2017-2018 was an odd year – we had almost no snow all winter and then *bam* we had a few feet in April. Trees don’t really like that. None of our newly planted trees survived the winter. Most of our fir and spruce windbreak experienced windburn but has since put on new growth and seems to be doing well.
It’s tough on plants to survive -30 and lower with whipping winds and no snowcover. Even still, plants are smarter than we think and they usually do what’s necessary to ensure survival. So I revisited what I may have done wrong.
I ordered trees in late August to be planted in September. This gives the roots some time to settle in before the ground freezes solid by November.
Unfortunately, the tree company did not send me the trees until late November! In 2016, we could still dig in November but last year the ground was completely frozen and I spent a great deal of effort digging to get the plants into the ground. That was probably a bad idea. I wasn’t sure how to overwinter the bareroot plants at home, so I thought the ground was the safest place for them. I was wrong.
Not protecting them from Gophers
One of our hackberry trees was encircled by gopher mounds and the tunnel led right to the tree roots. Except there were no tree roots left. From here on out, I will dig into the tunnels as soon as the snow melts and stop those monsters from eating our trees.
Not preparing for spring drought
All of my life, I have associated spring with non-stop rain. This year was different. We had almost no rain all spring (which meant zero morel mushrooms and very sparse asparagus production!)
I had not come up with my handy new drought plan until late winter – when the trees had already been long planted.
This spring I replaced all the dead trees. Once again, I purchased mostly bare root trees. These are more cost effective and trees generally grow well when started this way. But I didn’t just pop them in the ground and expect them to survive. I had trouble locating tree replacements for some of our trees, so I was able to notice we were in a drought and that going straight into the ground wouldn’t be ideal.
I also had the opportunity to drought proof them a bit. Over the winter, I found myself sewing a patchwork quilt made from old holey sweaters – all wool or cashmere. I had lots of scraps. Because I am thrifty by nature, I couldn’t stand the idea of all that great fabric going to waste. After a bit of research, I realized that wool (of all kinds) holds water. So I gathered up all of my wool bits, combed the loose fur from our cat, and collected the wool washing lint to be saved for the trees.
Each tree was planted with a generous helping of water soaked wool/fur. Over time the wool/fur will break down, like a natural fertilizer. It should remain for a good while though to help the young trees become more drought tolerant.
All of the bare root trees went into pots so I could monitor their break from dormancy and assure their success. Then the smaller ones went into the ground.
I am still babying an Illinois Everbearing Mulberry and a Collette Pear at my house until Fall – when they will be planted (with double caging!) and a generous helping of wool/fur.
What was planted this year?
3 Hackberry Trees (replacements)
1 Red Maple Tree (replacement)
1 Harvest Gold Crabapple
1 Red Birch Tree
Will be planted this Fall:
2 Trader Mulberry trees
1 Collette Pear (replacing the Keiffer)
1 IE Mulberry
American Linden seedlings
Northern Catalpa seedlings
22 More Fir Trees to add to the existing Windbreak
It’s killing me not to plant a zillion other trees, but doing it all right now is not in the best interest of the trees. There is still much work to be done to level the pastures and manage the prairie – all of which takes time and equipment. Equipment damages trees and divided time leads to inattentive care.
Every tree that has been planted has been strategically chosen for the location – where it can grow to be large and fruitful. All of the trees serve a function for our future honey bees (once again delayed because of lack of prairie growth, but one step closer as the bear cage should arrive late summer) and for wildlife/hunting strategies.
In other news – I have added quite a few perennial nectar/pollen plants to the outskirts of the property to identify which can survive and naturalize and which are visited by native pollinators. Penstemon, wild strawberry, daisies, asparagus, gooseberries, phenomenal lavender, bearberry, various sedums, balloon flowers, black eyed susans, astilbe, salvia, clustered bellflower, chives, serviceberries, honeyberries, goumi, beach plums, goji, staghorn sumac, bristly locust, butterfly weed, globe thistle, catnip, horseradish, lovage, lilies, comfrey, rhubarb, egyptian onions, and prickly pear cactus. Along with a bunch of random flower seeds that may or may not sprout. Eventually the list of trees, perennials, and native plants will be enormous. Someday soon…
The prickly pear cactus has been the most interesting to watch. No other cacti can survive our winters. In zone 4, it completely lays down in the winter, getting all mushy. Then when the snow is gone and the weather warms up it slowly (s…l…o…w…l…y) starts to stand up and by late May we had new arms on each of the cacti.
Do bees visit the cactus flowers? We don’t know yet. Last season we had just one big gorgeous yellow flower. This season the cacti are busy putting on new limbs so it doesn’t appear that they will flower. With all the new limbs though, maybe next season will be filled with blossoms. Then we can watch what the bees choose to do.
Wish us luck as we plod slowly toward the goal of an effective honey bee research center and rare edible plant propagation!