It’s a lot of fun seeing all of the different kinds of Christmas decoration folks have put together out of natural materials. Wreaths have evolved way past just a simple circle of evergreen boughs with a red ribbon tied to it, although you still see plenty of those.
As gardeners we have the opportunity to grow or gather together the raw materials for unique Christmas decorations. For example around here at pruning time, we save our grapevine trimmings and roll them up into circles, that’s a common one many people do. But other materials can be used as well. Many flowers, shrubs , stalks even weeds have interesting features that can be quite decorative. Who remembers making Christmas items in elementary school out of milkweed seedpods?
You only have to use your imagination a little to come up with something that is really neat and one-of-a-kind. If you’re not the creative type, you can always glean ideas from Pinterest.
Right now, while you’re thinking of it, make a note in your phone’s calendar app to remind yourself next spring and summer to look for raw materials for your 2018 Christmas. Maybe you’ll even come up with something cool enough to post on Pinterst yourself.
By the time mid-November in Michigan rolls around you’d think that we’ve seen the last of blooming plants until spring, that’s what I though anyway. Once again, I forgot all about our witch hazel bush that started blooming a week or so before Thanksgiving.
Witch hazel is a native plant in our area. Back when I was a kid I used to see them along the edge of the woods near our house and wonder; are those spidery-looking yellow things on that bush really flowers?
Like many other plants, witch hazel flowers are pollinated by insects, despite the fact that November is not the biggest month for insects in Michigan. With this warm November we’ve been having, there has to be a lot more insects around to pollinate the flowers. Maybe that will result in a larger than average crop of witch hazel seeds.
Although pollination happens this time of the year, the seeds don’t start to grow until spring. They are produced in easy-to-see, green, capsule-like structures that form where the flowers were. Later in the summer as the capsules turn brown and ripen, the seeds are explosively ejected up to 30 feet away. I’ve never had a chance to see this in person but might one of these days since our shrub is right next to the deck.
Witch hazels grow very slowly, the one in our yard is about eight feet tall and has been there for almost 15 years. That can be an advantage in smaller yards since they rarely get too big for a space and out-grow their welcome. They can get up to 20 feet tall but I’ve never seen one taller than around 12 feet in our neck of the woods.
Plant nurseries and garden centers sell potted witch hazel. But be aware that they often offer the imported Japanese witch hazel or Chinese witch hazel, both of which bloom in late winter rather than in the fall.
I was a late comer to Downton Abbey, it wasn’t until season four that I started watching the series. That’s when my wife insisted I watch a a couple of episodes — I was hooked from that point on.
Of course after that, we watched a marathon of all the past shows so I could get up to date on everything and my wife could watch a couple of episodes she missed.
Now that we know that there is nothing but blue skies ahead for all of the characters, what’s next?
The producers of Downton Abby have teamed up with a highly respected California rose grower, Weeks Roses, to develop a line of roses based on the television series. The roses have names that will immediately invoke an image: Anna’s Promise, Pretty Lady Rose, Edith’s Darling, Violet’s Pride.
Week’s Roses is a grower and wholesaler, that means they don’t sell directly to to public. The good news is that the roses are readily available from local garden centers and online sellers.
One of my earliest childhood memories in the garden is discovering a shrub tucked away in a out of the way corner of my grandmother’s garden. The shrub had the most striking metallic-blue berries I had ever seen. Years later I found out it was a silky dogwood.
Now decades later, I found another silky dogwood growing on our property which, by the way, is only a mile or so away from my grandparents old farm. It is a wild plant that came up in the area that we use for the chicken exercise area. It was carved out of a part of our yard that we left as a natural area to attract wildlife.
The memories came flooding back to me when I saw the familiar cool-blue berries. This is not the blue of a ripe blue berry or wild grape. It’s more like the blue paint job of of a customized Gran Torino from the 1970’s. It really looks out of place in in the natural habitat.
