Monday, April 14, 2014

Plant Persimmon for Fall Fruit

Written by Kristina Jensen

        There is a rare and fascinating tree whose native range is just outside of Nebraska.  Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. is a deciduous tree that can be found growing in dry woodlands, limestone glades, prairies, thickets, abandoned fields and along roadsides. 
        In spring, tiny yellow bell-shaped flowers adorn newly leafed-out branches. The foliage is dark green and glossy above, paler below. It turns buttery-yellow in autumn, infrequently reddish-purple. One to two-inch berries change from green to yellow to dark orange in color before maturing in late fall. Dark, alligator back-like bark maintains interest through the winter.
        The fruit is edible and can be rather astringent before a flavor-taming frost. It has a wonderful pumpkin-like flavor and can be used in breads, puddings or other baked goods. 
        The persimmon has a variety of uses outside of the ornamental landscape.  Its suckering growth habit can be utilized for naturalized areas and erosion control.  Its fruit makes it a perfect choice for wildlife plantings and for human consumption.  The pulp can be used in a variety of baked goods, syrups, jellies and ice cream.  The seeds have been used as a coffee substitute; the leaves can be brewed for a tea; the flowers are useful in honey-making.  A relative of ebony, persimmon wood has also been valued in the production of textile shuttles, golf club heads and parquet flooring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Great Trees for Small Landscapes

  Don and Jan Riggenbach, Freelance Writers and Plant Lovers

        No matter how small your yard or how fully-planted you might think it is, you probably have room for at least one more tree.  Maybe not a giant oak, but most yards can still accommodate another small ornamental tree, or one of the delightful understory trees that are native, or adapted, to our Midwestern landscapes.
        During the first 15 years we lived on our acreage we enjoyed the native woodlands that surround a ravine on the property.  But we wanted a lot more variety, height, shade and structure in our landscape so we began planting species and cultivars of native and introduced, non-invasive trees and shrubs about 15 years ago.  Our collection has grown to several hundred and we love them all, but here are a “delightful dozen” that rank among our favorites.
        Shantung maple (Acer truncatum). This is a terrific small maple, whose leaves turn a beautiful reddish-orange in fall.  Our specimen was damaged by the October 1997 snowstorm, but with a little pruning quickly recovered its oval shape.  It does best in full sun but can take a little shade and still produce fall color.
        Trident maple (Acer buergerianum), photo top right.  Even visitors who profess no interest in trees seem to notice the dainty, 3-lobed leaves and muscly trunk of this delightful small maple.  The dark green leaves turn a brilliant red every fall, and our two specimens have shrugged off some major snow and ice storms.
        American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). “Musclewood” is a small, adaptable, understory tree with few insect or disease problems and nice orange-red fall color.  It’s perfect for filling the gap between grass or groundcovers and the crowns of bigger shade trees.
        Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum).  Our 13-year-old katsura towers 35’ above a pathway behind the house.  Its rounded leaves—red-tinged in spring, blue-green in summer and yellow in the fall—never fail to attract visitors’ interest.  We like it so much we’ve planted two more. 
        White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), photo opposite. This tiny, slow-growing tree, which thrives in either partial shade or full sun, rewards us with a spectacular flower show every spring.  A friend gave us the 1917 book Trees Worth Knowing, which says, “Whoever goes into the woods in May is rewarded for many miles of tramping if he comes upon a ‘snow flower tree’ (fringetree) in the height of its blooming season…an experience that will not be forgotten.”  Fortunately, you can grow one at home and save the tramping.
        American yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea). This handsome, low-branching, rounded tree is mid-sized.  We like its spring show of lacy white flowers, although ours often takes a year off between peak performances.  Its bright green leaves provide a nice contrast to the darker leaves of oaks and maples. 
        Seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). This unusual small tree provides a late summer show of 6-inch-long clusters of creamy-white flowers.  After the petals fall, the sepals turn rosy-red, producing a stunning flowering effect that lasts until Thanksgiving.  Seven-son has handsome, peeling bark that resembles that of a crapemyrtle.
        Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Dawn redwood’s delightful, feathery, bright-green leaves change to rich, reddish-brown in the fall.  It’s a deciduous conifer from Asia, once thought to be extinct, and grows fairly rapidly into a huge, pyramidal tree.  Ours flourishes in a low, wet, open spot.
        American hophornbeam  (Ostrya virginiana). Happy in either full sun or as an understory tree, “ironwood” has elm-shaped leaves and showy spring flowers.  In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr writes that its autumn color is seldom effective and the leaves fall early.  That has not been the case for our hophornbeams.  Instead, the leaves turn from yellow to rusty brown, hanging on most of the winter. We love the greenish-white fruits that resemble hops, too.
        Mongolian oak (Quercus mongolica). We’d grow this one for its bright red fall color alone, although its dark-green summer foliage is eye-pleasing, too.  Our two specimens are low-branching with a full, oval shape and no problems.
        Common sassafras (Sassafras albidum). A pleasure in all four seasons, sassafras has bright yellow early-spring flowers and multi-shaped leaves that are bright green in summer, changing to orange, red and purple in fall.  The bark is a dark reddish brown, very handsome in winter.  Although suckering can occur, ours has remained a handsome, single-stemmed tree and has yet to produce a single sucker.
        Lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia), photo opposite. This is the real Chinese elm, not to be confused with the weedy, breakage-prone Siberian elms that are often mistakenly called Chinese.  The lacebark has, as its name suggests, beautiful bark.  It also has small, glossy-green leaves and is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease.   Two great cultivars are ‘Glory’ and ‘Hallelujah’ from Arbor Village Nursery in Holt, Missouri. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Divide and Conquer—Perennials, that is!

