Mushroom Madness

ash bolete mushroom
They’re kind of creepy and I have lots of them near my ash tree.

It has been damp this year, so mushrooms in the yard are not exactly a surprise. But I was a bit taken aback by the number and size of some of these mushrooms that appeared recently near our ash tree in the backyard. The tree is one of my favorites, but its branches were getting a little too close to the house, so we recently had it trimmed up. The mushrooms appeared about 10 days after the trimming.

After a little checking around, I figured out the mushrooms are probably ash tree boletes (Boletinellus merulioides), which are commonly found near ash trees. According to Wikipedia, the fungus that causes the mushroom has a beneficial relationship with an aphid that commonly inhabits ash trees. I’ve had the ash tree for the 13 years we have lived in this house and it’s generally seemed healthy. I’m not sure if the tree trimming or the damp weather (or both0 led to their appearance, but I’m inclined to just let it go and see what happens next year.

Has anyone else seen the ash tree boletes? What mushrooms are you seeing in your garden?

Those Rascally Rabbits…

You can tell how high the snow was in my backyard this winter by the height of the dogwood and hyrdrangea bushes that the rabbits chomped on. These branches are about 30 inches high, and considerably lower than they should be! You can tell it is a rabbit — rather than a deer –that did this because of the clean cut. Deer leave a more ragged cut.

At the library program on new plants for 2011 a couple of weeks ago, John Daniels of Bachman’s showed an amazing photo of rabbit damage from this winter. I don’t have a copy, but basically the bunnies de-barked most of a tree trunk, effectively killing the tree. My dogwoods and hydrangea should recover, and our little dog, Lola, will be hanging out in the garden with me a lot this summer. We’re hoping she will deter at least a few rabbits.

It’s Pruning Time!

Yesterday was a gorgeous afternoon, with intermittent sun, temperatures in the 50s and that delightful smell of spring in the air. In other words, it was a perfect day to prune.

Middle of tree opened up. More pruning will be required next year.

February and March are generally considered the best time to prune trees in the North.  The weather is still cool enough that the trees are in their dormant state and they will have time to repair any wounds during the spring. February and early March were brutal this year, so I put pruning off until now.

Earlier this week, I hired Cannon River Tree Care, a local tree company, to prune the big maple tree in my front yard. While I do as much plant care as I can myself, some jobs are just beyond my pay-grade – and climbing around 20 feet off the ground in a tree is one of them. However, the apple tree in my backyard is another story. This tree can be pruned from the ground, so I got out my bypass pruners and my pruning saw and tromped into the backyard to get started.

I have not pruned this tree enough in its 10 plus years in our yard and the middle part of the tree was too thickly grown with branches. Earlier this winter, I took a pruning class at Thorn Crest Farm taught by Gary Vosejpka. The most important thing to remember in pruning fruit trees, Gary said, is to open up the middle of the tree. The old saying is you should be able to throw your hat through the center of the tree, if it is well pruned.

Given that, my main task was to create some air in the middle of the tree. I picked one of the main branches that was plugging up the middle to take out. The pruning saw – my favorite garden tool – worked like a champ cutting through the branch, which was about 3 inches across. (Yes, it should have been pruned out about 5 years ago.) Getting the big branch out of the tree took a bit of pushing and snipping of other branches, but it eventually happened. What a difference just taking that one branch out made in the appearance of the tree! I did not try throwing my hat through, but it might have made it.

Once the big branch was out, I used the bypass pruner to take off some of the remaining branches that were in awkward positions – pointing down or inward. I also took off a bunch of downward facing buds, since this tree tends to produce too many apples. Then I stopped. When I went out to take the picture of the tree, though, I noticed there are a lot more small branches that need pruning, so I’ll be doing that later this weekend.

For more expert advice on pruning, check out this University of Minnesota fact sheet on pruning, or this series of videos from a delightful orchard owner in Britain.

Urban Yard, Prairie Plants

For many reasons, both aesthetic and environmental, some gardeners prefer to use native plants in their yards. In the North, that means plants of the prairie—grasses and wildflowers. The problem is, that not everyone’s neighbors appreciate prairie plants (fortunately, mine do!), and some gardeners—accommodating souls that they are—want to avoid conflict.

Enter Lynn Steiner, former editor of Northern Gardener and an expert on using native plants in all kinds of landscapes. In the current issue of Northern Gardener, which will be on newsstands through October, Lynn offers practical tips on how to use prairie plants in city yards. For instance, if you incorporate straight lines in your landscape, then your use of native plants will look more intentional. She also provides a comprehensive list of plants, both species plants and named cultivars, that work beautifully in urban and suburban settings. Those interested in converting their yards to more prairie landscaping may also want to check out Lynn’s new book, Prairie Style Gardens: Capturing the Essence of the American Prairie Wherever You Live, which will be released by Timber Press in October.

In addition to Lynn’s story, this issue includes an article by Northfield nurseryman Leif Knecht on tips for planting trees and shrubs to ensure healthy roots. I have practiced Leif’s “slash and shred” method of prepping potted plants for planting for many years, and it is one of those “tough love” techniques that really works. Leif also discusses new advances in plastic nursery pots that prevent plants from getting root-bound.

This is a great issue with many more ideas for fall gardening, plus a delightful profile of a fantastic Minneapolis garden. Check it out.

Cherry (and Apple and Crabapple) Blossom Time

'Bali' cherry blossoms
'Bali' cherry blossoms

For a few years in the 1980s, I lived and worked in Washington, D.C.  Spring is long and glorious around the Capitol city, so visitors and residents enjoy two months or more of blossoming trees, including magnolias, cherries, dogwoods, crabapples, quince, and many others. The blossoming tree season here is much more compressed, which makes it more startling when it arrives and more precious, I think.

