Archive for ‘Trees and Shrubs’

April 5, 2013

Elderberry – Why you want two

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The best time to plant a tree is five years ago.”? Well, that’s kind of how I feel about Elderberry (even though it’s a shrub).

Elderberry, a native shrub to North America, can be grown in (hardiness) zones 3 – 10 and can be planted in virtually any condition. It grows anywhere from full sun to part shade. They are very adaptable to different soils, but thrive in wet areas (where a lot of others can’t).

American Elder flowers

Their résumé looks pretty good too. If you are looking for a plant to do some work for you or provide you with more than something to look at, they are a very useful shrub. They attract beneficial insects to the garden, their white flowers can be used for tea, and their edible blue-black berries can be used for a quite tasty medicinal elderberry syrup (which is very tempting to pour onto pancakes), can be made into elderberry wine or used for jams and pies.

And , if you’re looking to bring wildlife to your yard, they also attract birds both because of their multistemmed form, where the birds with take cover, and their fruit serves as a bird buffet. Elderberries can get quite large though, ranging from 6 – 12 both high and wide, and they need a friend as a pollinator in order to get fruit so you can’t plant just one, you’ll for sure need two, but if you have the room, plant a few or more that way there will be enough fruit for you to bake, brew and share with both friends and the birds.

Did I mention they have fall color? They are beautiful in the fall as well!

American Elder Fall Color

Elderberry is one of the coolest plants that I don’t have in my yard, but it is definitely at the top of my list to plant this year.

Photos from University of Minnesota Extension


May 29, 2012

Location, Location, Location

At first glance, you may think you’ve crossed wires and are reading a post from a realtor.  Not so, but when it comes to planting, regardless of what kind of plant it is, location is just as crucial as buying a house (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

What do I mean by location, location, location?  When it comes to plants there are three basic factors to consider that help determine the best location for your new plant(s).

The first consideration for location is the sun factor.  Most plants are pretty particular about how much they like.  Give them what they need.  Put sun plants in sunny locations and shade plants in shady locations.  Plant tomatoes in sun.  Hostas in shade.  (I still scorn the first person to use Hostas as landscape plants in Southern and Western exposed foundation plantings.  Those poor Hostas!  What did they ever do to you?!)

The second consideration for location is the soil factor. While some plants can handle a range of conditions, others can’t.  Don’t put water-loving plants in sandy soil and plants that like “free draining” soil in clay.  For example, Willows love water.  If you plant them in sand you will either be watering constantly (not exactly a very environmentally friendly thing to do) or they be stressed (kind of cruel), but they will chase water wherever it might be, including underground water lines and water mains. Unless you like calling Roto-Rooter, skip the Willow if you have sandy soil and plant something that likes good drainage in its place.

The third consideration for location is the exposure factor.  When it comes to exposure this is where it’s handy to know a plant’s origin.  Let’s take Birch trees for example.  When I was growing up many homes had one single Birch tree right smack dab in the middle of the yard.  People love them, myself included.  The white peeling papery bark, the airy, wispy canopy and the unique branching habit.  Beautiful.  But, unlike taking a walk through the woods where you might see a limitless number of Birch among other hardwoods, many Birch trees in front yards have had issues.  Lost limbs, storm damage and overall just stressed.  Why?  Because Birch trees in their native habitat are understory trees, meaning they receive protection from the canopy of larger trees.  If they were to plant themselves in their ideal location, it would not be in the middle of a lawn with blazing hot sun and no protection from strong winds, storms or winter cold.  But we love the beauty of Birch trees, so we plant them there anyway.  Unfortunately, the stress eventually catches up to them and they just can’t survive.  Bummer for the trees.  Bummer for us.

You get the picture, right?  Location, location, location.  Put plants where they like to be and they’ll thrive, put them in less than desirable conditions and they’ll struggle.

So knowing all of this location stuff, why on earth do you think I would I build my raised vegetable beds in shade?  No, I did.  Seriously!  This past weekend I finally had a little window of time and ventured out to get my garden planted and started looking at my plan and siting and realized… there’s no sun on my garden.  Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  There is one corner of one bed that gets about an hour of morning sun and a corner of the other bed that gets about 25 minutes just before the sun sets.  Holy cow was I ticked when I realized this.  How did this happen?!?  What was I thinking?  Seriously!  So ticked.

