Monday, 7 April 2014

Tree following, after the flowers

It is time for another post about the tree I am following this year, my lovely Magnolia soulangeana 'Heaven Scent'. Last month was the first post I wrote about my tree and I described how I came about ending up with a tree like that in my tiny garden.

The decision to find a single stemmed magnolia that I could grow in a container has really paid off, even though it took a long time to find a nursery who had one for sale. 

The magnolia is placed here on my patio at the back among the large containers, nicely sheltered against wind in at least two directions and with sun only from 1 pm at this time of year. Perfect for a magnolia. This photo was taken about a week ago when there were still a few flowers left at the top.

And here it is today, no flowers but the leaves are already coming out.

The magnolia is also nicely sheltered against the sun in the summer by all the large containers in front of it, preventing the roots being ‘cooked’ in the summer heat.

And though the flowers are all gone, let me just remind you how it was – so brief but oh, so spectacular.

One of the parent species of this magnolia is the Magnolia liliiflora, also called the tulip magnolia. You can see that the offspring has inherited some of the same flower shape....

....although when the flowers are fully opened....

.....they earn their own name, saucer magnolia perfectly, shaped like a cup-and-saucer.

Today all there is left are a few petals from the last flowers and a whole year left to wait until next time it will flower.

The leaves are popping out, at the moment they are quite small but will become rather big

But I am left with these quite interesting pods or cones or....not sure what they are officially called, and I am not sure whether to leave them or remove them. Some tips from my visitors would be great here. They will of course take unnecessary nutrition  from the magnolia and I don’t need them, I am certainly not growing any more magnolias – on the other hand, most of them are too far up to be reached so I could not comfortably remove more than perhaps half of them anyway. I assume it is just fine to leave them on, after all, most magnolias are tall trees and I don’t think people climb ladders to remove the cones after flowering, but mine is growing in a container so perhaps I should give it a bit special treatment when it comes to this too? Any advice would be great :-)

I visited quite a few blogs last month that also had posts about following a tree, and I saw that some people struggled to measure or judge how tall their tree was. I thought I would explain a really easy way to measure the height of a tree that anyone can do, I learned it as a child by my grandfather and I have used this method many times.

First you need a tall tree. My magnolia is not exactly tall yet so let’s use my cedar tree at the bottom of my garden. This tree is rarely appearing on any photos on my blog, simply because it is too tall so usually all you can see is just the trunk. When I moved in here 12 years ago the tree had branches all the way to the ground but the first few years I chopped off a lot of them to make room for planting underneath. And since then the tree has grown. A lot. Now it looks more like a palm tree but it serves many purposes and I certainly wouldn’t get rid of it. Anyway. Tall tree. Checked.

And then you need a folding ruler or folding yardstick, a piece of ribbon and a short stick, for example a piece of bamboo.

Place the folding ruler up against the tree. If it stays there then just leave it, but this was a rather windy day and it took me 8 attempts just to get this photo as the ruler kept blowing down so I decided to go for option two....

....which is to tie a ribbon around the tree at the same height as your ruler. Mine is 2m long, it doesn’t really matter how long it is as long as you know the length. And you don’t have to use a folding ruler either, you could for example just place a ladder up against the tree or something else, but you need to know the height of it as I will show you later on, and it would be nice if the height is easily multipliable – unless you also include a calculator to your list of tools.

The next step is a bit difficult to show you on a photo, you will just have to trust me on this, it works. It’s just that a camera isn’t working the same way as our eyes are so I can’t make a photo that will show what you will see if you do this yourself. But what I am trying to show here is that you should step back so you can see the whole tree on a distance and so far away that the little bamboo stick or whatever you are using, is the same height as the height from the ground and up to the ribbon. If you have found a perfect place to stand and the stick is too long, just cut it a bit. Move yourself a bit forward or backward to get it precise. If you are very far away you can use a match stick, but for me to get at the right distance to use a match stick I would probably need to stand somewhere in my front garden, on the other side of my house as my garden is very small :-) The stick should be exactly the same height as the trunk is from the ground and up to the ribbon or whatever you have put there to indicate the height.

