Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pruning Peaches

Barbara Fetchenhier, Gardener - Heartland Harvest Garden, and volunteer RD Wood examine a peach tree in our nursery for pruning needs. With help from volunteers, Barb has meticulously planted and maintained nearly 1,200 shrubs and trees in our Heartland Harvest Garden nursery.

When pruning peaches she follows the 4 "D's." Prune out: Dead wood and Diseased wood, thin to reduce the Density of the tree for good fruit production and prune each branch to encourage its Direction of growth the coming season for the overall shape of the tree.

Barbara recommends pruning back approximately 50% of new (last season's) growth. Here you can see she is pointing just below the bud above which the pruning cut will be made. Note the bud faces outward (the trunk of the tree is to the right) so that this year's growth will continue outward, creating an open tree for fruit production. The cut is made just above the bud with an angle sloping away so water drips off away from the bud.

Each tree must be carefully pruned in such a manner and we have nearly 75 peaches and nectarines comprising over 50 cultivars to prune each late winter.

Finished peaches have an open spreading shape that will permit them to be very productive fruit trees in future seasons. Over 50 of our trees are scheduled to be transplanted to the Heartland Harvest Garden's peach spiral orchard this spring. Stay tuned to see them move and bloom in approximately five to six weeks!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Restoring Native Plants

Seed trays of newly emerged native plant seedlings bring a touch of spring to Powell Gardens' greenhouses. Powell Gardens' mission to embrace the Midwest's spirit of place makes growing, promoting, displaying and conserving native plants an important activity. Each late winter we grow a wide array of native plants for Kansas City Wildlands (

Kansas City Wildlands is a not-for-profit coalition of resource professionals, private conservation organizations and conservation-minded citizens who restore and manage the finest remnants of native "wildlands" in Greater Kansas City. Powell Gardens is a partner in this coalition and our contributing role is to grow unique and rare native plants for Kansas City Wildlands restoration activities. All the seeds we plant are collected by Wildlands-trained volunteers from local natural areas.

Some of the seed is started in sheltered seed flats resting on heat mats to encourage germination. Each fall, the seed is brought to Powell Gardens by KC Wildlands volunteers. Our Senior Gardener Marie Frye then becomes in charge of growing these plants. The seed must first be stratified as per each individual species. For example: some seed must be chilled for up to three months and be kept moist at all times before being put in seed trays or flats to germinate. Some seeds require scarification -- that is the breaking of the seed coat for germination.

Here seedling Blazingstars (Liatris) can be seen from the corner of the seed flat.

Seedling Blazingstars look like tiny swords! In two seasons they will display spires of royal purple, nectar rich blooms -- important nourishment for a plethora of beneficial insects.
Seedling Wild Indigos (Baptisia) put out three-parted, clover-like new leaves. Wild Indigos are important legumes in native prairies as they fix nitrogen into the soil and improve its fertility.
Here Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurescens) is well on its way with its first new leaves. Purple Milkweed is a wildflower in decline. It prefers savanna or open woods to live and without help from organizations like KC Wildlands, it would certainly be on its way to extinction in our area. KC Wildlands burns or removes invasive brush to maintain its habitat.
All of the seedlings are scheduled to be "moved up" into larger cells ranging from 18 to 36 plants per tray. (Hopefully a blog later this week to show the process) In early May KC Wildlands volunteers will pick up the flats of baby plants and take them to various restoration projects around the metro region. Go to if you are interested in volunteering with their important work and be a part of planting these plants back into their native habitat.
We believe this "in-situ" conservation is the most important way to conserve our flora. Sometimes it is important to conserve them by planting them at the gardens, which is known as "ex-situ" conservation. Powell Gardens is a major player in some federally endangered plant conservation, including growing plants for the federal recovery plan of the severely endangered Mead's Milkweed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Think Spring! Production for our annual Spring Plant Sale Begins

Production for annual Spring Plant Sale has begun! It may be bitterly cold outside as winter grips us with its last gasps but in 10 weeks is our sale. Here Horticulturist Donna Covell inspects seedlings germinating for the sale. Donna is in charge of all production in our seven greenhouses and keeps close watch of annual and tropical plant production for the plant sale.

Cuttings of many of our favorite stock plants have been made and are rooting in media on a heat mat. Shortly they will be potted up into individual containers.

Our first perennials have arrived today! Here, Jennifer Comer (in charge of the sale's perennial production) takes an inventory of the new arrivals. Our first batch was grown in Holland -- the Dutch produce large, top quality, field grown plants for us to provide a superior plant for you.

Senior Gardener MarieFrye inspects each plant and removes any dead roots or foliage before passing them on to the potting bench. The work is being done in a cool greenhouse to get the new plants to root in as if it were early spring.

