Monday, December 26, 2011

What's Wrong With My Oak?

Back in 2002, when my husband and I bought our home, one of the things we liked best about the property was our parkway tree. We didn't know what kind of tree is was, but loved it's perfect symmetry, rounded form (although I would have used the word "shape" back then), and fullness when leafed out that gave us privacy on our somewhat busy street. But one thing that drove us crazy was the fact that it would not lose it's leaves in the fall like the rest of the trees! We had no idea why. We thought maybe it was because there was a streetlight nearby, which we'd read could mess with the leaf cycle of trees.

I've since learned that this tree that we adore, is Quercus alba, a white oak. Q. alba is native to Illinois, in fact, it's Illinois' state tree. It's a member of the Fagaceae family, which includes oaks, beeches, and chestnuts. Nothing is wrong with our tree - members of the Fagaceae family hang on to their leaves well into winter. In fact, you'll often see a pile of leaves under the tree in the snow, as they continually lose a few each day. In early spring, old leaves will fall as the new ones emerge.

While my white oak has not produced any acorns yet (mine is only about 15 years old and they are said typically not to produce acorns until 50 years, but sometimes as little as 20) when it does, they will be an important source of food for wildlife as more than 180 species of insects, birds, and mammals feed from this tree.

I'm lucky enough to have "inherited" this tree and a 70 foot tall white pine when we bought our house. I've added other native trees including a redbud (Cercis canadensis), serviceberry (Amalanchier sp.) and hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). What are your favorite native trees on your property (inherited or not)?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vertical Garden Roundup

Have you heard that O'Hare Airport in Chicago is growing vegetables using vertical gardens?

Vertical gardens are hot! And why shouldn't they be? We can grow ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs in much less space than if they were planted horizontally (in the ground, that is). If you have little outdoor space - a small patio or a balcony, for example - vertical gardening may be for you. I plan on building a vertical garden to decorate an outside wall of our house that is next to our deck, both to provide some interest on the plain wall, and to grow herbs as close as possible to my kitchen. Here is a roundup of my favorite vertical gardens on the web.

photo credit
This garden uses the side of a fence to grow greens. Mounting the "beds" in an alternating unlevel pattern utilizes water more efficiently. These may be rain gutters, which is a great way to repurpose them when no longer in use.

photo credit
I like the idea behind this vertical garden made from none other than a shoe organizer! This won't work for me because it's a little too casual for my deck space, but I still think it's a great idea and would love to try it.

photo credit
This vertical garden from Urbio combines practical utility with modern style. I am definitely considering this one. The plates and pots can be installed in any arrangement.

photo credit
This Wooly Pocket is also a contender for my space. It comes in five different colors and is waterproof, so no drippy mess. You can also use these indoors! Cool.

Have you tried vertical gardening? Share your experience!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Giving Back to the Birds - Native Berry-Producing Shrubs

As you can see from my last few posts, I am on a berry binge. I am completely enamored with berry-producing trees and shrubs. I love the idea of providing plants that will feed birds through winter. We have taken so much habitat from our local wildlife, it would be great to give some back. And it just happens that due to some construction on my house, I had to rip out a perennial garden and plan to replant the area with native berry-producing shrubs in the spring. It's a perfect location for watching birds either from inside the house or on the deck, so I want plants that will initiate a birdy feeding frenzy. There are so many great choices available - how to choose?

Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry)
photo credit
My first choice was Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry), but I am reading conflicting information about its usefulness to birds. Some sources say it is very attractive to birds, some say birds won't touch it, and some say they will eat it as a last resort in late winter. In this article, the Morton Arboretum says it will attract over 21 different species of birds, and I tend to rely on their information since it is so appropriate to our area here in the Chicago suburbs. The bright red berry-like pomes in late fall and winter are spectacular, as is it's fall color, but it is very leggy and needs the right plant in front of it to hide those bare legs. For this reason, it is best massed. Will do well in many types of soil, full or part sun, and wet or dry soils.

Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood)
photo credit
One of the most useful plants in the residential landscape is Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood). It will attract over 98 different species of birds (Wow!) and has a nice spring flower and white berry-like drupes and deep green leaves in summer that turn reddish purple in fall. As an added bonus - the red branches provide winter interest and can be used for winter arrangements. Adaptable to many soil conditions, but does best is wet soils.

Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry)
Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry) is one of my favorite plants. I love the spatulate leaf shape, and the waxy-looking berry-like drupe that cover the plant in fall are gorgeous. Only female plants produce fruit, so a male plant nearby is necessary. Over 85 species of birds visit this plant for food, making it a definite contender for a spot in my garden. While the straight species can grow quite large (8-10 feet tall), a smaller, more compact cultivar is on the way. Grows in full sun or part shade, sandy or clay soil.

Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry)
photo credit

Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry) is a native holly, complete with the glossy dark green leaves that we all love. It's deciduous, meaning that it will lose it's leaves in the fall, but the red berry-like drupes persist in winter until the birds eat them up. The straight species can grow to 10 feet, but many smaller cultivars are available. This beauty will attract over 20 species of birds. Does well in full sun or partial shade, but produces more fruit in more sun and moist soil.

Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry)
photo credit

A low-growing option (3-4 feet) for closer to the front of the border is either Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry/Indiancurrant) or Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry). While S. orbiculatus has a purplish berry, and S. albus has a very interesting white berry-like drupe, they both attract lots of birds. This plant is unique because it does well in shade.

With all this focus on fruits, it's important to note that birds will choose an insect to eat over a berry or seed anytime, so it's important to select native plants that will attract insects as well as provide tasty fruits, which all of the above will.

I don't know how I will decide what to plant. Do you have any of these plants? What are your experiences?

For more information, visit Carole Seville Brown's post on Best Berries for Birds in the Wildlife Garden.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dripping with Fruit - Hall's Crabapple (Malus halliana)

Has a plant ever literally stopped you in your tracks?

I was driving along the East Route at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, when I was urged to pull over to the side of the road to get a closer look at this crabapple. Hall's Crabapple (Malus halliana) is a show-stopper at this time of year. It is just dripping with orange and yellow fruit that will catch your attention from a distance.

The birds have not touched this tree, I assume because it's native to China. They may eat the fruit as a last resort in the dead of winter. While I find this to be a gorgeous tree, it is not available in the industry, possibly due to all those pomes (many people find them a nuisance). So we will just have to admire it at the Arboretum.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Potager Inspiration for Your Garden

Another summer has come and gone, and except for some kale, swiss chard, beets, and pak choi, most of the potager is unproductive. I've spread out what remained in my compost tumbler to enrich the soil for next year, and will blanket each bed with shredded leaves for the winter.

Many friends and neighbors have expressed interest in building a potager in the spring, so I thought I'd give you all some pictures of beautiful vegetable gardens that might inspire you to start growing your own vegetables, or convince you to go bigger!

I love the simplicity of this garden - just wooden beds with a
simple fence enclosure. I wouldn't want to have to mow that
grass though, and would probably choose crushed stone or patio paver paths.

Are you using brick pavers elsewhere on your property? You can easily
tie the vegetable garden to the look of the rest of the landscaping by
matching the pavers and fencework.
photo credit

Flagstone makes a beautiful pathing material in this potager.
photo credit

Combining both raised beds and ground-level beds creates interest and beauty.
Using crushed stone for a portion of the paths saves money.
photo credit

Love the wood planks surrounding these raised beds. No muddy shoes in this
photo credit

And of course, I love the design of this potager, because it's mine!

Now is a great time to get started on the design of your own potager, and I can help! Contact me today, and this spring you could be harvesting your family's produce from your own gorgeous vegetable garden! For more information about Tina Koral Gardens, visit .