Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wahoo for the Wahoo

Burning bush is widely planted for fall color while its native cousin the eastern wahoo or Euonymus atropurpurea is not widely known, planted or even available. It deserves attention, however, as eastern wahoo offers far more than just one season of beauty.
        Granted, its fall color is a less dramatic pink to scarlet but it bears purplish-brown 4-petaled flowers in June and July, green bittersweet-like capsules that blush pink starting in September and persist bright red into winter. Even in late winter, its gray, corky stems and horizontal branching pattern draw attention in the more subtle winter landscape.
        Unlike its high-maintenance cousin, it’s a native that is used to surviving hot, dry weather without supplemental care or water. It’s larger than burning bush, growing 10-12 feet high, and is most often grouped in naturalized plantings. But it has merit as a specimen planting as well, becoming flat-topped with age.
Written by Sue Kohles and Karma Larsen

Eastern wahoo in summer, mid-fall and winter (top & right).


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Autumn Cabaret

Christina Hoyt
        Autumn is my favorite time of the growing season because of the rich colors and textures.  It's like a cabaret of rustling grasses and whirling leaves—the big finale before winter sets in. If only we could get several encores before the world fades to winter drab. 
         We anticipate the striking reds, blazing oranges and glowing yellows found in the maple and beech forests of the east coast. But those magnificent colors are not always part of Nebraska’s show, where leaves can progress from green to brown overnight, making “fall color” an unreliable occurrence in Nebraska. Though trees may be the first thing we think of for fall color, they don’t always produce a brilliant show.  Without enough moisture, sunlight and the perfect blend of cooling temperatures, plants will not develop incredible color. And many of the trees that can handle Nebraska’s temperature extremes and drought are not known for fall color. So instead we increase our color vocabulary to include gold, tan, russet, burgundy, cinnamon, red, ocher, yellow, orange, brown and eggplant. Besides those subtle colors and the wonderful rustle of leaves beneath our feet, we can pay more attention to bark and form. Fall is a reminder to plant trees based on site conditions first and foremost, with fall color as an added bonus.
        But there is more to fall than just color. Grasses are right at home in Nebraska gardens and they correspond to the natural landscape around them. The seedheads of grasses are at their peak fall and winter, turning subtle shades of burgundy, orange or blues with the shortening days. Grasses are a beautiful sight to see, whether backlit by the low light of autumn or laden with frost.
Anemones and little bluestem
        Many shrubs hang onto their fruit into fall and winter months, enlivening the landscape with bright-colored fruits that are suddenly more evident as leaves fall to the ground. And shrubs like chokeberry (Aronia), sumac (Rhus) and shrub roses (Rosa) have fairly reliable fall color.
        Perennials are not generally planted for fall interest, but they can provide striking impact into autumn and winter. Coneflower (Echinacea) and Rudbeckia have prominent dark-colored seedheads that add shape and texture to the fall garden. Perennials like 
Amsonia and balloonflower (Platycodon) turn a brilliant yellow. Late-blooming perennials such as aster, monkshood and fall-blooming anemone extend the bloom season. Many other perennials, if cut back after the initial flowering, will give one last bloom before frost.
        This season, take time to sit back and enjoy the many acts in autumn’s show—and think about bringing that show into your own garden!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Best Place to Be—Getting Kids Outdoors

“One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is his or her own infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors.” Richard Louv

