Growing Berries in the Backyard

Berries are my favorite addition to the production garden – they are the perfect topping for ice cream and yogurt and make delicious pies! But they can be expensive to source from the grocery store and certain types are nearly impossible to find. Why not grow your own? Many types of raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and currants are adaptable to Kansas, flourishing under the right conditions. If you don’t have space to create a vegetable garden, no worries – berry plants can mix into the perennial borders and become a productive (and delicious!) part of your landscape for you and for the wildlife.

Raspberries

Rubus idaeus, red raspberries, got their initialized name from Mt. Ida in Turkey, where the citizens of ancient Troy dined on them. Since that time they have spread throughout the world because of their sweetness and adaptability. These delicious little morsels do not naturally flourish in the harsh Kansas climate, but with a little human attention they can produce a summer full of fruit for you.

Wild red raspberries. Photo by mako from Kangasala, Suomi (Finland) (wild raspberries) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Plant your canes in a spot with full sun (some shade acceptable during the hot hours) and good drainage. Protection from the hot south wind will ensure it doesn’t scorch in our blistering summer. ‘Heritage’ variety red raspberry has a reputation for bountiful crops and first year success. It is everbearing, meaning that it produces two crops – one in mid-July and another in September. ‘Fall Gold’ yellow raspberry also bears two harvests: in fall and then the following spring on the same canes. Gardeners love its unique color and light flavor. Some raspberries are self-supporting, but most benefit from some type of staking.

Currants and Gooseberries

Currants and gooseberries are part of the Ribes genus, some of which are native to Kansas. Ribes ordoratum (golden currant) is commonly found in thickets and near streams, bearing delicious wild fruit great for canning. These wild types can be grown in the landscape for their berries, wildlife appeal and ornamental value. I discovered cultivated red currants while traveling in France; they are a staple of a French breakfast table, irresistible in jams and sauces. ‘Red Lake’ is a type that grows well here in Kansas, with bountiful bunches of marble-sized red berries. Plant in neutral pH soil and don’t keep their feet wet for extended periods of time.

Red currants ripe for the piking! Photo by Idalia Skalska (http://idalia.pl/) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The greenish-pink gooseberries sport characteristic veins/stripes and a sour taste. Photo by Nadiatalent (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gooseberries are very hardy, long-lived and have a bramble-type habit. Thorny and thick, they make a great border plant. The berries have light colored ‘veins’ showing through their translucent skin. With a tart, rubarb-esque flavor they go well as a crumble topping or baked into pies and meat sauces.

Strawberries

Everybody’s favorite mid-summer treat, strawberries, are easy to establish and spread via runners to increase yields year after year. A raised bed is a common way to grow strawberries, helping with weed management and containment. A layer of straw or mulch around new plants will aide in retaining soil moisture. If you have no room for a raised bed area, don’t fret! Strawberries are happy to live in the perennial garden and crawl around the bases of taller plants – they will behave as a ground cover (suppressing weeds!) and benefit from the light shade cast by the flowers above them. Some varieties are bred specifically to grow in a patio pot and produce vigorously. ‘Tristan’ and ‘Ruby Ann’ are examples of this type. They always provide me with a midday snack in the greenhouse!

Serviceberry (left) and Elderberry (right) in bloom. From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sambucus_nigra-Busch.jpg and By peganum from Small Dole, England (Amelanchier x grandiflora Cole’s Select) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Elderberries, Chokeberries, Serviceberries

Lesser known or wild-type berries are just as nutritious, but require less maintenance. These berries all taste best after some type of processing (cooking, freezing, juicing, etc). All three of the following berry-producers bear stunning white blooms and produce fruit with high nutritional content for your table or for the birds to enjoy!

