Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


in search of fall color

October glory red maple colors later than most varieties of the species. This one in my yard is surrounded by Limelight hydrangea.

The fall color display in central Iowa has been spectacular this year. Just the right combination of warm, sunny days and cool, but above-freezing temperatures at night, along with a little stress from the driest September and October in six decades led to glorious golds, outstanding oranges, and rich reds. Yesterday’s rain and wind brought down quite a few leaves, but some trees will hold their color for a few more days, or even weeks in the case of many oaks and callery pears.

These ginkgo trees outside my office are at peak color. They'll all drop their leaves within a few days.

Before long, the brilliant foliage colors will be gone. Then I’ll have to be content with the memories and photos of the autumnal fireworks show. Fortunately, Timber Press sent me a new tool that will help. It’s the latest book from woody plant guru, Michael Dirr. Long regarded as the nation’s foremost expert on trees and shrubs, Dr. Dirr has published a new book that, like his previous Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, draws on his encyclopedic knowledge and years of personal experience with trees and shrubs. However, the new book, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, adds thousands of photos to the mix, too.

The cover of Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs

It’s odd to say that the new 950-page tome is downsized from the previous book, which is nearly 1,200 pages in length. It certainly doesn’t feel less hefty! With the inclusion of so many photos, Dirr had to leave out some of the nerdy horticultural details found in his previous work. For example, the number of red maples and hybrids discussed in the new book is 17 compared to 58 in the previous book. Similarly ginkgo dropped from 40 to 5 varieties, and dawn redwood decreased from 9 to 6 varieties. However, the book is still replete with Dirr’s personal anecdotes and observations. He has updated the book with more recent introductions and dropped some of the more obscure ones. The pictorial displays more than make up for the abbreviated text. And most gardeners will appreciate not having to sift through obscure varieties that they’re not likely to find at the local nursery anyway.

The size of the book makes it impractical to carry around as a field guide, but it will no doubt be a go-to reference for years to come. With a list price of $79.95, the book won’t be an impulse purchase for most. However, the timing of its release is perfect to place it on your Holiday gift wish list.

The dawn redwood in my yard has taken on russet orange hues this fall.

Thursday Finds in the Test Garden

As the season goes in Iowa, temperatures have started to drop and it’s evident with this week’s stroll through the BHG Test Garden.  Some plants have completely lost their luster, while others are thriving. Take notes to know what to plant next year for  a long season of color.

Here fall-blooming mums mixed with pansies work well along a pathway.

Here’s a shrub you don’t see often in the landscape, but is perfect for adding color to  a shady garden: Dwarf fothergilla.

Depending on the season, fothergilla fall foliage can turn yellow, orange, or red.

Although the Test Garden is closed for the year, you can still enjoy the season’s colors! Right outside the east doors of Meredith several clump ginkgo are planted and have started to turn golden yellow.

Just a quick tidbit: it’s a rarity to find such awesome specimens of ginkgo in Iowa, let alone with multiple clumps. I’d highly suggest if you have a chance to see for yourself the magnitude of these trees, you do!

How’s you’re gardening looking this fall? What’s your favorite fall plant? I have to say Little Henry sweetspire is my favorite.




Love a Tree Day

Today’s post is in honor of Love a Tree Day, which happens on May 16th every year. (Who knew?) I would write about my favorite tree, but that’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. I have dozens of favorites.

With ash trees under attack by emerald ash borer, American elms barely hanging on against Dutch elm disease, and American chestnuts all but wiped out by chestnut blight, I feel that it’s important to create diversity by planting a wide variety of trees.

I’ve taken that to heart in my own landscape. On my half-acre lot I have planted the following trees: a callery pear, a serviceberry, five Alberta spruces, three Austrian pines, three Eastern white pines, a sweetbay magnolia, a Japanese tree lilac, a goldenrain tree, five arborvitaes, eight upright junipers, a dawn redwood, a Vanderwolf limber pine, a black gum, a blue Colorado spruce, a red maple, a weeping European beech, an Eastern redbud, a shingle oak, a ginkgo, a Swiss stone pine, a kousa dogwood, and I’ve allowed a squirrel-seeded bur oak to grow in one of the perennial beds.

This doesn’t even count the trees growing in containers: two Meyer lemons, a Valencia orange, an Oroblanco grapefruit, two bay laurels, and various dwarf conifers.

I’ll admit to punishing several “problem children”. Self-seeded cottonwoods, hackberries, chokecherries, box elders, and willows are removed from my flowerbeds where they all too often take root. I also dig out sprouting black walnuts that the ambitious squirrels bury in the planting beds.

After six years of planting, I think that my lot is about full enough of trees. I still want sunny areas for growing veggies and sun-loving flowers. So from now on, new trees will have to be dwarf. I’m envisioning dwarf conifers in a new rock garden…..

plant a tree for arbor day

Scarlet Brandywine crabapple

Today is a very important day with long-lasting consequences. And I’m not talking about the royal wedding. It’s national Arbor Day.

While individual states often encourage tree planting on other dates, the last Friday in April is set aside nationally as a time to better the environment by planting a tree. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a flowering tree, a conifer, a small tree, or a specific type of tree, such as Japanese maple or flowering crabapple. Determine what type of tree is best for your site depending on what interests you, the space available, Hardiness Zone, and environmental adaptability of the tree, and get planting!

Black gum is also known as tupelo.

I learned a lesson in my own yard about choosing the right tree for the right place. Six years ago when I moved into a new home, I planted hundreds of trees, shrubs, and perennials within a couple of weeks. (At last count I have 40 trees on my half-acre lot.) I could determine sun and shade patterns in the yard pretty easily, but it took me some time to learn about variations in soil conditions on the lot. As it turns out, I planted a ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) in an area with poor drainage. In that spot, the subsoil is blue clay, so moisture won’t sink in, even though there is a slope. I planted a black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) in a section of the yard that is well-drained with a tendency to become quite dry in late summer because of competition from nearby established pine trees. After five years of observing poor growth on these trees, last year I decided it was time to switch the trees’ locations, so I transplanted them. Black gum is native to swampy areas, while ginkgo is an upland tree that requires good drainage. This year I expect both trees to put on good growth because they’ll be better suited to the microclimate in which they’re planted. Perhaps in a few years they’ll catch up with the red maple which was planted at the same time, and has already grown to more than 25 feet tall.

Ginkgo tree

© Copyright , Meredith Corporation. All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy | Data Policy | Terms of Service | AdChoices