Michigan Gardening Tips from December, 1890, written in the magazine “Friend” by E. P. Powell

Some years ago I moved from New York State to Michigan, on a line with the lower tier of our counties. It cost me many dollars and much taxation before I learned that a tree set out without thorough mulching under the clear western skies, would suffer far more speedily and seriously than at my old home. Fuchsias that bed out well in New York, become in a short time dry sticks; seeds that I had been accustomed to germinate in the open New York soil must in Michigan be started in frames. I soon saw why Michigan forests were not the same as New York forests. The chances in New York favored large seeded sorts, such as oaks, walnut, hickory. English gardeners transferred to Colorado invariably became disgusted. Coming from an atmosphere saturated with moisture, they find the air desiccated, their plants cooked, and their trees shriveled. It is one of the lessons least often anticipated, that in removing from section to section we have to learn new rules of agriculture and a new pomology, as well as new floriculture at every removal. This is more than most immigrants will do, and they are therefore failures. Many things must be considered in migrating. Those who have lived in a limestone section until middle life, rarely are successful or happy or healthy in the bottom lands of western rivers.

Local climates are of immense importance to one tending to live by fruit growing. I said to a farmer living over the West Hills, “why do you plant strawberries? I get mine into market and I'll have them sold before you can ripen a quart.” “Exactly so,” he answered; “and then I come into market just in time to follow you.” He had made his calculations correctly. Snow banks cover his farm when mine is green and growing; but he knew how to adjust himself to the climate.

But we have a long list of facts not to be accounted for on any known principle. The European grapevines refuse to become acclimated in equally warm zones of America. Many Asiatic plants decline to adapt themselves to American climactic influences, although absolutely hardy in their native habitat. American trees like Australia. Large exportations have gone there of our tulip tree, Kentucky coffee tree, etc. The trees of Japan show a special fondness for the American climate. It is not a matter of soil, or of cold and heat alone. Climate includes the matter of moisture, of winds, of predominance of clouds or clear sky, and the presence of elements held always more or less in the atmosphere.

Our native swamp trees and plants, including even the bulbous roots, thrive better when transferred to dryer places. All water plants, except the absolutely aquatic that root under water, grow better on higher soil. These include blue flag, weeping willow, red maple, Cardinal lobelia, and dicentia. Why these should be found mainly in swamps is probably owing to the struggle for systems. Sturdier growths crowd them down and out of healthier spots; and only those survive that can endure the marsh land and marsh climate. The rose, wild, is confined to the northern hemisphere; while most of our bulbs, from southern Africa, and trees with vertical foliage belong almost exclusively to Australia. But all these have been transferred, and in some cases the species have been much ennobled by a change of climate. The primitive home of the Brassica is the marshy seacoast; but we have given it a footing in our gardens, and let out the three imprisoned princes, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. This is not the result of soil so much as climate, for the Brassica still loves nothing so much as to be fed by its old diet of salt. Then we have a long array of facts like these: trees from cold climates are more capable of enduring extreme heat than sub-tropical trees; that is, you must pass over one or two belts and take trees up a cooler zone if you wish to acclimatize them to the tropics.

The effects of climate are equally marked on hardiness, on form, on stature, on fecundity, on time of maturity of seed. Comparing those grown on the same isothermal line we find Magnolia gracilis in its native home twenty to thirty feet high; but in our country, as well as in England, it is never more than a bush of six feet. As to fecundity, Downing states that some strawberries that are pistillate in England become staminate in this country. Climate change is the sexual balance of the plants. In addition most of such varieties are otherwise worthless here. The cucumber is said by Dibble to become seedless in some of the Pacific Islands - a most desirable change of habitat for our own climate if it could be secured. The periodicity of plants is often changed in all respects. The Ricinus [castor oil plant] is in Africa a perennial, in Europe a biannual, in this country strictly an annual. Our hot, dry atmosphere hastens its maturity, and leaves in autumn to little vitality to endure the dry, cold winter.

Indian corn or maize reverts in six years, in Germany, to a European type entirely unlike anything in this country.

Natural selection in the vegetable world looks very little to quality, but endurance and to virility - in general to health and vitality. The tree that can endure the severest changes of weather and produced the largest amount of seed may be said to be selected by natural law. It stands the best chance of survival both as an individual and as a race.

Nature's idea was attained at Monroe, Michigan, in the old pear trees over seventy feet high and two hundred years old -- for fruit as tough as the tree. Man's work, looking to preservation of quality, and overlooking endurance, produces invariably a tendency to lessened vitality, and always to a decrease of fruit and seed.

At the equator are palms, bananas, mimosas, philodendrons, and a vast show of magnificent climbers, together with the marvelously imitative orchids.

Next we enter a zone of evergreen woods, in which will be found the Citron family, including oranges and lemons and grapefruit.

Beyond this occurs the belt of deciduous trees where we have our home, covering the whole of the United States. Here are nuts berries and the fruits of the Rose family, including apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, and the most common berries.

Next there is a belt of conifers, including firs, larches, pines and spruces, all having needles-leaves.

Lastly, a ring of birches terminates with a northern fringe of willow bushes, that are themselves edged with mosses and red-alge.