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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Springtime for Sheller in Cedar Rapids

Corcus.  Croci?

Afternoon light was fading, they had been more open. Crocus by mailbox.

I hope a tune from the “Producers” is going through your head.  First views of Spring 2010 gardens.

Burning love and catalpa

Small pot is burning love, which is fading. Big pot is catalpa, which are fading. But, where there is life there is hope.

Overall, some nice springy things happening before the cold snap.  I have not “cleaned” the gardens–removed the leaves from the fall, and will wait, because colder weather is coming.  But first flowers are here, as you can see.

Starting stuff indoors has been mixed. As you can see in the big pot, a couple of catalpa tress sprouted, but in the little pot, most of the “burning love” bushes that sprouted died, and the catalpa are fading.  It’s hard to keep things wet enough to germinate, but not so wet that young roots don’t rot.  Darn.  I partly inherited my mother’s Irish green thumb (mama barely kept any green growing thing alive, gardening was always daddy’s job).

I’ll put some Hollyhock photos at the end, they are looking better.


Snowdrops bloom even before crocus. Should plant more ...

Outdoors, I’m amazed at all that is already growing.  I love the snowdrops, the little white flowers.

Anyway, Audrey is almost ready to go for a walk, so I’m going to publish now.  Update later.

It’s later now.  My original plan was to clean off the gardens during spring break, but we’ll see what I think of that plan next week–it will be getting into the 20s at night, and I’ll have to consider of the lack of sun is a good trade for protection.

Not that I would necessarily know.

Anyway, I have a lot of work to get to for tomorrow, so I’ll round out this blog post with a selection of early spring garden photos.  (I do wish I had a better digital camera, an SLR that would let me focus manually–many pictures did not work when auto focus insisted on making the background in focus).


Note the flowers just coming up in the "new" garden between houses. What are they? I don't know. Not daffodils or crocus. Planted bulbs in the fall, who knows what they are now?

Two perennials

The garden in front by the fence of neighborliness seems pretty perky for early spring. Foxglove and winter creeper (not sure I'm remembering all those names correctly but they are tagged) recently emerged from three months of snow cover, and are already looking "springy."

More snowdrops

The snowdrops are in one of the back gardens--the one by our retaining wall. The bush behind it is fairly new and looked pretty sickly last year, but already seems to be waking up. It's a blooming bush that hasn't bloomed, hope it does this year.


A "Moscow" lilac, is only 6 inches tall so it won't bloom this year. When it does, it will have pretty white and pink flowers, which will be a nice contrast to the purple, pink and blue lilacs we have elsewhere, and a nearby dwarf purple lilac.

Ground cover

Don't remember the name of this plant, some creeping shade-friendly ground cover, but I know it's not a weed, it is something we planted. Back garden by fence.

Crocus in back garden

This one bloomed a couple of days before the ones by the mailbox in front. I think the tulips in the background may regret being in too big a hurry to pop up next week when the lows dip into the 20s.

Hollyhock finale

And the hollyhocks, pink and white, I think. Some will go in front, a few will get mixed in with black hollyhocks in back. I like the black ones, but if these live, I'll like these happier colors, too. These are growing by a window in my laundry room--you can tell in what direction the window is.

Well, that’s it for the first actual outdoor (and a few indoor) photo gallery of the year.  By the way, the absurd tags on my previous post, or perhaps my announcement of absurd tags on Facebook, or perhaps both, did bring a spike in blog traffic, though not as much as the inexplicable spike earlier this year with my bells post.

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Flowers as yet unseen …

Sargent crabapple. Most photos seem white, but there are pink ones, too. Which is ours? Unknown at this point ...

It’s January in Ames, Iowa, and it’s snowing outside.

I live in Cedar Rapids, but, along with Audrey, am visiting Amanda, Matt and Elizabeth. Spending a little morning time before the ladies arise (Matt and I are the early risers, apparently, and he fixed breakfast, toast and some fancy oatmeal with raisins and nuts and a name I don’t know) writing a blog post. (Matt says breakfast is Muesli.)

Somehow, a quiet snowy late January morning puts me in the mood to look forward to spring.

As my longer-term blog fans know, this blog started mostly about gardening, although I often diverge from that topic. What am I looking forward to from the garden this spring?