Silky dogwood prefers low lying areas along streams or ponds. However, ours is growing in one of the higher spots in the yard, which is why I chose that area for the chicken run, so that the hens would have a high and dry area to roam. I know we have a fairly high water table here, and that is probably why the bush is growing so well.
The dogwood has a beautiful natural shape and bright shiny leaves that make it a very attractive plant. I don’t see many of these around anymore. In some states, like Indiana, where it was once common is now considered a locally endangered species.
In some parts of the country it grows to a maximum height of around five feet while in others, it can get 10 feet high. Mine is at least eight feet tall. My guess is that it all depends on its location or local population genetics.
The berries contain high amounts of fat, compared to other berries, and that makes it a favorite for migratory birds that need fat to sustain them during their migration. Flocks of cedar waxwings have found our wild area and are eating the wild cherries. So far they haven’t touched the silky dogwood berries. Maybe they’re not quite ripe enough for them yet.
I’ve never been tempted to try to eat these berries, even as a young child. Something about that blue just didn’t look right to me. I don’t ever plan to eat them so I’m not going to tell you whether or not they are edible, you’ll have to do your own research. Let me know in the comments section what you find.
I recall that some groups of native Americans used the the bark as part of their tobacco mixture called kinnikinnick. I’m not sure if it was used as a flavoring ingredient or if it has some sort of medical or other value.
Even if you don’t to smoke it or eat the berries, silky dogwood is an attractive shrub to use in your landscape especially if you have a damp problem area where other shrubs fail to thrive.
Seeds, seeding and plants are available online and at nurseries.
This week I’ve been helping a friend decide where to plant some evergreens in his yard.
Now is the perfect time to make those decisions because the leaves are gone from the trees and bushes. Since evergreens keep their leaves or needles, their deep green color will stand out from the rest of the vegetation during the winter. So, it’s important to place them in the right spot.
We’re trying to get a better idea how an evergreen will look in the yard space next winter and the following winters.
The other reason we’re doing the planning now is because we won’t be distracted by all of the spring time foliage of the other trees and shrubs. It’s too easy to get fooled into picking the wrong spot for your evergreen and regret the choice next winter.
We’re going to visually survey his yard and try to imagine how the evergreens will look in a different places around the property. Also, I keep reminding him that we need to keep in mind how big the trees or shrubs will get as they grow through the years.
Once we make the final decision, we’ll drive a stake in each spot to remind us of the planting spots. The actual planting will take place next spring.
This is not a fool-proof method but it gives us more information to help us make the best planting decision.
For several years now, autumn olives have been growing in the wild area of our property. Part of that area I want to turn into an orchard so most of the autumn olives have to go.
These shrubs were introduced into Michigan a few decades ago to improve wildlife habitat. Since then, they have invaded thousands of acres in our state.
Autumn olives produce a huge crop of berries that many species of birds eat. Each berry contains a single seed. Once a bird eats a berry, the seed passes through the bird’s digestive system. It then gets deposited in the bird droppings — sometimes many miles away — starting a new stand of autumn olive. Much of the fruit on the shrubs has ripened; that means the birds are eating them already.
In the past, I’ve tried chopping the shrubs with an axe or spraying them with herbicide; they always seemed to come back.
This year I bought a circular brush cutting blade for my commercial-duty weed whacker. It has only six cutting teeth that look like the teeth on a chainsaw. The outer edge of that blade spins a lot faster than any saw chain moves so six teeth are all you really need to do some serious cutting. Plus, there is no kickback with this blade making it very safe to use.
Once the shrubs are cut down, I brush full strength glyphosate herbicide onto the fresh stumps. The remaining stump and roots quickly absorb the herbicide and die.
I found out the hard way that autumn olive plants have very sharp spines that can puncture normal leather gloves. The very tips of those spines often break off deep into the flesh of your hands and fingers causing irritation lasting several days.
I’ve spent about six hours cutting and dabbing herbicide and have made a small but noticeable dent in the population. Looks like I’ll need several more days to finish that orchard area.