Friday, November 27, 2015

Dayton "Dirt" - November 27, 2015

With Thanksgiving now past for another year the Christmas season is now upon us continuing about a month. At the end of the year, the nursery will close until March 1st as it has for the past 40 years although activities besides sales will continue throughout the winter as well as the upcoming seminars starting January 30th.

Strangely, the poinsettias continue to expand in size of the plants and the colored flower bracts so much so that they seem to be on steroids compared to last year. No doubt sunny, warm weather has been the major contributor. Our fresh cut trees from southern Ohio are ready to view with as always the larger trees sold first as the shorter ones of 9 feet and under normally sell in the next two to three weeks. While Ohio grown Fraser Fir are not common, they do exist on some well-drained  sites such as those in southeast Ohio.

While the main nursery store is closed, the Owl Barn has been converted into a holiday barn because of its ambiance resembling a Currier and Ives Christmas print. Grave blankets construction has been well under way for pick up or delivery. How much effort goes into customizing many of the decorations to suit individual tastes! No new offerings have been added this year although design trials will start next week that will be implemented fully next year.

This weekend at least 5 gallons of deer repellent will be sprayed in the botanical garden to prevent deer from browsing on the many rhododendron and what seems to be their favorite azalea called ‘Herbert’. Herbert with its dark purple double flowers is one of the most winter hardy and easiest to grow azalea but seems to be a favorite of deer that only want to chew off the fat flower buds!

As winter melts into spring, the barn will be surrounded with thousands of spring flowering bulbs and hundreds of multi-colored creeping phlox spilling over the boulder wall to its north. Only after the cold and sometimes seemingly endless winter will we see the next spring. The trick is to enjoy the winter and it will pass quickly.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Dayton "Dirt" - November 20, 2015

This time of year with the short days and the bare trees seems bleak except for the groves and stand alone evergreen trees in the landscape which consist mainly of conifers such as spruce, pines and firs which are still grown to be cut for uses such as Christmas trees. While it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas in Puritan New England, German immigrants, it is thought, brought the tradition of the decorated Christmas tree to America. Years ago, cutting an evergreen for Christmas out of the national forests, a farmer’s woods or wherever it could be found was a common practice. Then appeared the concept of the Christmas tree plantation in which the trees were planted and grown to be cut for the Christmas season, as they still are today. 

At one time Norway spruce with its young pyramidal stature was popular because of its fast growth and ability to grow on a wide variety of sites. Unfortunately, spruce tend to hold their needles to the branches by means of a scale that releases the needle when the cut tree begins to dry out, thus “raining” needles. Colorado spruce known also as Blue spruce tend to hold its needles longer especially when cut late such as around Thanksgiving but have a much longer growing cycle than Norway spruce. 

The next tree to evolve in the Christmas tree line was the scotch pine beginning in the early 1950's as growth was rapid and more importantly needle retention of the tree after cutting could be as much as 3 weeks or longer as long as the tree is mounted in a stand with water. The Spanish and French strains of scotch pine have a medium length needle compared to the shorter needles of spruce or the longer needles of the native white pine. With selective breeding and training, the notorious crooked trunk of the scotch pine is only a minor problem today. 

The five-needled white pine that is native to North America is heavily trimmed to produce a Christmas tree due to the very rapid growth. Left alone, white pines can achieve heights of 100 feet or more as they now exist in pockets from the virgin forests of Pennsylvania, New England and Michigan. Generally, a white pine’s trunk is much straighter than a scotch pine with the needle retention equal to or greater than that of the scotch pine. The disadvantage of a white pine is that the required heavy trimming causes the branches to be very limber so that the tree will not hold heavy ornaments. 

The last group to be introduced for Christmas tree production are the firs. No doubt that firs are the favorite Christmas tree of all because the pliable needles are soft to the touch and seem to hang on forever even if the tree is indoors for a month and sometimes longer. While firs are certainly the favorite of consumers, they are “fussy” about their growing site and in general slower in growth than the faster growing pines, hence the greater expense. 

Fraser fir with its dark green needles and glaucous underside seems to glow especially when draped with white lights. Fraser fir is quite “happy” in the wild from elevations of 2000 feet and up from the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the high elevation of northern Georgia. Sadly, this tree has been all but wiped out in the wild from a devastating aphid of European origin and acid rain primarily in the form of nitrous oxide from automobiles. 

Another fir more popular with Ohio growers is the Canaan fir that has a very similar shape and look of the Fraser fir except that it does not have the shiny, glaucous coating to the underside of the needle. Canaan fir grow naturally in the Canaan River Valley in West Virginia and are more tolerant of soils that would for sure be too wet for Fraser fir. Canaan fir has very good needle retention when used as a Christmas tree as long as it is cut around Thanksgiving or later in the season. 

