Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Spring is on parade

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Miracles of spring

The Easter centerpiece on the dining room table came from pure inspiration and a thorny branch of the Trifoliate orange tree. Twenty-five small wooden birds, rabbits, bird houses, and eggs needed lots of tiny branches from which to hang. What better than thorns, something the Trifoliate orange has in abundance. The mini-spikes served double-duty as a deterrent to the cats which could be attracted to the baby ornaments swinging from the citrus stem tucked inside the woven basket. I had not figured on my husband reaching over the table and somehow impaling his finger on a thorn. The little exhibit saw action as ornaments flew off in all different directions. Supper took on a lively atmosphere.

Watched “Easter Parade” on TV at Easter. Easter was “on parade” in Tulsa: new green on trees, fresh red leaves of Japanese maples, the floating white blossoms of dogwoods, azaleas beginning to bloom, tulips out in mass, and redbuds everywhere.

My redbuds are in brilliant bloom, but not the “Joseph’s Coat” rose bush. Tips for pruning roses last week came with a caveat to wait and see, unless it was a climber, which should be trimmed after blooming. Well, in February my climber gave up any thought of blooming and withdrew to its base in horror as the temperatures plunged. Stems eight feet long became 5-inch stubs from which are now sprouting green stems and healthy-looking leaves. My climbing rose has turned into a bush rose. Much safer not so high in the sky.

The birdseed mulch that covered the septic tank was full of emerging sunflowers, bee balm, a small hazelnut and even tinier sweet shrub. The last two were about to leaf out. The four potatoes buried at the west end had begun to root, sending forth deep green leaves.

Cleo and the Easter centerpiece

The armadillo, opossum, skunk or raccoon thought ‘Wildscape’ meant ‘dinnerscape’ and then tore through everything, leaving the minty bee balm helter-skelter, 2/3rds the sunflowers de-rooted, 3 un-earthed potatoes lying on the surface and the sweet shrub gone. The foot tall hazelnut tree, surrounded by rocks, was the only plant not touched. A tiller couldn’t have done a better job.

In the garden shed was a roll of short fencing laying around not doing anything. I lugged the heavy bundle to my pathetic garden bed and began to unroll the fencing, placing the anchor spikes up instead of down. Three rounds of fence later, it looked like a perfect defensive barrier if working with invaders a foot tall. I give it two nights before some wild thing comes with a pole vault, crane or wire cutters. Because our area is rapidly drying out and little rain is predicted for the future, the wildlife is going to target moist areas. Freshly planted veggies or seeds need water to grow. My yard is going to look like a chicken yard full of invisible fighting cocks once all the fencing is in place to protect thirsty plants.

David Payne, chief meteorologist for OKC Channel 9, issued his depressing spring forecast. Off the west coast of the US swirl pockets of hot and cold ocean water. The sea surface temps of the Gulf of Mexico are well above normal. 80 degrees F off Cancun. Drought is building from the west into the central part of Oklahoma.

During the months of April, May and June, Oklahoma will be a divided state. The western half is predicted to have below normal rainfall and above average temperatures. The eastern part of Oklahoma is average and average. Toss a coin for those of us living in the middle of the state. If we soon receive good moisture, the drought will back off to the west and we’re into average. More likely, considering our already dry situation, we’re going to bake to dust stage. Because this may shape up as a warm spring, most severe weather will be to the east of Oklahoma because of the drought. The only plus is the tornado season will be shortened.

Trees coming to life

A doubly cruel state of affairs considering the damage plants received from not only from ice in December but a record-breaking cold spell mid-February. Prepare for the worst. This is a good time to reevaluate present yard care practices. Mow prudently, keeping in mind plant growth is compromised. Don’t scalp your landscape, opening it up to erosion and grass dieback. Don’t be like the guy who had a lawn full of grape hyacinths and cut all of them down. Ditto for dandelions. These flowers provide spring food for bees and wildlife.

Ecologist James Crumpler says “lawns are rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 to 385,000 acres per day….they provide no benefits over the long term.” Translated, this means no food or clean water to support the previous native habitat that might still be hanging on in the corners or at the edges of people’s property.

The average American family uses 320 gallons per day of water; 30% is outdoor. Over half of that goes to lawns and gardens. Lawns are the number one irrigated crop in the US, and the only crop that produces nothing. Chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and spilled gasoline dump tens of millions of gallons per year into the environment. And the noise. Who can hear the birds or sit peacefully on their deck when a multitude of gas-guzzling lawnmowers roar into action several times a week? Sounds like we’re under attack by a platoon of tanks. A platoon is four tanks.

Tulip time

Jack Ahern, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, quipped even with the knowledge that maintaining manicured turfgrasses is not environmentally sound, putting in a yard of native plants is way too much for most people; looks too weedy. He recommends defining the native areas, creating islands of shrubs, trees and plants. You can do this.

Especially this year, encourage the native plants. Many, including the grasses, have deeper roots. Preserve native plant stands. Edge and mow around them. By summer, they might be the only plants not requiring constant stream of water to stay alive.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at