{ Archive for the ‘trees and shrubs’ Category }

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.)

An ode to trees

Had to share with you a podcast I listened to this week from CBC Radio’s Definitely Not the Opera. It gets people from all over the country telling their stories about the trees in their lives.

Here’s a few of my stories. What are yours?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was really morning sick, all day. I worked on the north end of Edmonton and rode the bus home to the University area. The driver on the route I took really liked to take the corners tight, and by the time we got over the High Level Bridge, and took that little twist at the end, I was turning green. I would hold it in until I got off the bus, but I would more often than not succumb to the nausea about half a block east. This neighborhood is/was full of mature leafy giants planted in the boulevard that give the streets that lovely canopy of shade. There was one tree I would lean against while… taking care of business. This might sound goofy, but I swear, it held me up. It felt like it was letting me suck a little energy out of it. More than once I saw people giving me funny looks, and I’m pretty sure they thought I was dead drunk at 10 pm, but I’d just hug my tree, say thank you, and carry myself home to bed.

My grandparents’ weeping birch I told you about earlier this summer has lots of memories. We lived with Grandma for awhile after Grandpa died, when I was in high school. That tree had great branches, and I would climb up there and wait for rides. I was totally hidden in the branches. I’d jump down to the ground when my friends drove up, appearing out of nowhere, and pretty soon the running joke was that I lived in the tree, not the house. That was okay with me; I loved that tree. We were buddies.

We hired an arborist in the spring of 2009 to rescue our mature poplars (been topped one too many times). He gave us a free estimate, worked fast and neat, left us loads of wood chips to use, and came in under his quote. Then this spring, after they’d leafed out, the same poplars were attacked by the power company’s “arborists.” It looked like one side of three of them had been shaved. I think they’ve killed one; they took probably 60-70% of the growth off of it. I swear, give me a bucket truck and I would have done a better job. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very healthy respect for the situation–my sister is an arborist and she’s married to a power linesman, so I’m pretty well educated. But I was raging for weeks. I want to hire my guy back and bill the power company. How do you think that would go over?

Anyhow… trees. Love ‘em. This podcast also helped me commit: I am going to quit threatening and actually plant an apple tree this spring. I’ve had my eye on a Prairie Sensation…

Cool things to plant from PC

This past weekend marked the official launch of the President's Choice Insider's Report (Lawn & Garden edition). And as we head into the long weekend, you may want to check it out and make a list of all the great new flowers, trees, bushes, herbs, fruits and veggies that will be stocked at a Loblaw-owned store near you.

I had a bit of a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago at the annual President's Choice Lawn & Garden event. This year's plant preview took place in Beamsville where we had the opportunity to tour the greenhouses at the family-run Linwell Gardens and Freeman Herbs.

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

Here are some of the plants and products that I took an interest in for my own garden or that were too cool not to mention:

Sunpatiens
Impatiens no longer have to be confined to those shady areas of your garden. There's a new hybrid in town that does well in full sun.

Tumbler tomatoes
I had a nice chat at Freeman Herbs with Bob Martin from Martin Farms. I met Bob last year at a Stokes Best and President's Choice tasting event. He was excited about their tumbler tomatoes, tomatoes that were bred for hanging baskets–genius! I remember them being quite delicious. It's really neat to see something go from the test garden to the store. Another tomato that made it into this year's product lineup was red candy. It was one of my favourites from last year and I recently took one home after our magazine editor Erin did a veggie presentation. Also worth trying, the Kapelo peppers.

Starburst surprise petunias
I'm not partial to any one colour in the garden, but my favourite colour in everyday life is pink–pale or fuchsia, it doesn't matter. So I fell in love with these gorgeous, two-toned petunias and was lucky enough to take one of the luxuriant hanging baskets home. Last night as I was buying soil, I grabbed a couple more individual plants to go in my front garden along with some pale yellow beauties.

A pink Starburst surprise!

A pink Starburst surprise!

Starbright Mock Orange
We have a second story going up on the bungalow behind us, which has killed our privacy. My fingers are crossed the owners build a fence, but in the meantime, I'm going to build a living fence. Currently we have cedars (not including the ones I planted last year that died) and a mulberry tree (which is pretty, but messy). This mock orange will fill one of the vacant spots beautifully–the Insider's Report says it will grow to be about 10 feet tall–here's hoping!

They don’t look plastic!
Rather than sell their pots in something generic that you'll have to hide in one of your own pretty pots, PC has these fantastic, decorative planters that you can just plunk right in front of your house without shame.

