{ Archive for the ‘trees and shrubs’ Category }

Finding a home for the apple tree

One of my New Year’s resolutions, subcategory: gardening, is to finally put in my apple tree. I chose, quite a long while ago, the Prairie Sensation apple developed at the University of Saskatchewan as the best fit for my location and tastes. Now the big question: where to put it.

It may seem backwards, as many of you would consider a particular spot and then choose something to fit it. I use that approach frequently as well. But I am in that enviable position of having enough land that I can pick a tree first, and ask questions later. Not that I buy plants willy-nilly, or put no thought into their needs; I just have a property large enough that I have several options for any given plant I decide might enjoy my garden.

Any of you small-plot gardeners growing green with envy right now are welcome to come help me mow and weed this summer.

Now. If you would be so kind to offer some opinions, here is a rough drawing of our property, completely not to scale, to give you an idea of my options.

Existing trees in green, crabapple in yellow, fence lines etcetera in grey, you get the idea.

Location A: my original plan. Full sun; little bit of shade late in the day from the house. Well protected from prevailing west winds, somewhat from northerly. Snow collects here to protect the tree from freeze/thaw cycles. Frost tends to pool lower to the east, and there’s the crabapple nearby for cross pollination.  In view from the house and street for optimal blossom enjoyment. Down side: Really close to property line. What if whomever buys the neighbouring lot (it’s for sale now) does not want errant apples?

Location B: There’s lots of room in this back quarter of the property, but no wind protection–at least not until the evergreens and ash get a little more size on them. Full sun, all day, but kind of far from the crab, though if we go with one idea and build up a little orchard back here, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Location C: Another area that could become a little orchard. Kind of far away from the house, though. Again, the wind protection and pollination issues, potentially resolvable, but this is a low spot and I think it would turn out to be a frost pocket.

So really, it’s probably a choice between A: picturesque with the stone walkway, but some shade and potential neighbour nagging; or B: work towards the orchard and grow that windbreak.

Please, help me decide!

 

Tree candy

I got a little distracted today. I was intending to start my seed catalogue hunt but ended up on a virtual tour of crazy stuff people have done with trees. It’s only January 15th, so the seeds can wait, but be forewarned: if you go on a similar wander you may be gone for some time. Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there. You’re welcome in advance for making you late for wherever you’re supposed to be.

We’ve all probably heard of tree shaping–bonsai, espalier, plain old pruning–but this is truly insane.

By careful training and pruning (and a lot of patience), these Australians create living furniture.

Here’s a good excuse to visit South Africa: a pub located inside the natural hollow of a Baobab tree.

Or if you’re feeling English, how about learning the art of traditional hedgerowing?

 

If you waste a lot of breath telling kids to put away bikes, warn them once and for all.

More cool trees if you click on this picture...

An optical illusion courtesy of Vancouver’s Science World and Rethink Communications  (check out the whole series if you’re into clever advertising).

 I’ve been complaining about the hurricane force winds we’ve had the last few weeks. This shut me up.

And if looking at, growing, and sitting in trees isn’t enough for you, how about living in them? (If you have several hours to waste, google “house in the trees.” Go on. I dare you.)

My sister Jenni, famed tree hugger and cutter, helped me find some of these (and these), so she gets the last picture.

 

 

 

Gift idea: Plant green

Evergreen’s Give Green, Be Green holiday gift program is amazing! I’d love to give this to a fellow gardener or eco-minded pal.

Check out the Plant Green category. You can have a native sapling planted in a Canadian city or a pollinator garden planted in a public park or school; you can adopt an apple tree and Evergreen will share the fruit with a community in need or have a community garden planted in an urban space. It’s so simple: You donate and Evergreen does all the dirty work (quite literally). Your recipient will receive an e-card letting them know that a donation has been made in their name (and you get to avoid the hectic shopping mall – talk about a win-win).

Other categories include Play Green, Build Green and Eat Green.

To see how these gifts make for greener cities, check out the Plant Green video. Visit givegreenbegreen.ca for more information and to purchase your green gift.

When a larch isn’t a tamarack

One of the bizarre details of my past is that I starred in a filmstrip for Parks Canada when I was a kid. It was called “The Aspen Curtain” and was all about the various species of trees found in Elk Island National Park. My nine-year-old noodle absorbed all kinds of little facts, one being that tamaracks, though a conifer, are deciduous: they turn gold and shed their needles in the winter.