         The research is in and it’s clear… contact with nature improves concentration, productivity and cognitive development; relieves symptoms of attention deficit disorder; feeds imagination and encourages a "sense of wonder"; buffers stress; encourages activity; offsets obesity; promotes social interaction; appeals to a wide range of personality types, ages and learning styles; and improves brain structure, chemistry and function.
        Still, for most parents the strongest argument is their own memory of time spent outdoors as a child. One way to encourage that is to give some thought to your backyard or to areas that might offer good play spaces.  The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum  and the Nebraska Forest Service recommendsleaving some “rough edges” where kids can be creative and leave things in place to continue another day.  Even a 2-3 foot area is suitable for younger kids, possibly near a swing or sandpile.  rees, shrubs and tall grasses can help create forts or “hiding places.” Providing a variety of plants with interesting textures, shapes, seedheads, flowers and colors encourages outdoor exploration, and they will attract birds, butterflies and insects for even more interest. Below are some ideas and resources to help get the family outdoors. 
Things to provide
Soil, sand, gravel and water for digging and making sand castles, pathways and mud pies
Loose parts—sticks, wood, seeds, shells and rocks
Guide books
Variety of plants with interesting textures, colors and smells and ones that attract butterflies, bees, birds and insects
Magnifying glass, microscope and kids’ binoculars (magnification of 6x or less for close range)
Birdfeeders and bird baths
Things to do
1.       Nature Scavenger Hunt –Kids love to collect things in different colors, textures, shapes and smells. Have younger children find something purple.  For older children, make it more complex “Go find me something yellow that is rough and rectangular.”  Or play “I spy” and have them look for a green and yellow spider.
2.       Increase habitat by providing bird baths and feeders and keeping track of the birds you see.
3.       Build a fort or lean-to with old sheets, branches and wood.
4.       Do  leaf and bark rubbings or use them for other art projects. Pay attention to the different colors and shapes of the leaves in your neighborhood as they start changing color, and try to ID them.
5.       Look for spiders, butterflies, bird nests, ant trails and animal tracks.
6.       Start collections of rocks, seeds, insects.
7.       Take a walk, climb a tree, go fishing, fly a kite, watch the sunrise or sunset.
8.       Take a picnic in your own backyard, or set up a tent for camping.
9.       Whittle, with a butter knife for young kids.
10.    Jump in the leaves.
11.    Play hopscotch or other sidewalk games, or make your own stepping paths with bricks, stones or sticks.
12.    Grow plants from seed or transplant something you’ve found.
13.    Turn on the hose and play in the water, make a mud pie or sand castle.
14.    Put peanut butter on a cone or honey on the bark of a tree and see who comes to visit.
15.    Turn over rocks or bricks to see what’s hiding.
16.    Keep a journal or sketch book.
* Older kids can be encouraged to follow their interests—GPS technology for scavenger hunts; bird watching with binoculars and an ID guide; catching bugs; building lean-tos, stone walls or pathways; keeping an outdoor journal or sketchbook.
For all ages:  Guidebooks to insects, plants, rocks, weather, birds
Recommendations from Lincoln City Libraries:
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, Richard Louv
Backyards for Kids, Ziba Kashef
Follow the Trail: A Young Person’s Guide to the Great Outdoors, Jessica Loy
Go Outside! : Over 130 Activities for Outdoor Adventures, Nancy Blakey
Kids’ Places to Play, Jeanne Huber                `
The Adventurous Book of Outdoor Games: Classic Fun for Daring Boys and Girls, Scott Strother
The Dangerous Book for Boys, Conn Iggulden
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan
The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children, David Elkind
Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun, Bobbi Conner
Winter Day Play! Activities, Crafts, and Games for Indoors and Out, Nancy Castaldo
Web Resources
Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, 402/476-2729, www.lpsnrd.org
Metro Omaha resources for exploring nature with link to Go!Play, www.morenature.info
4-H resources, 4h.unl.edu
Pioneers Park Nature Center, lancaster.ne.gov/city/parks/naturecenter/
Nebraska Birding Trails, www.nebraskabirdingtrails.com
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, arboretum.unl.edu
Nebraska Forest Service Outdoor Learning website, outdoorlearning.unl.edu/

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chinkapin Oak--A Terrific Tree

 Justin Evertson

        Although nothing can replace bur oak as the king of Nebraska’s oak trees, chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) is definitely a tree that should be planted more throughout the state and central Great Plains region.  Chinkapin oak has a wide native range and is relatively abundant in the woodlands of southeast Nebraska where it can grow to over 70 feet tall.  Under cultivation the tree can be expected to reach a rounded height of 40 to 50 feet growing at a rate of one to two feet per year.  Chinkapin oak gets its name from its narrow, serrated leaves that somewhat resemble those of chestnut (the word chinkapin refers to trees in the chestnut family).  Although not considered spectacular for fall color, the leaves do turn a nice soft yellow. 
        An important advantage of chinkapin oak is its tolerance of alkaline soils.  In fact, the tree is often found growing on limestone bluffs where little else will grow. Thus, even on the high pH soils so common in Nebraska, the tree’s foliage will remain a dark, glossy green throughout the growing season.  Once established, chinkapin oak can tolerate significant drought as well as the saturated soils of over-irrigated lawns. Other advantages include the tree’s strong branching structure, its resistance to storm damage and its ability to live for decades when properly cared for.
        Although still relatively uncommon in the nursery trade, chinkapin oak is becoming more available in Nebraska nurseries every year.  In addition, NSA offers seedlings grown from native trees.  For those with a little more patience, chinkapin oak can be easily started from seed.  Acorns mature from late August through September and they are immediately ready to germinate when they fall to the ground.  In fact, the acorn will send out its first roots within a few days after sowing in the fall.  Be sure to protect the seeds over the winter from hungry animals by covering with a permeable material such as window screen or wire mesh.  The covering should be removed the following spring (by late April) before the above-ground stem begins to emerge.