Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tough Tree for the Great Plains--Chinkapin Oak

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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Time to Gather Wild Plums

Bob Henrickson
        It’s a banner year for wild plums. Along trails and roadsides throughout Nebraska, you should be able to find plenty of ripe plums for juices, jellies, jams and sauces.
        Wild  or American plum, Prunus americana,  is a small native tree or shrub that forms dense thickets with sharp-tipped twigs. The abundance of ripe 1-inch plums in late summer or early autumn makes this a favorite of wild food buffs. When ripe, the sweet yellow, red or purple fruits are fleshy and juicy. 
       Plums can be eaten fresh in season or processed into a sauce for meats or desserts. Plum jelly and jam are great for bread or toast and spiced plum jelly makes a great baste for roast meat, especially wild game. 
       The Omaha tribe often dried the fruit for winter use and planted corn, beans and squash when their fragrant spring flowers came into bloom. (Note: these aggressive, thicket-forming shrubs can be contained by surrounding them with mowed areas or other thicket-forming shrubs nearby for competition.)
4 cups plum juice
3 cups sugar
Mix in large, heavy kettle and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and allow to boil gently till it reaches jelling point, about 20-25 minutes. 
 k . It's delicious and easy to make as well. Kay recommends sauteing it with onion, mushrooms and butter, then adding a little flour, some milk, salt and pepper and maybe a dab of sour cream at the end. 
*Excerpted from the 2014 GreatPlants Gardener

Monday, August 25, 2014

Edible windbreak--chokecherry thicket for juices, jellies and jams

Bob Henrickson
        Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, is a durable large shrub forms dense thickets, making it useful for a quick screen. Chokecherry often gets overlooked as a landscape plant because of its suckering habit but it’s well-behaved in shady conditions or in confined beds. The fragrant, pendulous flowers are beautiful in early spring, followed by showy red fruit clusters that change to black when ripe. In earlier times, the cherries were pounded to a pulp, pits and all, shaped into small cakes and laid out to dry in the sun. They make one of the most delicious jellies in the world and prepared chokecherry juice can be used for syrups, jellies or mixed with yogurt, honey and gelatin for a delicious mold dessert.

        Kay Young has some wonderful recipes in her book Wild Seasons. Chokecherry Fizz is one of my favorites. It’s a mix of 3-4 tablespoons chokecherry syrup, 3/4 c. tonic water or ginger ale, a squeeze of orange or lime juice and ice.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lamb's quarters--a superfood like its cousin quinoa

Bob Henrickson
        Ava Chin, Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times, writes about lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), “I remember the first time I tried lamb’s quarters, nibbling on the young, tender raw leaves plucked from the tip of the plant. I thought they tasted pretty much like other leafy greens. I didn’t expect to be wowed once I got them into my kitchen. But after sautéeing them in olive oil and adding a little bit of salt, I took my first bite and nearly dropped my fork. I knew lamb’s quarters was supposed to taste like spinach, but I wasn’t prepared for them to out-spinach spinach.”
        To harvest it, gather the top growth from young plants (gather a bunch because you can store it in freezer bags once it’s blanched). Like its cousin quinoa, it’s a super-food—high in Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron.
        Kay Young has a wonderful recipe for creamed lamb’s quarter greens in her book Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains. It's delicious and easy to make as well. Kay recommends sauteing it with onion, mushrooms and butter, then adding a little flour, some milk, salt and pepper and maybe a dab of sour cream at the end. 

*Excerpted from the 2014 GreatPlants Gardener

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Plant Selection Crucial in Dry Shade

Karma Larsen
Coral bells

       One of the challenges of gardening can be dealing with shade, particularly dry shade. Often it’s under the canopy of trees so rainwater is deflected away and plants need to compete for moisture, root space, nutrients, even airflow. Narrow spaces between buildings or under north-facing eaves offer the same challenge.  
       Moisture and sunlight are essential to plants. When those things are limited the plant possibilities are somewhat narrowed, or at least less familiar. This may be because plants for shade tend to be less showy—blooming less and for shorter periods of time. Shadows darken and mute any color, so some of the best plants for shade are ones with pale or variegated foliage or blossoms that can stand out against a dark backdrop. In shade, characteristics like texture and form are just as important as color.
       Fortunately there are many plants that can thrive in areas with minimal moisture and sunlight. Hostas are perhaps the best-known, loved and most-used of shade perennials… and for good reason. They’re hardy and long-lived and they come in an amazing variety of sizes, textures and colors. They spread slowly and reliably, just enough to make them the perfect plant for sharing!
       Coral bells are available in a huge range also, with foliage ranging from purple to chartreuse to bronze.  Like hosta and astilbe, they are stalwarts of the shade garden. Very similar but less familiar is foam flower or Tiarella.  Some cultivars have dark purple veins and foliage persists into winter.  The flowers are delicate and smoky but the foliage is the real star.
Jack Frost Brunnera
       Green is the predominant color for shade plants, but using plants of varying size and texture can provide as interesting a contrast as even the boldest color difference. Ferns, with their delicate cut foliage, arching stems and unfurling leaves, are a wonderful contrast to large, glossy-leaved hostas. For subtle but effective color contrast, try Japanese painted fern with purple, silver and almost metallic tones.
       Other lesser-known beauties for shade include Solomon’s seal with beautiful, bending stems from which flowers and later berries dangle below the foliage. The new variegated ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera has finally brought more attention to this genus with large, deeply-veined, heart-shaped leaves and starry blue flowers in early spring. Corydalis has small yellow flowers and finely cut, silvery foliage. Like the other plants mentioned above, these are all tough plants that can handle difficult conditions.
       For seasonal beauty midwinter, the bright red stems of red twig dogwood and berries of viburnums, cotoneaster and coralberry offer color. For persistent or semi-persistent green, there’s periwinkle, creeping mahonia, Hypericum and Myrica. In early spring, Lenten roses and snowdrops can bloom right through the cover of snow.  Both have beautiful blossoms, but the subtle greenish purples and pinks of the former and the close-to-the-ground greens and whites of the latter demand close attention. The tiny bulb squill, or Scilla, has bright blue flowers in early spring, then goes dormant as summer approaches.
Perennial Geranium
       For groundcovers, good options are lamb’s ear, periwinkle, Lamium, lily of the valley, Pachysandra, snow-in-summer, lady’s mantle, wild ginger, Epimedium and perennial Geranium. Almost any plants for shade work as groundcovers, as they tend to be grown for foliage more than flower and tend to spread and cover.
       Few shade plants are grown for their blossoms alone but daylilies can bloom in fairly dense shade, and columbine, foxglove, coral bells, Brunnera, Bergenia, Geranium, Corydalis, foam flower and sedum all offer beautiful flowers. Understory shrubs, many with spring blossoms, include viburnum, black jetbead, snowberry, dogwood, witch hazel, Kerria and Carolina allspice.
       When planting shade-lovers, consider adding organic matter to increase moisture retention and enrich the soil. Though they can handle dry shade, like all plants they need regular watering until their roots are established.
       A final, seasonal idea for shady outdoor spaces is to put houseplants out for the summer.  They’ll repay you with healthy new foliage when you bring them back inside in early fall. You can leave them in their pots, plant them into soil or bury them, pots and all until it’s time to bring them indoors. They’ll enjoy the shade and shelter outdoors just as much as you do.