Greenhouse Geekout

After a mid-April snow storm, things in the prairie may be on hold, but the greenhouse is abuzz with activity.

One of the nice things about growing native plants in the greenhouse is that the temperatures can get below freezing in there, as they are at night even in April this year, but that doesn't bother the native grasses and wildflower plugs. For most vegetables--but not all--below freezing temps means death. 

This means that I don't have to turn on the heat and worry about keeping things above freezing, which this winter and spring would be quite expensive. The greenhouse warms up nicely during the day but gets below freezing at night.

 One of the challenges of growing plants in a greenhouse in Central Minnesota is how to deal with snow. If this were a hoop house, meaning a greenhouse with just a plastic sheet cover, we would have to be running the heater so that the snow would melt and run off. Without the heat on, the snow might accumulate and collapse the roof of a hoop house.  Because this is a polycarbonate greenhouse, it can withstand a lot of snow before it would collapse, which means we don't have to run the heater. Polycarbonate is a thick plastic material, much like plexiglass, but has channels that run through it like corrugated cardboard. These channels give it strength and add insulation value.  I took this photo on Sunday, April 15, during a break in the 3-day snow storm. The temperature outside was around 32 degrees. But even though there was dense cloud cover, the temperature in the greenhouse was about 50 degrees, even without running a heater. Those temps inside the greenhouse had the effect of melting the snow that accumulated on the roof. 

One of the challenges of growing plants in a greenhouse in Central Minnesota is how to deal with snow. If this were a hoop house, meaning a greenhouse with just a plastic sheet cover, we would have to be running the heater so that the snow would melt and run off. Without the heat on, the snow might accumulate and collapse the roof of a hoop house.

Because this is a polycarbonate greenhouse, it can withstand a lot of snow before it would collapse, which means we don't have to run the heater. Polycarbonate is a thick plastic material, much like plexiglass, but has channels that run through it like corrugated cardboard. These channels give it strength and add insulation value.

I took this photo on Sunday, April 15, during a break in the 3-day snow storm. The temperature outside was around 32 degrees. But even though there was dense cloud cover, the temperature in the greenhouse was about 50 degrees, even without running a heater. Those temps inside the greenhouse had the effect of melting the snow that accumulated on the roof. 

The temperatures may get below freezing in the greenhouse at night, but they stay above freezing in the little galvanized structure you see in front of the greenhouse. That structure is where the water pump is. Pumps must not be allowed to freeze; if they do, the ice in the pump will expand and break the pump (something that's happened to more than a few of my pumps). I have a small heater in that house, which allows me to keep it from freezing, so that I can water the plugs during the day when the temps in the greenhouse can be quite high, but then close it off in the pump house so it won't freeze when the temps drop at night. 

 Each one of these pots has been filled with a potting mix, and then seeded with wildflower or native grass seeds. Even though they've been watered, some for a month now, only the cool season plants are germinating.  This time of year, with the sun getting higher, the temperature in a greenhouse will get over 100 degrees. So, we must have a thermostatically controlled ventilation system that kicks in to prevent overheating. Oddly, a big challenge to managing a greenhouse is keeping it from overheating. 

Each one of these pots has been filled with a potting mix, and then seeded with wildflower or native grass seeds. Even though they've been watered, some for a month now, only the cool season plants are germinating.

This time of year, with the sun getting higher, the temperature in a greenhouse will get over 100 degrees. So, we must have a thermostatically controlled ventilation system that kicks in to prevent overheating. Oddly, a big challenge to managing a greenhouse is keeping it from overheating. 

It is worth noting that many plants (including forage crops and vegetables) fall into two categories: cool season plants or warm season plants. It is something many of us are unaware of, but it is a big deal in the plant world. Think, for example, how green the turf grasses of the average residential lawn are in October, and how beautifully the grass contrasts with the brown corn stalks we see on farm land. This is because Kentucky bluegrass is a cool season plant, and therefore thrives in the cool weather of October, but corn is a warm season plant that thrives in the heat of summer and dies after a frost. 

