Canna Last Blooms

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For today’s Photo Friday, just a quick shot of the canna blooms from within my house.  They are still providing lots of presence and I’m enjoying every last moment – so are the bees!  But it is time to get into fall – pumpkin shoppin’ this weekend!  I want a BIG one or TWO!  Cathy T

Liquidambar styraciflua – Sweetgum tree

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For this week’s “Photo Friday” by Cathy T, here are couple photos of a sweetgum tree.  Latin name noted above.

Sweetgum Leaves

I came across this tree during a nature walk in Cape May, NJ last weekend.  My husband and I went to the Cape May area for the first time.  In search of some exercise, and the fact it was a cloudy day, we decided to hit up the Cape May lighthouse first, going up 199 steps to the top for some views.  After, we discovered a nature trail nearby at the state park.  Once our leg cramps subsided, we entered the path.

The wooden laid walkways lead you through pine canopies and continue through marshes and swamp like areas.  Well-maintained but still with its natural presence, this nature trail was peaceful and the right pace for us.

We walked about a mile along various terrain experiencing shade, sun, water, sea breezes – and many birds, wildflowers, and unique trees.  By the way, Cape May is known as a place to be for birdwatchers. Many bird enthusiasts were standing on a deck with binoculars in hand and facing the sky as they were taking counts where we began the walk.  And on the trail, we would come upon a quiet bird spectator here or there.  See www.BirdCapeMay.org about their observatory and bird species.  The bird factor made the journey more pleasant and calming.

Sweetgum Tree

As for myself, I wasn’t looking up – but out and around on the trail.  I was surprised to come upon sweetgum trees.  I just didn’t expect it although they are known to grow near swamps and in lowlands, such as the place we were experiencing.  And along the path, there it was.  The big star-shaped leaves I’ve recognized before.  I stepped off the path to take a closer look and a photo.  For some reason, I felt like I may be breaking a rule by going off the wooden trail to venture into the woods, but I couldn’t help myself to take a closer look (and some photos of course).

Later, as I continued further, I came across a stand of them.  They were aligned in rows in open areas and  being protected.  I’m not sure why, but they were surely being grown and tended by a specialist for some reason.  This tree is used for timber production and valued for its ornamental qualities.  It is possible they took seedlings or root sprouts to keep them growing in the area since they were abundant and naturally occurring.

Back to the leaves of the sweetgum.  It is the feature which made me stop long enough to lose track of my husband who was far ahead of me now on the trail.  The leaves on sweetgum trees are rather large – a nice hand size and star-shape.  This is the reason I like them – their foliage power.  Although the leaf color is a basic green in season, the fall color is very pretty – turning shades of pale yellow, soft red, deep wine, and perhaps some bronzed highlights too.

Seeing the leaves made me recall a mature, very large sweetgum tree situated on a hill at the UCONN campus in Storrs, CT.  It took a couple of minutes for me to remember the tree as I was taking photos of the one on this Cape May trail, then it hit me – I remembered collecting the fruit seed cases from the ground at the campus that fell from the tree.  They are round (as big as gum balls), hard, prickly or spiked, with a little stem attached.  The balls (fruit seed cases) are woody and useful for winter decorations. Some folks may find them a nuisance on the lawn because they create litter so to speak, but to me they are a natural resource useful holiday decorating, plus they are interesting.  Spray them with some glitter gold paint, and they are perfect for wreaths and container gardens stuffed evergreens in the winter months.

The sweet gum tree gets its common name because – as you may guess – the resin/sap from its bark smells and tastes like gum!  To experience this, you have to cut or wound the tree’s bark which I do not recommend, nor have I tried, but legend has it this was used like chewing gum.  Also, this tree has been found in fossils – so it is a dinosaur, so to speak.  And, it can get as large as a dinosaur.  It grows to between 60 to 70 feet tall.  The one at campus is huge, stately, and worth remembering.  It needs lots of space because it grows a wide and spreading root system.  It is not for tight spots, or shade, but can handle flooding, seaside breezes (if protected) as these were on the trail.  To read more specifics about this tree, visit this line:http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_list2.pdf.

This large, deciduous tree with ornamental qualities and useful craft offerings, great star-shaped leaf configuration, and fall coloring later in the season, is available for our climate.  A zone 5 tree, you can find cultivars like ‘Frosty’ which has marbled and speckled variegation on the leaves, or ‘Silver King’ with white-edged leaves, and even ‘Slender Silhouette’ with a tall pillar shape, at tree farms such as www.brokenarrownursery.com in Hamden, CT.  Or ask your local nursery contact if they would order one for you if possible.

Acer griseum – Photo Friday

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Here’s a photo I took last week when checking out a stock of trees with my sister.  She lost her cherished magnolia tree during tropical storm Irene, so we spent the afternoon browsing potential replacements.  As we walked around various trees during our magnolia hunt, we came across this showy paperbark maple!

