Little Mouses’ Ears?

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Every year when I am thinking about my last frost date (which averages April 25) I don’t look at the calendar: I look at the oak trees.

There’s an old saying that when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, it’s safe to plant.

You may think that this sounds like an old wives’ tale. Call it what you want. I think it’s a farmer’s saying. And in the years before sophisticated technology and weather satellites, what did the farmers use? Phenology–the study of signs in nature.

Internet searches yield lots of different ways to use this for planting guidelines. There are all sorts of regional planting guidelines cued to the flowering of various local trees and shrubs–search for “farming guides and phenology.” To make it local, add your state or region.

As for me, I am not sure where I first heard the “little mouses’ ears” advice. But I have plenty of oaks and I watch them carefully. And, so far, the advice has been great–no frost after the oaks leaf out.

But of course, by the look of these oaks, I won’t be planting anything tender anytime soon!

Dead Trees?

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Why are you looking at 2 dead trees? I know that I am always whining about spring coming too slowly to Connecticut (actually I usually say that it doesn’t come at all and that all we have is winter and July.) But surely this isn’t a post about that.

No, it isn’t. And if I carefully think about it, most years, our trees leaf out about the first week of May and stay in leaf until the first week of November when the leaves come down almost like a blizzard. If we’re lucky, there’s enough time between leaf fall and snow fall to get them off the grass.

But the 2 dead trees are important. They are in the portion of our yard that will shortly be leafy woods. We leave them there as “snags,” or wildlife nesting places.

Even if they were to fall, there is enough land around them that nothing could be harmed.

And there are several fallen trees in our tiny woods as well, to provide cover for small creatures and habitat for their young.

Most people don’t have the ability to leave a type of wild place like this in their yards, but a brush pile out of sight can also work (on a smaller scale, of course).

We need to try to provide habitat for our wildlife or we will lose it.

A Time For Everything

Gardening is regional and local. I was reminded of this on my trip a couple of weeks ago. I flew into Dallas and could see the spring trees flowering as we came in to land (that was all that I saw of Texas, but it was a lovely sight!)

When I flew into Oklahoma, nothing was flowering–not even the spring bulbs. You wouldn’t think a distance of a couple hundred miles would be so dramatic, but there it was.

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And of course here in the frozen north, even now, all I have are the earliest of the spring bulbs–not even daffodils or tulips (although I have seen some very sorry looking tulips that folks have purchased somewhere and then put out in planters. We can still have snow yet–if tulips aren’t up in your yards, why might you think they’re okay in planters? I mean, I know we’re starved for color, but….)

The amazing thing is that out in California, they are pulling out their cool season annuals and planting warm season ones. A recent post by a great blogger a follow talked about this and it nearly blew my socks off. You can read that post here.

No matter what Tony is posting about, it’s always interesting.

I’m just looking forward to the time–say 6-8 weeks from now–when I can plant my own annuals!

Is “Instant” Gardening a Plus or a Minus?

It was bound to come to this: “instant” pre-grown hedges in a couple of different sizes. Just dig, drop, and “voila!” You have your hedge or your knot garden or your privacy screen or whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve. The web site of the grower to which I am referring is here, along with the different types of plant material.

So cost aside, the question becomes, is this a good thing? And even I am not entirely sure. For one thing, it does seem that there are “sustainable” planting options offered, like biodegradable planting boxes.

And there are valid reasons to need–or want–hedges for one reason or another. I recall the Christmas that my young abutting neighbor got an ATV that he insisted upon driving around his much too small 1/2 acre lot. “Instant” shrubbery would have done a lot to deaden that sound.

Even now we have another abutting neighbor whose son has a log splitting business. It sounds harmless and charming doesn’t it–until you realize he’s using a commercial log splitter for 4 hours or so at a time. Again, some “instant” shrubbery would be useful here, except that I am not sure that it would grow in competition with the roots of my large pines. (Luckily, he is off to college in the fall! Whew!)

In my retail gardening days, I always advised clients to buy “the largest plant they could afford.” (Actually the way I phrased it was that I always buy the largest plant that I can afford because I am not getting any younger–which still happens to be true). So again, “instant” plants solve a bit of that conundrum as well by taking some of the work of “growing the hedge” away from you.

And yet, even with all of these very positive things, there’s something about this that troubles me.

First are the inappropriately sheered plants that don’t want to be hedges like magnolias, cornelian cherry, viburnum and even sheered arborvitae (nevermind ‘Witchita Blue’ Juniper!)

Next, there is the danger that some folks will order plants that are invasive to their region–here in Connecticut, for example, privet is banned.

And then there is just the idea that gardening–the idea of growing things–teaches us so many things about our soil, microclimate, etc. Now, we can probably still learn that with a pre-grown hedge, but it’s going to be a different lesson–a more expensive one, I venture to say. And since part of gardening involves killing a lot of plants, that’s not how I want to learn, thanks so much!

So maybe this “instant” hedge idea is going to be better for commercial applications and large residential projects. If I were a home gardener (as I am) I think I would prefer to grow my own to learn about them and let them settle in. But, then again, I am not getting any younger.

Wordless Wednesday

Okay I can’t be “Wordless” today because no one would know what this is. I have just returned from a visit to Oklahoma so here, in all its glory, is the state flower, mistletoe.

According to my sources, it’s actually in short supply there because it’s hemiparasitic so it’s knocked off the trees. In fact, I did only see it twice.

Maybe today’s post, for the first day of spring, should be called “weird fact Wednesday.”

Don’t Panic, This is Perfectly Normal

And now a break from our house plant discussion, to mention something else.

Last Friday, when I showed the photo of the Fiddle-leaf Fig, sharp eyed viewers may have noticed something from the window behind the fig. There was something that looked like straw out that window.

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Here it is for those of you that were too busy looking at the fig. Yes, this is my back lawn–under a bed of pine needles.

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Here are some shrubs, under the same bed of those same needles.

What on earth is happening? Are all my pine trees dying?

Well, thankfully not, although you wouldn’t know it from the needle drop. This happens to evergreens, more or less (this year it’s more) every autumn. I suspect the needle drop is heavier because we had a very wet spring, summer and fall; therefore there are more needles to drop.

All evergreens, both broadleaf (hollies, rhododedrons, mahonias and the like) and needled drop a portion of their foliage every autumn. It’s just that in some years, that “drop” is much more pronounced than in others. And if the “drop” is particularly heavy–or if you are new to gardening or new to a particular type of evergreen, this may be new to you. Don’t panic–it’s okay.

If you are concerned that something is NOT normal, by all means, take a branch or small piece (in a sealed plastic bag) in to your nearest garden center or cooperative extension service. They should be able to tell you whether what’s going on is normal for your plant, or if you have an issue that needs addressing.

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But if you have a tree that looks like this, don’t worry–’tis the season!