 This flat was planted with Lupine seeds in March. Lupine is a cool season plant, which means it geminates and thrives in cooler temperatures. 

This flat was planted with Lupine seeds in March. Lupine is a cool season plant, which means it geminates and thrives in cooler temperatures. 

When it comes to weeds, it is important to know whether they are warm season or cool season plants. For example, Reed Canary grass is a big challenge to prairie restoration work. It's an aggressive non-naive grass that is hard to get rid of. But knowing that it is a cool season plant allows us to, for example, spray it in the fall (even in October) to get a good kill. Herbicides are most effective when plants are active, and are much less effective when plants are inactive. So  spraying Reed Canary grass in September and October allows the herbicide to be more effective.

 

What's not Happening

A phenology is supposed to be about what's happening and when in the natural world. In this year, when not much is happening, I thought we might dedicate this post to what's not happening. 

April 12 is, on average, the time of year when the frost comes out of the ground in Central Minnesota. That means the snow has melted and the ground is no longer frozen. Right now, depending on the type of soil you're digging in, the ground is frozen just a few inches below the surface. It could still be several weeks before the ground thaws. 

By April 12, the Pin Oaks have dropped their brown leaves that they have hung onto all winter, making way for spring's buds.

 I took this photo yesterday, April 11, 2018 of a Pin Oak in our grove. By now, it would have dropped all its leaves.

I took this photo yesterday, April 11, 2018 of a Pin Oak in our grove. By now, it would have dropped all its leaves.

This is typically the time of year when tulips and dandelions are beginning to bloom. 

 I took this photo in the greenhouse yesterday, April 11, 2018, which serves as a reminder of what it would look like outside. On an average year, dandelions would be beginning to bloom about now, reaching full bloom in the third week of April. 

I took this photo in the greenhouse yesterday, April 11, 2018, which serves as a reminder of what it would look like outside. On an average year, dandelions would be beginning to bloom about now, reaching full bloom in the third week of April. 

Our farm has wetlands on two sides, making for very good frog habitat. Perhaps my favorite marker of spring is the croaking of the Western Chorus frogs, which begin croaking, on average, about now. No sounds from the frogs yet. 

 

 Taken from https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/frogs-minnesota  Minnesota's DNR has recordings of the various frog sounds at the above link on their website. It is well worth a listen. 

Taken from https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/frogs-minnesota

Minnesota's DNR has recordings of the various frog sounds at the above link on their website. It is well worth a listen. 

April Frost Photos

Hard to believe the morning lows for the last five or six days here in early April have been around 10 degrees. This of course postpones the ground thawing, which is the thing seasonal workers are waiting for. We can't plant trees, till the ground, or burn prairies until  "frost out." 

Even the tree budding seems to be in a holding pattern, though I'm seeing some budding on the Poplars and Red Maples now. I still have not seen my first Bluebird, though Brian Johnson, faculty member at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, reports seeing a flock. 

In the meantime, we've had some nice frosts. I took these photos Thursday morning, April 5, around 7:30 am.

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Silver Linings and Silver Maples

One sometimes hears the quote from T.S. Eliot, "April is the cruelest month...." By this a Minnesotan would think he is describing how April disappoints our expectation of spring. But the rest of the quote goes "...breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain."

I have to say, if "stirring dull roots with spring rain" qualifies for cruelty, then T.S. Eliot has not experienced April snow storms like the ones we are having this year.  

But there is a silver lining to all this, and that is the Silver Maple tree, the first deciduous tree in our parts to bud. Ours here on the farm have been budding since before Easter, but I only got to photographing them yesterday, April 4.

 I wish I could have photographed this Silver Maple with all the snow around it, but I had to look pretty much straight up to capture the buds on this tree on the edge of St. Joseph.

I wish I could have photographed this Silver Maple with all the snow around it, but I had to look pretty much straight up to capture the buds on this tree on the edge of St. Joseph.

Sorry to say, for those who know trees, the Silver Maple is not desirable for landscape use. It generates large, shallow roots, making it difficult to mow around, and it puts out many seeds. Due to poor pruning or lack of pruning, one sees many Silver Maples that are deformed in such a way that their limbs will come off in a high wind. They have been overused in residential developments due to their fast growth. And they get very large, making it all the more important that they be pruned to have structural strength, or removed before they get too big to easily remove. Their hybridized half-sister or brother, the Autumn Blaze Maple, is a cross between a Silver Maple and a Red Maple, and continues to be a very popular choice of tree for residential landscapes. 

Silver Maples are at their best in their natural habitat--along the banks of creeks and rivers where their shallow roots allow them to survive in wet conditions. In a way, they are our version of the Mangrove tree, doing well in the wettest of conditions.

 Courtesy of  Illinois WildFlowers       

Courtesy of Illinois WildFlowers

 

 

Pasque Flower: First Native Wildflowers to Bud

The first wildflowers to bud around here every spring is the Pasque Flower. "Pasque" is French for Easter. "Pasque" in English translates more as "paschal", as in "paschal mystery," meaning the suffering, death, and resurrection" of Christ. It seems to me a very apt name for a very liturgically-minded plant.  

 Pasque flowers make good companions with Tulips, which you see in this photo, taken March 20 in St. Joseph. The Tulips are the maroon-colored plants, and the Pasque Flower is the white, fuzzy plant to the back right. Pasque flower is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often coming up while there is still snow on the ground. Look for it on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil, typically in scattered clumps. 

Pasque flowers make good companions with Tulips, which you see in this photo, taken March 20 in St. Joseph. The Tulips are the maroon-colored plants, and the Pasque Flower is the white, fuzzy plant to the back right. Pasque flower is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often coming up while there is still snow on the ground. Look for it on south facing slopes in dry to average sandy soil, typically in scattered clumps. 

Pasque flowers are an invaluable source of early season nectar for honey and native bees.

 Pasque flower is a very delicate, leaning when the wind blows. 

Pasque flower is a very delicate, leaning when the wind blows. 

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Although a native, it struggles to self seed. It is more common to see them in cultivated landscapes as garden plants. They make a for a wonderful plant as nothing flowers sooner than the Pasque flower. They are in Minnesota and throughout much of North America. We start them as plugs in our green house, and then transplant them into landscapes later in the season. As plugs, they seem to do well. 

Red Winged Blackbirds Return

For me, the two most welcomed sounds of spring are that of the Red Winged Blackbird and the croaking of the frogs. No frogs yet, but I heard my first Red Winged Black Bird Thursday, March 22. If anyone around here has heard them sooner than that, please let me know. 

 Few sounds are more welcomed than the Red Winged Black Birds "o-ka-leeee," which has multiple translations. It translates into English as "spring is here!." In Red Winged Blackbird language it means "This is my territory. Stay out!" It is helpful to be bilingual if you live in a neighborhood with these fellows. 

Few sounds are more welcomed than the Red Winged Black Birds "o-ka-leeee," which has multiple translations. It translates into English as "spring is here!." In Red Winged Blackbird language it means "This is my territory. Stay out!" It is helpful to be bilingual if you live in a neighborhood with these fellows. 

We are fortunate enough to have our house perched on the edge of a wetland, the primary habitat for the Red Winged Blackbird. And anyone living in proximity to them knows that they are the most territorial of creatures. 

The males arrive before the females so they can stake out their nesting territory. The females arrive several weeks later. Her brown colors camouflage her when she sits quietly on her nest.

