Field of Science

Lawn mowers and trees; often not a happy interaction

As the lawn mowing season commences, TPP must remind you that trees, particularly young ones, do not like lawn mowers, not the misused machine but the idiot guiding it.  A walk through any particular neighborhood will provide numerous examples of tree abuse at the hands of lawn mowers usually in the form of gouges and missing hunks of bark near the base of the trunk.  It's the most common sort of urban tree damage.  This is simply not good, and here's the thing, such injury is forever and can have long reaching consequences that will reduce the longevity of the tree. The injury shown is not new; it's a few years old.  You can see some evidence of the wood and bark growth closing over the wound, but it does not ever completely heal. The tree compartmentalizes the wound; the cambium may over grow the wound encasing the wound in wood. Evidence of the abuse. But that's not all; where the cambium fuses together from the two sides, it forms abnormal wood for years afterward, a radial seam of weakness that many years later under stress,  particularly during the winter, can split forming what is called a "frost crack".  It's really a tree-injury crack and this has been thoroughly demonstrated by dissecting cracked trees and sure enough there is always, always, anatomical evidence of prior injury. This particular injury is also promoting some unsightly basal sprouting, which sometimes encourages lawn mowing dummies to mow even closer to trim the sprouts. The solution is to mulch a perimeter around the tree to keep the lawn mower away.  
If you want either a book or a pamphlet about tree care, you should go here.  It's a web site about the life's work and publications of Alex Shigo, a noted forest pathologist and a mentor to many of us. In particular many of these publications especially the economically priced pamphlets very useful, informative, and not technical.  These are PP approved, and if you've been reader for any time at all, you will know that this blog gives very few endorsements and is bereft of ads and popups that plague and diminish many blogs with tawdry advertising.

Friday Fabulous Foliage

Fairly new Japanese maple is becoming quite large, making itself a real presence in our front garden. The brand new foliage is quite striking and the pattern produced by the emerging leaves and elongating twigs is very handsome.  This one is the largest in our gardens, even on the day it was planted.  It was money well spent.  Bought a small "full moon" maple when it was pretty small, a hard to find variety, and it's taken several years to get to be noticable.  Mrs. Phactor says TPP is getting too old to buy small trees anymore. With trees size/cost correlation is positive and not necessarily linear. It also costs more because old gardeners have old backs, so you have to hire young backs to plant them (and then make sure they get them planted straight).  

Whose testicles?

Here's one of those newsy little articles that's supposed to make us go wow!  Imagine that!  But really people you don't know much of anything.  Here's the article: "Turns out the word avocado comes from the Aztec word āhuacatlwhich means “testicle"". Naming plants after what they look like is nothing new, people have been doing it for centuries, and bawdy is not the least uncommon.  Walnuts, the genus Juglans, refers to Jupiter's testicles.  Does anyone need to be drawn a picture of the flowers in the legume genus Clitoria? Anyone want to guess why the maiden hair fern is so called? Leaf pinnae have a venation pattern that resembles pubic hair. TPP could go on, but you get the picture.  And oh, just one more example, the giant corpse flower (a really, really big jack-in-the-pulpit) is flowering at the Chicago Botanic Garden - "Sprout's" name is Amorphophallus titanum.  Is there anything phallic about it?  See for yourself.

Success week!

Success Week. What a great euphemism! Somebody (Asst. dean of students?) will claim this as a great achievement and get rewarded for it. So what is Success Week? It's the last week of classes before finals. There are a whole bunch of rules about what you can and cannot do the last week of classes, however it can all be boiled down to don't further stress out stressed out students. Too many things must be finished this week along with studying for finals.  TPP never did any of the "don'ts" and it was because the big project due was their lab portfolios, and they've known about this from day one (syllabus). And he never gave comprehensive finals, although because ideas and concepts build on each other the 4th exam has the most comprehensiveness. Here's the thing. It wouldn't really make any difference because you can't make up in a week what you should have been doing all semester. "But we need time to study." No, you need time to review, studying was, or should have been, done day by day, week by week as the class went along. This means a lot of students didn't really study at all, and then try to make it all up in one week, and we're not to make matters worse. OK, TPP can buy that, but it should be called "It's too late week."  This is one of those things you learn or you only go so far with your education. But euphemisms like this make you want to gag, or choke a deanlet.

Botanical Art Online Sale

Dear Readers, 
Here you go! The American Society of Botanical Artists are having an online sale.  Some terrific illustrations and a few pieces of art are for sale to raise money for their activities.  Grab your credit cards and go here.
TPP has his eye on a piece already, although why are there no magnolias?  At any rate here's your opportunity to get an excellent piece of botanical art.  Remember it doesn't have to match your sofa; it's art. The Phactors started collecting art a long time ago, and now without really having tried a considerable collection has been acquired.  Be warned this is going to be forwarded to a guy who loves plants, loves art, and makes TPP look like a tightwad. But giving you a heads up.  You are welcome ASBA.

Friday Fabulous Flower - wildflowers in gardens

Happy Earth Day!  Lots of people ask about using prairie and woodland wild flowers in gardening. They're mostly interested in what and how.  In honor of the day some examples will be given.  One of the easiest, and a fairly showy spring wildflower other than the weedy bluebells that grow all over our gardens is bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora). They grow in clumps, sometimes dense ones, but they aren't weedy or unruly spreaders, and they are easily divided so they grow here and there around our spring gardens.  But the foliage persists and in the fall makes a nice cinnamon brown cluster. The flowers are pendent and have the curiously twisted petals.
Liverleaf (Hepatica acutiloba) is small and a very early wildflower.  They are also picky. While a woodland flower they like shady slopes where they don't get covered in leaves. Lacking that ours like being plants at the base of large trees again where they don't get buried.  The flowers can vary from white to pale pink to deep pink (rare). Very nice, but for many people a why bother plant. Sorry couldn't find a flower picture.
OK so lastly, one of TPP's favorite garden wildflowers. It isn't showy, it isn't common, it is easy enough once established if you have a nice woodland habitat for it, but only a wild flower fancier will appreciate it: blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).  It's just nice to know you have it.
The foliage and flowers have that bluish cast, but as can be seen not very showy. It's also kind of neat because the flowers are constructed in multiples of 3s, so that should say to you "monocot", but this is a dicot, a member of the barberry family. So TPP finds that fun too. Many of the tropical magnoliid plants have a similar situation of having 3-parted flowers.  This one is surrounded by blue bells that almost hide it from all but the most discerning eyes. 

