Beating the System (Part 1)

Authored by Sheldon Falk - Owner
May 3rd, 2022
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We are always looking for ways to grow slightly tender trees in our zone 3 climate. Sometimes you want to grow things that are just barely hardy here. I would like to help you do all you can to make that happen if that’s your interests. There are several ways we can trick plants into growing in a zone slightly colder than they are used to. I will start today with trees and move to shrubs next week.

I’m a big fan of growing as many kinds of trees as we can. I’m not sure if its a hobby, crazy obsession, or research. (I know my wife’s answer, but she’s doesn’t know l am writing about this, haha). l have successfully grown a fair number of varieties including Sugar Maple, Norway Maple, Black Walnut, Butternut, Apricot, Red Oak, White Oak, Red Maple and Weeping Mulberry. Most of these you can find on the market, but most of these will need a little extra help.

So, before we even start with how to modify environments for these trees its best to start with the hardiest source you can find. For example, years back the only Weeping Willow available was the Golden Weeping Willow. It will chronically have its tips freeze and the stem cracks. In the Winkler area you could see them hit 25-30 feet but still have some occasionally die back. They only thrived south of Fargo. Around here, we could see them hit 15-20 feet and continuously repeat the cycle of die back. Since 2002 we introduced a variety called Lace Weeping Willow. This weeping willow comes from China and we were able to access a source that was from the northern most area of the native range of these trees. The best way to get a cold hardy tree is the find one that has tough enough DNA. If we can start there, then we are way ahead of the game already.

Sugar Maples are another good example. If you try growing a species from Southern Ontario, you will have very little success. Using a source from Northern Minnesota and your chances are much better. Discovering, selecting, and cross breeding are the best ways of finding these trees. When that is not an option, we resort to the hardiest ones we can find for our area, which may not be that hardy. Over the next few blogs, we will touch on several techniques to help you improve your chances of growing these sensitive plants.

The first thing to consider is wind shelter. If you live in a dense natural forest or have thick shelterbelts, you already have a huge advantage. Another way to maximize shelter is to grow something on the south or east side of a building. Shielding from the north and west wind is the most important. It is also one of the more commonly known strategies. If you can do both a natural forest and utilize a building, you will have the greatest advantage. If you can combine all of these strategies, you will have the greatest chance of success. Keeping you plants sheltered from things like strong winds, cold temperatures, sun scalding, and too much exposure will greatly increase your plants survival rates in our sometimes harsh environment.

Keep your eyes open for our next few blogs where I will touch on more strategies and tips to help you grow some of those desirable yet delicate plants.

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