 Female Red Winged Blackbird (photo by R Hays Cummings, Miami University)

Female Red Winged Blackbird (photo by R Hays Cummings, Miami University)

One of our more heart-pumping activities in spring is to walk by the pond on our farm here, only to have the males strafe us. It is never the female, as she stays on her nest. The male makes a distinctive hissing sound as he comes very close to one's head. I have never been touched by them, but I have often felt the wind from their flapping wings as they strafe. One of our neighbors wears a hat and carries a stick with him to fend them off. 

 From this vantage point we watch the Red Winged Blackbirds defend their nesting sites around the pond in the distance. They do so by strafing unsuspecting passersby (I won't say dive-bombing because they are not dropping a payload; it's more like they are firing machine guns). They are very intimidating for those of us on the receiving end. 

From this vantage point we watch the Red Winged Blackbirds defend their nesting sites around the pond in the distance. They do so by strafing unsuspecting passersby (I won't say dive-bombing because they are not dropping a payload; it's more like they are firing machine guns). They are very intimidating for those of us on the receiving end. 

Willows and Aspen are Budding

Winter this year has been colder and longer than average. We still have a fair bit of snow here in St. Joseph, though there is less to the east and west of us. Nevertheless, a quick walk through the wetlands Friday (March 17) and this Monday (March 19) show that things are happening. 

One of the first signs of spring among plant life around here is that of the American Pussy Willow (Salix discolor). It is native to North America and is found in the wetlands of Minnesota and throughout the eastern half of the continent. There is also the Western Pussy Willow which, as the name suggests, dwells to the west of us. The ones on our property are just beginning to bud. 

 

 I took this photo of a Pussy Willow on March 19th, 2018, on our property in Central Minnesota   

I took this photo of a Pussy Willow on March 19th, 2018, on our property in Central Minnesota

 

This grayish fur resembles a cat or kitten, and so the bud is called a "catkin."  This flower bud will eventually flower and pollinate the females. 

 

 Male catkin of Pussy Willow getting ready to pollinate. Photo from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Male catkin of Pussy Willow getting ready to pollinate. Photo from Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Though not a "stand out" plant in the landscape, Pussy Willows are very important in terms of their medicinal value. Their active ingredient is salicin, named after the Latin for willow, Salix. The making of the powder, Salix, eventually led to the manufacture of acetyl salicylic acid, better known as aspirin. It stands to reason that the common, and often overlooked, Pussy Willow was the source of this most common, and perhaps overlooked, of medicines--aspirin! 

Another sign of spring is the bud of the Quaking Aspen, the first of the larger trees to come out of dormancy in our parts.  

 

 This photo of the buds of a Quaking Aspen was taken in St. Joseph, Central Minnesota, on March 17, 2018

This photo of the buds of a Quaking Aspen was taken in St. Joseph, Central Minnesota, on March 17, 2018

The Quaking Aspen also produce catkins, which flower before its leaves bud. We see this on other plants in the Populus family (which is a subset of the genus willow), such as poplars, birch, and cottonwood. They are funny things to see in spring. I think of them as garland on a Christmas tree, drooping from the trees for my amusement. 

 The catkin of a Cottonwood, though this is what they look like on the Poplars and Quaking Aspens as well. Photo from Austinbotany.wordpress.com

The catkin of a Cottonwood, though this is what they look like on the Poplars and Quaking Aspens as well. Photo from Austinbotany.wordpress.com

The only thing is that it's not Christmas and they don't come from Christmas trees. And, while we're at it, they're also not for my amusement. These catkins form the staminate of the male aspen and, like the Pussy Willow, pollinate the females in spring. 

It's only the middle of March and I'm already overwhelmed by all that's going on in nature around here!

The Problem with Buckthorn

Some of us own homes in woodlands, and do so for the privacy and to enjoyment they give us. When you point out to people that much of what they see is Buckthorn, they might say that Buckthorn is part of nature too. Why not enjoy it as one plant among others? The answer is because it is invasive.

All plants come from particular biomes or ecosystems which make up a network of plants, insects, micro-organism, and animals that keep each other in check. 

