Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tree Rings

Our last winter storm (Feb 12th) just brought us a bunch of snow, but no damage to trees or structures.  That was not the case for the ice storm a just over a week before (Feb. 4-5).  Besides losing power for a couple of days we lost a number of trees in the surrounding woods.  Some were standing snags, but a number were live trees.  Also, a lot of branches fell out of the White Pines. 

While beautiful, the ice from this storm stuck to the trees and caused a lot of damage.

Last spring I used available branches
 to build tomato supports.
I've just started cleaning up the mess and am imagining what can be done with all this fallen trees and branches.  I have been setting aside some of the straighter pine limbs to use as vertical supports in the vegetable garden (tepees for beans and cucumbers and trellises for tomatoes).  I am leaving the pine boughs out now in hopes that the deer will eat them, rather than go after my Rhododendrons and Yews.

The Black Cherry with its scaly bark is on the left.
On the right is the Black Locust with deeply furrowed bark.
This Locust was more than 40' tall.
The main use for the fallen trees will be as firewood.  The fallen snags could be used this year, but the live trees will need to be cut and aged for at least a season to dry out.  One of the trees that came down was a  20-30 year old black cherry easily identified by its bark, the lenticels on the branches and the unpleasant  odor where the bark had been stripped off.  I needed to do a little reading to ID the other tree.  I assumed it was one of the many red oak trees here, but the branches had thorns on them. 

Thorns on Black Locust are paired up.  
That suggested some type of locust tree.  Turns out it is a Black (aka Yellow) Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia.  The bark is deeply furrowed and the smaller branches are armed with pairs of thorns.  The 'yellow' part of the common name became evident as I was using the chain saw.  The wood chips had a definite yellow color to them.

Black Locust is considered an invasive species in New England, but here in the Mountains of Maryland we are within its native range.  The trees are subject to wind throw (as happened here) and the wood is weak and brittle.  On the plus side it is very rot resistant, so the old branches could be good supports in the garden.  As the wood burns very hot,  it will also make good firewood.

This section of the truck was growing horizontally.  Note how far off-center the growth rings are.
The wood under the greater tension is more compact (top) compared to the bottom side.

This section taken from straight portion of the truck shows even growth.

As I sawed through the twisty parts of the upper leader I noticed how the growth rings were off center.  This reminded me of a talk given at New England Grows in 2012 by E. F. Gilman from the University of Florida on Advanced Pruning Strategies.  They had done studies on how different pruning methods would affect the mechanical stress on trees.  Check out this link to the work.  In that presentation he showed that wood under tension, known as reaction wood, has thicker cell walls and is denser than wood on the opposite side of a branch.  By comparison, the growth rings on the straight trunk are well centered and evenly sized.

Can you help me identify this tree?

I was not able to identify the dead tree that was knocked down.  It has light colored bark that is generally smooth, but cracked into smaller pieces.  The interior wood is evenly white and it was very easy to split. There were no smaller limbs remaining to see the branching pattern.  I welcome any suggestions as to what this might be.  I think there are additional specimens out there which I will check out once the snow melts.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

New Seeds for 2014

Since I have been focusing on buying more native perennials from local sources I have scaled back on the number of plants I am starting from seed.  I felt a little guilty about not starting any seeds, then remembered, what about native annuals.  There are quite a few annuals in the nursery trade with native parentage, but in general  finding seed for wild-type annuals can be a challenge. 

Most of the native-derived annuals are from the southern parts of North America, particularly the tropical regions.  The past few years I have mostly been using annuals with North American origins in pots on our deck.
Other than the Ivy Geraniums all these annuals have North American heritage:
Lantana camera, Melanopodium divaricatum, Zinnia 'Profusion' series, Salvia farinacea.

Last year I planted out some native annuals that are also found naturally in the Mid-Atlandtic region, Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegiodes) as well as some short lived perennials Rudbeckia hirta and Monarda punctata which I started from seed.  I will be watching to see if these will reseed successfully.  What I like about the indigenous annuals is that if they find suitable conditions, they will reseed and fill in gaps in the garden and add spontaneity to the landscape that is lacking with plants that only spread vegetatively.

My first choice is to plant regionally native annuals and biennials.  If suited to the site, these plants will naturally spread to fill open gaps between shrubs and perennials.  My second choice is to use visually appealing annuals from tropical North America like Zinnias and Cosmos, that have a low risk of spreading out of control.  Some of these may reseed in protected locations, but they are unlikely to escape into the wild.  I avoid using North American annuals from other regions (or any plants for that matter) with a high risk of spreading.  You can identify many of those on the USDA Plants database by checking under the 'Legal Status' tab for a given plant.  An example is that California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ) is listed as an invasive weed in Tennessee.  You can also check the Invasive Plant Atlas.

I've sorted my North American annuals for this year into two groups, those native to or naturalized in Maryland and those not found growing naturally in Maryland.

Native annuals found in Maryland
Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, is originally from the centrals plains but has escaped and is now found growing across most of the US.  It tolerates a range of soil conditions in full to part sunlight.  It is a good nectar source and is reportedly deer resistant!  The long blooming season (June-Sept.) of golden flowers with red centers makes it a good filler plant.  I have not grown this species before, but from what I've read it looks to be easy to grow. 

