Tag Archives: Catalpa

Mid July in the Backyard


Rose of Sharon, shot the morning of July 13, 2016. First flower of the season on this tall bush near the deck.

As I write this, another thunderstorm is rumbling through, bringing us more rain.

Like politics, gardening is local. South of here, they’re a bit parched. Here, the world is humid, warm, lush and green—it has not been a dry summer despite a few minor dry stretches. On the contrary, into mid July, rain has been pretty plentiful.

The dry “high summer” that sometimes arrives by RAGBRAI is not yet in sight. But some signs that summer is reaching is peak are around.

The Rose of Sharon is in bloom, a flower that I associated with late summer.

Anyway, when the sun was setting yesterday, and again this morning when it was shining before the rain clouds moved in, I shot some backyard pictures, sort of in praise of a green mid July in Iowa. I hope you like them.

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Growing a Tree From Its Seed Wins

I liked the idea, suggested by a commenter on my earlier blog post, of replanting a Sweetgum tree where one had expired in my yard—but in the end, I went a different route.

A route of less diversity, I admit, but of another benefit.

I puttered around the yard a bit Friday. It was overdue for a mow anyway—we had four grandchildren staying with us for eight days and I hadn’t gotten the yard mowed in that time. Too busy having fun. So Friday was makeup day—weeding and mowing—in a way.

One part of that chore was relocating a few volunteer trees. If I like a tree species, and it’s native to Iowa, I sometimes move a few volunteers that I find in my gardens to the woods behind my fence in the false theory that I’m adding a bit of diversity to the stand of native ash trees back there. It’s a false theory because what I’m actually doing is adding a few new flavors to a deer salad bar.

Anyway, on Friday my wife and I were also babysitting a 2-year-old granddaughter while her siblings went to Adventureland in Des Moines (technically, Altoona) with their parents. And, as said granddaughter wandered around and supervised (she is a boss personality), Audrey chatted with me about my yardwork.

“Are you going to replace that tree?” she asked, in reference to the dead Sweetgum. “Maybe you should plant a Redbud,” she added.

It was a good idea, as Redbuds are smaller trees and our yard is not exactly shy on trees and we both like Redbuds—but I pointed out we already have three Redbud trees.

“You can never have too many Redbuds,” she retorted.

I can’t disagree. Redbuds are very nice. But, although I have a few tiny volunteer ones, I didn’t have a Redbud that I considered ideal for this site.

However, in moving my volunteer trees to the deer salad bar, I noticed a young tree growing in an old planter that I have by the back gate on the woods side of the fence.

It’s only 6-inches tall, but I know that tree. I’m the one who planted it there, because I took the seeds from its parent and put them in that planter last year, and I know a few sprouted in 2014. The tree in questions is therefore an itty bitty 2-year-old Catalpa twig.

I have a Catalpa in the yard already, courtesy of my sister Mimi who allowed me to dig a volunteer out of her garden in Davenport a couple of years ago.

But, if your yard can have three Redbuds, why not two Catalpa? I do have a fondness for planting tiny trees and watching them grow from infancy. I know it’s nice to plant an 8-foot-tall 5-year-old tree from a nursery, too, but you have to work on that container-bound root ball a lot, not mention spending cash to purchase the tree. And I just like the idea of planting a tree from a seed or seeing a tree grown from a very young age.

That’s one reason, besides being cheap, that over the years I’ve planted a number of trees from the Arbor Day Foundation—you can get a lot of tiny trees inexpensively that way. That was the source of the expired Sweetgum.

Anyway, I had shopped a bit locally, seeking a Sweetgum, and had not found one yet. Here was a free tree planted from seed by my own hand.

So the Catalpa won. As part of my yard puttering Friday, I moved it and planted it right were the dead Sweetgum had been.

The choice did not displease my wife. Catalpa actually resemble Redbud, a bit. They both feature heart-shaped leaves. They are also both pretty flowering trees.

There are some differences, of course. Catalpa leaves are huge compared to Redbuds. Catalpa trees are also huge compared to Redbud trees—a mature Redbud is a small to medium tree, maybe 12 feet tall. A mature Catalpa is a very big tree, like a big Maple or mighty Oak. Redbuds flower in early spring with small, pretty pink flowers. Catalpa flower in early June (or late May in this weird year) with larger pretty flowers that are mostly white, although they have touches of yellow and blue, too.

Still, Audrey was happy with the choice of Catalpa, as was I. I would have liked a Sweetgum, but if this tiny tree, grown by me from a seed, can make it, well, that won’t be a bad thing.

After planting.

After planting.

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Catalpa Saga Continues: Tree 2 Takes Over


The finished planting, backup Catalpa tree in yard. Red tub is for yard waste, blue bucket brought water, yellow trowel was the instrument of planting.

I planned to camp out last night—to test our tent and my camping abilities. With Audrey’s help, I managed to get the tent up and dozed there for a few hours.

Now it’s 5 a.m. and I’m writing a blog post.

