Thursday, February 28, 2013

Snowblind Trees?

The shadows are still relatively long but the days are getting noticeably longer,  .... and warmer. Day by day, as the sun creeps its way higher into the sky, we gardeners, especially those of us that live in the North, start to get a little anxious for the coming growing season. The winter world in the North can get to be a bit long in the tooth come late February. There is a whole new world lying just beneath the snow and we know it. The urges to get that shovel into the ground start to become stronger.  Placing and receiving seed, plant, and supply orders only seem to make the waiting worse.  Patience. ... It won't be long before we start seeds and from then on we won't even have time to breathe. We anticipate the transformation every year at this time.

Not so fast! We have other issues to worry about right now.
Recently, we have had some very bright and warm days here and for most, it is very welcomed. Not so for trees. This is one of the most stressful times of the year for trees, especially conifers. The combination of strong sunlight compounded by reflection off the snow and warm temps can spell disaster for conifers.

This Limber pine (Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid') is beginning to show signs of dessication injury indicated by the browning needles.
The problem is dessication injury. In fact, most winter damage in landscape conifers is exactly that.  The concept is that when it is bright and warm, the tree starts to transpire. This means that the tree is releasing water vapor into the air.  At least it tries to. The problem is that the roots can't supply the demanded moisture because they are embedded in frozen ground  Think of it as trying to sip on a straw that is in a glass of frozen water.  The leaves (needles) simply dry out. This is the damage that you see.  Deciduous trees are not as affected by this because they don't have leaves this time of year.  After all, it is the leaves that conduct the moisture. Mature conifers and those that are well adapted to the area seem to be much less affected. Landscape and marginally hardy conifers are particularly susceptible.
There is some Rx for this. Shading the tree from the bright sunlight is often beneficial. The light is the catalyst for the whole process of dessication. The thinking is that if you can eliminate the sunlight, you can eliminate the demand for moisture, thereby eliminating the injury. It may be a little unsightly but it beats the alternative. It is another one of those spring rituals that we reluctantly go through here at the garden, especially when there is snow cover.

Although snowblindness is a human affliction, the reflective UV rays are pretty hard on trees too. If you have ever experienced snowblindness or gotten a sunburn from the snow, you know how dangerous sunlight off of snow can be. Trees don't have the luxury of coming in out of those conditions. They have no sunscreen nor do they wear sunglasses.

Around here, landscape care is an ongoing and year-round endeavor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

10 things I love about the garden

Please bear in mind that this is by no means a complete list. But here are 10 things I'm thinking about in anticipation of the growing season. In no particular order of importance:

1. The chance to experiment with lilies like this beauty we bought at a sale at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

2. Cold drinks in the "cocktail lounge."

3. Bodacious clumps of daffodils behind ferns.

4. Frogs in the pond.

5. Brian cooking Thai green beans with pork in the garden.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shhh. Be very, very quiet......

Abelia mosanensis

I'm hunting wabbits.  The tweacherous twicksters are at it again.
It seems that there isn't a winter that passes in which we don't have some kind of "animal problem" in the garden.  After all, we do live in their backyard.  We do a fairly good job of protecting plants but the gardens are extensive and protecting everything just isn't possible.  There are always shrubs that are left exposed and vulnerable.  The Abelia is a delightful shrub that has the most intoxicatingly fragrant flowers in late spring, thus it is very valuable.  Surprisingly, it has not been significantly damaged by critters in the past.  It is usually left unprotected.  This year, the rabbits have discovered it.  The recent cold snaps have caused deer and rabbits to be a little more aggressive in their search for food and you can see signs of it all over the garden.  As gardeners, there should always be some level of damage that is "acceptable", but when the survival of a plant is at stake, action must be taken.

Many people complain about deer and the damage they cause but I've found that rabbits are far more destructive.  Deer usually browse around and cause some damage but rabbits can completely devour a small shrub or tree in a couple of nights or less.   Mortality is usually the result.  Some years it's snowshoe hares, but this year it's cottontails.  Rabbit damage is usually indicated but sharp, clean cuts in the stem oftentimes on an angle.  Also, round fecal pellets are almost always present.  When the population is on the high end of the cycle, damage can be extensive.

A trip to the secret stash of fencing out back in the woods is in order.  I always have extra on hand for just such an occasion.  It is the easiest and most fool-proof method of keeping critters off a plant.  It is 100% effective.

There.  That should keep them off of the Abelia for the remainder of the winter but there are many more unprotected plants in the garden and I would just feel better if the threat was eliminated.  By eliminated, I mean trapped and transplanted.  Lead poisoning and snares are only used as an absolute last resort.  So far this season, I've live trapped three cottontails and I'm pretty confident that that is all of them, however, the vacuum could easily be filled by a lone bunny.

A fresh blanket of snow will tell the story.  If there is any sign of additional negative activity, the trap will come back out and the hunt for wabbits will continue, as it always does.