Volunteer Pat Wright pots up the roots into gallon pots on the potting bench. (If you are interested in becoming a Powell Gardens volunteer, contact Betty Gember at ext. 228.) Stay tuned for further posts about the progress of our plant sale plants and the unique varieties you may find. Mark your calendars for May 3 and 4 for our Spring Plant Sale. Members may attend a preview sale at 5-7 p.m. on Friday, May 2, and are sure to get the best selection as many varieties sell out quickly. Join Friends of Powell Gardens today!

Ozark Chinkapin is born!

To update you on our January 3, 2008 blog: Our Endangered, Ozark Chinkapin seeds arrived and were planted by Marie Frye -- Senior Gardener Collections and Plant Records. As a reminder, these very rare seeds were donated to Powell Gardens by the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation

Marie inspects the newly arrived Ozark Chinkapin seeds back in January. You can see the CD mailer on the table that they arrived in!
The seed were packed in moist organic matter because they must never be allowed to dry out.
A closeup of the chinkapin shows that it has begun to germinate. Its new root is called a radical and will become a tap root for the young plant to survive the harsh conditions of its homeland.
The seed were potted up in tall nursery pots. This is how we grow plants with deep tap roots like the chinkapin (and other oaks and hickories as well).

On February 20 a new baby Ozark Chinkapin is born! So far all the energy for the plant to grow has come from the seed, still visible at the soil level. The new leaves have chlorophyll for that magical process of photosynthesis to begin to nourish the plant (and all of life on Earth!!!). It enters a difficult world where an imported disease threatens its kind. We promise to nurture this new life, protect it from disease and eventually transplant it to the Heartland Harvest Garden where people can learn about this once productive tree of the Ozarks. There are those who remember the tree from days long past in the Ozarks, and in a decade or so we should be able to see nuts for a future generation to grow and enjoy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cineraria: Cool Crop for the Cool Season

Cineraria are a very colorful greenhouse plant for the winter season. Powell Gardens regularly uses these flowers in its winter and spring displays.

Donna Covell, Horticulturist - Production is all smiles regarding the crop of cineraria. Well, not exactly, they are a very tricky crop to produce in our greenhouses! We grow 3,000 from seed that were started 25 weeks ago. We also grow 1,200 from plugs. Planting depth is very crucial when transplanting the seedlings or plugs. The temperature is critical for them to initiate flower buds: night temperatures must be between 45-55F or we will just have foliage plants.

Donna inspects the plants on a daily basis. Thrips (a bug) are always a concern because they can mire the brightly colored flowers with colorless stripes.

Penny Hudson - Greenhouse Gardener - routinely waters this crop. Cinerarias are very fussy about watering! They must be allowed to dry out between waterings but no water can be allowed on their foliage or they readily get mildew. The plants must be checked every day (sometimes twice a day on warm sunny days). They must be individually watered with a watering wand.

Deep blues are classic cineraria and probably the most widely loved. Cineraria are obviously relatives of daisies in the Aster family.

Enjoy the following colors of this 'Jester Mix.'

People always coment on our displays of cineraria. They are often disappointed to hear they are cool season annuals. To me, their ephemeral nature is what makes them so special! Come see all our cinerarias on display in the conservatory.
Yubi our greenhouse cat watches over the greenhouses and keeps them mouse-free. She was being playful during this photo session of the cineraria and is an important part of the Greenhouse crew. (We have had mice do thousands of dollars in damage to seedlings when we didn't have a greenhouse cat!)
All photos taken on February 18 in the Powell Gardens Greenhouses by Alan Branhagen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Orchids, A Cure for the Winter Blues

Orchids at Powell Gardens provide a cure for the winter blues and spring fever. Scroll down and enjoy a quick look at the colors and varieties currently in bloom. Many of the plants are not labeled.

I have lived here 12 winters and never have I heard so many folks complain about the winter! It has actually been "average" but so many winters have been mild recently that we have forgotten what a real one is like. (Green Lantern Dendrobium depicted.)

We grow orchids in our Greenhouse #2, which is not open for visitors to see. When they come into bloom they are transfered to theVisitor Center's front desk and the conservatory so everyone can enjoy them.
Drops of Orange Cattleya
There are more species of orchids (Family Orchidaceae) than any other family of plants. There are about 50,000 species found from the arctic to the tropics. Hybridizers have created many, many hybrids!
Vanilla; yes, the vanilla flavoring we all enjoy comes from the seed pod of this orchid! Our gardener, Tracy Flowers, is trying to pollinate this plant this spring. All vanilla orchids must be hand pollinated and the best are grown in Madagascar even though this plant is native in Mexico. It is a large, vine-like orchid.
Orchids even come in exquisite greens like this species hybrid Paphiopedilum.
The "Paphs" are orchids related to wild lady's slippers.
This Dendrobium orchid was mislabeled Epidendrum pseudepidendrum. Keeping track of so many species, hybrids and cultivars is challenging!
This Vanda orchid always causes rave reviews with its deep indigo blue flowers.