And then – sorry for my drawing skills, I am MUCH better at taking photos than drawing, but I hope you understand my scribbles – then you move the stick upwards as many times as the height of the tree until you get to the top. My first measurement where the ribbon is was 2m so each increment will be 2m, and easy to add up. This is why it was nice to have a 2m folding ruler and not a ladder that was 2.89m or something like that! So this shows that my cedar tree is 9m and a bit or about 30 feet tall. This way of measuring is only going to be approximate, and the taller the tree is, the more inaccurate it will be, but you will get a rough idea, and that’s what it is meant to give you.

I hope that explanation was OK, give it a try and you probably find it easy once you see it in practice. There are lots of other methods to measure the height of a tree, some require very few tools if any at all, some require very expensive tools. Here is a short list:
  • Goniometry
  • Using an inclinometer
  • climbing to the top of the tree and doing a direct tape drop
  • Using laser based range finder
  • The shadow method
I am sure my visitors can come up with many more ways to measure tall things like trees, but my way is an easy way that doesn’t require deep pockets or university level math.

I am linking today’s post with Lucy at Loose and Leafy who’s hosting the ‘Tree following’ meme. If you head over to her blog you can see a lot of other trees of all sorts and shapes. Next month my magnolia will have lots of leaves and I will take some really close-ups and I also plan to introduce you to my second Magnolia soulangeana called 'Red Lucky' – also a container grown. Until next time, take care.

53 comments:

  1. Hi Helene: Well, I'm a huge fan of Magnolias, and ours are just about to bloom here in my part of the country, but I'm definitely not an expert. Here's a page from the U.S. National Arboretum that might help: http://1.usa.gov/1oFq2re. It sounds like songbirds might like the fruits from the "cones." But hopefully other commenters will have more advice. Thanks for the advice on how to estimate the height of a tree! Very useful!

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    1. Hi Beth, thanks for the link, great to know the seeds will be welcomed by birds in the autumn, I can’t see me climbing my stepladder to cut the fruit cones off at this stage, most of them are way too high up.

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  2. Your magnolia is so wonderful. Thanks for sharing me the beauty. And the way on measuring tree, a simple method, but so useful! It's remind me to my scouting activity.

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    1. Thanks Endah, it is a simple method that doesn’t require too much in terms of math so easy for anyone to do.

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  3. Our magnolia still has lots of flowers. As for removing the seed heads, Our tree would need hundreds removing and a fireman's long ladder/ to facilitate this. Even when it was a baby I left nature to take its course and left it alone.

    I thought you were going to get into angles and Pythagoras to measure the tree.

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    1. OK, great to know you also left the seed cones alone in the beginning on your magnolia, I was just a bit concerned since I am growing mine in a container and container life is always a bit more stressful than living in the ground – especially for larger plants. But removing them would be a huge ordeal even this year, can’t imagine how it would be in years to come so I think I will do as you – just leave them.

      You can go into angles and all that if you really want to when measuring the height of a tree, the result will probably not be significantly more accurate.

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  4. That's brilliant, that measuring way. I'll have to take a bundle of sticks with me when I visit my tree so I will have the right length with me for however far I'm able to stand back.

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    1. Thanks Lucy, you really don’t need a bundle of sticks, just one or two, and a pair of secateurs to snip the stick into the right length :-)

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  5. Such lovely blossoms on your magnolia! I've never heard of this method for measuring a tree's height, but such a great idea--certainly simpler than using geometry...which I've forgotten:)

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    1. Thanks Rose, yes the geometry method is great, but for a lot of people it feels complicated and perhaps difficult to understand. Some of the different ways of measuring the height of a tree requires two people, my method you can do on your own so another advantage :-)

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  6. Thanks for the idea on approximating the height of a tree! It seems such a simple and obvious method once you've explained it to me, but I never would have thought of that myself! Your grandfather passed on some good information to you. Your magnolia blooms look almost like waterlilies - lovely. What a creative solution to your small space garden! And I did not know that you had such a large cedar in your garden - what a lovely old specimen, it really adds some height and presence.

