Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

December 2009

Organizers of a push to save a 180-year-old Osage-orange tree in Kewanee, Illinois, are now accepting donations for a fund dedicated to the tree’s maintenance.

The sole remnant of a farm shelterbelt planted before the Civil War, this Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) is being preserved for posterity.

The sole remnant of a farm shelterbelt planted before the Civil War, this Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) is being preserved for posterity.

After the city of Kewanee agreed to prune the historical tree rather than remove it, volunteer arborists inspected the aged specimen to see what is needed to preserve the tree and protect public safety. While it appears to be in good health, the Osage-orange has a serious lean that could be a safety hazard.

Arborists are hoping to attach a cable support system to the primary limbs next summer and may devise a temporary support in the near term. Meanwhile, the city is looking into the repair of the buckling sidewalk and the removal of three parking spots next to the tree—both for safety’s sake and the long-term health of the tree.

If you would like to support efforts to preserve this priceless relic, you can send donations to:

Osage-Orange Tree Fund

Peoples National Bank of Kewanee

207 N. Tremont Street

Kewanee, IL 61443

The fund is dedicated strictly for the tree, and any surplus funds will be kept in the tree’s account for follow-up work.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s window blind recall announcement earlier this week reminded me that I’m just about out of plant labels. How are the two connected? My homemade seed starting labels are made from recycled mini blinds. Although the current recall primarily involves roman shades and roll up blinds, old-fashioned mini blinds also have had similar problems with exposed cord loops that pose danger of strangulation to children.

BHG146706If you have mini blinds that you’d like to replace (for safety or aesthetic reasons), why not recycle them as plant tags rather than just throwing them away? I stumbled upon this idea years ago when installing new mini blinds. To make them the right length to fit our windows, some of the slats had to be removed. My frugal nature wouldn’t allow me to toss the extra slats. That’s when I hit on the idea of cutting them into 6- to 8-inch lengths to use as plant labels.

The vinyl slats were just the right width for marking in pencil the date I planted the seeds and the name of the plant. White or cream colored slats offer the best contrast between the pencil lead and the background color, but other pastel shades should work, too.wDSCF8910

Because I no longer have mini blinds in my home, I search discount or close out stores for mini blinds on sale. Because I’m just going to cut the blinds apart anyway, they don’t have to be in perfect condition. And one large shade makes enough plant labels to last a long time, even for someone like me, who starts thousands of seedlings every year in my greenhouse.

DSCF8911I find that these low-cost labels last at least a season or two in the garden–perfect for veggies and annual flowers. I use a different system for perennial flowers, trees, and shrubs, but that’s the subject for another blog post.

What do you use to label your seedlings? Do you have other ideas on how to save money by recycling unwanted items, such as recycled planters? We’d love to hear from you.

I always wondered why my dad read medical textbooks while watching TV. Then last Saturday I found myself doing the same thing during the Army-Navy football game—only I was skimming through a book about trees.

justwWith hardly any scoring going on in the first half of the game, my library called. I needed something I could skim through, not an intense novel or complicated philosophical tome. I found it in “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees” (Timber Press 2005).

One of the things I like about this book is that it illustrates a wide range of species and cultivars—including some rare ones. Ever hear of a variegated oak? I hadn’t either, but they’ve got some in this book. Many of the cultivars and species are more familiar to Europeans, as the book was originally intended for that audience, but as the Foreword notes, there is plenty of crossover potential for North America.

Another thing to like: lots of lists upfront, showing what species to plant for particularly trying circumstances. Got sandy soil? Try a black oak (Quercus velutina). Poorly drained soil? Then swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) or pin oak (Quercus nigra) can stand in. It’s always reassuring to know Mother Nature has an answer for everything.

Now if She can just come up with a cure for the common hangover New Years revelers seem to experience annually.

websueblogAs a garden editor, I get to see pictures of amazing gardens every day at work. Interestingly, one of my favorites has never been published in one of our magazines. Instead, it comes from reader Sue Sikorski in Thunder Bay, Canada.

What’s especially impressive about it is that Sue has a real-world garden… She  designed it herself, and did most of the heavy lifting — from tearing down a dilapidated garage where her future outdoor fireplace would go to planting a wonderfully diverse selection of annuals and perennials in her Zone 3 country-style garden.

Sue has also shared some great lessons about how she’s saved money while creating her garden. For example, a variety of salvaged objects, which she procured from garage sales and even her city’s landfill, act as garden ornaments.

Want to see more? Check out this slideshow – the world premier of her garden and features some “before” photos so you can see what she started with.

You can also chat with Sue on our garden discussion boards (she’s an active member).

This my neighbor, “Wilson,” posing carefully to hide his true identity. His neighbors with snow blowers help him clear his drive and sidewalks, so he reciprocates by helping us shovel steps. I think we get the better part of the deal, frankly. Here he is, tunneling his way to my front door after our 16 inch snow/blizzard last week. Thanks, Wilson!

Snowy door

This is what “gardening” can be like in December. That’s why it’s nice to turn our attention indoors for awhile. Check out the January Better Homes and Gardens, in print now, with my story on easy orchids. Also read the on-line extended version of the story.  Orchids  have a reputation as difficult, temperamental plants. Some are, of course. But not all. Some will thrive in your home as a houseplant.  Take a look and see how easy they can be.

I have a strong nesting instinct. As a mother of four, the need to feed is a full-time occupation. When the Blizzard of the Decade was predicted to hit the Midwest this week, I stocked up on necessities.  Milk, chocolate chips, flour, sugar, butter, vanilla…sunflower seeds, Nyjer, suet. The first six items are the basic ingredients for survival food in my house. (After all, my kids have come to expect Mom to bake cookies on snow days.) The last three are for my extended family, the birds that seek out my backyard feeders when snowdrifts cover autumn’s leftovers of seeds and berries produced by native species, such as coneflower, switchgrass, viburnum, dogwood, serviceberry, and beautyberry.

Apparently, my backyard isn’t the only restaurant in town. At last count, more than 54 million people in the U.S. feed wild birds. Birds have a much higher chance of surviving winter when supplemental food sources are available. According to the Audubon Society, human handouts are bringing about northward range expansions of many seed-eating birds, including the Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Mourning Dove, and Red-Bellied woodpecker. A few scientists even believe that bird feeders are causing evolutionary changes in some bird species.

Quality counts when it comes to bird seed. I’ve learned that the inexpensive brands sold at many grocery stores aren’t really saving me money in the long run. They often contain cheap fillers, such as milo, that get rejected in favor of high-energy grains: sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn. I stick with reputable brands of bird-feeding products, such as Cole’s, Wild Birds Unlimited, Droll-Yankee, and Duncraft.

Seed mixes are great for attracting a variety of birds, but less goes to waste when each type of food is served in a separate feeder. I’ve watched many a cardinal scatter seeds hither and yon to get to the sunflower hearts—equivalent, I suppose, to one of my kids picking out all of the M&Ms from the trailmix. Presentation is everything in my avian restaurant. I offer a variety of feeders to accommodate different dining preferences. For the Mourning Doves, I scatter cracked corn on the ground. Cardinals favor sunflower seeds served in hopper or platform feeders. Finches flock to tube-style thistle feeders. And chickadees and woodpeckers are drawn to hanging suet.

As we watched dozens of birds enjoying breakfast in the blizzard, Grace (my 11-year-old daughter) said, “I wish we could let them come inside for awhile to warm up.” Yes, I thought to myself. A warm chocolate chip cookie may be just what they need.

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