Jun 012015
 

When planning your garden at home, there are many details to take into account.  You need to pay attention to things like amount of sun, rain fall, average temperatures, length of growing season, and space.  You may also want to take into account flowering plants versus ever greens, height of plants compared to those around them, ease of care, and whether the plants are annuals or perennials.

When I worked in the urban forestry, we would also have to take into account the space needed for roots, any damage it might do to under ground utilities, the maintenance in upkeep (dropping of leaves, fruit, and limbs), height clearance underneath for vehicles if planted near parking lots or roads, scents of fruits or flowers, whether there were thorns or other dangerous attributes, and if the plant was a native, non-native or a non-native invasive plant.  There was a lot to consider when making selections.

Whether you are planning for your yard, as a part of your job, for a local volunteer project or to help out a neighbor, to help make the decisions easier there are often commonly used plants in your area that are recommended.  These are plants that tend to do well in your area (right zone, rainfall, etc.) and are popular with local gardeners.  They are also plants that local nurseries either grow or can obtain.  This does not mean that they are the best for the garden or location you are looking to plant in, only the most readily available.

In beginning to read The Allergy-Fighting Garden by Thomas Ogren, I assumed it would refer to flower gardens only, something along the lines of a botanical garden.  What I found pleasantly surprised me and made me realize some mistakes I had made in the past.  What I found was a very applicable, easy to understand case for considering not only the attributes listed above, but also those that affect our health and that of those around us.

My husband and one kid are affect more by allergies than myself and our other son.  However, we all have some degree of reaction.  Until now, I assumed it had more to do with the dirt in the air (from farmers plowing fields) than anything else, or with me spending time around so many trees in the fall.  After all, it is not like our house is surrounded by a  yard full of blooming flowers.  What I learned is that there may be other, larger sources of allergens and there is something I can potentially do about it.

The first 50 pages of The Allergy-Fighting Garden explain more about why allergies have become so prevalent in society today, what lead to the increase from several decades ago, and how we can go about correcting or reducing the effects.  It also gives a brief over view of how plants work, an important piece of knowledge in being able to understand how to counter their natural process.

The next 176 pages lists plants in alphabetical order, by their scientific names, giving a description of each and how they contribute or aide in the reduction of allergies.  While this section is not something that I will sit down and read straight through, it is a great reference resource for the future as I look to add to the landscaping around our house.  It will also be useful if I am ever in a position again to recommend plants for specific locations.

The biggest lesson I took away from The Allergy-Fighting Garden was that something as simple as planting a female plant, as opposed to a male plant, could make the difference between an allergic reaction and no reaction at all.  The explanations were such that a lay person, with even a minimum understanding of plants, would be able to pick up this book and come away understanding the connections between the plants in the landscapes around us and the amount of allergies experienced by those who come in contact with them.

Not only does Thomas Ogren show you how to plant so you can reduce your allergies, but also how you can fight those that might be around you.  The section on hedges and how to care for them is very  helpful.  As one who has lived in both the country and in the city, I can attest to how different each setting can be when it comes to landscaping and air quality.  When you live in cities, towns, and suburbs, the assortment of plants in a given area can be very  high.  Each person has their own idea of what would be good to grow.  Each garden and home has a different purpose for planting their specific horticultural choices.  When you can not change them, he gives you a way to atleast try and decrease their affects on the air quality in your home, office, or yard.  It truly is a fight against allergies from the garden.

The Allergy-Fighting Garden was an enlightening read and something that has added to my understanding of the natural world around us.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with or taking care of someone with allergies, or who is in charge of landscaping on any scale.  Being health conscious does not apply to food and exercise only, but also to creating an environment that aides in keeping us health instead of making us sick.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Feb 272014
 

weeds with alianthus seedlingLook at this great tree seedling, all 1 year’s growth of it.  No, I didn’t fertilize it, nor is it a GMO.

This tall, very green tree actually brings up feelings and thoughts I would never think of having towards other trees.  What kind of feelings and thoughts?  Things like:

  • if I pour antifreeze over the roots how long would it take to die?
  • antifreeze would really harm the ground water … what about highly concentrated salt water?
  • am I allowed to “open burn” in town if it is to burn out a stump?

