Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Welcome Spring!

     After what was probably the worst winter in our lifetimes spring is finally here, welcome spring and welcome readers new and old! I have written many articles here if you are looking for something specific please use the search feature to the right. If you have a question or article suggestion please post it in the comment section below and remember comments are moderated so will not appear immediately. You can also email me. I will try my best to answer your questions.
Above the vivid orange of Species Tulip praestans Unicum

     It was not your imagination last winter was truly the worst, it was reported in February that we had the most snow on the ground since 1978 and then it snowed seemingly continually thru April. I was a kid in the 70's so it is true that kids these days have no idea of the long walks to school in snow as high as your waist, well, until this year! It all seems like a distant memory now as it has become summer-like this spring. The only good part of all this snow is residual moisture for our trees and excellent winter protection for our small shrubs and perennials, even the rabbits couldn't eat our plants because they were buried. I hope it is another 40 years until another winter like this!

Daffodils and Species Tulips are among the first blooms in Calgary, although this year about 3 weeks later than normal.

I always grab a flat of pansies in the spring and plant in different pots this way they can brought in if it gets too cold. Most years I plant these out in mid April but this year was so late I don't think there was a danger of heavy frost. They like cool wet weather so often excel during rainy periods in June and are expired by the time July heat rolls around.

My mom is growing a Fritillaria Imperialis in her back yard which is quite amazing as they are borderline hardy here. Many years these plants were decimated by the Red Lily Beetle but since Olds College has been introducing a natural predator of these beetles I have seen a lot less damage on all Lily family members. It's such great news as I have removed most lilies from my yard and have not purchased any new ones in years.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Best Trees For Calgary; Black Walnut

     Black Walnut Juglans nigra, is not common and borderline hardy in Calgary but well worth the effort. The arm length pinnate leaves lend a tropical feel to our northern gardens in the summer. These trees emit the chemical juglone which is toxic to some plants including tomato, potato, apple, pine and birch so plan accordingly, do not plant near vegetable gardens or other trees! These trees need plenty of space and direct sun as in their native range they are massive, over 100 feet (30 -40m) tall and almost as wide too. I highly doubt this tree would grow this tall as no trees in Calgary are even this tall. I have also read that they will not set fruit in our zone, not below zone 4, and certainly mine has not in over 15 years.

     I have been growing this Black Walnut in my Calgary backyard since 2002. I ordered it through the mail and it came bare root in a box about 2 feet tall, I had to plant it in a pot when it arrived as it was still snowing that spring and wait until about June to plant outside. Although these trees grow massively, several feet a year, they also winterkill to a huge degree so it's a lot like two steps forward one step back. In one of the first five or so years this tree winterkilled right to the ground emerging as a new sprout from the roots, in many years it winterkilled to the snowline. Since growing above the snowline many of the branches winterkill and if you see it in the spring it looks dead, however, the 10 to 20% of the buds that survive grow into what you see in the picture above and grow around 5 feet every summer. This is the latest leafing out of any tree in our area sometimes well into June, the buds are almost microscopic compared to what they grow into. Every few years I thin out the very dead of the deadwood to give a tidy appearance. This tree is currently around 15 feet (5m) tall after 16 years.

     These two walnut trees grow a few blocks down my street and seem to do very well, very little winterkill and not bothered by jack rabbits! They have probably been there just under 10 years, if memory serves me. So I would say that these trees are definitely worth a try in Calgary if planted in a responsible way like in a large open space away from gardens and in a warm microclimate like the inner city or established area with mature trees.

     Black walnut leaves have a curious medicinal smell and slight stickiness if handled. Because of their immense growth in the growing season, the branches at several feet a year and the leaves 3 feet long, I often tie wayward branches to a stronger branch lifting it out of the way and sometimes snip a branch off  which I hate doing. Occasionally the leaves will turn a pale yellow given a long enough fall but in our area often a frosty night freezes the leaves to a crisp and the long pinnate leaf will fall off over the next few days, usually I have to remove the fallen leaves as they get stuck in the branches and look really messy. I do not compost these leaves because of the juglone but dispose of in regular garbage.