 Buckthorn's signature is its scaly bark, thorns, and shiny leaves. It was introduced by Europeans who used it for hedges. 

Buckthorn's signature is its scaly bark, thorns, and shiny leaves. It was introduced by Europeans who used it for hedges. 

Invasive plants and animals are species that have been taken out of their network of plants and are in a context in which there are no constraints. Whether its the wild boars of Texas, or the kudzu of Arkansas, or the zebra muscles in the lakes of Minnesota, these animals, plants, and mollusks are invasive because they have no predators to keep them in their place. 

Nature tends toward diversity. Biomes often see an expansion of species as species evolve to maximize niches in an environment. This tendency toward proliferation of species, and how they work together to form an ecosystem is, in great part, what makes nature interesting, as well as what makes it work. Invasive species throw a wrench in this project of plant diversity by dominating and replacing them.

 The three Bur Oaks of our wetland

The three Bur Oaks of our wetland

These three oaks in our wetland are remnants of an Oak Savanna biome. A closer look under and behind these oaks shows the results of thirty years of unchecked Buckthorn growth. The Buckthorn thicket under these trees is so dense that neither deer nor humans can traverse it. The Buckthorn has the ability to inhibit the growth of other species, including the Bur Oaks, so much so that little else grows in this area. When the Bur Oaks die, there will remain a Buckthorn canopy that reaches a final height of about 25 feet. 

If nothing is done, there will be a dramatic reduction in diversity. In effect, the Oak Savanna biome will be undone. So, we here on the farm continue to pick away at removing Buckthorn.

 This is a photo I took of Jeff, an employee, who cuts Buckthorn with a brush cutter and then sprays the stump with an herbicide right after cutting. If the stump is not sprayed, the plant will eventually come back with a vengeance. 

This is a photo I took of Jeff, an employee, who cuts Buckthorn with a brush cutter and then sprays the stump with an herbicide right after cutting. If the stump is not sprayed, the plant will eventually come back with a vengeance. 

Another challenge is that after it has been removed, Buckthorn often comes back. Mature Buckthorn plants put out a lot of seed in berries, which birds eat and spread through their droppings. This seed can remain viable in the soil for up to five years. 

 Buckthorn berries are attractive to certain birds, which eat and spread the plant. The berry producing plants are the ones we go after first. 

Buckthorn berries are attractive to certain birds, which eat and spread the plant. The berry producing plants are the ones we go after first. 

This is why removing Buckthorn should be part of a restoration program--a plan to restore the woodland with native plants and through prescribed burns, a program we will save for another post. 

Sand Hill Cranes Return

One event that marks the seasons around here is the return of the Sand Hill Cranes. They've been coming to our farm for over ten years now. This year my first sighting of them was on Sunday, March 11, though Jeff, an employee, said her saw some in St. Joseph on March 6. This, so far that's the earliest sighting this year in these parts. If any blog readers in this earlier have seen them earlier, please let me know. 

 This is a bit of a "Where's Waldo?" photo in that the cranes are inconspicuous. Indeed, I hope you can spot them (hint: through the triangle made by the tree branches). But that is partly the point. When one lives on an open landscape, a habit of scanning the horizon ensues. One never knows when we'll catch a glance of a deer, coyote (which is rare, but we hear them and so know they are there) or, in this case, a pair of Sand Hill Cranes. 

This is a bit of a "Where's Waldo?" photo in that the cranes are inconspicuous. Indeed, I hope you can spot them (hint: through the triangle made by the tree branches). But that is partly the point. When one lives on an open landscape, a habit of scanning the horizon ensues. One never knows when we'll catch a glance of a deer, coyote (which is rare, but we hear them and so know they are there) or, in this case, a pair of Sand Hill Cranes. 

Their arrival does seem early, probably because of the snow. But, because I have not written down their arrival times in the past, I can't be sure (which is, in part, the point of this blog).

