Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Planting

I came home after work yesterday to find thirteen trees leaning against the side of the garage: my replacements for the invasive honeysuckles we cut down last fall! These were/are bare root stock, so they needed to be planted ASAP. So, instead of taking the dog out for a long walk, everyone (dog, cat, I) went into the back yard for a couple hours.

After unwrapping the trees (which mostly are sticks with a few roots on one end), I set them in a bucket of water – optimistic that I could get them all planted that evening. In reality, only five made it into their permanent holes; the rest have been heeled in until I have time to dig seven more $500 holes – maybe Saturday morning before I have to leave for the cheese-making workshop.

$500 holes? Yep – you shouldn’t just dig any ol’ hole and stick your tree in and refill it. Oh, no. That would be too easy! No, you have to dig a hole at least two feet across (three would be even better) and one-and-a-half to two feet deep. The sod goes in one pile, the topsoil in a second pile and the subsoil in a third. THEN you put the sod back into the hole, root side upwards: this will provide food for the new tree roots. Then you add the topsoil (and the tree, so its roots are now getting covered). Once the topsoil is in, add two to three gallons of water. Now everything is swimming. This is topped off with the subsoil. By reversing the soil layers, you have put the nutrients down at the base where the roots can access them. If you are really diligent, you will also add compost and such to the top soil, making a really rich food base for the tree. My compost is still iced in, so the trees are going to have to make do with a little peat moss instead. Once everything is in place, you stomp (gently) on the soil (which may be floating, thanks to all that water, if it hasn’t been absorbed yet), packing it in place and forcing out any air holes. This also serves to anchor the tree.

So, what am I using to replace the alien invaders? I have two hawthorns, one nannyberry, two pin cherries, two staghorn sumacs, two red panicled dogwoods, and three serviceberries. All native, all good berry producers for the birds. When they finally get some height to them, they will make a good “hedge,” once more providing a barrier between my land and the neighbor’s (besides the dog fence).

When the dog and I finally got out for our walk, we were graced with the presence of woodcocks! This is the first I’ve heard them this spring, but this is also the latest we’ve been out in a few weeks. With the mild weather we’ve been having, it’s very possible that the woodcocks have been back for a bit.

First, you hear the peent! Next to peepers, it is one of the best audio signs of spring. Then you hear the twittering as the male flies upwards in an ever-climbing spiral, eventually disappearing into the gloom above. When you’ve pretty much lost the bird, it starts its downward plunge, tumbling back to the earth with a popping, squeaking sort of sound. Suddenly the sound ends, and the bird, if you can find it, lands on its patch of ground and begins peent-ing again.

I could’ve stayed and watched for a while, but the dog was not impressed (although if we had gotten really close to the bird, he would’ve become very interested), so we moseyed along back towards home.


  1. Oh, just imagine the flowering display from those trees in the years to come! And the fruits as well. You'll have catbirds and bluebirds and cedar waxwings and robins and more.

    Thanks for the woodcock moment. Forty years ago I joined a bird class at U. Mich. and we went to a field where woodcocks performed this mating ritual. I was dumbstruck with wonder by this, and I've never witnessed it again.

  2. Woodswalker - Here in the Northeast, you can likely find woodcocks at an field this time of year. Head out about 7:00 - 7:30 PM and listen for that nasal "peent". If you can locate that, you have yourself a woodcock! After that, listen for the twitter as the bird flies up and keep your eyes peeled for the bird's silhoutette! I imagine the Saratoga Battlefield would be a GREAT place to start!

  3. Thanks for the suggested location for witnessing woodcocks. Why didn't I think of that? By the way, be sure to protect those new shrubs somehow from rabbits. I went out to inspect my shrubbery this spring and found most of it eaten down to the ground: one trumpet honeysuckle, two red chokeberries, one sweetpepper bush -- who knows what else! I wonder if any will recover.

  4. Thanks to my dog fence, hares are not a problem for me in the yard. Deer, however, can jump the fence and have to be watched. VOLES, now there was the pest this winter! See my next blog.