  • Consider planting elderberry (Sambucus) shrubs in a drainage area or part of the yard that always floods – they will absorb excess water and create a wall of blooms in late spring.  Raw elderberries are bitter, but perform well in jams, wines, and home remedies. ‘Adams’ and ‘York’ are two types of elderberry we recommend for heavy fruit production.
  • Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a versatile and attractive shrub that bears high-antioxidant blackish berries in late summer. The berries have an astringent quality that makes the mouth pucker with that ‘dry wine’ feeling. Berries can be made into syrups and jams, or used in muffins. Five to six feet tall at maturity, they make a great screen or windbreak. Aronia ‘Viking’ is a nice variety that produces well and has high ornamental value. ‘Low Scape’ and ‘Hedger’ types for smaller spaces display blooms and attractive fall foliage but do not produce much fruit.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is native to the eastern-most regions of Kansas and can reach 20 feet tall in some locations. It makes an excellent specimen tree and produces fruit that taste much like blueberries. The berries ripen in mid-summer, earlier than most other berries. They can be eaten right off the tree, baked into pies or dried like raisins for preserving.

Growing berries can be fun and easy! Consider planting some edibles in your landscape as a part of your hedge or as a perennial ground cover. They will look great and taste even better. If you don’t have time to pick them for yourself, the wildlife will thank you for the extra sweet treat!

The Bees’ Needs: Garden Tips for Creating Habitat

Last month the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was added to the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This bumble bee use to roam the vast grasslands of the Midwest, sipping on endless nectar supplies of prairie wildflowers. But the land has changed, and with it a way of life for this little critter.

There are many factors contributing to population decline of this bumble bee and many other native bees – healthy prairies are harder and harder to find, urbanization gobbles up grassland nesting sites, agriculture employs potentially harmful pesticides and land management practices, and pathogens/fungal disease prey on their already weakened populations. What a nightmare for our flying friends!

Though these problems sound insurmountable, there are many things gardeners can do to help save these important insects from extinction.

Rusty patched bumble bee queen (Bombus affinis) – who couldn’t love that face?  Photo By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The namesake of the bee, a distinctive dark, rusty ‘patch’ on the its back. Queens do not have this marking. By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Flower Choice

When planning your garden, be sure to choose flowers that are useful and nutritious to bees. In this regard, all flowers are not equal and some are even deadly! Rhododendrons produce toxic nectar. Some exotic tropical plants (such as Heliconia, “false bird-of-paradise” or “lobster claw”) can be lethal to our North American bees as well.

Hybrid flowers can also pose a problem – they are bred for beauty and not nectar production, resulting in little usable nectar for visiting bees. If the flower has been so hybridized that its shape has been altered it may be impossible for a bee to reach the nectar. For example, ‘double flowers’ that do not occur naturally make it impossible for a bee’s tongue to reach past the inner petals. Be wary of using too many hybrids in your garden without doing some pollinator researching.

Click here for a list of native plants that are pollinator favorites. This link will allow you to choose your region and see native plants best for your area.

Plant for the Long Season

The rusty patched bumble bee is one of the first to break dormancy in spring and last to hibernate, which means we need to provide nectar sources for the sparse times. While there are many popular flowers blooming in mid-summer, the earliest parts of spring and latest parts of fall can be difficult times for bees to find nectar. Incorporating early blooming spring flowers as well as lingering fall bloomers will ensure the bees have food when they need it most.

Early Spring Bloomers: Baptisia australis, Dodecatheon meadia, Hammamelis virginica, Pulsatilla patens, Mertensia virginica, Lupinus perennis, Hellebores

Late Fall Bloomers: Salvia sp., Rudbeckia triloba, Echinacea, Aster novea-anglea, Aster oblongifolius, Solidago sp. 

To enhance the mid-summer buzz in your garden, consider Monarda fistulosa, Silphium perfoliatum, and Liatris spicata/Liatris punctata.

Many of these plants are available at our spring and fall FloraKansas native plant sales here at the Arboretum. If you don’t have a perennial garden, here is a list of popular annual plants that bees love!

Bumblebee (probably Bombus terrestris) collecting pollen from Senecio elegans flower. Wellington, New Zealand. I, Tony Wills [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Nesting Habitat

Bumble bees need safe places to nest and overwinter. Skip the fall raking and mowing in a part of the yard to provide protected area close to the ground. Leave your grasses and flower stems standing all winter to provide protected hollows and nooks for bees to hibernate in. Many types of bumble bee like to nest underground in abandoned rodent dens or other areas of undisturbed soil, so be sure to leave an area of the garden untilled.

