Tag Archives: Crabapple

In Praise of the Crabby Part of Spring


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Crabapple in bloom!

Well, it’s here—one of the main highlights of spring.

Crabapples have burst into bloom. The sour smell of the pear tree is now masked by the sweet apple scent that makes being outside and alive joyful things, even in the hustle time of a busy spring semester.

In my yard, the two apples trees I planted some years ago are still declaring their dislike of larger nearby trees and their shade by failing to develop flowers. Their crabby cousins, however, have erupted in glorious, sweet scent and colors.

I know these little trees like sun, but there must be more to the story. Of the six crabapple trees I’ve planted in my backyard, this spring all six have bloomed. Take that, wimpy apples! But in front, where there are two crabapple trees (I know, diversity is a good thing—these are small trees and I have planted many other species, too) and both trees are in bloom, it’s the one that is in a slightly shadier spot that has grown taller and blooms more vigorously.

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I have pink ones, too–but the white ones posed best for photos April 24. This is the shady-spot tree in front that has gone drunk crazy with spring blooms.

Crabapples come on at the same time that redbuds put on their transitory, fancy spring pink lace. All three redbuds in my yard are exuberant with flowers right now.

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Daffodils and tulip.

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Tulip.

Tulips and daffodils are starting to get past their prime, but are still providing bright splashes of color. In the shady spots of the gardens, one of my favorite flowers—bluebells—are ringing out their joy of spring.

Granted, the crabapple flowers won’t last—but the lilacs are just starting to open, too. And we haven’t heard from the peonies, yet.

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Redbud.

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Older redbud in back yard. I think the other picture is a younger tree in front.

Spring! I know it’s busy, but if you can, go out and smell a crabapple tree. Just make sure it’s not a pear. The crabapple odor is nature’s cure for any crabby mood. More photos that I shot April 24 in my yard.

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Something was hiding in a bachelor’s button plant that has not budded yet.

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What I Planted for Moms and Dads


We biked over to our daughter's house. And I've just loaded my front basket for the ride back.

We biked over to our daughter’s house. And I’ve just loaded my front basket for the ride back.

One of those seismic transitions in life—when the world seems suddenly to be a different place—is when your daughters become mothers.

It’s a happier transition then when your parents and their generation pass along, and suddenly, despite still feeling inside like a barely adult person, you realize you’re among the “elders.” But, I have found the role of “grandpa” to be very satisfying—most of the rewards of loving contact with young kids, less of the stress.

Or, as I like to say, “sugar them up and send them home.” You can quote me on that.

Anyway, so today is another Mother’s Day. To my daughters and beautiful wife, to mothers who are and are to be, to my mother in the great beyond—it’s a day to celebrate you, to celebrate the gift of life and love that you have passed on to the world.

So is seems like a great weekend to plant things.

Due to the harsh winter of 2014, we had three trees that died in our yard. Two of them struggled for life last year, so we waited until this spring to use Dr. McCoy’s Star Trek language on these trees, to paraphrase: “They’re dead, Jim.”

So the day before Mother’s Day, we went tree shopping. Given the cost of what we ended up finding, I suggested the trees were also for Father’s Day. Anyway, I was lobbying for one crab apple, because one crab apple died in a garden in a perfect “crab apple” spot. We’re not shy on this kind of tree—we have seven other crab apple trees—but Audrey agreed. Our other rule is that we wanted “something different.” A cherry tree and a red bud had died—but we have a weeping cherry and three living red buds, so our main shopping was for “other.”

We went to a local greenhouse and a local home supply chain store. We ended up with a bush and a tree from the greenhouse and two other trees from the chain store.

All in all, on this weekend of life celebration, this is what I dug holes for in my yard and gardens:

  • A pretty pink-purple Asian lily, a gift from two of our mom daughters to their mother.
  • Butterfly bush.

    Butterfly bush.

    A butterfly bush. In our climate, sometimes butterfly bush roots make it through winter, sometimes not. Since the butterfly bush blooms in its first year, it’s worth planting again when one dies out, and one in our garden had died.