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    1. Thanks, I can still remember when my grandfather showed this method to me. It was winter, I still lived in Norway then, we were skiing, and he just happened to have a measuring tape in his pocket and he measured my ski pole. Then he placed the ski pole next to a tall tree, we walked back from the tree and looked at it with a matchstick each between our fingers. The matchstick also came from my grandfathers well equipped pockets. Then we counted how many matchsticks tall the tree was and my grandfather added up on a piece of paper (also from his pockets!) how many ski poles to multiply. I have never forgotten how to do this, and it has been useful many times, not just for trees, it can be used for any tall thing :-)

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  7. Hi Helene
    Look at that Magnolia go! How wonderful that you found a tree that will fit your petite yard so beautifully. Neat way of measuring too.

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    1. Thanks Astrid, I am so glad I finally to the plunge and bought a magnolia, I was worried it would not fit in, but I hope it will continue to grow upwards rather than outwards – the space up is infinite!

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  8. Thanks for the hint about measuring trees. I love your Magnolia. I never take the remains of the flower head off my Magnolias. But if I had a very young one I probably would so that it would put its strength into growing rather than seed production.

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    1. Yes, I wondered about that, but although my magnolia has been with me only for a year, it is rather tall already and I can’t reach many of the seed cones without climbing a stepladder – a bit too much work I think. I will give it a good mulch again in midsummer and it has got slow release fertiliser already so I hope it will be OK.

      By the way, I would like to reciprocate with a comment on your blog, but I can’t seem to find it, there is no link to your blog on your page. Cold you please put a link to your blog here?

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  9. I've never really noticed before what happens to a magnolia when the petals have fallen off, so thanks for sharing that...

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    1. You’re welcome!
      This is my first year with flowers so I am kind of new to this too, I will take photos if and when something new and interesting happens :-)

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  10. The magnolia tree is really lovely. With your green thumb and fingers, I'm sure you will nurture it into a glamorous specimen.

    This is such a simple but brilliant way of measuring a tree or any tall structures. Thanks for this piece of education.

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    1. Thanks, I am glad you liked the explanation, seems many here appreciated it so that’s good :-)

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  11. I have always wondered how tall our black walnut is. It towers a full story above the house. Now I have a way of measuring it. Thanks for that! You magnolia is so promising. Such lovely pink blooms! Won't it be magnificent someday.

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    1. I am wondering how the magnolia will become when it is all grown-up, I am afraid I won’t be around to see that, it will probably take another 30—40 years, but I am sure it will be magnificent already in 10 year’s time.
      Good luck with measuring your walnut tree!

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  12. Now I confess to not being a huge Magnolia fan, that was until 2 weeks ago. We have one in our garden, it's the common type that alot of folk have and to be honest it just passes me by. But...the other week I passes the most stunning of pink varieties on a roundabout. No idea what it was a I couldn't pull over but I couldn't stop thinking about it.
    Then I came across Mag' Susan, it was only £3 as it's still a baby but it appears to have a similar strong pink colour. And...then today the neighbour of one my clients has the most gorgeous lemon yellow variety (which I'm about to google for). I may have just fallen in love with magnolias, but don't tell :-)

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    1. Magnolia Susan is lovely, very similar flower shape to mine but darker pink. If you are going to buy one, try to get one as big as possible, as big as you can afford. The tiny one they sell online for £9.99 or less takes MANY years to flower. Have you seen M. lilliflora 'Nigra'….aboslutely gorgeous! And what about M. 'March-till-Frost' which flowers from March till September! As for a yellow magnolia, try Google M. 'Butterflies'. Now, if I could just manage to squeeze a couple of more trees into my absolutely tiny garden!!
      Oh yes, magnolias are very easy to get hooked on :-)

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  13. Our headmaster at primary school showed us the same method many (ahem!) years ago! I have always been awful at maths unfortunately..... I do like a nice magnolia- it's just a shame they flower for such a short time. A nice thing to look forward to in the Spring though.

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    1. The good thing about this way of measuring the height of a tree is that it doesn’t require much math skills, anyone can do it :-)

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    2. By the way, you can get magnolias that flowers all summer, from March to September!

