Expect the Unexpected

Shattered tree and part of the clean-up

You might have heard that the northeast had some strong winds recently. This really isn’t unusual for us. We regularly get strong winds above 50 mph in the spring and the fall as fronts come through.

And unfortunately, because we are a heavily treed state, with large, mature evergreens, someone, somewhere will lose a tree–or two. You can see my neighbor’s woodpile in the photo behind what is soon to be more timber. He stacks his logs in between our upright pine trees.

As the above photo shows, one of our pines took a hit in these most recent winds. The top half came off, flew across the yard and landed on the roof with a thud so loud it woke me from a sound sleep (not an easy thing to do!) and shook the whole house.

Siding ripped off down to the insulation

Once it bounced off the roof, it slid down the side of the house, taking off the siding.

The end where it was attached to the tree

This is the “small” end of the tree. The larger part is in the top photo. I missed the “good part” yesterday where the branches were up to the second story windows.

And one of the sad things is that it shattered a lovely granite bench into several pieces, beyond repair.

But here I am, telling you all about it–so there’s nothing truly sad about this at all really. Because this could have been so much worse!

Memorial Plants?

On Monday I posted about the dish garden that was given to me to commemorate–or commiserate over–a loss.

A few weeks ago I posted about my ‘Snow Fountain’ weeping cherry which we planted to honor my Dad’s passing.

So all this posting about “memorial” plants has got me thinking about plants as a way of remembering people. It’s not unusual, of course, to plant a tree to remember someone. But what really got me thinking was a comment I made in response to a comment on my “Dish Garden” post.

If you recall, the second part of that post was about a “deconstructed” dish garden that a neighbor had given me. What I really didn’t say in that post was that she received that garden when her husband passed away–so I was sort of the repository of plants given in his memory–and that was fine because I knew him well and liked him very much.

In my comment I said that eventually my neighbor would move away or pass away as well and all I would have as a memory would be those plants, making them true “memorial” plants.

I wonder how other people feel about this. Do you find it creepy or comforting? I know that out in the garden I have lots of plants from folks that are “no longer with me” in one sense or another. Many have just moved away. Others I have lost touch with, for whatever reason. But whenever I see those plants, I think of the various people with fondness.

So why should it be any different with house plants? For many years, my longest lived house plant was a begonia that was a cutting from a neighbor. That neighbor is long gone, but I still referred to the begonia as “Mr. So-and So’s” begonia.

Now my longest lived house plant is a ficus that I refer to as “Grandma’s ficus,” for obvious reasons (I hope). It was given to my Grandmother on her 90th birthday in 1988. It is now mine (Gram wasn’t really into plants. I inherited it shortly thereafter, probably no later than early 1989).

Obviously I do not find this creepy at all. Then again, I work in a job where part of it is helping people who have just lost a loved one plan their funeral. So during the pandemic, especially, I have talked about death a lot to a lot of people. It’s been gut wrenching.

Sometimes, we are blessed that we do have plants to help us return to normalcy.

A Cherished Tree for A Cherished Reason

Weeping cherry in bloom

A couple of weeks ago I had photos of my newly pruned ornamental cherry.  That tree is one of the most special trees on our property even though it has no intrinsic wildlife value. It was given to us as a gift to commemorate the death of my Dad in 1999.

It was already quite mature in 1999 when it was gifted to us and it has only matured more beautifully in its place. It blooms quite nicely every spring (and I am looking forward to this year’s bloom now that it has been pruned!) Its beautiful weeping canopy is visible from 1/4 mile away.

We live on a curvy street–and as soon as a car turns the curve and heads in the direction of our house, if that tree is in bloom, it’s visible. It’s like a beacon. It’s just amazing.

Small trees are something of a rarity in the landscape simply by definition. A tree is a tree partly because of its height. But this tree has stayed nicely under 7 feet, although its spread is much wider.

Cherry trees have a storied past in our country, although whether our first President really did cut one down is perhaps more an urban legend–or self–promoting myth–than reality. Still, they play a role in our American history. 

While we do have native cherries, most were brought here from Europe.  And the lovely small ornamental flowering cherry trees that many home gardeners now covet today are generally imported from Asia. For a great post on ornamental cherry trees, and the great selection available to home gardeners, here is this primer from Trees.com.

Our ornamental cherry has proven to be free from every type of disease and insect (with the exception of an occasional nibble from a passing Japanese beetle–but nothing too troublesome).  It has survived several droughts without supplemental watering and has never received fertilizer–but then again, everything in my yard gets tough love. Worst of all, it has been mangled by pruning from The Spoiler and his lawn mower.

Sometimes, just like with house plants, too much love (once a plant is established) can be a bad thing!

