Archive for 2000

The Christmas Tree

Icon Written by Geoff on December 1, 2000 – 8:03 pm

Selecting the family Christmas Tree is a long standing tradition in the Martin household. The selection process often takes most of the day and involves the whole family. We have had firs, pines, spruces and even a hemlock. My wife’s favorite is the Douglas Fir while the Fraser Fir is my favorite. No matter what variety, our Christmas Trees had to be big and full. Some of our fondest memories are of going out on a cold clear winter’s day selecting a tree. 

Some people promote artificial trees as a way of protecting the environment. Since a fake tree is a petroleum based product, consuming vast amounts of non-renewable natural resources to produce, this reason has little merit. Plastic trees also have only a life span of six years in the home but will last for centuries in the landfill. For those people that consider living trees messy there are varieties such as the Leyland Cypress that do not shed their needles. Real Christmas trees today are grown on large plantations as a cash crop. Here they provide homes, food, and shelter for wildlife. How many birds nests do you see in artificial trees? For our family, the only choice is between a living cut tree or potted living tree. 

A word of caution for those choosing a potted tree, they require careful planning and a lot more work. According to the National Christmas Tree council, to use a living tree successfully, you need to observe the following points:

  1. The adaptability of the species to your yard should be considered. Many species are shipped outside their natural area and may not be adaptable to other areas.
  2. The tree should be stored in an unheated, sheltered area such as a garage.
  3. The tree will need adequate water. The root ball or soil should be kept lightly damp but not flooded. Wrap the root ball of a balled tree in plastic or place in a tub while it is in the house.
  4. Once inside, the tree should be placed in a cool area out of direct light. Please remember though, that since this is a living plant, it still needs some light to survive.
  5. Live trees may be decorated, but with care. If lights are used, they must not give off any heat.
  6. Do not remove the tree directly from a warm house out into freezing temperatures. Instead, move to a sheltered area first for several days.
  7. If the ground is unfrozen, the tree may be replanted. The spot to be dug may be mulched to prevent freezing. Plant when possible.
  8. Do not remove the burlap and strapping (unless it is plastic) this keeps the root ball solid and secure.
  9. Do not attempt to remove soil from the root system. Earth removed from the original hole should be backfilled around the root ball.
  10. Mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent it from freezing. Water only as needed: a flooded tree may not survive.
  11. Stake the trees to prevent wind tipping or damage during the first growing season.

We prefer cut living trees that are recyclable. In our area in Zone 5 in Southwestern Lower Michigan, we have seen too many trees that did not survive the harsh Winters. With care and proper selection, a living cut tree can last a very long time. The type of tree you select has an important bearing on how long it will last. Some trees are much more prone to dropping their needles than others. Some trees are even painted to help them hold their needles and color. You can avoid this by buying locally cut trees or better yet, cutting your own. The poem The Last Christmas Tree by Howard D. Fencl is a cute tale of a father and son Christmas Tree hunting. 

Whether you select an artificial tree, real cut tree, or a living tree, try to make selecting the tree a family event. Take your time, and enjoy the experience.

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Bonsai for The Winter Months

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 2000 – 6:34 pm

Bonsai is the art of growing trees in a confined space, usually a pot or a tray. Bonsai does not refer to a type of plant, but describes a method of pruning and shaping to create an illusion of a very old tree in miniature. In Bonsai we try to simulate certain environmental conditions such as great age, extreme weathering, and twisted or contorted forms. Bonsai is modeled on, and often takes inspiration from nature. A bonsai can be created from any plant that has a woody trunk and tolerates pruning well. Bonsai can be loosely divided into tropical plants, deciduous shrubs and evergreens. The idea of bonsai is to recreate some of nature’s most stunning and beautiful effects on trees reduced in scale. 

All bonsai practioners will agree on, is the idea that bonsai should simulate age to produce the appearance of maturity in your tree. Although the tree may only be ten or fifteen years old, you can make it look as if it has been growing for decades or even centuries. The trunks of bonsai should be very wide at the base and taper smoothly to the top of the tree. 

We like our trees to look as natural as possible, this means a couple of different things. Let the tree itself suggest possibilities to you. Make that a feature of your bonsai. There are always possibilities in every tree, the trick is in finding them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are several classifications, such as formal upright, informal upright, cascade and windswept but, what really matters, is what looks right to you. There is no right or wrong way to measure beauty. 