  • Four milkweed plants. We went to a daughter’s house in Marion for a day-before-Mother’s Day party, and I noted the plants growing in her back garden and backyard. She has active young kids, and although you do want to plant as much milkweed as you can (save the Monarch Butterfly), you don’t want to plant this pretty native flower where young kids roam. The butterflies lay their eggs on it because its volatile sap makes them bad food—while the sticky white sap doesn’t usually do much to human skin, if a kid gets said sap on his or her finger and touches his or her face, apparently the results can be dramatically bad (some potential for great pain and possible temporary blindness). So I dug out the plants and planted them in out-of-the-play-path areas of my garden. There, they will probably die—milkweed notoriously do not transplant well due to their deep roots. But we’ll see if I was lucky enough to get enough root fragments on any of these plants.
  • And the three trees: A ginkgo, a magnolia and a crab apple. Ginkgo is clearly new to our yard, and should give us pretty foliage in the fall. We do already have a magnolia bush, but the new magnolia we planted is a species that should grow in a more tree-like pattern and is also a different color (lemon yellow) than our existing pink bush. The crab apple, while seriously redundant, is a pretty pink color we don’t have, and is a weeping tree, which again makes it a bit different.

Right now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, crab apples are well past their prime. Our two shy apple trees are again not blooming—maybe next year. Lilacs are still going strong—the first wave has bloomed and passed, but the smaller, dwarf pink varieties are just budding out. Early peonies are in full flower, traditional varieties are just starting to bloom.

And bluebells! Many new ones planted last year bloomed this spring in my gardens.

And bluebells! Many new ones planted last year bloomed this spring in my gardens.

It’s going to rain today, but nonetheless has been a pretty late spring day, with nice flowers to recognize moms with.

On this Mother’s Day, best wishes to all you moms out there, in my family and in anybody else’s. May our shared scary experience of procreation bring us more joy than pain, may we pass on a love of God’s earth and its flowers, trees and butterflies to a new generation, and may all of you enjoy this day and every day.

But most especially, to my wife and daughters: Audrey and I know that, although children grow and become their own people, you never stop being a worried parent. And it’s a lesson that now the next generation is getting engaged in.

And so life goes on. It’s messy, but it’s also beautiful thing.

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Something Wicked This Way Gnaws


Base of a crab apple tree with bark stripped away.

Base of a crab apple tree with bark stripped away.

TS Elliott was wrong, I think. In Iowa, it’s not April, but March that is the cruelest month. The transition from harsh winter to warmer spring is fraught with peril in the garden. It’s the time of year when fresh apple buds may flower out, only to be nipped by some untimely killer frost.

Of course, that can happen in April, too. Heck, in Iowa, I hesitate to note it but it’s true, it’s not terribly unusual for the final snow of the season to fall early in May.

Another view of plant carnage.

Another view of plant carnage.

Hang on, Midwesterners. Your Florida and Seattle friends are posting Facebook pictures of warm weather and spring flowers while we look out our windows and see a sea of white. It should dip well below zero tonight, and that’s Fahrenheit, with bitter wind chills in the morning.

I put out the last of my bird seed this morning. I may buy some more. It’s going to be an unusual March—even if this month normally includes some winter cold, it also usually includes melting and bare ground and therefore food from last fall that birds can forage for.

Not, so far, this spring, off to a very wintery start. I noticed some unusual damage to shrubs and trees in my backyard when I went to fill the bird feeders. A Sargent Crabapple that just bloomed for the first time last year has been attacked by something gnawing at its bark. Ditto some bushes by the back deck. As February has turned to March, I think the critters are getting a bit desperate—this long winter must be tough on all creatures great and small.

In recent days, I have had to dispose of several dead mice. We usually get a few when seasons change—fall being prime mouse killing time in my area as the cold weather starts to drive the rodents to seek indoor refuge and I set traps for them. I don’t recall March being such a killing season before.

I anxiously await the coming of spring, as do all of you Iowans, I’m sure. I hope most of my young trees survive and come back. Frankly, I think most of them will—plants that are used to this climate simply stay asleep until the warmth returns. Some previous harsh, snowy winters have been followed by surprisingly nice springs as the period of cold seems to encourage fall bulbs.

The defense, but after I deployed it I also put out bird seed, so if it was squirrels, they at least got something else to eat.

The defense, but after I deployed it I also put out bird seed, so if it was squirrels, they at least got something else to eat.

I don’t think girdling will be good for my trees, however.

I put some chicken wire around the crabapple. Any mouse or vole who nibbles below the snow surface will probably still get to it, but I hope this helps stave off much further damage. I’m leaving the bushes by the deck to their fate—I plan to get rid of some of them anyway—so gnaw away, critters. And hang on.

I’m 80 percent sure spring is coming, and 75 percent sure it will be here before June.

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Sore. Very Sore. The Ducks Shout “Winning!”


Bulbs.

Daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs ready to plant. Sadly, some of the these bags are not very empty yet.

How does it feel to plant 1,000 flower bulbs?

Judging by planting around 500 of them, pretty awful, I would say. As I write this, my throat tickles, some ibuprofin is keeping a very tender back at bay, my arms ache, I’m dead tired—and half the bulbs did not make it into the ground and I may have to store them for a week or so before I have time to finish the job. Although, in all honesty, I didn’t have time to start the job either, but that’s life.

There are some up sides, including the hope for a pretty spring. While I would rate myself as feeling fairly miserable, it’s not from one cause. I have a cold, a minor one, and it appears that the dust from my very dry yard very slowly accumulated in my breathing system, which was already slightly inflamed. The result is a sore throat that makes it painful to talk and significant sneezing and coughing. Yet, the underlying cold is still better than it was—my neck glands are not as painfully swollen as before, for instance.

The back pain is an ancient injury that acts up now and then, particularly if I spent three hours digging with shovel and trowel. Amanda, I think it dates from when you were Tristan’s age and I bent over and picked you up and must have bent wrong or twisted wrong or something—cause that darn muscle in the lower left side of my back has sent me occasional pain-o-grams for more than two decades. It just so happens that when it cramps, it also sometimes attacks the giant nerve running down my left leg. Today, it hurts, but it’s not an immobilizing, shooting pain, nor has it squeezed the giant leg nerve to convert it into a river of lava. My back hurts, but only in a mild, you-probably-overdid-it-Joe, way. Trust me, at points in my life it’s been much, much worse. And carry no guilt, eldest daughter—I’ve never felt in the faintest way that you had any responsibility for my sore back. Memory is a tricky thing, but I don’t think you were even complaining or whining, the fatal moment was a perfectly natural “daddy pick me up” time that went horribly wrong due the technique or lack of it used by the adult in the scenario, who has only himself to blame. But watch it when picking up ZZ. Bend your knees, not your back.

Anyway, on to more old-person whining. I know it’s late October, but despite my ugly gardening Joe hat, I managed to sunburn myself. Sunburns always make me feel generally yucky. On the other hand, since it was late October, not only is only a limited area burned (just my face), but it’s probably not very burned. I’m reasonably certain there’s no peeling in my future—in fact, in the morning my now warm, uncomfortable face will probably be back to normal.

My knees hurt. I noticed it will digging the last few holes—when I hit the shovel with my foot, my knee would whine and send a “hey, what did I ever do to you” twinge of pain up my leg. Then again, my knees have been really sore in the past, and this is pretty mild.

No one complaint has got me down. But I do feel a bit like I’m being pecked to death by ducks, and they are getting annoying. Such is the life of a gardener of advancing age (unless I live to 106, I guess I can’t really claim the moniker “middle aged” anymore, but it’s only when I’m sore like this that I admit it).

Enough of the complaining. Ask me in spring if it was worth it. I hope so, and actually expect so—the part of the planting I got done today was putting crocuses in the lawn, and it just seems like such a good idea that I’m anxious to see the results of. I also planted tulips and daffodils with crocuses around the base of the front trees. I still have lots of tulips and daffodils to plant—but I put 400 of the 500 crocuses in the ground and a smaller percent of the tulips and daffodils.

The slit.

Fingers poised to keep bulbs in place, Will draw out shovel after snapping photo This is the "slit."

Anyway, with the lawn planting, I used two approaches, first mixing them, but then switching to the one that put the most bulbs in the ground at a time as I grew weary:

  • Method one was the slit. Did a slit with a shovel, poke in 3 crocus bulbs, hold the bulbs in place with fingers as you withdraw shovel. No, did not hurt any fingers, but several near misses were a reason beyond my tiring body to give up the slit.
  • Method two was the lid. Dig a slit, but then push the shovel horizontally and tip over the “lid.” In the resulting hole, put 5 or 6 crocus bulbs and then shut the lid. At the end, I would dig 5 to 10 holes in a set and quickly place the bulbs.

I had wanted to follow the catalog advice for naturalizing, where you toss bulbs in an area and plant them were they fall, but tried that only once—when I couldn’t find all of the bulbs, I decided I can be comfortable with slightly less random clumps.

The plan, of course, is for the crocuses to bloom and fade in the spring before the first mow. I’ve seen others do it, including a house adjacent to Mount Mercy and my own sister Cate in her yard, so I’m confident it should work.

The lid.

The "lid," my more common, and by the end, only, planting method.

