A Snip, Snip Here and a Sorry, Sorry There

I can’t believe I am espaliering fruit trees along our backyard fence, but there they are and so it is.

Just as I am bothered by animals in cages, the idea of tying a tree to a wall, whacking off most of its limbs and torturing its branches to bend in directions it would never naturally go on its own used to repulse me. Yet here I am doing it.

It gets worse.

I could say I am doing it because we have less than 7000 square feet which includes the house, garage, sidewalk and driveway, so growing space is at a premium. Espalier allows a gardener intent on growing as much of their own food as possible to pack in a crazy amount of fruit trees in a small area.

I could also say that espalier boosts productivity, fruit size and (this one surprised me) actually extends the life and increases the health of the tree. I have learned there are espalier gardens that are centuries old where the trees continue not only to survive, but thrive, producing crop after abundant crop, while suffering none of the blights experienced by their wilder siblings.

I could say all these things and they would all be true, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth of why I chose to espalier.

Turns out, I love to prune.

Here’s an image of an espalier from Pinterest https://pin.it/dxhiweefauorvh

I am not sure why my newly discovered penchant for pruning makes me feel slightly ashamed. It’s not as if I am confessing to being a serial killer or something. It’s just that for so many years I let things grow wild by choice. I rarely pruned anything. I hated to even thin the carrot beds and not just because it was a tedious job. I liked to think of myself as more of a helpful observer in my garden than a controller. If you asked me what I thought of people who espaliered I probably would have been less than kind in my response.

Then we moved to this urban lot and I felt forced to prune out some trees branches that were either crossing the property lines or causing issues with our house or driveway. First I reluctantly tackled some lilacs, then the mountain ash and finally our apple, birch and maple.

I took out all the branches that were dead, then ones that crossed over and rubbed on other branches and finally ones that took away from the overall shape of the tree. I discovered there is this moment when you are pruning where you can actually feel the tree start to “breathe”. The air circulates through the branches and everything looks and feels so much healthier and you can see the shape it wants to take. You can almost sense the tree thanking you.

After their pruning, the trees looked so much healthier. I liked how that felt but I also loved the process that got them there. If I were 20 years younger and not so afraid of heights, I would go into training to become an arborist. I love it that much.

I starting wandering around the yard with my pruning shears like a hairdresser gone wild, just looking for something, anything, to prune.

This is the perniciousness of the urban garden. It demands attention but then gives you very little to pay attention to.

If you have a busy life and a young family this is a good thing. You can whip around for a couple hours on a Saturday morning mowing, weeding and trimming and get all the yard work for the week finished and still have a weekend to call your own.

If you’re a gardener whose idea of a great weekend IS yard work, then it can be a bit of a let down. The good news is that it is nothing a few dump trucks of soil on your front and back lawn can’t take care of. Throw in a few high maintenance perennials and lots of beds that need constant edging, weeding and deadheading and all is right with the weekend world of the urban gardener once again.

Or you can sprain your ankle and let the garden get ahead of you that way, but I don’t recommend it. But enough about that.

If you are a gardener who has developed a pruning habit and find yourself wandering your lot with a pair of pruners, looking wistfully over the fence at your neighbour’s trees, well, you just might be interested in espalier gardening.

As soon as I read how espalier trees require lots of detailed pruning, I knew I needed to have some. And that is how I came to have a plum, an apple and a pear tree spread-eagling their way along a couple rubber coated wires on our back fence.

You can buy fruit trees specifically for this purpose that have already been prepped for espalier wires, but I did no such thing. Instead I bought trees that were already too tall to allow for any lower branches to weave their way along the fence. This is not ideal.

On the other hand, it allows me to plant smaller fruit trees of a different type and by pruning so they remain short, I can run their branches beneath the others, on a lower wire, further maximizing my space, food production and crop variety.

And so here I am, happily bending, tweaking, pruning and well, generally torturing encouraging things along. I have no idea if any good will come of it. All I can say for certain is I am being as gentle as I possibly can, I haven’t killed any of the trees yet and if an enthusiasm for pruning mixed with whispered apologies count as fertilizer, they should start growing like crazy soon. I hope.

Right now my own espalier shape is nowhere near as fancy as those shown above. It is simply sparse and somewhat horizontal. I also have grapes, clematis and Virginia creeper climbing up the fence, so I am hoping for a kind of a hodgepodge mix of blossoms, fruit, branches and vines that somehow add up to a wild, beautiful but carefully pruned whole.

Time will tell if it is a success or a rousing failure.

On that note, I leave you with one of my favourite garden quotes.

Lessons from Marcescence Trees

I love how you are always learning new things in a garden. There are so many mysteries in the plant world and getting to ponder them is something I especially enjoy.