The Midwest is no longer a giant grassland pollinator paradise, and the bees need our help to ensure that they get the food and shelter they need to carry on. Every garden counts!

Click here for more information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about what you can do to help save the rusty patched bumble bee!

 

Needy Seeds: How to Germinate Prairie Species

January and February can be dull months for a gardener. When the north wind whips and the drizzle freezes, spring seems a lifetime away. But here at the Arboretum these cold months are a busy time for seed treatment. Seeds we’ve collected and ordered are prepared according to their species-specific needs.

Photo from Dyck Arb

Seeds collected for the Prairie Window project being cleaned and sorted

Stratification

There are many specific types of stratification: warm-moist, cold-dry, cold-moist, water-soak, etc. Many prairie wildflower species require a cold-moist stratification period, a sort of “man-made winter”. Seeds are amazingly self governing, with built-in mechanisms to prevent germination until conditions are suitable. For species that have spent thousands of years adapting to the Great Plains, this means reading and reacting to seasons: long, cold, moist winter gives way to spring. Aha, time to sprout! It is the stratifyer’s job to convince the seed that winter has come and gone.

Cold stratification involves

  • first, mixing the seeds with media (sterile soil, sand, sphagnum moss, vermiculite)
  • wetting it slightly (too much moisture and the seeds will rot, too dry and they won’t germinate)
  • then storing in a refrigerator for a specified length of time

Each species is a little different – some need 60 days of cold, some need 120, and some just 10. Be sure to look up the requirements of each species if you are stratifying your favorites at home.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds waiting to catch a breeze. 30 days of cold, moist stratification is all you need to germinate them for yourself.
Photo from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMilkweed-in-seed.jpg

Scarification

Scarification is any process that weakens the seed coat, purposely making it more permeable to gases and water that trigger germination. In the wild, these seeds would only sprout after many years of freezing and thawing, or perhaps after being passed through the digestive tract of a seed eating animal. If you want to germinate tough-coated seeds for your own garden (and you don’t have the digestive tract of a bird) then you will need to simulate nature’s scarification processes. This is done by nicking seeds with a knife or rubbing with sand paper. Seeds naturally activated by wildfire may need to be treated with nearly-boiling water. Some seeds perform best after an acid bath! Every seed is unique.

Line drawing of prairie seeds by Lorna Harder. This is the featured graphic on our “Prairie Restoration” informational sign on the Arboretum grounds.

Fall Sowing Alternative

Fall sowing is often less work intensive than manual seed treatment. Let mother nature do the work of breaking the seed coat by sowing your seeds in late fall. The cycles of freezing and thawing mixed with intermittent winter moisture will produce much the same effect as the previously mentioned methods. But be patient – some seeds may take several years to germinate this way.

If you are looking for high quality native seed, Prairie Moon Nursery is a good source.

To find species-specific information on seed treatment, check out Growing Native Wildflowers by Dwight Platt and Lorna Harder, available in our gift shop.

 

Christmas Lights – Tips and Tricks

Christmas lights make this time of year festive and bright… but oh so frustrating! Here at the Arboretum we put up thousands of lights every year in preparation for our annual Luminary Walk. We put them on the buildings, string them in the grass and hang them in trees. We know a thing or two about the misery those little twinkle lights can bring. Impossible to fix and eternally tangled, and how do you store them for next year so they don’t drive you crazy all over again?

Cartoon by Mark Parisi – more Christmas funnies at https://www.offthemark.com/

Fear not, Christmas merrymakers! Here are a few tips to keep you from turning into a Christmas light scrooge.

Invest in the Right Tools

When light strands go on the fritz, there is no sense in wiggling every single bulb to see which is the troublemaker. That is the way of the past! If you, like me, have A LOT of lights to fiddle with, the best way to handle it is with a LightKeeper tool. This is what we use here to diagnose our strands of lights. It has a fuse/bulb/socket tester and current detector. Usually sold for about $20, it can save you a lot of time and trouble, preventing you from throwing lights in the garbage out of exasperation. This is most useful for incandescent types and only ‘kinda-sorta’ works on LEDs.