Many tools used in bonsai are readily available, you could have some already for houseplant or garden use. The most important tool is a pair of shears to cut thin branches and roots. A small pair of scissors will be useful for fine pruning. Wire cutters are not only good for cutting wire but also for cutting branches close to the trunk. You will need pliers for wiring, the size again depends on the size of the plant and wire. Copper wire is traditionally used, because it is flexible yet strong. A root rake, which looks like a fork with the tines bent down at right angle. A turntable is really handy. A soil sieve is used to remove the fine particles from your soil mix. They are available from garden centers or catalogues. A watering can is essential. Twist-ties are good to pull down a branch and tie it to another or down to the rim of a pot. 

Pruning establishes the basic shape of the bonsai. By removing unnecessary branches, and thus enhancing others, you establish the style the tree will be. This is usually done only once, after which small shoots are pruned or removed, new growth is pinched back, and branches are wired to change or modify their position. There are two basic rules for removing branches, no branch should grow toward the front nor should branches cross each other. All other pruning is your choice, as you create in this little plant a vision of what you perceive this tree to represent.

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The Solomon Seals

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2000 – 7:19 pm

Solomon Seals are graceful shade plants that provide nice form and structure to the garden. These plants have long arching unbranched stems, they have nice clean, veined leaves with clusters of bell like greenish yellow to whitish yellow flowers hanging down from the stems at the leaf axis. In late summer and fall showy berries are produced that are blue to dark blue in color. 

The rhizomes of Solomon seals are white, long, thick and somewhat knobby, they usually grow about 2-4 inches underground in a horizontal angle to the surface. Most Solomon seals grow in spreading colonies that are easy to dig up and divide. 

There are over 60 varieties of Solomon Seals growing native in North America, Europe, Asia, Japan and Siberia. Solomon seals are grown as specimen plants or along walks as they have graceful arching stems. The variegated forms are showy and many Solomon seals make great plants for cutting and even drying. Some excellent Solomon Seals to try are: 

Polygonatum biflorum – The only native American species of Polygonatum makes a handsome stand of erectly nodding, leafy stalks to three feet. in moist shade or partial shade, with very white bells in clusters of two or sometimes three followed by blue berries. 

Polygonatum cirrhifolium – A more easterly form of this species with taller stems, to eight feet and whorls of narrow foliage with curled leaf tips and axillary clusters of very white flowers resulting in beautiful translucent red fruit. Semi-shaded sites and moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil. 

Polygonatum falcatum – An extremely fine plant that has unfortunately had its image tarnished by P. odoratum that travels about commerce using its name. The true P. falcatum is a rare plant in cultivation and produces elegant and robust stems to six feet in height. 

Polygonatum geminiflorum – A very pretty and distinctive species rare in cultivation, with short and broad ovate leaves borne in whorls of three along fifteen inch stems, with axillary clusters of white flowers produced in mid-spring. 

Polygonatum hookeri – This is the smallest of all Solomon’s Seals, rising only to three inches in height, but spreading outward to make substantial colonies over time. In early spring, upturned, star-shaped, pink-lavender flowers are formed, resulting in red fruit. 

Polygonatum humile – This rare and diminutive species produces a thick carpet of four inch stems cloaked in dark green leaves and pairs of axillary white blossoms in spring. A lovely ground cover for the moist, shaded garden. 

Polygonatum multiflorum – Round leaves along arching two foot stems with axillary clusters of two – five white, green-tipped flowers followed by bluish black fruit. Lovely in the woodland in fertile, moist soil. 

Polygonatum odoratum – Polygonatum odoratum is a wide spread species. These represent plants of Asian origin, with decidedly angled stems to three feet, carrying pairs of decidedly upwardly held leaves and axillary pairs of fragrant white, green rimmed, bells produced in late spring, for partial shade in any well-drained soil.

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The Polmonaria

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 2000 – 7:14 pm

There are more than twelve species of Pulmonaria which are a member of the Borage family. Polmonaria, also called lungworts, Bethlehem sage, and cowslip are a nice group of plants for the semi shady garden. The leaves are simple, large, hairy, and green with a few species spotted. They like moist soil but, do very well in average garden soil. Most are fast growers and some species are evergreen although most are deciduous. 

Polmonaria flower in early spring, soon after the snow disappears. Stems arise from the top of the plant that may still have green leaves after winter. Most plants have funnel shaped flowers with somewhat flaring mouths. Flower colors can be red, blue, white or violet. Some species have pink flower buds and come out as reddish – violet turning blue as they age. Flowers close at night and open again in the morning. 