Other Walnuts To Grow

Manchurian Walnut Juglans mandshurica, 

Above, a large Manchurian walnut grows in the Dorthy Harvie Gardens in the Calgary Zoo, left of gazebo above. It is actually listed as a heritage tree of Alberta, I remember it as a boy over 30 some years ago and it has been happily growing since. This specimen is at least 30 or 40 feet tall (over 10m) and also has a wide spreading canopy. These trees come from China, Russia, North and South Korea and are rated exceptionally hardy down to -45C! This walnut exudes much less juglone than other species of walnut making it ideal as a landscape tree. My only question is why haven't we been growing this tree in Calgary ages ago!?!? Exceptionally hardy, non toxic and absolutely gorgeous, why hasn't the zoo been propagating seedlings and the city planting them all over? Please, a moratorium on Shubert Cherry and more Manchurian Walnut please!

Butternut Juglans cinerea,

     Butternut walnut is a much smaller and hardier tree than Black walnut, native to Eastern North America into Wisconsin it is rated as zone 2 and said to bear nuts in zone 3!  Many describe the nut as delicious and less astringent tasting than Black walnut. All walnuts need plenty of room for their wide spreading canopies and full sun. Walnuts are self fertile only one is needed to bear fruit. I cannot find any literature or photographs on this tree actually growing in Alberta except that it is rated for our zone which sounds very promising. These trees are also called White walnut and grow to half the size of Black, about 50 feet tall and wide so probably a little smaller in Calgary as most trees grow.


     Look online for availability some local nurseries will special order walnut trees, some smaller nurseries will also order trees for you just ask! I got my Black walnut thru mail order and there are some companies online that specialize in nut and fruit trees but I would check locally first.

In the spirit of our pioneering gardeners like William Reader we must always be stretching the boundaries of what can be grown in our challenging climate, try everything see what happens, this city can always use one more species of tree. There are already some examples of walnuts in our climate and there is always room for more!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Best Trees For Calgary; Ohio Buckeye

     Looking for something exotic? Ohio Buckeye , Aesculus glabra, a member of the Horse Chestnut family is a great addition to any landscape.

Above, the natural range of Ohio Buckeyes, the state tree and moniker for people from Ohio known as "Buckeyes". How does this tree grow in our high northern plains environment? I don't know, hardy as hell I guess! It just goes to show that we should try almost anything to see if it grows here. There are quite a few Buckeyes in Calgary in public parks and peoples yards, they seem to grow here just fine for being from much higher growing zones.

     Maybe the first Ohio Buckeye in Readers Rock Garden in Calgary. These trees can grow up to 50 feet tall (15m) and wide but probably never that large in our climate. They have a five-pointed palmate leaf like all Chestnuts which is a nice contrast to the majority of our deciduous trees. Plant in a large yard away from too much heat or wind as the leaves can scorch, water well until established.

     Ohio Buckeye is one of the earliest trees to leaf out in the spring followed by large flower spikes.

     Here are a couple of Buckeyes in my neighbourhood in bloom around mid May.

     After flowering chestnuts develop through the summer. By around the end of August the spiny casing opens to reveal the shiny chestnut, if you have squirrels the nuts will disappear immediately! Even Magpies will eat the nuts. If you pick the spiney nuts before they split open and let them pop open indoors revealing the actual nut they can be grown quite easily just like Acorns which you can read about in the previous post, Burr Oak.

Here you can see a fairly large specimen, these trees make excellent shade and often have beautiful fall foliage ranging from orange to red which is very nice in our yellow dominated fall palette. These trees have interesting light coloured bark with very thick twigs on a fairly uniform rounded silhouette, little pruning is necessary.

     Despite their southern-midwest roots these trees thrive in Calgary. There is one at the base of the Centre St. Bridge on Memorial Dr., a few in Riley Park close to the Burns Rock Garden, Deerfoot Athletic Park and maybe in your own neighbourhood park or yard. Hardy, large flowering, great shade tree and virtually pest and maintenance free, if you have some space these are great specimens!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Best Trees For Calgary; Burr Oak

     Few trees live up to the Burr Oak's, Quercus macrocarpa, hardiness, beauty and longevity. Although quite common in Calgary these trees are quite interesting and as Wikipedia states "...withstands chinook conditions in Calgary, Alberta." These trees are named for the burr-like quality of the acorn casing, also called Mossycup Oak, as seen above.