Note: In general LED lights seem to have less problems than the older style incandescent and the bulbs break much less often because they are plastic instead of glass. If you buying new, buy LED – less fixing and less energy usage.

Step by step, this is how I doctor our mini-incandescent Christmas lights:

  1. First look for obvious broken bulbs somewhere within in the section that isn’t working. Broken bulbs can disrupt the current.
  2. Inspect for chewed/broken wires (see next paragraph regarding rodents)
  3. Use LightKeeper tool to detect where the current stops — locate the problem area and test a few of those bulbs and sockets to find which one is burnt out/stopping current.

Step 3 is where you will spend most of your time, but what a feeling when it all finally lights up – you become Master of the Lights!

Me and my LightKeeper tool. If you want to be this happy, find a light fixing tool that works for you! Perhaps they will hire me for an infomercial….

Never Underestimate Your Resident Rodents

If you store your Christmas lights in an attic, garage, or shed, you may have rodent problems. These green and white wires are irresistible to little nibbling creatures – mice, rats, squirrels and bunnies. Even after you put them outside on your roof and shrubs you are still vulnerable to those maniacal munchers. You can change every bulb in that strand of lights but if a mouse or rabbit has chewed through one of the wires, no go! Before giving up on a particularly stubborn set of lights, run the entire length of it through your hands (unplugged) and check for any exposed wires that might be causing the issue. It can be easily fixed by stripping the plastic off the wire and twisting them back together with a wire nut from the local hardware store.

These are the wooden spools we use to keep our lights detangled and damage-free while in storage.

Take a Break and Dry Out

If your lights quit working in the wet weather, don’t force it. Many of our older sets of lights act up in sleet and slush, probably due to loose bulbs allowing minuscule amounts of moisture into the connections. It can also be caused by a weak spot in the extension cords exposed to wet conditions and tripping your safety functions at the outlet. The best option here is to let the lights and cords dry out and get back to fixing them when you actually have a chance!

Smart Storage

All the work you did this year will be for not if you don’t store your lights properly! Organization is the name of the game. Broken bulbs will result from over stacking or crunching. Tangles will re-form if you just throw them in boxes or roll them up without securing the loop. We have created a stand and roller system for neatly and carefully rolling up the our strings of lights.

For fewer lights you may consider wrapping them around a piece of cardboard/wood or around cylinders (coffee cans? giant spools?) for storage. We keep all our lights coiled and shelved for the off season, many sets labeled for their specific area so there is no guessing about what fits where next year.

One of our volunteers constructed a standing crank for us to spool the Christmas lights onto. Very handy and easy on my back!

I hope you all spend less time fixing your decorations and more time enjoying them. Merry Christmas friends, may it be bright!

 

 

Dogs at the Arboretum

Getting to be out and about on the Arboretum grounds every day is the best part of my job. I get to truly experience the weather and the change of seasons and to fellowship with our squirrels, turtles, spiders, and snakes (and this week, a opossum!). But best of all I get to greet our regular visitors as they make laps. We have quit a few hardy citizens who can be seen daily on our walking path, getting their dose of exercise at the Arboretum. I admire the fortitude of these walkers, joggers and scooters – but some of our most enthusiastic visitors are, of course, dogs.

Marty can always be spotted because of her bright pink harness

Marty can always be spotted because of her bright pink harness.

It’s a Dog-Sniff-Dog World

I am wholeheartedly a “dog person”. Big slobbery ones, little timid ones … I love ’em all! And it seems they love the Arboretum. We have a surprising amount of every-day dogs with very dedicated owners; on a good day at work I might get to pet 5 or 6 dogs before noon. Bugs to chase and hundreds of trees to sniff, it must be a dog paradise.

Sadie

Sadie

Gomez and DeeDee

Gomez and DeeDee, our favorite dachshunds

Safer than walking them along the street, the Arb is a walking oasis away from traffic. The cement paths help file their nails while they get their exercise, and they may even get to spot some geese landing in the pond or bunnies in the hedgerow.

