Growth and amputation in the pine grove


Oaks and pines

Midsummer in Michigan, cooler than many years and mostly rainy enough to keep established trees healthy.  The Bluecircle’s older pines now close the rows between them and briars thrive in their shade.  It will be a few years before you could lose yourself here, but even now you could stay out of sight in the Scotch pines.

The mixed planting of spruce, fir and pines is susceptible to the white pine weevil.  Especially in the sunniest areas this pest has infected some topmost branches leaving then brown, dead and soon broken by the wind.  New branches form below this crude amputation but the crooked trunk of affected trees marks the damage.




Both oaks and conifers continue to develop new leaves or needles, often with transient immature colors that contrast with established growth.

Spruce tip on a July afternoon




A Bluecircle birthday!

The Bluecircle is now four years old. The “Home Depot” pines and oaks planted in late 2010 are soundly established, or at least the survivors are.  They have much company now since the last two summers have been kind to seedling trees.

IMG_1412 We have transitioned from vacation and weekend visitors to full-time residents but still find there’s more mowing, trimming, planning and planting to do than days in the week allow. Moving from city to farm, from office to the outdoors, the daily variation in weather is still amazing. The right boots and rain gear, good gloves and a sharp knife turn out to be critical.

Seedling oak showing its colors

Seedling oak showing its colors

Each species of our trees has had a different early early childhood. The sycamores have proven very durable.  Several have emerged from the field grass months  after they were reduced to dead branches and given up for lost. Their light green leaves are large and distinctive so they stand out – unless shredded by the dread Japanese beetle in July and August. More than a few oaks have recovered from chewed bark or sad encounters with the bush hog mower, but they lag way behind their more fortunate brethren. The black walnuts and other nut trees grow slowly, but those that survive their first year have made steady progress.

The hybrid poplars have thrived with only occasional mowing between their rows.  Some in the first planting are now more than thirty feet tall and a favored site for groundhog dens.  A leaf or two at the very top branch is the last to fall in October and waves like a triumph flag at the end of another growth year.  In the photo above a rows of poplars tower over the Scotch pines and early lake-effect snow.  The pines have grown more rapidly than anything but weeds and poplars.  Some brown and die for no apparent reason, but most are doing well and will soon become the most abundant conifers.  Short-needled fir and spruce are scattered through the Bluecircle rows – eventually they will add variety to the treeline.

Slowly grows the seedling spruce

Slowly grows the seedling spruce

Winter always ends in March madness

Whether it’s the abrupt swings in temperature, or gusty winds that bring snow one day and inches of mud the week following, March brings an uncertain mood. The frozen lake and icy woods of February were predictable, and the lake winds yielded only a few inches a day of snow. No trace of green emerged from the frozen sand. But now, almost mid-way through unpredictable March, sunny spots yield a few tiny leaves. On the sunporch late mornings provide a surprising warmth. Should I set out pots of poplar cuttings, or will another week of colder-and-wetter-than usual weather lead to complications? If we order seedlings will the weather co-operate or will the ground still be frozen and infertile when they arrive? Risk abounds.
Comparing a basketball tournament to celebration of the Greek Olympics may be a reach, but the Gods of March (and Olympus) must enjoy our focus this month on a game that has “Cinderella teams” upsetting those with far more consistent winning records.  A game that can be won in 50 seconds (or 5 seconds) by fouling at the inbound pass and reducing the outcome to a simple game of “horse” from the free throw line  is wholly consistent with the March madness that surrounds us this time of year.

A bucket of tree flags retrieved from the Bluecircle plantings at year’s end is a reminder that success comes from advancing despite risk.  The uncertainty of the season will not prevail or block a forward path.

Markers of the fallen

An expeditionary force of seedling trees suffers heavy losses

A cool rainy day after weeks of heat and drought makes it easier to take stock of what have been difficult months on the Bluecircle.  Recent rains have produced Spring-like greening of grassy areas and a proliferation of giant ragweed and other weeds where trees were planted this year.  Like an ill-prepared and prematurely deployed expeditionary force both short and tall spruce seedlings stand as brittle, naked reminders of the Summer of 2012.  In the graveyard of white spruce it will soon be time to think about tilling and planning for future plantings, but for now a simple mowing and removal of the plastic flags that mark the fallen soldiers will be enough.

Pines planted in 2011 in areas that receive some shade have tolerated the drought, while those in all-day sun have not fared so well.  Long-needled pines were more resilient than the spruce, cedar or firs, but until frosts have eliminated the competing weeds it will be unclear how much damage has been done.   A new well will enable a drip irrigation system next year and we will try to do a better job of matching soil conditions and plantings.

The hybrid poplars from 2011 are already making some shade of their own, but an attempt to introduce tulip poplars failed and only about 20% of this year’s hybrid poplar seedlings successfully rooted and made the transition from nursery to field.   Sunflowers, mostly self-seeded from the 2011 crop, provide the other bright spot amongst the ragweed and thistle.

300 seedlings – plotting a white spruce mini-forest

On a dusty Friday evening in mid-April we tree-spade planted 200 spruce seedlings from the Berrien County Conservation District tree sale.  The rows and spacing were premarked and this took about 4 hours.   Although some of the seedlings are 18″ tall the tree flags will become critical in a month or two when rapid weed growth can be expected.  This year we intend to mulch transplants that look healthy in May to reduce the amount of mechanical weed control and provide some protection against dry weather later in the summer.  Spruce grow rapidly once established, and could reach 30′ in height in 25 years.