Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mulberries Fruiting Now

Last week, which was the week of May 9th, I noticed my five year old mulberry tree, a transplant I got as seedling that spawned beneath my mother’s mammoth parent, had finally gotten old enough to produce. Last year I was able to pick a handful of berries through the whole season and they were small and not very tasty. This year however, I have hit the mother lode.

Every branch was covered from one end to the other with berries. Actually mulberries aren’t really berries. They are a congregate fruit made of individual drupes, much like the blackberry. On the plus side, mulberries are much easier to pick than blackberries because there are no thorns.

I knew the coming days of rain would knock off all the ripe berries so I grabbed a bucket and headed out to the back yard. It took about 30 minutes to pick the ripe berries. I can’t describe the feeling I had looking at the bountiful tree up close. I remember eating mulberries as a kid but of course not really appreciating them for anything but the taste. This was almost spiritually uplifting because I had planted this tree and nurtured it for five long years before seeing any real harvest.

Today’s efforts yielded about 1 ½ pints, closer to a quart. There are at least three times as many berries still ripening out there so I will be picking every few days for a while. I’m going to eat some of these fresh and indulge in a childhood memory revisited. The rest I will freeze. There are several recipes I want to try with these now that I have a supply. You can check out how to freeze them and the recipes on my Good as Grandma’s Food Preservation blog.

If you love berries, a mulberry tree can be a wonderful addition to your landscape or home orchard. Be warned though – the berries can turn everything reddish purple – hands, clothing. If you step on them, you will track purple juice into your home. Birds love them and will then poop purple. So do not plant one close to your house. In the back of your yard or out in an orchard setting is the best place for this specimen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

K Is for the K in N-P-K Blended Fertilizer

This time of year, home improvement stores, garden centers and even mini-marts have bags of fertilizer on sale for the enthusiastic gardeners out there. Fertilizers come in many variations and it is important to buy the right kind for the plant you are fertilizing. The blend you use on your grass is not the same kind you use for your fruit and ornamental trees.

Bags of fertilizers are labeled with a series of numbers, usually 3, in a pattern like 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Those numbers represent the percentages of specific components of the fertilizer. In order they stand for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). These three nutrients are the keys to most plant growth. They each have a job to do. Let’s look at potassium.

Potassium, also known as potash, is the K in the NPK formula. The k comes from its Latin name kalium. Potassium is important to flower and fruit development. It assists in the building of starches and sugars and contributes to plant growth and disease resistance. It is naturally found in wood ash which is where the potash name comes from.

You can tell if there is a shortage of potassium because leaves will scorch more easily, fruit crops will be low and plants will be more prone to disease. A soil test can confirm the shortage.

Potassium can be applied to trees as part of a blended fertilizer or separately in liquid form. It typically lasts two to three years in the soil unless you have a crop of heavy fruit production. If you need to add blended fertilizer, look for one with a higher K designation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“I” Is for Indigenous

Spring brings out the crazies, especially in gardeners. We have endured long cold months of gray skies and drab landscapes. When spring finally appears, we are itching to play in the dirt. Complicating this process is the arrival of seed and pant catalogs that, for me, began arriving in January. My wish list grows gargantuan with the arrival of each new catalog.

The beautiful pictures of bright colors and wildly exotic plants call to us and sometimes we are swayed by the siren’s call. We are tempted and often give in to the desire to buy and grow all sorts of plants and trees that are doomed to grow in the climates where we live.

First time home buyers and people new to the area may not know exactly what they can grow. Planting things not indigenous or native to the area can cost you a lot of money and labor.

I still make my list but I pay attention to the US planting zone recommendations and what is indigenous to my area. Indigenous plants are those that are found naturally in your area. You can check with your local extension office if you are unsure. Also pay attention to what your neighbors grow. If you don’t see orange trees growing anywhere, there’s probably a good reason for this. Stick to trees that can handle the climate where you live.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

“H” Is for Hickory Nut Trees

There are several types of hickory nut trees around: Shagbark, Shellbark, Pignut and Bitternut. I am most familiar with Shagbark because I became the owner of several when I purchased my home some years ago.

Mine are deep within the woods that inhabit 70% of our land. I have to go searching for them every fall and each time I tell myself I’m going to mark them so I don’t have to look for them the following year. But then, I reach the trees and I remember why I didn’t mark them. Shagbark, as its name implies, has a very distinct bark.