New leaves begin to grow after the first flowers open. Roots are white and thickly fibrous. Pulmonaria should be planted in a somewhat shady area, they do very well under maple trees. They do not like hot, intense heat and light of the summer sun. Polmonaria are not good in hot, humid climates because they will go dormant. Even here, though, these hardy plants begin to grow again in late summer or early fall, when the temperature is cooler. They will suffer from mildew under these conditions. 

Pulmonaria are a valuable shade to partial shade plant with early spring flowers and attractive rosettes of basal leaves. In their native environments, the lungworts grow on a wide range of soils from acid to alkaline, dry to wet, sunny to shady, along streams and in mountains. 

Lungworts make great ground covers when grown well. Working well with solomon seal, astilbe, epimedium, or hostas. Here are some good Polmonaria to start with: 

P. angustifolia Azurea: Lance-shaped green leaves and wonderful blue flowers. 

P. angustifolia Blaues Meer: Lance-shaped green leaves with dark blue flowers. 

P. longifolia Little Blue: Masses of small blue flowers, tall-lanced shaped spotted leaves. 

P. longifolia ssp. cevennensis: Leaves to 26″ with spotting of silver; cobalt-blue flowers 

P. longifolia Bertram Anderson: Violet-blue spring blooms, narrow spotted leaves. 

P. longifolia Roy Davidson: Green foliage spotted with silver blotches; sky blue flowers. 

P. mollis Somibor: Large green leaves with white blotches; flowers of purplish-pink. 

P. officinalis Blue Mist: Sky blue flowers above lightly spotted leaves. One of first to bloom. 

P. rubra Redstart: Medium green leaves with coral red flowers; vigorous. 

P. rubra David Ward: Leaves of mint-green edged in white with coral flowers. 

P. saccharata Barfields Pink: Velvety deep green leaves; pink flowers with white stripes. 

P. saccharata Janet Fisk: Nice white marbling on leaf; pink flowers turn blue as they age. 

P. saccharata Mrs. Kittle: Dark green leaves with silver marbled effect; rose-pink flowers. 

P. saccharata Mrs Moon: Green leaf with silver spots; pink flowers fade to blue. 

P. saccharata Sissinghurst White: Pure white flowers with green highly spotted leaves. 

P. saccharata Margery Fish: Bright green leaf with silver-gray overlay; red-violet flowers. 

P. x Apple Frost: A silver applique over apple green leaves; rose colored flowers. 

P. x Berries and Cream: Foliage is undulating and silvery; raspberry pink flowers. 

P. x British Sterling: Green margin around shiny silver center on leaves; dark blue flowers. 

P. x Cotton: Cool leaves that are entirely silvered and wonderful blue flowers. 

P. x DeVroomen’s Pride: Near white foliage, green edge; blue flowers fade to pink. 

P. x Excalibur: Silver leaves edged in dark green; rose to wine colored flowers. 

P. x Majesty: Wonderful new introduction–leaves are silver-gray with a very narrow green margin. Blue-pink flowers. 

P. x Paul Aden: A vigorous grower with nicely spotted leaves; pink and blue flowers. 

P. x Milky Way: Huge lance-shaped heavily spotted leaves and blue blooms that fade to wine-pink. 

P. x Purple Haze: Light foggy purple flowers cover a tight mound of well-spotted foliage. 

P. x Raspberry Splash: Dusky raspberry-rose flowers with strongly marked, pointed leaves. 

P. x Spilled Milk: Very compact with extremely silvered leaves; pink flowers. 

P. x Victorian Brooch: Attractive oval silver spotted leaves, upright and outfacing gorgeous magenta-coral flowers with ruby-red calyces. 

P. x White Wings: Pure white flowers, very vigorous with spotted leaves; mildew resistant.

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Use of Wildflowers in the Home Landscape

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 2000 – 7:25 pm

Wildflower Gardening is increasing in popularity as gardeners have discovered just how versatile our native plants can be. Wildflowers are finding their way into the home landscape. They are being used increasingly in those hard to mow areas such as septic fields and detention basins. Some homeowners are turning to wildflowers in place of lawns or to reduce lawn areas as a means of reducing maintenance costs. 

