European White Birch

91127Like a flower girl scatters rose petals ahead of a wedding procession, European white birch, Betula pendula, tosses its small deltoid leaves soon after turning soft yellow with autumn chill. Color may not last long on the trees, but becomes a delightful mess for those who appreciate such assets. The primary allure though, is the slender strikingly white trunks, accented with black furrowing.

European white birch is very informal, but also elegant enough for formal landscapes. To best display their gently leaning white trunks, they are popularly planted in relaxed groups. Their canopies are neither broad nor dense, so a few fit together nicely. As lower branches get pruned away, pendulous upper branches sway softly in the breeze. Mature trees are mostly less than fifty feet tall.

Himalayan birch, Betula utilis or Betula jacquemontii, which has become more popular than European white birch since the 1990s, has a completely different personality. Its strictly vertical trunks and upright growth are appealing separately, but incompatible with European white birch. When adding trees to an established grove of any birch, it is very important to procure more of the same.


Autumn Weather Prompts Foliar Color

91127thumb(alternate)Mild climates allow more flowers to bloom through autumn and winter here than in most other parts of America. That is why cool season annuals like pansies and violas are so popular. Cyclamen can be planted now too. None will be obscured by snow. By the time cool season annuals start to fade, warm season annuals will be replacing them. There is something to bloom in every season.

There are a few disadvantages to mild climates, though. Many plants rely on significant winter chill to stay on schedule. Inadequate chill limits the cultivars of apples and pears that are productive here. Not many spring bulbs will naturalize. Prior to winter, some deciduous plants are hesitant to resign to dormancy until they experience a chill that is cool enough to convince them it is autumn.

Some deciduous plants recognize a specific temperature as credible evidence of a change of seasons. Others want a specific temperature to be sustained for a specific duration or repeated for a few nights. Shorter days and longer nights are taken into consideration by species who want to confirm what they deduce from the weather. Different plants use different methods of observation.

That is why deciduous plants who develop foliar color before defoliating in autumn do so on their own terms. Weather conditions that promote excellent color among birches may not be the same that cause flowering cherries to color well. Warmth and minimal humidity that sometimes prompt premature and blandly colored defoliation of sycamores might enhance later color of sweetgums.

Sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo are the most reliable trees for foliar color in autumn. Ginkgo turns only brilliant yellow. The others exhibit an excellent mix of yellow, orange and red. Crape myrtle can be about as colorful, but is not always as reliable.

Of course, there is more to these and other deciduous trees than their colorful foliage in autumn. After all, they are trees. Their particular characteristics and appropriateness must be considered before adding any of them to a landscape.91127thumb

Rose Hips

P91117Chopped dried rose hips can be purchased from a supermarket in town that stocks an impressive variety of useful bulk herbs. They are used as a dietary supplement and remedy for several minor ailments. Although most of the copious vitamin C they contain while fresh is ruined by drying and storage, they are still popularly used as a remedy or preventative for colds and flu.

It would be reasonable to assume that the rose hips that are available in markets would be from a species that has been cultivated and developed for a few centuries. After all, rose hips have been used as an herbal supplement for a very long time. Surprisingly, those that are available in the local market here are from the common and native California wild rose, Rosa californica.

That means that those that grow wild on the outskirts of the landscapes here produce the same rose hips that can be purchased in markets. There are only a few others species of wild rose that grow wild in California, and even fewer that are endemic locally. Those in the picture were actually planted into a landscape composed of natives, but are thought to be Rosa californica.

I normally leave these rose hips for the birds; but because the birds take all my cotoneaster berries, I am not too worried bout them getting enough to eat. I left the rose hips that are pretty where they can be seen, but took quite a few that were out of view on the backside of a riparian thicket of rose bramble. I do not yet know what to do with them, but will figure that out later.

Once dried, these rose hips will be easily pulverized into coarse and seedy ‘grounds’ that can be added to blends of herbal tea.P91117+

Not Quite Rain

P91116KMost of us here agree that the minimal bit of precipitation that fell from the sky on Thursday was not real rain. There are a few different theories about what it actually was though. It could be considered to have been drizzle. It alternatively could have been heavy fog or mist. Some of us make up silly names for what it was, such as fine rain, dusting, spritzes, sprinkles or mizzle.

Is it just me, or do those last three sound like inane kitten names? ‘Dusting’, sounds dirty and dry, which it was not.

Whatever it was, it was the second occurrence of such precipitation since the rainy season ended last spring. Something similar happened on the last day of September. I wrote about it in my other blog, with a picture of it on the hood of a parked car, rather than the windshield. I think it was more of a surprise then because it was earlier, and the chance of precipitation was slim.

