Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Definitions Regarding Exposure

A visitor to our website asked to have clarification of our terms regarding light shade, part shade and part sun. I can see how a person could be confused. So I thought I would put the info here. It is a complex subject, but I will give it a try. 

Light shade: dappled light, such as comes through tree leaves

Part shade: shade for a good part of the day, but not all day

Part sun: receives direct sun, about 4-6 hr a day

Full sun: 6 hr of sun a day

But there is one more important factor and that is WHEN the sun is shining. If a plant receives 6 hrs of sun from 3pm until 9pm, that does not count for much, as the sun at that time is considered to not be as strong as it is at midday, from 9am to 3pm or 10am to 4pm.

Also, sun from 6am to noon is kinder than sun from 3 to 9pm because the air is cooler. So some shade plants can often take full sun (6 hr) if it is in the very early morning (east side of the house) but not during mid day, or late afternoon.

Water also plays a role. There are lots of shade plants that can take more sun, as long as they get lots of water.

After I sent this to Neils he replied "It reminds me of the understanding the all the terms the arctic aboriginals have about snow."  That sums it up rather well. They instictively understand snow, and an experienced gardener understands shade. But both are confusing to the beginner.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Starting Willow Cuttings in Paper Pots

Recently we received this wonderful information and photo from one of our customers. I asked her if I could share it on this blog.
"Last year I received willow starts from you on 4/5, kept them in the refrigerator until 4/16 when I set them up to root in vermiculite. "
"I made paper tubes of newspaper, filled with plain vermiculite, one willow stick in each tube, grouped the tubes into large plastic pots to hold them upright and keep them wet."
"It was June 7 when I was ready to plant the willows. So 7 weeks rooting in vermiculite, about 4 weeks in the house and 3 weeks outdoors in shade. This method is a good way to insure strong root development, especially if you expect a delay in planting and might miss the moist soil of early Spring."
"I usually leave the newspaper tube on when putting the plant into the soil. They're just a couple layers of paper and ready to decompose, falling apart by 7 weeks old as these plants were held a bit long."
This is a picture of a poplar, but the willow cuttings did just as well
"Look at the beautiful plant! Admittedly this was one of the fullest. They are planted to make a coppice for crafting materials. Planted in a spot selected for it's location rather than it's soil quality, we did amend the soil with mushroom compost - I am a mushroom farmer- and applied several inches of mulch in the Fall. All but one plant grew."
"I have planted hundreds of trees and it is my greatest pleasure to see the trees growing and the small creatures that make use of them."

Rebecca Miller

Thanks Rebecca!
Note: We definitely recommend keeping the newspaper on when planting, as the roots are brittle and could easily be broken off when inserting a bare root willow into the planting hole.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Gorgeous Willow Stems

The temperature or climate or ? was particularly suited to producing good colour in the willow stems last summer and fall. I have not previously taken much note of the stems of S. fragilis Belgium Red (Crack willow), but their shiny red branches stood out in the block:
If S. fragilis Belgium Red is allowed to grow to full height, it will become a huge tree, with invasive roots. However if coppiced every year, or every other year, it will simply be a shrub, like any other shrub.

The beautiful leaves of S. pentandra (common name - Bay willow) are a standout, but I had not noticed the stems. Their bright rich olive green colour was unique in the willow block:

Compared with the straight up and down rods of most of the other willows S. sepulcralis 'Erythroflexuosa' (whew, what a mouthful!) looks like it must be from a different genus. This willow is great for screens or hedges (eg. keeping the deer out), giving a dense coverage with interesting branches all year round:

We have another curly willow, but it is much more erect as a coppiced plant. It too is a mouthful: S. babylonica var. pekinensis. It is related to the giant weeping willow, which is called S. babylonica. S. babylonica var. pekinensis (also known as Curly or Corkscrew willow) is much shorter and therefore has much less invasive roots:

The big surprise for me was to find that S. alba Chermesina (Redstem willow) was looking as colourful as S. alba Britzensis. Jim told me they were virtually identical, but I had not seen proof. However now I am a believer! The plant in the picture below is a very small one, at the edge, where they weren't getting enough water:

I am going to have to get out into the field every year to see what other willows will surprise me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Visit to the Willow Block

I managed to get out to the willow block before they were all cut down. Its such a place of beauty when there is no colour elsewhere in the landscape. The favourite willow for winter colour is usually S. Hutchinsons Yellow, but this year S. Flame - yellow and S. Vitellina were all gorgeous. As I looked at each one I thought it must be the best, but once I stood back they all looked equally sensational.

I thought you might be interested in a comparison of the three yellow stemmed willows:

S. Flame - yellow has many small branches, hence it will provide a denser screen, but the small branches make it not suitable for basketry. Golden-yellow base, changing to red at the tips.

S. rubens Hutchinsons Yellow is very reliable for sensational winter colour but usually has some branching, making it not as suitable for basketry. However this block had beautiful straight branchless rods. Most of the rod is a rich egg-yolk colour, but changes to reddish near the tips

S. alba Vitellina is also very reliable for winter colour, is quite tall, and has somewhat heavy rods for basketry. It also likes a lot of water, particularly if it is allowed to grow. If coppiced annually, its water demands are much less. The sun came out for a moment, so this photo really looks golden!