Bob Henrickson

Five minute web video at

        Dividing perennials is an excellent way to expand a flower border.  It rejuvenates older plants which may have begun to die out in the center, and the new clumps are sturdy enough to become healthy, mature plants in the first year.  It can help prevent an existing bed from being taken over by one plant and it’s fast, easy, and inexpensive.  If you have a new space that will require about 20 plants to fill in, for instance, you might consider buying only five perennials and filling the rest of it with annuals until the perennials get large enough to divide. 

When and How to Divide?

        It’s best to divide plants when they’re still healthy and looking good but division rejuvenates even older, failing plants.  The mild weather of fall and early spring is a good time to divide perennials—when they’re using their energy to establish roots rather than for top growth.  Another benefit of spring division is that growth is still very low to the ground, so you don’t have to worry about breaking stems. In general, it’s best to divide spring-blooming flowers in fall and summer- and fall-bloomers in spring.
        If you divide plants later in the season, cut back the foliage to reduce heat stress and encourage new growth.  Warm, windy days will cause the foliage to wilt, no matter how moist the soil. Work in the cool hours of the day if possible and try to avoid windy days.  It’s best to divide a few days after rain or watering so the root system is moist and doesn’t fall apart.
        Some plants are fibrous or have a loose crown and root system, making it easy to pull them apart.  A flat spade, pitchfork or knife can be used to break clumps into halves or quarters, while trying to leave the crown sections of the plants fairly intact. It may be easier to remove the entire plant before dividing.  Keeping the clumps fairly large reduces stress and aids in establishment.  If you’ll be moving a lot of plants or sizable ones, consider using a wheelbarrow half filled with compost to fill any holes left behind; the compost will provide renewed, fertile soil for both the old and new plants.
        Place the plants at their original depth in a hole at least as wide and deep as the root spread so the roots aren’t tipped up or curled back against each other. After planting, mulch with a 1-2” layer of grass clippings or straw and water them generously. When new growth appears, plants are on their way to establishment and can be watered less frequently to encourage roots to grow deep into the soil.

§  Perennials, easy to divide:  aster, beebalm, black-eyed susan, boltonia, coneflower, daylilies, goldenrod, hosta, sedum, spiderwort (opposite)
§  Perennials, difficult to transplant because of long tap root: anemones, balloon flower, candytuft, columbine, Euphorbia, foxglove, gas plant, geranium (perennial), milkweed, oriental poppy
§  Perennials, difficult to transplant because of woody stem:  Baptisia, butterfly bush, lavender
§  Perennials, woody-stemmed ones that may propagate by branch-rooting—separating a side shoot or branch and covering the stem with soil to create a new plant while still attached (cut once established): Artemisia, leadplant, Russian sage
§  Grasses, easy to divide: feather reed grass, dropseed, sedge, switchgrass
§  Grasses, difficult to divide because of woody crown or tight-clumping: little bluestem, Miscanthus

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Signs of Spring

Ryan Chapman, former intern for Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

        Spring-blooming bulbs are some of the best flowers to usher in spring.  Though most are not native, they tend to fit well into gardens by extending the season of interest.  If naturalizing (spreading) species are selected, bulbs can be considered low maintenance perennials.
        One of the places bulbs can be planted is into warm season turf lawns which green up slowly.  This provides early color before the grass greens up.  Foliage can be mowed when the flowers have withered and the grass breaks dormancy.    
        When selecting bulbs, there are many different types to consider.  Undoubtedly tulips are the most well-known of the bulbs.  Tulips bloom in mid to late spring, with an entourage of different colored flowers that are excellent for cutting.  Tulips that are referred to as botanical tulips should be selected for their ability to naturalize unlike the majority of tulips which are often short-lived and need periodic replacing. 
Checkered Lily (Fritillaria) is an unusual bulb with nodding flowers on slender stems.  The purple, mauve, or white flowers have a distinct checkered pattern.
Crocus (Crocus) is one of the earliest blooming bulbs, often peaking up though the snow in bicolored varieties or in pinks, purples, whites and yellows.  The buds are oval in shape when closed and open with three inner and three outer segments.  Since crocus bloom for only a few weeks, mixing varieties will extend bloom times more than a month.
Daffodil (Narcissus hybrids) flowers have a trumpet-like structure fused to overlapping petals.  They come in a variety of whites, pinks, yellows and oranges, blooming in early to mid-spring.  They make excellent cut flowers but should not be placed in water with other flowers as the daffodils’ sap will kill them.  Unlike tulips, daffodils are shown to be resistant to deer, squirrels, gophers and rabbits. 
Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) is a good neutralizer sometimes seen growing in lawns. Flowers are star-shaped with strappy petals in colors of lavender, blue and white.
Fritillaria; squill; hyacinth.
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) emerge with the appearance of a green traffic cone that emerges in blue, pink, purple, rose or white flowers in mid-spring.  They are frequently found in grocery stores in the winter because they are easy to force.  Though they don’t naturalize, the strong fragrance makes them particularly appealing, both in the garden and as cut flowers.
Hyacinth, grape (Muscaria armeniacum) blooms in April and May with blooms of tiny bell- shaped purplish or blue flowers clustered on a stalk.  They often last more than three weeks and are excellent for cutting.
Squill or Scilla (Scilla siberica) is one of the best naturalizers, blooming with blue star to bell-shaped nodding flowers in March and April.   It is also sometimes incorporated into turf grass, offering a sign of spring throughout the yard.
Snowflakes (Leucojum sp.) are a mid-spring bloomer that naturalizes readily, with white bell-shaped flowers that dangle from long sturdy stems.