Squash For Autumn And Winter

91030thumbWinter squash are not exactly the sort of cool season vegetables that their designation implies. They grow through the summer just like summer squash do. Both winter and summer squash are warm season vegetables that get planted early in spring. The difference is that summer squash get harvested regularly through summer, and winter squash get harvested only once after summer.

Zucchini, crookneck, pattypan and other summer squash are very productive as long as the weather is warm, and their fruit gets harvested. Fruit that stays too long and continues to mature gets big and tough, and consumes resources that would otherwise be diverted to newly developing fruit. Therefore, regular harvesting of the more desirable juvenile fruit actually promotes production.

Pumpkin, acorn, butternut and other winter squash grow all summer, but each plant should be allowed to produce only a few fruits each. Some pumpkin vines produce only one fruit each. Once the desired number of fruits are developing, fruits that start to develop later should be culled to concentrate resources into the primary fruits. These fruits mature all summer to get harvested after frost.

So, by the time that summer squash stops producing, winter squash is about ready for harvest. Where autumn weather is cooler, the tender foliage shrivels after frost, exposing the richly colored but formerly obscured ripe fruit. Winter squash is supposedly best if slightly frosted prior to harvest, which might take a bit longer here. After harvest, they should be left to cure for two weeks or so.

Winter squash vines are more rampant and somewhat shabbier than those of summer squash. Those that produce smaller fruit might be able to climb trellises or onto firewood piles that are not in use through summer anyway. Female flowers tend to shrivel sooner than male flowers, but all flowers that are big and turgid enough to bother with are edible. Bloom continues through summer.

If properly stored, even without canning or freezing, intact winter squash can last for months, until summer squash start producing the following season.


Work Day Renovation Of A Flowering Crabapple

P91020P91020+It is amazing what just a few parishioners and friends can accomplish in just a few hours from about nine to noon on Saturday morning. It is only happens a few times through the year, so we make the most of it to catch up on all sorts of maintenance and projects at Felton Presbyterian Church. (My parish should do this sort of thing.) I was there to work in the minimal landscape.

I started working with this ‘Prairie Fire’ flowering crabapple several years ago. As I pruned for clearance above the adjacent parking spaces and patio, I retained lower growth in the space in between. The tree bloomed too nicely to unnecessarily remove all that was right where it was most visible. Besides, from the patio, it was more visually appealing than a view of parked cars.

Then, I missed a work day. There were plenty of volunteers. There were plenty of power tools. There was plenty of enthusiasm. There was no horticultural expertise. Someone decided that my once exemplary flowering crabapple was in need of pruning, so executed the task with power hedge shears. The damage is irreparable. Lower growth is gone. Upper growth is mutilated.

It was very discouraging. It was done out of season, so I could do nothing to start to repair the damage at the time. There was not much left to repair anyway. I could only let the tree grow through a season so that there would be something to work with later.

Well, this was later. I would have preferred to wait for complete defoliation, but the tree is starting to go dormant now, which is technically good enough. I also would have preferred to prune less away; but really wanted to remove as much of the disfigured growth as possible.

I am less than pleased with the results. With all the disfigured lower growth removed, only the new upper canopy remains. The tree got what my colleagues might refer to as an ‘Ethiopia cut’, which is what much taller trees in Ethiopia get when their lower growth gets eaten by giraffes. It will be a long recovery.

The upper picture is the ‘before’ picture. The bright sunlight at noon does not look so good in the lower ‘after’ picture. I mentioned the Work Day and an update in my other blog, Felton League.


Self Grafted Redwoods


Redwoods are some of the most stable trees in the World. That is partly why they can survive for thousands of years. In my entire career, I have seen very few fall, and only inspected two.

Of those two, one fell because it had co-dominant leaders (double trunks) that fell away from each other, which is more of a structural deficiency than instability. The other, which I suspect was demonically possessed, was a small tree less than thirty feet tall, that literally jumped up out of the ground and onto an Astro van more than ten feet away. A rare ‘updraft’ was blamed.

Almost all of the redwoods here regenerated from the stumps and roots of much older trees that were clear cut harvested a century or so ago. Most of those that grew back with structurally deficient co-dominant leaders are very effectively sheltered from wind by their collective groves. Roots systems are very extensive, very resilient, and too intermeshed to be compromised.

The trunks in the picture above are part of a group of several trunks that grew from roots of the same tree that has been gone for a very long time. All are genetically identical and very close together. They happen to be a focal point of a big patio at a conference center. Although the structural integrity of the limbs within their canopy is a concern, the stability of the trunks is not.

Regardless, I am impressed by their attempt to improve stability. The limb that extends horizontally across the middle of this picture from the trunk to the left grafted to the trunk to the right! It is not uncommon for crossing limbs and trunks to rub through their bark to expose the cambium, but how do they stay still long enough to graft together?!