Honey, sticking her tongue out at the camera

Honey, sticking her tongue out at the camera

The Rules

If you are walking your dog at the Arboretum, please be courteous to others who may not be as fond of dogs as I am and follow our doggie policies – Dogs MUST be on a leash at all times and kept under control. If your dog needs a place to run free, then we suggest a visit to the Hesston Dog Park or the Newton Dog Park. Also, you MUST clean up after your dog. We do not provide waste bags here, so be sure to bring one from home when you visit.

If you don’t pick it up, I will have to, and that diminishes my love for other people’s dogs just a little bit…

Missy the Shih Tzu

Missy the shih tzu

There are many more of my favorite Arboretum pooches that I couldn’t catch on camera – Comet the dalamation, Misty the schnauzer and Goldie the King Charles spaniel. I love that our doggie community is active and thriving and that these pups get to experience a bit of nature here at the Arboretum. If you plan to walk here regularly, consider getting a membership that helps fund our efforts to keep this place up-to-sniff for you and your dog. Admission is free with an annual membership (otherwise $2 per visit, which you can deposit at the donation pole along the path), and with it your pooch gets unlimited tummy scratches from the dog-crazy grounds manager.

Woodland Botany and Ozark Rocks

On my recent trip through eastern Kansas and the Ozarks, I encountered a plethora of native plant life. I was excited to see some of the woodland species we offer at our plant sale in situ.

My traveling companions may tire of me identifying familiar species, but that doesn’t stop me! Though much of our focus here at the Arboretum is aimed at prairie species, our native woodland landscapes in the far eastern part of the state are just as interesting and diverse. When driving east, those small wooded areas are just the introduction to the vast forests of the Ozarks up ahead.

A Woodland Ecosystem

Photo found at USDA plant database by Thomas G. Barnes, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Barnes, T.G., and S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky

Photo found at USDA plant database by Thomas G. Barnes, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Barnes, T.G., and S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky

Woodlands support a very different set of flora and fauna. Birds, deer, and groundhogs are active in these forests, filling their own forest feeding niche. Tall canopy trees, such as maple and oak, provide the shade and protection that all species beneath them require to flourish. While hiking I saw some of my favorite under story trees – pawpaws (Asimina trioloba) along the stream banks at Petit Jean State Park (AR), sassafrass (S. albidium) at Ha Ha Tonka State Park growing in a clearing. Beneath the under story layer creep the shade-loving late-season flowers like woodland aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolius, S. laevis) and certain goldenrods (Solidago caesia, Solidago ulmifolia). I was delighted to see them blooming away, attracting pollinators to take their last gulps of nectar before winter. Ferns were abundant in the lowest areas of the forest where water collects and dew settles – the resurrection fern seen below can bring itself “back to life” after being without water for 100 years!

 

Resurrection fern or little gray polypody (Pleopeltis polypodioides) – taken near the natural stone bridge at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

 

Rocks, Crags, “Karst”

Traveling home through forested northern Arkansas and far southeast Kansas instilled new appreciation for the bald, rolling hills of the prairie we encountered closer to home. The steep hills (or mountains, as the natives may call them) and rock formations create a unique, rugged landscape that slowly mellows as you move westward into Kansas. The rocky habitat hosts pines and cedars that seem to grow right out of the solid rock walls. The karst topography of Missouri and Arkansas was fascinating! The lay of the land creates seasonal streams and caverns, even underground lakes. These formations are in part due to the chemical make up of soft and hard of rock which dissolve at different rates over time.

 

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The view from Whitaker’s Point down into Hawksbill Crag near Boxley, Arkansas. It’s an hour hike up to this rock, and so worth it!

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Some fellow hikers were kind enough to take a picture of us on Whitaker point.

 

Though we may not consider forests symbolic of Kansas imagery, the easternmost part of our state is home to woodland habitats which form a sort of gateway to the Ozarks. I enjoyed my trip and wish I could enjoy shady hikes and rocky crags every weekend. Luckily, we feature many of the woodland species in this blog post at our plant sale – I can plant a woodland garden of my own to enjoy a bit of eastern habitat… without planning another vacation!

