Tag Archives: trees

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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Catalpa Saga Continues: Tree 2 Takes Over


The finished planting, backup Catalpa tree in yard. Red tub is for yard waste, blue bucket brought water, yellow trowel was the instrument of planting.

I planned to camp out last night—to test our tent and my camping abilities. With Audrey’s help, I managed to get the tent up and dozed there for a few hours.

Now it’s 5 a.m. and I’m writing a blog post.

Anyway, partly to get ready for the camping adventure, I did some yard work yesterday—it’s been a couple of week since I mowed in back, but the lawn is so shady and the weather has been so dry that it’s not very shaggy. Still, what with the impressive storm we had last week, there was a lot of wood on the ground, so raking and disposing of all the sticks before mowing took some time.

Also disposed of two dead trees—the plum in the southwest corner by the swing set, and the Catalpa at the east end of the lower yard.

The plum, a cheap Wal-Mart purchase, I didn’t care that much about, although I may plant an Ironwood in its place. The Catalpa I worked hard to germinate from a seed and accidently nuked with weed killer this summer, so yeah, I regretted its demise more. (The plum died last year of causes unknown, as far as I can tell, I’m totally innocent in its death.)

Mimi has offered a volunteer Catalpa from her yard, which is nice, but I’m not sure when or how I will collect. When I do, assuming Mimi’s tree is bigger and healthier, I’ll probably move Catalpa 2 behind the fence and have a new Catalpa 1, but we’ll see.

I am glad that Catalpa 2, the backup tree from a nearby garden, is still alive. It was also damaged in the infamous lawn spraying incident, but although its upper leaves were knocked off, the tree has re-sprouted and takes over as the new Catalpa 1. I moved it today from the garden into the designated Catalpa spot in my yard. Maybe it will bloom in 10 years, if it lives that long.

Here’s hoping!

New Catalpa

The new baby Catalpa, which had been the backup tree in my garden, moved to the yard. I think I got it's entire root intact in a ball of dirt, so it's got a good chance--mulched it and caged it to keep bunnies at bay after taking this photo.

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Tree of Hope is on the Way

My MMU trees

Trees that I'm growing in my office to transplant home--three thriving Ironwood, one dead crab apple and one crab apple with a new shoot.

Not just the promised Catalpa from my sister in Davenport—which I owe her an Iowa lily for—there is other good tree news to report.

I dug up some root sappers from crab apple trees near Warde Hall that I like, in the hopes of getting such a tree started in my own forest—formerly known as “backyard.”

As you can see, the crab apples did not fare as well as the Ironwoods that I also planted to be guarded and tended by office gnomes. But even though most of both crab apples died, one sent up a new shoot. Just about a week ago, I accidentally knocked that shoot off when closing my window, which I thought was the end of the root sappers.

Hope springs eternal. This photo is from this morning. Clearly, the crab apple tree root sapper is the Hillary Clinton campaign of the tree world—you may think it dead, but it keeps coming back. Lets hope the long-term prognosis for this little tree (which, unlike the Ironwoods that will likely go behind my fence, actually already has a designated spot in my backyard grove) is better than the campaign.

Gnomes, work your magic! Grow little tree, grow!

The crab apple

Closer look at baby crab apple. The full-sized tree has reddish leaves and is fairly large for a crab apple. three of them grown in a group near Warde Hall.

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What Kind of Movie is Your Tree?


A cardinal objects to invader. A scene from "Gone With the Wind."

The Gazette had a fine editorial this morning, extolling the virtues of trees on Arbor Day.

That put me in a treeish mood (Joy, I’ve coined another word for you, at least it looks like an adjective, I didn’t type “treely”). Not that it takes much to make me feel treely happy (that time I did). For no particular reason, I was also thinking about Hollywood, maybe to avoid thinking about royal weddings.

Most of the trees in my yard (there are several dozen) are still sleepy, just waking up, but I show some Arbor Day images here and note the tree’s movie genre or acting avatar. I don’t know why I love trees so much, except it’s such a strong urge that I can’t understand people who A) either don’t like trees or B) are picky about the trees they like.


A versatile actor, experienced, not flashy. John Reilly?

We had a young weeping willow in our yard, until it died, and a friend of one of our kids noted that was probably a good think because willows are “messy” trees. While he has a point, it was a totally pointless point. Sure, they drop branches—but they’re beautiful. It’s their job to look pretty and they do it well, it’s our job to clean up around them before we mow—and quit complaining about it, because if we look up we’ll see spreading yellow-green arches of branches that will give us transcendent joy.

Young Maple.

This is not John. John is 80 years old and 100 feet tall, this is a 5 year old maple, about 8 feet tall. In an ensemble cast with an older oak behind it. Meg Tilly in "The Big Chill."

If a willow were a movie, it would be whimsical and full of fun surprises. Sort of like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” A mature willow across the street from us in California had branches that formed a natural bench, which you had to climb to reach, but it was worth it. In my memory, it was 100 feet high, but I was only 4 feet high, so I suspect the bench was probably 8 feet off the ground.

Today, I was photographing the waking trees in my yard and thinking about their personalities and what kind of actor or movie each would be.

Wil Wheaton in "Stand by Me" is the baby oak in the foreground. Big oak in background is Richard Dreyfuss from the same movie.

The birch is a bit stuffy, entertaining but slow moving, not in any hurry. It’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The weeping cherry tree is flashy and exuberant, but not heavy on content. It’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The tulip is tall, a bit scary and yet, oddly entertaining. It’s the most recent “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Lord of the Rings?” Majestic, spectacular, larger than life? Oak or Walnut.


Hawthorn. It's cute, but watch out, it has thorns, too. Sigourney Weaver in "Alien."

Walnut, to me, is a defining tree. I love them. Many people hate them for the mess they make 3 weeks of the year. But for the other 49, they are ballerina trees, twisted in interesting shapes, with the most perfect foliage available in this climate, attractive clumps of narrow leaves that make dappled sunshine. They kill other plants so that they can dominate a region, and that’s one reason Audrey has won this fight—there are no walnut trees in our back yard. But still, you don’t find nicer looking trees year round than a native black walnut. Like LOR, it’s both gnarly and pretty at the same time.


Hmmm. A delicate character, beautiful but not long lived, this is Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge."

While not in our yard, many walnut trees have been planted by someone, some “Lord of the Rings” fan, in the woods behind our fence …

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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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