Tag Archive | Department of Natural Resources

Fire in the Fields

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin's autumn

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin’s autumn

It happens every autumn. Huge sweeps of straggly, undistinguished shrubs that grew unnoticed in unkempt fields are suddenly, gloriously, ornamental. The long almost palmlike fronds of leaves shine bright red with hints of yellow and orange. The branches spread like candelabra holding up huge crimson fruit clusters that keep glowing long after leafdrop, when all the world is gray. No wonder gardeners think about bringing sumac in from the wild.

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Sumac grows everywhere, all the way from zone 2 to zone 9. It grows in dry soil, poor soil, moist soil, near-bog, bright sun, and part shade. It spreads by seed and by underground runners that can travel 20 feet or more in search of a good spot to make a new clump of sumac. But if there is also a lawn anywhere nearby, there will be adequate local control as long as you keep mowing.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is the most common roadside attraction. It’s fuller and more readily clump-forming than staghorn sumac (R. typhina), named for the velvety down that covers every branch. Smooth sumac tops out at about 8 to 10 feet, staghorn at 12 to 16 feet.

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac (R. aromatica) is shorter, at 3 to 4 feet, and bushier, more like a garden plant. If you decide to bring sumac into your garden or prairie, no matter which type you choose you will need both male and female plants if you want fruits. Sumacs are available through nurseries that specialize in native plants, and some large garden centers will order them for you if you ask.

Note: it’s always a good idea to check whether a plant is considered an invasive species in your state before transplanting from an area where the plant is growing wild. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources provides a free guide to invasive species here:  DNR INVASIVE SPECIES GUIDE


Woodland Blossoms

by Master Gardener Tammy Borden

I love the time of year when the forest floor is alive with color. Mid to late spring is the prime time for native woodland flowers to shine. The leaves from deciduous trees haven’t fully emerged yet, allowing the sun to penetrate through to the ground, warm- ing the layers of dead leaves that have accumulated through the years to create a rich soil with lots of organic matter. The sun also beckons many woodland blooms to push through.

Don’t have a forest in your backyard? No worries! You can still grow many woodland natives. Here are some of my favorites that have done well for me in my shade garden.



Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) Member of the Arum family. Prefers moist soil. An exotic looking plant with a hooded flower or “pulpit.” The leaves can resemble those of Trilliums, but are generally larger and have deeper veining. The flowers produce a cluster seed head which turns a brilliant red in fall.

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) Member of the lily family. Can tolerate dry shade. Nodding yellow 1″ flowers. The leaves have a beautiful mottled appearance that is said to resemble the coloring of a brown trout, from which it receives its name. Do not allow tuberous bulbs to dry out when planting. Be patient – they can take from 4-7 years to bloom from seed.

Smooth Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) Member of the lily family. Can tolerate dry shade. Long arching stems produce small inconspicuous light green blooms along the stem that hang below the leaves. When its stalk breaks away it leaves a distinctive mark that is said to resemble the seal of King Solomon, from which it derives its name.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine

Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) Member of the borage family. Prefers moist soil. Can also tolerate morning sun. Also called lungwort. Foliage will die down by mid-summer. Beautiful groups of bell-like flowers that start off pink then change to light blue. Hybridized versions available.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) Member of the buttercup family. Can tolerate dry, rocky soil. One of the most stunning woodland flowers, in my opinion. It was once considered for our national flower because the shape of its orange and yellow flowers resemble the talons of a bald eagle. Aquilegia is Latin for “eagle.” Loved by hummingbirds and sphinx moths. Many hybridizes versions are available.

ground level view of forest trilliums in spring bloom.

ground level view of forest trilliums in spring bloom.

Trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum) Member of the lily family. Prefers consistently moist soil. Large pure white three-lobed flowers that fade to pink. Some unique hybrids are also available featuring purple flowers, versus the white three lobed flowers commonly seen. Seeds are dispersed by ants that carry them into their nest, but don’t eat them.

Be sure to purchase woodland flowers from a reputable nursery that has not cultivated their plants from wild stock. It is illegal to dig up many woodland native species. Seed collection, however, is a wonderful way to preserve and propagate your own plants.

