The end of May and the last of this year’s hybrid poplars, pines and oaks finally made it into their assigned spaces. Competing priorities this year included staying ahead of rapidly growing grasses throughout the Bluecircle, thanks to regular rains, and a new garden plot. Another project, new oak flooring in the kitchen addition, came from “sustainable Appalachian forests”. It’s premature to claim success with oaks, but at least some of our tiny red oak seedlings survived the onslaught of hungry rodents under our now-departed snows.
The lingering Winter makes it hard to believe that many of this year’s Bluecircle tree seedlings will be planted over the next 4 weeks. The Chief River Nursery Co. of Grafton WI and the Berrien County Conservation District will again be my chief suppliers. The conifers will be scaled back both in number and variety to Scotch Pine, Black Hills Spruce and Red Pine. I expect these to be more drought-resistant than White Spruce, and the new well stands in reserve. However, success or defeat depends largely on timely rain.
For the first time this year we will supplement poplar cuttings from hybridpopular.com with some from the Bluecircle, more on that in later posts. The early failures of the majority of poplar cuttings last year may have been due to premature emergence of leaves, so for the first time these cuttings will be sprouted on the Farm.
For the first time red oak and sycamore will be added to the plantings, albeit in small numbers. Some of these will have the additional protection of nursery pots so drip irrigation can be added if the clouds fail to deliver enough moisture. Both species represent investments in the next century inspired by the still-standing stumps of native oaks that graced these fields 100 years ago.
A few years ago the view over the crest of the hill on the north side of the farm was blocked by two large featureless storage garages built just across the property line. This part of the farm was a perfect site for some fast-growing trees. Cottonwood thrives as a native tree here so the closely-related hybrid poplar seemed like a good choice. We ordered enough hybrid poplars from the Berrien County Conservation District April tree sale to plant a couple of barrier rows, and on a cold and rainy April morning planted them as quickly as possible. There was no need to water them in the soggy, freshly tilled ground.
During winter evenings of web reading I had discovered “Forest-in-a-box”, a kit of 100 dormant poplar cuttings advertised (hybridpoplars.com) as a practical way to get started in poplar growing. When the kit arrived it contained rubber-banded bundles of 2-inch sticks about the size of broken pencils, growing bags, labels, and trays to hold the bags once they were filled with planting soil (fertilizer-free). Dipping the “hybrid OP367″ cuttings in rooting hormone and planting them was an evenings work, and within a few weeks a leaf or two had sprouted from all but 3 or 4. In mid-April we moved the trays to a neighbor’s outside porch to harden them against the cold. Two weekends later each 2-4-inch “tree” was teased from its nursery bag and into a hole created with a planting bar. The race between the Conservation District poplars and the OP367 cuttings was on.
Regular rains and a few windy storms have made it relatively easy to care for the poplars this first summer. Although there was nearly a 2 foot difference in height between the bare root and the bag-rooted trees when they were planted by the end of August they were almost indistinguishable. The tallest poplars are about 5 feet tall, and off to an excellent start.