This weather pattern is still within what would be considered normal here. The rainy season typically starts a bit earlier, even if with just a single primary storm passing through, followed by a long pause before more follow. There is no strict schedule though. We know that the rain will eventually start, and that rainy seasons that start late tend to provide significantly more rain.

Rain is likely just as uncomfortable here as it is everywhere else. Perhaps it is even dirtier, because it rinses off dust and crud that has been accumulating since spring. No one wants to work in their garden while it is wet. Nonetheless, because there is no rain for nearly half the year, the first storm of a season is something to be celebrated. The forecast predicts no celebration yet.

Six on Saturday: The Endless Summer


Summer really did end here. There was a minimal frostless frost to prove it more than two weeks ago. This climate just happens to lack the more apparent seasonal changes that others get to show off. Except for a bit of drizzle last Thursday, and a bit at the end of September, there has been no rain since last spring. It may seem to be boring, but such weather is normal here.

1. There is typically more foliar color by now. Sweetgums are only beginning to yellow. However, these dogwoods started to defoliate early without much color. This is about as good as it got.P91116

2. Not all of the warm season annuals have been replaced with cool season annuals. These petunias are blooming too happily to be replaced with pansies or violas like we installed elsewhere.P91116+

3. Roses continue to bloom. This one looks like ‘Double Delight’ to me. I really do not know what it is. The flowers are rather small, so it must have noticed that nights are longer and cooler.P91116++

4. These two look silly to me because both are grafted together onto the same standard (tree rose). I believe they are ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Burgundy Iceberg’. I would not mind them individually.P91116+++

5. Even by our local standards, roses should be finishing by now, with only a few that are still blooming when they get pruned in winter. I do not know what this one is, but it still looks great.P91116++++

6. This is my favorite of these six pictures. I do not know what this rose is either. It is in a neighbor’s garden. It did not start to bloom until part was through summer, and is now at its best.P91116+++++

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


41112It is unfortunate that, like Easter lilies and poinsettias, most kalanches, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, are enjoyed while actively blooming, and then discarded as their blooms fade. It is so easy to simply snip out the deteriorating flowers, and grow the small perennials plants for their appealing succulent foliage until they bloom again. They do not get much more than half a foot tall, so can stay in small pots indefinitely. They seem to prefer the porosity of clay pots. Because they can rot, they should be watered when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry, and their drainage saucers should not be allowed to hold water too long. Kalanchoes like bright but indirect sunlight. They can be acclimated to direct sun exposure, but might seem to be somewhat stunted. If brought in before frost, they can be happy out on a patio. The clustered small flowers can be white, pink, red or bright or pastel shades of orange or yellow.

Keep Vegetation Clear From Chimneys

51028thumbFireplaces simply are not what they used to be. Building regulations in many municipalities do not allow for the construction of new fireplaces, except only for pellet stoves. Fireplaces that get damaged by earthquakes are commonly removed instead of repaired. Now that urban sprawl has replaced so many of the rural areas and defunct orchards, firewood is more expensive, even if purchased from a tree service. When a tree needs to be cut down, no one seems to have the time to cut and split the wood.

Modern heating systems are so much more reliable, efficient and just plain easy. Their fuel can actually be less expensive than firewood, and is not nearly as polluting. There is no smoke to offend the neighbors. There are no potentially dangerous sparks. There is no dirty chimney that needs to be cleaned. There is no need for firewood occupying space in the garden. Yet, with all the advantages of other heating systems, many of who still have fireplaces like to use them now that the weather is getting cool.

Because so much heat and a few sparks go out through the chimney, it is extremely important to keep trees and vines away from the top of the chimney. Cypress, pines, cedars, large junipers, eucalypti and fan palms that are not groomed of their dried old leaves are very combustible. Vines like wisteria, bougainvillea, creeping fig and Boston ivy are not unusually combustible, but have a sneaky way of overwhelming chimneys and accumulating debris (and sometimes rat or bird nests!). Any vegetation will be combustible if it gets hot enough. Sparks from burning foliage above can easily ignite old fashioned cedar shingles.

Trees should also be pruned away from roofs, gutters, fences and anything else that can be damaged by the abrasive motion of the stems and foliage in the wind. Stems of deciduous trees lose weight as they defoliate, and may even lift off of roofs that they had been leaning onto just a few weeks ago, but should be pruned accordingly anyway. Branches that have been leaning on a roof for quite a while may have accumulated a bit more debris than would be expected. Gutters and downspouts should be cleared of debris before the rain starts, and may need to be cleared again later where deciduous trees fill them up through autumn and winter.

