Thinking Ahead to Spring and Weeding

It all started when I was taking out the compostables Saturday. The ground had finally frozen solid! I dumped the compostables into the bin and took a brief prowl around the yard to check on the rabbits’ depredations. They mostly come out at night, so sometimes I see them sitting under the willow-leaved Amsonia or eating safflower seed that has been flung about by the finches when they careen into the feeder when I am cleaning up after dinner. Yes, rabbits eat safflower seed, on top of everything else.
So far this winter, they have eaten the parsley and nibbled on the garlic. They have mowed the blue-eyed grass and tried the Iris cristata, which they have never bothered before.

The Iris cristata looked enticing enough to the rabbits for some cautious nibbling. This appears to be the only damage. Photographed on January 15, 2023.

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Watch Out for Leaning Pawpaws!

I believe that if this were an apple tree, with an apple tree’s superficial and small root system, it would have been completely ripped out of the ground by this storm. Pawpaws have taproots, and I think that’s what is holding the tree up.

Using a level app on my phone, I see that the trunk is leaning roughly 17° off vertical, and the big cluster of pawpaws at the top are pulling the top section to  horizontal. Just add adolescent raccoons…. If the tree were to go over, it would probably land on the blue fescue and whack the western edge of the oakleaf hydrangea.

A pink line highlights the edges of the main trunk of the leaning pawpaw.
The heavily fruiting pawpaw is leaning badly after a couple of inches of rain at the end of August. Photographed on August 29, 2020.

It has a very heavy crop ripening, mostly just beyond the upper right-hand corner of this photograph. The lower branches form a tent you could hide in. I will be even more careful about where I stand under this tree.

I have to assess it this winter when I can see the trunk and branches. I may be removing both pawpaw trees in late winter. There’s no use keeping one—they are not self-fruitful.

How Do You Know When a Pawpaw Is Ripe?

The pawpaws have been dangling, to the ground in some cases, since the end of September. Back at the end of May, I saw small clouds of the flies that pollinate pawpaws for the first time. They apparently did a grand job, because both trees have had plenty of fruit this fall. The pawpaws on the eastern tree are even larger than usual this fall. I ate the first one September 30—they are weighing in close to a pound and a half.

Big pawpaws on the eastern tree. Photographed on October 11, 2019.

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Why Leave Seedheads On?

We are now having nights in the mid-30s, so leaves are turning and the seedheads are ripening on the Echinacea and Rudbeckia. Although these plants are swaying right up to the edge of the sidewalk, the goldfinches have been very interested and hungry—and very hard to photograph with a phone. They are nervous little creatures.

This young goldfinch has been stuffing itself on Rudbeckia triloba seeds. Photographed on October 18, 2019.

Young goldfinches need fuel. According to Audubon, goldfinches do overwinter in Michigan, so they will need food in the coming months. They are also vulnerable to our increasingly warm climate. Michigan will be too far south for them in the summer by the time the average annual temperature increases by 3°C, which at current rates could occur by 2080.

The goldfinch photograph is roughly 25% of the area of a larger photograph which was taken fully zoomed, so the focus is not its best—a telephoto lens on a real camera would allow for much better results—but it captures the reason to leave the seedheads on for a while.

Edge Effects in Shade

“Your garden looks like an estate!” That comment really surprised me, but I realized that there is one thing this little yard has that most yards do not: beds with clearly defined edges and swaths of plants that are the same variety. Edges and swaths lead the eye around, and can make your yard seem both larger and calmer. 

Fall is a great time to think about what changes you would like to make to your yard; many plants can be divided and moved around now that the temperatures are cooler. Summer’s damage can be appraised, and gardening mistakes can go discreetly into the compost pile.  Continue reading “Edge Effects in Shade”

November: Dark Days and Erratic Weather

We’ve had snow, icy fog with heavy frost, rain, and plenty of gloom. Dark days, yes, but I am not going to talk about the thick, dark clouds—they  have no redeeming characteristics.


We have awoken to snow-covered plants and cars several times already. This is my kind of snow: pretty, and not sticking much to any pavement that would require shoveling.

Autumn clematis seed clusters seem built to hold snow caps. The seeds are furry. Those green tendrils are not attaching them to the plant—they are at the other end, and will fluff out into feathery plumes that probably help keep the seeds aloft. Photographed on November 18, 2018.

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The Fig Is Put to Bed

I had a lot of work done on the exterior of the house this spring and summer by some very tidy people—one of my rather ratty tomato cages got tossed with some other debris. I had been daisy-chaining tomato cages together to contain the fig over the winter.

A cold snap was predicted, so I had to do something. Burlap and bamboo stakes seem affordable.

The fig tree has outgrown its usual afghan, so it was wrapped with floating row cover. Six six-foot bamboos stakes were driven into the ground and draped with burlap, which is fastened with twist ties. The wrapped tree shows through the burlap. The gap is being filled with the leaves I am raking up. Photographed on November 17, 2018.

This fig pen was able to absorb all the leaves that had fallen in the yard that were not already destined to cover a perennial bed. Continue reading “The Fig Is Put to Bed”

Fall Color, Finally

Photograph of purply-brown oakleaf hydrangea with dried flowers on it, and rather orangy serviceberry branches overlapping in front.
Our biggest color splash this fall is the purple oakleaf hydrangea, center. To the right, the serviceberry is more orange than its usual scarlet, and once again it colored up so late that it missed the New England aster bloom. The brown at the base of the oakleaf hydrangea is geranium, with lady’s mantle still untouched by frost underneath that.

My yard is recovering from both painters and “abnormally dry” conditions. A drought by any other name….is still abnormally dry. Fall has been relatively unexciting, colorwise, but the colors are brightening, finally.

The painters did a beautiful job on the house, and not too much damage to the plants surrounding the house. The plants should be fine by spring; they have endured both roofers and painters this year. Perhaps it is a good thing that a lot of plants went dormant by early August.

The Marshmallow Has Landed

We are on that autumnal roller coaster, but despite the relatively balmy temperatures—it reached at least 49°F today and will be in the mid 40s all week, except Tuesday, when it will reach into the upper 50s—I have to put the garden to bed for the winter.

Enough leaves have fallen to finish wrapping up the fig tree, for example. This tree is still shrub sized, so I am still wrapping it the same way: one bunny-chewed acrylic blanket, three tomato cages, four yards of floating row cover, and some big piles of leaves. Continue reading “The Marshmallow Has Landed”

Hard Freeze on the Heels of a Cold Front

I wandered by my little fig tree yesterday when I was photographing fall color—I even gently tweaked a couple of the remaining figs to see if there was a chance of them ripening. I thought not, but today the answer is definitely no.

We have had a couple of nights in the last few with frost enough to do in the hostas’ leaves, but the fig was fine as of yesterday afternoon. Today one leaf remains attached, as are five frozen figs. I ate the last ripe one that the chipmunks missed on Wednesday.

Photograph of fig tree that dropped almost all its leaves in one day.
One leaf remains attached to this fig tree, which had all its leaves yesterday.  Photographed on November 10, 2017.

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