Greetings Friends! 


Bulbs are peeking their heads out of the ground, Redwing Blackbirds have returned and are trilling in the trees. April is here and it's time to celebrate the renewal of spring! So eat, drink, be merry, and get your yard cleaned and ready for planting. Monday morning, April 6th, we expand our Retail hours to accommodate your busy schedules! Johnson's Nursery will be available evenings and weekends for all your plant needs. It's not too late to begin planning your new landscape or pre-ordering the plants and materials for your 2015 projects. 


In our April issue, propagator, Ben French, has a wealth of knowledge on Wisconsin "Naughty Native" plants and his feature article is the first of a 3-part series. Part 1 is about native trees that are not always well-behaved.


The plant of the month is Geum triflorum (Prairie Smoke), an unusual little perennial Wisconsin native that nods hello to spring. Forget chocolate bunnies, the Leaf Lore section reveals the fragrant roots of Geum.


April also brings a new episode from "The Dirt" with Carrie Hennessy! Did you know that plants will only tolerate having their roots physically cut and dug during certain times of the year? Watch the new video "Harvest Windows" to understand why we dig some trees only in spring.


Thank you for reading.


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In This Issue

Full In-Season Hours Begin Monday, April 6

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Naughty Natives (Part 1) by Ben French, PropagatorFA

Native Plants are great. (Explaining why could take a whole year of feature articles. Just trust me.) However, sometimes people think that because a plant is native, that must mean it is perfect--that all native plants are well-behaved and interact nicely with their plant buddies.


Part One of my "Naughty Natives" series is about trees. For one reason or another, the following trees have been relegated to the status of "weed-trees" by many folks. Any time you install a plant, you want to consider if it is really the best choice for a site. In some situations, the aggressive nature of these trees might be considered an asset rather than an annoyance.
Ben French, Propagator 

Acer negundo - Boxelder, aka Manitoba Maple


This is one of my favorite trees. When I say that, people stare, laugh or even gasp. They question my sanity, my professionalism and my very eyesight. Let me explain. In my earliest memories of playing outside at grandma's farm there were two trees I loved. One tree was a Norway spruce, because you could climb it easily - like rungs on a ladder all the way to the sky (which now I see as about 35 feet tall - it just seemed bigger back then.) The other tree was a boxelder, but I knew it as the tree-fort tree. Many a fond memory is shared by me and my cousins. My love for the outdoors was certainly influenced by this tolerant tree.


Few trees lend themselves to tree fort construction as well the boxelder. It's a low branched tree that pops up in just about every hedgerow and woodland edge from Maine to Montana. It also stretches all the way down the east coast into Florida and west to Texas. It has a patchy distribution in the western mountain valleys all the way to California. They even exist in the high mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala. This maple is split into male and female plants, which is unusual for maples. Plus, it doesn't seem to mind if you hammer nails into it.


People don't like this plant because it seeds prolifically - resulting in trees growing behind garages and cracks in the alley. It can be weak-wooded - making it undesirable for near structures. Boxelder bugs commonly swarm homes in summer, dropping this tree further down the list.


Despite its lowly status, there are several features of this plant that could potentially lend themselves well to the difficult landscape. The asymmetrical growth pattern and craggy bark creates a rugged look - the tree grows rapidly and looks like an old specimen at a young age. Vigorous new growth can have a bluish-lavender bloom (like a frosty-looking grape) on some trees. Female plants have seeds that are often a pinky-orange in summer. It grows anywhere except underwater and in completely shaded places. 


I think this tree can have a place in restorations projects. It grows quickly even in desolate areas, so it can be useful for developing canopy coverage and adding organic matter to the soil, which helps prevent some invasive species from moving in. It is also fairly short and intolerant of heavy shade, so in the long term, it should disappear from the forest and migrate to sunnier locales.


No matter what people say, I stand firm. I like Boxelder trees.
Boxelder Blues
Boxelder Seeds
Boxelder Specimen
Populus tremuloides - Quaking Aspen


Quaking Aspen Bark 

One of the largest and oldest organisms on Earth is a stand of Aspen trees in Utah - Pando - an Aspen grove that is estimated to have started some 80,000 years ago is still growing strong today. It's a lot of trees that all started from one plant that reproduced itself asexually over and over again until it covered some 106 acres.


People like the look of Quaking Aspen. It has bright gray or almost white bark with dark circles where old branches once were. It often gets a beautiful clear yellow fall color. The green of the upper surface of the leaves contrasts nicely with the silvery undersides. Connected to a long petiole - they quake in the wind, so that the whole tree appears as a mirage or halfway to another dimension.


A stand of this tree is grand to see. But...


Aspens have an subtle, underground cloning operation going on, which makes this tree less desirable for smaller yards. If you plant this on your 1/6th acre lot, it is likely that your neighbors will get some of your tree's clone-babies in their yards. On a larger lot, it's much easier to control with regular mowing and maintenance. If you have a large back yard, instead of planting birch trees (which struggle in the clay soil of southeast Wisconsin), consider planting a grove of aspens, and under-planting with spring bulbs and native perennials.

Quaking Aspen Planting 

Zanthoxylum americanum - Prickly Ash


Prickly Ash Hedge Flowering

A cool name - yes. A cool plant? Well...


Some parts of this plant are cool. For example, it has a neat chemistry trick; chewing on it numbs your mouth, earning it the moniker - "Toothache tree". Its tiny red fruits open to reveal tiny black seeds. That's interesting! It's distantly related to citrus and closely related to Sichuan pepper. When massed, the flowers look pretty neat.


