Horticulturists are by nature, nonconforming. I happen to find it difficult to conform to what makes us nonconforming. Trends are fleeting. Old technology that has worked for decades or centuries is still best. Although I am not totally against chemicals, I find that almost all are unnecessary for responsible home gardening. Pruning is underappreciated, and fixes many problems.
The coloring of foliage is a bit slow this autumn. The cooling nights after such warm weather is bringing some of the deciduous foliage down while it is barely yellowing. Honeylocust and black oak have already gotten notably sparse without much notable color. Hopefully, the more colorful sweetgum, flowering pear, pistache and gingko trees will retain their foliage later into cooler weather, so that they can put on a worthy show before filling compost piles.
It is probably slightly too early to clean gutters and downspouts. Unless the rainy season somehow starts first, this should probably wait until most of the foliage that is expected to fall has already fallen. Lawns, certain ground covers, decks and pavement should be raked as needed though. Decks and pavement can get stained from the tannins that leach from decomposing foliage. Lawn and ground cover do not like the shade under the debris.
However, slugs and snails really dig the mess. Fallen foliage keeps the ground cool, damp and shaded. Raking leaves does not eliminate slugs and snails, but inhibits their proliferation. There are always plenty of other hiding places. As the weather eventually gets cooler and damp, snails that stay out in the early morning should be collected and disposed of. Of course this technique is not convenient for everyone, since most snails hide before the sun comes up. Small slugs hide earlier in the morning and are even more unpleasant to handle.
Once found, neither slugs nor snails are too elusive . . . or fast. Yet, plucking and collecting them is not a fun job. Once collected, no one knows what to do with them. They can be put into plastic bags and disposed of; and will eventually succumb. Some people prefer to simply toss them onto a dry and sunny driveway or roof where they succumb more quickly and get taken by birds. Snails may need to be squashed to limit mobility.
Even though it is too late to prevent most types of weeds from dispersing their seed, a few types continue to disperse seed as they deteriorate through autumn and winter. Weeds in areas that get watered last longer and disperse their seed later than those without watering. Perennial weeds that are still green in dry areas areas will be easier to pull after the first rain.
Gardening is not for everyone. If you are reading this, you probably enjoy gardening. There are many more people who simply are not interested in it. Some tend to their own gardens in a basic manner just to keep their homes looking good. Most hire gardeners to maintain their landscapes for them.
I use the term ‘maintain’ very lightly. What they really do is keep the lawn from getting too deep, and other plants from getting too overgrown. Very few really care how they accomplish these basic requirements.
I could go into the detail about how they brag about saving water while wasting enough to drown trees, or how they shear everything within reach into nondescript . . . whatever they get shorn into, or how most problems that arborists encounter in their work are caused by gardeners. Instead, I am just gong to talk briefly about two examples of…
Where autumn chill is minimal, the best and brightest yellow autumn color is that of the ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba. Some know it at the maidenhair tree. Except for older trees that produce messy and stinky fruit, it is a notably clean tree. Perhaps it is too clean. It drops nothing all year, but can defoliate too soon once it develops it striking autumn color. Minimal chill actually prolongs the process.
Ginkgo is dioecious, with separate genders. Modern cultivars for landscapes are male, so produce no obnoxious fruit. Female cultivars that produce nuts and fruits are not commonly available in nurseries locally. (As objectionable as their aroma is, the nuts and fruits are edible.) Some people may be allergic to the pollen of mature male trees. Many mature trees predate modern cultivars.
Trees are somewhat slender and perhaps sparse while young. They develop a broader canopy as they age. Trees can get more than fifty feet tall, with sculpturally irregular branch structure. Foliar venation radiates outward from the petioles. Leaves, which are about two or three inches long, therefore have the shape of fishtails. Leaves on current season stems are cloven into paired lobes.
Autumn does not get cool enough locally to prevent everything from blooming. A few plants can bloom sporadically all year except only during the coolest part of winter. A few plants naturally bloom in autumn. Cool season annuals begin blooming before warm season annuals finish. Flowers can potentially provide plenty of autumn color if necessary. A mild climate can be a major advantage.
