Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Posts by Eric Liskey

Bible gardening—cultivating plant species (or their close relatives) that are mentioned in the bible—is a fairly common garden theme. Also fairly common are books about plants of the bible. But I just received a review copy of an actual bible for gardeners: God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, edited by Shelley Cramm. It’s the first one like it that I’ve seen (there could be others in print, for all I know, but try Googling “gardener’s bible” and you’ll see why I gave up the search!). It’s no textbook, although it does contain a lot of interesting horticultural knowledge about plants and their cultivation. Rather, it’s the full bible, liberally supplemented with spiritual and personal reflections, garden quotes and anecdotes from various sources, and historical background that helps bring context to biblical plant references. For those who think of gardening as a spiritual exercise, it’s definitely worth a look. As a bonus, it’s nicely printed and bound, too, with a beautiful cover shot. Amazon shows a release date of March 25. It’s $25.98 for the hardcover.

Here’s a Cooper’s hawk, which I photographed today from out the back door of my house. It wasn’t eating anything that I could see, just warming itself next to a south-facing wall, apparently. I see hawks in the back yard once in a while, as well as the evidence they leave behind in the form of body parts from the feeder birds the devour. Pretty cool to see nature in the suburbs like this. I suppose it’s back around because the robins and other birds seem to have showed up this week in large numbers. Despite the rotten weather and snow, spring is trying to break through!

Cooper’s hawk sunning itself.

Many in the Eastern U.S. are all too familiar with the ermerald ash borer (EAB), a small beetle with a big penchant for killing ash trees. It’s an invasive pest, thought to have hitched a ride on packing crates from Asia. It’s only been here about a dozen years, and already has spread to numerous states, wiping out virtually every ash tree as it moves through an area. Forestry officials rank it with Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight, such is its destructiveness.
How far will it spread, and how fast? And what should you do about it? The answers to the first questions aren’t clear, but probably, I’m told, it will eventually spread through nearly all of the U.S. east of the Rockies.
Given that, I suggest avoiding ash trees altogether. There are just too many other nice trees to choose from, so there’s no point planting something that might be dead in 10-20 years. That seems like a long time, but a nice tree is just getting started at 20 years! What a shame to have to start over!
The second thing I recommend is to plant young trees in your yard to replace existing ash trees. You don’t need to remove the ash tree if it’s still healthy, just get another young tree started, so that when the near-inevitable happens, you’ve already got a decent-size tree in place. Ash is one of the most widely planted shade trees in America, so this applies to many, many homeowners.
There are no truly good treatment options for EAB. There are a few chemicals that provide a reasonable degree of control, but they’re expensive and need to be applied every year, forever. One might choose to invest in a high value tree this way, but generally speaking, why fight it?
Most importantly, looking ahead, plant something besides an ash tree. Learn more at emeraldashborer.info.

Emerald Ash Borer. Photo from emeraldashborer.info, a great source of additional information about this pest.

A friend of mine, a photographer we use on the magazine quite a bit, is an avid gardener. We share tips a lot and one thing he told me was that onions grown from seed would produce a much better crop for him than putting out sets that he bought at the store. That seemed counter-intuitive to me, but I decided to give it a try. Sure enough! I got my largest onions ever from seeds I germinated indoors and then transplanted once the soil thawed. I really don’t know why it works, but it does. I bring this up now because it’s January, and garden centers are just now putting up their seed racks, so you can get the seed now, and germinate it indoors. It’s not the fastest seed to grow, so if you start soon, you should have nice little 4-5 inch seedlings to plant out by Feb or March, whenever your soil is thawed enough to allow planting. (This year, it will probably be later than sooner!) Onions are hardy, so plant as early as you can.

Garden-fresh onions

Crabapples are a great source of food for winter birds. I’ve noticed, some years, that my crabapple has a huge crop hanging on its bare branches, and it seems to go unnoticed by the birds for many weeks. Then suddenly, it’s discovered and within a day, the fruit are gone. Starlings seem to love them especially.
It takes a lot of a tree’s energy to mature a crop of crabapples. Some varieties hardly grow any new foliage or branches in years when they have a heavy crop. Conversely, if there’s little crop (for example, after a late freeze destroys the bloom), a tree can really grow like crazy.
I would never seek to eliminate crabapple crop because of its value to birds, and because the plant growth regulator that does that (Florel) is applied when the tree is in bloom, causing the flowers to drop. Seems pointless to grow a crabapple when you eliminate its two most attractive features!
Florel is great for eliminating true nuisance fruit, though. Liquidamber pods, those spiking things that you used to play with as a kid, are a good example. Few homeowners use Florel, because they have trouble getting a sprayer that can reach up into a tree. So most people ask a yard servicer to do it.

Crabapple fruit

Arborvitae are popular for good reason — they’re useful. Easy to grow, they are great screening plants with dense foliage, and they’re evergreen. One issue that arises, however, is their tendency to flop when it snows. This is a problem with a simple, which is not necessarily to say easy, solution. Arborvitae send up multiple leaders (shoots that grow upward and compete with the main, central shoot), which get spindly and weak. So the solution is to clip out the competing leaders to maintain a single, strong, central leader. This is actually great advice for many kinds of evergreens, such as firs, spruces and many pines. Even when a tree naturally grows with a strong central shoot, it will occasionally send up a competing shoot, resulting in a structurally weak fork, and degrading the beautiful conical form that’s so attractive on many of these specimens. When you spot them, these competing shoots should always be removed (or in many cases simply cutting off the terminal bud will suffice). The trouble with arborvitae is that this means a lot of trimming because they send out so many of these shoots. But it’s worth the trouble, IMO. The end product is a strong, nicely formed plant that won’t make you worry every time it snows.

Trim arborvitae by removing shoots that compete with the central leader.

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