That little nugget of knowledge was sleeping in the back of my brain when we were given a bunch of cast-offs from a tree planting expedition a few years ago. Not being ones to let a tree die without giving it a fighting chance, we put them all in the ground. Many of them died back anyway, turning brown or yellow. But one of these came back in the spring, with healthy, bright green growth. I was mystified. I had assumed all the baby conifers were spruce or pine or fir, and had not taken the time to ID them (and honestly, when they’re that little, they’re a lot alike. At least to me.).

How exciting! A tamarack of my very own!

Then a neighbour happened by and got pretty excited when he saw it. “That’s a larch!” he said, “I love larches. They’re my favourite tree!” We stroked its lovely soft needles and exclaimed about its airy structure. I agreed that it is one of my very favourite trees, and respecting his backwoods knowledge more than my moviemaking memory, mentally christened the little gem a larch. Larches must be another deciduous conifer, I thought, and left it at that. No research, no verification.

I really can be horribly pedantic when I want to, but apparently I wasn’t in the mood that day.

That changed when we went to Kalispell, Montana this last weekend.

As we crossed through the Flathead National Forest, we started seeing brilliant yellow trees dotted amongst the pine and spruce. Disease crossed my mind, but just as quickly I realized I was looking at larch trees. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. Being used to seeing my one solitary specimen, this was like a big golden early Christmas present.

I’m sure I’ve been looking at them constantly when I’ve been in the mountains, and just didn’t realize it: this week my timing was right to see their golden colour. When they’re green or naked, they kind of disappear into the forest. Even in the four days we were there, we saw them fade and begin to drop.

But what about the big question: tamarack or larch? The lovely people we asked called it a ‘tamarack larch’ which I found completely unhelpful at the time, but turns out to perfectly accurate.

A tamarack larch, or American larch (Larix laricina), is likely what we were looking at in Montana, which is a species of the genus Larix, which includes several European and North American species. So all tamaracks are larches, but not all larches are tamaracks.

Kind of like all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

As for exactly which larch mine is, I’m done with being pedantic today. I’m just enjoying the colours.

Tree stumps and saltpeter

One of the great advantages of gardening out in the country is being able to do large scale projects.

One of the great drawbacks of gardening out in the country is finding professionals willing to travel to your residence to help you with large scale projects.

After having the power company remove three poplars from the front yard (due to their proximity to a power line), I spent some time trying to get a hold of an arbourist to come and grind the leftover stumps. No dice.

As much as my kids wouldn’t care if the stumps stayed (play value=very high), they’re a nuisance to mow and trim around and they’re constantly sprouting scraggly growth. And they’re just kind of ugly.

They are rotting away a bit, but not fast enough for me. I’ve decided it’s time to give up on the professionals and help Mother Nature along myself. I bought some stump remover and applied it several weeks ago.

Step 1: Using a wood boring bit, drill one inch holes in several places around the stump (the deeper the better). Drill similar holes at an angle into the side of the stump, creating vents for the main holes.

Step 2: Pour some of the stump remover into each hole (read the label for amounts). Pour hot water into the holes to dissolve the crystals.

It’s a pretty simple process. The stump remover basically just speeds up decomposition. You can help it by keeping the stump damp, even going so far as to cover it with plastic to hold in moisture. The label advises allowing at least 4-6 weeks for the process to work. This is what one of my stumps looked like after five weeks of intermittent rain and my total neglect.

Rotting nicely. When I pulled the grass away from the base of the stump I could see the wood crumbling quite a bit.

While doing some research on this whole process, I stumbled across an interesting fact: potassium nitrate, the active ingredient in this stump remover product, is also sometimes called saltpeter. If that word conjures visions of pirates and cannonballs, there’s a reason. It’s one of the main elements in gunpowder. That’s right, gunpowder. Which made the final step in the stump removal process seem suddenly much more exciting.

You can just let everything rot and then hack out the debris, but the manufacturer recommends starting a fire on the stump to burn out the remaining wood.

That’s right, fill your stump with saltpeter, then light it on fire.

Am I a pyromaniac, or does that not just sound fun?

The science behind it is the absorbed saltpeter allows the fire to burn right through to the roots of the stump, whereas a normal fire would burn only until it ran out of oxygen–pretty fast when you’re underground.

How can I not try this?

I got it started with a few leaves and some dry sawdust; some recommend a few charcoal briquettes or some kerosene (NOT gasoline). Be prepared though: it's a slow burn that must be watched for several hours or even a few days.

Low-maintenance Monday: The Callery pear

Mary Fisher’s urban backyard reflects clarity of vision, restraint and discipline, illustrating her expertise as a master gardener. Although simple in design, her garden gets its richness and interest from texture and the repetition of a small number of select plants. “It’s simple and uncluttered,” she says about her wonderful garden featured in Gardening from a Hammock, “and I am coming around to that in my whole life.”