Distinct bark of the Shagbark Hickory tree

I would have liked to include a photo of my own for this post but I didn’t realize I was going to write about this until I sat at the computer. I did find a lovely photo that demonstrates the unique bark of the Shagbark. As you can see, the bark separates from the tree in long, shaggy strips.

Hickory trees are a hardwood and prized for tool and furniture making. There are also used as fire wood and to cure meats with their hickory flavor.

The nuts are in the walnut family. They develop inside a hull which is shed or peeled from the nut. The nuts are hard and difficult to crack but very tasty. The trees I have are very old and must reach 40 or 50 feet in height. Often the nuts have tiny worms in them. The trees are much too big for me to treat in any effective way. Still I enjoy collecting the nuts and savoring their distinct flavor each fall.

Hickory nut still inside hull

They make wonderful shade trees if you want to add one to your landscape. Just be aware that they have been known to reach 100 feet tall and may not be suitable for all situations. And the falling nuts can present a hazard and become a mess to deal with.

Hickory nuts being removed from hulls

Friday, April 8, 2011

“G” Is for Gift

OK, maybe this post really should have been “G” is for Geek because when it comes to my trees, that’s what I am…a tree geek. I see trees as gifts. Big beautiful, air-purifying, fruit, nut and beauty-giving gifts.

I was not always such a geek for the gifts of trees. I appreciated fruit and nuts just like anyone else. I loved the spring blossoms but let’s face it, the streets of Chicago offered limited opportunities for appreciating the variety of colors, sizes and shapes of trees.

When I moved to southern Illinois twelve years ago, I had never seen some of the trees that grow naturally here. And the climate is suitable for many types of fruit trees, not something I could have experienced easily further north.

We chose the piece of property we did in part because it already had so much going for it. There were mulberry trees, persimmons, choke cherries, elderberries and wild blackberries everywhere. The previous owners had added peach and plum trees and a concord-type grapevine.

As I acclimated to my new surroundings on 40 acres, I explored and fell in love. Shagbark hickory trees and black walnuts made their home in my little world. The second spring we were here I discovered the dogwoods. Small understory trees with white blossoms actually called bracts that looked like lace in the woods. And I absolutely came to adore the redbuds which are more like a purple if you ask me. Purple is my favorite color.

So each year I add one or two trees to the front border of our property. I am slowly adding all my favorites and it’s a blend of fruit and ornamentals. Someday I hope to have the whole stretch of road planted and enjoy the annual gifts of color and fruit they bare.Everyone will pass by and say "That's where the tree geek lives." I'm ok with that.

“F” Is for Fertilizer for Fruit Trees

Fruit trees need fertilizer but they need a different combination than most other trees. The typical tree combination of fertilizers is a 4-1-1 blend. This blend is high in nitrogen which is what promotes leaf growth. While fruit trees do need lots of healthy leaves to support food production for the tree, if the tree puts all its energy into producing leaves, the flower and fruit production will suffer for it.

A low nitrogen blend like 1-1-1- or 1-2-1 is good choices for fruit trees. Your nitrogen should come in equal parts from slow release forms and water soluble forms. Water soluble means it breaks down all at once with contact with water. The plant roots can access this form immediately

Slow-release nitrogen can come from compost or manures, particularly horse or chicken. Just be sure to use aged manures because fresh manures are high in ammonia and can burn roots and young plants.

The best time to apply fertilizers for fruit trees is in the fall (another “F” word) or the winter ust before they go dormant so they can absorb the nutrients.

“E” is for Early Blooms

One of the things I love most about trees is the springtime blooms so many of them produce. After looking out my windows at dreary gray skies all winter and lifeless trees looking like desolate sentries doing their best to keep spring at bay, the tiniest little buds begin to emerge. They are just tiny specks at first, giving just a hint of the color about to erupt. Branches are soon speckled with buds and the color itself begins to actually breathe life in to the tree and in turn into me. I just thought I would share some photos of early spring bloomers that get my tree-loving blood pumping each spring.
Photo by Institute for Hamburger Studies on Wikimedia Commons

The flowering dogwood, particularly the pink varietry are among my favorite early spring-blooming trees.
photo by Rob Farrow on Wikimedia Commons
I have flowering plum trees and when they are in full bloom, there is nothing quite as beautiful.
photo by Theresa Leschmann

Redbuds adorn lawns and dot roadways adding varying degrees of pinkish-purple to the landscape.
photo by Theresa Leschmann
The flowering crabapple is another favorite with its deep, rich pinks. These trees really pack on the blossoms, giving them a lush look.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

“D” Is for Digging in the Dirt

With spring in full bloom, my thoughts turn to the possibilities of what new trees to plant this year. I have two goals I am working on. One is to restore a tree-lined edge along the front of my property after a three-year road widening project destroyed what was once there. For this project I am planting ornamentals such as dogwoods and redbuds, interspersed with a couple of fruit trees for variety of color and time of bloom. Though not trees, I have some flowering shrubs mingled in for good measure.