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  14. When I saw your flowerless magnolia 'cone' I thought of how much it resembles a rhododendron when its blooms are finished. The flowers of your magnolia are lovely -well worth the time and trouble to find the right one!

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    1. Thanks Patty, in my garden it just wouldn’t have worked having the usual multi stemmed, bush growing magnolia, just as wide as tall, I simply haven’t got room for it, so even though it took a while sourcing a single stemmed magnolia it really was worth it. The cones will look pretty when the berries are getting ripe, most of them are too high up though so to photograph them I will have to climb my stool :-)

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  15. Helene... I'm glad your life as a magnolia lover is going well... I'm afraid the harsh winter has destroyed the buds on many of mine and I may well lose some of the trees themselves... we so need rain, it might help me figure out what is still alive.... I suspect most of my primulas are dead after inspecting yesterday, although a bit early to say for sure... this is where gardener patinece figures in.... Larry

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    1. I am sorry to hear the winter has taken its toll on your amazing garden, I would have thought that you had enough snow to melt to give you moisture in the ground for a while, regardless of precipitation? And that the snow had protected the plants in the ground? I hope they pull through, not much you can do with this year’s magnolia flowers but if the trees are OK at least they will probably flower again next spring.

      I have been very lucky with the first winter with my 2 magnolias, couldn’t have been a better start, with a frost-free winter, lots of rain and no frost after the flowers opened up (even if it was touch and go one night!). I hope for a good sunny summer but not a baking hot one, so I get lots of flowers next year too, possibly on the smaller magnolia too – although I am not expecting flowers on that one for a few years yet.

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  16. Ignore the spent flower heads. If no seeds are set they'll just wither and drop off without taking anything from the tree. If seeds are set - assuming a compatible plant close by - well, there's the pleasure of germinating them and growing them on till flowering size. Only ten to fifteen years usually - though you might wait twenty five for some of the big Himalayan species!

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    1. Thanks John, that’s good to know, I was a bit worried about the seedpods since I am still keeping the magnolia in a container and I assume that’s a slightly more stressful life for it than growing in the ground. I am not sure if anyone around here has a magnolia in their garden, the gardens are so small so most (sensible) people grow other things around here. The nearest magnolia might be in the park and that’s a good few blocks away, perhaps too far away for any pollination. Not to worry, I wasn’t planning on any propagation anyway, I think two magnolias in my tiny garden is more than enough!

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  17. That's a fabulous way to measure height of trees, Helene. (Much better than climbing to the top and dropping a tape.) Your grandfather taught you something good, and you're a fine explainer.

    Your cedar does look tropical – and too beautiful to cut.

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    1. Thanks Lee, I have read that over here, whenever they measure trees officially, for contests, like the tallest tree of a particular type, they still send someone up to the top with a measuring tape to drop! Apparently, despite all fancy digital tools, this is the only reliable, tried and tested way :-)

      The red cedar was a bit of a headache for me the first few years after I moved here, but I turned it to an advantage instead by pruning off all the lower branches and making a woodland area under it. I also have an area at the base of the tree where I grow dahlias and thanks to the large roots of the cedar, I don’t have to lift the dahlias in the winter, they stay in the ground and don’t rot. I wouldn’t dream of taking the tree out now, but it is completely out of place in such a tiny garden of course. It is just over 9m tall now and can become over 40m (130 ft) tall eventually. That will become someone else’s headache!

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  18. I don't think I realized that you had such a commanding tree in your garden! What a beauty! So large, and I love its form. And your way of measuring is so easy - can't believe I have never thought of it before! I love learning new tricks like this - simple, and yet extremely useful.

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    1. Oh, the cedar tree is rather majestic there, at the bottom of my garden, but no wonder you didn’t know it was there - it is so tall I can’t get it in my normal shots so I have to stand right back on my backdoor steps and turn my camera to portrait in order to take the whole tree! It is supposed to have branches all the way down of course, but that would have meant 1/3 of my garden – plus part of my neighbour’s garden would have been covered by the tree, I am glad I started pruning it 12 years ago and I am now left with a good space beneath it for woodland plants.

