by Connie Oswald Stofko
There’s something you wouldn’t guess when you look at the garden island in the backyard of Ron and Kathleen Krebs on South Irwinwood, Lancaster.
All of those shrubs and trees, including the large arborvitae on one end and the red twig dogwood on the other, were picked out of the trash.
And they’re not the only plants in the Krebs’ yards that were rescued. About 50 “orphaned” shrubs and trees that had been tossed to the curb are now thriving in the couple’s landscape.
You can see this attractive landscape during the Lancaster Garden Walk, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17. (There is also a nighttime tour from 8:45 p.m. – 10:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, but the Krebs’ garden won’t be displayed then.) You can also visit the Krebs’ gardens during Open Gardens.
Even though those events are still weeks away, last week Ron was still brave enough to show me around and allow me to take photos as he busied himself trying to get his yard “show ready.” He said that years ago the Lancaster Garden Walk was a competition, but he’s glad that it’s no longer judged.
“This is just the garden that I make for myself,” Ron said, and he’s happy to share it with others.
The rescued shrubs can be seen starting in the front yard, where they surround a carved limestone hitching post. Ron has rescued an old style snowball hydrangea, a bird’s nest spruce, euonymus, boxwood and even sumac trees.
Perhaps the most impressive specimen is a mulberry that was 35 years old when it was thrown out. A neighbor a few blocks over had set it out to the curb, but when Ron inquired about it, the neighbor said she had someone who wanted it. Three weeks later, she called and said Ron could have it.
After being out of the ground for three weeks, it wasn’t in good shape. There were signs of life, but it had almost no leaves. Since it was nearly autumn, the plant would be going dormant anyway, so Ron gave it a try.
It took two years for it to come back, he said, but it looks great now.
“I don’t have 100 percent success,” Ron said of the plants he rescues. “Some rust out. You’ve got to take care of them.”
To tilt the odds in your favor, start with trees or shrubs that were recently excavated, he said.
Also look at the trunk to make sure it’s not girdled, which will kill the plant. (Girdling is when a section of bark is removed all the way around the circumference of the trunk.) When people use chains to pull out a shrub, it can girdle the trunk.
A lot of people will chop the shrub or tree, then pull out the stump. If you find something like that, don’t bother with it; it’s done, he said.
If you hear of someone who wants to get rid of a shrub, you might offer to do the work for them if you can have the plant.
“I’m more successful if I can dig them out myself,” he said.
Plant the tree or shrub as soon as possible. If Ron can’t get the plant into the ground immediately, he’ll fill a metal wagon with water and set the plant in the water temporarily.
Once the shrub is planted, water it deeply every day. You want the water to go deeply into the ground to the roots and below the roots to encourage the roots to grow down. If you water just the top of the soil, the roots will stay at the top of the soil.
Ron doesn’t prune a shrub the first year because he doesn’t want to shock it, but he will shape it the second year.
He doesn’t make special reconnaissance trips; there is a lot of plant material being thrown away, especially in the spring. New people are moving in to a home and want a new look, or longtime homeowners just want something different.
“If it looks salvageable, I put it in,” he said. In addition to this home, he has a rental property and a property he is renovating, so he has plenty of room.
Coming up this weekend:
Parkside Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 26.
The Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26 on the lawn at Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.
See the whole schedule of garden walks here.