Nursery Notes: Surprises in yards offer gardening opportunities

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Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.

At some point in life, most people end up moving to a new house or home. It could be as simple as moving across town or perhaps a move across borders. Spring rolls around and the new homeowners inevitably have a few surprises. Out in the yard or garden, these surprises can often be very pleasant!

Maybe it is an antique pulled out of a garage mezzanine. Or perhaps some new garden treasures like a patch of cheery spring bulbs popping up in the front yard. It could even be an inconspicuous plum tree hiding in plain sight in the backyard until one day, “Hey, where did that come from?”

If you are like me, the little surprises are always welcome, even if they have to be moved to a better location. New yards present new opportunities. Surprise plant material can usually always be identified with a little investigation. Sometimes the new neighbours will know the answer if you’re not sure.

In the case of heritage apple trees, pinpointing the exact variety may be a little more difficult. Perhaps the experts at the UBC Apple Festival may be required. In most cases, trees and shrubs can be identified using a small piece of the plant; a terminal twig end with buds will tell the story. Arborists can use the dormant season buds for identification.

Are the buds growing off the tree branch in opposite fashion or are they alternating along the stem? Are the buds growing singularly or are they in clusters? What colour are they? What size are they? Is the bark smooth or grainy or hairy? These are the kinds of questions one has to ask in order to differentiate amongst the plant material.

The most common tree people bring in for me to identify is a piece of Manitoba maple. Another name is the box elder tree. They have maple-like bark and buds, too. Their leaf isn’t like your common maple leaves, though. It is made up of a few pieces of leaf put together. At this time of year the trees are in flower and these hang off the tree branches, producing lots of pollen for the bees. Later on, this is seed, so they spread by wind. Hence, the surprise factor.

Another surprise of these maples is that they have their own kind of bugs, box elder bugs. Red marks on their black beetle-like backs are a dead giveaway. They’re fairly harmless in that they eat the maple seeds; however, they like to congregate in warm places like the porch of an older house for winter. The most distinctive characteristic of these trees is the bluish powder or “bloom” that they have covering their new twiggy growth. Many plants have this sort of natural sunscreen. It rubs off with your thumb.

If you are looking to identify shrubbery note the location and the size of the plants in question. Any idea of the leaf and flower colour helps too. Plant material from Canadian hardiness zones 2-6 will grow nicely here in the valley so there are a lot of possibilities.

Happy gardening!

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.

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