Tag Archives: trees

Arbor day in December

We’ve had some pretty warm days this past week so I thought it would be a great opportunity to plant some seeds that I’ve collected this past autumn.  I had the kids help me collect a five gallon bucket of black walnuts, and I harvested all my bee balm and redbud seeds.

Three containers to plant. The blue bucket holds redbud seedpods, the coffee can holds bee balm seed heads, and the large white bucket is filled with black walnuts which are already losing their husks. I recommend wearing disposable gloves when handling them.

I took a walk up to the big woods to sow some redbud a couple of weeks ago.  This is a beautiful understory tree with pinkish-purple flowers in the spring and heart-shaped leaves the rest of the year.  You barely even notice the tree when it is not in bloom. It seems to grow well wherever dogwood will grow.  We have lots of dogwood but no redbud except in the yard.  I collected all the seed pods that I could (a two gallon bucket) and sowed half of them up in the big woods.

The beautiful redbud is an understory tree, totally hidden most of the year but adding a brilliant touch to the woods in the spring.

This week I sowed the remainder in the second-growth timber on the west side of the property.  I crushed the pods by hand and just scattered them as I walked through the trees.  I’m sure some will take eventually.

Also, this past fall, I collected all the bee balm seed heads that I could find.  I got a coffee can full.  I had noticed earlier this summer that the bee balm that I scattered along the road frontage few years ago had made a nice stand of flowers.  Our pollinators always need some more help so I thought this would be a good thing.  These seeds I scattered in the west second growth timber, along the lane and more road frontage.  We’ll see. 

Bee balm is in the mint family and is a favorite of pollinators. Easy to grow.

The walnuts are a different matter.  These are black walnuts and, as I reported earlier this fall, they can make quite a mess in the yard.  Highly desired by cooks and very expensive to buy in the store, the trees can be very prolific as they were this year.  We had walnuts everywhere.  The trees also emit a chemical called juglone which is often poisonous to other plants nearby.  Not counting the mess.  I thought if I could get some to grow elsewhere on the property, then we might remove the trees close to the house.  In past years, local youth groups would come and pick up the nuts and take them to the mill for money.  We were happy; it helped them and they helped us.

So earlier this week I took a walk carting a heavy bucket of black walnuts and a shovel.  I planted some and others I just tossed out.  The squirrels do a great job of planting the nuts.  An arborist friend said they do just as well to be scattered as actually planted.

So later this week, I took the remainder of the big bucket of nuts and scattered them in the woods to the north of our house.  We have some oak growing there but plenty of room for more trees.  We’ll see.

Looks like some cold weather moving in again so I won’t be planting any more bulbs or nuts or seeds this fall.  I would be happy if even ten percent of what I sowed this fall comes up.  That will make a difference.  And help in my fight against the invaders of honeysuckle, multi-flora roses, Russian olives and privet. 

It was nice to see that the Virginia pine trees that we planted over thirty years ago are now tall trees.  But most of the white pine were eaten by the deer.  Well, somebody benefits in the long run.

If you’d like to learn more about planting trees, I highly recommend the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohleben.  I asked my local library to order this book last year.  They were a bit skeptical and thought it would have limited interest.  However, I was recently told that the book has been off the shelf ever since they got it in.  Now it is in audio format, too. 

Trees in the neighborhood

Spring is in the air down here in Southern Indiana.  The temperatures are warming.  The spring flowers are blooming.  Our yard and fields are showcasing daffodils and spring beauties.

Earlier this week I was in the woods planting some small saplings of native trees.  These are free from the state DNR.  As I was locating the new plants, I looked around at all the other trees in the area.  In the many years of living here, my boys grew up knowing how to identify trees by bark, leaves, the wood and even the smell of the wood.  But I realize that many people have never had the opportunity to explore the woods with some knowledge.  So here are some of the trees in our own woods with names that will be familiar to you.  By just the bark. 

Let’s see how good you are at identification.