As someone who loves trees, loves being in the woods, even went to school to study more about our forests and natural resources, getting jobs after graduation working with them, it takes a lot for me to have these feelings about a tree.  This tree, however, is not your average tree.  Just look at the pictures above, of the 1 year old sapling.  Was that enough emphasis on the fact that it is only 1 year old?!

Alianthus altissima or Tree of Heaven, is a non-native, invasive plant. And it definitely is not from Heaven.  Quite the opposite. To say that it is hard to get rid of is an understatement.  This tree spreads through prolific root sprouts, showing up hundreds of feet away from the main tree.  This particular seedling is about 100 feet away from the mature Alianthus tree in our yard.

one year old alianthus seedlings

Tree of Heaven one year old seedling

If you think cutting down a mature tree is the best way to get rid of this problem, then you may have think again.  As much as it like to spread by root sprouts is also produces lots of stump sprouts.  You also can’t use the wood chips on your landscaping, unless you want more trees there also.  Yup, they weren’t kidding when they said “invasive” with this tree.

I’ve worked in areas where these trees are pretty common.  They take over and shade out the native trees.  Not only is this bad for the local flora (plants) but also the animals that depend upon those trees.  The plan of attack there was more of trying to keep the trees from spreading more than they already had.  To try and remove these on a large scale would get expensive quickly.

A few years later I found myself working in a different part of the country, in a different climate.  When a tree plan came listing Alianthus as a possible tree on a site set for development I was surprised.  Surely the tree hadn’t made it this far West.  Thankfully the person was wrong.  The tree was a Mulberry tree.

A few years after that we moved to yet a different state, this time further north.  Where it is cold.  The house we bought has a lot of trees.  A few were in poor condition so we called out a tree company to take care of them.  It was in the process of them walking around the yard that one of the Arborists identified this tree.  I had been wondering what this one was, stumped that I couldn’t identify it.  It didn’t help that it has been given a “high and tight” haircut that would have made any army sergeant proud.  All the limbs had been trimmed up above 40 feet.  So I’m giving myself a bit of grace here, it isn’t exactly like I could look at one of the buds.  Well, at least that was the case until the first root sprout appeared.

One of the best identifying characteristics of this tree is the smell.  Peanut butter to be exact.  There are a lot of trees with compound leaves, but the smell is not common.  Virginia Tech has a great publication out showing in more detail some of other identifying traits.  (I’m working on improving my photography skills when it comes to capturing leaf scars and buds.  They have some great pictures at the link above.)  They also list appropriate chemicals to be used in control of this plant – things more appropriate than antifreeze (which really wouldn’t work on this tree anyway, so please don’t try that method).

Jan 152014
 

We are not quite to the season where you will see these, but it will be here before you know it.  The flowers of trees are as unique at the trees themselves.  Below are the flowers of a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) found in my front yard.  I could stand underneath this tree all day, staring up at the new appendages appearing from the end of these seemingly dead branch.  It would be so easy to miss these driving by, or looking down at your phone while on the sidewalk.

Maple, flowers

Silver maple in spring

Silver Maple

Take some time this Spring to look up into the branches of trees as you go about your day.  Which ones do you think you’ll see first?  Do you find yourself able to tell what kind of tree one is from a distance due to its unique look?

For a reference, here is a photo of a red oak (Quercus rubra).  Do you notice the difference between its bark and that of the Acer saccharinum above?

Hint: Look at the texture of the bark.  Also, do you notice a color pattern?

Red Oak

Another way to tell the two trees apart is that the maple trees have limbs that grow opposite each other while the oak don’t.

Oak limbs

Which trees have opposite branching? Remember – MAD Buck

M – Maple

A – Ash

D – Dogwook

Buck – Buckeye

There are a few other shrubs/small trees with opposite branching, though for the context of this post I am referring to larger trees.

Oct 142012
 

 

This week was a bit odd in the preserving area: corn and buckeyes.

