Montbretia

Bright orange montbretia is quite reliable and resilient, but can easily become a weed if not groomed of fading flowers.

Once they get into the garden, montbretia, Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora, may never leave. They sometimes survive the demolition of their original garden to emerge and bloom in the garden of a new home built on the same site. Bulbs (actually corms) multiply surprisingly efficiently to form large colonies that should eventually be divided if they get too crowded to bloom. Ungroomed plants sow seeds that may be invasive.

The one or two inch wide flowers are almost always bright orange, but can sometimes be reddish orange, yellow or pale yellow. The branched flower stems are two or three feet tall or a bit taller, and stand nicely above the grassy foliage. The narrow leaves are about half and inch to an inch wide.

Catch Weeds Before They Go To Seed.

Seed pods not only look unkempt and inhibit continued bloom, but can disperse too many seeds of otherwise worthy plants.

It may seem futile to pull certain weeds this late in the season. Those in unrefined parts of the garden that get little or no irrigation might be so dry that they only deteriorate and scatter their abundant seeds when pulled. The soil may be so dry that roots are difficult to extract, especially since the drying foliage now separates from the roots so easily. The only hope is that removal of dying weeds might eliminate at least some of the seeds for the next generation of weeds.

Foxtail and burrclover are not only annoying, but are also dangerous to dogs and cats as their seeds mature and dry. After all, the seeds rely on animals for dispersion, so intentionally stick to fur. The problem is that seeds can get stuck in more than fur, and sometimes get into ears, eyes, nostrils and elsewhere. Seeds from a few other weeds can do the same.

Cheeseweed is not a dangerous weed, and is relatively easy to eradicate. The roots even stay attached to the stems when they get pulled. The problem with leaving them to mature is that they become infested with rust (a fungal disease) that spreads to other desirable plants. Saint John’s wort, snapdragons and roses are particularly susceptible to rust.

Feral Jupiter’s beard and montbretia that grow where they were not intentionally planted are often allowed to bloom before getting pulled. However, after bloom, stems separate so easily from roots that most of the roots remain to regenerate as soon as they are able. If left long enough after bloom, both Jupiter’s beard and montbretia sow seeds to infest even more.

Fortnight lily (or African iris) are not often a weed, but can get that way if their seed capsules are not removed before they mature and pop open. Besides, development of these capsules diverts resources from continued bloom. It is best to remove the capsules before they get floppy, and to remove as much of the finished flower stem as possible without removing stems that have not yet bloomed.

Both dusty miller and coleus are grown for their distinctive foliage but not their bloom. Flowering stems stretch and exhibit inferior foliar color and texture, so can actually get snipped before they bloom.

Horridculture – Stumpy

Working for some of the best arborists in Santa Clara County has certain disadvantages. It has made me intolerant of hackers.

Tony Tomeo

P90814Among pines, firs, redwoods and most excurrent trees (with central leader trunks), stubs or stumps of limbs that were shed are common and more apparent than they are among decurrent trees (which branch into many main limbs). The older lower stubs slowly but eventually decay and fall away as the trunks compartmentalize (heal over) where they were formerly attached.

However, wild trees are rarely completely without such stubs. As the older lower stubs are shed, newer stubs develop higher up. The worst of their stubs get pruned away only when more refined landscapes are developed around such trees, and they get pruned accordingly. If the trees get groomed regularly every few years or so, not many new stubs get a chance to develop.

When pruning out viable limbs, they must be cut cleanly from the trunk or supporting limb, without stubs. Since they do not deteriorate slowly before falling away…

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Licorice Plant

Licorice plant can become vegetative mulch.

This is not the genuine licorice of confectionery. This more popular home garden licorice plant, Helichrysum petiolare, is more of an ornamental plant than a culinary herb. Its mild foliar aroma resembles that of genuine licorice, but is very faint. Without disruption of the foliage, the aroma is imperceptible. Since the foliage can be toxic, the flavor is irrelevant.

Licorice plant is popular for its appealingly silvery foliage. Some cultivars are variegated. ‘Limelight’ is strikingly pale silvery chartreuse. The small, rounded and evergreen leaves are distinctly tomentous (slightly fuzzy). The sprawling stems tend to disperse over older growth, and might get deeper than a foot and a half. Mature plants get wider than six feet.

