28 October 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Henry Kock says, "Planting native tree, shrub and vine species... is a nearly sacred act." To that I would add that nurturing a tree from seed is a singular act of optimism.
I reread "Growing Trees from Seed" by Henry Kock after I had gathered seed cones from two mature Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora L.). I resolved to try my hand at growing native trees from seed, instead of relocating seedlings, which has always yielded good results. And Henry Kock told me why.
Woody plants including trees can "tolerate a slight change in habitat but are less likely to survive if there are two or more differences in climate zone, soil type or soil moisture between the original site and the new planting site." So, transplanting seedlings to more hospitable locations around my property honors their "adaptive range". Choosing healthy seedlings and seeds from healthy plants also assures success.
Henry talks about a gardeners worry — light — from a different perspective; he tells us that length-of-day, an indicator of latitude has an important effect on the trees growth. Though it is found from Newfoundland, west to Minnesota to southern Florida, a red maple (Acer rubrum) from upstate New York will not do well in central Virginia. Its genetics are fine tuned to the home site, especially the latitude, where summertime day-length differs enough to matter. However, a red maple from the banks of the James River will be just fine here.
In "Growing Trees from Seed: A practical guide to growing native tree, vines and shrubs" (illustrated with charcoal and line drawings and color photographs at 280 pages published in the U.S. in 2008 by Firefly Books for $45) Henry Kock exhorts you to "think like a seed." But he also shows you how to plant the seed, germinate it and how to protect the seedling from harsh elements as well as four-footed browsers.
Start your seed gathering on your own property or that of someone nearby who grants permission. Take note of the site because you will have to match those conditions. Gather from the healthy senior trees. Their age and health affirm the likelihood of vigorous offspring. Henry says to "avoid collecting from isolated plants, because they must self-pollinate, which can reduce germination vigor and the longevity of their offspring... avoid native plants that are mass-produced by cutting or grafting, which results in very uniform plants, since they usually originate from only one parent plant." Boring for someone like me who collects for variety. Gather ripe or mature fruit for your seeds and open up a few to see if they are healthy. Seed sowing, seedling care and transplanting are consistent with gardening for vegetables and perennials grown from seed.
Henry emphasizes root over shoot growth. In your tree nursery, from a single pot destined for bonsai to a flat of 18, protect your precious seedlings. Most begin life in the shade; so provide the same. Apply the Goldilocks effect, keeping soil tilth light — not too dense, not too porous, and moisture, balanced — not too wet, not too dry.
Tip of the Week
" ... the (autumn) color change we see is ... a removal of the green chlorophyll which masks the other pigments ... When length of day-light changes, the chlorophyll's ability to capture solar energy reduces, and thus the fading of green pigment from most of our broad leaf trees. It's actually a rather complicated process and not one that we even understand completely, which I think makes it all the more beautiful!" Adam Downing, Virginia Extension Agent.