Prickly Ash is a hedge and edge aggressor. It spreads actively underground often forming pure stands. It's usually pretty short and cannot tolerate much shade. If you have an expanse of open ground to fill with a colonizing small tree, this one may be for you. Also, the sharp spines discourage people and wildlife from playing with it. 


Prickly Ash Seeds
Prickly Ash Hedge

Juniperus virginiana - Eastern Red Cedar 


Eastern Red Cedar Bark

Found in dry rocky outcrops, pure sandy dunes, and dry clay uplands, Eastern Red Cedar grows where few others dare. It is not terribly aggressive, but it can be a problem in prairies and prairie restorations where prescribed or controlled burning is not practiced (Mother Nature keeps Eastern Red Cedars in check with the occasional wildfire). It is a common colonizer of old fields.


This is a tree that it appears everywhere. Even if there are no mature specimens around, you can find seedlings on the forest floor, in mulched beds or even gravel drives. If a seedling finds an opening in the canopy, or if someone forgoes removing it from their property, it will thrive. This is one tough plant! Evergreen?...more like Ever-"Mean".    


It can be quite pretty in the right place, as long as you give it room to grow and never shade it out. Eastern Red Cedar lends a durable ruggedness to golf courses or among rocky landscapes. Its small needles and light strips of bark can make it appear almost bonsai-esque in the right spot. It gets attractive light-blue berries that eventually turn to a dark blue when ripe. And the birds love it- especially Cedar Waxwings.


Maybe it is unfair to categorize Eastern Red Cedar as naughty. Strong-willed is a better description. Imagine this tree like a frontiersperson, a bit rough around the edges, but well suited to surviving tough conditions.
Eastern Red Cedar
Ice Age Trail

Look forward to "Naughty Natives - Part Two" in the June 2015 issue of the Leaf in Brief. 

Prairie Smoke
Geum triflorum

One of the first native prairie plants to bloom in spring (usually in April), Prairie Smoke is an unusual little guy. Soft, grayish-green foliage forms fern-like mounds at the base. Then delicate stems pop up with dark pink buds that hang at the tips like earrings. The buds sit like this for about a week and then, poof! They open to light pink, feathery seedheads resembling clouds of smoke (also described as "old man's whiskers"). Prairie Smoke stays low to the ground and is an intriguing addition to the front of your landscape beds.


The Latin botanical name of Geum refers to a plant having aromatic roots. Native American tribes used the roots of Prairie Smoke to make a tea for treating severe colds and fevers (supposedly it has a sassafras-like flavor). Crushing the small seeds also yielded a pleasant fragrance and was used as perfume.


Because the flowers appear as tight buds, Prairie Smoke is primarily pollinated by Bumblebees; they are strong enough to muscle their way into the opening. South of Wisconsin you'll find Prairie Smoke's cousin, Geum rivale, or Water Avens. While Prairie Smoke prefers a dry, gravelly location, Water Avens is found in wet, marshy areas and its roots smell like chocolate.  


Photo Source: Prairie Moon Nursery 

from The Dirt 
with Carrie Hennessy
Duration 2:08

Trees will only tolerate having their roots physically cut and dug during certain times of the year.    

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from The Dirt
Duration 5:30

Gardens and landscapes follow what is fashionable, just like clothing trends.In the last decade, the use of native plants in the landscape has become the hottest topic among experts and homeowners alike."What is a native plant?"

from Carrie's Quick Tips
Duration 1:33

A few ways to get started on the spring clean-up of your garden or landscape. Take advantage of a sunny day that climbs into the 40's or 50's to cut down dried ornamental grasses. It's so much easier to do this before the new growth starts to pop up.
The fruit tree stock availability and guide for 2015 has been updated. This year, we've brought back many of the most popular varieties. Also, we're proud to be stocking 4 varieties of the wildly popular dwarf fruit shrubs by BrazelBerries.

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Raspberry
  • Plum
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Currants
  • Grapes

  Call for availability. Fruit plants sell out quickly. 


Offering the expertise of our Horticulturists, this custom design service is provided at no cost to you.   
This is the best do-it-yourself program if you're a homeowner looking to design and plant your own project. We Plan-You Plant offers the helpful assistance of our experts, who will create a professional landscape design--at no cost--when you purchase your plants at Johnson's Nursery. Watch the videos on our website now to help get you started today. Learn More . 

Saturday, April 18, 2015
Native Landscaping Open House
at Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, WI

Meet landscaping and native plant professionals from the area and learn how to get started with native landscaping. Johnson's Nursery will be there! Support your local land stewards. This event is free. Learn More

Saturday, June 13, 2015
Wild Ones Native Plant Sale
at Johnson's Nursery in Menomonee Falls

15% OFF Wisconsin Native Plants
(in containers)
We welcome you to join us in Menomonee Falls for the Annual Wild Ones Native Plant Sale. Nursery tours and concessions are available for you to enjoy the day! Learn more.
Landscape-Plastics Recycling Drop Off Available All Season 

at Johnson's Nursery in Menomonee Falls

Did you know? If you toss the plastic pots/containers and trays/flats that your plants arrive in into the garbage, they sit at the landfill and do not get recycled!

Johnson's Nursery and the Waukesha County Recycling Department have created a hassle-free program for you to bring your plastic containers to Johnson's Nursery--for free--all year long, at your convenience!

Recycle. Act locally, think globally. Learn more.
Visit our archive to read previous issues of The Leaf in Brief.

Johnson's Nursery, Inc.
Nature's Best to You.
p. 262-252-4988  e. info@johnsonsnursery.comUnsub