We have two trees that are practically curb side on our front lawn that hang on to their leaves in the fall. Last spring, our first one here, I thought it was just an anomaly. Sometimes winter comes so fast the trees are caught off guard and are caught still wearing their summer greens. A few times-not often-our aspens have failed to shed their leaves because of this. Eventually they turn brown but they hang there all winter long. Just like on our two trees.

This year, when our two trees once again hung onto their brown dead leaves I started doing some research. Since I knew it wasn’t because of an early winter, I figured it was due to lack of water or inadequate nutrition or some failing on my part. Instead I learned a new word.

Marcescence.

Marcescence is a classification of trees that hold their brown leaves all winter long, only releasing them when the new green leaves push them off to make way.

Apparently our Young’s Weeping Birch and Tatarian Maple are such trees. Or if they’re not, they certainly behave as if they are.

The bare branches of our crab apple wave its naked arms in front of our Young’s Weeping Birch while to the far left the Tartarian Maple holds its whirlybird pod-like leaves intact as well.

Whenever I learn something like this I am always certain I’m the last one to step up to the information wicket. Everyone else reading this is thinking, Duh! Who hasn’t heard of marcescent trees? And, obviously, the answer is me.

Why marcescent trees hang on to their dead leaves is a bit of a botanical mystery, which makes me love it even more. Some researchers think it is a self protection mechanism to hide the spring buds and make them less appealing to deer.

For being in a city, we get a ton of deer in our front yard. They are always eager to pitch in and help prune the crab apple and lilacs, but I haven’t noticed so much as a nibble on the two trees that hold their leaves, so it seems to be a valid theory.

A second plausible explanation is that the trees hang on to their leaves so they can deposit them at their roots in the spring, when they need the mulch and nutrients the most. The practice minimizes the risk of the leaves blowing away with the autumn and winter winds. If that is the reason, it isn’t working so well this year. It’s been a gusty spring. Most of the leaves have been sent skittering down the street, taking their nutrition with them.

Watching the leaves take off serves as a reminder of the uselessness of hanging onto negative things from the past, in hopes that it will somehow serve you in the future. It won’t. Well, unless it is something like lighting your hair on fire because you bent too close to an open flame. Hanging onto that memory could help prevent you from doing it again and that would be very helpful. However, other than those sorts of things, nothing good comes from hoarding old hurts.

It doesn’t do a lot for your appearance neither. I hate to diss my own trees, which I love dearly, but the look of dead brown leaves (in my view) are not nearly as attractive as naked branches against a cobalt winter sky or the fresh green buds that are unfurling on our other trees even as I type. Which doesn’t mean I will replace the trees or fail to appreciate them for who they are, but it is a warning that it can be better for body and soul to just let it go. These are now my Warning Trees.

I look out at these trees a few times a day, as I do the dishes. Now instead of wondering, “What is wrong with those trees?” I can think, “They are Marcescence. Hangers on of the past.” and it will serve as a warning that it is better to suffer a few deer nibbles than to try and protect oneself in a coat of bitter memories from a time that is better released to the winds.

A garden is a great provider of therapy, as well as flowers, fruit and vegetables. if we just hang out in a garden and ponder our questions long enough, the garden will provide profound answers. I was going to add that it is also cheaper than therapy, but (ahem) my credit card bill often says otherwise!

Well, enough philosophizing. A glorious day is shaping up outside. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky and (most) of the trees have leafed out. Another day of lessons await. It’s a great day to be a gardener.

Exploding Trees

Many North American indigenous cultures referred to the first New Moon of the year as the Moon of the Cold Exploding Trees.

This is a phenomena that happens when the temperatures plunge so low the water in the sap freezes, expands and causes the trees to burst their bark.

It is not a silent process. People who have heard it liken the noise to gun fire.

Indeed, many a wilderness dweller has been catapulted out of bed on a frosty night, thinking they were under siege, only to realize they were surrounded by trees exploding in the cold winter night.

Nature is incredible, adaptable and resilient…to a point. Sort of like the people who live here. For months we stay surprisingly cheerful, shoveling our driveways, donning toques, gloves and all manner of winter gear before heading outdoors, dealing with cars that refuse to start, ice on the windshield, eyelashes freezing shut and ice. So much ice. We wave at neighbours, laugh at the cold and view the snow as frosting on our fabulous winterland cake of life.

And then one day we fall on the ice, or our scraper breaks while cleaning the windshield or we just get tired of being cold. Whatever the reason, our inside happiness temperature plunges and it just becomes a bit much. We lose our shit. We burst our bark.

Some people go south for a holiday and litter Facebook with photos of snorkelling, surfing and sunbathing. They send up pithy quotes to their northern friends such as, “We woke up to six inches of sand this morning.”

