Saturday, June 4, 2016

Spring Shade Gardens

Most of the areas that I have planted around the house and garage do not get a ton of sunlight due to the tall trees and buildings in the general vicinity. The plants growing in these areas are what have survived over the years and probably the most suited residents for the location. When gardening with native plants I usually plant as many different things as possible and then let the plants duke it out. In the end, the plant most suited wins and I have a garden that doesn't require much effort to maintain.

Golden Alexanders flowering in front of the house
The "pocket prairie" I planted a few years ago in front of the house has come a long way. Before planting this area it was almost impossible to even grow lawn grass here, but after a few seasons of root development I have a thriving habitat that brings in all sorts of wildlife. Some would argue that bringing bugs right to your doorstep is a bad idea since it increases the chance of them getting into the house, but I have not found this to be a problem at all.

East edge of the shade garden by the garage
The shade garden I planted 2011-2012 is mature now and can hardly stay in the rock beds that were intended to keep the plants in check. I plan to go in and cut some plants back once it starts looking untidy. The Wild Columbine in this area are all volunteers from after the initial planting and I seem to see more and more come up each year. Erosion in no longer an issue in this area since the plants anchor the soil well due to the density of the planting.

Wild Columbine
Wild Columbine will readily reseed in a shade garden and it is a good idea to leave plenty of open room around them when planting. The seed is very small and when the wind eventually tosses them from the ripened pods they will be scattered quite a ways from the plant. Since I do not need any new plants in this area, I plan to collect all of the Wild Columbine seed I can this year to use for a new area I would like to plant this Fall.

Shaded Rock Garden
One of my personal favorite things about this garden is that the rocks allow me to easily access plants for taking pictures and maintenance of the area. I have not done any weeding yet this year, but roughly 90% or more of the plants are good varieties and I'm not too worried if there are a few bad plants here and there.

The Cupplant are starting to spread more aggressively, but the rocks are helping to keep them in place. The plants get pretty big by the end of the year, but the habitat value that they offer is hard to beat. I include Cupplant in just about every area I plant because it provides great shelter for smaller wildlife and holds water in the leaf cups.

Golden Alexanders flowering
Looking West over the other section of the shaded rock garden, the Golden Alexanders provide some much needed color for the area. The Wild Blue Phlox are finishing up now and it will be a while before some of the other plants mature. Golden Alexanders have a fairly long bloom time and I have found them to be one of the most preferred plant species for insects this time of year. The plant is very adaptable and can grow in dry shade to conditions with wet soil and full sun.
Big Leaf Aster

Behind the house I have a couple smaller shade gardens which also have some cool things going on this time of year. The colony of Big Leaf Aster I planted has formed a solid groundcover almost and I am starting to consider dividing it up and helping it spread further. It resembles Wild Ginger and does not require much attention for it to grow well. I think I have only weeded this patch a few times in the last several years.

Wild Geranium
Also behind the house in one of the shade gardens I have a patch of Wild Geranium that I planted a few years ago. In the same area I also planted Bottle Brush Grass and Pennsylvania Sedge which helped to fill in the gaps between plants. I initially planted the Wild Geraniums here to eventually transplant to a new location, but now I might just leave them since the area looks nice. I plan to remove some of the trees from this area in the next couple years since they limit the amount of afternoon sunlight that my vegetable garden gets.

Front Circle Garden
The garden in front of the house has really benefited from the rain we have had this Spring and my only concern is the amount of Showy Sunflower plants that are crowding the front. I will probably have to thin them out in a few weeks or else risk losing some of the less aggressive plants living in the same area. There are only a few flowers throughout the area right now, but they are definitely good ones.

Shooting Star
I only have a few of these since they are fairly expensive to buy, but they sure are awesome. I hope to someday figure out a way to successfully grow a bunch from seed to transplant into my gardens. For now I can enjoy the few that I do have and add what tiny seed I can collect to the seed mixes I toss out each year.

Wild Columbine
Just after a rainstorm I was able to capture the picture above. The sun was just starting to go down in the West and with adjusting the angle to keep the sun behind a flower I was able to get a neat effect. It was one of those rare moments where conditions just lined up perfectly.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Apple Orchard in Late May

A month after adding seventeen new fruit trees to the property the trees are thriving and off to a good start. They have been watered twice so far after their initial planting and we have been fortunate enough to be getting a fair amount of rain over the last few weeks.

New orchard by the road
The new area I planted near the road has seven types of apple trees so far and many have flowers already this year. I don't plan on getting any fruit from the trees this year and will probably pick off any fruit that forms to encourage the trees to use all resources on branch and root growth.

There has been limited leaf growth on the trees yet and I may consider adding some fertilizer if I don't see much development in a few weeks. The soil here is mostly sand and I would not be surprised if it lacked nitrogen.

On a good note though, the new tree cages and wooden stakes I made from dogwood branches have been working well at keeping the deer off the trees and the cages in place. The trees in this area are watered exclusively with water from the pond.
Backyard orchard

The orchard behind the house is the biggest fruit tree planting on the property and the tree sizes vary from eight year old trees to trees that were planted just this Spring (not including the two mature standard apple trees that have been there or many decades). This area has always had the most deer damage, but the new cages seem to be working well and I have not seen broken or chewed limbs. The deer do not seem to be much of a problem during the Summer when there are more available food sources, but during the Fall months deer walk through the yard on a daily basis.

"Enterprise" apple tree
Some of the trees in the backyard are finally starting to produce a good amount of apples each year and I predict it will be a good year unless the trees drop fruit due to weather events. Over the next few months I plan to add some additional mulch around some of the larger trees to limit the amount of weed and grass competition.

Tree tag
Each of the trees I plant gets a custom tag with the name of the variety and the year in which it was planted. On the trees that I have planted in more recent years I included the rootstock information as well.

"Enterprise" apples forming on branch
The fruit is still very small at this point, but it is a good sign that the cold night we had a while back did not kill off the flowers. One of my favorite things about growing fruit is being able to watch it grow over the course of a year and it is very comforting to knowing the fruit never comes in contact with any pesticides.

"Idared" Apple
It can be a fairly time consuming task, but I have been trying to get pictures of the apple trees at regular intervals in order to track seasonal trends and documenting the impact of maintenance projects. Having the improved tree cages this year should have a huge impact on branch production and it will be nice to have pictures to compare.

Honeycrisp, Enterprise, and 2x Haralson
The other small orchard near the pond is also loaded with little apples, but I am starting to worry about lack of morning sunlight due to the pines and locust growing adjacent. I would like to cut down most of the trees in this area in the next few years since it is mostly dead and very low quality habitat.