Honey Bees

bee-hive1Honey bees are not native to the Americas; they were introduced from Europe in the early 1600’s for honey production. Honey bees are thought to have originated in Asia and expanded to North Africa and Europe. There are two species that are considered to be suitable for apiculture. In recent year there has been concern over “colony collapse” and the risk of not having enough pollinators for our agricultural industry. A hedge against this possibility is to encourage proliferation of native bees. The DNR has published a very good article on what an individual can do http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2009/06/bees.htm#2 . This year the Outagamie County Master Gardeners will be installing various types of bee houses on the grounds of the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension.

Tom Wentzel

OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden

A wise investment — use a rain barrel!

EarthMinded-Rain-BarrelEvery gardener shares one overwhelming desire each season:  please send rain! There’s nothing to compare to a thorough soaking from a spring shower during those hot summer months when every drop counts! That’s what makes a rain barrel so valuable.

Positioned beneath a downspout, a rain barrel collects the runoff from your roof during rainfall. Free of the chemicals added to city water, rainwater is beneficial for your lawn, flower beds, borders, vegetable gardens, and containers. You can use this supply to supplement your water needs, cutting down on your utility bill.

Rain barrels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but 55 gallons is a common size for the average homeowner. You can make your own (using plans that are found online), or you’ll be able to find one at practically any garden center or garden supply company. If you live in a cold winter area with freezing temps, just drain your barrel in fall before storing it upside down in a garage or shed. And once a year, clean out its interior with a non-toxic solution, such as vinegar.

There are equations to calculate a precise amount of water that you can expect to collect based on your area’s annual rainfall and the size of your roof. But just 1/4 inch of rainfall onto a roof that’s 1200 square feet would more than fill two barrels.

Tips for getting the best out of your rain barrel:

  1. Cover an open top with a screened lid to keep the water clean. Covering the barrel prevents debris from falling in and protects your water supply from mosquito larvae. Note: if you can’t screen the top of your barrel, you can still discourage the growth of mosquitoes by using bacterial products designed to kill mosquito larva.
  2. If your barrel has a closed lid, you’ll need a downspout diverter which diverts rainwater into the barrel until it’s full. After that, it allows excess water to drain safely away from the foundation of your home.
  3. Elevating your rain barrel makes for a stronger water flow from it’s spigot. Plus, it puts the barrel at a more convenient height to fill watering cans and buckets, or to attach a hose.

Comment by Tom Wentzel, OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden:  “There are soaker hose systems that can be connected to rain barrels. Typical soaker hoses require about 20 PSI to function. These systems claim to function under no pressure. A system like this will be installed in The Learning Garden on the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension grounds when weather permits. Last year this system worked quite well.”

Protect Your Conifers this Winter

Winter burn of conifers occurs when the plants do not have enough water over the winter.Oftentimes in the late winter, or even into the spring, conifers begin to turn brown. This browning is a disorder called winter burn. Winter burn results when conifers (especially yews) do not have enough internally stored water for their needs over the winter. As daytime temperatures become warmer in the late winter and early spring, conifer needles begin to naturally lose water (a process called transpiration) as they attempt to grow. During the summer, this lost water would be replaced by water taken up by the plant’s root system. However, in the winter and early spring, soil temperatures are cold enough that the plant’s root system is not functioning efficiently. Thus the amount of water lost by needles is not replenished by the water taken up by the roots. As a consequence, the needles dehydrate and die.
Water conifers well in fall to help prevent winter burn.The easiest way to prevent winter burn of conifers is to make sure evergreens are well watered into the fall. Established trees and shrubs need about one inch of water per week. If Mother Nature does not cooperate, then you should apply water at the drip line (i.e., the edge of where the branches extend) of any conifers (or more extensively if possible) using a soaker or drip hose. Conifers can be watered up until the time when the ground freezes or there is a significant snowfall.
With just a little effort in the late fall and winter, you can have a big impact on the health of landscape ornamentals next spring and summer. So get back into the gardening mode, and use the remaining snow-free days of this year to prepare your garden for a beautiful and healthy coming year.
– Brian Hudelson, Director, Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, University of Wisconsin – Madison/Extension
Posted by Vicki