Posts Tagged ‘Horticulture’

When you live with a gardener, it’s important to have ground rules, especially when it comes to new cars.  If you don’t establish boundaries with us, we’ll put the darndest things in that vehicle, things that are guaranteed to take away the new-car smell.

I married a car guy, one who loves heavy metal as much as I love the garden.  So when we purchased the convertible of my spouse’s dreams – a sweet Volvo C70 – he sat me down, gently took my hands, and laid down the law.  “That is a luxury vehicle,” he began, making sure we had eye contact.  “Promise me you won’t put plants in it.”  I nodded yes.

“No straw bales.  No buckets of fish for the pond.  No flats of seedlings.”  Nod, nod, nod.  “And honey,” he said, leaning slightly closer for emphasis, “no – absolutely no – manure.”

Before you get the wrong impression, let me say that my spouse normally doesn’t get heavy-handed with me.  But in this circumstance he knows me well, and knows that in the frenzy of spring, I’ll pack the car brim-full with supplies and plants, without regard for upholstery, carpeting, or vinyl. 

Because his request was reasonable and we do own a pickup, I happily agreed.  After all, I have rules, too, out in the garden.  No stepping in the raised beds.  No using weed whackers against the tree trunks.  No picking flowers unless you ask first (this is for the children in the neighborhood, but my spouse thinks it applies to him, and I let him).

In the 18 months we’ve owned the car I’ve done well with the rules, only getting away with a few seedlings in the trunk by placing them in a plastic box designed to keep the carpet dry.  But this all changed in the second spring of ownership, when fruit trees were offered for sale at a local store.

“Let’s see if they have what you want,” my spouse suggested when spring storms were keeping us from yard work.  And off we went, to discover that the store had one remaining Honeycrisp apple tree, a sturdy sapling as tall as I.  I was overjoyed.

Proudly we wheeled it from the store to our car, where we realized that, in our haste to go shopping, we forgot what we went shopping for.  My spouse glanced from car to tree, tree to car.  He opened the trunk and attempted to tuck it in.  But it wouldn’t fit, and after one look at my crestfallen face, my spouse sighed, shook his head, and put down the top of his beloved convertible. 

It turns out that seat belts are remarkably good at crossing the container and trunk of a tree, so that the sapling could ride home in safety.  Slowly we drove through town, cruising at a sedate 20 mph.  A fine spray of soil and mulch arose from the container, swirling to coat the interior as we headed home. 

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 Drivers behind us were not impressed, but when they honked I waved a hand at the tree and they seemed to realize what we were doing.  Either that or they were stunned speechless to see a tree strapped in like a toddler in our car. 

We arrived home without mishap, the honeycrisp is planted and the car has been vacuumed.  Sitting down together later that day, my spouse took my hands, looked into my eyes, and gently began “promise me you won’t put more plants in that car….”

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 When you pick up a perennial this spring, check the tag to see where it was grown.  If it came from Oregon, chances are it was watched over by Jeff Stoven, who’s keeping a watchful eye on his charges during a cold snap that has tender plants at risk of freezing their buds off.

As the Head Grower for Bailey Nurseries in Yamhill, Stoven is responsible for over 100,000 potted plants.  As temperatures plunged to 18 degrees at the end of February, he sprang into action to keep the quarter-million dollar crop protected, not with row covers or tarps.  Instead, the blanket he swaddled them in was a coating of ice.

“Because our spring was so early and warm in February, the plants started to grow,” he said, “and now we’re at a critical time because it got really cold and we have to protect the new growth.”

Using ice to protect citrus crops in Florida and Georgia is common practice, but many don’t realize that the technique is widely used in the nursery industry as well.  As water changes to ice, heat is released and protects the plant from cold.  The trick is to keep the conversion of water to ice going for as long as you have cold temperatures.

“We come in just before the freezing temperatures and turn on the sprinklers a little at a time,” Stoven said.  “We get them a little wet, and ice forms around stems and buds.  We’ll continue to the water on and off for the next few hours, but we don’t want to overdo the amount of water, because we don’t want a huge glob of ice to form.”

Other techniques for plant protection vary, including lighting fires and moving the warm air with fans, or flying a helicopter low and slow over the field to move the air, but Stoven sticks to the proven method of icing in the plants.  You’ll see the results this spring in the garden centers.

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When the call came in that a spruce tree was ailing in a way that baffled the local nursery, I was intrigued.  Garden center staff see a lot of strange plant things, and in order to stump them, the problem is usually a puzzler.

Any time a tree behaves badly I rush out to see it, like an ambulance chaser following a crew armed with chainsaws and chippers.  To avoid the disappointment of arriving to find the tree is normal, I’ve learned to ask for a description of the problem over the phone first.

“It defies description,” said the kind man on the other end of the line, “I honestly don’t know where to begin.”  Now, normally people have no trouble putting their plant’s distress into words, usually relying on such phrases as “bugs are eating my tree,” “weird oozing,” or the popular “I just woke up this morning and it was dead.” 

Here was a man who was speechless to describe it, and because he was referred to me by the nurseryman, I drove over.

 That nurseryman was right; one had to see this to believe it.  Under a mature spruce tree, thousands of small twigs littered the ground, falling from a tree towering more than 30-feet tall.  They were short tips of the branches, still green and succulent with life, covering the ground and lower branches.

The rain of twigs had been happening since mid-December, and to keep up with it, the couple had been sweeping up the twigs, collecting bushels full to take to the tree mulching yard.

