Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Loose Ends

Today is the last day of 2019.

It's been a busy week and a half since my last post. One of our sons is in the process of slowly moving into another house. We spent a few hours one afternoon cleaning out some invasive, overgrown English Ivy and other unnecessary plant material. The ivy had actually started growing up between the vinyl siding and the original wood siding of the house, so that was a fun job.

In the process of pulling vines and swinging a brush blade at the growth I managed to pull a muscle in my lower back. It didn't really make itself known until Christmas morning when it began protesting loudly with every little motion. I tried to rest for a couple of days, but now, a week later, I still have pain.

In the meantime I've been cataloging and making plans to get the seeds I've acquired sown. I have nearly forty species to get planted and finally got a few in the soil today.

I used a ten-gallon container to lay out just over three hundred seeds of American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) gifted to me by a good friend. I covered the seeds with about a quarter of an inch of clean sand. These large seeds are easier to handle and count than the small seeds that I sow in gallon containers or in individual plug cells.

I've grown a few persimmons from seed in the past, but never in any quantity. I have about 300 seeds left over and, depending on space, I may try to sow another container. One can never have too many persimmon trees!

The small container shown on top of the persimmons are about 100 or so seeds of Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum). This will be my first attempt at starting the onions from seed and I'm hoping for and looking forward to success.

Also sown today were an estimated two to three hundred Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) seeds, started in a five-gallon container. These seeds must be scarified before planting. I did so by pouring boiling water over the seeds then allowing them to cool for about twenty-four hours before sowing.

I'm hoping New Year's Day will allow me to continue to get these seeds in their containers. By getting them in the soil and placing them in a protected area outdoors they should receive adequate cold weather between now and spring to satisfy the needs for proper stratification. The, I look forward to seeing the little seedlings peeking through the soil surface when the weather warms.

My seed collecting will be much more systematic and easier from here on out, and I have my beautiful wife to thank for it. For several years I have been window-shopping for a set of sieves that will filter out the majority of chaff that comes with the territory of collecting seeds. Up until now I haven't made the commitment to purchase a set, but she saw to it that I had a merry Christmas this year. I've already been using the sieves and they, like her, are awesome!

Later in the afternoon, me with my sore back and she with her many joint issues decided to take some time during the beautiful weather and walk a bit on our property behind our home in the Uwharries. Our slow, limping and hobbling pace probably explains why we've started getting the senior discount at some restaurants lately. Either that, or it's my old-man suspenders that I wear now.

As for our walk, there were a few surprises to be found, which I will share in another post.

Thank you for following this adventure and I wish you, dear reader, a successful, green, native 2020.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Seeds, Seeds, Everywhere

Now that winter has officially arrived we are found in the midst of cleaning, labeling and sowing the many seeds of native plants that have been collected over the past several months.

There are SO many seeds. It seems that every time I open a box or drawer I find more that I had forgotten.

Locally collected seeds are best for plants that will be used nearby. These are already conditioned for the weather and pollinators that frequent the area.

In the ever-expanding search for natives that I don't already have I try to be prepared in case an opportunity to gather seeds arises. I always keep a supply of ziplock bags, paper lunch sacks, a sharpie marker and some hand pruners with me. You never know what you might run into on the roadside.

In the cases of rescue opportunities for plants that may be in line for destruction from development or someone thinning out their garden, I keep a small shovel, sometimes called a “poacher's shovel” with me. It rarely gets used, but when the need arises it's very nice to have on hand.

The act of collection of seeds is the easy part. The intensive labor comes when it's time to clean the seeds by removing stems, dried petals, dirt and other chaff from the brown gold that is the actual seed. It can be quite tedious.

There are many different ways to achieve the final result. Some larger seeds, such as those of the Baptisias (Wild Indigo) and Cercis canadense (Redbud), can have the dried pods crushed and the resulting chaff separated from the seeds. Larger pieces can be picked out by hand and discarded while the smaller, dustlike chaff can be blown away with a mild breeze from nature, a fan, of a small puff of breath.

If you are fortunate enough to own a set of graduated sieves, you can just filter out the chaff.

When cleaning for my own use I'm not as picky about trying to get every little piece of chaff. If I plan to package the seeds for a swap or giveaway I try to get them as clean as possible.

Seed heads from radial flowers, such as the Rudbeckias, Coneflowers and Asters, will tend to have more chaff. Depending on the moisture level of the collected seed heads the seeds may just fall out with a slight brushing motion, of stubbornly try to fight any attempt made to dislodge them.

The milkweeds are probably my favorite seeds to collect and clean. The seeds are encased in an elongated pod that develops as the flowers fade. When these pods dry they will start to split open. This is the point when you want to collect your seeds.

Each seed in the pod is attached to it's own silky white hair that is actually a tool the plant uses for dispersal. Like a dandelion, when the seeds are released from the pod a puff of wind can carry a seed along, like a parachute, in hopes it will land somewhere that offers an environment to ensure it's germination and growth.

Cleaning these seeds is a challenge. I've tried several methods, some that were so tedious it made me want to give up. I've finally found a way to separate the seeds from the chaff that results in clean seeds and less silky puffs floating around and sticking to me as I work. A milkweed silk inhaled isn't a fun experience.

I may share this method of cleaning with you in a later post.

By the time the next installment is made Christmas will have come and gone. Celebrations of all cultures will have passed or be ongoing.

Whatever you celebrate, I'd like to wish you happy holidays, stay safe, and plan to use more native plants in 2020.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Tending the Shade

With the permission of our dogs, I have started a true shade garden to accommodate the new plants that I brought home from the rescue on December 1. This will be the area that I hope to use to grow shade stock plants to propagate for sale.

The dogs cross this area on the way to find the perfect spot to do their business. It is along the southwest property edge and is blessed with rich, dark soil.

I started the garden by taking the bow rake that I recently upgraded with a new handle and raking out a serpentine path through the space.

I stepped off the path and it comes to roughly twenty-six feet long and just over a foot wide, with beds of various widths on each side of the path.

There is a large Cercis canadensis, or Eastern Redbud on the outer edge of the garden that has started leaning toward the car shed. It is obvious that it has become top-heavy and the roots are rising from the ground as the lean increases. It will be pulled back upright and anchored to a much sturdier neighboring tulip poplar in the near future. It could really cause some damage if it's not corrected soon.

I've started lining the path with short lengths of limbs from a couple of trees that had to be removed because last summer's Hurricane Florence made them lean toward the power lines. Randolph EMC took care of that problem.

Most of the area has now been raked out and I've started locating the plants that will occupy the garden close by to make it more convenient come planting time.

I relocated a small concrete bench to a spot along the path, picked up five 97¢ solar lamps to add some dim light for the night, then drove a fence post to attach a six-foot tall impact sprinkler for the dry times, which will be back next year.

I heeled in the clump of Asarum canadense (Canadian Ginger) that I dug last week at the rescue. It may actually be sunk a bit deeper and become a permanent resident there.

In addition to the plants that I mentioned in my installment about the plant rescue I've brought in some native Sedum ternatum, or Woodland Stonecrop that I started from small cuttings about 16 months ago. I'm using these as stock plants and have already propagated a couple of flats of four-inch pots from them. If they do well in the garden I should be able to add to the numbers considerably. I hope to begin offering them for sale during the 2020 season.

Another shade lover that I'm adding will be Tiarella cordifolia, or Foamflower. I purchased these natives at a plant sale fundraiser last June and have not yet put them in the ground. They'll make a nice addition.

I also bought several varieties of wild geranium, also called cranesbill, that might fill in some of the brighter spots.

A rescued plant that I failed to mention in the earlier post is Arisaema triphyllum, or Jack in the Pulpit. I discovered that I had dug a few of these after I wrote that particular blog.

As the garden develops I'll be sharing photos of the progress.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

'Tis the Season

Holiday Decorating Using Native Plants

As the season bears down on us, a nature hike to gather decorations might be the best prescription for the holiday anxiety that you may be experiencing even if it's just through your own garden.

These days, plastic seems to be the king of Christmas decorations with plastic trees, garland, ornaments, even fake food!

But there are many traditions that involve native plants.

As far back as history records you will find references of nature alongside the stories of the season, be they about Christmas, the winter solstice, Chanukah, Festivus and others. The symbolism continues to this day.

The Christmas Tree.

The Christmas tree symbolizes hope and was a tradition that first began in 16th Century Germany. It wasn't widespread in the United States until the early 20th Century.

As a child our family would always go out and cut an Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) tree to use as our centerpiece for Christmas. My dad had a friend that owned hundreds of acres of country property that was literally covered with cedars. It was a yearly rite to traipse through these woods in search of the perfect tree, and we always found one.

My dad would use his hand saw to cut it down, then we would take turns dragging it back to the car. It seemed that the tree always looked smaller in the field where it grew, as we always had to do some extra cutting to get it to fit in our living room.


Mistletoe symbolizes romance. It is actually a parasite that gets nourishment by attaching itself to deciduous trees by way of “deposits” made by the birds that eats the mistletoe berries.


As the song goes, people deck their halls with boughs of holly because holly was thought of as good luck since it never died. The practice began in ancient Roman and Greek days. The evergreen branches with red berries are a beautiful sight, and the deciduous hollies of different colors can be used in as many ways as you can come up with.

While on your winter hike in the woods, if you have permission of the property owner, carry some pruners to collect interesting branches, cones, seed pods and anything else that might catch your eye. If you do decide to make cuts, please do so in a manner that will benefit the plant. There are right ways and wrong ways to prune a tree or shrub.

These goodies can be used as indoor or outdoor decorations by placing them in vases or sinking them in your outdoor planters and window boxes to brighten things up for the holiday season.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

To the Rescue!

Today I had a rare opportunity to participate in a plant rescue, organized by the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

A plant rescue is the term used for an organized effort to save plants from destruction by demolition, construction or development of the site where the plants are growing. This particular residence is slated for demolition.

Many rescues take place when highway construction threatens to destroy the habitat where the plants are growing. In this case, the plants were growing in a residential landscape not far from the middle of the city of Charlotte.

Merely blocks away, thousands of people were gathered to watch the Carolina Panthers lose to the Washington Redskins, screaming, yelling, cheering.

The gathering I participated in was much different. Only six people were allowed to take part, and I feel very fortunate to have been included in that small number. Most of us had never met, but we were all there with the purpose of saving these plants, many of which had already been saved years ago from an area that was to be flooded to form Randleman Lake, on the Deep River.

The ground was very moist as a result of the heavy rain that had fallen the previous twenty-four hours. This made it a dirty job, but the rewards were many.

Of the twelve varieties of native plants that were said to be available, I was able to come away with fine specimens of six of those. Some I already have in my garden, so I left those for others.

Our group was a very sharing bunch. I think we all dug plants that were then divided and shared among the rescuers. I don't remember all the names, but I felt at home among them. Plant people are like that.

One of the rules of a plant rescue is that the plants may not be sold. One can plant them in their own garden, share with public gardens or pass along to NCNPS chapters for further distribution.

My six varieties will be added to my personal collection of native plants. If they grow successfully, I hope to be able to propagate from them in numbers that will allow me to list them for sale with the other selections I can offer.

The six varieties I collected today are:

Sanguinaria canadensis, common name of Bloodroot, which is a native perennial plant that grows less than 1 foot tall. It prefers to grow in a shaded area that receives less than two hours of sun a day. The white flowers appear in March and April and can be found throughout the state of North Carolina.

Bignonia capreolata, or Crossvine, is a native perennial woody vine that can grow up to 50 feet in a season. It will grow in sun or part shade. The flowers are yellow and orange and appear in April and May. The vine is most at home in the Piedmont areas of North Carolina.

Asarum canadense, or Wild Ginger, is a perennial native that grows less than one foot tall. It prefers shade to part shade and has brownish blooms in April and May.

Podophyllum peltatum is commonly called Mayapple. It grows from 1 to 3 feet and has white blooms in March and April. It can grow throughout the state.

Polygonatum biflorum is called Solomon's Seal or True Solomon's Seal. It is a shade-loving perennial that will grow up to three feet and blooms are white and green, appearing from April through June. It can be found throughout North Carolina.

Achilllea millefolium or common Yarrow is a plant that I already have in production. The clump I dug was being ignored, so I brought it home with me. The white flowers appear from April into October. It likes full sun and dry soil.

The photos used this week are not my own and I do not claim ownership.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Don't take it for granted

If you are fortunate enough to reside in rural area I would like to say, “How lucky for you!”

You, my friend, are among the most fortunate from the point of view of nature. If you've lived there forever it may not be as noticeable, but you are living in a fantasy land of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, along with the creatures that live among you.

Now that autumn is coming to a close it is a bit more obvious that the bare limbs are showing their elegance, which is a wonderful experience. While the leaves of deciduous growth have already or are in the process of dropping from the trees you can rest assured that nature is in control.

Those leaves, whether in a forest or your own backyard are enriching the earth for future growth. They decompose into rich soil and loam, ready to be converted by the likes of insects, worms, fungi and millions of bacteria.

When I was a child I remember hearing adults talk about going “out into the woods” to dig some soil or a tree seedling or other small plant. You never heard them say they were going “out in the yard” to do so. Unwittingly they were confirming the fact that trees and other plants make good soil for growing the life that sustains us.

I have recently seen some posts online about leaving the leaves on the ground for the creatures that live there. One in particular has the headline, “These Animals are Made Possible by Fallen Leaves.” It was published by a site called healthyyards.com. I'll share the meme here.

The site encourages more of a co-existence between nature and the mega-poison practice of using poisons and unneeded fertilizers to present a lush, “weed-free” lawn.

Lawn. As a disclaimer I would like to say that, in my earlier years, I was guilty of falling for the practice of the perfect yard. I sprayed, spread and mowed and pruned as a living, providing the perfect yard for others.

At the time I didn't realize the damage I was doing to the environment, not to mention myself. I regularly attended classes on the proper use of pesticides in order to legally apply them to the properties of others.

However, any Tom, Dick or Harry can go down to the local big box store (and some little box stores) and legally purchase a lethal cocktail of these substances to their heart's content.

Uh oh. I've strayed a bit. That subject is for another day.

Anyway, back to the fortunate.

I have many friends who are lucky enough to take the time to explore the trails, streams and waterways of our area. I do envy them. They get to see things that many can only dream of. I do get out from time to time, but only close to home and for short walks in the wooded areas.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with loads of natural beauty, please don't take it for granted. Let your eyes stray past the roadsides and appreciate the beauty that many merely pass by each day without seeing it.

And if you have the time and ability, get out of the car, or off the porch, and enjoy nature. Don't take it for granted.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Etched in Stone

It was a bittersweet moment when Daniel and I loaded the last pieces of our retail space onto the trailer for the slow trek back home. The old trailer wobbles pretty bad unless the speed is right at 48 or 49 miles per hour. Lots of dirty looks from those whizzing by in the passing lane, but they'll get over it. I did.

Even though it is the prime time of year to plant native trees and shrubs, most people don't think about it when the weather goes from cool to downright cold. Everyone's thinking Christmas now. Sales have dwindled to nearly none, and it was time to finish up.

The wind was whipping as we took the frame for the shade house apart. Daniel was a huge help, being young and strong, not the aging, aching old man that I'm becoming. We took everything from the site except an old chopping block that worked as a plant stand. It will require a trip of its own.

Ordinarily the frame and display tables would stay in place over the winter, ready for the spring rush. But this time it's not ordinary. It's the last go round for this spot.

I've been fortunate to have the space available for retail sales. The plants are grown in the small nursery then taken over for sale. We tried to beat the heat and water, although sometimes the plants have suffered from hot, dry days.

No, this time the spot is gone. The place we've been selling through will be uprooting after Christmas, moving to a new location. A location that doesn't have space for an outdoor plant sales area. It has made me sad, already missing the space that has provided this opportunity for the past few years.

It's time to do different. Sure, small houseplant-sized succulents and the like can be briefly displayed for sale indoors, but the primary plants: larger, sprawling (in some cases) plants in containers measured by gallons, not inches, will have to be marketed differently.

That's the focus of life lately. I am considering several options, but nothing is etched in stone yet. Stay tuned . . .

Loose Ends

Today is the last day of 2019. It's been a busy week and a half since my last post. One of our sons is in the process of slowly moving...