Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Time to Visit Someone Else's Garden

         It’s too early to work in the garden, a little too cold to enjoy being outside and your to-do list is shorter now than it was before Christmas or will be after planting begins. 
         It’s time to take a journey into someone else’s garden, or into another time or place. Here’s a few reading suggestions, both old and new:

An Axe, a Spade & Ten Acres: The Story of a Garden and Nature Reserve by George Courtauld
A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell
Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard by Robert Benson

Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes by Sally Wasowski
The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry
Henry Mitchell on Gardening
Landscaping Ideas that Work by Julie Moir Messervy
Magpie Rising by Merrill Gilfillan
The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Non-native Flowers and Plants by Charlotte Adelman
Nature Cure by Richard Mabey
Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine White
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane
The Wilderness World of John Muir

Compiled by Karma Larsen

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bridging the Winter Gap

Christina Hoyt
        Winter has finally arrived in full force, sending most of us inside.  This is a good time of year to sit by the window and survey the landscape, especially with planting season just around the corner.  Does your landscape look drab?  Winter landscapes are challenging because of the absence of green foliage and the bright hues of the growing season.  During these months texture and form take on a vital role in enjoying the landscape.  There are a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials that can add texture and form in the winter.
        Trees get to showcase their bark and fruit during the winter months.  A few interesting ones to think about include Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum, photo opposite) with its cinnamon colored exfoliating bark, Yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea) has beautiful, smooth gray branches and glistening trunk; the multicolored bark of Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) and Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) with its bright orange berries that hold far into the winter season. 
        Shrubs can also give winter interest.  Red twig and Yellow twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) give medium texture and bold color.  Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) can add textural interest when the flower bracts are left on for the winter.  Sumac (Rhus typhina) looks architectural during the winter months, turning into a living sculpture. Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), which often blooms in late winter, gives a nice surprise to the passerby.  Finally, the Holly (Ilex x meserveae) with its glossy green foliage and red berries seems to defy even the worst of winter weather.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Gardener’s Resolutions

1. I’ll relax and be a little more nutty. I’ll plant more nut- and fruit-producing plants in my yard that have long seasonal interest and are great for birds and wildlife.
2. No more donuts—donut-like mulch rings around plantings, that is. I’ll use 2-3” of organic mulch to maintain soil moisture, reduce weed competition, improve soil fertility and reduce mower and weed trimmer damage. I’ll extend mulch to dripline of trees and group plants in “mulch islands” with similar needs, making them easier to maintain and mow around.
3. I’ll burn some calories by taking a weekly walkabout through the garden to pull weeds, deadhead spent flowers and monitor plant condition (a single weed can mature in a few weeks, often scattering hundreds of seeds for next year’s crop).
4. I'll start a new romance—with a deserving new tree. I’ll check out good regional plant recommendations from ReTree Nebraska, the GreatPlants program and other resources with plant information specifically for the region.
5. I’ll remember the grass isn't always greener on the other side, and resist the desire for a perfectly green, weed-free turf. Turf is expensive, time-consuming and the efforts to achieve it can cause significant problems in the rest of the landscape, so I’ll use turf species that require less maintenance, watering, fertilization and disease-prevention.
6. I won’t fall for the first pretty face I see in the nursery this spring. Annuals are often at their peak in May and June, but many longer-lived plants with long tap roots, such as grasses, prairie plants and some tree seedlings, don’t do as well in small pots. I’ll think beyond early summer for plants that are at their peak at the end of a hot,  dry summer and plants with interesting fall foliage, seedheads and textures.
7. I’ll be green—emphasizing a diversity of plants that can survive on natural precipitation and existing soil. When   possible, I’ll return plant residues to the soil. And I’ll keep in mind that only a very small percentage of garden insects are pests and use pesticides only when necessary.
8. I'll wear my firs proudly—Canaan, concolor, Fraser, Korean and Nikko fir for eastern Nebraska and concolor for western parts of the state.
9. I’ll work from the ground up... since healthy gardens start with healthy soil. I’ll add topsoil or compost if my soils, like most Nebraska soils, are heavy in clay, alkaline or low in organic matter.
10. I’ll teach my kids about the birds and the bees, and attract them to our yard with a diversity of perennials, shrubs and trees that will encourage wildlife and pollinators like birds, butterflies and insects. I’ll leave un-mowed areas for play and imagination and leave children spots of their own to dig, plant, build and play, include native plants and plants with interesting scents, textures, colors and smells.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Conifers Drop Their Leaves Too

White pine has more visible needle loss than most conifers.
Justin Evertson
        Although most conifer trees are considered to be evergreens, they all eventually drop their needles.  What makes them evergreen is that their leaves persist more than one year before falling.  Since new needles are added every year, there is always an overlap between green needles and those that are due to fall. 
        Most pine trees retain their needles for three to four years before dropping.  Depending on the species however, the period of retention can range anywhere from two years for some faster growing types to more than fifteen years for some slower growers like bristlecone pine.  In the Midwest, the evergreen with the most prominent needle drop is white pine.  Every fall these trees appear sprinkled with yellow, desiccating needles.  People that experience this for the first time, often assume these trees are sick or dying.   
        Needle drop is least evident on junipers, spruce and fir trees.  On these species, the needles typically persist until they are shaded out by branch growth.  Since these needles don’t dramatically change color when they drop, the act of shedding usually goes unnoticed.  However, walking under a mature spruce tree barefoot would painfully reveal the truth about needle drop.
        Believe it or not, there are actually a few types of conifers that shed all their needles every year.  These deciduous conifers include larch, bald cypress and dawn redwood. The larch with its golden yellow and the bald cypress and dawn redwood with their bronze hues can add great beauty to the fall landscape.  Such trees are unusual enough that more than one story has been told about people that removed such trees after they were mistakenly determined to be dead.  Yikes!