I did the reconnaissance a tree diagnostician should do when coming upon a new patient – stood back and looked at the tree.  There were no obvious signs of stress – it looked healthy, top to bottom.  Stepping closer, the twigs scattered across the ground showed no signs of insects or disease.  But there was one, odd thing: A pattern to the cut ends.  They were all clipped at an angle. 

I’d seen this before, just not on such a large scale.  That angle was familiar, and slowly my eyes lifted to the fence line, upon which two squirrels were sitting and giving me the stink eye.  “You’ve got squirrels,” I said, “nipping your branches.”

Squirrels will do this, in winter or spring when food is hard to find.  They also do it at random times of the summer too, for no apparent reason.  Some foresters have suggested boredom.  And because the squirrels aren’t stripping the bark or eating the wood, I believe them.

There’s nothing to be done to stop the problem, but the good news it that the tree will be fine.  Although the damage seems alarming, a healthy tree can take a bit of twig loss.  If you find your tree suddenly losing its tips, check the discards closely for the tell-tale angled cut; if you find it, you’ll know it’s those squirrels, and not a disease.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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It takes time to get back in the swing after a Thanksgiving break, so while I’m gathering thoughts and thinking of blog posts, here’s one from my archives.  From December, 2007.

This time of year can be stressful on plants, and unless one is careful, the effects go beyond a mere crumpled leaf or broken branch.  So, with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, a poem to remind us of good care:

Twas a late winter night when all through the house, chaos was brewing ‘twixt foliage and spouse.  Many plants woo us with blooms during the holidays, but before you commit to taking one home, check to make sure you have the enough space.  Dodging large floor plants or maneuvering past tabletop flora while carrying decorations can lead to stress.

The tree was purchased, dragged home in a net, on the floor a spot cleared for it to be set.   Trees should be carefully located in an area out of the way from traffic, avoiding sources of heat, fireplaces or electrical outlets.  Before bringing your cut tree inside, take time to empty a spot with plenty of space to allow for set up and trimming.

The cacti were blooming, their bright flowers cheered; on the mantle with evergreens did kalanchoe peer.  Cool temperatures are best for prolonging the bloom on flowering plants.  If possible, set thermostats at 55 to 60 degrees at night, and 65 to 68 during the day.  Choose a location with bright, indirect light – directly in front of an east or west facing window is best – or focus a grow light on them in dimmer locations.

When to my wonder guests did arrive, dragging three children, two dogs and cold drafts inside.  Cold door drafts and traffic around branches are a plant’s bane, so take care to ensure that they’re not near entryways.  When carrying items in from the car, remember that drafts from open doors can rapidly chill these tropical beauties, and close the door in between trips.

My plants were in peril, trampled leaves had big holes; the poinsettia whooshed by like a slapshot on goal.  In general, plants and parties don’t mix well.  Happy tails and incautious guests can damage leaves or knock the plant over, leaving it looking the worse for wear after the fete.  Enjoy your plant’s flowering display from a safe location, out of the way from harm.

Off by the tree there arose such a clatter, of branches and bows and bells in a scatter.  Electricity fizzled, this was not what was planned – we’d forgotten to secure the tree to the stand.  The base of the tree should be cut as level as possible, without angles or points, so that it sits firmly in the stand.  Place fresh cut trees in a sturdy, stable stand with a ring large enough to encompass the trunk, or use open stands for thicker trunk size. Pick a stand with an adequate water reservoir for the tree.

Water was everywhere, the floor was a mess – the tree dropped its needles as if getting undressed.   Pines need water to keep their needles supple and attached to the tree.  But the cut end seals off with resin, preventing water from getting to the branches.  The longer a tree stays on the lot without water, the more likely it is to drop needles early.  Look for fresh trees with a firm grip on their foliage, and preserve your tree by making a new cut one inch from the end of the tree and plunging the end into warm water.  Keep the tree in one gallon of water from this point on, without allowing it to dry out.  

But the children were safe (though the dogs they barked faster) as we rushed in to fix the yuletide disaster.    But let the lesson be learned from this rhyme with a reason – may both people and plants have a safe holiday season.

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A buddy of mine, Alison O’Connor, is a graduate student at Colorado State University.  She’s working on her Phd. in horticulture, and as part of her research, she had to plant 27 trees today.  Playing in the mud is always preferable to pushing paper on a desk, so a bunch of us went over to give her a hand. 

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The trees needed to be planted as correctly as possible, and Alison offered us a refresher on proper planting techniques.  Planted too low or to high, and the tree suffers, unable to root out  to support the 100-year lifespan. 

If you’re popping a tree into the ground this fall, brush up your skills by following her step by step advice:

Measure the height of the root ball to determine depth of planting hole, which should be one to two- inches shorter than the root ball.

Dig saucer-shaped planting hole, three-times the root ball width.  Straight sides limit root expansion, so to get your tree off to a fast start, slope the sides of the hole.  We had straigh holes dug with an augur, then sloped the sides with a shovel.

 Remove tree from container, clip any girdling roots, score the rootball, then set tree in place.  The “knees” of the rootball – the top edge of the soil – must be about two inches above the planting hole. 

If your tree has a “dogleg” from grafting (a curve in the trunk just above the graft), turn the rootball so the inside curve faces north.  This helps that sensitive spot avoid sunscald.

Pack soil around lower third of rootball, to help stabilize it.  then backfill the rest of the hole, leaving soil loose.

Water the planting area.

Mulch the tree.

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