By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
A lot of folks love their vegetable gardens. Others love to grow pretty flowers in landscaped beds or containers. But for me, it’s always been trees that I love.
Grown from seed. Air layered from existing plants. Even grafting older, fruiting branches onto well-established root stock. I’ve tried it all.
I’ve grown them in containers, and I’ve grown them directly in the ground. I’ve trained them as bonsai, and I’ve let them grow large and wild.
I can’t say what it is exactly about trees that first attracted me so. Maybe it was learning about native fruit and nut trees from my dad while hunting as a kid. Maybe it was the amazing apple butter my great grandma used to make from the green apples that grew in her front yard. Maybe it was collecting and sprouting seeds from the maple and mimosa trees we had in our yard, and watching them grow. But somewhere along the way I fell in love, and my passion for them has never waned.
This fall I plan to put out some pawpaw trees that I grew from seed several years ago, and which have been growing in a bucket since sprouting. I also have a cutting on the kitchen counter of a weeping willow that has sprouted enough roots I may put most of it in the ground, and save a piece to put in a pot and try to train as bonsai.
Right now, though, I’m a little nervous about putting any of these trees in the dirt – and not just because I’m worried about picking the right spot. These are well established and hardy enough, they don’t need the shade that young pawpaw sprouts needs. If I can find or create the right soil conditions, in an area that stays wet but well drained, they should handle the full sun of the spots I’m considering just fine, and be producing fruit in another five years or so.
But there’s a good chance I can do all that, create the right conditions, and the trees die anyway.
I experienced a bit of that heart ache this weekend. An apple tree I grafted five years ago, and only put in the ground last fall, was dug up completely by our new puppy sometime after a rain softened all the soil. If I’d have found it right away, I could have probably put it back in the ground and it might have made it. By the time I found it, however, the root ball had been exposed to the blazing sun for at least a full day, and the branches were completely dry and brittle. It was such an obvious loss, I didn’t even try to put it back in the ground.
It was disheartening, to lose all that work and all that time. But I have to remind myself it isn’t the end of the world. I can always take another cutting from my mom’s trees, and try grafting that onto new root stock.
And, while I lost an apple tree this weekend, I also had a good surprise when I found that some containers I’d seeded and written off earlier this summer finally sprouted. They did so after I put new seeds in them and began watering them again, so now the trees are all mixed up, but it will be easy enough to tell them apart as they get bigger (some are already pretty obvious).
Sure, it’s a little late in the year to be starting trees from seeds, but a couple of these are tropical species I planned to turn into bonsai anyway, so they will be living indoors for the colder months.
It’s also a nice reminder of one of the things I love about trees. You just never know when a dormant seed may decide to grow. Or when something new and beautiful might sprout from old and forgotten roots.
Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org