Horridculture – Clinging Vines

P91113Ivy often climbs into trees, buildings and all sorts of other situations where it becomes problematic. It might have been planted intentionally. It might have grown from seed left by birds. When it gets into trouble, we can easily blame it on the ivy. Even that which was planted was intended to be mere ground cover. It only climbs out of control because that is what ivy does.


This Boston ivy that . . . ‘someone’ planted almost a year ago was actually expected to climb. That is what Boston ivy does. Even if it would be willing to grow as a ground cover, it would not work well as such because it is deciduous. As a climber, it covers freeway sound walls and any associated graffiti with vibrant green foliage that turns fiery orange and red this time of year.

The problem with it is that there are not many practical applications for it. Yes, it does well on freeway sound walls. It also does well on concrete parking structures, where it can not reach painted or wooden surfaces. There are a few unpainted reinforced concrete building out there that it would work nicely on, as long as it gets trimmed around windows, doorways and roofs.

It has no business on painted wooden surfaces, or even stucco. It clings with these weird ‘suction discs’ that never let go! (They do not really use suction, but an adhesive instead.) You can see a few to the right in this picture below. When vines get pruned back every few years, the suction discs remain attached. Although not a problem for concrete, they promote rot in wood.P91113+

What concerns me with the Boston ivy in these pictures is that it grew to the top of the pillars that they were planted on in less than a year. Even if they get pruned down this winter, they will grow farther next year, and will reach the wooden bridge above. It will be a lot of work to keep them pruned back from the bridge.

As you can see I the picture below, Boston ivy is quite pretty on the concrete. Fall color is delayed this year. P91113++

Hollywood Juniper

91120Ah, something vintage! Remember Hollywood juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ (or ‘Torulosa’) flanking big two-car garage doors of mid century modern homes? Those that are still around after half a century are big and strikingly sculptural, like miniature Monterey cypress for home gardens. They get about fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide, but have potential to get significantly larger.

Hollywood juniper is an old classic that is still reasonably available in some nurseries. Their densely foliated stems twist and turn picturesquely upward, typically leaning one way or another toward sunlight or away from prevailing wind. Some say they look like frozen green flames. Their gnarly trunks and flaking bark can be exposed as they grow tall enough for low growth to be pruned away.

Because of their very irregular branch structure, Hollywood juniper is more adaptable to free-formed pruning than the presently trendy junipers with strictly upright or conical form. They must never be shorn, but do not mind if obtrusive limbs get pruned back to the main trunks. Therefore, they are actually more adaptable to smaller modern gardens than some modern cultivars of juniper are.

Evergreen Trees Drop Leaves Too

IMG_20141004_153228As the deciduous trees that will soon be coloring for autumn defoliate for winter, the evergreen trees will become more prominent. Some evergreen trees will drop some of their foliage along with deciduous trees through autumn and winter. Many drop some of their old foliage as new foliage develops in spring, or later in summer. All are on distinct schedules, but are never completely bare.

That certainly does not mean that evergreen trees are not messy. To the contrary, some happen to be significantly messier than some deciduous trees are. They are only evergreen because they do not drop their old foliage until it is replaced by new foliage. Whether individual leaves last just slightly longer than a single year, or for several years, they eventually shed and fall to the ground.

In fact, evergreen trees may shed small but pestering volumes of foliage for a few months or even constantly throughout the year. Some deciduous trees defoliate so efficiently within a very limited time once the weather gets cool, that all of their fallen leaves will be raked away within only two or three weeks. Of course, some trees, both deciduous and evergreen, drop flowers or fruit or both.

Not only do most evergreen trees shed for a longer time than most deciduous trees do, but most shed foliage that is not so easy to rake away. Cypress shed minute and finely textured leaves that are impossible to rake from lawns, but toxic if they accumulate. Juniper and arborvitae are easier to accommodate only because the trees are smaller. Fir, spruce and cedar have bigger needles.

Broadleaf evergreen trees are very different from coniferous trees. Their leaves are considerably easier to rake. They are generally more substantial than those of deciduous trees though. Some may not decompose so readily in deep groundcover. Southern magnolia leaves are notably slow to compost. Instead of producing cones, some broadleaf trees drop acorns or other messy seed.

Nonetheless, where there are compatible with their landscapes, evergreen trees are as practical as deciduous trees are.