Tag Archives: trees

Planting Trees on Arbor Day, 2018

eco clubWe were lucky it was a warm day. Earlier this month, we had several snowfalls in Cedar Rapids, and it seemed the ground would be pretty frosty.

But a tree planting event was scheduled for Arbor Day, today, and as luck would have it, the weather has changed. I know, Iowa, right?

Anyway, the MMU ECO Club coordinated the tree planting events, bringing 17 trees and a DNR expert to campus.

The original plans were to start at 8 a.m., but the club wisely changed that to a 10:30 a.m. start, assuming that the club and volunteers might get the trees into the ground by the planned lunch at 12:30 p.m.


Zachary Ceresa, president of MMU Eco Club, getting ready for tree planting.

Indeed, the planting went quickly. There were probably 5 or more volunteers per tree, and although tree planting can be work, if you only have to plant one and four other people get turns at the shovel, it’s a fairly quick, fun process.

I’m a tree person. My tiny yard is virtually a forest due to all of the trees my wife and I have planted—I’m not even sure what the current tree census is at casa de Sheller, but it is quite a few.


Rachael Murtaugh, Mount Mercy director of sustainability. She uses dandelions in all of her decorating.

And I have always enjoyed tree planting. It seems like an intuitively generous act, in a way, in that you’re trying to benefit the future—both your personal future and the future that goes on beyond you. Not all trees last that long, but many might—the group I was part of planted a sturdy 6-foot oak that, I hope, will be around for many years.

The Eco Club is interested because trees create a cascade of positive environmental impacts. I was interested in planting partly because it’s just soothing for the soul.

The day was beautiful and the volunteers plentiful. It was a fun way to mark the spring.


DNR expert teaches us how to plant trees.

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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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And So Fall Arrives Suddenly In Dry Iowa

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I’ve pretty much given up on any fall photo competition. For the previous two years, I attempted to enter the Gazette’s photo contest, but although I think I had some nice images, clearly my pictures were not what the paper was looking for. I tend to shoot details and they seem to want panoramas, but there you have it.

Fall is suddenly here, kaboom. We had a couple of cold nights earlier this week, two with lows dipping just under the freezing point of water, and suddenly the trees are starting to turn.

Many ashes are tinged with gold. Some maples are dappled in pinks and yellows. Sumac and burning bushes are starting to shine with bright crimson.

We’re in a dry, windless stretch of weather—which is too bad because we surely can use lots and lots of rain—but at least it means the leaves are staying on the trees for a bit as they turn colors.

Today, I rode the Cedar River Trail to work, which added about 20 minutes to my commute. I had time to make it to my morning class, and I just wanted to see if those cold nights have visibly changed the seasons.

They have.

The hillsides are still mainly green, but there are certainly flashes of color. Tulips trees and Catalpa, two trees with huge leaves, are still pretending it’s summer, but I’m betting in the next few days we’ll see that they got the memo from Mama Nature, too. I didn’t go by the big Sweetgum tree that is on my usual commute this morning, but last time I saw it, it was holding back, hanging in there green. Sweetgum trees usually turn vibrant colors and I’m looking forward to seeing this tree this autumn

Fall in Iowa! Is there a more glorious time?


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Life on Mars, My Garden and Other Arid Places


From NASA web site, artist’s image of Curiosity rover on Martian surface. May it be so.

The NASA web site provides a countdown, and as of this writing, it’s under four hours until we find out if Curiosity gets to the red planet or Mars kills Curiosity.

Here’s hoping all goes well. Mars is now like Iowa in summer 2012—devoid of water. Well, sure, the drought on Mars has gone on for a few million years more, and the corn there looks even worse, by a bit.

But, in this arid summer of 2012, it’s great that humans are (knock on wood) landing another rover on Mars. Our curiosity about our own universe is a positive thing—and one of the few public policy areas where I very much disagree with the Obama administration.

Sure, many government belts ought to be tightened. But not the one that fuels basic scientific research and tells us about ourselves. NASA ought not be starved for funds, even in a recession.

And I worry what might happen if Curiosity crashes. The billions spent on sending the rover were not a “waste,” even in that case, because space exploration requires some costly gambles.