Acer griseum

The bark on this maple, Acer griseum, developes at a young age, and as you can see on this photo is just amazing “as the tree matures” too.  I love that cinnamon brown coloring and the layers of the bark peeling.  The leaves are dark bluish to green and turn bronzy red in the fall with hints of orange.  Usually the leaves stay on the tree into late fall – so this tree has fall and winter beauty!  To me, the bark character is often more important than leaves when it comes to tree characteristics.

Hardy to zones 5-7(8), reaching a height of about 10-15 feet, and taking sun to part shade, if you spot a paperbark maple on sale this fall season, don’t pass it up!

Oh – and the leaf shape is different too, 3 lobed with serrated edges.  So the bark a-peal, the different leaves, and the coloring from top to bottom make it worthy for this Photo Friday post!  Cathy T

P.S. My sister is still on her magnolia hunt – I plan to post about this story later!

Photo Friday – Nature’s Superhighway

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Capturing nature’s superhighway as the afternoon sun passes through this elephant ear leaf.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  You can almost see the path of travel.  Each vein providing a safe passage to all which supports its growth and life.  I just love taking closeup’s like this one, and especially enjoyed that splash of light direct at the midrib point where the leave spans outward more.  Truly amazing, those leaves.  And truly special when you get to witness them enjoying the sun!  Have a great weekend everyone – and enjoy the sun as much as the plants do…Cathy T 

Mandevilla Sighting

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Check out these beauties!  I spotted these beautiful Mandevilla plants in containers along a deck next door to my mother-in-law’s lakeside cottage in Ashford, CT.  She told me the neighbor keeps them in his shed over the winter. I thought, that can’t be.  It is very cold by Lake Chaffee in the winter, especially when the lake winds blow over the property and against the cottages.  These tropical plants would not survive in a shed.  So I interrupted the homeowner while he was mowing his lawn to ask about how he tends to these beauties and if okay to take some photos to share on my blog.

Staged to perfection

His face lit up at the question.  He said a friend lets him store these containers in their basement over the winter, since his lakeside cottage doesn’t have a basement.  He cuts all the plants back, strips any bad leaves, and reduces the watering to barely nothing.  His plants keep growing very slowly and look spindly, but they are still alive.  Basically he is transitioning the plants to a dormant state, which is something you can do with Mandevillas after the container season is over in our regions.

The ideal temperature in a basement for storing these types of tropical plants is about 35 to 40 degrees F.  Place the containers of Mandevilla plants in a dark place.  Water lightly.  Don’t let it completely dry out – and watch for insects when you first bring them in.  The tuberous roots will go to sleep so to speak, kind of like a bear in the winter months, resting – awaiting for warm temperatures to return the following spring.  Some references indicate that you should allow the tops of the plants to be touched by frost before you store them in the basement, but I find – as this homeowner does, transitioning them when temps cool down later in the fall is fine.  Sometimes waiting until frost can result in rot on the plant, especially if cold, moist soil touches those leaves too long.

My mother-in-law told me that every year when he takes them out most of the leaves are brown. Yet the plant is indeed still alive, awakening slowly.  After the plants have been exposed to the outdoors for a while and show signs of growth, he gives them a shot of 10-10-10.  Then, he said, the growth will take off.  The plants are fully awake, ready to receive their place of honor again on his deck.  He will give them a liquid quick release fertilizer, like MiracleGro, about a month or so later.  By July, he said they look like this!  Stunning! And look at them in September, they are beauties.

By the way, during any inside plant to outside plant transition process, it is best to transition them into shade or part-shade before full on sun.  Mandevillas are sun-lovers, but going straight from dark to sun can result in bleaching or sunburn of the leaves.

On corner

The photos speak for themselves.  Breaktaking, especially staged on the posts of his deck along the lake.  Lucky for my mother-in-law, she gets to enjoy them – or should I say scold them.  She is a bit jealous of the beauty around his home.  I guess I don’t blame her!  I would be envious too!

This neighbor of her’s is an avid outdoors type person, constantly tending and updating every inch of his property.  Not only are his Mandevilla containers amazing, he has many other hanging baskets and container gardens around his deck and along his patio.  When he bought the property, he brought in sod for the lawn, not a weed in sight!  So you get the idea.  He is meticulous about care.

Mandevilla vines or sprawling shrubs can grow anywhere from3 feet to 20 feet high – if you are successful at overwintering them here in CT to this size over time!  They are hardy to zones 10-11 and die to the ground in warmer regions, but as for us CT folks, do as this gentlemen did and overwinter them in the basement.

On angle

Mandevillas love humus-rich, moist soils.  Soon, these beauties will require new container/potting soil, as the existing soil will soon tire out and won’t be able to hold water as well, especially against the windy conditions by the lake.  That was about the only tip I could offer the neighbor, as he already has a green thumb and has been achieving success with his Mandevilla plants.  Cathy T