The Block Island Times

Arbor Day: spreading the Red Maple

By Fred Nelson | May 02, 2011

The last Friday in April is Arbor Day. This is a day to encourage the planting of trees.  The Block Island Gardeners have been celebrating Arbor Day with the students of the Block Island school for the past 20 years or so. They provided each student in the primary grades with a seedling tree to plant at home. The tree that was selected for this years’ presentation is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum). Rhode Island children chose the Red Maple as the state tree in 1890 and it was officially designated as the state tree in 1964. The characteristics that lend to the name are primarily the red blossoms that show up before the leaves come out in the spring and the brilliant red fall foliage.  Otherwise the leaves are green as they are with most deciduous trees.

It seems like the New Year just started a few weeks ago. How time flies! With daffodils budding out and tree buds starting to swell, another season of gardening is upon us. I tend to observe the movement of our growing season by the flowering of perennials, flowering trees, shrubs and vines. Naturally, daffodils initiate the color parade on the Island and so the season begins. Not too long after this, forsythia and shadblow brightens the whole island followed by flowering trees such as the cherry, dogwoods, crabapples, apples, pears and a few stalwart horse chestnuts. A bit later the beach plum shows up, especially along Corn Neck Road. Perennials, annuals and hydrangea pretty well fill up the summer weeks until the native sweet autumn clematis indicates that fall is just around the corner. Fall foliage then makes the next to last show including trees, shrubs and vines. Winterberry tells us it is time to get ready for winter.

Winter reminds me of my vegetable garden last year. I have related that I put in a late crop of carrots for fall and winter harvest. They grew very well and we had started to harvest them in November. It has been our intent to harvest the last of the crop to take with us for our winter vacation along with our onions. The onions were safe in our basement. To avoid the possibility of having to dig through a heavy frost in December to harvest the carrots, I placed a rather heavy mulch to protect the crop. Trust me, this is not the way to save a bit of labor. When I went to dig up the carrots I removed the mulch and lo and behold there was not one carrot left to be harvested. This problem could not be blamed upon our probing deer herd but another pest that is foraging about for a late winter meal — mice and/or rats. The mulch had provided about as nice an atmosphere as they could have imagined. They were free to eat at their leisure with no threat from marauding hawks or crows. All that was left were the carrot tops that had been carefully trimmed from the carrots.

From time to time, folks have asked me what the names of the trees were that are planted around the American Legion Hall grounds. Each tree was planted as a memorial several years ago through the contributions of individuals. A bronze plaque on the legion grounds commemorates those who contributed to the memory of loved ones. Currently, the largest trees are the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry which will soon be showing its bright pink double blossoms. The columnar shaped trees are Purple-leaf Beech. They add a contrast in leaf color throughout the summer. The smaller trees are Paperbark Maples. The bark is cinnamon brown and exfoliates similar to that of some of the birches such as the Paper/Canoe and River Birches. As the tree becomes more mature the exfoliating bark will become more prominent. Collectively, these trees exhibit different characteristics — flowers, foliage color, habit of growth and bark. The plastic enclosure on most of the smaller caliber trees is to protect them from deer rutting in the fall. So far it has been quite successful although there is evidence that the deer are checking them out by bruising a few of the lower branches. Any tree that is planted on the island that has a trunk diameter 4 to 5 inches or less should be protected by fencing around the trunk or setting four or five 4-foot stakes around the trunk. This protection should be applied in early September.

“Joy spreads the heart, and with a general song,

Spring issues out, and leads the jolly months along.”

John Dryden

"Fables Ancient and  Modern" (1700)


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