They are migratory, spending their winters in Texas and along the Gulf Coast. Their migration route takes them through Nebraska, where they gather for awhile on the Platte River. Chris Helger tells us in his blog, The Prairie Ecologist, that they arrive in Nebraska around Valentine's Day. And so a month later they arrive here. 

 Sand hill Cranes on the Platte River (photo by Evan Barrentos, The Prairie Ecologist)

Sand hill Cranes on the Platte River (photo by Evan Barrentos, The Prairie Ecologist)

They nest down in a wetland pond on our property, where they are difficult to spot. After they've hatched their eggs, they like to come up on the prairie, which we usually burn in the spring. They seem to like the openness of that prairie, perhaps because it allows them to see their predators, who are after their young. They also like to eat the succulent shoots of a recently burned prairie.  

 Sand Hill Cranes grazing on our prairie where it meets the wetland.

Sand Hill Cranes grazing on our prairie where it meets the wetland.

They are very large birds, with a wing span up to six feet. But their signature is their sound, which is difficult to describe. One thing that can be said is that it sounds primeval. It sounds like how I image those dinosaur birds, the Pterodactyl, would have sounded, just before they sweep down and snatch me up in their jaws. Thus when I hear them, I instinctively look to the sky. 

That they have chosen our wetland to nest and raise their young every year is truly an honor for us. They are more than guests, they are part-owners in this 73 acre farm, along with the other insects, plants, birds, and human and non-human animals who dwell here.

Just as many Minnesotans have their "summer homes" on one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, these Sand Hill Cranes have their "summer home" in Minnesota. I imagine them on the Gulf of Mexico in January being asked by the other cranes what they'll be doing this summer. And they say, "Oh we spend our summers on a wetland on a farm on the edge of St. Joseph. The water's clean and the fishing is good. But don't tell anyone. We don't want to see it over-developed." 

 

 One of our Sand Hill Cranes crying out in the wetland on a previous snowy arrival.

One of our Sand Hill Cranes crying out in the wetland on a previous snowy arrival.

Bur Oaks on our 80 Acres

Much of the photography in this blog is taken on our 80-acre farm here on the edge of St. Joseph, in Central Minnesota. More than half of our land was too low or too wet to come under till, which means it has some remnant native plants. One of them is the Bur Oak. Indeed, the landscape of this part of Minnesota was once defined by the Bur Oak, as well as a whole system of native grasses and wildflowers. This ecosystem, or biome, we call the Oak Savanna. 

As I said in a previous post, the Bur Oak is a slow-growing tree, with a life expectancy of 200 years. Some have been measured to live 400 years, making them the longest living plants in our area.

 This Bur Oak was about my height when we built our house in 1987. That makes it at least 35 years old. 

This Bur Oak was about my height when we built our house in 1987. That makes it at least 35 years old. 

One aspect of the Oak Savanna is that the trees in it are spread out, allowing sunlight to penetrate the woodland floor. Such sunlight allows for a good many of prairie, or full-sun, plants to inhabit the a savanna. And of course the oaks will have a good many partial sun/partial shade (but not dense shade) native wildflowers under them. In many ways, a good savanna looks like a prairie with Bur Oaks in it. 

Because these trees grow slowly, their wood is more dense. So, square foot for square foot, these trees have stronger, heavier wood, which is why people like them for making things and for burning. The reason one sees "Oak Fire Wood" for sale is because an Oak log will put out more heat, and burn longer, than other lighter woods like Pine or Poplar. 

 This Bur Oak is easily three feet in diameter, making it a two hundred year old tree. It has grown in a lower, wetter part of our land.

This Bur Oak is easily three feet in diameter, making it a two hundred year old tree. It has grown in a lower, wetter part of our land.

I'm guessing that there were many more oaks on our property at one time, but they were cleared to create tillable land and were used for construction. 

 This cluster of Bur Oaks is unusual on our property. I assume a squirrel collected and stored acorns from the nearby Oak in the previous photo. Together they make up a nice little savanna in our wetlands. Because their acorns may have all come from the same tree, they are all of the same family, and therefore sharing similarities in structure, which I look for when I walk by them.

