Gardening - January 2015By Rhea Hamilton-Seeger
Ohio Buckey's latest project for dedicated tree planter
I think I am in trouble with my passion for trees. It started innocently enough when we got some trees through the Ministry of Natural Resources so many years ago. Those trees are now a wonderful presence in the landscape. Like the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree is yesterday and the next best time is today.”
I eyeball trees planted along our roads and highways and wonder why maples, beech or other large varieties are not utilized. All I see are Mountain Ash trees, stunted from excessive pruning, and assorted true ash trees either dying from Emerald Ash Borer or being removed to stop the movement of said EAB.
So in my little part of the world we have been planting more trees. My trouble is I am sowing seeds for trees that need a more moist site and I am looking at my neighbour’s land along the creek!
My latest project is Ohio Buckeyes. Sounds like something you would hear about in a story about Daniel Boone (yes I know he was from Kentucky!). My friend John Hazlitt, another tree lover, gave me a dozen nuts from an Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra, growing in the area. It can be easily differentiated from its relative the horse chestnut, Aesculus hipposactanum, by its near spineless husks. Native Aesculus are called buckeyes in North America and in Europe they are chestnuts. There are some discrepancies about the actual number of species; some references estimate 15, some 13 to 19, and others 23 species of buckeyes in the northern hemisphere. I love the description of the seed capsule in For the Love of Trees by Richard Hinchcliff and Roman Popadiouk. The split seed capsule is thought to resemble the half opened eye of a deer, hence the name buckeye. The shiny rich brown nuts inside the thick husks are normally spread by squirrels. There is some speculation that First Nation travellers helped spread them into Ontario.
The native buckeye trees won’t be as tall as the horse chestnut trees but will stretch to 28 feet. The nut is graded as slightly poisonous unless heated and leached. I think their true value, besides being just good for the environment, is their fine even texture wood that is easy to work with. They are among the first trees to leaf out and have wonderful showy greenish yellow flowers in May, which are pollinated by insects.
Our old horse chestnut may have suffered from bacterial leaf scorch disease. Leaf scorch can be brought on by an unfavourable environment i.e. drought. Whatever was bothering the tree caused its demise. The bark cracked from the ground up to six-foot mark and also split the branches – still a mystery for us. The buckeyes are supposed to be more resistant to scorch disease.
Buckeye’s are adaptable to moist soils and won’t thrive on dry sites. It is this reference to moist soil that has me eyeing the neighbour’s land to the east. They have a creek running through their property that may make an ideal spot. I am going to have to ‘gift’ them some trees, provided my seeds sprout. Is this like counting your chicks before they hatch?
After much discussion with John about how long to leave the nuts in the back fridge versus potting up and leaving the pots in the fridge. Then, when to nurse them through the rest of the winter on the window sill, I turned to my Growing Trees From Seed by Henry Kock.
It all goes back to observing how these seeds germinate naturally. When the husks change colour from green to yellowish tan, the nuts are ripe. The husks dry out and split, showing the shiny brown nuts inside. These nuts start to dry out quite quickly and should be planted within seven days or stored in a plastic bag in the fridge until planting time.
Rather than take up fridge space I popped the nuts about two to three inches deep along the edge of the vegetable garden. I have been carefully monitoring the site, looking for any digging. So far so good. I also piled three inches of leaf mulch over the site to keep the ground moist until it freezes. I will pull that back in the spring. Being an optimistic, I hope they’ll all sprout but in reality only 50 per cent will germinate.
You would think that once a seed has germinated its appeal to squirrels would be lost, but not so. Apparently the kernel or endosperm of the seed is attractive to those long tailed rodents until the plant itself uses it up. So a seed enclosure is important to protect the newly sprouted seeds. I think I better start improvising before spring. I know we have some well-fed creatures around here that graze their way around the yard. We have already had two small oak trees nipped this fall. That costs us a year’s growth. No wonder it takes so long to grow trees!
Like trees that grow in the forest, a bit of light shade through the hot days of summer is helpful. A heavier seed enclosure will also serve as a shade house.
I can hardly wait to see what sprouts. I suppose counting my sprouts before plodding along my neighbour’s field looking for good sites to plant would be a good plan.
The next challenge is to grow a gingko tree from seed. I have never noticed their seed pods before. It takes two trees to produce the seeds and fortunately, there is a tree nearby producing seeds!◊
Rhea Hamilton-Seeger and her husband live near Auburn. She is a skilled cook and gardener.