More Winter Pruning

Unpruned Japanese Maple

On Monday I showed some photos of my weeping Snow Fountain cherry after it had been pruned. Unfortunately I had no photos of it before it had been pruned, but I think the photo of this Japanese maple, above, will give you some idea of what it might have been like–except the cherry was in worse shape!

I can still handle pruning the Japanese maple and do prune it every couple of years. The unfortunate thing about this maple is that it sweeps out over our driveway–and so it is more susceptible to the Spoiler’s “hacking” every time it comes too close to his car. I just learn to park a little further from it, and therefore to enjoy its leaves. He has to hack it back. You can see where he has “chopped” the ends that hang over the driveway.

Branches in need of pruning

This year it’s definitely a little overdue for some pruning. You can see all the deadwood–evident by the light color. Only the vibrant red twigs are alive.

Part of the problem is that our weather the last couple of years has been a bit topsy turvy. I don’t want to prune too early and spark growth. And then we have no “spring” when there should be spring–say in March. There’s just nothing but terrible weather during the time when I should prune. And then it’s leafing out in the snows of April and I’m saying to myself, “oops, I screwed up again.” But it’s tough to get out and prune in February.

Maybe I will call the lovely ornamental pruner back who did the cherry tree after all. If this year gets away from us again like that, I am going to have to!

Winter Pruning

Snow Fountain Cherry

Normally this time of year, I am out lecturing about all sorts of things, including pruning. This year, because of the pandemic, no. I am not one of those speakers who has decided to present via computer, although I am enjoying other speakers who have decided to do so. I work on screens daily–I don’t want to come home and work with them in the evening. Gardening had been my escape from that.

One of the things I used to talk about when I spoke to clubs about pruning was to know your limitations. I always said that it was far better to call in a professional to prune large trees than to attempt to do it yourself. And while this cherry wasn’t “large” in the sense of height, its limbs were extremely congested. We decided that we needed a professional to come thin it out for us.

You can tell by the size of some of the limbs that were removed here–and by the girth of the trunk–that this tree is quite mature. Not only did I not have the strength to prune this tree properly, but I also didn’t have the proper tools to do it cleanly. And that’s equally important.

Cherries, particularly these with a weeping habit, can be prone to disease, especially if not pruned correctly. The last thing I wanted to do was bungle this.

No, I didn’t cut the top off the tree in the photo. I am trying to show you the huge circle underneath where there is no vegetation. That’s how large the branch canopy used to be. Now, with the branch canopy opened up, light will get underneath the tree so that my beautiful moss can fill in there.

I have seen these trees shorn at the bottom, just like a someone took a bowl and placed it on top and cut around the base. Clearly that’s not the proper pruning method.

The Spoiler’s method was to just hack off anything that got in the lawn mower’s way–also not proper.

This is the proper way to prune–from the inside out, to open up the tree. I can’t wait to see it bloom!

Fall Is For Planting

I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.

With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.

Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.

I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.

The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.

But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).

So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.

On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.

Arborgeddon

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These trees came down during Tropical Storm Isaias. We were fortunate. Anything major that came down, came down in the wooded portion of our property.

As you can see, they were dead. They were left in place deliberately. Standing dead trees provide nesting areas for all sorts of birds–woodpeckers, small owls, chickadees, nuthatches–it is estimated that as many as 85 different kinds of birds will nest in a dead tree, if you can leave one in place safely.

In addition, bats will rest there to consume insects. And the beetles that get under the bark to begin the work of turning the tree into compost can serve as food for birds, chipmunks and squirrels.

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I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is that dead trees only be left if they will not endanger anyone or anything. These fell quite nicely down into the middle of our little woods. If they had been on the edges, near our neighbor’s house, or the power lines, obviously we would have had to remove them before they caused harm.

Isaias Aftermath

Tropical storm Isaias roared through Connecticut late afternoon on Tuesday. I had hoped for some beneficial rain since we are in moderate drought. And I really hoped for moderate winds since we live in a heavily treed state and heavy winds with the trees in full leaf is a recipe for disaster.

Of course by now you know what happened but you probably don’t know the exact details. At my house, I had exactly .2″ of rain–so hardly a drought buster. I had to go out the next day with my hose to water.

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And then there was this. Branches and leaves everywhere. This is the small stuff.

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It was a little worse out back by my hydrangeas. I pulled this out of them, in fact.

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And then there’s our pines. They regularly make a mess. This was no exception.

At the time all of this occurred, there was a tornado warning. There was no tornado, but the winds reached 60 mph or more. So we were very lucky–especially since one of our neighbors wasn’t quite so lucky. A pine similar to ours wound up on their house.

About one third of the state still has no power 36 hours later (nevermind no internet, cable or cell service in these work from home days). We are told that it will be “multiple” days until power is back.

2020 is certainly turning into quite a year.