Successful wildflower gardening requires careful planning. Site selection is the first and most important decision you must make. Most wildflowers like full sun, at least eight hours. This usually means not a north facing slope. During germination and seedling development you will want a site that can be easily watered. Avoid sites that have a history of heavy weed growth. If you must plant close to open fields, it is best to have a five – ten foot mowed buffer zone to keep weeds and woody plants from migrating into your wildflower garden. You will also want to avoid sites that are barren, if weeds will not grow probably neither will flowers. Damp, heavily compacted, or poorly drained soils usually make poor locations. Also, moist areas accumulate a lot of weed seeds as water drains through them. Since many wildflowers and grasses benefit from periodic burning, you want an area where this can be done safely. 

Site preparation can take up to one year using a combination of cultivation and herbicide applications to eliminate existing growth, roots, and weed seeds. Begin by mowing the area to remove as much growth as possible. Apply three applications of Roundup throughout the season beginning in early spring into fall. This allows you to kill any late germinating seeds. In the following spring we apply a final treatment of Roundup, wait 7-10 days and lightly till the soil. Do not cultivate any deeper than one inch as this will only bring additional weed seeds to the top. Plant the area immediately. 

We recommend using nothing less then 97% pure seeds. Also, avoid those packaged seeds found on most seed racks. We suggest purchasing your seeds from nurseries such as The Prairie Nursery or Wildseed Farms, both offer mixes that cover almost all growing conditions. Select a variety of wildflowers including some of our native grasses. You want to have a variety, not only for color but, to maintain bio-diversity. A good all purpose wildflower mix is one containing the following seeds or plants: 

– New England Wood Aster, Milkweed, Branched Coneflower, Culver’s Root, Wild Senna, Prairie Blazingstar, Black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye Weed, Boneset, Wild Iris, Pale Indian Plantain, Tall Coreopsis, Sawtooth Sunflower, Ox-eye Sunflower, Bergamot, Purple Coneflower, Goldenrod, Angelica, Great Blue Lobelia, Ironweed, Prairie Dock. 

Prairie Grasses 
– Big Bluestem, Bluejoint Grass, Canada Wild Rye. 

Provide plants that occupy different parts of the soil to insure that the wildflowers will squeeze out competing weeds. If the area is small, consider using plants instead of seeding. An important point to remember is that wildflower seeds are not hybridized like modern garden seeds to germinate quickly. 

Once the site is selected, prepared, and the seed chosen, it is time for planting. Unless the area is very big, hand broadcasting works best. Mix the wildflowers seeds into a carrier medium such as damp sawdust or peat–one bushel of carrier per thousand square feet of planting areas. Once thoroughly mixed, divide the blend in half and broadcast first one direction and then the other. Lightly rake and then roll the planted area. Most wildflower seeds need good soil contact to germinate. 

Lightly mulching the area with weed free straw will help keep the areas moist and increase germination. Avoid the temptation to use hay as it contains many weed seeds. The straw should be chopped and blown into the area for best results. 

Water every other day for the first few months after planting and then only during periods of drought. Over watering can be harmful as it promotes diseases. 

Wildflowers and grasses grow slowly so, for the first year or two, some weeding, either mechanical or chemical will be required. Since most weeds will grow faster than wildflowers, periodic mowing at six inches monthly will help control weeds the first year. Use a rotary mower or weedeater depending on the size of the area. Pulling weeds by hand is not recommended as you can easily harm the tender wildflower plants. If weeds continue to be a problem the second season, the area can be mowed again in late spring. 

Most wildflower areas will benefit from periodic burning. We recommend that whenever possible, a regular schedule of burning be carried out. Large wildflower areas should be divided into sections and rotationally burned annually. This method insures bio-diversity, protects over wintering insects, and often easier to control during burning. 

Wildfowers have a place in the garden but, do not expect to buy a packet of seeds at the corner drugstore, sprinkle them around, and magically have a field of flowers. It just does not work this way. With a little planning and some up-front work, you can have something that will last for years with little maintenance. The butterflies and birds will love you too.

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The Daylily

Icon Written by Geoff on July 1, 2000 – 6:55 pm

Daylilies are extremely long living almost pest-free perennials native to the Orient. They are very drought tolerant and will grow in almost any soil. These perennials require little cultivation since their foliage shade out most weeds. Although they will benefit from being lifted and divided, this is not essential. Some, in fact, grow so vigorously that they can be hard to get rid of. 

