Tag Archives: redbud

In Praise of the Crabby Part of Spring


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.


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.


Daffodils and 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.




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.


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


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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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Triple Picture Tuesday: Warning, not Spider Safe


Viburnum, one of the new bushes in the "new" garden north of my house, is in full bloom.

It’s a beautiful, warm, summerlike day today, which is good.

It’s May 10, which is not quite as good. Despite my good intentions, I have a huge backlog of grading, so I’ll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.

Still, it’s hard to be too grumpy with the world turning so pretty. Both my yard and MMU are greening up very nicely, and most of the trees are finally waking up and will be green soon. It appears most of my Arbor Day trees didn’t make it this time, and I have no Ironwood seedlings yet—but both Catalpa trees made it through the winter, and that’s something.


Young Redbud, like Viburnum planted last summer in "new" garden, in full bloom.

And, I know the spider will freak out one of my sisters, but yesterday, on a cloudy Monday, I thought this big gal was just interesting to see, looking like she’s floating on the clouds—the flying monster spider of doom? No, just a lady who made her home on the other side of a Lundy Commons window.

the flying spider

Watch out! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's superman? Or the flying spider? This spider built her web on the outside of a Lundy Commons window--probably not a good move since the windows do get washed. Still, she looked like she was flying May 9.

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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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New Summer, New Garden

The new garden, from the landing next to the front stoop. Lily of the valley and hostas on the left, bushes and redbud tree straight ahead.

Last year, it was the wall built by the neighbor that caused us to put in a new garden.

This year, I don’t have such an excuse, the garden was mostly our idea. To be fair, Wally did have an indirect influence on it—we had both cut out some overgrown evergreen bushes last year, and he noted that every 20 years or so you have to replace evergreen bushes by a house because they become overgrown.

Anyway, we had large evergreen bushes on the north side of our house. I liked them, but they were becoming ungainly huge, and seemed to be a type that did not respond well to trimming—just had dead stumps where I cut them back, did not form attractive new foliage the way a regular-leaved bush often does.

I am always a bit troubled by removing a mature plant (in fact, despite her hatred of the smell, Audrey is dithering right now about the pear trees—doesn’t want me to cut them down). If a plant is not causing problems, I would rather just let it go—particularly trees and bushes. But, our house came with several problematic patches of evergreen—one a gnarly short tree in back that we cut out when we added gardens back there (by “we” I mean the royal we, I cut it out, I guess I can say “we” because the boss approved).

The redbud, mainly, part of the new garden seem from the lawn.

And, this year, the evergreens in front went away. They put up a magnificent two-day epic battle, but a small electric chainsaw, limb saw and hedge clippers finally had their way.

When we (“we”—ha!) removed the bushes, I (or we) was (or were) amazed at the space that was left. The old bushes were over 5-feet in width, although they were shorter than that. There was a lot of garden room!

Although it’s on the north side of the house and thus shaded for parts of the year, during mid-summer there is a fair amount of sunlight on much of the patch. We (the real we, nothing funny about it) picked out some shady plants and some sun/shade plants for the spot. Audrey and I chose them on a whim at Menards for no particular reason other than we happened to be there to buy paint for other projects.

So, what did I put in the new garden?

The main feature is a redbud tree in the “far corner,” the part farthest from the house. It was the only redbud we saw at the store, but looks pretty good, and is more than 6-feet tall. As you can see, it’s much smaller than that height might suggest since it hasn’t spread out at all. We have two redbuds in back, but none in front, and redbuds stay small enough that there should be room for this tree in this spot.

Foilage of the new dogwood bush. The bush itself will also provide a bit of interest in winter, particuarly when it snows--it's called "red twig" becuase it has smooth red bark, a nice contrast to white snow.

I like dogwood bushes, and Cate noted that a variegated one had done well in a previous house she and Paulette had near Mount Mercy, so (despite arguments from Audrey who didn’t think it looked vigorous enough) one of the bushes is a “variegated red-twig dogwood.” We also agreed on a Black Knight Butterfly Bush, just because it looked and smelled nice (and it was Audrey’s favorite, a deal that helped me get the dogwood). Both of those bushes require some light, so I put them on the far north end of the garden—the more south one moves in the garden, the closer to the house and shadier it gets. In an area nearer the house, I planted two “ruby spice summersweet” bushes, which are labeled as shade friendly. I also moved two volunteer dwarf burning bushes which were further west in front, but really had no room to grow there.

Finally, right next to our front stoop, on the north side and around the corner on the west side, I planted some less original plants—an “autumn fern” in the shadiest spot, followed by three hostas (all three slightly different from each other, as you can see) and then some “donated” lily of the valley from our back gardens.

Black Knight Butterfly Bush. Pretty blue flowers that smell nice to humans, too. Note foot--promised in earlier blog post not to feature my feet, could crop it out but it snuck in ...

Since these photos were taken, I’ve added some more river rock (and probably will get another couple of bags). In addition, we will probably plant either one or two more rhododendron bushes—have two beside the front steps now and want to complete the line now that the evergreens have made way.

It occurs to me that rhododendrons are about the only evergreen we have left. When we first moved into the house, I cut out some overgrown evergreens on the east side and planted hostas there—primarily because the evergreen bushes were so large it was hard to get our back yard gate. After Wally’s construction of his wall made access even more difficult, I moved the hostas and made the area a walkway.

And, as noted earlier, the one evergreen tree in our back yard was eliminated several years ago.

The thing about evergreens is that they are space eaters. I like them, but have slowly been driven to eliminate the ones I have. Odd, how a gardener like me who enjoys crowdin

g plants comes to that conclusion. But I do.

Anyway, I love redbuds and hope this one on the north side manages to do OK. I have some hopes it will—there is a redbud on the north side of the Stello Hall wing of Warde Hall that is quite old and tall. Redbuds seem to do OK in semi-shady areas, the only question is what will the north winds do to this tree?

Nothing too bad, I hope. We’ll see.

Ruby Spice Summersweet bush, one of two I planted. Not sure what they will do, with the exception of the two volunteer dwarf burning bushes, the bushes are new to my gardens.

Sorry for cutting you out, evergreens. But, after several days of getting used to

it (today is Tuesday, I cut out the bushes Saturday and Sunday and planted Monday) I am liking the look of this new garden.

By the way, when we finish it off with a rhododendron or two, a volunteer maple will have to go.

It’s a bit more than a foot tall. It looks just like the one that I moved four years ago from the side of the house to the back yard—the one in back is about 12 feet tall now, so if this little tree isn’t eaten by deer or bunnies, it probably will grown quickly.

It’s a family tradition to move and plant volunteer maples, but I don’t want to moved it to our woods behind the fence because I’m trying to get cottonwood, oak and walnut going there, and maples manage to invade all on their own.  And I really have no spot at all for this maple.

If you want it, let me know soon.

Up for grabs-volunteer maple that had been hidden by evergreen bushes. Act fast, it will be coming up before week's end.

West side of front stoop, autumn fern and a new hosta.

Other two new hostas on the north, or front side, of front stoop, with lily of the valley in background.

Detail of redbud. Despite being gnarly, dwarfish trees, I like redbuds for leaves and pretty early spring pink flowers. Why red bud and not pink bud? No idea.

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