Anyway, I hope, dear readers, by the time most of you see this, that the first images from Curiosity are being posted by NASA.

Back on Planet Earth, Iowa got some much needed rain Saturday. About two inches fell, the first significant rain since May. The blessing was not unmixed—high winds at one point left 16,000 people in Cedar Rapids in the dark when tumbling trees severed power lines—but we’ll take the rain and wish for more.

In my gardens, there are some plants hanging on and others suffering. I fear I may lose some ferns—we had a nice patch peeking through our rock retaining wall, but most of the wall ferns are withered and brown. Even some “in-ground” ferns are looking sick or dead, despite the watering I’ve been doing in the garden. Today, after the rain, a few of the “dead” ones are sending up new growth, so there is hope as long as the 100-degree arid days don’t stretch on again.

Astilbe is suffering, and some clumps have died. Hydrangea are dropping, and the largest of these bushes, on the northwest corner of the house, has more dead than live parts (but may survive, since a bush may come back if any of it lives). The crab apples in front are panting for water and slowly retreating. The older ones in back are tougher, but still don’t look happy.

Most Hostas are OK, but a few, even in shady areas, look sunburned.

And then there are the baby trees. I had some Catalpa started from seeds, most of which have expired (not the transplant from Mimi’s yard, however, which is going strong). I planted seven Arbor Day Foundation trees this spring (in a pack of ten, three died over the winter), and three are OK, one is barely hanging on, one has lost all its leaves but seems to be trying to come back, and two seem to be just about knocking on heaven’s door.

Well, all in all, it felt a bit odd today to mow. I have not done that in more than a month—this is the first July in my memory where it was so dry all month long that the grass didn’t grow and didn’t have to be mowed. It was a big chore because I had to rake six weeks worth of fallen sticks and an unusual covering of mid-summer leaves from the yard before the mow.

I can only hope that August might bring a few more mows. And some good news from our arid red neighbor. Even if I am fretting about my not-wet garden, I’m also thinking of you, Curiosity.

August 6 update:  Well, as you know, NASA did it.  Kudos.  I found this video which outlines what NASA did.  Despite the cheesy background music, I do think it’s quite an accomplishment:

New York Times story describes the challenge well, too.

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Tune For Tuesday is Melting in the Dark

All the sweet green icing flowing down …

I used a “water weasel,” a kind of child’s toy sprinkler, to water selected sections of my yard Monday. No, I’m not trying to make the grass green—it can stay brown and dormant until the drought eases. But, my hose watering has mostly benefited the youngest of my trees, those planted this year, and the new plants in my gardens.

The drought has gone on so long that moderate-sized trees are showing stress. The tulip tree, a large-looking tree at around 25 feet tall, but still a youngster in tree-age terms, is turning yellow.

That may not be a terrible sign—one survival strategy that native North American trees employ is to check out early on a drought year—to go dormant for the long winter sleep in summer and hope for better times next year. Still, it’s hard to tell dormancy from death, and there’s a fine line in a drought such as this.

So the water weasel was making a few selected regions of my yard damp for the sake of adolescent trees, such as the tulip, some stressed bushes and sad-looking crab apples. My idea is to maybe do this once a week—because these larger trees have more capacity to survive than the little babies that get watered every other day, and because it just takes too darn much water to soak a region deeply so as to do trees of any size any good.

Anyway, the grandkids were over playing and running through the weasel. For some reason, that made Audrey and I think of MacArthur Park, which we sang snatches of. Ben was home from Ames for his between summer and fall interlude, and he’s never heard “MacArthur Park.”

Above is the “pure” version. It’s the sort of song that truly needs no remake, so of course the disco queen had to do one, below.  Ben, you must listen to both, and don’t cheat and check out early.  And yes, you can help Donna sing.  Here’s hoping that our sweet green icing will be flowing down soon, as we need some rain to leave our cakes out in …


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Garden Monsters: Kitties, Mums in June and Zombie Trees


U-571 from Wikipedia. Not the best WWII movie, but WWII nonetheless.

Honestly, today was far less productive than it should have been. I made the mistake of turning on AMC while getting dressed, and some U-Boat movie that I had never seen was starting.

Clearly, I am not one to be trusted around U-Boat movies.