This cluster of Bur Oaks is unusual on our property. I assume a squirrel collected and stored acorns from the nearby Oak in the previous photo. Together they make up a nice little savanna in our wetlands. Because their acorns may have all come from the same tree, they are all of the same family, and therefore sharing similarities in structure, which I look for when I walk by them.

Native Plants that Provide Color in Winter

 I love the look of Pin Oak leaves on the trees in winter. It is as though they're saying, "What's the rush? Spring foliage won't be coming until, well, spring." So, in the process they provide us with interesting texture and color on the horizon.   I have a tree nursery. I deliver and plant balled and burlapped trees. I must say, I rarely get a request for a Red Oak or Pin Oak, the assumption being that they are Oaks, and thereby slow growing. But this is not the case in the Red Oak family. They grow as fast as anything. The White Oaks, on the other hand, grow slowly. But they live up to 200 years and more. Their cragginess, for lack of a better word, gives them a beauty all their own. They could be regarded as an ornamental tree, justifying their existence for sheer beauty alone (and not just for their utility in providing shade).   

I love the look of Pin Oak leaves on the trees in winter. It is as though they're saying, "What's the rush? Spring foliage won't be coming until, well, spring." So, in the process they provide us with interesting texture and color on the horizon. 

I have a tree nursery. I deliver and plant balled and burlapped trees. I must say, I rarely get a request for a Red Oak or Pin Oak, the assumption being that they are Oaks, and thereby slow growing. But this is not the case in the Red Oak family. They grow as fast as anything. The White Oaks, on the other hand, grow slowly. But they live up to 200 years and more. Their cragginess, for lack of a better word, gives them a beauty all their own. They could be regarded as an ornamental tree, justifying their existence for sheer beauty alone (and not just for their utility in providing shade).   

 Of course the red of the dogwood gives a very nice color in late winter and early spring. Pruning your dogwood will generate new shoots, and it is the new shoots that are the most red (while the older ones turn and stay green). A good time to prune them, or cut them down so that they re-sprout, is in late winter or early spring.

Of course the red of the dogwood gives a very nice color in late winter and early spring. Pruning your dogwood will generate new shoots, and it is the new shoots that are the most red (while the older ones turn and stay green). A good time to prune them, or cut them down so that they re-sprout, is in late winter or early spring.

 Few plants get a worse rap than the Eastern Red cedar. I grow them in my nursery and can't tell you how many customers scoff at them, sometimes refering to them as "scrub brush."   Their virtues are several: they attract birds like no other tree, providing dense structure and stability for nest building. They are the only plant I can think of that appears to turn from their rusty summer color to a deeper green in the winter. We used one as a Christmas tree last year and, I swear, it turned greener after we cut it down and brought it in the house. They do best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.   They make for a wonderful plant in a prairie, complementing the grasses and wildflowers with height and texture.       

Few plants get a worse rap than the Eastern Red cedar. I grow them in my nursery and can't tell you how many customers scoff at them, sometimes refering to them as "scrub brush." 

Their virtues are several: they attract birds like no other tree, providing dense structure and stability for nest building. They are the only plant I can think of that appears to turn from their rusty summer color to a deeper green in the winter. We used one as a Christmas tree last year and, I swear, it turned greener after we cut it down and brought it in the house. They do best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. 

They make for a wonderful plant in a prairie, complementing the grasses and wildflowers with height and texture. 

 

 

Winter Landscapes 2

The snow of winter is important for vegetative landscapes in cold climates, including prairies. It has the effect of insulating the ground, keeping the heat in and cold out. Likewise, it also serves to keep the moisture in the ground. Even though the turf is frozen, if exposed, evaporation happens and the soils dry. And of course the newly deposited seeds from the previous year need moisture to geminate. Moreover, certain native wildflower seeds need to "stratify." Most milkweed species, for example, need a cold/moist stratification to encourage spring germination. The thawing/freezing of late winter/early spring has the effect of bringing them out of dormancy.

