Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Flame in December?

Although we've had a recent warm up (sunny and 29 degrees F today), my reference to "flame" in this blog title refers to the 'Flame' willow (Salix hybrida) seen in all of these photos at different times of the year.  The image above was taken about a week ago along the slope on the west side of the Parker Education Center where we have multiple specimens established.  This image certainly promotes the winter value of this selection with these vivid orange/red stems offering interest (comparable to the best of the red-twig dogwood for sure!).  More on this willow is shared further below.
Today was fairly quiet and I was able to go through three 2015 seed catalogs and I continue to prepare for 2015 tasks.  I did head out to test the lights again and did a little troubleshooting.  While the Holiday Lights Show (HLS) is essentially ready to go, it's not too early to think about our involvement at the 2015 Wisconsin Public Television Garden Expo (February 13-15).  We have had a booth at this event for over 17 years and I'm doing a record number (5) of presentations this year which are always a good venue for promoting the gardens!  Attendance at this event over recent years has hovered around 20,000 folks and the timing is perfect for those that have the winter doldrums.  Today I also saw Marv B., Dr. Yahr, Mark S. and Big John.  Bob K. came in for some afternoon tweaks on the animated displays out in the HLS and Janice stopped by in the afternoon too.

Some comments about the 'Flame' willow to start with are important.  This multi-stemmed plant wants to be 30' tall or more and will become a multi-stemmed tree if left alone.  However, annual pruning of this selection (to 15" tall in March) will encourage fresh new growth and a manageable size of 6'-8' in one season.  The newest stems tend to get the best winter coloration so older plants that haven't been cut back will only have the intense red on the outermost (newest) portions of the branch with softer shades of orange on older stems and trunks.  Our willows have been cut back every March since the year they were planted and have never grown over 8' tall in a season.  This size is perfect for their current locale.  The story behind the 20 or so of these willows that we have on the west bank is interesting.  We wanted something to "hold the slope" (45 degrees?) over 12 years ago when the Parker Education Center was constructed.  We planted this grouping with the intent of soil and slope stabilization (achieved) and were smitten even that first winter with the transition of green summer stems to bright red stems by December.  The photo above is a shot in early October with the stems starting to transition as the leaves become more yellow with fall color (next couple photos down).  The best coloration occurs in December and January on this slope facing the sun. 



cut stems in winter are beautiful for arrangements
 severe cutting in March (down to 12"-15" stubs)
new growth in May
'Flame' willows (Salix hybrida) in March (above) and December (below)

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