It’s hard to be punny, when it ain’t sunny

daffodils.jpgSo the Vernal Equinox has arrived after a long winter. Big deal. We all know the weather doesn’t follow the calendar the way we do. It seems logical that magically the weather would instantly be spring-like because we paid our dues this winter.

It’s not a “figleaf” of your imagination that I’m an eternal optimist and that I find gardening to be a “kick in the plants!” That said, it’s hard to be punny when it ain’t sunny and nature throws you a curve ball.

 Oh well, it will just make the nice days to come all that more sweet. Like they say, if everything is coming your way, you’re probably in the wrong lane!

Beauty is only skin deep

eab-damage.jpgThe phrase “Beauty is only skin deep” can be traced to the 1600’s as a proverb of shall we say “well rooted” advice. Today majestic and beautiful Ash trees that for years lined our streets have proven this proverb painfully true as their skin (bark) is peeled back. These stately giants of the Fraxinus genus like White Ash typically grow 50 to 80 feet tall with a spread of similar proportions. I’ve always liked the ash tree because it ages well both seasonally and over the course of it’s life. Seasonally, the tree saves the best for last. After providing shade in summer and a playground for squirrels, it closes out the season with reliably beautiful yellow fall color come football season. Over the course of it’s life, the tree becomes impressive in size and stature, with a very furrowed bark along it’s trunk, similar to the forehead of a wise old man.

Unfortunately, the emerald ash borer often does so much damage under the bark or skin of the tree, that by the time the problem is noticed, it’s too late. For those with time, heed the warning that beauty is only skin deep by insuring the interior is well with treatments protecting the tree. For those trees already ravaged by the larva of EAB (see picture) it’s owner can learn a valuable lesson.  When replacing this fallen giant, beauty comes from diversity. Take a walk through your neighborhood and make note of existing trees and which trees your neighbors will be planting. Get to know your neighbors. Then agree that diversity is better than a street lined with one type of tree. You plant a Ginkgo, your neighbor plants a Zelkova and your new friend across the street can plant a Maple.

Celebrate that we’re stronger and better when we’re diverse, and that beauty will always be skin deep.

Here are some acceptable “street trees” that might be a good alternative to ash……

Acer (Maple), Betula Nigra (Heritage Birch), Carpinus (Hornbeam), Celtis (Hackberry), Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura tree), Cercis canadensis (Red bud tree), Cladrastis lutea (Yellowood), Cornus Kousa (Kousa dogwood), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Fagus (Beech), Ginkgo biloba, (Gingko tree), Gleditsia triacanthos (Locust), Liquidambar (Sweet Gum), Lirodendron tulipifera (Tulip tree), Malus (Flowering crab), Metasequoia glyptostrodoides (Dawn Redwood), Prunus (Kwanzan cherry or Ornamental Plum), Pyrus (Ornamental Pear), Quercus (Oak), Syringa (Tree Lilac), Tilia (Little leaf Linden), Ulmus (New disease resistant Elms), Zelkova (Japanese Zelkova).

There you have it, I’m not out on a limb when I say get together with your neighbors and branch out!

A sight for sore eyes

A sure signal of spring is the hauntingly beautiful and unique emergence of witchhazel blooms! If you’re keeping score at home or want to research the plant on the web, the botanical name is Hamamelis. The blooms arrive in March in Michigan and are a sight for sore eyes after a long winter. Relatively easy to grow, the best characteristic of this woody plant is the fall color! It’s a plant that starts early in cold climates and saves the best for last in October.pictures-for-web-and-inserts-044.jpg

Wake Up!

pictures-for-web-and-inserts-025.jpgWhen the snow finally melts, its time for a little lawn and order in your yard. There are two easy ways to give your lawn a kick in the plants. The first is a simple leaf rake. Raking up the matted lawn and cleaning up debris from last fall will open up the turf to allow the sun to warm the soil and improve air movement to fight off snow mold. Besides, raking is great exercise. But did you know that a famous character in American history may have known years ago that gypsum or as they called it plaster of Paris, could flocculate the soil and wake up your landscape to spring?

That’s right, Ben Franklin seemed to know that gypsum was a beneficial amendment to his gardens in spring.  Ben was known for more than his electric personality. He carted in gypsum to use at his Philadelphia farm and was known to have some of the best gardens around. green-turf1It is said that Ben would apply gypsum to areas of clover and write words with the application that would become evident when the calcium and sulfur did it’s thing. Prior to computers it was his version of what I would call “see-mail.” Ben understood the benefits of clover……it’s a nitrogen fixing plant taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and storing it in it’s roots……fixing nitrogen or feeding the soil naturally. Ben also knew the benefit of gypsum to gardens and “lawn” areas (in his case clover fields). But did Ben, the inquisitive genious he was, know that the calcium in gypsum would help flocculate the soil. This action helps draw the soils sand, silt and clay particles together giving the soil breathing room. clay-soil-handThat’s why gypsum is said to be a remedy to help “soften” or open up clay soils. It’s important to note that gypsum is not a substitute for aeration. A compacted lawn needs to be mechanically aerated. Gypsum just helps in waking up the lawn, to take a deep breath after a long winter and give the greening and growth process a “kick in the plants.”

Gypsum today is available pelletized making it easy to apply to the lawn. The calcium is very beneficial to the lawn and the added benefit is it helps neutralize salt out of the root zone faster with the spring rains. Gypsum pellets sold in a garden center also have a percentage of sulfur which is great for giving the lawn a dark green color.

Travel at the speed of “ground” and now that the yard work is done, let’s go fly a kite! (Just don’t do it during a thunderstorm like Ben).

Don’t lose your composture!

hellebore-blog.jpgThere comes a point after a long winter that you simply cannot take anymore snow! March is the end of a period in your landscape when no visual change has taken place for months. Suddenly the change happens, and when it does it happens fast!

Three things to do……one, don’t lose your “composture” because spring will come.

Two, take a picture of your landscape now before everything springs to life. If there is something in your landscape you don’t like now, odds are you won’t like it later. Decide to make that change before it’s forgotten when a lot more is going on to distract your attention.

Third, make sure to add plenty of early spring bloomers, like robins they are harbingers of spring and reliably good at cheering your spirits after winter. My two favorites are still Witchhazel and Hellebores or Lenten Rose. Both plants open the door to spring, are tough and will force the issue that were not going to take it anymore! Think Spring!