Anyway, partly to get ready for the camping adventure, I did some yard work yesterday—it’s been a couple of week since I mowed in back, but the lawn is so shady and the weather has been so dry that it’s not very shaggy. Still, what with the impressive storm we had last week, there was a lot of wood on the ground, so raking and disposing of all the sticks before mowing took some time.

Also disposed of two dead trees—the plum in the southwest corner by the swing set, and the Catalpa at the east end of the lower yard.

The plum, a cheap Wal-Mart purchase, I didn’t care that much about, although I may plant an Ironwood in its place. The Catalpa I worked hard to germinate from a seed and accidently nuked with weed killer this summer, so yeah, I regretted its demise more. (The plum died last year of causes unknown, as far as I can tell, I’m totally innocent in its death.)

Mimi has offered a volunteer Catalpa from her yard, which is nice, but I’m not sure when or how I will collect. When I do, assuming Mimi’s tree is bigger and healthier, I’ll probably move Catalpa 2 behind the fence and have a new Catalpa 1, but we’ll see.

I am glad that Catalpa 2, the backup tree from a nearby garden, is still alive. It was also damaged in the infamous lawn spraying incident, but although its upper leaves were knocked off, the tree has re-sprouted and takes over as the new Catalpa 1. I moved it today from the garden into the designated Catalpa spot in my yard. Maybe it will bloom in 10 years, if it lives that long.

Here’s hoping!

New Catalpa

The new baby Catalpa, which had been the backup tree in my garden, moved to the yard. I think I got it's entire root intact in a ball of dirt, so it's got a good chance--mulched it and caged it to keep bunnies at bay after taking this photo.

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The Reason I’m Catalpa Bound

Catalpa flower

Medium sized Catalpa trees next to the polluted pond near the Quaker Oats plant on the Cedar River trail are in bloom in early June.

As you know, blog pals, my garden was the site of an unfortunate tragedy when some mist from my weed spray killed my Catalpa tree and injured the backup Catalpa in a nearby garden.

Well, my wife agrees with what I suspect some of my sisters might say—serves me right for spraying for weeds. I suppose.

I’m still hopeful the backup Catalpa might recover, and if not, I have to gather seeds next January or so and try to sprout them.

That’s a dicey undertaking. I tried to sprout something like 50 Catalpa seeds last year, got 4 to germinate and only 2 trees survived to be planted outdoors.

So, I’ll lose 2 years of Catalpa growth, and maybe more if I don’t have a good sprouting season.

Why go to all the bother of a tree I wasn’t even that aware of until a few years ago when I noticed one in our neighborhood?

See the photos, which I snapped along the Cedar River Trail today. These, my friends, are Catalpa in flower. There aren’t a lot of trees in flower right now—we’re well past all apple and redbud blossoms—so these flowers are a nice early summer bloom before the roses and daylily and coneflowers really kick in. And I love the heart-shaped leaves.

David Doerge, one of my colleagues at MMU, notes that in his young days Catalpa were known as “cigar trees.” The cute flowers turn into very large seed pods that some, I suppose, might consider unsightly or messy when they burst open and then fall. But, heck, they’re not walnuts.

As for me, I’m Catalpa captivated. I’m determined to get one going in my yard. And, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be enjoying some pretty flowers and giant heart leaves in my retirement.

Catalpa flower

Closer up view of Catalpa flower.

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There’s a Fungus Among Us, And Catalpa Kaput!

Tulip Tree leaf

Deformed Tulip Tree Leaf--fungus?

Our wet warm weather is taking a bit of a toll.

The larger of the two Catalpa’s is giving up the ghost. I’ll give it a little time—after all, if I decide to remove and replant, it will be next spring before I can hope to sprout a Catalpa again, anyway. Its sister tree in the nearby garden is sick, but not dead yet—so there’s a hope I can merely transplant and not go back to square one.

Meanwhile, stalking the garden stalks—fungus!

The pink Crabapple trees, which are the ones most vulnerable to leaf fungus, are showing signs of suffering. It will make the trees less attractive for a time, but these trees have been around for several years and have been attacked before—they can take some punishment from this problem but still be OK.

The Tulip Tree, however, worries me. I’m not 100 percent sure what’s wrong with it—many of its leaves appear to have a warty like texture. Clearly, the tree is under attack from something, but I don’t know if it’s a soil fungus or a leaf fungus, or a fungus at all, but I suspect there’s a fungus among us.

It’s a fairly young tree, but also fairly large, so I hope it will snap out of it when drier weather sets in.

We’ll see!

Seems to be a poor year for peonies in my yard. A large white bush, the “father” peony because it was the one that we here when we moved in, didn’t come back this spring. Only two of the “traditional” peonies, both pink, will bloom. One is just now budding, the other, as you can see, is already flowering.

Well, an off year is OK, but I need to find some white peonies.

And let me know if you know what’s going on with my poor Tulip Tree!

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Big News Today–Both Good and Bad

Iris in front

One Iris blooms in front on June 1--four or five years after plant first planted (it predates the wall garden where it is by several years).

Irises! Not many—not compared to the number of plants I’ve planted—but still.

