow it.
  27. Until this daring misadventure, I have never realized just how loud the song of crickets can be when you have been shrunk down to their size.
  28. Under the rosy blush of a new dawn, I am slowly awoken by the distant call of different song birds and wonder if now I am considered prey.
  29. Stretching each and every muscle so I can be ready for immediate flight into the foliage, I sip fresh drops of dew from the stem of my yellow flower.
  30. Suddenly I feel an electric tingling all over my body, and as I rise to my feet, my world swirls into a myriad of colors before dissolving into dazzling confetti.
  31. I step from the remains of a broken terracotta container brushing bits of plants and soil from my clothes and find my four colleagues hale and hearty, if a bit rattled.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Janustory Day 30

Janustory Day 30: Suddenly I feel an electric tingling all over my body, and as I rise to my feet, my world swirls into a myriad of colors before dissolving into dazzling confetti.

#janustory #wordcount30

There was SUN today! Countless numbers of us took a long moment to soak in some vitamin D and remember what color blue the sky looks like. In celebration, here's a witchhazel in bloom. I think they look like brilliant yellow fireworks