More Than Monarchs – All Pollinators Need Our Attention

Milkweed is always a sellout item at our plant sales. The plight of the monarch has caught the public’s attention as few conservation efforts ever have. It is encouraging to see citizens so galvanized behind an environmental cause!
But I wonder if by focusing on one favored butterfly we aren’t seeing the bigger picture – many pollinators are in trouble, not just the cute ones. Bees, beetles, flies, moths … numerous species are in frightening decline. Even the beloved firefly is struggling. These important critters contribute to our way of life through agriculture, science, and stabilization of food webs. It is going to take more than milkweeds to help bring back our pollinator populations. Following are links to organizations and reference information that can help you be effective in the fight against pollinator loss.

Pollinators Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Ants are pollinators, wasps are pollinators …beetles and midges and even bats! Butterflies may be the most flashy and charismatic pollinator, but let’s not make it a popularity contest. If you are interested in being part of the pollinator conservation movement, be sure your efforts include multiple pollinator species.  Click here for a slideshow of pollinator facts, or here to learn about the many different species of pollinators in Kansas.

Find this book by Heather Holm in our gift shop - plant and insect profiles to help you host a pollinator palloza!

Find this book by Heather Holm in our gift shop – plant and insect profiles to help you host a pollinator palloza!

Season Long Nectar is Critical

Variety is the spice of life! Try to plant several species of wildflowers with varying bloom times, providing nectar sources that stretch through the season. Different pollinator populations peak at various times through the warm months, so provide for them by having a long blooming garden. Early spring and late fall flowers can help sustain migrating species in the difficult stages of their journey. Research from Cornell concerning east coast monarch migration suggests lack of late season nectar is more crucial to their success than milkweed. Help these insects get the energy they need all through year!

Host Plants that Work in Your Area

Want to nurse some larvae in your backyard? Find the host plants that cater to pollinators in your area. Milkweeds (Asclepias sp.) host monarch caterpillars, yes, but another plant to try is spicebush (Lindera benzoin) for the tiger swallowtail. Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium) hosts the borer moth (Papaipema eryngii), also a favorite of wasps. Do your research before you plant to ensure that your garden will be appealing to pollinators native to your region. This link has great information on how to create pollinator habitat in the Great Plains region. This one has planting guides for US ecoregions.

Tiger Swallotail By BLM Nevada (Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tiger Swallowtail, By BLM Nevada (Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Great golden digger wasp with sand wasp in background

“Great golden digger wasp with sand wasp in background” on a rattlesnake master flower. Image from North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Team Up With The Little Guys

We have all heard of organizations that rescue cats and dogs or save pandas from poaching. But who is looking out for the little guys? There are some wonderful organizations fighting to protect threatened species of insects and other invertebrates. Consider giving your time, talents or money to these organizations to help them carry out conservation projects. Check out their websites for helpful resources.
The Xerces Society “is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.” They have ongoing programs for butterfly and pollinator conservation. Monarch Watch is a nonprofit that focuses on education and conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly, based at the University of Kansas.
Pollinator Partnership is “dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.”

As you continue to create monarch weigh stations with proud stands of milkweed, remember that there are lots of other less popular pollinators that need our care and concern. Wasps, bees, ants and beetles may not be as beautiful as butterflies, but they too contribute to the balance of our ecosystem.

Trees For the Kansas Home

At last year’s fall plant sale I convinced my father to plant some oak trees around his house where older shade trees are nearing the end of their lives. I told him to think ahead ten years: when the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) in the front yard finally dies, won’t he wish that he had a head start on growing the next shade tree nearby? And wouldn’t it be nice to start a row of trees near his workshop to block the hot west sun? Of course! He ended up choosing a few Shumard oaks (Quercus shumardii) which have done well for him and are off to a great start.

These trees were an investment in the future of his property ownership – well placed trees can save you money on heating and cooling your home and offer protection to your roof and siding from the sun’s damaging rays. Are there parts of your yard that need a shade tree? Or perhaps you have a tree that will need replacing in the near future?

Do your research and find the perfect tree for your needs, practical and aesthetic. Following are some of my favorites from the upcoming sale, but a full list is available here.

Fruiters

If you want to add a fruiting tree to your landscape, consider a Kansas native. PawPaw (Asimina triloba) and Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are both delicious and underused native fruits. Both are small to medium sized trees when mature (20 to 40 feet tall) and grow well in moist to medium-dry environments.

