The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 20, 2015

Silky Dogwood

Filed under: Shrubs — bob @ 8:44 am

One of my earliest childhood memories in the garden is discovering a shrub  tucked away in a out of the way corner of my grandmother’s  garden. The shrub had the most striking metallic-blue berries I had ever seen. Years later I found out it was a silky dogwood.

Now decades later, I found another silky dogwood growing on our property which, by the way, is only a mile or so away from my grandparents old farm. It is a wild plant that came up in the area that we use for the chicken exercise area. It was carved out of a part of our yard that we left as a natural area to attract wildlife.

The memories came flooding back to me when I saw the familiar cool-blue berries. This is not the blue of a ripe blue berry or wild grape. It’s more like the blue paint job of of a customized Gran Torino from the 1970′s. It really looks out of place in in the natural habitat.

The silky dogwood berries grow in clusters and are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter.

The silky dogwood berries grow in clusters and are about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter.

Silky dogwood prefers low lying areas along streams or ponds. However, ours is growing in one of the higher spots in the yard, which is why I chose that area for the chicken run, so that the hens would have a high and dry area to roam. I know we have a fairly high water table here, and that is probably why the bush is growing so well.

The dogwood has a beautiful natural shape and bright shiny leaves that make it a very attractive plant. I don’t see many of these around anymore. In some states, like Indiana, where it was once common is now considered a locally endangered species.

In some parts of the country it grows to a maximum height of around five feet while in others, it can get 10 feet high. Mine is at least eight feet tall. My guess is that it all depends on its location or local population genetics.

The berries contain high amounts of fat, compared to other berries, and that makes it a favorite for migratory birds that need fat to sustain them during their migration. Flocks of cedar waxwings have found our wild area and are eating the wild cherries. So far they haven’t touched the silky dogwood berries. Maybe they’re not quite ripe enough for them yet.

I’ve never been tempted to try to eat these berries, even as a young child. Something about that blue just didn’t look right to me. I don’t ever plan to eat them so I’m not going to tell you whether or not they are edible, you’ll have to do your own research. Let me know in the comments section what you find.

I recall that some groups of native Americans used the the bark as part of their tobacco mixture called kinnikinnick. I’m not sure if it was used as a flavoring ingredient or if it has some sort of medical or other value.

Even if you don’t to smoke it or eat the berries, silky dogwood is an attractive shrub to use in your landscape especially if you have a damp problem area where other shrubs fail to thrive.

Seeds, seeding and plants are available online and at nurseries.


October 24, 2013

Some fall leaves are a health risk

Filed under: Shrubs,Trees,Weather — bob @ 8:01 pm

The fall color season is nearing its peak. It’s a beautiful time of the year to be outside watching the leaves turn a little bit each day.

Collecting those leaves is a lot of fun too whether you use them for decorating or for helping your kids make that time honored school project, a leaf collection.

Many people use leaves they’ve collected from fall color tours or from their own backyard to decorate their homes.

Once you collect leaves and bring them indoors, they’ll easily hold their vibrant colors until Thanksgiving.

Be careful though not to bring a health risk into your home.  Poison ivy could be lurking among your hand-collected decorating materials.

Poison ivy turns a brilliant red color in the fall. This poison ivy vine is just beginning to turn color.

Poison ivy vines are often found growing up tree trunks and even on sides of buildings. In the fall, it produces one of our most brilliantly colored leaves. It’s bright-red autumn leaves are very attractive and would make wonderful indoor decorations except for one thing — they are still poisonous!

Every year I hear of someone “catching poison ivy” in the late fall even though they claim they have never been anywhere near the stuff. Many times their poor dog or cat is blamed for coming into contact with poison ivy and bringing it in on their fur when, in fact, it is the owner’s leaf decorations that are to blame.

To avoid bringing in poison ivy, learn how to identify it. The old saying “leaflets three, let it be” holds true even in the fall. Before picking up an unidentified leaf, take a few seconds to look for nearby vines climbing up trees or walls.

Virginia creeper, on the other hand, looks similar to poison ivy but it has five leaflets instead of three. Virginia creeper is harmless.

