It’s winter, dammit!

I’m trying to convince my tiny tree, a Gingko biloba, that winter has come, and I’m not having much success.

I grew this sapling from a seed I gathered in the fall of 2019 from a tree in the park next to my home. I kept the seed refrigerated over the winter and planted it in the spring, hoping to create a bonsai. (This might not be realistic.)

Gingko are temperate-climate trees that can grow as far south in the United States as Zone 8, which includes Austin, Texas, where I used to live, and as far north as Zone 3, which is the border between Minnesota and Canada. I currently live in Chicago, Zone 5. Summers here can be hot, although not as hot as Austin, and winters can be colder than a Texan wants to imagine.

Gingkos are also deciduous trees, which means they lose their leaves in fall. Trees do this, among other reasons, to protect themselves from winter storms. If leaves get coated with ice, the weight can pull down a branch in a high wind, which can be a fatal injury. Bare branches are safer.

The tree’s “mother,” which I can see from my window, turned a lovely shade of golden yellow, typical of the species, in early November. By then it had endured chilly nights, even some frost, and a few nasty storms. Soon after I took the photo, another howling storm tore all the autumn leaves from all the trees in the neighborhood.

My little tree, however, is in front of a big window in my living room, where the living is easy: no storms and constant comfortable temperatures. The edges of its leaves grew brown at the same time as the leaves on the gingkos outside, probably in response to the shorter days. But the leaves on my tree have remained mostly green.

I’ve been trying to convince my tree that winter is coming. Because I don’t have a porch or balcony to let it experience real weather, I’ve been putting the tree in the refrigerator at night and watering it with ice cubes; roots are very sensitive. The tree has noticed the cold, but hasn’t been eager to react.

According to this scientific article, gingkos grow best with warm temperatures and good soil moisture. Maybe my living room and its eternal, moist summer isn’t such a bad habitat. Maybe not losing its leaves means the tree knows it will be safe.

I hope so. A gingko can live for 3000 years.

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