Licorice plant is susceptible to extremes of temperatures. Within more severe climates, it appreciates a bit of partial shade during excessively warm and arid weather. Foliage can roast from harsh exposure. Where winters are cool, foliage appreciates shelter from frost. Roots are susceptible to rot with excessively frequent watering, or inadequate drainage.

Mulch Retains Moisture And Insulates

Mulch helps to insulate the soil.

Nature is smart. It should be. It has been operating efficiently since the beginning of time. That is certainly longer than anyone has been gardening in defiance of nature. Imported plants that need unnatural watering and soil amendment continue to benefit from nature. Some assets, such as weather, are direct from nature. Some, such as mulch, are copied.

Summers are long, dry and somewhat warm here. Without rain, there is plenty of time for the soil that roots inhabit to become dry. Warmth and aridity increase the consumption of moisture by plant species that are not accustomed to such extensively dry weather. That is precisely why landscapes and home gardens are so reliant on supplemental irrigation.

Because water is expensive, plants that do not require much of it are popular. Automated irrigation systems should operate as efficiently as possible to minimize waste. Since turf grass is very consumptive, lawns should not be overly expansive. Conservation of water is common here. There are several techniques for doing so. Mulch is one of the simplest.

Although adding mulch to a garden is unnatural, it works like the natural detritus within a forest. It retains moisture and insulates the surface of the soil. Without mulch, surface soil can become uncomfortably dry and warm for roots. Mulch also inhibits the proliferation of weeds. Because weeds consume moisture, their absence indirectly conserves moisture.

Mulch generally goes into the garden during early spring, before weed seed germinates, and after the removal of the detritus of winter. It can be practical at any time though, even as the soil becomes dry and dusty through summer. Various forms of mulch are available from garden centers. Home compost works splendidly, but costs nothing more than labor.

Alternatively, several types of groundcover can function as mulch. Some types consume more moisture than they conserve, but exclude weeds. Some types, such as ceanothus, lantana and licorice plant, might not crave any more water than the plants they surround. Their maintenance should involve less effort than removal of weeds which they displace. They are more visually appealing anyway.

No Cherry On Top

After three years, this tree is developing a healthy upper canopy with adequate clearance above walkways.

Tony Tomeo

P90811Weeping flowering cherry is another type of tree that almost never gets appreciated like it should. Like so many Japanese maples, they get planted into situation where so-called ‘gardeners’ shear them into nondescript globs of worthless foliage that only get in the way. Some get shorn so regularly that they are deprived of bloom. Their form and bloom are their two main assets.

The climate here is not easy on them either. Although comfortably mild, the climate is also arid. This aridity enhances the potential for sun scald of exposed bark. Because upper limbs bend over to hang back downward, their bark is more exposed than that of upright flowering cherries. Consequently, upper limbs are often scalded and ruined, disfiguring the remaining canopy.

Pruning can be complicated. Removal of scalded upper growth exposes inner growth that is more sensitive to scald. It is sometimes necessary to leave damaged upper growth…

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The Grass Is Not Always Greener

After three years, this artificial lawn is still in reasonably good condition. A few more melted patches appeared, and some areas are more worn than others, but in regard to the traffic that the lawn experiences, such damage and wear is expected.

Tony Tomeo

P90810KThe lawn around the three small but gnarly oaks that were featured this morning in ‘Six on Saturday: Do Not Sit On Tree‘ was not always so perfectly green and uniform. Only a few months ago, it was real grass. Well, it was ‘sort of’ real grass. It was mostly dusty sand with some grass growing it in. There were weeds too, but even they were not very happy to be there.

Maintenance was ridiculous. Because some of the grass was actually alive, it needed to be mown regularly, which sometimes rutted damp soil, but more often blew dust from dry soil into the surrounding buildings. Because the soil retained such minimal moisture, the lawn needed to be irrigated regularly; but because of the old oaks trees, it could not be irrigated too generously.

The only reason that the lawn was there at all was because it got…

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Six on Saturday: Bad Habit

Growing horticultural commodities can be a very rewarding occupation, even if not very lucrative. Growing random plants merely because they are available may be a bad habit. Sometimes, I procure propagation stock intentionally because I want to grow copies of a particular plant. Perhaps more often, I grow something merely because I can not bear to discard good propagation stock or actual plants. That is why there are so many homeless cannas here now! After I prune zonal geraniums, I feel obligated to process all the scraps into cuttings rather than simply discard them into the compost.