My first exposure to daylilies was as a youngster traveling North to our summer cabin. This was in the days before the super highway system and we had to travel the “back roads.” These country roads would be lined with bright orange flowers during the summer months. I soon learned that these were daylilies that had escaped cultivation from the gardens of the early pioneer setters. Nothing was left of the early farms but their flowers and an occasional apple tree. 

Today daylilies come in all color except blue . Flowers range in size from two to ten inches, held high on a slender stalk one to four feet in the air. The typical dayliliy bloom has six petals although more doubles or multi-petalled varieties are becoming available. Each flower lasts but one day but is soon replaced by another. A mature plant will have several flower stalks with many flowers opening at once. Once flowering begins, it will continue for several months. With the many varieties now available, it is possible to have blooming daylilies from late spring through autumn. 

Most of our daylilies are diploid with 22 chromosomes although we are seeing more polyploid. Tetraploid, those with 44 chromosomes, has a number if advantages over species daylilies: 

  1. Flowers are much bigger.
  2. More intense colors and brightness.
  3. Flower stalks are longer and stronger.
  4. Flowers and leaves are sturdier.
  5. Increased vigor.

There are a great many new polyploid varieties today to choose from. Every year exciting new tetraploids are being introduced. There are more than 35,000 named varietiesregistered with the American Hemerocallis Society . 

The roots of the daylily vary by species, some are long and slender while others are large and tuber like. No matter the shape, daylily roots are a combination of fine hairy and fleshy finger like growths. They prefer light loamy soil in full sun although, they will grow almost anywhere. A good mulching and a light fertilizer application can be beneficial. Daylilies are drought tolerant but thrive with frequent watering. 

Daylily foliage is grass like in shades of light green. This fan like growth is usually two feet in height with the plants forming clumps. The occasional division of these clumps will improve blooming. Applying too much fertilizer will increase foliage size at the expense of blooming. A good description of the parts of a daylily can be found at The Friends of the Daylily Web Site. 

We consider daylilies one of the easiest perennials to grow. Many gardeners plant daylilies and forget them. They just sit back and enjoy the summer blooms. This is an excellent plant for around out buildings, along lanes, or bordering railroad tracks.

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The Shady Lawn

Icon Written by Geoff on June 1, 2000 – 6:13 pm

We have recently discussed the merits of different traditional varieties of lawn grass seed (January Yard Talk) and the use of native grass (May Yard Talk). In this issue, we would like to address one of the hardest uses of grass in the home’s landscape, growing grass in heavy shade. 

To begin with, grass really does not want to grow in heavy shade. Just take a walk in the woods and observe how much grass you see growing. Sure, some grasses will grow in shade but, it is not natural for it to grow there. Fine fescue tolerate partial shade but, do not like this condition. Among the more commonly used varieties of the fescue are: Jamestown, Banner, Barfalla, Checker, Highlight, Koket, Shadow, Dawson, Ensylva, Fortress, Pennlawn, Ruby, and Aurora. Some perennial ryegrasses offer intermediate shade tolerance. Ryegrass varieties for shade include: Birdie II, Citation II, Fiesta II, Manhatten II, Palmer, and Regal. Poa trivialis L or rough blue grass can also be used in shaded areas. 

The best solution for the homeowner who wants a traditional well-groomed suburban lawn is to cut down all his trees and grind them up for use as mulch in his flower beds. Of course, if you live in an urban setting you will probably have to do this to your neighbors trees as well. While this will greatly insure that you have a beautiful lawn, it probably is not too practical. Some compromises will need to be made, particularly if you want to stay out of jail. Ideal growing conditions for lawns include sun, fertile, well-drained soil, and enough rain for the lawn to grow. 

The first and most important thing we need to do is to make sure the lawn is receiving enough sunlight. The grass may not get enough sun to manufacture food efficiently through photosynthesis to support the growing grass plant. Also, if a tree is casting shade, it may also be competing with the lawn for available water and nutrients, and may even block water from getting to the lawn during light rains. You need to evaluate the trees in your yard. If the trees are old, damaged, or of an undesirable species you may wish to have them removed. Poplar and Cottonwood trees are short lived and brittle, while Walnut and Cherry are messy and their roots and leaves leach out chemicals that can inhibit plant growth. Some varieties of Maples and Ashes have root systems that are very close to the soil’s surface, even growing on top of the soil. If you decide that the trees are worth maintaining, you then should have them pruned and thinned by a trained professional. 

