Chestnuts Roasting…Stoke the Fire!

The fantastic American Chestnut is back?  Well, maybe not just yet…BUT, after more than a half a century of absence, they WILL RETURN to the American landscape, maybe sooner than you think!

Cryphonectria parasitica, better known as Chestnut Blight, was accidentally introduced to our native population of the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) in 1904. The Japanese Chestnut carrying the deadly pathogen was available via mail-order and became quickly distributed across the area.  This fungus works swiftly, using the trees own defenses to essentially girdle itself from the inside.  By the time the tree is dead, the fungus has spread to all surrounding trees.  Amazingly the…

roots remain alive to continue sending up suckers in a desperate attempt to survive.  Unfortunately, by the time the suckers are 10-12 feet high, the fungus has found its way back.  By 1950, in an area stretching from Maine to Alabama, 3.5 billion trees were annihilated. This biological disaster has kept scientists on their toes during the 20th century as they realize how easily a similar situation could occur.  The Oak, which has been found to be susceptible to a similar pathogen, could very easily realize the same fate as the Chestnut.

As one might imagine, attempts at possible reintroduction of this tree seemed futile.  The American Chestnut had been an invaluable resource in early America, providing both hardwood and nut meat.  It has been fairly unanimous that this tree is definitely worth committing some time and energy to.  The USDA designated a few decades of research attempting to cross it with the immune Chinese Chestnut but ceased to fund the program in 1960.  Luckily, an independent researcher by the name of Dr. Arthur Graves had already been conducting his own backcross breeding studies.  The idea was simple, but required much patience.  The process involves cross breeding the Chinese Chestnut with our American Chestnut and continue to backcross until a tree which has the physical qualities of the American Chestnut, but also carries the blight resistant qualities of the Chinese specimen.  Each cross required 6-7 years of growth before it would flower, fruit and could finally be crossed.  Working closely with geneticist, Donald Jones, the first crosses were made in 1930 and we can anticipate full reintroductions of the final prodigy in the very near future…possibly next year. 

The hard work and dedication of a few will hopefully help us bring back this prized tree.  They will almost certainly re-assume their position in the Eastern American landscape as the well-deserved dominant tree of the forest.  While most of us will not live to realize the full maturity of the reforested areas, our children and grand children will benefit greatly.  Maybe, once again, the American Chestnut can be roasted over the open fire, as the song portrays.  Mmm…mmm…good!


 The Garden that is Finished is Dead

The Great Divide – How To

Oh my…the weather is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!  I guess we are being rewarded for putting up with the horribly unbearable summer we have had.  Everyone seems to be excited to get outside and make everything beautiful for autumn.  At Suburban, the mums and many other bits of fall color are pouring in the doors (and flying back out).   We are also gearing up for our fall festivities which will include visits from Cowgirl Kate and Witch Hazel!  I hope you and your family will come out and see us, you will have a great time!

There are so many things that can be done in the yard at this time of year: aerating and seeding, laying sod, cleaning beds, trimming shrubs, planting bulbs (later), preparing tropicals to return indoors, installing new plants and cleaning and/or dividing perennials.  This is the best time to

plant new trees and shrubs.  They will have the entire fall and spring to settle in before the summer heat rolls back around.  For the same reason it is also the best time to divide perennials.  Not only that, you have a larger window to work with.  Hostas, Daylilies, Liriope and Iris are all perennials which benefit from being divided every few years.  Sedum should still be divided in the spring since it is just getting ready to bloom.  Liriope is easy to divide but you might wait until they are nearing the end of their bloom cycle.

Hostas can be divided in two ways.  I usually “shave off” sections that I wish to move elsewhere.  Using a sharp shovel, it is simply a matter of cutting a section of the plant away.  Usually it is best to try to retain the shape of the original plant.  The other method is to dig the entire plant and cut it into sections, each of which can be replanted.  Dividing Hostas will also insure that your plants will bloom the following year.  When disturbed in the spring, they will occasionally sulk and refuse to bloom during the initial year. The picture below depicts a hosta which I would consider in need of division.

If Daylilies get too crowded, they will begin to produce fewer blooms.  It is necessary to give them some elbow room every few years.  Enthusiasts of these plants insist that the best way to divide them is by placing to pitchforks/garden forks back to back through the center of the unearthed plant and then prying the roots/tubers apart.  This does less damage to the plant than cutting through with a shovel.  A clean division will help the plant establish easier and make it less open to diseases or pathogens in the soil.  When dividing your Daylilies, you will want to cut the foliage down to a manageable height, keeping in mind that the foliage is what nutrients to the roots.  Try to remove only what is necessary to keep the plants from flopping over onto the soil.  Green foliage that comes in direct and flat contact with the soil will invite slugs and other pests, rot and other problems.  Daylilies love sunlight and will bloom profusely if they have enough of it.  Be sure to find a location which will be easy to water in a time of drought, too.  While the drought will not kill them (generally), they will go dormant, turn brown and become very unsightly.  Consider spacing, as well.  A small clump of Daylilies will quickly take up quite a bit of space.  A bit of forethought will save you the work of moving them before you would have needed to.

This is also the ideal time to divide or plant Bearded Iris and others.  They are not the easiest plant to correctly install in the ground, but I hope to relay the important factors to you.  The first thing you will want to do is to cut the foliage down about half way (leave about 6-8 inches).  I cut mine at an angle with a point in the center, but it shouldn’t matter.

The next thing to think about is placement.  Bearded Iris are rhizomes which seem to grow “backwards” and this year’s rhizomes are finished blooming.  The offsets produced by this year’s rhizomes will bloom next year.  If you visualize the rhizome as a “foot”, it will be easier to place them taking into consideration the fact that they will spread “backwards”.

The new rhizomes (next year’s blooms) will appear near the heel.  The other important step is insuring that the top of the rhizome remains slightly above the soil level, exposed to the sun.  If planted beneath the surface, they will not perform well, probably won’t bloom and may even have weak foliage.

You may have to check on them periodically to make sure they haven’t fallen over.  If you have landscape fabric staples, they can be pinned into place.  Installing Iris properly will insure gorgeous blooms for years to come!

Above all, have fun in your gardening adventures and remember:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead