Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

September 25, 2010

Autumn Yellowing of Conifer Foliage

It’s almost October.  In our Northland this is the time dramatic changes take place in the outdoors.  Actually, the changes begin  in late  June when the days begin to shorten…..The changes go  unnoticed until “autumn”.

….Until  this past week.  Visually, “the  fall” is here.

Every fall we get calls from friends regarding changes they notice on the foliage of  their pines or arborvitaes…..or on any of our conifers, for that matter, the trees and shrubs commonly called evergreens. 

The inner needles, that is, the inner foliage, begins to turn yellow or brownish and then drops off to the ground.  This is a normal process, the manner in which these trees shed their older needles. It occurs only in fall.

There are some foliar diseases which do attack older leaf growth  on conifers.  The more widespread the disease on its victim, the much thinner the foliage,  often reaching  the point where the only living needles left on the tree are those remaining from the year’s new growth in Spring. 

We can notice these scantilly leafed conifers especially on spruce, yews, chamaecyparis and arborvitae grown in deep shade especially where there is little air movement.

Needle drop caused by diseases usually does not occur in the fall.

Larch, which is often called tamarack, is a conifer which drops its foliage every autumn….after it displays a lovely yellow for a few days.  I believe the Japanese Larch have the brightest yellow for fall color.  The folliage of all larch is very pleasing to the touch.

Most larch are easy to grow and with the exception of the dwarfs, can get quite large.

Spring came quite early in 2010.  An early Spring usually means an early Autumn…and often, an early Winter. 

The foliage on the conifers is changing early this Autumn.

September 20, 2010

Sixty Years Ago Most Minnesotans Farmed and Gardened

While I am at this post reaching into the memory of days gone by, I think it is important to note this additional recollection from  my childhood.

In the 1930s and 1940s the major occupation in Minnesota was farming.  Most Minnesotans did not live in the Twin Cities.   Suburbs did not exist.  Small town life flourished.  Small town people grew gardens, usually the vegetable and fruit ones. 

Farmers Seed and Nursery Company was in business nearly everywhere.  Growing  vegetables  and fruit trees, mostly apples and plums, was thought vital for  human consumption here in the northland. 

Late January and all February  were exciting times for many folks who thought so.   They were the months  the garden and seed catalogs arrived.  My family joined this crowd in 1942 as part of the War effort.  I was eight and fell in charge of managing our 40′ by 100′ foot vegetable garden in the empty lots across the alley where we lived in Highland Park in St. Paul.  Acres of such gardens were cultivated and harvested at city or private owned property in many undeveloped parts of the city.  Montreal Avenue had acres to the south of the street uphill from Seventh Street.

I remember the gypsy hovels in that area of vacant grounds before the war.   Half of the Highland Park “area” was still in empty lots.

My father was raised on a farm in Hope, North Dakota.  We had relatives remaining in that community until they all passed on from old age.   My mother’s dad, a carpenter and house builder by trade, gardened the entire next door empty lot on Bernard Street in West St. Paul until he died in 1947.  He always divided his plot evenly between vegetables and flowers.   His brothers farmed in West St. Paul supplying St. Paul grocers with cabbages and potatoes.

Sixty years ago the vast majority of Minnesotans knew how to grow things.  No one thought that tomatoes were manufactured at a supermarket.  Most people made their living from “the” or “a” farm.  Moreover, for most, the land meant something to them.  Especially to those whose parents or grandparents “homesteaded”. 

My own grandfather, my dad’s dad,  was born in Cherryfield,  Maine, in 1857.   Think of it.  I often do.  He was born 4 years before the Civil War actually began.  He left Cherryfield when he was about 17, on horse back to go West……alone.  He homesteaded near  Hope, North Dakota.   Family lore  recorded that he met his future wife, ten years his younger, while assisting  her father free the three or four wagons which had become  stuck in the Sheyenne River mud one spring around 1886.  My grandmother, Anna Williams and her sisters were  inside one of those wagons.  Their  family was moving West from LaCrosse, Wisconsin…….to settle and farm.

Seeds, sun, soil, water and an amenable temperature are the basics which make so much of the beautiful Earth so bountiful.   It should worry us all that the vast majority of  city dwelling folks know so little about the real Earth.  

I count my blessings every day…..and often ask myself, “How could I have been  so lucky?” 

In part measure an answer is, I have almost never been bored…..certainly not ever over the past half century.  Life, Book learning and creating and maintaining Garden provides no time whatsoever for boredom.  On the downside of this, my God, where did the time go?

Some Peculiarities of Our 2010 Growing Season

Spring came very early in 2010.  Do you remember?  April was very pleasant and mild, even warm.  May was coolish.

I remember as a child in the early 1940s an April Easter Sunday was featured with ice and snow nearly everywhere.  The days would be sunny, but wintery and cold.

I much prefer our current delivery of Spring.   I am rooting for a Zone 5 growing zone.  We are almost there.   One would think most Minnesotans would welcome the pleasant warm April breezes and beautiful spring flowers.   After all,  Spring is supposed to begin in March!

We are told this new kind of new kind of Minnesota April is bad and certain politicians want to do something to put it back into the frigid zones.   Even if these people dont block out a portion of the sun, we are told by most cold country scientists like the Russian ones, who really are at the icecicle end of the climate change front, that the Earth will be cooling again for the next 75 or so years.

Did you know that when I was a boy discovering the names of the birds flying around me, there were no cardinals in the Twin City area?    They joined us when  the climate improved for us Minnesotans as well.

We also have had a very moist 2010 growing season.   Not only a very moist one, but a season in which precipitation was quite reliable…..about every second or third day there would a steady bit of water dropping our way. 

Those of you who have visited my landscape garden know I tolerate a lot of gigas (Korean angelica).  It is a very strange appearing biennial which usually rises to six or seven feet and comes into “bloom”  beginning in early September.

This year, this biennial has appeared moody.  I have grown them for about ten years, but not in the numbers as they now occur……around 100….or 1,000 if you count all of this year’s ‘pop-ups’ greening up to do their blooming thing next season.

I cull dozens per day.

Many of this year’s crop are over ten feet tall with stalks over five inches in diameter at the ground level.  Their flower branchings are like octopus tentacles reaching everywhere…..some so cumbersome and heavy the plant cannot withstand the weight.

Moreover, about half of them are well into sinescence.   In collection they  look like an unharvested  cornfield in October…..except for the maroon and browning tentacles  reaching out  everywhere.

I am wondering why.  Such sizes and early sinescence have not happened in my gardens before.  My unscientific answer is thus:  

    1.   The size of plants is due to the regular reliability of water.   Gigas do like more water than less.   That I have noticed other seasons.

    2.  The early season in spring perhaps is the reason the plants are dying earlier.  Some plants seem to have a clock system which confines their life time rather specifically.  Gigas is a biennial…..which means it goes from life (seed germination) to seed production and death in two growing seasons.  It can do not other program.   Its clock must have struck “twelve midnight” early this year….if my guessing is correct.

Another weather note:  When the 90 degree temperatures did arrive in July and August, not only was the soil moisture sufficient, but the heat did not last for more than a few days in a row. 

Those of us who garden have to make a lot of guesses every growing season.  No season is ever quite the same.

September 14, 2010

Clients Invited to Garden Open House, September 18th at 2:00 PM

Filed under: The Art of Landscaping — glenn @ 11:41 pm

We at Masterpiece are going to have a special day this coming Saturday, September 18th starting at 2:00 PM at our home landscape garden.   And I am going to be on the schedule to share some observations about the most honored art form of them all, the gardened landscape.

We are celebrating Client Appreciation Day at our Minnetonka home landscape garden, 14624 Woodhill Terrace.   Prizes and refreshments will be part of the program.  But the main event will be walking through the grounds and learning about some of the tricks of the trade. 

Landscape gardening is a visual art form.   And the eye is easy to attract, cause feelings and memory, curiosity and pleasure.  The eye is also easy to fool…….to make something appear to be more or less than it is, to cause one to turn right  rather than left, to look in one direction rather than another. 

Gardens, like people, gain character with age.    With this age, I am so pleased to add that our landscape garden was one of the six 2010 winners of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune’s Most Beautiful Garden Contest.   Pictures and details of the grounds will be coming in the Home Garden section of the paper sometime late fall or early winter.  

Friends and clients, Marian and Larry Fischer of Waseca and Sunny Schneiderhan of Minneapolis, also  have been honored by the Star-Tribune for the outstanding beauty of their landscape gardens.  Other home landscapes of clients/friends,  Claude and Laurel Riedel in Minneapolis, and Meg Devine and Ian Grunberg in Mendota Heights have received recognition from other sources.


Bring your questions and your observations for discussion.  And bring your friends and neighbors.