      I’m glad you liked the way of measuring tall trees, hope it will be useful to you one day :-)

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  19. The flowers of a magnolia are incomparable - so gorgeous! I can see why you looked long and hard for it. It's too bad the bloom time is so short! Thanks for the tip about estimating how tall a tree is. It makes so much sense!

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    1. Thanks, yes, mine flowered for a short time, only 2 weeks, but when it gets older, the flowering will last longer. I have actually found a magnolia that flowers on and off from March till September! But I think I have enough magnolias in my tiny garden with two already…!

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  20. I've heard of this measuring method before and it is quite accurate. It's incredible to think you have a magnolia in a pot! They are one of my favorite trees. Are you going to keep it in a pot? Won't it outgrow the space?

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    1. I have had a good email exchange with the nursery where I bought the magnolia and according to them I can keep the magnolia in the current container for 3-4 years, and in the next size up for another 2-3 years, a total of about 7 years - and by then it will have to go in the ground. This applies to ‘Heaven Scent’ and would not necessarily be possible with larger magnolias that grows faster and becomes taller than mine will be. The reason for delaying for as long as possible is that I hope the crown will be high up enough to walk under by the time I have to put it in the ground so I can plant it in the middle of my garden and still walk down my path without having to crouch down!
      I hope the magnolia will be happy in the container for as long as it’s necessary, I suppose keeping it watered through the hot season will be the biggest challenge when it gets bigger, but I managed fine last summer :-)

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    2. Oh, Helene. I learned now how to measure a high things as tree, house etc. I had problems with it, because of a high birch growing near my pond. Thank you for information!
      Your magnolia had wonderful tulip-shaped flowers!

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    3. Thanks Nadezda, and good luck with measuring your birch!

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  21. I like your measuring method! Last week, we tried several different ones on my tree -- maybe I will go back and try this one also, see how it compares.

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    1. Thanks, perhaps you could write here if the result was the same? The only accurate method is to send someone to the top and drop a measuring tape down – that’s how they still measure trees that goes into Guinness’ book of record and other record holding trees. But I suppose some of the modern laser instruments can be pretty accurate too – and terribly expensive. For all of us that just wants an approximate height of a tree, my grandfather’s method should be good enough :-)

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  22. Helene, I can definitely appreciate you fondness for Magnolia. I have probably already mentioned that they do not perform well in Aberdeen, except for Stellata, but it just doesn't have the shape of blooms associated with Magnolia. Well here I am living in an area where they absolutely flourish, must find a spot in the garden for one, I will have to watch the positioning though,,it looks like two of my new Camellias may be situated in a position that gets too much sun.. I am fairly taken with your tree measuring guide.

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    1. Thanks Alistair, you should definitely be able to grow a Magnolia soulangeana where you live now, there are so many lovely to choose from and if you send out some emails to nurseries like I did, perhaps you too can find a single stemmed one. They are easier to implement in a small garden and you can grow shallow-rooted plants under it.

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  23. Long ago I learned the same method for measuring trees! Your magnolia blooms are beautiful, and I do love the seed pods. I think they are quite decorative. Magnolias are also beautiful in their form and leaf, so yours should be an asset to your garden through the seasons.

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    1. Great to hear you have learned the same method! I am so happy I finally got myself a magnolia, I have wanted one for many years but didn’t think I could have one in such a small garden.

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  24. Your magnolia is certainly beautiful and I love the way you have surrounded it with other pot plants that make a pretty picture. Thanks for the info on tree measuring.

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    1. Thanks, the plants around the magnolia are there for a reason, to screen the magnolia from heat and sun in the summer so the roots don’t get too warm. Besides that, my garden is so tiny so every little space is occupied by plants :-)

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  25. I do not grow magnolias although I think they are gorgeous. I love the funny cones that are left....and that is some interesting cedar. I will have to try your method of measuring my tree :)

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    1. Thanks Donna, I didn’t think I could have a magnolia in my tiny garden either – and now I have two!

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