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!

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!

We Need To Talk About the Weather

Today is August 31. Tomorrow starts Meteorological Autumn. Yes, I know, the true astronomical start to Autumn isn’t until September 22 (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). But for those of us that follow the meteorological seasons, Autumn begins September 1. So the last day of summer is today (or it was a month ago if you live in Connecticut where we only get winter and July).

Summer was a doozy here. It was actually summer. For the first time in a long time it was warm most of the time. I didn’t wear fleece in July–very unlike me.

But of course that meant that it was warm–very warm (once the snow stopped in May). We broke the record for 90 degree days. There were 39 of them this year. This is nothing compared to places like Tucson which is breaking its record for 105 degree days but it is still remarkable.

It is also remarkable because it came during the driest summer on record. At my house, during July and August we had less than an inch of rain each month. June wasn’t much better. Our entire state, with the exception of one county, is in severe drought.

Dying rugosa roses in parking lot island

This is just one example of what things look like around our state. And yes, it’s easy to say that this is a hot area surrounded by pavement but these are rugosa roses. They are actually on our invasive plant list. If something like this is browning out, you know it’s bad.

Yellow Knockout rose

This is my garden–my rose garden to be specific. Remember how hardy Knockout roses are supposed to be without any extra water, fertilizer or chemicals? Here’s my yellow Knockout rose, yellowing badly. Others I have are not faring quite so poorly. You can see other roses in this bed holding their own as well. But clearly this Knockout is stressed.

You’ll notice that I talked about the fact that this is weather, not climate. The old saying goes that if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather, not climate.

I won’t make any judgment yet. I will say that this is the second drought–this one being short term so far–that we have had. The last was over a 2-3 year period and was only a couple of years ago.

As for heat, our summers had been relatively mild. It was the night-time temperatures that were creeping up, leading to a lack of cooling overnight. We really haven’t had long-term heat like this.

So no dire predictions from me, just observations. And a remark that when I could get the tomatoes from the critters, they were great. This was a great year for tomatoes!

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.

“Holiday” Gardening

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I am not sure that I have ever talked about this before but this is an idea that I used when I worked in retail gardening and I still use it for myself as a handy “marker” to remember important things. I often talk about it in my lectures.

What am I talking about? Well, I key important things in the garden to regional or national holidays. And of course, this is not original to me.

The famous fertilizer company “4-step plan” is based on something similar–the concept of phenology, of when plants bloom.

I found, however, that folks had no idea when plants bloom (or in some instances, what the blooming plants referenced by the fertilizer company were!)

So I changed it up a bit. Here in the United States, everyone knows when Income Tax day is (April 15) or that Mother’s Day is the second weekend in May. Memorial Day is the last weekend in May.

For us here in Connecticut, the lilacs (above) bloom at Mother’s Day. It’s true even in this exceptionally cold spring. So that’s a good marker for folks.

There are some particularly nasty sawfly larva that come out some time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, depending on temperatures. One skelatonizes rose leaves; the other attacks mugo pine. If I were to say “watch for these in May,” that’s pretty vague. But to say, “keep your eyes open between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day,” now folks have some idea of the timeframe to check their plants.

I even use it to remember that one of my favorite migratory birds, the catbird, usually returns around Mother’s Day. This year it returned May 6.

So “holiday gardening” can be helpful for reminders. And who doesn’t need reminders now and again?

Little Mouse’s Ears

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This rather unappealing photo is a cluster of small oak leaves and flowers. Why is it important?

Every year I post some sort of similar photo with the same caption. The saying is an old farmer’s saying an it goes “when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, you have had the last frost.”

This year will be quite the test because the forecast for this evening is for rain, changing to snow before it ends.

Interestingly enough, the last time we got snow, the temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit (which is why we weren’t buried in it, thank goodness!). So perhaps the oaks are correct. They have never steered me wrong yet.

Suspended Animation

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This is my later blooming magnolia, Elizabeth. I got it from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a one quart pot in the year 2000. It’s done quite nicely for me, despite being topped in 2011 by an ice storm.

This year, however, it’s in a state of suspension. Its beautiful yellow buds are swelling but they refuse to open. Here’s why.

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This was a week ago. Despite this, the following day, it was 60 degrees.

And then, 2 days later, there was thunder, lightning and hail.

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The rest of the week has been in the low 40s. We should be in the 60s at least. Ah well. This is why I always say we only have winter and July in this state!