Persimmon (left) and PawPaw (right) both produce delicious fruit.

Persimmon (left) and PawPaw (right) both produce delicious fruit.

Understory

Sassafras albidium is the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Sassafras albidium is the host plant for the
spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

If you already have some large shade trees and want to add canopy layers, consider an under story tree that thrives in the dappled sunlight and protection of larger trees nearby.  Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidium) have unique foliage, showy spring flowers and all parts of the plant have a pleasant smell. Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus) is known for it’s intense fall color and often grows in a shrubby form.

Flowering

There are lots of showy flowering trees to choose from, but we carry a few particularly unique options. Hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) has cream colored shrimp shaped flowers, seen below. Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) trees have pendulous white blooms and bright golden fall color.

Blooms of hop hornbeam and yellowwood trees.

Blooms of hop hornbeam and yellowwood trees.

Shade

Big sturdy shade trees are a good choice for a homeowner looking to reduce their electricity bills and protect their home from the elements. Black oak (Quercus velutina) and American Chestnut (Castenea dentata) both grow upwards of 60 feet tall and both produce nuts that provide winter food for wildlife.

Planting a tree is a satisfying task — it is an investment in the years to come, the hope of growth and newness. A mature tree can even raise the market value of your home! Tree coupons for the fall plant sale (September  9 – 11) will be available soon on our website. Hope to see you at our upcoming sale, carting away a tree of your own.

Photos from wikimedia comons, attributed to: Asit K. Ghosh Thaumaturgist (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hophornbeam by Eric Hunt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cladrastus bloom Elektryczne jabłko (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Weed By Any Other Name

Here at the Dyck Arboretum it can be a tricky task deciding what is a weed to be pulled and what should be allowed to grow on. Many of our beloved volunteers look to me for guidance when they encounter a plant that looks out of place. What is a weed here?

Many wonderful prairie plants carry the misnomer of “weed”, such as butterfly weed, iron weed, and milkweed. These are plants that may or may not need to be pulled, depending on where they are located. I consider a few factors: does the plant belong here or fit the theme of that garden bed? Is it annual or perennial?  Will it become invasive? Is it part of a plant family that is notorious for colonizing? …and so on. Weeding will become less of a guessing game when you learn to identify some native species and  particularly those nasty exotics.

While the name ‘milkweed’ might cause you to shun this plant for your garden, think before you pull! In the right area, milkweeds may be a perfect addition. They will bloom for several weeks and add a bit of important monarch habitat to your backyard. Photos from Dyck Arboretum.

 

“Where do they come from and how can I beat them?”

Just when you think you have weeded every last square inch of your garden, here they come again.  The seed bank – dormant seed that exists in the top soil – will continue to produce more weeds as long as conditions are favorable. Seeds can lay dormant in the soil for long periods of time, waiting for adequate moisture and light levels. Bindweed seed can remain viable in the soil for up to 50 years! The seed bank is created by last year’s mature weed seeds, bird droppings, hay/manure used for mulching, and seeds carried on the wind. The good news? With regular weeding and mindful practices you will decrease your weed seed bank every year. That means pulling weeds before they seed, using carefully sourced mulch material, and disturbing the soil as infrequently as possible to reduce the amount of dormant seeds awakened by light and oxygen.

Some weeds are obvious

Bindweed with it’s morning glory bloom, Siberian Elm saplings with their small serrated leaves, and prostrate spurge with its circular, flat habit all send up the red flag. These kinds of plants look out of place right away because they lack charisma and often grow in inhospitable areas. (i.e. in driveway cracks and gravel, climbing up stems of other plants).

Some weeds are ambiguous

Virginia creeper vine seems to crop up everywhere, and are very decorative if left to grow in a good spot. But they can also be aggressive when not trimmed regularly. Similarly, a mulberry sprout (which tend to come up just about everywhere a bird flies over), could be left to grow into a nice fruiting tree if you are prepared for the berry-mess and seed spread. Plants like ironweed and Illinois bundleflower seem to pop up everywhere and, though they can be aggressive spreaders, they are also quite attractive.