 

 This Milkweed husk adds texture to the winter landscape. Moreover, these husks have been completely divested of their seed, meaning they've been distributed out into the prairie, waiting for the freeze/thaw of spring to bring the seed out of dormancy.

This Milkweed husk adds texture to the winter landscape. Moreover, these husks have been completely divested of their seed, meaning they've been distributed out into the prairie, waiting for the freeze/thaw of spring to bring the seed out of dormancy.

 It is not unusual to see these "Galls" on Goldenrod stems. In winter they add a glossy/waxy texture to the prairie. These galls are called by the Goldenrod Gall Fly, which injects it's larvae into the stem of the Goldenrod plant, providing food and shelter until the larvae hatch. Other insect species are known to eat the fly larvae in the gall before they hatch. 

It is not unusual to see these "Galls" on Goldenrod stems. In winter they add a glossy/waxy texture to the prairie. These galls are called by the Goldenrod Gall Fly, which injects it's larvae into the stem of the Goldenrod plant, providing food and shelter until the larvae hatch. Other insect species are known to eat the fly larvae in the gall before they hatch. 

 The Goldenrod Gall Fly is quite small, not a good flyer, and lives a short life. They exist throughout all of North America. 

The Goldenrod Gall Fly is quite small, not a good flyer, and lives a short life. They exist throughout all of North America. 

 This lone Compass Plant is much more noticeable in winter and provides nice contrast to the shorter plants.

This lone Compass Plant is much more noticeable in winter and provides nice contrast to the shorter plants.

Winter Landscapes

Given that half the year in Central Minnesota our landscapes are dormant, if not snow covered, it is interesting how little we think about winter landscapes. Another of the many upsides of using native vegetation is that it enjoys a unique beauty in winter as much as it does in summer. Snow provides the perfect background to highlight the varied shapes, textures and colors of native grasses and wildflowers. White is also the perfect background for highlighting any object of art. Of course winter landscapes are subtle, and require our attention, but once we are sensitized to them, they afford us a beauty all there own.

 The Grey Headed Coneflower here provides not only texture to the landscape, but food for birds. The heads you see in this photo that are not round are what remains after the birds have eaten the seeds. Interestingly, the stem is strong enough for small birds to perch upon, allowing them to eat the seeds. Since we started this prairie some 22 years ago, wildflowers are popping up throughout the farm, due to the birds spreading the seeds.  

The Grey Headed Coneflower here provides not only texture to the landscape, but food for birds. The heads you see in this photo that are not round are what remains after the birds have eaten the seeds. Interestingly, the stem is strong enough for small birds to perch upon, allowing them to eat the seeds. Since we started this prairie some 22 years ago, wildflowers are popping up throughout the farm, due to the birds spreading the seeds.  

 Grasses too have interesting texture in winter, when they are dried out. This was taken right after a five-inch snow fall, but the grass is still upright. Particularly attractive is the Cordgrass, the grass that has the long, slowly curving  downward blades. 

Grasses too have interesting texture in winter, when they are dried out. This was taken right after a five-inch snow fall, but the grass is still upright. Particularly attractive is the Cordgrass, the grass that has the long, slowly curving  downward blades. 

 It seems the birds don't care for the Monarda seed as much as they do the Grey Headed Coneflower. Nevertheless, Mondarda flower heads create a dappled effect upon the landscape as well as provides some foliage, one of the few plants that keeps its leaves through the winter. 

It seems the birds don't care for the Monarda seed as much as they do the Grey Headed Coneflower. Nevertheless, Mondarda flower heads create a dappled effect upon the landscape as well as provides some foliage, one of the few plants that keeps its leaves through the winter. 

 February is the month that one can see the cattails seed out.

February is the month that one can see the cattails seed out.