I posted about putting up the corn a few days ago, here. We ate the first batch, the worst looking ones, already.  It really does help if you actually cook them long enough to be cooked.  We’ll have it again this week.  This time I am going to put it in the crock pot.

I have been in the freezer several times since I put the corn in there.  Being as it wasn’t planned, I just tossed it in where it could fit, which means it is in the way.  However, every time I have had to move it I have been glad that I did do something with it.

If you didn’t read my first post, this meant 4.5 dozen ears of corn were put up.

 

The Ohio buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) finally started dropping their seeds a few weeks ago.  It has helped that we had several windy days.  If you have never seen these, they are both beautiful and annoying.  The seeds themselves are not really the issue.  It is the surrounding part that is spiky and make walking barefoot or mowing difficult.  The nuts themselves are a smooth dark brown color, except for the ‘eye’ which is a lighter brown. When they are fresh off the tree, they are shiny; almost as if they were already coated with something.  As you dry them, they turn a darker color and harden.  You do not want to keep buckeyes if you have not dried them.  They mold due to the moisture in their meat.

They are supposed to bring good luck.  The squirrels also like them.  They can be used in jewelry, decorations, or just kept solo for a good luck piece in your pocket (after it is dried).

I’ve also been told you can eat them, though I have never tried it.

The job of picking up buckeyes, and tossing the shells next to the tree, was the perfect job for some toddlers.  They thought it was fun to find nuts, run them over to the pan, then come back and throw the shells against the tree.  Work is always better if it can be made into a game.  (It also helps that I told them they could sell them on the stand if they collected and dried them.)

Only one of our two trees produced buckeyes this year.  Well, technically I found a total of two from the other tree.  Compared to what it should be, that is nothing.  A neighbor’s tree also did not produce.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the weather or lack of rain.

Update: turns out our neighbor’s tree did produce a handful of them; just not the normal over abundance that we usually see.

We have been able to send some to the local school for “fall items”.  The rest are being dried for some future yet-to-be-determined use.

So, how do we dry them?  I place them either in a pan or on the top of a plastic storage container, as the pan became full very quickly this year, and sit them out for a few weeks.  Once they turn darker and dull in appearance, they are dry.  Once a day or so I stir them up to make sure air is getting to all sides.  The pan has a few layers of news paper in it, the container top doesn’t.  I think the newspaper is meant to help absorb and disapate moisture.

 

Have you ever used buckeyes in a recipe?  If so, leave a comment. I would love to hear about it.

Jul 102012
 

When fall appears, I am in the mood for walnut trees.  There is just something about them, and my past, that link the two together.  When I was looking for a tree to post about this week, I realized I had not shared with you all this great tree.  I know it is not fall yet, but that is okay.  It is cooler than it was last week and that is enough for me.

As with any tree, this is a great tree if planted in the right location.  If it isn’t, then it will either be an annoyance or a problem.  I hope that you do not take the rest of the post as being a negative against this species.  It really is a good tree, just not very well suited for urban areas.

 

There is more than one kind of walnut tree here in the United States.  The most commonly thought of is the “American walnut” or the “black walnut”.

A second kind is the “butternut tree”, also called “white walnut”, which I usually think of as a cousin of the walnut family, rather than a different kind of walnut tree itself.  This is not true of course, which I would know better if I actually remembered the scientific name of the butternut tree.

A third kind of walnut is the “English walnut”.  It is not a native tree, though, like a lot of things not native, it can be planted here.

The walnut tree I am talking about today is the black walnut (Juglans nigra).

Common in the eastern and southern portions of the United States, this tree is a valuable lumber and nut tree.

I grew up with several of these in our yard.  So, by personal experience I will tell you they are messy. You definitely do not want to plant these as shade for parking areas as their nuts are hard and relatively large, about 2 inches in diameter.  It is also hard to mow over, not just the nuts, but also all the leaves and the rachis (the part the leaves attach to).