I was going to go on a long bike ride. It was hot, and I only went on a short one. I was going to spread mulch all over the gardens and yard. Well, I did start and get the front done—but there is much to do in the back. I mowed, hoping it will rain tonight.

Anyway, it was an odd day, as hot days sometimes are. A really hot day gives you a sense of unreality, like you’re breathing used air, humid, sticky; sustained thought and sustained effort seem impossible.

Yup, that kind of day, and then there were kittens.

I had finished breakfast by around 10 a.m. (yes, that kind of morning) when I glanced outside and there were three animals checking out the deck—young cats. They moved quickly and showed no interest in the house, so my count was approximate, but suddenly there were kittens on my deck. I snapped a photo with my phone and messaged it (yes, on a phone, “message” is a verb) to Audrey.

As quick as they appeared, the kittens were gone.

A U-boat movie and quick bike ride later, and I was starting my lawn chores—and there they were, two kittens, snuggling in a corner of the yard.

Kitten 1

Kitten one in corner of the yard.


Kitten number two.

Where did they come from? Where is mom? Why my deck? I’m more of a cat person than a dog person, but mostly I’m a recovering former animal owner, and I have no desire to have custody of additional mammals. I’m hoping mom appears soon and the kittens go home.

It’s odd that after writing a blog post earlier this week about monster cats, suddenly kittens are infesting my deck.

But wait, there’s more. Today is the day of the zombie trees.

OK, that’s not so mysterious. I planted six trees in the backyard this spring, not because I needed to, but because I had six trees to plant. Anyway, two of them immediately died, for all appearances. But I know from experience that small trees sometimes go into transplant shock and drop all their leaves, but later bounce back, so I waited. I’ve been waiting for weeks.

And, as you can see, the dead walk, or leaf, again.

A tree

Don’t know what it is, yet, it’s leaves have not open. Some sort of maple?

Tree two

Tree two: A bit ahead. Clearly a maple.

We’re not done with odd appearances, blog fans. Besides two zombie trees coming back to life, there is also a pretty little flower, shown, blooming. OK, you say, so? It’ s a mum. In Iowa, a fall flower. Blooms that you usually see in September. The last thing blooming in the garden before an October killing freeze.

Fall flower

First day of summer–time for fall flowers? A mum out of season.

Today, the longest day, the start of summer—maybe I should have tried to balance an egg, or is that the equinox? Anyway, it was an oppressively hot, cat-infested monster of a day in which odd things happened. I drank the penultimate Fat Tire. It helped. I hope in the morning that the kittens have moved on.


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Tune for Tuesday: A Song to Cut Down Trees To

I spent much of this warm summer day at my daughter’s house, cutting down trees. Now, as you might expect, that’s not a natural activity for CR Garden Joe—we had five mature trees in our yard when we moved in, and now have more than 30 trees thanks to my obsession with all things tree.

But this yard and garden were overdone with rogue volunteer trees—maples and walnuts and mulberries against the foundation or growing through a garden. So, out they came. What song mood does that put me in? Well …. Since I was a teen in the the ‘70s and do indeed have several Jethro Tull albums:

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The Spruce Truce, Or I Hope That Tree Will Enjoy Its New Home


Spruce has almost doubled in height this spring, but now it’s in a pot, waiting to be taken to an MMU student.

Well, Audrey pulled the ace. She bought a tether ball pole, which she stated should logically be placed in only one spot.

Right where the spruce tree is.

And, blog friends, she probably was right. Looking around the back yard, the sandbox on one side, the swing set in another corner, a central level play area—where was there room for a tether ball pole?

Right where the spruce tree is, or rather, was. I dug it out and installed the pole. Not surprisingly, given my ineptitude for things mechanical, there was a serious, pole-threatening snafu. I followed the directions, which included pounding the base of the pole into the ground. But my pounding also distorted and bent out the edges of the aluminum tube, so there was no way to put the second piece onto the base—the sleeve that the piece was supposed to fit snugly on now had a “sleeve.”

Well, some snipping with needle nosed pliers and some tapping with the “sleeve” resting on a rock slowly reduced the diameter of the sleeve until the second piece could be worried onto it.