Well, for one, I would like to see more of our trees flower. We have four crabapple trees in a row in the back yard, and 3 of the 4 are pretty consistent bloomers. The fourth, a much younger tree, a “Sargent” crabapple, has not yet bloomed. Last year, it grew to about six feet tall, so I’m hoping this is its spring to reveal its flowers. Photos I found on line show white blooms, which would be nice since we have two pink and one white trees already, so white would fit well, but I’ll take whatever.

We also have two young crab apples in front, one of which bloomed last spring even though it was only about four feet tall. I’m hoping both bloom this year.

A hawthorne flower, from flickr, labeled for re-use. There are many kinds of hawthorne, both trees and bushes, so is this what ours will look like? Don't know.

We planted two apples trees (not crab apple) in our back yard last year to replace two hawthorns. We thought the yard would be more grandchild friendly without two thorny trees on a hillside. I didn’t discard the hawthorns, one is in the side of the front yard where, I hope, it is discretely out of common paths of play, and the other is in our woods in back. So far, the deer have not munched it to the ground, which makes it unusual for a young tree, so maybe there is hope. I have no idea what the flowers or berries of these tress will look like, and with transplanting, both are pretty small. The one in front is under 3 feet tall. It would be a surprise if it bloomed yet, but maybe it’s slightly taller cousin in the woods might. Despite being thorny, the trees and leaves are nice looking, so we’ll see.

I also planted (from bulbs bought the day Elizabeth was born) tulips, crocuses, hyacinth and irises in the “new” fence garden. I am anxious to see what will come up, but naturally, given my poor history, have the lowest expectations for the irises. I purchased a Siberian iris from HyVee Drug Store for the new garden last year, a plant rather than a bulb, and it was one of the few plants to quietly expire rather than thrive in the garden. What is it with me and irises?

I don’t usually have the same poor luck with peonies. We had a couple of clumps when we moved in, and through divisions and purchases, I have successfully spread more peonies.

Chinese peoney

A peony flower. Labeled "Chinese," but I have my doubts it's the same as the feathery leaved ones from the farm. Desipite the leaf differnce, however, I think our farm peony flowers wll look like other peonies.

This spring, to be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to are peonies. They don’t have much bloom time but are spectacular heralds of full spring, and I like them. I purchased a pink one for the new garden—we have red and white elsewhere in other gardens, but not pink—and in September dug up several clumps at the old farmhouse.

One of those clumps was the “feathery” leaved peonies that Iowans call “Chinese” or “Japanese.” Don’t know the flower color—I’m hoping several of the plantings will come up.

There was also a large clump of “regular” peonies, color unknown. I like variety, but I also think you can’t really go wrong with peonies, so I’ll take what I get, hope I get something.

This may not be much of a bloom year for the new peonies—I will be satisfied to see some plants and content to wait.

But irises? Have a lot of plants that have never bloomed. Come on, you of the iris family, show me your colors!

By the way, while irises have been particularly stubborn, they aren’t the only flowering thing that has never flowered in my gardens. We have a dogwood tree that is going on six or seven years old, and that has grown to close to 12 feet tall, that has never bloomed.

Of course, I have other projects going for the gardens and yards. I harvested some Catalpa seeds from a neighborhood tree and am trying to get them to germinate—thought Matt notes these trees, from the redbud family, have notoriously tough seed coatings and don’t germinate without either boiling or scoring. Anyway, if my one sickly redbud doesn’t thrive and I can get a Catalpa to sprout, the little redbud may be replaced with a cousin that, in comparison, would grow to be a massive tree. I bet the source for the speeds was 80 feet tall.

I’m also hoping that one of the younger redbuds, which is about 4 feet tall, might start to bloom. We have a total of three redbuds, one that is close to adult height and blooms each spring and two young ones, one of which died to the ground and re-sprouted last spring, the other which seems healthier but is still pretty small.

Aw spring! On this snowy morning, we’re getting near February, and month with only 28 days because in Iowa no one could stand any more. But we’re only six weeks or so from the first signs of crocuses and eight weeks from when spring really starts to sproing.

I would say I “cant wait,” but that’s trite and whenever I hear someone say that I always wonder, beyond suicide, what the alternative is. I can wait. I’m hoping for some new flowers this spring.

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