Mediterranean Climate Is Something Special

90925thumbThe climate here is pretty cool, at least in winter. Right now, it is pleasantly warm. It does not often get uncomfortably cold or hot, and when it does, it does not stay like that for too long. In between the warmest days of summer, the nights typically cool off nicely. In between the coolest nights of winter, the days typically warm up nicely. Humidity is normally minimal. Rain is adequate in season.

We have here what is known as a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. Obviously, it is similar to many climates of the Mediterranean Basin. Beyond the Mediterranean region, there are not many other places in the World that enjoy such reliably temperate weather. Most of such places are in southern and southwestern Australia, the Western Cape of South Africa, central Chile, and evidently, right here.

This particular region of Mediterranean climate is quite large, and extends into northern Baja California. Native plants know how to live here, and many of those that are adaptable to landscapes and home gardens can survive quite nicely with little or no irrigation. Some exotic (non-native) plants want climates with more warmth in summer, more chill in winter, or more rain through the year.

The best, as well as the worst, exotic plant species for local landscapes are those that are native to other Mediterranean climates.

The worst are those that are so happy in the local climate that they naturalize and become invasive to native ecosystems. Without pathogens or competing species that inhibited their proliferation within their respective native ranges, many naturalized species are detrimentally aggressive in ecosystems that they invade. Pampas grass, broom and Acacia dealbata are familiar examples.

The best exotics are not so threatening. Australian fuchsia, kangaroo paw, coprosma, westringia, bottle brush, grevillea, dracaena palm and eucalyptus originated from Australia. Lemon verbena, mayten and some salvias are from Chile. African iris, lily-of-the-Nile, bird-of-Paradise and all of the aloes came from South Africa. Olive, oleander, cistus, and all the lavenders are Mediterranean.


Another Johnny Appleseed


Just to be clear, I earned the title of Johnny Appleseed before my colleague Brent Green did. While Brent was secretive about our tree planting projects in Los Angeles, I was not so about our similar projects in Los Gatos. While Brent’s neighbors wondered where their new street trees were coming from, mine read about their new park trees in the Los Gatos Weekly Times.

In fact, the exposure from that article is how I started my weekly gardening column in the same newspaper just a few months later, in October of 1998. Los Gatos is a smaller town than Los Angeles is. Secrecy was not an option. Sadly, our projects in Los Gatos, and then in Scott’s Valley, did not continue. We concentrated our urban tree planting efforts in Mid City Los Angeles.

The tree planting projects that I am referring to are our Birthday Trees that I wrote about last January. As I explain in that article, Brent had been wanting to plant trees in the formerly blank and broad medians of San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles. I just happened to be able to supply such trees from those at the farm that got a bit too past their prime to be marketable.

I do not intend to be redundant to that article, but want to share this video, Johnny Appleseed. As much as I hate to admit it, Brent is much more entertaining than I am. (I should later share one of my old videos from Gardening By The Yard, so you can compare.) I should probably look through more of Brent’s old videos to see if there are others that would be interesting.

If I had more time, I would write more about Brent’s work to improve the urban forests of the Los Angeles Region.

Mr. McNugget

P90914KWildlife is a topic that is notably lacking from my articles. I mention only that which must be ‘escorted’ out of the landscapes, like Halston Junior. Gophers, racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, mice, opossums, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, turkeys, geese, woodpeckers, jays, crows, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and feral boars can potentially be problematic.

There are probably at least a few more. This list does not even include bad neighbors or domestic animals. Nor does it include foxes, just because they eat mice, rats and snails, and do not seem to cause any problems. Butterflies and most birds, except those listed, are quite tolerable. Insects and mites that damage plants deserve their own list. I don’t know where ticks fit in.

Most unwelcome wildlife at least tries to stay out of my way. Others seem to make sport of antagonizing me. Skunks try to be friendly; but I must pass on that. Turkeys are . . . just turkeys.

This strangely calm black-chinned hummingbird who watches me from the same spot in a flowering cherry tree is either unaware of my disdain for wildlife, or is merely unconcerned about it. He just sits there . . . silently . . . observing . . . as if plotting or scheming or . . . something. He seems to be harmless; but I really don’t know. He could have sharp talons or another weapon!

I named him Mr. McNugget.

His species is apparently rare. I had nothing to do with that. Even if I believed that he tastes like chicken, I couldn’t catch him anyway. His kind fly at supersonic speed! He might use one of those ‘transporters’ like on Star Trek. Besides, I really don’t want to mess with that. A feral boar would be easier.

Six on Saturday: Recycling Weeds


A weed is a plant where it is not wanted. There are plenty here. There are also a few situations that could use some of the plants that are considered to be weeds in their present situations. Since we are not a ‘landscape’ company that earns more by needlessly disposing of, and installing, as much plant material as possible, we sometimes get to recycle some of our useful weeds.

Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, which I refer to simply as ‘viburnum’, has politely naturalized here. It is not prolific enough to be invasive. It just has a sneaky way of getting around, mostly in irrigated landscaped areas. It lives in the wild too. It sometimes grows into situations where it is an asset. It sometimes becomes a problem. I don’t mind removing it. I am none to keen on it.

