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Archive for April, 2015

Male oak catkins dangle from oak branches

Mature oaks usually retain leaves only on their lower branches.

Swelling buds in the spring pop
off marcescent leaves.

Spring has been slow to come to the Shenandoah Valley this year. It has been cold and windy for days; not feeling very spring-like despite what the calendar says.

Regardless of the chilly temps, I have observed the steady progression of the season in the trees surrounding our house. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the oaks had finally shed the last of their marcescent leaves as the buds began to swell. Soon after, the male oak flowers started to appear.

Oak trees produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree.

The male flowers develop first just as the tiny leaves begin to form. These conspicuous flowers are long, yellow catkins that dangle down from the tips of the branches.

Tiny staminate flowers arranged along a central stem make up the catkin.

Tiny staminate flowers arranged along
a central stem make up the catkin.

Pollen from these flowers blows through air to pollinate female flowers on nearby trees. Oak pollen is produced in copious amounts and can cause real problems for those that are allergic to tree pollen. Since the catkins shed their pollen before the leaves are fully expanded, the pollen is able to drift relatively unimpeded through the air to reach the female flowers.

The female oak flowers are much less obvious and in fact are seldom seen because they are very small and generally found on the tips of branches higher up in the tree. If pollinated, the female flowers will give rise to acorns – eventually.

Female oak flowers are quite inconspicuous

Female oak flowers are quite
inconspicuous. Red oak shown here

Oaks are broadly divided into two main groups; the red oak (or black oak) group and the white oak group.

In general, trees in the red oak group have pointed lobed leaves and trees in the white oak group have rounded lobed leaves.

Acorn development is different between these two groups. Acorns in the white oak group are sweet and palatable and mature in one season. It takes two years for acorns in the red oak group to mature; so in the fall, you may notice tiny one-year old acorns as well as the larger two-year old acorns on the same tree. Red oak acorns are very bitter tasting.

Red oaks as a group generally flower earlier that the white oak group. Our mature red oaks have thousands of catkins hanging off the branches right now while the white oaks, which include the chestnut oaks, are just beginning to bud out.

Acorn production can be affected by certain weather conditions that disrupt flowering or hinder pollination.

Oaks rely on wind rather than insects for pollination. If the weather is misty and rainy during the time that the oak pollen is being shed, the pollen can be washed right out of the air. This can limit pollination and reduce the acorn production for that year. Freezing temperatures in the spring can kill the flowers and also reduce the acorn crop.

Dried up catkins and some yellow oak pollen litter the deck

Dried up catkins and some
yellow oak pollen litter the deck

In a good year (for the oaks, that is), the yellow oak pollen billows from the trees on the slightest of breezes. Some of it will reach female flowers on adjacent oaks but it seems that most of it just settles to the ground.

So far, not much pollen has been released; it can be up to two weeks after the male flowers first appear before pollen is shed.

I know the pollen clouds are coming and once they do, everything outside will be covered with a fine yellow dust!

Once their pollen is shed, the catkins dry up and drop from the tree. The ground under the trees becomes littered with these spent flowers.

Coming up - the pine pollen!

Coming up – the pine pollen!

We find them all over the deck, on the roof, in the gutters, on the cars …

Just yesterday, I noticed that the male cones on the tips of the pine branches have begun to develop. More pollen is on the way!

Until next time –

Happy Gardening!

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Daffodils welcome spring

Spring blooming bulbs are the colorful messengers that spring has finally arrived. But for me, it is the wonderful daffodils with their bright yellow “trumpets” that truly signal the coming of the new spring season.

A beautiful small cup daffodil

A beautiful small cup daffodil

The great thing about daffodils is that they are available in a tremendous diversity of colors, forms, and sizes. According to the American Daffodil Society, there are over 25,000 registered cultivars of daffodils! Choosing which bulbs you want to grow may be the hardest part of growing them!

Daffodils are among the easiest of all plants to grow. They are reliable bloomers year after year as long as they are provided with sun, good drainage, and a little food every year. Planting daffodils in the fall is a great project for “little gardeners” because they are not only easy to grow but they make wonderful long-lasting cut flowers for the first colorful bouquets of spring!

But what about after the show is over?

The care you give your daffodils after the flowers fade can have a major impact on the flower show they provide for you the following spring!

Here are some tips …

A dissected amaryllis bulb shows the developing flower bud inside.

A dissected amaryllis bulb shows the
developing flower stem inside.

Feed them!

After your daffodils have finished blooming, fertilize them with Espoma Bulb-tone according to the label directions. The plants need to replenish their energy stores in order to produce new flower buds for next year.

Let the foliage ripen!

You may be tempted to cut the daffodil foliage back after flowering to neaten the garden. Do not succumb to this temptation! It is very important to leave the foliage for at least 6 weeks after they finish blooming. This gives the plant enough time to produce its own food through photosynthesis. The carbohydrates formed through this process will move down to the bulb and provide energy for growth and the production of flower buds for next spring’s beautiful blooms.

This daffodil foliage is ready to remove

This daffodil foliage is ready to remove

 

Never tie or braid the daffodil foliage after blooming because this will interfere with photosynthesis. Often by the time the daffodil foliage begins to fade, other perennials in your garden will have grown up to hide the yellowing foliage. Once the majority of the foliage turns brown, you can carefully pull it off or cut it back.

 

 

What about deadheading?

Seed pods are developing behind the flowers

Seed pods develop behind the flowers

Should you deadhead the faded daffodil blooms or completely remove the old flower stems?

There are different opinions about this. Some say yes, some say no, and some say it doesn’t matter.

Why would you bother to deadhead? Have you ever noticed a large swelling at the top of the stem right behind the spent daffodil flower? This is a seed pod which forms when a daffodil flower has been successfully pollinated. It takes energy to produce these seeds; energy that could be going to the bulb to produce next year’s flower buds.

If you remove the shriveled flower and the seed pod behind it, then all nutrients will be channeled to the bulb and none will be “wasted” on seed production. Wasted – unless you actually want the seeds in order to produce a new hybrid daffodil. Then you would let the seed pods mature, collect the seeds once the seed pod turns brown, and plant them out. However, it usually takes at least 5 years before a seed grown daffodil is old enough to produce a flower!

Daffodil seed pod and withered flower

Daffodil seed pod and withered flower

 

Daffodil seed pod cut open

Daffodil seed pod cut open

bright cheery daffodils

As far as completely removing the flower stem – you could, but what color are the stems? Green!

Green shows the presence of chlorophyll, which means that the stem can also photosynthesize and produce food for the bulb. Hmmmm …

Personally we always leave everything; leaves, stems, and seed pods. Our daffodils bloom beautifully year after year!

Actually, that’s not completely true. Daffodils make wonderful cut flowers, so we always cut a bunch of daffodil bouquets throughout the season to bring some very welcome spring color and fragrance indoors!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

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