Taken by: Bruce Marlin from Wikimedia Commons (original source)

Speaking of the nuts, when they are first falling off the tree, the green outer husk is very firm.  After some time this will begin to soften and turn black.  It is much easier to get the nut out of the husk at that point.  Just be careful because it does stain.  Not only hands but also clothing.  It can be hard to get out.  Another warning is that the outer husk can be

Due to certain chemicals given off by the tree, this is not one you want to have growing near your garden.  It discourages other plant from growing around it.

I can also share, from personal experience, that the nut has a strong flavor when cooked. Perhaps this is why you don’t see too many recipes for walnut stew.  If I would have thought of this as an adventurous adolescent it may have saved me years of not being able to eat these nuts due to vivid memories of exactly how strong of a flavor they can be.  Now, please don’t let this scare you off.  The nuts really do have a good flavor to them and are great on salads or crushed and put into or on brownies.  It only took 3 or 4 years before I could eat them again, and since that time I have continued to like the nut … just not in stews.

When we first moved into our current house, there was a tree that I thought could be a black walnut, except its’ bark and shape didn’t seem right.  Come latter summer and fall there were no fruit.  Sure enough, it wasn’t a black walnut.  It was a Tree of Heaven.  Seems I’m not the only one who thought these two look a lot alike.  With the drought we also have not mowed our grass for a month or so.  The comment on root sprouts from the Tree of Heaven is very much accurate.  A black walnut does not do this and is also a good clue as to whether your tree is what you think it is.

The tree grows relatively straight, with good form.  It is often grown in plantations for either the nuts, the wood or both.  It is also has a place in the woods, as it offers food for squirrels and mice.

The wood is valued as lumber for several reason.  It is strong (hard), stains well, and can be used in a variety of applications.  I tend to think of furniture, but it also is used for cabinets and gunstocks, among other things.

Mar 292012
 

We were outside today playing, enjoying the sunshine.  There was a lull in the activity, so I took the opportunity to point out that the tree above us was beginning to have leaves.  “Soon, you won’t be able to see the sky through the limbs because there will be so many leaves.”  We talked a bit more about how trees go from having no leaves, to having little ones, then larger leaves.  Then fall comes, the leaves change color and drop.  Not really an in-depth conversation.  Nothing was said about the chemicals released by the tree for such processes to happen, nor about the mechanics of how it works.  Just that it happens.

One of the kids was sitting on a stump.

“Did you know, the stump you are sitting on … (hm, they may not know what ‘stump’ means) well, what you are sitting on is called a stump.  It used to be a tree.”

“Why?”

Of course.  The ever present, “Why?”

“It was leaning towards the house, so we had it taken down when they were removing a few other trees.  Do you want to see another stump?”

And so ensued the lesson on stumps.  The second stump we looked at was much more interesting.  It was from a tree that was dead and didn’t know it.  Yes, that was my official diagnosis.  Very technical wasn’t it.  Anyway, due to the state of the tree before it was removed this stump was much more decomposed than the original stump.  I pointed out how the bark breaks down and makes dirt.  Hands on learning ensued.

“Insects break it down and soon it will be all gone.”  I started to pull up bits of the stump, amazed at how loose and easy they were.  One of the pieces produced a surprise.  A slug.  Now, as a gardener I am not normally happy to see slugs.  However, with boys sitting beside me I was happy to find a slug.

“Can I touch?”

Now, I wish I could say that I was more than eager to engage in hand-on learning immediately in this situation, but I replied without thinking.  “No.”

“Why?”

Hmmm.  I had to stop and think.  Why is it that I said, “no”?  Why couldn’t they touch it?  Was I worried about them hurting the slug?  Was I worried that they would get sick from something on the slug when they then stuck their fingers in their mouths?  Did I just think the thought of touching it myself was icky?

So I amended my reply.  “Yes, you can touch it, but be careful.  The slug is not happy that we disturbed it.”

Now came an interesting realization.  One that I had witnessed before, but in a different situation.  Older Boy didn’t want to touch it, but encouraged Younger Boy to do so.  I think I see which might be the one more likely to have a bug collection.

