Don’t buy these trees!
For any who followed my columns over the years, you probably have come to realize I have no problem sharing my particular opinion regarding the gardening world. Though I typically always check out my information before I drop it in my readers’ laps, I still often rub some gardeners the wrong way. This month’s column is no exception as I share some pointed views on a few trees and shrubs to avoid should you consider some fall plantings.
I offer a garden twist to a phrase my past students have heard from me as if it were a mantra to repeat incessantly: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” becomes, for the gardener “Just because they sell it, doesn’t mean you should buy it.” Never lose sight of this painful reality: no matter how helpful the garden center person may be, and many in our area are very knowledgeable, the bottom line is they want you to buy their products. So, here are few to walk away from no matter how impressive they may appear.
At the top of my list is the Colorado blue spruce. First, consider its name contains “Colorado” and realize we live in Iowa. Second, far too many have become front-and-center focal pieces in yards all over the tri-state area. Third, they are doomed to a short life because of needle blight which is not readily controllable. Iowa foresters recommend Norway and white spruce for windbreaks and Black Hills spruce for ornamental sites. A choice I have consistently made for myself and for the City of Asbury has been the native white pine. Scotch pines are a favorite holiday tree but I don’t recommend it either because it only lives for 25 to 30 years. Remember: we plant not for ourselves, but for the future.
A tree I’ve written about in the past and which, thankfully, is no longer sold in Iowa nurseries is the green ash. Emerald Ash Borer will arrive in the next few years and we can be certain most of our ash trees will be destroyed—unless an inexpensive treatment arrives. Another disease-prone tree that should never be seen in the landscape is the Lombardy poplar. Grown as a windbreak because of its fast growth rate, this tree has cankers and litters its leaves and twigs everywhere. Today it’s still sold through magazine ads and fortunately seldom found at reputable nurseries. A third deciduous tree to avoid is the black locust. The tree is a prolific “sprouter” of suckers everywhere as well as a free seeder. Every year, at a business I maintain, I have to trim off these suckers that pop up from surface roots all over the place. Considered a thorny weed tree by many horticulturists, this tree has escaped cultivation to invade pastures and prairies. It is considered an aggressively invasive species.
Finally, let me suggest that if the tree you are considering is sold through a magazine advertisement or flyer, avoid the purchase no matter how wonderful the description sounds. “Grows five feet in one year!” or similar claims may be accurate—but realize you’re investing in a short-lived product on the lower end of the scale of desirable trees. Ailanthus altissima or commonly known as “Tree of Heaven” will grow this much, but, again, it’s a weed tree. In fact, if one merely cuts the tree off at the ground it re-sprouts multiple times.
Having said all I just did regarding noxious or inappropriate trees, I must confess to having planted one a month or so ago. In May I visited my brother and we went to the Morton Arboretum—a first class place to visit—in Lisle, Illinois. They were holding their annual plant and tree sale and members (brother Bob is) could make purchases for half price. I bought a Box Elder tree. Now it wasn’t the common weedy ones found all over the tri-states. Mine is a variegated (Acer negundo ‘variegatum’) variety and that, coupled with the fact it is a member of the Maple family, are acceptable justifications for growing an otherwise less desirable tree.
August 11th Update
Q: At a farm auction several years ago, I bought three butter molds that were obviously quite old. Each has a pattern, with the most elaborate depicting a cluster of roses. Are these collectible? -- Emporia, Va.
A: It was during the reign of Charles II in Britain that decorating butter became popular. In America, this practice thrived due in no small part to farm wives who marked the homemade butter they sold so it would be readily identified as their product. No two farms used the same mold in the same county or area. The more detailed the pattern of a mold, the more expensive it can be. For example, a rare Amish hexagon mold with intricate pattern of acorns and oak leaves recently sold for $650 at auction. Most, however, sell in the $50 to $75 range.
Q: When my dad returned from World War II, one of the first things he bought me was a card game set called "Mickey Mouse Library of Games." I still have the set, and even though no amount of money would tempt me to sell it, I nevertheless wonder about its current value. -- Tom, Las Vegas
A: I checked several price guides, and they seem to agree that your set is worth in the $75 to $200 range, depending of course, on condition. Your set of six card games included "Donald Duck," "Pinocchio," "Mickey Mouse," "Bambi," "The Three Little Pigs" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It was issued in 1946 and should have the game, holder and instructions for each game.
Q: I have a compote dish that I've been told was crafted by the Paden City Glass Company during the 1920s. Although I have searched, I can't find anything about the glass or the company that made it. -- Lucy, Las Cruces, N.M.
A: The Paden Glass Company was established in Paden City, W.Va., in about 1916. During the 1920s, the company expanded to include crystal and opaque glass in a variety of patterns and styles. I think your compote probably was made during this period. In 1949, the company operated under new management and production was eventually automated to reduce costs. The factory closed permanently in 1951.
Riding and Remembering
Do you enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon riding around the beautiful tri-state countryside? Many times the simple things in life bring back the fondest memories. A group of Hospice of Dubuque supporters will ride in memory and honor of their loved ones on Saturday, August 23, at the 16th Annual Custom Riders Inc., Tour de Dubuque.
All motorcycles, bicycles and cars are welcome to gather for registration at Sandy Hook, beginning at 10:30 a.m., and join the ride, which will depart at 12:30 p.m. The motorcycles and cars will follow a 106-mile route, including stops in Gratiot, New Diggings, Elizabeth, and ending at Summer’s Last Blast in downtown Dubuque.
Bicycles will travel 20 miles (one way) from Sandy Hook to New Diggings where they will meet with the motorcycles and cars. Collect your pledges today and join in the fun. Prizes will be awarded for the highest pledge totals and there is a $10 registration fee for each driver and passenger who has not collected $50 in pledges. Ride in honor and memory of your loved ones while supporting your community’s nonprofit hospice and compassionate hospice care.
In the 15 years of Tour de Dubuque, and through the efforts of Custom Riders, Inc., the Dubuque Bicycle Club, area car enthusiasts and generous sponsors, Hospice of Dubuque has received over $140,000. For a pledge sheet or for more information, visit our website at www.hospiceofdubuque.org.