Six on Saturday: Moss Rose

Moss rose has something in common with fern pine and cabbage palm. ‘It is neither this nor that’. Fern pine is neither a fern nor a pine. Cabbage palm is neither a cabbage nor a palm. Well, moss rose is neither a moss nor a rose. It is Portulaca grandiflora. It is a somewhat uncommon warm season annual that blooms until frost, with potential to toss a few seed for next year.

Ours were planted a bit late, after English daisies that were where they are now succumbed unexpectedly to rust. Because they are in three small planter boxes, where annuals get replaced regularly, they will not be able to naturalize. I suppose I could collect some of the seed to toss about nearby, or in a sunnier place where they would be happier. It really is that time of year.

These six picture show six of the colors of our moss rose. There might have been a seventh color that was very pale pink. It was omitted because it was so similar to the white that I am still not certain that it was not white. Peach #3 is more distinct from orange #4 than it seems to be in these pictures. Red, which is common among moss rose, is strangely lacking from our mix.

Flowers are somewhat variable. Pink #1 seems to be a bit fluffier than the others. Yellow #5 has a bit of red around the center. Rose #2 seems to have a very slight bit of white at the center. I only guessed on the names of the colors ‘rose’ for #2 and ‘peach’ for #3.

1. pinkP91019

2. roseP91019+

3. peachP91019++

4. orangeP91019+++

5. yellowP91019++++

6. whiteP91019+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Moss Rose

41015The recent unseasonably warm weather was no problem for any remaining moss rose, Portulaca grandiflora. They usually start to look rather tired as the weather gets cooler this time of year, and eventually succumb to the first frost. Where allowed to do so, they can regenerate next year from seed. I like to collect their seed during the summer or autumn so that I can sow them after the last frost of the following winter. Through spring and summer, I find that additional plants are easy to grow from cuttings.

The inch wide flowers are white, pink, red, orange or yellow, with only a few ruffled petals. Modern varieties that have rufflier ‘double’ flowers and richer colors still seem to be less popular than the more delicate traditional types. The cylindrical and succulent leaves are only about an inch long. The small plants can get more than six inches deep where they are happy or crowded. Moss rose likes good exposure and decent soil, but does not need the rich soil that most other annuals demand. Nor does it necessarily need such regular watering.

These Bulbs Are Not Incandescent

41015thumbIt may seem to be too early to be concerned with narcissus, daffodil and grape hyacinth, but this is when their bulbs go into the garden. Once established, these familiar examples, as well as early bearded iris, can be the most reliable for colorful bloom at about the same time early each spring. Crocus and freesia bloom just as early, but may not naturalize as reliably. Lily, tulip, hyacinth, anemone and ranunculus really prefer cooler winters to bloom reliably after their first spring, even though they are worth growing for just one season.

Bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, can be found in nurseries when it is time for them to be planted. Gladiolus are not yet available only because they are summer blooming bulbs that should be planted a bit later than spring bulbs. None of the bulbs are much to look at while dormant, and are even less impressive once they get buried out of sight, but they have already stored up everything they need for the blooms that we expect from them next year. Once hidden below the surface of the soil, seemingly dormant bulbs secretly disperse their roots into the surrounding cool and moist soil to be ready to bloom as soon as weather allows.

In their first year, some bulbs can be planted in groups at different times to coincide with the expected durations of their particular bloom cycles. For example, if the flowers of a particular type of bulb can be expected to last two weeks, a second phase of the same bulbs can be planted two weeks after the first phase. As the first phase finishes bloom next spring, the second phase should begin bloom. However, phasing is only effective for the first season, since all bulbs of any particular variety will be synchronized by their second season.

Anemone, ranunculus and bearded iris each bloom synchronously, regardless of when they get planted, so are immune to phasing. Fortunately, the many varieties of bearded iris have different bloom seasons. Some bloom as early as narcissus. Mid-season varieties bloom shortly afterward, and are followed by late varieties. Some modern varieties bloom early, and then again after the late varieties!

Horridculture – Sign Up

P91016Perhaps the signs should be down instead. They are obscured by the crape myrtles where they are now. They would be more visible if they were either higher or lower, but not in line with all these trees. The trees were planted only a few years ago, but have done very well. Lodgepoles need to be removed. The specimen to the left is recovering well from earlier disfigurement.

Selection of trees for parking lots is not easy. Such trees must disperse complaisant roots that are not likely to displace pavement or curbs. They should should be reasonably high branched and conducive to pruning for clearance above parked cars, and where necessary, for delivery trucks. Excessive floral or foliar mess would be a problem. So would fruit that attracts wildlife.