After showing them that it had no feet, we put it back under the piece of wood that had come from.  Continuing with my curiosity, I pulled up another large chunk and found yet another slug.  It too was shown.  Again, Older Boy wanted nothing to do with touching it, but Younger Boy did.  Now, wait here guys.  I’m the girl.  Isn’t it supposed to be ME that doesn’t want to touch the slimy, squishy slug?  I think we will have to work on this a bit.

They were done with the second stump and were requesting more.  So on to a third.  Now, this was turning into quite the lesson on stumps.  So far the two we have seen have been very different.  #1 was from a healthy maple tree (Acer spp.) and barely broken down.  Some fungus had started to grow on the bark of the stump, but otherwise it was in great shape.  #2 had great soil in the middle of the stump and is deteriorated enough that I could pull it up by hand.

Well, stump #3 was from a buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra).  This stump has been prolific with stump sprouts. I have cut and sprayed to no avail.  That was okay today as it provided a lesson in buds and leaves.  I showed them a bud that had yet to open, one that had opened but the leaves were still curled tight, and other where the leaves had fully unfurled.  Of course, lots of touching and “ooh, aah” went on.  But first, we looked in the middle under dead leaves that had become trapped there.

We found a worm under the leaves, which I picked up on the request of Older Boy, who then would not touch it.  Younger Boy was eager to touch and did so gently. We then looked at the soil under the leaves.  I had intended to show how the leaves were breaking down and so on.  What I realized when I picked up some of the soil was that it was actually mostly worm castings.  This little guy in my hand had been busy breaking down those leaves.  So, we put him back so he could “do his job”.

So three very different stumps and experiences.  Surely they are good with the stumps we have found.  But, oh no.  They want more.  Well, our yard didn’t have any more, but the neighbor’s did.  It is right on the line between our yards, so it wasn’t like we were traipsing through their yard.  Stump #4 was even more different.  It was the oldest of the stumps, though it too was from a buckeye tree.  It was a gnarled outline of where a small tree used to be.  Perhaps about 6 inches in diameter. The center was completely full of dirt, there was no bark to be seen, and it was barely 1/4 of an inch in width around the ‘circle’ that was there.  Yet, there was a bud sprouting out of the base.  That is the only way I knew what kind of tree this had been.  That fact was mentioned, then all interest in this unique stump was gone.  However, I’m glad we took a closer look as I had noticed this stump several times and always wondered a bit about it.  Now at least I know what kind of tree it had been and that it had been a tree.

I was out of stumps to look for in the yard, so “stump” #5 was actually a hole in the ground where a stump used to be.  Not really exciting, but perhaps a good point to show that stumps are not always there.

So ended our study of stumps around our yard.  I now have a new appreciation for stumps.  Honestly, I had never really given them much though or taken a close look at what makes them different or the same.

How about you?  Ever taken a look at a stump?  Do you have a favorite?

Feb 292012
 

 

The tuliptree is one of my favorite trees and, to me, one of the easier ones to identify. No, that is not why it is one of my favorite trees.  The tall, straight trunk of the tuliptree gives it such a majestic look.  Even the shape of the leaves adds to its splendor.  They remind me of flower petals; not harsh and pointed, nor narrow and pinched. The leaves are ‘full’ and rounded, even if they do come to a point at the end of each lobe.  I’ve noticed the tuliptrees near my house still have parts of their fruits attached to the ends of their branches.  Even these stand upright and straight, as if daring the winter wind to get the better of them.  No slouching for this tree.  The flowers of the tuliptree are large enough to see from the ground and do look like actual flowers, as opposed to, say, the maple tree’s flowers.

 

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Common name: tuliptree, tulip-poplar, yellow-poplar
Genus: Liriodendron
Species: tulipifera
Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia family)
 

Identifying characteristics: a straight trunk, large tree with neatly furrowed bark.  The leaves are symmetrical, 4-lobed, alternate on the twig, and are about 6 inches long.  I learned the bud by being told it looks like a duck’s bill, and that it does.  The buds are made up on two scales in a oval-ish shape.  This tree is known as a good tree for timber due to the lack of limbs on the lower part of the tree.

The tuliptree is also the state tree of Indiana.