Another popular fir is the concolor or white fir that typically has longer needles that are soft to the touch and have a pronounced smell of citrus especially when the needles are rubbed. Concolor fir are somewhat rare in that soils for growing this fir must be deeply well drained and the site must be high enough to allow cold air drainage in spring to prevent the tree’s new growth from being killed or burned by spring frosts. 

Finally, the Douglas fir is similar to other firs with its medium length, dark green, soft needles that hold well when cut. Today though, Douglas fir are not as common as a disease that causes the tree to shed results in the tree looking somewhat thin and “tired” rendering it unsaleable. 

Christmas tree growers face many challenges such as a long laundry list of diseases and insects to control, endless mowing between the trees, timely trimming, and finally harvesting the trees unless the operation is a “choose and cut” type of business. Labor shortages are common at the spring planting of the seedling trees as well as harvest as each of these chores have such a constricted time limit. Another risk for growers is that the production cycle is so long(up to 10-11 years for an 8 ft. Fraser Fir) that for some trees, a good market may no longer exist for the trees planted 10 years before! 

To make the cut tree stay as fresh as possible, a fresh cut removing the bottom one inch of the truck will “unseal” the trunk bottom allowing the tree to take up water as long as the job is performed just before placing the tree in the stand. Paring down the tree trunk to force the tree into too small of a stand is not a good idea as the tree will no longer uptake water with the outer bark removed. A stand for a 6 to 8 ft. tree should hold a minimum of 1 gallon of water with the water level checked every day as sometimes a fresh cut tree will “drink” a gallon a day. Numerous formulas abound of what might be added to the cut tree’s water to hasten the water uptake; however, experiments conducted by the American Association of Nurseryman a few years ago concluded that just plain warm water did the job the best. In fact, some tree preservatives even deterred water uptake. Mini lights and Led lights on the tree are so much better than hot incandescent lights which tend to dry out the tree before its useful life is over. 

After the Christmas tree leaves the house its life is not over as it can be staked up near a bird feeder to give birds shelter from wind and more importantly predatory hawks that might otherwise readily spot birds at an open feeder. While Conifers are important at Christmas, they are even more important as screens, windbreaks, oxygen producers, flood controllers and providers of shelter and food for wildlife. How many benefits we receive from conifers and all trees and yet how we take these blessings for granted! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dayton "Dirt" - November 13, 2015

The mostly sunny somewhat warm weather of November has accelerated the growth of the stock geraniums used for cuttings so much over last year that the plants have been sprayed with a product called Florel that will slow down the growth of the plants by shortening the internodes and  preventing any formation of flowers that are undesirable for winter time because of disease problems in a closed greenhouse. The arrival of more balled and burlapped trees this past week will result in a good selection of Autumn Blaze Maples for the remainder of this fall and next  spring. The fine gravel in the bed where the maples will spend the  winter does well to insulate the roots from potentially damaging winter winds and cold. In December, the trees will receive their vinyl tree  guards to prevent damage from rabbits scouting for young bark to eat when the ground is covered with snow.

Construction of grave blankets is proceeding nicely as November rolls along so that most items should be available by Thanksgiving for delivery and placement.

One chore to complete this fall is the replacement of the store building soffits as raccoons periodically push them up and aside as they crawl into the attic of the store to find shelter and raise young. The animals have done damage to electrical wires, the alarm system and insulation to the building as they chew away. In the past 3 years, we have trapped a total of 13 that were previously living in the attic!

Timely chores still include fall transplanting, one more grass fertilizing and finally the liming of lawn and/or garden if necessary. This year, new planting’s at the nursery will go on until the ground  freezers hard until it will not be possible to push a shovel into the ground! Let us hope the good weather of November continues.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Dayton "Dirt" - November 6, 2015

Compared to November of last year, this November has so far been like a lamb with the continuing Indian Summer. How strange it is to not have the irrigation system shut down and drained for a deeper freeze as plants are still in need of water, especially evergreens. Soon it will  be time to stickmore cuttings of Euonymous ‘Golden Burst’ from the plant that surrounds the lamp post of theold farm house. This euonymous was purchased from Roemer Nursery in 1993 and has since  survived every winter without hardly any winter burn. Gold Splash is the correct name of this variegated plant but since the trade name is registered we are not legally allowed to use the name ‘Gold Splash’ even though the patent ran out years ago.

Annual flowers from Costa Rica will arrive as un-rooted cuttings at the end of the month. Geraniums will be cut and stuck into rooting cells much earlier than usual due to the warm, sunny days accelerating the plants growth.

Already orders for grave decorations are coming in with a delay in production due to the warm weather that will cause deterioration of the evergreen branches if they are cut too early.

Tree and shrub planting, flower bulb planting, irrigation repair and other greenhouse repairs are still all going on and will continue on the outside until the inclement weather that is sure to come will force us to the inside. The many changes that are being made to the facilities and grounds most likely will not be immediately apparent to customers; however, many have been long overdue because of the fall and early winter weather not “cooperating”. Could this nice fall be a harbinger  of a mild winter? We’ll see!