Okay, in my own defense I must explain. You know how it’s hard to see change in people we live with?  Kids grow-up so fast, adults ahh.. um… age, but we it’s not until someone points it out who hasn’t been around us every day that we realize how much we’ve changed.  Well, the same goes for my garden.  You see, I have a little problem with plants.  If its alive, I want to keep it.  If it’s on its last leg, I want to revive it.  If it’s a volunteer, well it must like it there, who am I to remove it?  Add to that the novelty of growing at least one of just about anything that comes my way and lo and behold the raised garden is in the shade.   You see, about 5 or 6 years ago  I got a couple of ash and elm volunteers on my fence line and left them.  They weren’t doing any harm at the time so why remove them?  Besides, they provided a little screening too.  Fast forward to today and I can’t even reach the lowest branches to limb them up, which is what I originally thought when I discovered the shade.  But after a closer look, I realized these trees are probably 30 feet high and have a combined canopy of about 60 feet shading my entire garden.

So now what?  No, seriously.  That’s what I’m asking myself.   Per my previous paragraph, I have a problem with plants (and trees and shrubs) so it makes it really hard for me to remove them.  On one hand, these are healthy trees.  On the other hand, they were volunteers.  On one hand,they screen the power pole.  On the other hand, they’re growing through the power lines that connect to the power pole.  And did I mention they shade my garden.  And while I’ve been gradually converting my landscaping to edible landscaping and this would definitely speed up the process, I’m just not ready to bail on my raised beds.  Oh, and did I mention how ticked I am that I will now have to pay someone hundreds to cut them down whereas if I’d had the foresight I could have used my own saw to take care of them a couple of years ago?  Yeah, ticked.

So, learn from my mistakes.  Location is of utmost importance.  Before you plant, or let a volunteer continue to grow, think about the future.  Sure it’s just a little guy now, but what’s it going to be when it grows up?  Will provide shade?  In the right place?  How big will it get?  Will it get too big for the space? Is it an understory tree? Does it need protection?  Will it get it?  How high are those power lines?  Will it get big enough to touch them?

The same goes for edibles.  Some like rich soil, some not so much.  Some are finicky about water, others could care less.  And when siting your plants, make sure you’re not planting your tallest plants on the South end of your garden.  You don’t want them shading everything else out.  Well, unless you do.  In other words if you’re trying to create cool and shade in an otherwise hot environment, but that’s another conversation.

So needless to say, the raised beds didn’t get planted this weekend… and more edible landscaping did.  But there’s a lot more I wanted to do and a lot more plants to go in the ground, so I’ll keep you posted on what ends up where and how they do.  2012 may turn out to be one giant experiment!


April 29, 2012

T is for Transplanting

Transplant, relocate.  Whether you’re talking people or plants, its lifting our roots and establishing them somewhere else.

Spring is one of the two best times of the year to transplant any plants, trees or shrubs to a new location.  (The other best time is fall.)

Let’s imagine for a moment we want to move a Hosta.  Right now, as the shoots are just beginning to poke up out of the ground like little spears, but before the leaves unfurl, is the best time to transplant. The same goes for most other plants as well, but I recommend looking up your specific plant or dropping me a line if you’re not sure.

The tools you will need to transplant are a pitch fork, a sharp spade and possibly a pruning shears or lopper.

Keep in mind the goal with transplanting it to cause as little stress, trauma or shock to the plant as possible.  You want to give them lots of room and be as gentle as you can.  Before you dig-up a plant, keep in mind that you are only seeing the shoots, when they leaf out they will be considerably wider.  Tree roots, for example, extend, at minimum, out to the canopy and most often much further.  So before your spade touches the soil, look up.  If you’re inside the canopy, you’re too close.  Move out.

