a yard restoration check up — did it survive the winter?!

Welcome back to my yard restoration project!

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I last posted about this so it’s time for an update.
Did anything survive the winter? The rabbits? My bleak soil?
I was so nervous to find out I could hardly bear to take that first meander around the woodland area early this spring.
But joy of joys, a tremendous amount of growth is happening!
So today I’m bringing you a little woodland check-up report.  If you’re new to Orange Marmalade you can get the background to this project via my previous posts here.

(Native violets are among the first to emerge from the leaf litter in early spring.)

It has been 8 months since we planted about 125 native Minnesota trees and shrubs in our restoration area. If you recall, we planted in early October in order to avoid subjecting these baby trees to summer heat just as they were getting themselves settled in new ground.
Even so, and despite the fact that we live in Minnesota, I was made well aware of the climate change we’re experiencing when we had temperatures into the 40s and 50s all the way into December here.  I had to water a good bit longer than expected before finally putting my hoses away and letting the plants be completely dormant for the winter.

As the snow melted and the warmth and light began prompting spring growth I gingerly went out to check on things.
At first glance my heart did sink at the large number that appeared to be utterly dead.
Happily this was only because I was being hasty in my assessment.
As the weeks went by, one by one the various species came to life and by the end of May almost every single new tree and shrub was proudly clad in new green leaves.  I think I lost 1 tree and 1 shrub to rabbits which is a result I will gladly take.

(At left is an American Black Currant, at right a Pagoda Dogwood, both happy in their protective cages.)

Some are struggling a bit more than others but many are just gloriously healthy, some show-offs even sporting flowers already.
My tree tubes are crammed with new growth. It is such fun to see the leaves huddled inside of those tubes and some trees already shooting up and out the tops of the tubes.

(At first I was quite sad that my trees would be hidden inside these tubes for 5-10 years.  But I’ve learned that tubes not only protect against rabbits and deer browsing but act as mini greenhouses trapping in extra warmth for supercharged growing conditions, and prevent trees from putting energy into branching in the first years when upward growth is optimal.  It is a joy to see the leaves silhouetted inside the tubes and the tree tops emerging.  The oak on the left has probably grown 3 feet already.)

Meanwhile a great deal of native undergrowth has popped up.
The area most decimated by buckthorn originally where the soil was so impoverished and barren is lush with vegetation. Such a miracle. If you feel overwhelmed by the condition of your land, take heart! The soil and the native seed bank lying beneath the surface is ready to work with you!
I am spying drifts of enchanter’s nightshade, dozens of elderberry shrubs, oodles of virginia creeper, numerous jaunty jack-in-the-pulpits, tall stands of milkweed which is a sweet buffet for the monarch butterfly, and many more native species that have just been waiting for a chance to grow without the nasty buckthorn overshadowing them.

(Here are before and after photos so you can see the transformation occurring.  At left is the area in July 2019 immediately after we chainsawed all day long to remove buckthorn; at right is the area currently. So much good growth!)

Of course, the bad guys are here as well —  and I’ve already done some spraying and a lot of pulling.
I am contending with large colonies of invasive day lilies as well as some lamium that escaped from a neighbor’s yard and has been trying to overrun mine. It is hard work. However I have to say that it is a few degrees easier than last year and I am feeling much less anxious about keeping up with the invasives this summer.

Meanwhile I’m applying for another grant for a section of our yard that lies between the two wooded areas.  I am hoping to convert it from sod to an oak savanna biome by seeding native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers suited for moderate to dense shade.  I won’t find out if I get that grant until the end of August I think, so I’ll keep you posted.

(The elderberries are tiny green nubbins now but will ripen into regal purple fruit this summer.
The photo at the top of the post shows them in all their splendor.)

And I’m remediating another area adjacent to the restored area that has been neglected all these years.  It’s an area of heavy shade and I’m hoping that it will just merge with the woodland eventually.
As you can imagine even without the intense buckthorn removal, I will have plenty to keep me sweaty, grimy, and sore for these next months!