A thicket of viburnum is in the process of being removed from an area that will soon be outfitted with a new and more appropriate landscape. Rather than merely removing and disposing of all of the viburnum, we are relocating it into other landscapes where it will be more useful as informal screening hedges. I would prefer to wait until autumn, but the new landscape is waiting.

For the informal screening hedges that we want, these viburnums will work splendidly. They will fit right into the unrefined and unlandscaped areas as if they belong there. Prettier species that I would prefer would be more conspicuous, and look like something that was planted. I know that these recycled plants will initially not be as uniform as nursery stock, but I do not care.

1. This thicket of viburnum has been here as long as anyone can remember. It gets cut down when it gets too high, and takes a few years to regenerate. A new landscape will be going in here.P90914

2. The biggest and gnarliest specimens get discarded. It would not be practical to salvage them. These mid-sized specimens with relatively compact root systems should be easily relocated.P90914+

3. They clean up nicely, with most of their foliage pruned away, and their long stems pruned back. Some of their roots get pruned to facilitate planting, and also to stimulate new root growth.P90914++

4. Once planted and soaked in, many of the relocated specimens seem to be comparable to what might have been purchased from a nursery. Even with the warm weather, wilting is minimal.P90914+++

5. With two more that are out of view beyond the right margin of this picture, these five make a nice hedge of seven newly relocated viburnum. They are nothing fancy, but should work well.P90914++++

6. This is the view that they are intended to obscure, featuring seven dumpsters and various utilitarian unpleasantries. That’s them in a neat row across the lower right corner of the picture.P90914+++++

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

Four O’ Clock

40910Not only does it start to bloom late in summer, but as the name implies, four o’clock, Mirabilis jalapa, blooms late in the afternoon to attract nocturnal moths for pollination overnight. By morning, the white, yellow, variable pink or rarely pastel orange flowers are closed, and their yummy fragrance is gone. Individual flowers often display irregular stripes or blotches of alternate colors, and can be divided into zones that are shaped like slices out of a pizza. Plants get nearly three feet high, but then die to the ground with the first frost. They regenerate from big tuberous roots as winter ends, and can seed profusely.

Cool Season Vegetables Are Coming

40910thumbWhat happened with the tomatoes?! In past years, they were inhibited by mild summer weather. This year, they had plenty of warmth, but did not seem to perform much better. Perhaps they wanted more humidity. Now that those that started slowly are starting to produce better, they do not have much time left before warm summer weather gets cooler towards autumn.

Eventually, cool season vegetables will move into the garden. Seed for the earliest beets and chard may have already been sown directly into the garden. Subsequent phases of beet seed can be sown every three weeks or so until about a month prior to the return of warm season vegetables at the end of winter. Each subsequent phase should begin to produce at about the time that the previous phase gets depleted.

Unlike beet roots that get pulled up completely when harvested, chard produces foliage for quite a while, so is often planted only once. A second phase added sometime in winter may prolong production into late spring. However, by the time the first phase actually finishes, there will be plenty of warm season greens to grow. Because only a few chard plants are enough, they do not need to be grown from directly sown seed, but can alternatively be grown from cell-pack seedlings purchased from a nursery.

Cell-pack seedlings are actually often more practical than seed is for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and some heading lettuces. Seedlings get growing faster, so are less likely to get eaten by pests as they germinate. A cell-pack of seedlings does not cost much more than an envelop of seed, but contains about as many plants as one garden needs.

Carrots, radishes, peas, spinach and leafy lettuces should be grown from directly sown seed because so many individual plants of each variety are needed for adequate production. Besides, carrots and radishes are roots that get disfigured if initially confined to cell-packs; and peas have very sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted. Seed for leafy lettuces grown for ‘baby greens’ can be sown densely because leaves get plucked through the season, without getting very large.

There are three options for growing onions. Seed is practical, but takes a while, and can be the riskiest option for large bulbing onions. Onion sets are tiny onions that grew from seed last year, and only need to be grown another year for plump mature bulbs. They will grow as green onions if planted deeply and harvested early. Crowded cell-pack seedlings grow into tight clumps of disfigured onions, but can be separated and grown into well formed individual onions.

Horridculture – Fake Media

P90911This is no way to get the dirt on someone. There is no dirt involved. If there were, it would be referred to as ‘soil’. ‘Dirt’ is a term used by those who do not know any better.

Anyway, this is about the media that plants are grown in. It might be called growing media, potting media, potting mix or simply potting soil. Some in the horticultural industries might say that, because it is assembled from a variety of components that do not naturally occur together, growing media is synthetic. Because it lacks real soil, most of us refer to it simply as soilless.

Now, I am aware that not all media are created equal. The medium that we grew citrus in was much sandier than what we grew rhododendrons in. It was purchased already mixed specifically for citrus, and ready for use. The medium for the rhododendrons was mixed on site, with more coarsely shredded fir bark (from local mills), less sand and a little bit of perlite.

What I was not aware of, was just how perishable potting media purchased from retail garden centers are. Rather than drive out to the farm for a bin or two of medium, I purchased a bail of common ‘potting soil’ from a garden center about two years ago. I just happened to be there to pick up something else. The cost seemed worth avoiding an extra trip to the farm.

