Friday, June 5, 2009

Cottonwoods belong by the River

I have been planting flats of 2" plug pots with native seeds since May 25, and some of them are sprouting. However, I have a couple decent sized (maybe 40 plus feet) Cottonwood trees within 2 houses of mine, and they started blowing their seeds around in the past week or so. They drop so much seed with its attendant fluff that it piles up in drifts like snow ! It also settles in my plug pots, and because I am diligently watering them in this droughty Spring that we're enduring here in central Minnesota, the seeds are sprouting within 4 or 5 days of settling. And this is before some of my natives sprout. So, in some cases it becomes confusing as to what might be a Cottonwood seedling and what might be a Shooting Star or an Aster seedling. In one little pot there are as many as 15 or 20 Cottonwood seedlings. Nature is abundant in this seeding thing, for certain. Now Cottonwood trees are native Minnesota plants, I will admit. But a tree this large and messy, like the fast growing but ungainly native Silver Maple, might better be left in something more near it's native habitat, which would be a river bottom, not an urban back yard. I spent 20 minutes today picking the seedlings out of just one flat of pots, and am hoping I didn't also eradicate the unsprouted desirables I planted. I will employ some kind of protective barrier for my flats next planting season, possibly window screening stretched over them to keep the Cottonwood seeds impotent. I have been using frames of 1 x 6 or 8 inch boards covered with chicken wire to foil the disruptive digging of the grey squirrels for a couple years and may augment this with the window screening. I'll post a few pictures soon to illustrate some of my struggles and solutions with these issues.


  1. Followed your Garden Rant comment to your blog. My neighbor took down a large cottonwood -- it looked like the next storm was going to drop the tree on her house -- and this spring, I'm dealing with many fewer cottonwood seedlings.

  2. You reminded me I still have native seeds stratifying in my fridge. Probably should try planting them. Based on my research I am way off schedule with trying to start the seeds so it'll be interesting if I see any success. Yep Cottonwoods are messy. Grew up with one in our backyard for awhile, but my parents grew wise and cut it down. I think it was the 'tree is big and about to fall on house' scenario.

  3. Thanks to you both for the new comments.....Cynthia, plant up those natives, I say ! They only need a couple months to get hardy enough to overwinter in most cases I think. I had 4 or 5 species leftover at the end of last year that never made it into the ground and they survivied just fine in their 2" pots on top of the ground covered in snow. They're tough little critters. They're still in their pots, growing heartily, if rootbound, waiting for me to plant them in the ground. I had Maximillian Sunflower seeds sprouting in the stratifying bag in the fridge after just half their time, some natives just about jump out of their seedcoats. Plant 'em up, I tell myself !