     Burr Oaks are native to North America from South Eastern Saskatchewan south to the Gulf Coast of Texas North East to Southern Ontario and scattered populations East to New Brunswick, that said these trees are adapted to a wide range of climates and soil types. They are the hardiest of the White Oaks (White Oaks have rounded leaf lobes, Red Oaks have pointy lobes) and adapted well to the prairies because of extremely long tap roots and resistance to grass fires. 

     There is a wide variety of leaf shapes with this Oak, some of my relatives in Saskatchewan believe there are different species of Oak there but this is not true. There are two "clinal variants" or geographic variability such as the smaller leaf of the Burr Oaks of the Northern Plains as well as easy hybridizing with White Oak and eight other Oak species in overlapping ranges. Above, I collected leaves of Oaks as I passed down a street in my nighbourhood, as we can see there is a tremendous amount of variability! I'm going to guess that any native oaks in Saskatchewan would have the small leaves while the ones purchased at a greenhouse are probably from a different gene pool with larger leaves.

     I don't know when the first Burr Oaks were grown in Calgary but there are a few old specimens around in Elbow Park, Mount Royal and Crescent Heights, in recent times these trees have become common boulevard plantings all over the city.

These two Burr Oaks are in Crescent Heights, a neighbourhood that is just over 100 years old now, they are some of the oldest trees I've seen here and probably around 40 feet tall (12 m). You can also see the variance in fall leaf colour and change time, one is completely brown and ready to drop and the other is still green with a little yellow and they are side by side.

     I found an old photo of my dad, our dog Misty and the Burr Oak I wanted so badly, planted in this picture circa 1982. 35 or so years later...

I have turned grey, have a new dog and the tree is around 25 feet tall!

     Here are some young Burr Oaks in a public park in the late summer. These trees are very easy to grow in Calgary as they are adapted to growing on the Northern Plains, avoid planting in a wet area. Growth rates are slow to moderate but once established need little care, withstanding drought and needing little pruning. Oaks do not have flowers but male and female catkins that appear with the first leaves in spring, they are fairly late in leafing out in our area, late May, but provide nice shade through the summer. Fall leaf colour varies from yellow to brown and timing can vary from early fall to staying green until a hard frost. The undersides of the leaves are a pleasant silver-white adding some interest in the summer. These trees are virtually pest free and if you live in an area with squirrels or Blue Jays the acorns will be gone before you'd ever have to rake them up!

The bark is dark and deeply furrowed adding winter interest as well.

The winter profile of the Burr Oak, these trees have a fairly consistent oval to rounded form ideal for yards parks and boulevards.

     If you want more Oaks! Harvest acorns as soon as they are ready to drop off the tree or just as they have dropped on the ground, the acorns lose viability quickly so plant immediately! I used a deep seed tray here and some good potting soil. Poke the acorns about a 1/2 inch below the soil and water lightly. Find an out of the way spot in your yard that will get good snowcover and will not get trampled by dogs or people also cover with wire mesh or a cage to prevent squirrels they LOVE these nuts! This process is called "stratification" and most of our tree seeds need this process of several days of freezing weather to germinate. Keep moderately moist thru the fall and wait till spring...

Around the end of May or so the little trees should start sprouting and viola new oaks!


     If you're looking for a legacy tree that your grandchildren's grandchildren can enjoy this is it, these trees can live 300 to 400 years! It's a nice idea that something you plant today can be enjoyed by so many generations in the future, giving oxygen, shade on summer days and acorns for wildlife. Except for leaves to rake up these trees are practically maintenance free. So if you're looking for a shade tree or just a dependable tree that needs little from you this is for you. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Best Trees For Calgary; Linden

          If you're looking for a beautiful, fragrant, mess free, shade tree, Linden is for you. Sometimes called Lime tree in England and Basswood in North America Linden is an attractive pyramidal shade tree easily grown in our climate. Linden is of the genus Tilia which means heart shaped referring to the leaves.

     There are a few varieties of Linden available in our area, mainly Dropmore, above, with its huge leaves and Little-Leaf varieties, Glenlevin and Corinthian. Also some varieties developed in Manitoba especially for our prairie climate Harvest Gold, Golden Cascade, and fast growing Norlin. Most of these trees grow to about 25' to 50' tall x 20'to40' wide although in Calgary I haven't seen them much over 25' tall. There are many of these trees in Saskatoon where they grow quite large and have naturalized a little too so we know it's not cold that slows them down!