Be wary if that bright red leaf is not something you can easily identify before you add it to your table’s centerpiece.


April 25, 2013

Prune forsythia after flowering

Filed under: Flowers,Shrubs — bob @ 11:05 am

It looks like a good spring for forsythia this year. I’m seeing plenty of yellow flowers on forsythia shrubs all around our area.

Some bushes have loads of flowers while others look not quite as nice. The difference is,  gardeners with forsythia loaded with flowers have taken the time to prune their shrubs, while the others have just let their shrubs fend for themselves.

Unfortunately, some people prune their forsythia right along with their other trees and shrubs in the early spring while everything is still dormant.

Forsythia flower buds grow and form during the summer then, open up and bloom in the spring. So, if you prune in the spring while the plants are dormant, you end up cutting off those flower buds that grew last year.

The proper time to prune forsythia is right after the flower petals fall off of the stems.

Remove the largest, coarsest stems by cutting them off right at ground level. This will stimulate your shrub to send up fresh, new stems with plenty of those flower buds we’re looking for.

Next spring you’ll have a more balanced looking shrub with a profusion of yellow forsythia blossoms. Your neighbors will think you are a gardening genius.


December 7, 2012

Planning Ahead for Spring Evergreen Planting

Filed under: Shrubs,Trees — bob @ 2:30 pm

This week I’m helping a friend decide where to plant some evergreens in his yard.

Now is the perfect time to make those decisions because the leaves are gone from the trees and bushes in the yard.  Since evergreens keep their leaves or needles, their deep green color will stand out from the rest of the vegetation during the winter. So, it’s important to place them in the right spot. We’re trying to  get a better idea how an evergreen will look in the yard space next winter and the following winters.

The other reason we’re doing the planning now is because we won’t be distracted by all of the spring time foliage of the other trees and shrubs. It’s too easy to get fooled into picking the wrong spot for your evergreen and regret the choice next winter.

We’re going to visually survey his yard and try to imagine how the evergreens will look in a different places around the property. Also, I keep reminding him that we need to keep in mind how big the trees or shrubs will get as they grow through the years.

Once we make the final decision, we’ll drive a stake in each spot to remind us of the planting spots. The actual planting will take place next spring.

This is not a fool-proof method but it gives us more information to help us make the best planting decision.

September 23, 2011

Bringing Autumn Olive Under Control

Filed under: Shrubs — bob @ 12:47 pm

For several years now, autumn olives have been growing in the wild area of our property.  Part of that area I want to turn into an orchard so most of the autumn olives have to go.

These shrubs were introduced into Michigan a few decades ago to improve wildlife habitat.  Since then, they have invaded thousands of acres in our state.

Autumn olives produce a huge crop of berries that many species of birds eat.  Each berry contains a single seed.  Once a bird eats a berry, the seed passes through the bird’s digestive system.  It then gets deposited in the bird droppings — sometimes many miles away — starting a new stand of autumn olive.  Much of the fruit on the shrubs has ripened; that means the birds are eating them already.

Autumn olive is an attractive shrub. Its bright red berries stand out among the silvery-green leaves.

In the past, I’ve tried chopping the shrubs with an axe or spraying them with herbicide; they always seemed to come back.

This year I bought a circular brush cutting blade for my commercial-duty weed whacker.  It has only six cutting teeth that look like the teeth on a chainsaw.  The outer edge of that blade spins a lot faster than any saw chain moves so six teeth are all you really need to do some serious cutting.  Plus, there is no kickback with this blade making it very safe to use.

Once the shrubs are cut down, I brush full strength glyphosate herbicide onto the fresh stumps.  The remaining stump and roots quickly absorb the herbicide and die.

I found out the hard way that autumn olive plants have very sharp spines that can puncture normal leather gloves.  The very tips of those spines often break off deep into the flesh of your hands and fingers causing irritation lasting several days.

I’ve spent about six hours cutting and dabbing herbicide and have made a small but noticeable dent in the population.  Looks like I’ll need several more days to finish that orchard area.


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