Sycamores are an extraordinarily beautiful tree, especially in winter. The upper limbs show bright white against the rest of the drab forest but the lower trunk has a shaggy, peeling bark. They have very large leaves and little fuzzy seed balls. I can never see sycamores without breaking into our state song, Back Home Again In Indiana…. Now you can’t get that out of your head, can you?
This is a very large sugar maple in our front yard. In autumn, it hosts a beautiful display of reddish leaves. Actually, there were several of these trees on the property when we moved here. As you can see, the poor tree is nearly done with interior rot. We have never sugared but I imagine it was popular in the day. It was the host to a pretty neat tree house when the kids were young.
We were delighted to find a whole little grove of shagbark hickory in our woods when we moved here many years ago. It has a very distinctive shaggy bark. (Thus the name.) The nuts taste like pecans. If you can get any. The squirrels and other critters usually harvest everything.
Young locust on the left and mature locust on the right. A rather shaggy bark, these elegant trees can be found on most old homesteads. The wood was often used as fence posts as they seem to be resistant to rot. They have a small leaf so there isn’t anything to rake in the fall. They also have the most beautiful creamy white racemes of flowers with a heady perfume in the spring. The bees love them. They’re the tallest trees in our yard towering over 80 feet. They also propagate by underground runners so they might appear anywhere nearby. I don’t know if these are black locusts or honey locusts but I still love their stateliness.
This hackberry tree was a real puzzle to us when we first moved here many years ago. It has a very knobby bark and tiny whitish/green blossoms. It seems to reseed well but I don’t know if that’s an advantage. The young one on the left has more pronounced knobs but the mature one on the right is also still knobby. A good shade tree, it stands about 60 feet high in our yard.
The native dogwood tree bark reminds me of a puzzle with many interlocking pieces. These days they’re under attack from an imported disease but so far, they’re holding their own. A beautiful understory tree with large white blossoms in spring, they go unnoticed the rest of the year.
This crab apple was given to me as my first Mother’s day gift many years ago. It has a glorious display of pink flowers each spring. It’s progeny has been shared with many people. As you can see, the woodpeckers have been having a go at it as well but it’s still hanging on.
The cedar tree is often thought of as a trash tree but they are quite handy to have. We have used them as fence posts, bird feeder posts, and built an arbor out of cedar logs. We even had some milled to use as benches. They have a lovely red variegated color inside and a wonderful smell.
Wild Cherry with some problems. These trees have a very dark bark and are messy. These are not cherries to eat but contain cyanide so they can be poison to livestock and animals.

These are just a few varieties of trees on our property. I haven’t included the red and white oaks, river birch, ironwood, hazel (a bush, really), sweet gum, pines and more. What is native to your area?

Spring cleanup

These cheery yellow crocuses are the first to bloom this year. They get extra warmth and shelter near this rock wall.

After what seems like weeks of rain, wind and generally yucky weather (yes, that is an actual meteorological description in the Midwest), we finally had a beautiful sunny and relatively warm day with temps in the 50s.  I couldn’t wait to get outside for a bit.  This is the time of year to clean up all the winter debris.  I know I raked those flower beds so where did all these leaves come from?

This is just a small portion of the area still covered by the chestnut seed hulls. I raked four wheelbarrow loads today and have as much again to rake tomorrow. They didn’t decompose much over the winter.

A big mess in the yard was our last chestnut which we cut down a week ago.  We had already cut down two companions previously.  The Chinese chestnut is a beautifully shaped tree with an umbrella-shaped top, large leaves, beautiful grayish bark and, of course, lots of chestnuts.  These trees were very prolific.  This would not normally be a problem as we have plenty of room – ninety acres, remember – and we have loads of other nut-bearing trees.  Oaks, walnuts, hickory, plus fruit trees.

Chestnut seed hulls remind me of spiny sea urchins. They are very painful to handle or step on. I only use leather gloves to work with them.

However, chestnuts have a seed hull which is very prickly, like a spiny sea urchin.  You can only handle them with leather gloves and they are very painful to step on.  They are also very prolific. When we cut down the first two chestnuts, we thought that we wouldn’t get any more seed pods without the pollinators.  That was a mistaken idea.  As you can see by the debris on the ground, there was still plenty to clean up.

I spent a couple of hours raking and gathered four wheelbarrow loads of hulls.  There is still as much again to do tomorrow.  What I couldn’t rake will eventually decompose but it will probably be a few years before anyone can go barefoot in that part of the yard.

Chestnut woodpile. All of this wood came from one tree.

Chestnut wood is beautiful with a grayish-green color and kind of stripey. It is also very dense and heavy.

It was a beautiful day.  The first crocuses were finally brave enough to pop out.  I even spotted a few spring beauties in bloom.  In about a month, they will carpet the lawn so it looks like snow.

One of my favorite wildflowers and early harbinger of spring. Spring beauties have a delicate pink stripe which can’t be seen in this photo. I’ll try for another shot later.

I sure was ready for lunch and a rest.  And our dog Mikey was ready, too.  Keeping me company and following me around was hard work.

You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel, if one can only get at it.  Love will make you show your heart someday, and then the rough burr will fall off.

Louisa May Alcott