Unfortunately, not many trees conform to all limitations. Those with the most complaisant roots do not get big enough to be pruned up high enough for adequate clearance, or even provide significant shade over the often hot black pavement below. Since shade is the primary function of such trees, an abundance of diminutive trees often compensate for fewer substantial trees.

This presents another range of problems. The smaller trees can be pruned for minimal clearance above pedestrians and parked cars, but not delivery trucks. What is worse is that they can not be pruned above lighting and shop signs either. Pruning them lower than the signs instead would only work if the signs were to be viewed horizontally, from the same height as the signs.

Nonetheless, that is what is most commonly done. This is the result. All those flashy and expensive signs on the buildings in the distance are mostly obscured from this vantage. Fortunately, the honey locusts closer to the signs can be pruned up higher for adequate clearance.


91023It is easy to mistake various cultivars of Dyckia for diminutive relatives of Agave or Yucca. They form stout rosettes of rigid leaves with wickedly sharp terminal spines. Their comparably nasty but incurved marginal teeth resemble those of most species of Agave, but are generally more abundant. Surprisingly though, Dyckia are instead related to bromeliads. They just happen to be xeric.

Dyckia do not bloom much, but when they do, the tall and arching floral stalks really are more typical of bromeliads. As they bloom late in spring or in summer, the many small individual flowers on each stalk are collectively colorful enough to be delightfully popular with hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Bloom is most commonly rich reddish orange, but some cultivars bloom red or yellow.

No one seems to mind that Dyckia does not often bloom. The foliage is remarkably striking alone. Many cultivars form dense mounding colonies of pups that, although unpleasant to handle, can be divided for propagation. A few toothless cultivars, armed only with terminal spines, are easier to handle. Individual rosettes can be as tall and broad as a foot. Dyckia do not need much water.

Spring Bulbs Get Planted Now

91023thumbTo those who do not enjoy gardening, the process of planting dormant bulbs must seem to be blatantly unproductive. Those of us who know what we are doing are so dutiful to select the bulbs we want, only to bury them in shallow graves in the garden, with nothing to show for all the effort. Knowing that the bulbs are buried at specific depths and orientations makes them no more exciting.

Only cool season annuals that might get overplanted after the bulbs get tucked in will provide any degree of color between now and when the freshly planted bulbs bloom early next spring. Light mulch might be added in conjunction with the overplanted annuals. Thicker mulch can be added without overplanted annuals. Otherwise, there is no immediate gratification with bulbs planted now.

We plant them because we know what they will do next spring. After their boring dormancy, spring bulbs will provide the most spectacular blooms in the garden as winter becomes spring. As they finish, summer bulbs that we might plant a bit later will continue through summer, with the latest continuing into about this time next year. There are no annual bedding plants that do what bulbs do.

Dormant bulbs become available in nurseries when it is time to plant them. Right now, it is time for the early spring bulbs like daffodil, narcissus, tulip, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus, montbretia, crocosmia, crocus, most lily and some types of iris. We should get them into the garden soon so that they can slowly disperse their roots through the cool and rainy winter.

Summer bulbs such as gladiola, dahlia, allium, calla and canna, will become available later because they should probably be planted later. Although some might not mind getting planted early, a few, such as dahlia and canna, would likely be damaged by frost if they started to grow too early. Many of the summer bulbs bloom through a long season, rather than just once for a brief season.

Bulbs and bulb-like plants that bloom only once can be planted in phases every week or two through their season in order to prolong bloom.

First Color Of Autumn

P91013Okay; so this is neither the first, nor real autumn foliar color. It just happened to be convenient for me to get a picture of. Someone left this unfortunate Japanese maple right outside on the driveway a few years ago. It colors early from uncomfortable exposure to late summer warmth. The picture below is even more colorful, and was from even earlier in the year, last August.

Foliage that is starting to color here is nothing to brag about. Some of the older dogwoods leaves just shrivel and turn brown. I can only hope that enough newer foliage lingers to color as well as it did last year. Cottonwoods start to drop foliage while it is still green, but should eventually color to a subdued yellow before the last foliage falls. Sycamores are bland no matter how late.

There are only a few trees that reliably develop vibrant foliar color in such mild autumn weather, and only a few of such trees happen to be in our landscapes here. We lack Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo. The few sweetgum that are scattered about provide most of the foliar color here in autumn. It is still too early for them to color though. They need a bit more chill.

Flowering cherry and dogwood, which are uncommon just a short distance farther inland, happen do do quite well for us, and mostly color remarkably well in autumn. They only need a bit more time and chill. Birches are not as colorful, but are bigger and bolder, and eventually cover the ground below with delightfully yellow foliage. Boston ivy was added only earlier this year.

Native flora does not contribute much color. Bigleaf maple turns only a soft yellow. Poison oak turns rich deep red, but there is not much of it.P80819