SANS (fr.) / SIN (sp.) SOIL

Clarabel And Abbe Fetel

The UPS guy delivered two large, long boxes last week. Laid out in each box as in a coffin was what looked like a sturdy, 4-foot long stick. You wouldn’t think that either stick, one labelled Clarabel quince and the other labelled Abbe Fetal pear, could ever become a tree, could ever even come to life! Unpacking, then holding one of the sticks up, its bare roots dangling in the air, I had my doubts about the plant’s viability, even though I’ve planted many bare root trees over many years.

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root tree soaking

Bare root trees are grown at a nursery and, sometime between fall and spring while still leafless and dormant, are dug up, their roots shaken free of soil, and shipped. Before shipping a tree, a good nursery will  tuck moist sphagnum moss, shredded newspaper, or other water retaining material in among the roots, then swaddle the  roots and moist packaging all in plastic.

Some loss of large roots is unavoidable when digging a bare root tree.  Less obvious is loss of tender root hairs. And roots don’t ever like being out of the soil. So why didn’t I just order a potted tree, which hardly need know that it’s been moved, rather than a bare root tree?

The main reason for buying a bare root Claribel quince or Abbe Fetel is because there’s not much chance of finding a potted one locally or, probably, anywhere. Bare root trees and shrubs are cheaper to buy and cheaper to mail than potted trees and shrubs, and are available in much greater variety.

Treated well, growth of bare root trees and shrubs will match that of their potted counterparts. Good treatment doesn’t end at the nursery. Soon after unpacking Claribel and Abbe Fetel, their roots were in a bucket of water, to soak for a few hours. Planting holes were dug just deep enough to set each tree at the same depth as at the nursery (as evidenced by the soil line on the trunk) and twice as wide as the spread of the roots. Abbe Fetal had a couple of straggly roots; I clipped them back to the same length as the other roots.

Holding a tree in place with one hand, I sifted soil back in among the spread roots in the planting hole, working the soil in amongst roots by poking with my fingers and occasionally bouncing the plant up and down slightly. After planting, a thorough watering further settled soil in amongst the roots. An icing of mulch — I used wood chips — and the plant, still looking like nothing more than a stick, was ready to go, as far as I was concerned.

Daphne . . . Alive

Last year I bought a potted Daphne bush at a local garden center. As I tipped the plant out of the pot to nestle into its waiting planting hole, all the potting soil fell away from the roots.Daphne in bloom

It’s not uncommon for a garden center to buy in bare root trees and shrubs, just as I did with Clarabel and Abbe Fetal, then pot them up for sale. Roots in some soil are ready to take in nutrients and water as soon as when warm weather coaxes out new leaves and shoots. Some weeks must pass before the roots actually grow out into the potting soil, though.

The Daphne was leafed out but hardly rooted when I tipped it out of the pot, making it again bare root. I had doubts about its survival. But it did survive. Still, it was an expensive bare-root plant.

Annuals In Cells

A hundred or so years ago, even tender, annual vegetable transplants were re-located to their new homes bare root. Tomatoes would be grown in cold-frames, hot beds, or greenhouses, then gingerly lifted free of the soil. Kept out of the sun and with their roots moist in a bucket of water, the plants were moved to the field or garden and planted, preferably on an overcast day. If the day was dry and sunny, a cedar shingle might be shoved into the ground to shade the plant for a day or two.

Transplant in Orto pot

Transplant in Orto pot

These days, as you know, vegetable transplants come in plastic cell packs, each plant in its own mini-pot. For tender, small annual plants, potted is much better than bare-root.

Clarabel Has Risen

Resurrection! Only a few days after planting Clarabel and Abbe Fetel, and, like magic, green buds have swollen along the once dead-looking stems.Clarabel starting to grow



A Good Harvest, But . . .

The black walnut harvest was abundant this past fall. Back in October, we gathered about a dozen 5-gallon buckets of of unhusked nuts, and, after husking, cleaning and drying them, set them in the cool, dry, squirrel-proof loft of our garage/barn (gabarn?).