     Lindens have a fragrant tiny flower in early summer described as somewhere between honey and lemon peel, followed by tiny nut like seeds accompanied by a ribbon shaped bract a little like a Maple wing which is another attractive feature through the summer. The fragrance is attractive to both humans and bees thus making this a very valuable tree in any landscape. It is widely stated that the flowers and sometimes leaves make a pleasant tea as all parts are edible. There were many uses for this tree in the past including lumber/ carving, Bast (from which we derive Basswood) a fiber derived from the bark used for fabric and also for honey. In Europe there are claims of Lindens as old as 1000 to 2000 years old so we know these are very long lived trees.

     I don't know why there weren't many Lindens in Calgary until recently, obviously they have been growing in Saskatoon for many years in a moderately similar climate. I recall seeing my first Linden in Calgary at the Prehistoric Park that was built in the 1980's growing happily amongst the recreated rockscapes. Years later my better trained eye for dendrology spotted this Little Leaf Linden variety, above, growing in Reader's Rock Garden, the biggest drawback is that we don't know the variety or year planted or where collected from, very interesting though.

     I spotted this row of Lindens in front of St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary, they must be several decades old. Here you can see the typical straight trunk and pyramidal form excellent for streets and yards. These trees need little to no pruning are a great shade tree. Even though there are small seeds they are touted as being great for patios and decks and are very tidy and maintenance free. They should be planted in a site that is neither too wet or too dry, although this sounds "Goldilocks" I would say don't plant in a low spot or amend soil that has a lot of clay and as with most trees in Calgary water well when young.

     I'm glad the City is planting more Lindens around Calgary, the attractive leaves, fragrant flowers and beautiful shape add a lot to our landscape. Fall colour is yellow, given a long enough season of course, sometimes though the leaves do not change colour at all depending on the individual. The bare twigs are thick and dark making it attractive in the winter as well. These trees leaf out moderately early in our area and are listed as slow to moderate growth. I think they would be fine for a specimen tree in most yards and as we can see great for boulevards too. Undemanding and practically maintenance free make this one of my top recommendations.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

August 2017 In Photos

August, this one like no other as the record breaking heat continues. Calgary could be no other way weather wise, completely capricious from the previous year which was cold and wet, this year has been unprecedented in heat and dryness. This month also had some personal challenges as my father passed away, there was not much time for garden enjoyment as planning a funeral and hosting family took most of my time. I hope to get back to more regular blogging as the summer winds down. It has been a memorable month! Above Annabelle Hydrangea bloomed nicely through the heat and drought.

My epiphytic cactus blooms every August in a mostly shaded location outside, this year was the best yet! I know, I post pics of this every year but I always find the giant blooms so amazing, this photo benefits from some interesting lighting.

I picked up this New Zealand Flax at half price, end of season sale, the tag calls it Rainbow Sunrise "Maori Sunrise" . Of course these are only hardy on the west coast of Canada, or maybe you've seen them in California too? I will try to overwinter this plant indoors and let you know how that goes. In warm climates these plants grow several feet tall so this may take several years, until then I will enjoy the vibrant colours at any size.

This Piri Piri Chili and a few other types of chilies I grew enjoyed the heat this year. Around here we are lucky to harvest chilies before frost. This one was pretty hot, very nice! I hope to write about the vegetable gardening I have undertaken this year very soon.

This pot of decorative Artemesias did very well with the heat too, the hanging bamboo does not seem to like so much intense heat however.

Shrimp Plant seemed quite at home with the heat and very regular watering, blooming almost constantly through the summer.

Cannas and Sweet Potato Vine were quite at home with the hot weather too, performing very well all summer.

I figured out if you are having an eclipse you can take a picture of the sun and while looking at he screen move your phone around a little until you get a second tiny image of the sun which will show the image of the sun backwards but you'll be able to see the progress of the eclipse. So, if you can zoom in to the tiny speck to the left of the sun in this photo you'll be able to see the eclipse at it's peak in my area. Being in South Western Canada we had 80% coverage so it did get eerily dark and chilly for a few moments there.

A view of the vegetable boxes in mid summer, there are many leafy greens we can't keep up to eating!