Monday, March 26, 2012

magnolias in minnesota in march

the leonard messel magnolia bloomed march 23rd- 4 to 5 weeks early
The magnolia in the front yard is our daughter's.  I planted it for her first birthday, and fortunately she likes purple and pink, because it blooms in a mix of white and purple and hot pink usually right around the time of her birthday- at the end of April.

This year it burst out a full week before the end of March.  We came home from Gita's last chemo session to find it in full flower- which we took as a sign of good things to come.  Or, more realistically, as a sign of the shifts taking place in our climate.

Either way it was gorgeous.  I had mulched it with leaves to keep the cold in the ground so that it wouldn't flower too soon.  But the buds were swelling last week, and I figured it didn't make sense to prolong the inevitable as well as cause lots of mold to grow in the process.  It only took two days for the soil to warm enough for the thing to bust out like you see in the photo.

I could go on about the weather, but that's already been done enough by others.  It's weird, but I kind of like it.  Cooler today and yesterday, but still no killing frost.  I put the banana plants out on St. Patrick's day and haven't brought them in yet.  The wind has torn the leaves off, and knocked one fully over, but no frost damage.  This will be a test of their true hardiness.  (evil laugh)
no, mary poppins is not their nanny

I was able to turn over the garden this weekend and rake out the leaves that were left afterward.  I left what would have been one or two bags of leaves on the garden over the winter, along with all of last years' stems and stalks and waste and tilled it all under with my rusty old garden spade.  Most of it ended up under the ground and the rest I raked off to the side as mulch for the garlic and future potatoes. 

'purple passion' asparagus in its second year
The end result of six years of this treatment is really black, rich, organic soil.  Each year I re-incorporate organic matter in the form of tree leaves and grass clippings and the remains of last year's garden, and each year the soil seems to get blacker and richer.  I could be imagining it.  But I do have a soil test from the year we bought this house.  I could do a new one and find out.  I should.  Of course it'll go on a list already a mile long.  If I do, I'll post it.

From under the bed of compost I spread just a week and a half ago, purple asparagus has already emerged- also ahead of schedule.  I'm new to asparagus, only having planted it last year, so I'm interested to see what it does.  I'm not sure if I should pick any, not wanting to set it back at all.  But really wanting to taste some of it.  Gita will have her appetite back later this week.  Maybe I should sautee some of it in butter and garlic as a surprise.  If she doesn't read this first.

One thing that I may have missed this year as a result of the early spring is the chance to experiment with grafting.  I was thinking that this might be the year I actually made it work, even joining the Upper Midwest/North American scion exchange (with many thanks to Andy at Autonomy Acres for creating it.)

I thought I might go looking for a grafting knife and some tape last weekend.  But the weekend got away from me, working on that to-do list, and grafting knives were not high at all on it.  By the time I get to it, I think the season will be long over.  Or not.  If someone wiser can advise me on the timing of grafts, I'll listen.

I'm hoping to graft a pollinator onto our plum tree, and another sweet cherry onto the Stella, and maybe some seedless grapes onto the un-named and not-very-tasty concord grape variety that's taking over our west fenceline.   But that may have to wait until next year.

I always hope that next year will be less busy, and each year it's just the opposite.  Time is more precious than money right now, and time spent with my kids is the most precious of all. 

Next year will be the year I start grafting.


  1. I have had a limited amount of success with grafting. As I understand it the main problem is having scionwood that is still dormant. Bud grafting is a little more forgiving. Another problem is having enough time for the graft to heal up before next winter.

    Here are some references:
    I'm guessing your climate is somewhere between Sacramento and Saskatchewan.

  2. I had the same debate about picking the asparagus as you. From what I've read, you can pick anything thicker than a pencil even in the early years without affecting later production. Mine is in year 3 so I'm pretty excited for it to pop up (ours isn't as far along as yours). Watch out for those nasty asparagus beetles. We have both the common and the spotted.

    Gorgeous magnolia BTW!

  3. Hey Jeff, We waited three years before harvesting any of our asparagus. This is year four or five so we should start seeing some nice harvests. I have got plenty of plum and cherry scion wood to share with you. It is not to late to top work a tree, so if you want to give it a try, contact me through email and we can figure something out. Peace and Cheers - Andy

  4. Hi John,
    You and Andy may have talked me into trying grafting yet this year. I have a source for 'Toka' scions for my plum, and maybe I can find a grafting knife this weekend. As for our climate- we're much closer to Saskatchewan, but getting warmer all the time!

    Nick- I'll watch for asparagus beetles. Didn't even know about them til now. I saw a few more-than-pencil sized ones (just barely) newly shooting up today, so they may be harvested soon. That'll be a good day!

    Andy- I might take you up on that. I'm hoping your figs take root too, because I've got two black currant rooted cuttings to trade, and don't want to let them get too used to where they are. Do you have any sweet cherry scionwood by any chance? I really want to graft some varieties onto my Stella cherry- but need stuff that's at least zone 5 hardy. Black Tartarian or Ranier are the ones I covet.

  5. I love Minnesota winter, but boy it is hard to not to enjoy magnolia blossom in March. I wish it happens every year and without allergies.

  6. You have a wonderful and garden and have wonderful kids too.