If S. alba Vitellina is allowed to grow to full height, it will become a huge tree, with invasive roots. However if coppiced every year, or every other year, it will simply be a shrub, like other shrub.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Cutting Back Grasses - Part 5

A list of the cool season grasses, the ones to cut back first:
  • Achnatherum - Spear grass
  • Arrhenatherum - Bulbous oat grass
  • Calamagrostis - Reed grass
  • Chasmanthium - Northern sea oats
  • Deschampsia - Tufted hair grass
  • Elymus
  • Festuca - Fescue
  • Koeleria
  • Molinia - Moor grass
  • Phalaris - Ribbon grass
  • Poa - Meadow grass
  • Scirpus - Bulrush
  • Sesleria - Moor grass
  • Stipa - Feather (reed) grass
See Cutting Back Grasses - Part One for more info.

Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses - Part 4

Warm season grasses will not be growing for awhile yet, at least not in most of North America. They require warm soil before they will show signs of life. More on this subject later.

So there isn't the same rush to get the tops trimmed off of these warm season grasses:
  • Andropogon - Big bluestem
  • Bouteloua - Blue grama
  • Imperata - Japanese blood grass
  • Miscanthus - Maiden grass
  • Panicum - Switch grass
  • Pennisetum - Fountain grass
  • Saccharum - Hardy pampas grass
  • Schizachyrium - Little bluestem
  • Sorghastrum - Indian grass
  • Sporobolus
All those listed above, except for Miscanthus and Saccharum, are probably easiest dealt with by using a bread knife, as mentioned in Cutting Back Grasses - Part 1. Cut them down to 3-4" above the crown.

I suggest that if the stems of Miscanthus and Saccharum are dry, that it can be quite easy to break them off. One spring when my back was sore, I pushed over a couple of stalks at a time with my foot, planted my left foot on the stalk to hold it down, about a foot from the plant's crown. With my right foot (and a fairly hard-toed shoe or boot) I kicked at the base of the stalk until it separated. This was surprisingly easy to do.

As mentioned on our website, the heavier grasses can be cut back with a hedge trimmer or a weed eater-type machine, using a blade rather than the nylon line.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cutting Back Grasses - Part 3

There are a few cool season grasses that are evergreen:
  • Helictotrichon - Blue oat grass - just comb through with your fingers to remove the dead leaves
  • Luzula - evergreen here, but if the tips look bad you can hold them straight up and give them a hair cut
  • Sesleria - evergreen for me, but does have some dead leaves in it, so I gave mine a haircut this year
  • Carex* - technically not a grass, but looks like one.
    • C. muskingumensis - don't be tempted to leave any green that might be showing. Cut down right back so that you have a sturdy plant when it starts to grow
    • C. flagellifera - I know it looks dead, but if the leaves don't pull out easily, just leave them be, because they are alive
    • C. caryophyllea - evergreen for me, or nearly so. I trim only if it looks bad. 
  • Juncus - evergreen for me, but depending on whether or not it looks ratty, I do or do not cut it back.
*Carex is a sedge. Jim wants everyone to know that he nearly killed some years ago, by cutting back too close to the crown. (Actually, its me who wants everyone to know that Jim is just as capable of killing plants as we are!). He did the same with Deschampsia.

So a crewcut is not necessary. Just give them a trim, as the new growth will soon hide any of the leftover dead foliage.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cutting Back Grasses - Part 2

I just got my first grass cut of the season. I should know better. After using bare hands to comb through the Helictotrichon (Blue oat grass) with no problem, I was cutting down a Miscanthus and must have been over-confident. I had a sturdy glove in my left hand, and the pruner in my glove-less right. That was where I made my mistake. Sure enough, one dried blade jumped out and got me.

So please learn from my mistake(s). Wear long sleeves and gloves when working around Miscanthus.

A tip regarding cutting back Miscanthus is to tie a couple of bungee cords around it before you start to cut. You want to keep all the stalks and leaves in a tight bundle. This makes it much easier to get rid of the mess later.....and a mess there will certainly be if you don't!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

We Have Started Shipping Already

Any of you who followed the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC, no doubt were aware of the extremely mild temperatures the area has experienced for the past few months. While we are over 500km east of Vancouver (300+ miles) we too have been very mild. Not much snow either.

However I do think it is more than fair, as winter started with a bang in October, with temps of -12C (10F) before the middle of the month!! That was about a week after it was +30C (86F)!!

With little snow cover and very cold temps in early December, we are hoping the plants are okay in the field.

The willows are being cut as I write this. Many rods and cuttings have already been shipped to those who are in milder climates (Zone 7 and warmer). Also plugs of grasses and some field divisions of cool season grasses.

If you are in Zone 5 or colder we will not ship to you before the end of this month.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses - Part 1

We are about a month ahead this year. The cool season grasses are already growing. So that meant that as soon as the Olympics were over I had to get outside and start cutting off the dead grass before I would be cutting off the tips of new growth.

The hand pruners were closest so I grabbed them. As I was working away I kept asking myself "Last year, didn't I discover something that was better than these things?" Once I developed a blister I knew I had to change tools.

So I grabbed a sickle. It was better, but I am quite sure it wasn't my "discovery" from last year. Then the light bulb went on. I am quite sure I used a saw! A pruning saw (has a curved blade). It was still too rough so it occurred to me that a knife with a finer serration would work even better.

So I grabbed our lowest-quality bread knife, and it was GREAT. It had a coarse serration. It helps if the weather is warm enough to work with bare hands, as its really hard to hold a bread knife handle if wearing large gloves!

My lengthy hedges of C. Karl Foerster and Overdam were done in no time! It also works very well for Deschampsia, Pennisetum, and all grasses with soft leaves. It does not work well for the heavy stalks of Miscanthus or Saccharum.

Check thrift stores for old bread knives. By the way, it also works particularly well for cutting off the soft wet leaves of Siberian iris, which doesn't respond well to any other method of removal that I have discovered.