It actually was worth the cost. It did what I needed it to do for a time. The problem I am noticing now is that plants that were not planted or canned up (into larger cans) soon enough are now lacking the volume of medium they need. They need to be stuffed, which involves sliding them out of their cans to add a bit more medium to set them on top of, back in their cans.

The potting soil decomposed too readily. It is as if it rotted into muck that was rinsed through the drainage holes with watering. I suspect that there was more to the medium that the typical simple components. It probably contained significant volumes of compost derived from recycled greenwaste. I certainly have no problem with that. I just would have liked to know about it.

This little American persimmon seedling can stay in this half empty can until winter dormancy. Once dormant, it can be canned into a #5 (5 gallon) can, to resume growth next spring, before it even realizes that it is lacking medium. It will get a happy ending.

Waxleaf Privet

90918Here on the West Coast, privets had traditionally functioned like hollies had in the East. They are conducive to shearing into the big formal hedges that were popular during the Victorian period. Since then, as gardening space became more limited, the common glossy privet became less popular than the more compact and complaisant waxleaf privet, Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’.

Since it does not get much higher than ten feet, and typically stays less than eight feet tall, waxleaf privet is proportionate to urban gardening. As a formal hedge, it can be shorn to stay less than two feet from front to back, although taller hedges look better if allowed to get bulkier. As an unshorn informal screen, it should not get much broader than six feet, with an appealingly billowy form.

Foliage is evergreen and remarkably glossy, sort of like that of holly, but without the prickles. Regularly shorn hedges should not bloom, but might produce a few trusses of tiny white flowers inside of the shorn surfaces. In sunny situations, unshorn glossy privet blooms profusely enough to be mildly fragrant in spring. Bloom sometimes produces floppy clusters of tiny but messy black berries.

Hedges – Living In The Background

90918thumbPretty soon, as autumn weather starts to get cooler, some deciduous plants will develop brilliant color before defoliating for their winter dormancy. Throughout the rest of the year, evergreen plants with gold, silver, bronze, bluish, purplish, reddish or variegated foliage are more colorful than common green foliage is. A few deciduous plants with colored foliage turn different colors in autumn.

Such colorful foliage is generally appealing in the garden. However, there are reasons why not all plants in the garden are so colorful. There really is the potential for too much of a good thing. If all foliage was always colorful, landscapes would look cluttered. Flowers would not be so prominent. There are many situations for which plain and simple evergreen foliage is likely the best choice.

That is why simple evergreen hedges of the various species and cultivars of pittosporum, privet, holly, arborvitae and laurel are still so popular. Some are formally shorn. Where space is sufficient, others are informal screens in which the shrubbery is more or less allowed to assume its natural form and size. The various boxwoods are useful for smaller evergreen and formally shorn hedges.

Most contiguous hedges and screens are intended to separate spaces or obscure fences or buildings. Some sporadic sorts might only expected to disrupt the expansiveness of large buildings or partially deflect prevalent breezes. What they have in common, is that they are in the background. Some are behind or next to lawns, patios or decks. Others are behind more prominent plants.

Shearing hedges that are adjacent to lawns, patios and decks is of course much easier than shearing those that are behind other plants. Screens or hedges behind rose gardens, dahlias, flower beds, or anything that might be damaged by the process of shearing a hedge, should be of the sort that do not need to be shorn regularly. Nor should they be so colorful that they steal the show.

If possible, maintenance of hedges should be scheduled to coincide with the off season of plants in their foreground.

Cortaderia jubata

P90908It is known by a few different common names, including ‘Andean pampas grass’, ‘purple pampas grass’, and simply ‘pampas grass’. ‘Andean pampas grass’ sounds almost like an oxymoron, since the Andes Mountains are in a separate region to the west of the pampas region of Uruguay and eastern Argentina. ‘Purple pampas grass’ is even sillier, since it is devoid of any purple.

I know it simply as ‘papas grass’. That is just how I learned it. The problem with this common name is that it is the same common name of Cortaderia selloana and its cultivars, which is a distinct species that is, on rare occasion, planted intentionally in landscapes. Cortaderia jubata is one of the most aggressively invasive of exotic species on the West Coast, so is not planted.P90908+

Cortaderia selloana is safe to plant because it is ‘supposedly’ sterile, so can not naturalize. Technically though, it is not really sterile, but merely exclusively female, without male flower parts for pollination. It reproduces by apomixis, which is a fancy way of saying that it produces viable seed without pollination. No one has bothered to explain why that makes it any less invasive.

Cortaderia jubata reproduces by apomixis too, but makes much more of problem with it. It is very prolific with its unpollinated seed! To make matters worse, it will hybridize freely with Cortaderia selloana if it gets the chance. How does that even work?! Pollen is needed for that sort of hanky panky! Nonetheless, the hybrids are almost as aggressive as Cortadera jubata is!P90908++

I just don’t trust any of them. Cortaderia selloana cultivars can work well in large landscapes in urban areas, where they can not escape into the wild. For rural or suburban landscapes that are near wildlands, there are plenty of other less invasive options.P90908+++