At the end of the rainbow lies purple and Vandas show this royal color off in style. I hope this quick blog of images entices you out to see our orchids on display. The next two months are peak orchid blooming season--look for them in the conservatory. They come in all colors of the rainbow and are sure to soothe the soul.
Our orchid collection owes many thanks to our former Horticulturist David Bird, who now grows and sells orchids with his family business Bird's Botanicals.
All photographs taken by Alan Branhagen on February 13, 2008 at Powell Gardens.

Friday, February 8, 2008

First Flowers

The first Snowdrops Galanthus elwesii emerged today! The 50F thaw after nearly 2 inches of rain caused them to emerge. This is actually about average bloom time for them; often we have them in bloom in January. The first snowdrops blooming this year are on the west side of the Island Garden.

A quick walk through the Rock & Waterfall Garden revealed no snowdrops yet but a couple very little known perennials of winter interest caught my eye. Depicted is the Sacred Lily Rohdea japonica. It is an evergreen related to lily-of-the-valley but stays in a clump and its flowers are little noticed. The flowers produce beautiful red berries which remain through the winter as shown. In a sense this plant looks like a hardy corn plant with almost shocking green leaves in the winter landscape. It is a great plant for dry shade (it must be planted in shade). In China it is a plant given to a new family for good fortune.

The winter foliage of the Italian Arum Arum italicum 'Pictum' also caught my eye in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This plant sends out leaves in the fall and they remain green all through the winter. In spring, pale green "jack-in-the-pulpit-like" flowers emerge. The leaves soon fade but the flowers develop into naked stalks of green berries that turn red in late summer into fall. The stalks of red berries always draw questions of "what is that?" A great plant for the shade garden with interest at all seasons.

All photographs taken by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens on Feb. 8, 2008.

Big Trees at Powell Gardens

Richard Heter, Horticulturist - Grounds & Natural Resources, kneels beside one of our fallen big trees of Powell Gardens. Last year, a storm blew down our largest Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata, the same day the patriarch of Powell Gardens, George Powell, Jr. passed away. The tree fell across our nature trail and Richard cut a swath through it so school children and hikers could pass and experience this massive tree. The fallen tree will become the home for many creatures and replenish the woodland soil. We must remember trees are mortal too.

The tree has 92 rings at a height of more than 15 feet. Hickories grow notoriously slow when young, concentrating their energy on an amazing tap root so that they can survive the vagaries of the Midwestern weather (This tree may have been 150 years old). This is why this beautiful tree is never for sale in nurseries -- you can't grow a saleable tree in two years. A hickory takes time, which is also money anymore. No one is willing to pay $25 for an 18-inch tree even though it would be a wise investment in the future.

Because of our fallen hickory we wanted to make sure we knew where all the big trees on our 955 acres are. Powell Gardens was originally more than 60 percent prairie according to the original land surveyor's notes, but there was forest along our creek and in scattered pockets. Powell Gardens has some huge trees in its remnant woodlands. Richard has begun measuring the top three largest of each native species. The inventory will help us make better land management decisions: as the great conservationist Aldo Leopold said, "The first step in intellegent tinkering is to save all the parts."

It is very hard to photograph a huge tree. Here Richard stands beside our largest Northern Red Oak Quercus rubra. Richard is over 6 feet tall and a former football player! The buttressed base of this tree is nearly 6 feet across.

Here Richard inspects our tallest Shagbark Hickory. The characteristic shaggy bark is farther up the trunk which soars up around 50 feet before its first branch. We have not yet taken this tree's measurements -- it's possibly near 100' tall.

There are several massive Sycamores Platanus occidentalis along our creek. At 6 feet in diameter, they have a long way to grow because when the land was settled many were reported so massive and hollow they could be a makeshift shelter for cattle!

I always admire the spectacular crown of sycamore trees in the winter. This is the crown of the sycamore Richard was looking up at. The highest branches are certainly over 100 feet up. Sycamores shed their bark to sluff off any vines that may try to climb up in their crown and compete for sunlight. The fresh new bark is always a chalky white and beautiful against the winter sky. Sycamores remain a strong tree even though they grow fast and naturally hollow out with age. Their hollow trunks were the original home of Chimney Swift birds, which now nest in chimneys.

Sycamores were the largest tree in eastern North America in overall size. Eastern White Pines and Tulip Trees may have been taller but never as massive. They are not a good tree for a small yard but are at home along a river, creek or swale where they are native.

We will have more on Powell Gardens' big and old trees in a future blog. We are thankful for and inspired by Chuck Brasher of Kansas City, MO, for keeping track of Greater Kansas City's big trees (Jackson and Clay Counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas). You can see Chuck's roster of the Greater KC's big trees on our website

All photographs taken by Alan Branhagen on January 8, 2008 at Powell Gardens.