Garden color palate of mid-April

A lot of plants are in flower right now across a range of colors. A couple of pearl bushes (Exochorda), still on the smallish side (garden age - 3 yrs), add big splashes of white (above). A dozen or so redbuds spread a lacy pink-purple around our gardens aided a bit by flowering crabapples. A Carolina silverbell (Halesia) suddenly showed up (it's flowers start green and turn white) its lacy display out beyond the perennial bed. An orange spicy-lights Azalea is beginning to turn up the heat. Bluebells, poppies, tulips and late narcissas provide lots of accents. All of this as the magnolias fade. 
Wait! A blond fox squirrel just arrived. Just a couple of blocks from our gardens is a population of black fox squirrels, but the blond one is a new comer. Just what we need, immigrants.
 In the spring things just pop up it seems, but a couple of replacement arbor-vitae trees were planted yesterday in TPP's absence (8 footers), so they really did pop up! Wished they had popped straight up (planted with a bit of tilt)(Yes, fussy, but that was paid-for planting.) And so a border garden reappears.  It's a bit sad, but the lawn needs to be mowed; while shaggy, the violets and spring beauty are nice, and it has a nice meadow quality to it. Basically mowing lawns is like poodle pruning shrubs.  

How to buy trees and shrubs

Here's some great tips for buying trees and shrubs from the good folks over at the Garden Rant, who we likes even if they don't link to us. To these tips, let TPP add a couple. 
1. Balled and burlaped trees are preferable to potted ones, but if potted is only choice then make certain that roots are not bound into a tight cylinder. You must, MUST, tease out the root ball during planting; TPP's weapon of choice is a huge old screw driver used to pry the root ball apart. Failure to do this kills more trees and shrubs than anything but total neglect. 
2. Plants grow people, so plan ahead. Read the label and check the size in 10 years. TPP just saw a whole row of little yews, big box cheapies, planted in a 18" wide bed between a wall and a sidewalk. They're too big for the location from the get go! No way this works. If you did plant too many trees for a hedge, bite the bullet and cut out every other one, and remember this lesson. It cost you money. TPP wishes he knew who planted 3 hack berries in a row 20 feet apart across his yard; now they are 90 feet tall and not easily or cheaply removed. Who would plant 3 hack berry trees anyways! Of course even TPP makes his mistakes. Hard to believe how quickly that Chamaecyparis shrub grew! 

Gardening spring fever, exercise spring ferver

As per usual our weather goes from rather cold to warm-hot more or less directly. Our gardens look quite lovely, very colorful with a combination of bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs all in flower. Even the spring beauty/violet infested lawn is beautiful, in fact, spring beauty and violets are the lawn. It's the peak for bluebells, our most prominent and numerous wild flower. In one place yellow celandine poppies contrast nicely with the blue, and usually accented by the pink of bleeding hearts, but the freeze of a week ago (what a difference a week makes!) did them damage. For Mrs. Phactor the transition from tax season (very taxing) transitions immediately to garden season. Anyone who wants to experience our whole body garden-your-butt-off exercise program need only stop by and we'll see that you get a workout. Why is it that exercise zealots are never gardeners? Gardening is exercise that accomplishes something, or does that make it work and therefore ineligible as exercise? 
Last week's freeze demonstrated some plants' susceptibility to freezes: flower buds on a Butterflies Magnolia got totally toasted, so did the emerging leaf buds on a Oyama magnolia (and hopefully the damage is not too severe). Yet our tulip and saucer magnolias were unscathed because they were purposely sited to delay their flowering, and this year it worked. The freeze caught most of the saucer magnolias in full bloom and they suddenly went from magnificent flowering displays to toast.  Sudden heat causes plant to flower quickly and fade just as quickly. TPP has also begun replanting the boundary garden where a huge limb from their tulip tree broke during an ice storm and squashed three conifers like bugs; they did not survive. The 'Techny' arbor vitaes will be replaced, but not the limber pine. A new 'black tulp' magnolia has been planted too. TPP also got to replace his Japanese umbrella pine (Scaidopitys), but you cannot replace 6 years of growth.  
New trees and shrubs means digging holes; you have no idea how many muscle groups get a workout digging holes, so again stop by, a stake marks the spot for the next hole twice the diameter of the root ball please. Get your back into it! This is for your own good! In another exercise challenge, yesterday TPP rebuilt a pedestal for a objet d'art out of large 
pavers, a non-leaning pedestal, and this AM his right hand is feeling the effects of that exercise as he types this blog. Stop on by, he'll show you which keys to hit.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Trout lily

The spring, woodland ephemerals are a special pleasure this time of year.  The Phactors share a largish patch of these white trout lilies with the neighbors to the east. Lots of plants have no respect for fences or property boundaries. The only thing transgressing from the neighbors to the west is garlic mustard. TPP grew up with the yellow trout lily, but locally Erythronium albidum is the prevalent species.  It's smaller, has more bluish tints to the leaf, and of course a white flower.  But altogether charming especially when you get down to their level.