Martina - Here's a warm welcome to WC!
You are not too late to join and we've just gotten started!
And - do you smudge the bark and then draw the structure? Or did you only smudge the gras or the backyard?
I try to avoid smudging whenever possible. When I first started drawing trees, I would smudge (blend) the leaves and bark, but now I've learned a much better way of creating an even tone.
Draw in your details, such as the bark, the crevices, knots and imperfections and shading. I like to use a F lead for the finer details and a 2B for darker areas. Then use a harder lead like a 4H or 6H with a chisel point (flat angled edge to your pencil) and burnish the top of the details. This will create a beautiful toned area without losing any of the detail!! Smudging or blending will only diffuse or eliminate all that detail.
I learned this technique from Mike Sibley's book "Drawing Line to Life" and it has made an incredible difference to the quality and crispness to my drawings.
I still find when I am "sketching" like the root assignment, I will rush and resort to blending again. But Mike's technique offers a much better result.
PS: Did I mention that I love your way of drawing very much, Diane?
Thank you for the kind words.
You make me blush....