Other links:

Virginia Tech – has some really good up close photos of the bark and the bud

Pollen Library – has a map showing distribution

Plants For A Future – this website has some additional interesting information, including if there are any edible parts, other uses, and propagation information.  Personally I have not eaten any part of this tree and do not take responsibility if you choose to do so.  I’m not promoting that anyone does, just found it interesting.  There is also a nice picture of the flower, though it looks a bit green (immature?).  (The photograph at the very bottom of this post is of a flower looking straight down on it. If you were to look at it from the side it would be yellow/cream and orange.)

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

The above photograph is from the ’60’s.  I personally have not seen a tree this big, but that does not mean they are not still out there.  This is just to give you an idea of what would be possible if left to grow.

Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

 
 
This is part of the “Tree of The Week” series.  Each week I will be posting information about a specific tree species.  I know not everyone is from the same part of the country, so I will try to spread the love around.
If you would like to practice, or learn, tree identification along with me please do so. It is always more fun to learn something with someone else.  Let me know how it is going.
My main resource for the Midwest is a book I have been using for many years, Trees of the Central Hardwood Forests of North America. This book also served me well when I worked in the South, though I would not recommend it be your sole resource if you live there. I will add links, especially, to images online.  The real life thing is best, but pictures work if you are unable to have a live example in front of you.
Feb 232012
 
I am starting a new series called, “Tree of The Week”.  Each week I will be posting information about a specific tree species.  I know not everyone is from the same part of the country, so I will try to spread the love around.
If you would like to practice, or learn, trees along with me please do so. It is always more fun to learn something with someone else.  Let me know how it is going.
My main resource at home is a book I have been using for many years, Trees of the Central Hardwood Forests of North America. This book also served me well when I worked in the South, though I would not recommend it be your sole resource if you live there. I will add links, especially, to images online.  The real life thing is best, but pictures work if you are unable to have a live example in front of you.

 

The past couple of weeks I have taken several walks and always seem to be stepping on sweetgum balls.  So much so that I used them as an impromptu nature study lesson.  It started off by telling them what they were called (though at the time I had a bit of forgetfulness and call them “gum balls”).  Next I played the “can you find the tree this came from?” game.  That was pretty easy for the kids to figure out as there were plenty still on the trees.

I was not sure if any of it stuck. On the next walk one of the kids pointed to the balls and named them.  What?!  They were listening and remembered?! Positive praise was definitely in order.  “Good job remembering!  That’s right.”  So then we played the games of  “Can you find another tree that is the same?  One that is just like this one.”  Thankfully the next few trees we saw also had a companion. Hint: I did check the first time to make sure there was indeed a tree just like it in the yard.  I even pointed to some that were different, so they were sure to actually look and see if it was the same.

After that, every sweetgum tree we saw was pointed out to me with great excitement.  Being as I love trees, I always hoped to pass on some knowledge but was not sure how early to do so.  Well, it seems the answer landed in my lap without me having to figure it out.  I will save the harder lessons (telling trees apart by buds and bark) for a few years down the road.  Those concepts are still introduced in a very basic way (smooth vs. rough, bumpy vs. lines, white vs. dark, etc.)

This also reminded me that I have really been meaning to refresh my memory of trees.  I used to know a lot of them for work, though it has never been my strong suit.  Their interest lately and the quickness of learning made me think that I could refresh my memory along with teaching them.  They may not be able to tell a red oak from a bur oak, yet, but that does not mean that I can not keep pointing them out.  I will probably start them out on something easier next, like a sycamore.  We will save the bur oak lesson for a later date.

 

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Common name: sweetgum, redgum
Genus: Liquidambar
Species: styraciflua
Family: Hamamelicdaceae (witch-hazel family)
 

Identifying characteristics: 5-point star shaped leaves, fruit is the shape of a ball with “cones” protruding out all over it

Other links:

http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook/trees/list.html – has some really good up close photos of the bark

http://www.pollenlibrary.com/map.aspx?map=Liquidambar-styraciflua.png – has a map showing distribution

W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

 

 

Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

 

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database