This does not solve your problem if the trees shading your lawn are on your neighbors’ property. Hopefully, he takes pride in his landscape areas also and keeps his trees pruned. If not, you can always offer to pay to have his trees trimmed. Many large cities also have ordinances that might offer some legal relief. 

Often, shaded areas under trees are also very infertile. Unfortunately, most homeowners and even lawn services treat these areas like the rest of the lawn. You want to treat these areas with a low nitrogen fertilizer or, at least, a balanced one such as 13-13-13. We like to reduce the amount of the application and increase it’s frequency. We reduce the application to half strength and instead of applying 6 times we use 12 applications a year. Remember, most of your fertilizer is going to be absorbed by the trees. 

The soil in shaded areas quickly becomes compacted, particularly if it is along a walk or drive. While we generally only aerate a healthy lawn every 3-5 years, a heavy shaded area should be done yearly. This will improve the drainage and increase air penetration. We always follow aerating with a top dressing of a good quality grass seed. This is also a good time to apply a topdressing of organic matter such as mushroom compost although, any compost will help. In a heavy clay soil, you may wish to make two compost applications, you are trying to increase the organic content of the soil. 

Areas under trees need much more water than other areas of the lawn. Like fertilizer, most of the water is going to be taken up by the surrounding trees. This is one area where an underground sprinkler system more than pays for itself. Next to sunlight, nothing is more important than the timely application of water. Poa trivialis L, for example will grow very well in heavy shade with lots of watering, cut back the water and it quickly dies out. We never use Poa trivialis L unless the lawn has an irrigation system. To grow grass in the shade, you must make the commitment to watering regularly, this means even when you are out of town. Unlike grass growing in sunny locations, grass in shade does not go dormant during dry spells, it dies! 

For those of you with children, if you want good grass, provide them with another play area, take them to the park, or have them play at the neighbors. If you like picnicking in the shade, buy an umbrella. Grass in shaded areas just will not tolerate heavy traffic nor will it recover if subject to it. This includes the wanderings of the family dog. 

This probably sounds like a lot of work and it is. It can be very expensive and require sacrifices. Most of all, it takes a commitment on your part to keep doing the things that are required when they are required. If you quit for any reason, the grass is gone and you have to start over. It is just that simple.

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The Suburban Lawn

Icon Written by Geoff on May 1, 2000 – 6:15 pm

It is amazing the amount of time and money that is spent on the traditional bluegrass lawn. We have talked before about how much the average home owner spends to have a well manicured lawn. It has become almost a cult ritual every Saturday morning to fire up the lawn mower and pay homage to the Kentucky Bluegrass Icon before heading out to the country club for a round of golf. We fill our landfills with grass clippings, pollute our streams with fertilizer, and kill off our birds with pesticides so that our lawns have that iwell groomed look. 

Here, in the Midwest, if we were to quit mowing, fertilizing, and spraying, our lawns would soon become meadows and fields. Eventually woody plants would become established and over time the land would become forested again. We should face the fact that grass really does not want to grow where we want it to. 

In January’s Yard Talk we discussed the varieties of grass available to the homeowner, their strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly, as Stevie Daniels points out in The New American Lawn “Of the 14 species that the Lawn Institute claims are suitable for turf, only two are native — buffalograss, and red fescue. The typical lawngrasses — from Kentucky bluegrass to bermudagrass — are not native. 

While we are not saying the “All American Bluegrass Lawn” is bad, we are saying that there are alternatives. Just maybe we should quit beating our heads against the wall trying to grow something that really does not want to grow where we want it to and look at some of our native grasses. At the very least, we can return some of our greenscape to native varieties. If, every year, we planted orange trees, here in Zone 5, and every year they froze, we probably would soon say “Gee!, Maybe we should grow apple trees.” Why not the same with our lawns?

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The Sugar Bush

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 2000 – 7:17 pm

This time of year, in the North Country, sunshine is just starting to warm the forest floor, teasing us with our first taste of Spring. This is the time of warming days and cold freezing nights. In the times before the white settlers the Native Americans would be packing up and moving to their selected area of the Sugar Bush. Often the location of these areas were closely guarded and passed down from generation to generation. Wars were fought to keep the location of these sacred spots a secret. 