This Beach Sunflower grew to about 4 ft in a pot.
Beach Sunflower, Helianthus debilis 'Pan'  is native to coastal areas from Texas to North Carolina but has spread as far north as New England.  It would not be found growing naturally in mountainous part of Maryland where I am located.  This annual sunflower differs from the Common Sunflower (H. annuus) in that it is highly branched and, although the stems are long, at 5-7 feet, it tends bend over and weave into neighboring plants.  The branches are usually mottled with purple or white.  The flower is of the typical sunflower form, though smaller, measuring 2-4 inches across and blooming is from July into October.  It likes full sun and well drained soils.  As expected for the beach, this plant will tolerate salty soils.  It performed nicely for me in pots up in Boston.  This species likes warmer soil for germination which is more easily achieved in planter pots or a raised bed. 

These Sulfur Cosmos are competing
for space with some culinary mint.
Sulfur Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus  is native to Northern and Central Mexico where it is found in open areas along roads and rivers, in forest openings and pastures.  It has escaped cultivation in the United States and populations have been found from Texas to New York and Connecticut and in California.  This species is listed in as a pest plant in Tennessee and Florida.  In my experience in Boston, this species will reseed itself for a couple of years, then fade out unless some new plants are brought in.  What I like about this Cosmos is that it comes into bloom very early in the summer and that it does not flop over as bad as Garden Cosmos, C. bipinnatus.

After blooming the flowers of this Sneezeweed turn white
and disappear into the foliage. These did reseed
 into the pot the following year.
Sneezeweed, Helenium amarum 'Dakota Gold' grows to about a foot in height and is covered with self-cleaning yellow flowers from early summer to frost.  It is originally a native of the Ozarks but has spread throughout the southeast and as far to the northeast as Massachusetts.  It tolerates dry soils and is also resistant to deer.  When I tried these a few years ago I had excellent germination without any pretreatment of the seed.  The small size and intensity of bloom make this a good candidate for the front edge of a border.

The native ranges of these next two plants actually include the Mid-Atlantic region.

Adlumia blooms from late June to frost.  The shiny black seeds
are easily collected by shaking the dried flowers on the vine.
Allegheny Vine, Adlumia fungosa  is a biennial vine, native to mountain woods of the American East.  I have blogged about this plant in the past.  It's one of my favorites.  This is a true biennial, the first year is spent as a tight rosette of finely divided leaves.  The second year the vine climbs about 10 feet and it blooms with pale pink dangling heart-shaped flowers.  The vine is rather delicate so it needs support and not too much sun.  I have lost some due to the wind causing the plant to twist.  In its native state it often climbs over rocks, rather than scaling trees.  

Miami Mist, Phacelia purshii, is a winter annual that is native to Mid-Atlantic states and lower Mid-West.  It has small, fringed lavender-colored flowers that bloom in spring.  As a winter annual, it needs to get its start in the fall, as temperatures cool and moisture increases.  From what I have read, the seed should be exposed to warm summer temperatures to break the seed dormancy.  So I will direct sow some of these in June and also put some outside in small pots where I can keep an eye on them.  They overwinter as a rosette of leaves, then put forth a flowering stalk the following spring.

North American Annuals Not Hardy in Maryland
These last three plants have not been found growing in the wild in Maryland.

These Bluebonnets were growing at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.
I doubt I will have such good results in Maryland, but I'll try.
Texas Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis  is a Texas native and my wife's favorite flower.  I have tried these once before with limited success.  This is due at least in part to the very different growing conditions in the Northeast.  Besides soil composition, it takes much longer for the northern soils to warm up relative to Texas.  On doing a little more reading, I found that it is helpful to inoculate the seeds with the correct bacteria to help with nitrogen fixation.  I found that Prairie Moon Nursery offers a variety of  inoculum for different legumes in small packets at a reasonable price.  Also, the Bluebonnets are winter annuals, like the Phacelia above.  I will plant some seeds this spring, like regular annuals and I will hold some back for fall planting.  My concern is that our winters may be a bit too cold for them to survive.  Anyway, we have a little garden for Texas plants (south-facing, drier soils) and we'll see what happens. 

Spanish FlagIpomoea lobata, is an annual vine from Mexico that grows to 5-10 feet.  I found no records that show it to be self-sustaining in the contiguous US.  It produces racemes of tubular flowers in mid-to-late summer that change from red to orange and then white as they mature.  These flowers are favored by hummingbirds.  I've seen  this vine used to quickly cover a chain-link fence.  When starting from seed, scarification and presoaking in warm water is recommended.

Texas Sage blooms from late July to frost.
Texas or Hummingbird Sage, Salvia coccinea, is native to the southern states. But I've had it reseed in Boston for several years in protected locations. I've grown it successfully in both pots and in a raised bed.  I like the taller more open form of this red Salvia compared to the heavier dense blooms found on the commonly available annual Scarlet Sage, S. splendens.  

As I recall, bumble bees would get nectar by landing on the top of the flower and sticking their tongues into the calyx tube at the base of the flower.  It will be interesting to see how our hummingbirds approach this flower.