I click the like button, turn up the heat and brew a cup of tea and question the meaning of life. I get through the bark busting days by looking at seed catalogues, reading garden books and doing that magic thing that we gardeners do so well…looking out at our snow covered yard but seeing the potential beneath it instead. You could call it Mind Melting.

Today the thermometer reads -30 C while the weather report tells me it is -40 C with the windchill. It is a Mind Melting Bark Busting kind of a day.

None of our trees have exploded, thank goodness. At least not yet. It is incredible to think how they adapt and more incredible still, to know they are in a holding pattern. Despite the frigid temperatures and their lifeless appearance, they are just biding their time until they reignite in a froth of green buds and colourful blossoms in a beautiful circle of life.

What hope. What beauty. What a remarkable world we live in.


 

 

 

How Much Oxygen Does a Tree Produce? How Much Oxygen Do You Need?

A 20 inch diameter tree sucks up 157 pounds of carbon dioxide and then releases 115 pounds of oxygen back into the air every year.

The average human requires approximately 400 pounds of oxygen per year which means we need four trees for every human in order to more than meet our oxygen requirements.

Grow trees!

 

 

 

Oak Trees Go Nuts in Their Fifties

For the first twenty years of an oak tree’s life they don’t produce a single acorn. Many oaks wait until they are around 50 before producing their first large crop.

White oaks will produce mature acorns in a single season, but black and red oaks produce acorns that take two full years to mature.

A 100-year old oak will produce over 2,000 acorns per season, but only one acorn in 10,000 will become a tree, which means it takes all the acorns from five massive oak trees to produce a single offspring.

What happens to the other 9,999 acorns?

Squirrels, birds, deer, bears, mice, raccoons, chipmunks and opossums are just a few of the more than 100 vertebrate species in North America that depend on acorns as part of their seasonal diet. In urban areas the acorns are often collected and tossed into compost bins or even landfills. Acorns that aren’t consumed or tossed don’t always receive the right conditions to germinate and end up simply rotting their way back into the earth. But when the right conditions occur, voila! Another magnificent oak tree is born.

Sprout of oak from an acorn.

The life expectancy of an oak tree varies hugely depending on conditions and species. They can live as little as 80 years or stick around for centuries. An ancient oak on the Pechange Reservation in California is estimated to be between 850 – 1,500 years old. The normal lifespan is usually falls somewhere between 200 – 400 years of age.

How Many Trees on Earth?

According to the most recent study, there are three trillion trees on earth – more than 420 trees for each person on the planet.

This number was reached by using both ground surveys and satellite data by a team from Yale University headed by Dr. Thomas Crowther. A previous estimate put the global tree count at 400 billion – which means we have about eight times more trees than previously thought.

Before we celebrate, Dr. Crowther is quoted as saying, “It’s not like we’ve discovered a load of new trees; it’s not like we’ve discovered a load of new carbon. So, it’s not good news for the world or bad news that we’ve produced this new number.”

It is thought that humans have already removed at least three trillion trees since the last ice age. We continue to deforest the planet at a rate of 15 billion trees a year, while replanting approximately 5 billion.

With 7.5 billion people on earth, we would each only need to plant 2 trees to more than balance out that equation.

little boy helping his father to plant the tree while working together in the garden. sunday. smiling face.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Greek Proverb

Poinsettias Galore

If you’re looking for a poinsettia Dunvegan Gardens in Fort St John has you covered! Though you might want to wait for  a warmer day to take one home. It’s -28 out there right now! Brrrr. On the other hand, it’s a great day to be in a greenhouse.

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And no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t get anything from Dunvegan for writing this. The same can’t be said in reverse. Dunvegan gets a lot from me in the way of business, but often I just go out to browse and smell the roses so to speak. So I guess I do get something from them. On days when I am in a funk, a drive out to their gorgeous greenhouse always puts me in a better mood.

I was there a few weeks ago when they were decorating their Christmas trees (if you have never gone out there for Christmas you really are missing out) and I heard one of the workers tell a customer, “We have two seasons here, summer and Christmas.”

Of course, they’re open year round and there is always something beautiful to admire but for sure, summer and Christmas are when the place revs up into full, glorious gear.

Here’s a peek at just a few of their trees…

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It’s on my bucket list to see a cardinal…this doesn’t exactly cross it off my list but now I can say I saw a few this winter. One day I am going to see a live one. And fireflies. Though probably not at the same time.

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This tree is sort of decorated like the woodsy one we had for years.

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And here’s one that goes with my new modern theme.

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They even had a tree decorated like summer complete with a pansy inspired garland…their two seasons collide!

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And whaaat? A shelf shaped like a giraffe. Very cute, but I think my bird shaped shelf is enough for one apartment.

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And if poinsettias aren’t your thing they have quite a few Winterberry plants too. Though not as many.

Okay…enough eye candy and lollygagging about on the computer.

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