What immediately captures your eye in her urban backyard is a silver-green screen at the back of her property. The screen is made of three graceful, pyramidal Callery pear trees whose delicate appearance belies their hardy nature. “Pear trees are so hardy that they prosper throughout the city of New York,” explains Mary. “In spring they have great white blossoms that look like clouds. They are ornamental with beautiful, shiny green leaves, and yellow colour in the fall. Since they are columnar, they are ideal for a small space.”

photo courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

The Chanticleer Callery pear is resistance to blight and limb breakage. The tree will not produce an edible fruit, it is only grown for ornamental reasons. It has attractive flowers, leaves and bark. Bark is at first smooth, light brown to reddish-brown then later turns grayish brown with shallow furrows. The abundant white spring flowers are fragrant, with masses of white blossoms with purple centres. Leaves are glossy dark green and turn yellow or reddish-purple in the fall.

This columnar tree grows 13 metres high and about five metres wide in zones 4 to 9. It makes a strong enough statement to be used as a specimen, an accent, as a screen or to line a walkway. These trees are recommended for small spaces and vertical gardening, as well.

Plant in full sun. Prune in winter or early spring. Because of its pyramidal shape and branching structure, the crown is less prone to break with heavy winter snow than the ‘Bradford’ pear tree. These trees can survive periods of drought, cold, and air pollution and even salty coastal winds.

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Paperbark maples

No matter how fast the pace on my morning walk, I always make a dead stop in front of one house–the one that has three paperbark maples on the front lawn. No matter what the season, there is always something special on these small trees: the bark in winter, the flowers in spring, the shape in the summer and the blazing leaf colour in the fall. 


Acer griseum, or paperbark maple, is a real showstopper. It can be the ornamental focal point of a garden and it provides interest year-round.

This paperbark image was taken at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Most striking–and most obvious–is its dramatic, exfoliating bark. It has shades of cinnamon red and brown throughout the year, peels in thin sheets and also looks smoothly polished in other places. This alone would be enough in a plant to make it a star, but there is much more.

In early spring, small yellow flowers appear. The foliage is green in spring and summer, but then it explodes into brilliant orange and red in the autumn, providing dramatic colour in the garden.

That is still not all that makes it a favourite tree. It is a small maple, so it’s ideal for city lots or as an understory tree. It is slow growing, climbing to seven metres (23 feet), but that could take 20 to 50 years. In the meantime, the paperbark maple requires little pruning and is insect resistant. It also has an upright oval shape, which provides a stately architectural detail. Best of all, it can be planted in full sun to part shade. That makes it ideal for a woodland garden. It also makes an excellent specimen plant, focal point or accent in a garden.

Acer griseum is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Goodbye, trees

Having been planted way back in the 1930′s, our poplar trees are starting to reach senior-citizen status. Some of them were planted right under where the power lines would end up running years later and, in consequence, as the trees have matured, they have needed trimming to keep them clear of the lines. While I shudder every couple of years at the drastic haircut, I’ve put up with it in the name of safety.

But last year they went too far. I came home to find one of the three less-than-ideally-placed poplars with its leader whacked and all of them with more than half the overall growth removed. (Not to mention one branch that had already died off still attached. Come on, it would have killed ya to take that while you were at it?) All three trees were already suffering from the regular attacks, but this was a death sentence.

You can see here the chair shaped chop that was the usual approach.

I called and complained. I was assured the crew were professionals and knew what they were doing. My eye. I assured the woman at Customer Service that what was left of my trees would be coming down, either on their tab, or later, on their precious line.

Sure enough, this spring all three trees were struggling, sending out stressed, weak growth. We had a strong wind storm and that dead piece they left up threatened to come down on the power line coming into the house. I called again. This time I got their attention and they sent out someone to check the situation.

This guy seemed to know a lot more than whoever actually did the cutting last time. He also informed me that the power company would prefer to remove the trees at their expense than trim them every few years. This was news to me. I’d rather put them out of their misery than watch them suffer. “Put me on the list,” I said.

And this week they showed up!

Going...

...going...

Gone! Just needs stump grinding...

It is sad in a way, but nice to be rid of that particular headache. I also have a nice big pile of wood chips to use for mulch. My kitchen is way sunnier in the afternoon than it used to be. And I have whole new design possibilities opening up…

How to tell if a tree is dead

Those little plant tags on new shrubs and nursery trees tell you all kinds of things: where to plant, how much to water, even sometimes a primer on hole preparation. But they never say much about what to do if Mother Nature pulls a fast one on you. Same for the magazines (no offence, CG staff): idyllic shots of root balls, mulch, and watering cans, but little mention of how to know if your green thumb has turned black.