In celebration of the survival of my trees, today I’ve got books starring trees,
surely one of the best, most generous living things on Earth.
Here are four new-to-me titles plus links to a few favorites I’ve recommended over the years:

The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom
written and illustrated by Lita Judge
published in 2021 by Roaring Brook Press

Scientists are developing flabbergasting new understandings about trees and their astonishing mechanisms for communicating with one another and with other species. This book introduces some of these amazing capabilities in a series of short poems and brief, clear explanations.

Discover how trees send messages through fungal communication networks, how they ask for and receive help from other trees when they are in distress, how trees radio for help when attacked by insects or even a giraffe looking for lunch. Learn more about the healthy mini climates created by trees and how they prepare to hibernate for the winter. Find out why diverse plant populations are an important ingredient for healthy trees. And lots, lots more!

All of this is accompanied by Lita Judge’s beautiful watercolors and followed up with extensive notes for each page revealing lots more cool info for interested readers. It’s a fabulous resource to share with children ages 6 and up.

Because of an Acorn
written by Lola M Schaefer and Adam Schaefer, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

Trace the cause-and-effect impact of one acorn which grows into a tree —
a tree which provides a nesting spot for a bird…
a bird that inadvertently spreads more seeds…
which produce flowers and fruit that attract small creatures…
who feed larger creatures…
who sometimes knock acorns loose as they go about their lives…
…acorns which grow into trees.

Understanding the interconnections in nature is an important part of sustaining a healthy planet. This brief, child-friendly glimpse of the web of life and the role trees play will plant ideas in listeners ages 3 and up. Back matter includes notes amplifying the information for older children.

If I Were a Tree, written by Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong
published in 2021 by Lee & Low Books

Two children imagine what a tree might feel, taste, smell, hear, see, love, and know in this imaginative book shimmering with fresh air and wild open spaces.

Trees, for those of us who love them, do present themselves as creatures worthy of this kind of speculation.  Another tree-lover, J.R.R. Tolkien, portrays Ents as beings with deep, age-old wisdom, passions, and memories. I think he would love this book. Share it with ages 3 and up.

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet, by Nikki Tate
published in 2016 by Orca Book Publishers
45 pages

This scrapbook of tree-knowledge presents bite-sized pieces of information on a wide range of topics.  It’s perfect for dipping into and becoming acquainted with the astonishing impact trees have on soil, air, water, and more.

Discover how tree roots clean up soil and water runoff by removing or breaking down pollutants. Learn how windbreaks help stop erosion and shelter wildlife. Consider the impact of trees on the degree to which lands either maintain healthy rainfalls or become increasingly arid. And think about the myriad other ways trees bless us whether by oxygenating the air, providing shade or materials for boats and homes, greening our landscapes, or creating forested spaces that boost our mental health.

Trees are heroic partners in our world. Increase your tree-savvy and become a tree-protector! Ages 8 and up.


Now here are a few favorites from past posts. Click on the title to find my full review.

The Boy Who Grew a Forest
The story of Jadav Payeng and his incredible work restoring a massive forest in India.
A second book celebrating Jadav’s work is also available now:
The Forest Man, by Anne Matheson and Kay Widdowson,
published in 2020 by Flowerpot Press.

The Magic and Mystery of Trees
Crammed full of juicy information about trees around the world.

Nature All Around: Trees
Another catalogue of all-things-tree, this one focusing on trees in the U.S. and Canada

Planting the Trees of Kenya
The story of Nobel-prize winner Wangari Maathai’s critical reforestation work in Kenya.

The Things that I Love About Trees
Masterfully-drawn trees, bits of nature lore, and an ode to all that trees bring to us throughout the seasons.

Tree Beings
A delightful compendium of heroes around the world protecting trees that reads like a storybook.

A Tree is Nice
One of my top favorite books ever, this classic captures the essence of the goodness of trees.

The Tree Lady
The story of Kate Sessions and her work transforming Balboa Park in San Diego into a tree paradise.

You can find a larger assortment of marvelous, tree-oriented books I’ve recommended over the years
as well as dozens of titles about  gardens, seeds, flowers, mushrooms and more
on my Plants and Gardening List here.
For a post featuring a selection of tree-books which includes fanciful trees, tree houses, and trees in novels, check out my post trees, glorious trees

I’ll be back later this summer with another update!
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