Ironweed (Vernonia sp.) may at first appear as an intruder, but it produces a colorful, longlasting bloom and is a favorite of swallowtails and many species of bees.

Ironweed (Vernonia sp.) may at first appear as an intruder, but it produces a long lasting bloom and is visited by many species of bees. Photo from Dyck Arboretum.

Some weeds are not weeds at all

I always advocate for leaving milkweed in the garden as habitat for monarchs. Lucky you if a few come up!  Other species like purple poppy mallow and wild petunia that may appear weedy at first actually make well behaved native specimens. These species bloom all summer long and are extremely drought tolerant.

 

While you pull and pluck away at the weeds in the garden, remember the wise words of the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox – “A weed is but an unloved flower”. Although weeding is the tedious task all of us gardeners must endure, you can make it easier and more productive by knowing the difference between potential friend and foe.

 

 

A Tale of 3 Prairies

In the past few weeks I have had the good fortune to visit several different prairies, each under different circumstances, all of them delightful in their own way. Here’s a tale of 3 prairies for you, in hopes you become inspired to visit these places as well!

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

Webster Co., Nebraska

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie near Red Cloud, NE.

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie near Red Cloud, NE.

I had just finished up the last few pages of Cather’s well-loved novel My Antonia as we rolled into the city of Red Cloud. A friend and I made a day trip to Webster County to take in the sights and sounds of Cather’s world, including this prairie just west of town which may have been the inspiration for some of her famous descriptions of plains life. If you are a lover of the prairie, you need to put Willa Cather’s work on your reading list immediately, then scurry up to Nebraska and tour her hometown, Red Cloud, (renamed “Black Hawk” in My Antonia) which is also the home of the Willa Cather Foundation. There you can have a personalized tour of her childhood home, church, and neighborhood along with the opera house and historic bank building, all still in turn of the century style. While hiking in her short, windy memorial prairie I saw lots of familiar species – silver sage (Artemisia ludoviciana), purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) and little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium).

 

Tall Grass Prairie

Chase Co., Kansas

View west from our seats. Who would want to watch the musicians when you can gaze at this?

View west from our seats. Who would want to watch the musicians when you can gaze at this?

We were far from the stage but we could hear them perfectly!

We were far from the stage but we could hear them perfectly!

I wasn’t planning on going to the Symphony in the Flint Hills, but through the kindness of an acquaintance two tickets fell into my lap, free of charge. So with lawn chairs in tow my date and I headed out to a pasture near Clements, KS in Chase county. There was delicious BBQ to be had and an art gallery and information tent to peruse before and after the concert. The music was provided by the Kansas City Symphony; gorgeous selections were wonderfully preformed, including American folk tunes and well known tracks from Dances With Wolves and Indiana Jones. Top it all off with a live cattle drive on the hill behind the stage and the music bouncing off the hills around you, it was the perfect afternoon. The weather even cooperated – I never broke a sweat! The prairie was looking lush from recent rains; I couldn’t help but geek out on the species I recognized on the 3/4 mile walk back to the car – blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and spider milkweed (Asclepias viridis). Save up some cash and treat yourself to this art-filled prairie experience next year!

Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

McPherson Co., Kansas

During the EPS week here at the Arboretum, I had the privilege of chauffeuring some of the participants on their field trip to Maxwell Wildlife Preserve. A good day at work, to be sure! It’s a beautiful expanse of preserved prairie that is home to Elk and Bison.

View near the Maxwell observation tower.

View near the Maxwell observation tower.

The walled trailer we were riding on let us get extremely close to the bison without the danger. Incredible viewing!

The walled trailer we were riding on let us get extremely close to the bison without the danger. Incredible viewing!

There were too many calves to count, perfect timing for our group.

Calf and mother stick close together.

The tour guides were charismatic and knowledgeable, providing a history of the refuge and a natural history of the land. The prairie there is healthy and diverse, giving us a look at butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), lead plant (Amorpha canacens), goats rue (Tepherosia virginiana) and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium).

Each prairie region has its own unique charms, from thick tall grass areas in the east to short and scrubby land in the west – Carve out some time this summer to visit and compare!