Tag Archives: Ironwood

Seeking May Miracles, Or Just Good Luck

Gnomes guard young trees

Project Ironwood--three tiny Ironwood and 2 Crab Apple trees, none of which sprouted from the seeds I planted earlier. So it goes.

Project Ironwood update: Looks like wild success—especially since the 2 largest trees are crab apples, not Ironwood.

Well, it’s a fake. I dug up some seedlings that has sprouted in the rocks around mama Ironwood, and for good measure added some root sappers from the mulch at the base of a trio of attractive, and large, Crab Apple trees near MMU’s Warde Hall.

A member of the family had some recent bad news—she’s battling cancer and will require surgery. Not good news, although not all bad news, either, since the signs are positive—apparently so positive that no follow-up treatment should be needed after the surgery.

Still. Send healing vibes and prayers the way of Paulette, a sweet lady who deserves only the best.

When I’m down, I plant. I’m a little down today—thanks to a broken spoke and the weight of grading.

Still, I had a good grading day yesterday, and graded more papers before taking a tree-planting lunch break today. I don’t exactly need a May miracle, but some nice May luck, with multiple grandbabies awaiting birth, a dog nearing the point where she will be eased off the planet, a sister-in-law facing surgery, and a spoke (see my other blog) that broke—well, it was time to plant something.

I need a little growing. A little cheering up. A cosmic pep talk. When the next week finally fades into frenzied memory, when two babies due this month are safely keeping their moms awake at night and when medical professional have expertly and perfectly performed their craft—and after a few biking/kayaking outings with Audrey—well, I know things will be different and probably better.

Knock on wood. Which you can plant.

Hey, Paulette, if any of these trees live, I’d love to plant one or more for you in your yard. Heaven knows I’ve got no room in mine. Here’s thinking of you.


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2011 Gardening Part I: Project Ironwood

Snow bud

Snow on a Magnolia bud at MMU near Warde Hall, March 5.

I sometimes collect and try to use some “wild” seed, in particular, tree seeds. My kids have many memories of me attempting to start cottonwood trees by collecting and planting seeds—all a complete failure, as far as I can tell, although I eventually did manage to get a transplanted cottonwood started in my backyard.

Anyway, today I did a bit of gardening using some seeds from MMU.

It was winter this March 5th in Iowa. March changes quickly between winter and spring. The month began with a fairly nice, cool sunny Tuesday. Clouds rolled in by Thursday and Friday was cold and wet—not winter cold, early spring cold, which is almost worse. The snows of winter don’t penetrate the soul and feel as bone-chilling as a March 35-degree rain—the cold wet drops too warm to freeze, but certainly frigid enough to feel freezing on the face as you trudge across campus.

Well. Snow was falling this morning. Winter back for what we all hope isn’t a long visit.

March snow is never as much fun as October snow, even if it’s similar in that it usually melts quickly (October is before winter sets in and a snowpack can last weeks or months, March snow is typically when the snowpack is almost gone).  Snow is new and exciting in October; by March, even those of us who don’t mind snow are a bit tired of the white stuff.

So, to lift my mood, it was sowing time.

I plan to start some perennial flowers—some morning glories and moonflowers—for my gardens indoors, but I have a trip coming up and won’t be around to tend flower sprouts, so I’ll not get the those going until the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ve planted a few Ironwood seeds in my office.


Mama (and papa, too, I suppose) Ironwood tree, Warde Hall, MMU.

“Ironwood” is one of those tree names that are loosely applied. There is a kind of Ironwood that is native to the Sonoran Desert, for example. Naturally, I don’t have access to that tree. In Iowa, “Ironwood” is a name commonly applied to a small understory tree, sometimes also called a Hornbeam. The small, shade-tolerating tree apparently has tough wood useful for tool handles, hence the Ironwood moniker.

There is an Ironwood growing by the back door of Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University. In fall, I collected a few of its seeds. Some I took out of the pods and stored in an envelope, others I left in the pods and put in a baggie in my mini fridge.

Today, I snuggled them into some damp soil in a pot. Tree seeds don’t typically germinate quickly, so I’m gambling that any resulting tiny trees won’t dry out during my trip.

I scratched some of the seeds with a knife, so I actually planted 3 kinds of seeds—those in pods, as if they had simply fallen on the ground, those stripped of pods and those striped of pods and scored.

Which will germinate? Maybe none, maybe some, we’ll see. I planted a whole bunch (maybe around 30) Catalpa tree seeds last winter (the seeds were liberated from pods overhanging a fence along the C Avenue sidewalk in my neighborhood)—and, on my plant-scientist son-in-law Matt’s advice, boiled a few and scored a few and left a few unmolested. Only 4 sprouted, and two of those died before transplanting.

It remains to be seen if the two resulting young Catalpas of 2010 come back this spring.

This year, my personal tree seed project is Ironwood. A more appropriate tree for me to try, since I have a shady yard with limited tree space remaining, so a smaller, shade-tolerant understory tree that I can plant at the base of the rock retaining wall in my backyard makes a lot more sense than a sun-loving Catalpa tree.

Ironwood trees look a bit like dwarf elms—they seem to me to be a very pleasant tree. Unlike elms, they aren’t sun loving enough or big enough to be main shade trees in yards, but I don’t mind further diversity in my corner of the world, and I do have a soft-spot for native trees.

Garden gnomes, work your magic. Grow little Ironwoods, grow and warm the winter-tired heart of a guerilla gardener getting geared up for a new spring!

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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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