The nuts are now sufficiently cured and ready for cracking. Two tools have made quicker, easier, pain-free, and more effective the once difficult and thumb-threatening job needing a concrete floor and a hammer. The Master Nutcracker makes elegant use of cogs and levers. For any nutmeats still gripped in a piece of shell, a “diagonal cutting plier” nips the shell piece to create a fault line that opens to drop out a piece of nutmeat, or to twists off a piece not fully cracked.Black walnuts and Master Nutcracker

This year’s harvest was from two trees. Most was gathered from the ground beneath a decades-old tree. That tree grows on what, in spring, is periodically waterfront property when the swale that it borders fills with rushing water. The other tree sprouted in well-drained soil a few years ago at the edge of woods along the north edge of our property. Now with an 8-inch diameter trunk, it began yielding nuts in earnest only a few years ago.

The opening day of nut-cracking season has highlighted the difference in nuts. Nuts from the younger tree not only are significantly larger, but they’re all well-filled with nutmeats that come out in large pieces. The old tree has yielded too many nutmeats that are dark brown and shriveled, or totally dried out, black, shriveled, and inedible.Good nuts and shriveled nuts

Genetics could be at play. Although both trees are black walnuts, each is a distinct individual within the species. Water might also figure in. Periodic flooding in the spring might leave too many of the old tree’s roots gasping for air at critical moments in nut development. Perhaps the old tree is still recovering from being swamped in water a few feet up its trunk during hurricane Irene back in 2011.

Perhaps it’s age. Probably not. Black walnuts are long-lived trees and I assume their fecundity goes hand in hand with their longevity.

Up to a few years ago, the large, old tree bore regular and reliable nuts that were plump with nutmeats.

Winter Dreaming

You’d think, after gardening for so many years with sufficient room for planting, that I would have by now grown every plant I could possibly want. Not so!

Cleaning up my desk, I recently came across a pile of papers clipped together, my pile of “plants to grow.” Over the years, whenever I see a plant of interest in a magazine or newspaper, I’ve torn out the page to add to the collection. The same goes for plants I might come across on the web or in conversation.Plants to grow

Swelling over the years, the pile has become intimidating. Daring to look at it would force me to decide whether such and such still worth growing and, if so, where to plant it. If an ornamental plant, where to incorporate it harmoniously into the landscape? If an edible, where best to site it for convenience in care and harvest? And do I have time to care for yet another plant? If there’s a plant offering both good eating and good looks, how to . . . well, you get the picture.

Perhaps the approach should be the same that some guy with too large a collection of shoes or some gal with too large a collection of cars might take: Vow to get rid of one for each new one collected. Or not.

Now Really, What To Plant Next Year

Okay, I’ve segregated the pile of “plants to grow” into two piles, one for plants to order this coming spring, and one for plants to keep on the back burner.

At the top of my list are three daphnes. I already grow Carol Mackie (Daphne × burkwoodii) for its fragrance and white-picoteed leave; the new daphnes can share a bed with her. Briggs’ Moonlight (D. × burkwoodii) has the reverse leaves, white with a green-picotee — a nice foil for Carol Mackie. Joining them will be Summer Ice (D. x transatlantica), which has just a thin line of white on its leaf edges. Also February Daphne (D. x mezereum), this one for its rosy-purple flowers that open in early spring on leafless shoots. All these daphnes are attractive but their main draw, for me, is the flowers’ jasmine-like perfume. They will make sitting on the nearby deck an olfactory delight from early spring right through summer.

How can I resist a plant called roof iris (Iris tectorum), both for its flowers and low fountains of foliage? It tolerates cold or dry conditions, and grows in sun or shade, so would be a perfect addition in name, needs, and appearance for MY green roof.

Another perennial slated for entrance next year is royal catchfly (Silene regia), a native of American prairies with fire engine red flowers. My plan is to grow them from seed to get enough seedlings to  plant in part of MY meadow.

That’s all for the coming year. What, no fruits, one of my specialties? No, I have all I need. Hmmm . . . what about quince?