We’ve hit that moment in the year when trees and shrubs have burst into bloom. My cherry tree began blossoming this weekend as did both of the apple trees in back. Lilacs will follow soon enough. We went to the Metrodome Sunday to watch the Twins play and hear the Northfield High School choir sing the national anthem, and on the walk back to the car, I could not stop looking at the massive flowering crabapple trees that line the sidewalks near the Hennepin County Medical Center. These must be old trees as their trunks are about a foot in diameter and the branches were covered with pink and deep lavender flowers. What better sign of spring than a flowering tree, all beauty and promise, gaudy and grand.

Haralson apple blossom
Haralson apple blossom

Critics of flowering trees — yes, there are critics — don’t like the mess these trees create. They drop petals all over the sidewalk, and many of the older varieties drop fruit in the fall. (My mother made crabapple jelly from the fruits of the tree in our yard when I was growing up.) They require a lot of clean-up for only a couple of weeks of show, they say.  So what? The two or three weeks in which we enjoy flowering trees are among the most beautiful weeks in a Minnesota year. Let’s enjoy them.

Apple Blossom Time?

img_4765With the temps staying pretty cool — frost on the front yard this morning! — the only place you’ll find apple blossoms is indoors, such as these that I forced. A couple of weeks ago, I trimmed some stray branches off our Haralson apple tree. They had nice buds, so rather than composting them or tossing them, I put them in water and set them on the kitchen table.  The buds began blooming yesterday. Forcing branches is so easy, and it makes it seem as if spring is a little further along than it is.

Last Look at Autumn Blaze

With the (ugh!) snow showers and high winds predicted for today, I took a photo of the Autumn Blaze maple in our front yard on Friday afternoon.  Good thing, too, because I doubt the maple will have many leaves left after today’s storm. Of course, the snow specks are melting the minute they hit the ground, but today’s weather is a chilling reminder of what’s to come.

One of the things I love about Autumn Blaze is the variability of its color. From a distance, the leaves all look reddish-orange, but up close you can see tones of green and brown as well as reds and oranges. The bright red veins in the leaves are eye-catching, too. With the winds as strong as they are today, I won’t have to rake the leaves on this tree–they will just blow right up to Canada.

Sudden Fall: Ash Trees Drop Leaves

We’ve gone from what felt like a long end to summer to a sudden fall over the weekend. I gauge the arrival of fall by the ash tree outside my kitchen window. A week ago, it was green with a few yellow leaves peaking through the canopy. By Saturday, it was engulfed in yellow, and within a few days, depending on wind and rain, it will be bare.

This sudden shaking off of leaves is a characteristic of ash trees. My parents have several of them at their house in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, and when I visited them Sunday afternoon, the leaves were falling so fast it looked like a yellow snowfall outside their windows.

Cherry Blossom Time

The cherry blossoms–along with crabapple blossoms–are opening up all over Minnesota. My ‘Bali’ cherry tree began blossoming two days ago. It will look fluffy and white for a week or so before the cherries that ripen in late July or August begin to form. Bali (Prunus ‘Evans Bali’) is a variety developed in Canada, where it is known as the Evans cherry. It’s a pretty, compact tree and said to be hardy to -54 F. I’ve seen size estimates of anywhere between 8 and 20 feet tall at maturity. My little tree has been in the ground less than two years, and is less than 5 feet high.

What sets the Bali cherry apart from other cherries is its prolific fruit production. My friends at Northscaping, a Canadian gardening site, say they have seen gardeners collect 50 pounds of cherries off of a 5-year-old tree. The cherries are technically a sour cherry, but if left on the tree long enough, Bali gets sweet enough to eat raw. It is reportedly a delicious pie cherry. However, if you want to collect any cherries off a Bali tree, invest in a bird net. Last year, I noticed the little cherries were getting ripe, and thought “Better get some kind of net over this before the birds get them.” The next day, the cherries were gone.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Sumac

For the last week or so, in between sleet storms, I’ve been watching robins pecking at the fruit on the three big sumacs at the edge of our property. (The robin is on the third sumac fruit from the left.) That’s what I love about sumac. It fits with our property and the environment around us. It supplies structure in the garden, with it’s big arching branches. It has interestingly shaped foliage, fuzzy branches in the spring, red leaves in the fall, and huge, rust-colored fruits that feed birds and supply winter interest.

Its adaptability is also why I hate sumac. It sends up shoots relentlessly–and once they get established, it takes more than a tug to pull them out. Today, I spent about half an hour cutting the shoots, some of which had multiple branches, trying to get ahead of the sumac for this year. I’ll be doing it again in June no doubt, and some time later in the summer as well. The sumac in my yard is a regular staghorn sumac, which is common in Minnesota.

There’s a newer variety out, introduced by Bailey Nurseries of Newport, Minn., in 2004, called Tiger Eyes. Tiger Eyes grows more slowly than the regular staghorn and has a more finely cut foliage that’s yellow with red streaks when it first emerges and turns a bright orange in the fall. If you like the look of sumac, but don’t enjoy pulling suckers, it might be a good choice.

Update from 2018: Tiger Eyes is now a ubiquitous sumac. It’s pretty and I’ve used it in both my Northfield and St. Paul gardens. Sadly, it never attracted wildlife in the same way the species plant did. It also did not sucker as much. If I had a bigger property than I do now, I’d probably plant the big one.