The other project is to have my own home orchard filled with trees that bear the fruit my family enjoys. So far I have two types of cherry, 2 types of apple and some plum trees. We already have persimmons on the property.

What I have learned in the few years I’ve been building my own garden forest is site preparation is the key to success. Yep, digging in the dirt is absolutely necessary. Roots of young trees don’t need to compete with weeds, grasses and other plantings while they are getting established. It is a good Idea to remove any vegetation from the planting site and keep it clear the first couple of years. Tat way the tree doesn’t have to compete for water and nutrients during its early growth period which is crucial to its development and long term health.

Another thing to develop is the tilth of the soil. This term is generally used to describe tilled quality of soil in relation to its ability to support plant growth. Compacted soil makes roots fight to spread out . You want to provide loose soil that roots can move through with relative ease. This is why we till our gardens every year. Spend some time preparing the site, adding compost and aged manure before planting. Ideally you want to do this six to twelve months before planting but it can be done a few weeks before planting and still provide benefits.

Digging in the dirt is the best way to prepare your soil for your new tree friend. Is also a good way to bond with your tree. Who wants to spend all that back-breaking time preparing the soil only to ignore the new planting and let it die? Not me! After putting in that much work just to get it in the ground, you can bet I’m going to work at taking care of it. So get your hands dirty!

Monday, April 4, 2011

“C” is for Cherry Trees

Today’s A to Z Blogging Challenge post is supposed to be on the letter “C.” As spring is here and thoughts are focused on gardening, people visit their local nurseries where they are overwhelmed with choices of trees. Cherry trees are very popular for a number of reasons. They produce beautiful blossoms in the spring, wonderful fruit in the summer and put on a respectable fall color show. They are an all-around good choice whether for landscaping purposes or as part of a backyard orchard.

I have several cherry trees and I have learned the hard way that they are somewhat fragile. I started with a North Star pie cherry and a Stark Crimson sweet cherry, both from Stark Brothers Nurseries. Both trees arrived in good shape and seemed to take the transplant well. The following year I even saw a few blossoms on each tree but no cherries. That summer, the trunk of the tree was nicked, repeatedly, by my then 14 –year-old son as he mowed the lawn each week. I was unaware of this at the time.

The following year, the tree sent up a new shoot from the root. As the old trunk showed no signs of life, I let the new shoot grow. It has been two years and the new shoot has developed into a nice looking tree but has yet to flower or produce anything. I realized these trees are grafts and that what is probably now growing is more than likely not a cherry tree. Since I have 40 acres to play with, I’ve decided to let this renegade grow and see what it is.

The other tree had its bark peeled by a goat. Yes, a goat. We have goats. Apparently cherry tree bark s quite the delicacy to goats, again, not something I was aware of. This tree nearly died but the trunk had split into two branches up above where the goat began feasting and one of the branches has survived. It has been five years and this tree puts on few flowers but has never fruited. I may have to start over with some new trees in a safer location away from goats and teenage boys with lawnmowers.

If you check back through the archives, you can find information about growing cherry trees from seed and about pruning them. If you’re interested in how to fertilize cherry trees, check out this piece.

Don’t forget to check out all the other great bloggers participating in this challenge by clicking the link at the top right of this page.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B Is for Black Walnut Trees

The black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) is not usually grown in the home landscape but does have its benefits. On my homestead of about 40 acres, we have an expansive stand of woods which include several black walnut trees. They are massive and beautiful trees. We have collected nuts several times but more often than not, we simply appreciate its beauty.

The tree is long-lived and can last up to 200 years. Because of its size, it can make a wonderful shade tree. The problem with using it in this capacity is the nuts. In the fall, around October, the nuts, contained inside greenish hulls, fall from the tree once the hulls turn black. They are often plentiful and a nuisance to clean up. The hulls, when opened, can stain your skin.