Two is a big number, for me. I wrote some time ago that evidence suggested that an evil witch had cast a no-iris spell on my gardens. Maybe training for RAGBRAI (see my other blog) has slightly melted that spell.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the baby Catalpa, which awoke to its second year of life this spring, appears to have died. I sprayed for weeds and tried to be careful not to touch that tree, but it’s low to the ground and I think some poisonous mist must have drifted onto its leaves. I have a backup Catalpa in a nearby garden—but, sadly, it appears a bit sick, too—probably due to the same cause.

Iris in back

An Iris in back is getting ready to open the morning of June 1.

Well, darn. It was hard to germinate Catalpa seeds and this project has been two years in the making. I hate to go back to ground zero.

But if they both die, I will. I really do like Catalpa.

Irises, too. Now, if they would only like me back …


The frilly early Peonies are all done, the traditional type not yet open. This pink one, which didn't bloom last year, is getting ready to this year with some help from ants.

Black Columbine

Sadly, I think the bunnies last year killed all of my black hollyhocks. Still one blackish flower in my garden--this dark Columbine.

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Winter Feeding & Tree Breeding, Thoughts of Spring Crimes


Squirrel! Enjoys a winter snack Dec. 5, early morning.

It was single-digit cold this fine sunny morning, and birds instantly appeared after I filled the feeders in back, including a cardinal couple, she being fairly quiet and polite to other birds, he being flamboyant, loud, and a bully.

Winter is definitely here in Iowa. No bulbs planted this fall, but that’s OK, I still need to acquire some irises my sister told me I could have sometime in the new year, and I think it’s time to let the gardens “rest” for once and see what comes up.

So, of course, my attention turns to trees. A squirrel reminds us how much pleasure in life can depend on the trees, as it snags a snack of some crabapples.

I had written in this blog some months ago about how, several years ago, I planted a package of trees from the Arbor Day Foundation, and what was supposed to be Goldenraintree were instead pears.

I really endorse the tree deals from the Arbor Day Foundation—10 trees for $10 is a heck of a deal. If you have some space and an inkling to plant very young trees, see their web site (link in previous paragraph), send them a modest payment, and you’ll get a cornucopia of woodsy plants.

And, years afterward, when the Foundation read of my pear impairment, they contacted me to tell me they would replace those trees. The Foundation mailed me replacement trees this week. However, what they sent me wasn’t just two Goldenraintrees, but the full package of trees that those two trees are part of—so now I have:

• 2 Sargent Crabapple
• 2 Eastern Redbud
• 2 Washington Hawthorn
• 2 Flowering Dogwood
• 2 Goldenraintree
• 1 Rose of Sharon

Even I, a self confessed tree nut, can’t possibly find homes for all those trees in my over-planted ¼ acre suburban lot. There is a creek bed behind the house, and, in a pinch, I can plant overflow trees back there, but that’s not my first choice, since to plant back there is pretty much to provide snacks to deer.

Anyway, I will for sure plant at least one of the Goldenraintrees. I should cut out the pears and plant both of the Goldenraintreees to replace them, but Audrey has balked about removing 12-foot trees and replacing them with 6-inch ones, even if the 12-foot trees might stink in the spring, so I’m not sure my original intentions will come to pass.

Well, a plum tree died last year in the lower yard, and its spot will be taken by one of these Goldenraintrees.

I’ll also put a Dogwood by the rock wall in the lower garden—just because Dogwoods of yesteryear are either store-bought and alive but not blooming, or long gone to tree Valhalla.

I’ll also find a home for the Rose of Sharon, maybe out front somewhere.

Assuming no rabbit attacks and that the trees all make in through winter, that leaves me with many orphans to find homes for. And, besides this set of Arbor Day trees, I’m going to be trying to germinate Ironwood over the winter, for no particular good reason I can think of other than I don’t have an Ironwood tree yet, they aren’t huge trees, and I like the name and seeds were readily available from a tree right next to the Warde Hall back door.

Cate, Katy, anybody? Want some trees? Right now, they are in planters in back, dormant in the cold, and it remains to be seen which will be alive in the spring. But, if history is any guide—I’ve planted several packs of Arbor Day trees—most, even possibly all, will awaken in the spring. And then they will need homes I can’t give them, unless it’s in the belly of a deer.

Besides the Crabapples, Redbuds, Hawthorns, a Dogwood and possibly a spare Ironwood or so (depends on germination), I may have a spare Catalpa tree, too. I planted one in my yard and one in a garden as a replacement if the yard one dies, and if both awaken in the spring, one will have to go. Most of the Arbor Day trees are small flowering, decorative types, and some are partly shade tolerant, so you don’t need to have a huge spot for them—the Catalpa is the outlier. It wants sun and space and can grow to be a very large, full-sized monster of a tree.

I’ll update in spring with what still lives, but as soon as school is out in May, I’m willing to visit your house and plant a tree for you.

Perhaps at midnight. Maybe without telling you …

Slideshow of trees for adoption, most images from Arbor Day Foundation, one (Ironwood) from Tennessee DNR, one (Catalpa) from Ohio DNR:

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