1. Opuntia (of unidentified species or hybrid), prickly pear lives at a clinic in Santa Cruz. Someone with a weed whacker busted off a few pads. It is good for both nopal and tuna. It is shabby and canned because someone with a weed whacker here kept cutting it also.

2. Clivia miniata, Natal lily was pulled from a trailside prior to weed whacking. I do not know if it is feral from seed or a cultivar from landscape debris. They have not bloomed.

3. Iris pseudacorus, yellow flag is naturalized in a roadside ditch in Ben Lomond. It is an invasive species in some regions. Therefore, it must be contained and deadheaded here.

4. Platanus racemosa, California sycamore was a sucker on one of the big trees at work. It pulled off with roots attached, so got canned. Its trunk died, so is now replacing itself.

5. Washingtonia robusta, Mexican fan palm needed to be removed from a yard in Santa Clara. Many were in pavement. Someone else got most that were salvageable. I got eight.

6. Cinnamomum camphora, camphor tree seedlings grew out sidewalk expansion joints at a job in San Jose. I pulled some out. A few came out with roots, and grew up like this.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Peach

Fresh tree ripe peaches are best.

Of all the stone fruit trees like apricot, plum and cherry, none need more aggressive and specialized pruning while dormant in winter than peach, Prunus persica. The distinctively fuzzy fruit is so big and heavy that the weight of too much fruit tears limbs down. Pruning not only limits fruit production, but improves structural integrity, fruit weight distribution, fruit quality, and tree health. Mature trees should be kept less than ten feet tall, but often get twice as tall with much of the fruit out of reach.

Squirrels Fear The Unknown Too

Pierre Francois dutifully protects ripening fruit.

It is embarrassing when my mother teaches me a practical gardening technique that I should have known about, especially if the particular technique is as simple and downright silly as what my mother does to protect ripening fruit from squirrels. A friend of hers suggested it; and it seems to be significantly more effective than the few fancier ideas that I recommended.

I should first mention that there is nothing new about repelling animal pests with effigies of other animals that they are afraid of. Scarecrows and stuffed snakes and owls have been around for centuries. As the name implies, scarecrows scare crows who perceive them to be potentially troublesome people. Rats and terrestrial rodents avoid snakes. Squirrels and some birds are afraid of owls.

When I was in about the fourth grade, I remember that National Geographic World magazine (which is now National Geographic Kids) featured a silhouette of a predatory bird that could be cut out and taped to windows to deter birds that might otherwise break their necks as they tried to fly through the clear glass. The associated article explained that the cut-out silhouette was effective because birds instinctively knew what to fear. A silhouette of a harmless seagull would not have been as effective.

However, some deterrents are not so specific, but instead rely on the fear of the unknown. Beach balls outfitted with decals of huge eyes look weird in the garden, but work because so many birds have bird brains that think such contraptions are big, scary and possibly predatory animals. Flash tape and old compact discs work simply because birds do not know what the reflected flashes are.

Scarecrows and other inanimate effigies should be relocated occasionally so they seem to be alive. They should stay near what they are in the garden to protect, and not loiter when it is gone. For example, if protecting ripening fruit, they should leave after the last of the fruit is gone. Otherwise, the target pest animals realize that they are fake or dead. Beach balls, flash tape and compact discs are more animated, so need not be moved so much, if at all, but are too tacky to stay all year.

All this may seem complicated, but can be simple enough for my mother to master with . . . well, allow me to explain.

Pierre Francois is a cute, fuzzy and seemingly French plush toy bunny made in China, who knows all about protecting ripening fruit from squirrels. (‘Stuffed animal’ is no longer politically correct.) After seeing how expensive a fake owl would be, my mother put Mr. Francois in the peach tree. He and his sort are free if borrowed (stolen) from the grandchildren, or very cheap at garage sales or thrift stores. Although cute and soft to us, Mr. Francois is big, intimidating and unfamiliar to squirrels. Before the squirrels get acquainted with him, the peaches will have been harvested, and Pierre Francois will have been reassigned to an apple tree.