Another problem with black walnut trees is that a chemical contained in the roots, trunk, leaves and nut husks can inhibit the growth of tomatoes, potatoes, blackberry, grape, lilac, hydrangea, chrysanthemum, paper birch, red (Norway) pine, Scotch pine, hackberry, basswood, apple, and other plants grown too close to a walnut tree. This effect remains long after a walnut tree has been removed. If you want the tree for its shade or bright yellow autumn display, plant it where it won’t impact other plants.

The nuts which are primarily used in ice cream, candy and baking are difficult to extract. The black walnut tree is a valued lumber tree because of the hardness of its wood. This hardness extends to the nut. Many people resort to spreading the nuts on the driveway and rolling over them with a car to crack the shells. I have actually tried this and it pretty effective.

Give careful consideration to the addition of a black walnut to your landscape. It is definitely a beautiful addition but not one without drawbacks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

“A” is for Apple Trees

I am engaging in a writing challenge that kicks off today known as the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, which you can sign up for here. So today’s blog post is about apple trees.

I have an aunt who lives in Michigan and every year she would send us bushels of “farm apples.” These were smallish, green and imperfect fruits that came from ancient trees on her 80-acre farm. And every fall we would eat the apples until we could stand them no more and then turn the rest into applesauce or apple pie filling to be used later on.

I have always loved the idea of a huge, old apple tree. They are not very common today. Even commercial growers don’t plant the varieties that develop into towering giants because they are difficult to case for and harvest from. Most of today’s apple varieties ae sold as dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties and that is not all bad.

When I considered buying some apple trees for my home, my first thought was how much my youngest son would enjoy climbing in that tree. Certainly he will help pick the apples I can’t reach as the tree matures. He is 13. By the time the tree reaches full maturity, he will long since have moved out and on with his life.

As the reality of this set in, I soon realized my husband and I would be left to pick our own apples in a few years and my tree-climbing days are well behind me. So dwarf trees it is. While I love many different types of apples, I chose Granny Smith and Red Delicious both for their taste, their versatility in use and for the Granny Smith’s ability to store well for months. I can’t wait to see how wonderful apples taste that I grew and stored myself.

My 1-year-old trees were planted last year and all three are beginning to break out in leaf. One looks as though it may not be doing too well and this will require some investigation on my part to determine the cause. I’ll let you know what I find out.

While my trees will never be those glorious giants I once dreamed of, I am anxious to see them reach their full potential. If you do have the luxury of an older apple tree, there are some care tips I can share with you here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pruning the Eastern Redbud

Shaping and Maintenance of Your Ornamental Redbud

Eastern Redbuds are ornamental trees that grow primarily in the eastern and south eastern part of America. They are small, usually topping out at around 30 feet though many are smaller. This makes the job of pruning them, relatively easy. Because the eastern redbud is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring, it is a stunning addition to the landscape.

The eastern redbud does not bloom in red, as you might think. Its blossoms are pink to lavender to purple in color. The blossoms erupt all along the branches and sometimes even along the trunk. The bark is dark in color, setting off the color dramatically. The wide-spreading branches lend a delicate appearance. Maintaining that appearance is what pruning is all about.


Eastern redbuds can be pruned for maintenance during two times of the year. The first and preferred time is in the spring just after the flowers have fallen away. This is typically April or May. Later winter while the tree is dormant is another good choice, just before the buds start to break.

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To purchase an Eastern Redbud or other tree or shrub, Visit Springhill Nurseries

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tips for Pruning Older Apple Trees

Pruning an older apple tree, especially a neglected one requires patience and a little tlc.

As apple trees age, they can sometimes become overcrowded, particularly if the apple tree has changed owners over the course of its life or become neglected. A careful and slow pruning regimen can restore an older apple tree to its earlier beauty and production levels. The key to success is to never trim away more than one-third of the tree in any given year. The tree can suffer from shock and you’’ do more harm than good otherwise.

Assess the Apple Tree

Is it overgrown? Is it crowded? Where? Think about the shape the tree should have when the process is completed. A good shape for the canopy is either round or pear-shaped. Throughout the process, step back and evaluate your progress to be sure you aren’t taking too much from any one place.

Start Pruning the Apple Tree

Pruning should be done during the dormant period before any buds begin to break. Start from the top and trim the edges to create your desired shape. You will need to use a ladder and this involves a certain amount of risk. Position it safely against the tree, securing it as necessary to prevent slippage.

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