So now I have a pole where a tree used to be. While I would not generally consider this a positive thing—I favor trees far more than poles—in this case it sort of works. Audrey had already promised a spruce tree to a student, so now she has one to take into the office. And two other spruces, courtesy of last fall’s project, are still in the ground in the little stand of woods behind our fences.

And, anyway, most of the baby Arbor Day trees that I have in pots are well awake and ready for planting. I guess, given that I’ll gain at least five baby trees in my yard, I can spare a spruce.

So I hereby declare a spruce truce. No needle whining, no evergreen tears. It’s gone, but it’s going to a good home, I hope.


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Oh Christmas Tree, or Ten of Thee…

10 trees

10 trees in planters ready for any early start to spring.

A little spruce tree in our yard didn’t bring the negative reaction from The Boss that I thought it might. When it was discovered, it seemed to be a non-issue.
Of course, to get a bundle of spruces for a group of school kids, Audrey had to join the Arbor Day Foundation, and thus had to acquire 10 trees, so she can’t really complain if I sneaked one spruce into the yard. Our overcrowded copse of woods may include some of the following, which I will identify by color code in case the page that identifies the trees is misplaced:

  • 1 Scarlet Oak (pink)
  • 1 Northern Red Oak (dark blue)
  • 1 American Sweetgum (neon green)
  • 1 Silver Maple (Red)
  • 1 White Flowering Dogwood (orange)
  • 1 Washington Hawthorn (light blue)
  • 2 Sugar Maple (no paint)
  • 2 Red Maple (yellow)

I don’t think it’s physically possible for all of these to fit into my yard, but a few will. The Dogwood will be the easy choice—it is mildly shade tolerant, a good thing in my yard, and a smaller, understory type of tree. Probably will end up in a garden.

I also have a soft spot for the Sweetgum, since I don’t have that kind of tree.

As for the others, at least they are supposed to be colorful in the fall. I think I can fit one in my upper back yard, and maybe one or two can shoulder their way into the forest stand that is my lower yard.

The rest will be up for grabs and probably will become deer salad. The Hawthorn is excluded from the yard—the backyard is a play area for grandkids, no thorny trees (besides the spruce) welcome, and I already have a Hawthorn in the front yard, no room for two. Any three of which there are two automatically has a spare.

Of course, this is jumping the gun. It remains to be seen how many trees will be alive in May when planting will occur.

The last time I got 10 Arbor Day trees, zero survived. I put then in planters outside, a bad move. This time, I’m giving the sticks an early spring by planting them inside. Last time I took that approach, I think a majority of the trees did survive.

So we’ll see. Spring seems to be starting for these young trees, the start of a long first year since spring is coming in December. I checked this morning, and a few buds look like they are just starting to swell.

Yay spring! Yay trees!


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Time to Spruce up the World?


An undisclosed location. Two of three spruces ended up in the woods behind the fence. This one might be somewhere else. If asked, I can honestly say it was a conspiracy that also involved Ben.

Well, there are still 10 trees lurking out there in the world, supposed to be on their way from the Arbor Day Foundation—heaven knows what I’ll do with them when I get them.

In the meantime, the real reason Audrey joined the Foundation again and got her free trees is so she could purchase 50 white spruce trees at a discount for school children in Monticello. One of her classes did an environmental service project with several grades at Sacred Heart School, and each student received a spruce tree to plant.

There were 47 students. Teachers also wanted a tree each, but apparently the Arbor Day Foundation was playing it safe, and the bundle of 50 must have had more than 50, since there were still three trees left over.

It was cool and rainy today, and may snow tonight. We are in a transition from a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving to early winter, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s. It might flurry tonight.

The trees are dormant, and the instructions are to plant as soon as possible, so I put the three spruce in the ground today. They are also supposed to taste good to deer, so I caged them to give them a chance.

Too much to do and school is about to start for the final end-of-semester frenzy. I have oodles to work on, so it’s a good thing this is not a busy gardening time. But, I always feel better when I’ve dropped some trees in the ground—it’s such a hopeful gesture.

Sleep little spruce, and when spring comes around, wake up and grow. I hope most of the kids in Monticello found a good spot for their spruce twigs, too.

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