Category Archives: Winter Weeds & Trees

Why Not To Clear Your Garden This Fall

Goldenrod gall with a woodpecker hole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll bet you have a gardening project planned this weekend or next. Here’s some time saving advice:  Don’t clear your garden in the fall.

Why not?

  • Seeds on the old plants provide winter food for birds and animals.
  • Insects overwinter on plants in egg masses, cocoons and galls.  Birds eat those insects. 
  • The brush provides shelter for the birds.
  • You won’t have to mulch.
  • You’ll enjoy watching birds among the old plants.

The photo at top shows that an old goldenrod gall contained food for a woodpecker. He hammered a hole to get the bug.

On Throw Back Thursday, read more about this time saving plan in a 2010 article: Why Not to Clear Your Garden

p.s. The only downside I can think of is this: It’s hard to plant bulbs when the old stuff is in the way. 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Yo-yo

Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 Jan 2016 at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)
Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 January 2016 in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

After a month of warm weather, these cherry trees were fooled into blooming in early January at Carnegie Museum.

Then last Monday the temperature dropped into the single digits and hit everything that couldn’t get out of its way.  Nothing could protect those delicate pink flowers.

Unlike plants, birds can get out of the way and some of them decided to leave this week.  In my neighborhood, there were many American robins in December but most of them have left since the cold snap.  Did your robins leave, too?

Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by today’s warmth.  Here’s a graph of Pittsburgh’s actual and predicted morning low temperatures for the first two weeks of January.

Graph of morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, actual+forecast for January 1-14, 2016 as of 1/9/2016 (graph uses NWS data)
Actual+forecast morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, January 1-14, 2016 (graph uses National Weather Service data as of 1/9/16)

It’s a yo-yo.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

From A Different Angle

Bare trees from a new angle (photo by Kate St. John)
Bare trees from a different angle (photo by Kate St. John)

When my camera couldn’t capture this horizontally, I turned it sideways to photograph the trees.

I like them this way better than in the “normal”orientation.

Put your left ear on your left shoulder to see what I mean.

 

p.s. I took this photo four years ago but didn’t label it.  Based on their bark I think these are sugar maples … but their branches don’t look right.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Listening To The Secret Sounds Of Trees

Woman listening with headphones (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In early May when the trees leaf out we’ll once again hear the soothing sound of rustling leaves.  Did you know trees make sounds we cannot hear?

Last year an article by Sarah Zhang in Gizmodo caught my attention.  Eavesdropping On The Secret Sounds Of Trees describes the art and science of a Swiss research team who’s recording the internal sounds of trees.

The project, fittingly called trees, attaches sensitive microphones to trunks, branches and even leaves, then records the sounds and analyzes them in light of simultaneous environmental factors such as drought.  Click here and scroll down to hear the clicks, pops, hisses and taps made by a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Closer to home our trees are getting ready for spring, the sap is running, and it’s maple sugaring time in North America.

Maple sugar bucket hanging on a tree (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And so I wonder …

If we had those special microphones could we heard the sap rising in the maples?  Or is it so loud that we can hear it by putting our ears to the trees?

I’ll have to see.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

It Was Pretty

Snowy view on 5 March 2015 (photo by John English)
Snowy view on 5 March 2015 (photo by John English)

Yes, last Thursday’s snow was pretty.

It coated the trees like a winter wonderland outside John English’s apartment window (above).

And I found close up beauty in Schenley Park.

Snow in Schenley Park, 5 Mar 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
One leaf  (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Snow on Queen Anne's lace, 5 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
Queen Anne’s lace (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In December I’d be thrilled by snow but within a few hours I was heartily tired of this beautiful event.

Fortunately it will go away this week.

 

(photo of snowy hillside by John English.  Closeups by Kate St. John)

Mitten Leaves

Sassafras leaves in three shapes and two colors (photo by Kate St. John)

These very different leaves came from the same tree.

Sassafras turns red and yellow in the fall showing off its unlobed leaves, two-lobed “mittens” and three-lobed “paws.”  All three shapes grow on the same tree including both right and left-handed mittens (I checked).

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a medium-sized tree native to eastern North America from southern Maine to Florida to eastern Texas. In Pennsylvania it grows everywhere except on the central high plateau of the Northern Tier.

The tree’s roots, bark, shoots and fruit were used directly in many foods, drinks, perfumes and medicines (think “root beer”) until the essential oil, safrole, was discovered to be carcinogenic and outlawed by the FDA in 1960.  Sassafras by-products can still be used in food and cosmetics as long as they’re certified safrole-free.  Safrole is used in pesticides.

In Europe people plant sassafras as an ornamental for its aromatic scent and unusual leaves.

I found these in the wild in Harrison Hills County Park.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Witch-hazel Blooming

Witch-hzel blooming in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

American witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Look for small yellow flowers clustered on the stems of a shrub or small tree.

Its four petals resemble lemon peel and are slightly hidden by the leaves right now but they’ll persist into November when they’ll be easier to see.

Witch-hazel blooming in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Witch-hazel is the only tree I know of that blooms in the fall, September to November.  It has other odd traits, too.

  • Though it blooms in the fall, it doesn’t set fruit until the following August, nearly a year later.
  • Just before it blooms the old fruit explodes, dispersing seeds up to 20 feet away.
  • Witch-hazel can find water. Its branches are used as divining rods.
  • It’s no coincidence that this plant has the same name as the astringent “witch hazel.”  The topical treatment is an extract of witch-hazel’s leaves and bark.

I found this one blooming in Schenley Park along the Lower Panther Hollow Trail.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Check the comments for Sally’s question about pollination and the fascinating answer.

Late November Signs Of Life

Witch hazel blooming in Schenley Park, 28 Nov 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though it’s been cold and snowy I found signs of life in Schenley Park on Thanksgiving Day.

Above, witch hazel is blooming along the Lower Trail.  The yellow flowers don’t stand out but once you notice them you’ll see several trees sporting lemon-peel petals.

Below, bush honeysuckle stands out green against the snow.  This out of synch condition reminds us that this plant is from another country.

nvasive plant out of sync with our seasons (photo by Kate St. John)

When you see green deciduous plants in the snow, check them out.  They’re often imports.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)