What is the Sugar Bush that the Native American so closely guarded? The Sugar Bush is the term the early settlers applied to those stands of trees tapped for sugaring. In the spring when the daytime temperature reach above freezing and the nighttime temperatures plummet below is the time when the sap starts to flow. The sugaring season is often short, the first run being the best. Spring rains delete the flavor and once the buds swell the sap develops a bad taste. 

Any trees that produce free flowing sap can be used to make syrup although most produce little sugar or taste very bad. The trees most often tapped in the North Country are the hickory walnut cherry birch , and maple . Some of my fondest memories of my youth are of the early morning breakfasts at our cabin on Little Traverse Lake eating flapjacks smothered in “hickory syrup”, watching the sun slowly rise over Sugar Loaf Mountain. As youngsters we use to save our pennys for the “maple sugar candy” found at Radar’s Totem Shop. What truly sweet memories those were. 

The tree most often associated with sugar making is the maple. While there are over 160 species of maple the Sugar Maple is the one most usually tapped for syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of Sugar Maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup, compared to 190 gallons from the Japanese Cutleaf Maple specimen tree in your rock garden. 

Native Americans and early settlers simply gashed the tree with an ax to obtain the sap, a little hard on the trees but effective. Today we use aluminum tubes or spiles to tap the tree. Holes are drilled 2-3 1/2 inches into the south side of the tree about 3 feet off the ground and spiles inserted. One spile may produce 1 gallon of sap a day or 12 gallons a season. No more than 3-4 spiles are placed in a tree and never in one less than 10 inches in diameter. Unlike using an ax, this does not harm the tree. 

Our forefathers used birch bark containers, wooden buckets, and eventually tin pails to collect the sap. Today, with sugar making being a big business, miles of plastic tubing is used to collect the sap and pump it to the sugar house. Little sugar is made today, most sap is made into syrup. To produce syrup, sap is boiled to 218 degrees Fahrenheit before it is put into containers. Today this is done in large stainless steel boilers and cooling tanks. Long gone are the days of open wood fires, large copper kettles, and little kids waiting for the “sugar to be ready”. 

Also gone are the days when every county in the “Sugar Bush” had two or three “sugar camps”. These were small family run operations. Everyone pitched in from cutting and splitting wood, tapping the trees, driving the sled to gather sap, and; of course, the long hours of boiling the sap into syrup. While hard work, it was a family time, like barn raising, haying, quilting bees, and cookie making. Unfortunately, most of the “Sugar Shacks” have disappeared along with much of the “Sugar Bush” from the North Country. Gone are the Bufkas and the Novotnys, of the far North, and their long traditions of fine sugar making. 

Why not take time this Spring with your family to make a little syrup or even sugar. All it takes is a little time, a couple of plastic pails, 4-5 spiles, and a few maple trees, maybe throw in a few birch trees if you are daring. The Michigan Maple Syrup Association is a good place to start at Who knows you may start a new family tradition!

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Specialty Nurseries On-Line

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 2000 – 6:24 pm

In February we talked about ordering plants on-line. We told you about our favorite perennial web sites and offered some tips on selecting an on-line nursery to order from. Time did not permit us to look at all the other sites available. In this month’s issue of Yard Talk we would like to review some of the other web sites we have found to be above average. 

For us to consider an on-line source to be above average they must consistently supply plants which are strong vigorous growers as presented on their site. The plants should be healthy, strong, and above average in size. We expect plants to be protected during shipment, while bare root plants are acceptable, potted plants should be the norm. Shipments should be made on time and in the manner specified. All orders should be acknowledge and any back orders brought to our attention promptly. 

The following nurseries are ones which have met or exceeded our expectations: 

Rose On-Line Nurseries

Edmunds’ Roses –
This site is about modern roses with excellent graphics and a wealth of information. An essential place to visit for those of us into new roses.
Hortico Nurseries –
If you are looking for roses, look no further. Old Roses, New Roses, you name it and Hortico Nurseries has it.
Yesterday’s Roses –
As the name implies this is the site for Old Roses. They specialize in old time tea, damask, etc.
Nor’East Miniature Roses –
If you are into miniature roses this site offers a good selection of some of the best.
Regan Rose’s –
While not the easiest catalog to browse or order from, its quality and wide variety well make up for this sites short comings. The descriptions are limited, geared more for the experienced grower. All rose varieties are well represented at this site.
Petaluma Roses –
Petaluma Rose has a number of fine roses which are not usually offered by many of the other growers. While their selection is somewhat limited the varieties offered are a welcome addition to anyone’s garden. We particularly like their patented Hybrid Teas.
Spring Valley –
Spring Valley Roses specializes in winter hardy Old Garden, Climbing and Shrub roses. These roses have to be tough to handle their colder climates. They do their best to grow healthy, large roses. The roses they offer are: winter hardy, own-root plants, disease tolerant, large two-year old plants, and historically significant. They offer roses in the following classes: Centifolia, Climbers, Gallica, Hybrid Rugosa, Shrub and Species. These include many of the newer Shrubs and Hybrid Rugosas developed in Germany and Canada.
White Rabbit –
White Rabbit Roses offer a wide selection of Old Garden Roses as well as older Hybrid Teas. We were pleasantly surprised to see that White Rabbit also offers Custom Rooting Services and even a Rose Finding Service for Old Roses, those over 40 years. If Old Roses are your interest by all means check these people out.