Can you believe this is only $30!

Can you believe this is only $30!

Check out the PC Garden blog, written by City Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan. It will give you even more ideas on what to plant from President’s Choice.

p.s. Many apologies for the delay between posts! I've been under the weather for the last two weeks. On the mend!

My forsythia in bloom

I was in my yard every day this weekend, but my forsythia waited until Monday to explode with its yellow blossoms. No matter, I will still have time to enjoy it for another week or so!

I wish these blooms would last at least a month longer!

I wish these blooms would last at least a month longer!

Adopt the right tree for your yard

tree-atlas2The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has recently created a Tree Atlas. This helpful tool allows you to choose your region on a map and then provides you with a list of trees that will thrive in your area. Each tree’s page features photos, optimal growing conditions and interesting facts. Surf around a bit and you will find there is also lots of helpful information about the environmental importance of trees, as well as Ontario’s pledge to plant 50 million trees by 2020. You can make your own pledge to plant a tree by filling out a special form on the site. My lot is not particularly huge, but once we decide how we’re going to block out the new two-story house going up behind us, I will be ready to make my pledge!

My garden fail!

A couple of weeks ago, I enthusiastically gave the flowers I planted in my garden this year almost straight A's in a little gardening report card. This was not only a fun exercise to reflect on the season, it will also help me remember what to consider for next year. Sadly, I have a garden `fail` to add. I was very excited about finding some mid-sized cedars this spring to go along my back fence. For some reason one of them completely died on me… I'm still not sure what I did wrong. But next year, whatever I choose to plant in its place will be coddled and very well taken care of.

My sad little cedar

My sad little cedar

Timber…look out below!

timber2This past Sunday, we were enjoying a quiet family breakfast, when all of a sudden we heard two chainsaws rev up. Now it was almost nine o’clock, but seriously it was SUNDAY morning!

Apparently our neighbor was having a tree removed. I didn’t think arborists worked on Sunday, but obviously these guys do. Aside from being slightly annoyed at our traquil morning begin interupted, I couldn’t help but admire the grace and agility of the aborist clamoring up the tree. The tree is question was a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). It hadn’t been in good shape several main branches were dying and it had barely sprouted any leaves this spring. From the time the two man crew started, it took them two hours to cut the tree down. One man was in the tree cutting the branches off it sections, and the other was on the ground, cutting up the branches into smaller pieces.timber

I had to take an aboricultre class in school and we did several field trips where we had to climb (or attempt) a tree using all the gear. Let me tell you it’s TOUGH! I really admire how easy they make it look. Not only do they have to make sure they’ve got a safe roosting spot in the tree, but they also have to wield a chainsaw and direct the falling branches to a safe location below. I’m impressed …. even if it was Sunday morning!

Trees for Toronto

trees-for-torontoWhile I'm on the subject of Toronto, as I was driving over the Bloor Viaduct on my way to yesterday's event, I was admiring the gorgeous canopy of trees in the Don Valley that are just beginning to turn. Living in the city you sometimes forget just how much green space there is.

Queen's Park is another gorgeous `green` area in the city and last week, William Thorsell, Director & CEO of the ROM along with Toronto Parks and Environment Committee Chair Paula Fletcher unveiled new interpretive panels and tree identification signs as part of Trees for Toronto. The aim of TFT is to renew the urban forest in Queen's Park, which originally opened in 1860. It is home to 47 varieties of trees, including red and white oaks, butternuts, Norway maples, lindens and pines.

Has anyone seen these panels up close yet?

Touring wild rose country

alberta-wildroseI'm currently in Northern Alberta taking in all the pristine, untouched wilderness this lovely province has to offer.

Kodak lent me one of their new EasyShare M381 digital cameras to capture the gorgeous sites. My old camera had a big docking station you had to plug into the wall and then the computer to upload photos. This one just takes a USB cord and was pretty easy to use out of the box.

alberta-jackpinesI haven't seen any wild roses, but I love the trees pictured here. I'm not sure why, but I call them scrubby pines. They're actually Jack Pines and apparently they are one of the first trees to grow after a forest fire. This is what Wikipedia says about them: “It is fire-adapted to stand-replacing fires, with the cones remaining closed for many years, until a forest fire kills the mature trees and opens the cones, reseeding the burnt ground.”

These would be perfect to line the back of my yard to give us privacy from the giant house going up behind us. The soil in my yard is pretty dry and I wouldn't have to trim as they grow fairly straight. I'm wondering if it's something I could buy at a nursery…

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