Most perennials are similar.  Think of their leafed out size as their canopy and dig outside of that line.  It also helps to know what kind of root system your plant has before you even start this process.  In other words, it a shallow rhizome?  Deep tuber?  Tap root?  Or fibrous roots?  Knowing this is like having a road map for digging.  It gives you a rough idea as to what to expect as you go.  If the plant has a deep tuber or a tap-root, be extremely careful not to sever the top of the plant from the root.

As a side note, tap rooted plants typically don’t like to be moved (think of carrots), so make every effort to site them properly the first time they are planted.

Okay, time to start digging.  Personally, I like to use a pitch fork to do the first round of digging.  The pitch fork will allow you to test the waters a bit without severing any roots.  It allows you to feel around in the soil and help determine whether you’re out far enough or whether you’re still in the root zone.  Once you’ve determined that you are out far enough from the center of the plant, grab your sharpened spade and slice into the soil.  (Try to keep your spade upright so you don’t inadvertently slice off the roots you just worked to avoid.)  Dig all the way around the plant and gently work your way underneath until the plant feels loose.

Hopefully you get everything on the first try to the root ball comes out of the ground.  Typically what happens with me is that I think I’m set, but as I start gaining momentum and go to lift the plant out of the hole it comes to a screeching halt because one root is still be attached.  It feels much picking up an old TV, getting a grip on it and turning around to have it nearly fly out of your hands because it’s still plugged into the wall.  If this happens to you, get back in there and continue digging until you find the “cord”.  Occasionally there will be one wild root that seems to go on forever.  You’ll be digging and digging, following the root nearly to China.  If this happens, you need to make a decision, fish or cut bait?  My recommendation is to check out the whole root ball and determine how much damage you think you will cause the plant if you cut this wild root.  If it seems like it’s a major player, keep digging.  If not, grab your spade, pruning shears or lopper and give it a nice slice.

Woo, hoo!  It’s free!  So now what?  Hopefully at this point you’ve already selected a site for your plant and have the new hole pre-dug.  If not, leave the plant in its current place in order to prevent the roots from drying out by keeping them out of the sun and wind.  Ideally you won’t have to worry about the sun and heat drying it out because you’ve chosen a cool overcast day to do your transplanting, right? 🙂

Okay, so off we go to the new home for our little transplant.  Dig a hole about 6″ wider but at the same depth as the original hole.  You want to have loose soil around the sides of the plant for roots to establish in, but you do not want to have a soft bottom or the plant will sink deeper than it was previously living.  You want the bottom of the hole to be firm to provide a nice foundation for the plant to sit on so that your plant sits at “ground level” in its new hole at about the same place it sat at “ground level” in its old hole.  This is important because plant depth can effect many things including flowering, fruiting and in the case of trees, stem-girdling roots.

Once your new location is ready, go get the plant from its first location and bring it to its new home.  Gently set it in the hole and make sure the plant is sitting at the right depth.  If it’s not, adjust the hole until it is.  Then, make sure it’s evenly spaced in the hole. Water the plant thoroughly, allowing water to partially fill the hole.

Next, add some compost to the soil loose soil that will be going back into the hole, making about a 1/3 of the mixture compost.  Put the soil/compost mix into the hole around the plant, gently packing with your hands. Do not step on it!  (Plant roots need air space in the soil in order to get established, not compacted soil.)

Finally, with some of the remaining soil, create a small ridge of soil at the perimeter of your hole.  This should look like a dish, which will help direct water down to the roots and prevent it from running away from your plant.  Cover the open soil with mulch, repeating the dish with the mulch.

Note: Never mound soil or mulch at the base of a plant or tree!  This can cause rot, disease and damage.  If you have mounds on your plants or trees, simply pull the mulch away from the base/trunk and create a dish instead.

Once you’re done mulching, keep the plant well watered until its established in its new home.

Voila!  You’ve successfully transplanted a plant.

Questions?  Let me know!


April 17, 2012

N is for New Growth!


Corkscrew Willow


Parker Pear

Summercrisp Pear

Winged Euonymus

Pussy Willow

Horse Chestnut


Sedum 'Autumn Joy'


"Fiddle head" Ferns