Woody Plant Nurseries

Aesthetic Gardens –
An excellent site for rare and unusual trees and shrubs. If you are looking for that special, hard to find specimen, this is the place.
Roslyn Nursery –
A unique nursery specializing in rare and exotic varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, trees, ground cover and other ornamental plants. A very good source for Japanese Maples and Ferns. Also for those in the warmer zones they offer a selection of Camellias. You can also find information about plant hardiness zones and directions to their nursery.
Forest Farms Nursery –
They offer a good selection of ornamental shrubs, trees, grasses, and perennials. They are well known throughout the plant community although they just started offering their catalog on-line.
Clematis Specialty Nursery –
They are a small nursery specializing in all types of clematis. They have been in business since 1983 as a retail establishment and started doing mail-order in 1993. Clematis Specialty Nursery is particularly interested in small-flowered species and hybrids that are so easy and rewarding to grow. Their aim is also to introduce new but proven varieties of both small and large-flowered clematis

On-Line Seed Catalogs

Burpee –
Serving Home Gardeners since 1876. The on-line spot for the seed gardener, feel free to explore this site as if it were your own garden. Everywhere you turn, we’re sure you’ll find something special to look at.
Territorial Seed Company –
Territorial has been serving the seed gardener for over twenty years, offering a wide selection of seeds. We were particularly impressed with its large selection of garlic sets, over ten varieties.
Franklin Hill Garden –
Franklin Hill Garden Seeds web site offers enticing selections of annual and perennial flower varieties, natives, exotics, heirlooms, cottage garden favorites, and a few modern hybrids. Franklin Hills goal is to help us rediscover forgotten old favorites as well as find a few new treasures. We are sure you will find their site interesting.
Wildseed Farms –
Wildseed Farms offers for sale over 70 species of wildflower seed, and wildflower seed mixes. Their catalog is an invaluable resource for anyone who would like to join the growing community of enthusiasts who support Mother Nature by planting wildflowers. They offer useful information on such diverse subjects as starting a no mow lawn to plants for clay soils.
Prairie Nursery –
Prairie Nursery is dedicated to bringing their customers quality plants and seeds, and sharing our knowledge of cultural and landscape uses of native plants. Since 1972 Prairie Nursery has been devoted to improving and rebuilding the environment by encouraging ecological gardening using native plants for soil, water, and habitat conservation. Their mission is to preserve native plants and animals by helping people to create attractive, non-polluting natural landscapes that can support a diversity of wildlife.
Seeds of Change –
Seeds of Change is an all organic, 100 % Certified source for over 1500 different varieties of heirloom seeds. The site offers a lot of information for the organic gardener

On-Line Bulb, Corm, Rhizome, and Tuber Companies

Brent and Beckys Bulbs –
Brent and Beckys Bulbs are a hybridizers of daffodils . They are third generation bulb growers, trialing many unusual and specialty bulbs on our 10 acre farm and gardens in Gloucester, Virginia.
Oakes Daylilies –
For three generations Oakes Daylilies has been in the business of growing and selling daylilies. In that time, they have seen incredible advancement in the diversity, beauty and popularity of the daylily. Whether you have grown daylilies for years or are new to them, Oakes invite you to add some of these wonderful flowers to your garden.
McClure and Zimmerman –
McClure Zimmerman offers multitude of quality bulbs, corms, tubers and rootstocks. We have used them in the past and have always found them to be reliable.
Swan Island Dahlias –
Swan Island Dahlias are the largest grower of Dahlias in the United States. Their catalog offers a wide range of tubers.
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