I’ve been the death of at least one tree and several tomato seedlings. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this winter has done under one or two of the plants I’ve put in over the last two years, including my mountain ash that I apparently can’t stop talking about. So I got a quick refresher from my sister Jenni, an arborist, on how to assess the level of life or death in my springtime saplings. (For more mature trees, it really is worth it to bring in an arborist. Really.)

First things first: every plant is different. Peeling bark could be a warning sign on some plants, but for ninebarks it’s totally normal—actually, a feature.

Have a close look at the object of your concern. If it’s deciduous, are there buds on the branches? Are they soft and full? Your tree is probably still sleeping. Be patient. If they are shriveled and dry, check all the branches. Are they all like that, or just a few? It’s not unusual for some branches to die off from stress or exposure over the winter, but the rest of the tree can bounce back. If the plant has already leafed out but got zapped by a cold snap, or if the buds all spell doom, try snapping off the tip of one of the twigs. Does it crack easily, or is it bendy? Bendy means there’s still life in it.

If you’re really worried, and not in the mood to wait and see, here’s something you can try. Scratch into the bark of your tree just a couple of millimeters and hopefully you’ll see a soft, moist, green layer of tissue. That’s your cambium, the life-giving part of the tree, where all the other cells are produced. If you’ve got healthy looking cambium, there’s hope. Remember though, not every tree will have a really obvious green cambium. And even a little scratch is still a wound, adding stress to an already stressed tree. Consider yourself warned, but it’s an option.

Here's my mountain ash, showing a bright green cambium. Try a twig or branch before the trunk.

Junipers may look awfully grey, but if you can see some green in the leaves and they are still relatively pliable, they are likely okay.

It’s normal for conifers to lose some needles, so don’t be too alarmed if you see some bronzy ones dropping to the ground. The ones to watch are the needles at the tips of the branches. If those are dropping, you may have a Code Blue. Evergreens continue to transpire (lose water) over the winter, so even with melting snow they could be feeling pretty dry by now. Some judicious drinks of water may rescue them.

Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I'm worried about this guy. Gave him a nice big drink today.

Now, with all that said, I’m a big believer in giving any plant a full season to show itself. Give the poor guys a chance before you rip them out of the ground. I had an Amur maple I was sure was toast (the deer certainly thought it was food), but it came back from the root and (with some love) is now a healthy four-foot tree. There’s a bittersweet vine I never got around to pulling out last year, and in September I noticed leaves on it.

Never give up. Prune back dead bits so the plant can focus its energy on the healthy parts, bring on the water, and – like a good gardener – cross your fingers and hope.

So is it spring or isn’t it?

I woke up at 3 am this morning to a baby fussing. I rolled over, and thought, “Just a few more hours, little girl, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now, we’ll both be miserable for the rest of the day.”

She settled down on her own, and slept until 7:30, but I found myself repeating similiar words as I looked out my window at breakfast.

“Just a few more weeks, little tree, it’s not time yet. If you wake up now we’ll both be miserable, and you’ll end up dead.” The object of my mother-naturely concern: the European mountain ash I planted in my front garden last year.

The poor dear is so confused. Between the chinooks warming everything up and blowing away his nice chilly blanket of snow, he’s convinced it’s spring. We had a warm spell a few weeks back, and I had to bring snow from the drifts around the yard over to his base. I covered his toes while mumbling (yes, out loud), “Go back to sleep, you silly thing. It’s February.” No matter what the ground-hog may guarantee, I’m an Alberta girl. I’ve seen one too many April snowstorms. Around here, you don’t plant anything tender before the May long weekend any more than you’d give chewing gum to an infant. I’m not that worried about the big old poplars; they’ve seen more winters than I have and will hardly wilt at a late frost. A young tree budding in early March is doomed.

Or is it? Driving around on the highways today, the Canada geese are everywhere and the gophers are running around getting themselves run over. There was frost on the windshield this morning, but my tulips (and the shepherd’s purse) are showing growth. Maybe it is spring, and I’m being overprotective. Maybe I need to let my baby tree out on its own — sink or swim — just like a toddler learning to walk is going to get a few bruises. But I can’t help wanting to coddle him just a little this first year. I know spring and its fickle nature can have too many casualties.

On the top of my priority list for this year: start a shelterbelt to protect my little mountain ash and all his friends (as well as eliminating the snow drifts across the driveway. Hopefully.)

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