Tag Archives: Sweetgum

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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So What Three Should I Plant Now?


Bird that lives  in a birdhouse next door was watching me work today.

Bird that lives in a birdhouse next door was watching me work today.

It did not seem happy to see me.

It did not seem happy to see me.

I got all hot and bothered in my backyard today. I was hot because it was humid and hot white I was working pretty yard, and I was bothered because dirt and sweat and hungry blood-sucking insects are bothersome things.

But I did get the first project of summer well underway. We have swing sets in our backyard for grandchildren use, and, naturally, that’s not great for grass in that area. Plus, part of that areas in in deep shade, which does not promote grass either.

So, we decided to edge off part of the lawn and put wood chips where the grass won’t grow because the sun doesn’t shine. Today I dug a long, curving, shallow trench in my yard, put some plastic edging in it, and then filled it back in.

I dug a hole. It did not fill with water.

I dug a hole. It did not fill with water.

That was almost an all-day project, which is unfortunate because I didn’t get many bike miles in, and I need to really start focusing on biking. But is fortunate, too, because now it is over halfway done. We had 10 bags of wood chips, but those were laughably short of what we need, so this evening we purchased 20 more, and the rest of the project is to cart the bags and open and then spread the wood chips.

Trust me. It will be a bit of work, but not as much work as digging even a shallow trench and installing the edging.

Anyway, that’s pretty minor in comparison with the Big Garden News Headline: The Tree Is Dead.

Dead, dead, dead.

OK, I’ll give it another week or so, but it’s getting ridiculous. The Sweetgum tree, only 6 inches tall, will never get taller. It has expired. It is a small twig of rotting wood. It has ceased to be.

Given the number of lives trees in my yard (not counting the big ashes in front that the city owns, it is around 35), I don’t plant a new tree unless an old one expires.

Well, the Sweetgum has expired. So what shall go in the hole? I rule out Oak or Maple, because I have several varieties of each elsewhere in the yard (Oak is the second-most common tree in my yard—Crab Apple is the most common). I have a Gingko now, and I do not need two. No Hawthorn—this tree is in the backyard, the play zone. Hawthorns are cute trees, but have nasty spikes.

The Sweetgum spot is one where a medium or large tree can go. Here are my ideas:

A Sweetgum tree. That would not be very imaginative, I know, but one reason I planted the Sweetgum tree there in the first place is colors in my yard in fall are a bit dull. Sweetgums have a reputation of nice fall colors. They also have a reputation of numerous slightly obnoxious seed balls, but no tree is perfect.

Some other tree. Preferably one that would bloom early summer or late spring after the Crab Apples and Redbuds have faded. In Iowa, there is some large tree with fern-like leaves that puts out large clusters of small, sweet smelling flowers in late May. Any idea what it is? There is also a similar looking tree with big pink flowers. And there is yet a third kind of tree with kind of snowy clusters of white that is blooming now. (And I do not mean Catalpa, which are just starting to bloom—the flowers on Catalpa, while white, aren’t really “snowy.” Not that I dislike Catalpa trees—in fact, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular since I admire them a lot—but I have one already). Help, blog fans. I have consulted my “Trees of North America” book and am drawing a blank. Any idea what any of these trees might be?

Please let me know what you think should replace the Sweetgum. Feel free to make your own suggestions for a tree I should plant.

Planting a tree will seem an easy task after that garden project!

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