Six On Saturday: For the Love of Trees

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis, glows against white dogwood flowers and emerging green leaves on nearby trees.

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In youth we plant annuals.  By middle age fill our gardens with perennials.  As we grow more keenly aware of passing time we turn to trees.  There is comfort in trees, and economy.  A single flowering tree can bear hundreds, thousands of flowers all opening over a few fleeting days.

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Magnolia liliflora holds elegant pink flowers against a backdrop of white dogwood blossoms.  Our several trees were young saplings when we came to this garden, left by the previous owner.   Now each has grown into a magnificent, flower covered tree.

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I’ve been very focused on trees lately.  I took an intensive three month Tree Steward course this winter, which has given me new tools to observe, identify and appreciate a wider variety of trees.   I’ve learned more about what trees need to thrive and how they grow.  I’ve been planting tree seeds, rooting cuttings of twigs, and watching for emerging volunteer seedlings of desirable trees.

It sounds trite to say that, ‘trees are a gift of nature.’  We can all acknowledge this, particularly when we pause to think of their many environmental benefits.  Trees hold the earth against erosion, help process excess ground water after a heavy rain, filter pollutants out of the air and refresh it with fresh oxygen.  They provide shade on hot sunny days, offer privacy, and improve the soil.  Trees feed and shelter birds, butterflies and many other insects.  Many also provide food and medicines for us.  So many benefits from these incredible plants!

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Our friends at Homestead Garden Center gave me this hybrid redbud tree one cold November day, when it was maybe 10″ tall. I grew it in a pot with spring bulbs for a season, and then moved it to its permanent spot on a hill in our back garden.  This is its first spring to bloom.

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But many of our trees quite literally are gifts.    They either were handed to us by a friend, while quite small and growing in a pot, or they have popped up in the garden where their seed was dropped by a bird or squirrel.  How exciting to find a desirable tree growing in the garden where it can live for decades to come.

A few years ago I was searching for native holly, Ilex opaca, through all of the local nurseries.  I wanted some for a project I was working on at the time and absolutely couldn’t find a single one for sale.  I ended up buying six hybrid hollies instead.

But this winter, I was out walking in our garden and noticed holly seedlings literally everywhere!  If we allow all of these to grow, our garden will become a holly forest in just a few years.   We’ve found many seedlings of other favorite trees:  dogwood, redbud, Magnolia and oak.   Who needs to hire a landscaper or shop the garden center when nature provides the perfect trees for our site?

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Our neighbor helped us dig this beautiful Magnolia grandiflora out of his yard one summer after we lost many backyard trees to a storm.  It was a little seedling of his own Magnolia, and is now growing into its beauty. I’m hoping for flowers one summer soon.  Southern Magnolias once only grew as far north as the Carolina state line.  Now, they have naturalized throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

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I’ve been propagating native trees this winter to sell through our local plant sales, to make natives available to people in our community who want them.  There are so many wildlife benefits to growing native plants, but they also grow very independently, without much fuss or care from the gardener.

I discovered that buying native tree species isn’t as easy as you might like.  Most garden centers and nurseries carry the latest and greatest hybrid ‘nativar,’ or ornamental from Asia.  Finding good, solid native Virginia trees commercially is a challenge.  And so I’m hoping to fill that niche and increase interest in native trees within my own community.  Our plant sales have been rescheduled from April and May to October, but that just gives these baby trees a bit longer to grow.

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This native red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, volunteered in our yard. It was broken to the ground in our 2013 storm, and has regrown from its roots. It is spectacular in bloom, and attracts many pollinators to its beautiful red flowers. Sometimes, the hummingbirds return early enough to enjoy it.  Like the Magnolia, the buckeye was once native to our south, but has naturalized further north in recent years.

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Have you planted a tree lately?  I grow trees in pots as well as in the ground.  Whey they outgrow their pots, I often transplant them into the garden.  But one can just get a larger pot, or begin to prune their roots and keep them small.

At the moment, I have a few acorns just emerging in paper cups.  I’ll soon tear the bottom of the cup a bit to make easy passage for their roots, and plant the tree, still in its cup, into a gallon pot and grow it on.

For the love of trees leads one to want to share them, as well as propagate and nurture them.  Trees make superb garden companions; constant, patient, easy to live with, and always surprising us with something new.

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I dug these two red maples from my parents yard when they were tiny seedlings, and grew them in pots on the deck for several years before planting them out into the garden. Deer will nibble young maples, so it is wise to protect them until they mature.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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An easy way to root hardwood cuttings over winter is to simply trim them and stick them in a potted plant outdoors.   By mid-spring, most will have enough roots to support some leaves.  The nearest cutting is of the red buckeye, and will soon be potted up and offered at our autumn plant sale.

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations: Walking In Beauty Every Day

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

11 responses to “Six On Saturday: For the Love of Trees

  1. Wonderful post. I am presently looking for some trees to go along my fence in a small yard for privacy. Any suggestions?

    • Geri, where do you live, and would the new trees be growing in full sun or part sun? Do you want flowers or fruit? And most importantly, would you prefer an evergreen tree or one that loses its leaves in the fall? Thank you for the kind words, ❤ WG

      • I live in Branson, Missouri. No fruit. Definitely evergreen. It would be full sun in my backyard.

        • Dear Geri,

          My apologies for taking so long to answer you. I believe you need plants hardy to Zone 5, possibly Zone 6 depending on what sort of sun and shelter are available in the spot you want to plant. I am in Zone 7b, so many of the evergreen trees that come immediately to mind for me probably wouldn’t survive your winter.

          You will likely find some varieties of Camellia japonica (spring blooming Camellia) that can survive your winter. The trees are beautiful year round, with glossy evergreen leaves, and then they give spring flowers in shades of red, white or pink. You might also look at varieties of holly. Ilex glabra is hardy to Zone 3 and has a finer texture foliage, much like a boxwood. It has insignificant blooms and female shrubs develop dark purple or black berries that the birds enjoy. If you are looking more for conifers, you will find nice selections of Thuja occidentalis. I hope that you find something that works for your situation. Best wishes,
          WG

  2. Heck, when I was a kid, I went straight for trees. I have always planted trees, as well as annuals of course. The trees I plant now will not be big enough for me to enjoy during my lifetime though.

    • But others will enjoy them, and you get to watch them grow 😎 Take care, Tony

      • Oh, I know; just like I get to enjoy those that others planted a long time ago.

        • Yes- all those who planted the trees I love and admire have a special place in my heart!

          I gathered a pocketful of acorns from some old, evergreen oaks, growing in the Colonial part of town, in early January. I wondered whether any of the seeds were still viable. I have at least one seedling, and am so pleased to help these trees carry on.

          • Most of the viable ones get taken by squirrels. However, I know that our oaks produce an overwhelming volume of acorns every few years so that they squirrels can not possibly eat or even stash all of them, but then resume their normal rate of production afterward, so that they do not sustain too many squirrels.

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