Weather Adds to the Challenge

October 20, 2012

Some of you may have read my post last fall about collecting acorns and all the idiosyncrasies of the different types of oaks as well as the other consumers I have to contend with to get my job as propagator done. Well, here I am starting my fourth year at Possibility Place Nursery and I have another set of circumstances to make my job more challenging and interesting: a too-mild winter followed by one of the driest springs and hottest summers on record.

A mild winter in itself isn’t always a problem. Many plants like a nice snow cover and just freezing temperatures without all the drama of the drying winds and subzero wind chills that we so often get in the upper Midwest. But this year we didn’t even get the snowmelt to start off our spring with moisture in the ground. Anyone that has looked at the crops in the fields, their own backyards, or turned on a weather report has to be aware of just how dry this season has been.

Here at the nursery we try to counteract a lot of those conditions. We mulch in all of our trees and shrubs that live outdoors and we are lucky enough to have two ponds on the property to run our irrigation systems. We even cover the more tender plants with plastic hoop houses to protect them from the drying winds. So, you would think, “no worries here”, as Tristan would say. But what do the stressed out trees and shrubs do out in the wild or in landscapes that are not irrigated in these extreme conditions? Whatever they can to survive of course!

Every plant has their own first course of action to increase their chances of seeing another year. Some drop their leaves, others decrease flower production, which leads to less fruit production, which causes my dilemma. I know it’s not all about me, but here at PPN all of our woody plant material is grown from seed! Seed that Kelsay, Liz and I have to collect by hand from different sources. The list of plants we grow is long and the amount of seed we need to produce our projections for the next year is huge. Even in a good weather year, the seed collection process is tedious and challenging. We have our own “collection schedule” that we usually follow to prompt us to go and check our sources at certain times of year. Well, as far as I can tell, the “collection schedule” is just a suggestion under this year’s conditions!

We have noticed that many plants that have seed are two to three weeks ahead of schedule. The very warm March got them started early, and the hot summer has put them all in overdrive to get their job done, if they are doing it at all. As I look up into the oaks checking for my future harvest I feel apprehensive for this year. The large clumps of acorns are not readily apparent; some have already been aborted as a survival mechanism. The trees are saving their energy. It’s the same with the walnuts and hickories. It’s going to be “slim pickins” this year for a lot of species. I am going to have to have some serious negotiations with the “other consumers” that I usually share my crop with- it’s every squirrel for himself this year - all previous bets are off!

What have you noticed this year? How are things different under these extreme drought conditions in your area? If you are from the upper Midwest and have Red or Hills Oak acorns, or Hickory nuts we may want to talk to you - give us a call!