Anyway, besides placing crocuses in the lawn, I also ringed three small trees in front with tulips, daffodils and crocuses. Next year, I may have to slightly enlarge the “mulch” area around the trees, since not all of these flowers will fade by first mow, but that was my evil plan all along. I used a variation of “the lid” method, first popping back a lid of soil, then going deep in two places for one tulip bulb and one daffodil bulb. I would cover them with loose soil and put in two crocuses before shutting the lid. I did it in a roughly cross pattern so the crocuses are never on top of the other flowers. I did either 3 or 4 of these “groups” around each tree.

I expected some trouble from the Hawthorne. Thorn is part of its name for a reason. I need not have worried, the tree has grown fairly tall without branching out much, and it was very polite when I planted around it with flowers. The Hawthorne didn’t even try to toss a root in my way.

The crabapples, on the other hand, were crabby, poking me with little branches, sticking out roots in each of my holes, generally taunting me while I worked: “Hey, jerk, just try to plant a freaking flower near me.” I’m bigger than them (even if they are taller) and basically just slapped them around and planted the flowers anyway. So there.

I doubt I’ll have any planting time tomorrow—between schoolwork, family stuff and church, the day is totally booked. It may be a week before the remainder of the bulbs taste dirt, and I hope they don’t mind.

One minor other complaint—and no, this isn’t a scratch or itch or ache that I’ll blow out of proportion. The bulb company did not sent any bluebells or hyacinth, both of which I thought I ordered—and did send 100 iris bulbs which I know for sure I did NOT order.

Oh Iris! Didn’t plant any yet because Audrey will contact the bulb company to see what they want us to do. No, I don’t object to Irises—love them, in fact, but I suck at growing them. It will feel mournful and bittersweet for me to inter 100 iris bulbs, thinking that I’ll never see pretty flowers from the likes of these.

Sigh.

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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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Christmas 2010 Snow Scenes


Coneflower

I didn't get the framing right, but was lucky to catch the focus and I still like this image.

As noted before, there’s no need to dream of a White Christmas in 2010 in Iowa.

While Audrey took a quick nap, I went outside to try to capture some snow photos. This picture post is the result.  I’m not sure it worked all that well–it’s hard to photograph snow and the biggest problem I have with my digital minicam is that it doesn’t let me control the focus.  Still, although it was hard to get it to focus on the head of a coneflower, I think I got some nice snow pictures, but you can comment and let me know if you agree.

Lilac in snow

This is one of the few "inside" shots out the office window in my home--snow on a lilac bush. Background is backyard snow. I like the plain view this photo shows.

Why does ice seem so pretty when it’s mixed with dust and puffed with air to form delicate six-sided crystals? I got a bit chilly taking these and worried a bit about keeping my Kodak dry, but all in all, I think it worked out.  Click on an image to see it bigger, and then click “back” to see more, I’ll finish this post with dozens of snow photo, a total of 20 images, just to celebrate the beauty of snow on this fine Christmas day!

Once again, Merry Christmas from snowy Iowa.

Lilac on chimney

One of my favs in this big group. Lilac with chimney stones as background.

Lilac and snow

Again, a nice lilac image. Can't have too many flower photos! Even when the flowers are long gone.

Crabapple

Next series is crabapples--like the contrast of red and white snow. Squirrel has not managed to reach them all yet ...

Crabapple

An even better one, I think. Crabapple in backyard.

Maple bark

Now, a more abstract phase--snow on maple bark

Clothesline

Clothesline in back with snow "waves"

Clothesline

Clothesline again, looking west instead of east

Fence

I like the way the aging wood of the fence contrast with snow, and the way the snow overhangs the top of the fence

Plant hook and fence

One of our plant hooks and the top of the fence

Fence again

Final fence post--closeup of snow wave

Plant hook

OK, the fence is still h ere, but I think this is a photo of the hook ...

Swing

We meant to take this swing down before winter, did not get done ...

Road Crud

Looks like an interesting mineral--is really just road snow crud crusted in a van wheel well

 

Woods in snow

Woods and stream bed south of our back fence (looking over fence, actually)

Fern

Fern in front in snow

Dogwood leaves

Dogwood leaves with snow--first of a few dogwood photos

Dogwood leaf

Dogwood leaf--took some time to get the camera to focus ...

Dogwood again

Dogwood leaves buried in snow

Coneflower

And the final photo--number 20--again a coneflower, better framing

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Winter Feeding & Tree Breeding, Thoughts of Spring Crimes


Squirrel!

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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