It can also be a disadvantage. Minimal chill causes deciduous foliage to start to get messy before it starts to get colorful. Some deciduous plants shed completely before getting chilled enough to develop appealing autumn color. A few others do not even get cool enough to defoliate completely. They instead retain their shabby old foliage through winter until new foliage replaces it in spring.
Nonetheless, several adaptable deciduous plants get sufficient chill to develop impressive autumn color here.
Sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo are likely the four best deciduous trees for autumn color locally. Sweetgum and Chinese pistache produce the most impressive ranges of vibrant colors. Flowering pear is comparable, but with less yellow, and more rich deep burgundy red. Ginkgo lacks such range of color, but develops the brightest and clearest yellow autumn color.
Boston ivy, crape myrtle and persimmon get about as colorful as sweetgum, even if incidentally to their primary duties. Crape myrtle is popular for its abundant and richly colorful bloom in summer. Persimmon is a fruit tree. Boston ivy obscures graffiti and helps muffle sound on freeway soundwalls. Cottonwood and black walnut turn bright yellow, but in the wild rather than in refined gardens.
Even for the locally mild climate, there are plenty of deciduous plants that provide foliar autumn color. Trees are the most familiar. Vines and shrubbery are also popular. Because this mild climate is marginal for some of them, color is likely to be variable from year to year. Unfortunately, some that perform satisfactorily for inland locations may perform less satisfactorily in coastal conditions.
Remember the movie from 1988? I don’t either. I never saw it. Gang violence is not my idea of a good time. The title ‘Colors’ refers to the use of distinguishing colors by the gangs of Los Angeles. Gang members wear colors that correspond to their respective gang affiliation.
As autumn progresses, some of us get to gloat about our colors. New England gets the most and best colors, with a full range of reds, oranges and yellows, as well as browns and burgundies. The Appalachian Mountains to the south seem to go lighter on the reds and burgundies, concentrating more on oranges. The upper Midwest around Minnesota excels at the rich reds, with yellows confined to groves of cottonwoods. The lower Midwest does well with clear browns alternating with yellows, and even some oranges. The Rocky Mountains have a good range of color, with more gold than the Appalachians…
Main Street and Santa Cruz Avenue are the two main streets of downtown Los Gatos. They are the main shopping district, and the part of town that everyone sees. As much as things have changed, a bit of the familiar remains. Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe is still next door to the (rebuilt) Los Gatos Cinema. The brick La Canada Building miraculously survived the Earthquake. The simple deco Park Vista Building across the street is just as elegant now as it was a century ago. There are still concerts in the Town Plaza in summertime, shaded by the Town Christmas Tree that gets lit up in December.
Both Main Street and Santa Cruz Avenue are outfitted with big planter boxes that give the downtown a more relaxed and colorful ambiance. Each planter is elevated about a foot and a half, and contains one or two Indian hawthorn trees. A low wrought iron…
The last three of these six are rather embarrassing. Perhaps I should have omitted them. Some might find them to be amusing. Some of the buildings here are more than a century old. Even more originally lacked electricity. Much of the wiring is substandard by modern regulations. Some is downright shoddy, and susceptible to damage from . . . vegetation management.
1. Ash is STILL everywhere! Even without rain, it should have blown away in any breeze. Instead, it is a constant reminder of why we must be more diligent about vegetation management.
2. Strangely atypical foliar scorch damaged several rhododendron and a few other plants during evacuation. Sheltered foliage is as scorched as exposed foliage. There is no time for grooming.
3. Volunteers are helping with vegetation management at cabins that are inhabited by some who lost their homes. Even if it were not green, resulting ‘fire’wood is unlikely to be popular here.
4. Before I continue, I should point out the cruddy pipe clamp that is barely attached to weathered trim by only a short screw. It is right there in the middle. Its other short screw is missing.
5. This is what the pipe clamp was supporting. The large box leaning out from the wall is the fuse box. The smaller box is the electrical meter. The pipe to the lower right is electrical conduit.
6. Something so important and potentially hazardous should have been secured by more than two small screws. It should not have been so easily dislodged by a smack from the top two feet of a bay tree. This thing made major sparks when it hit the ground. It could have started another fire! Anyway, the tree was removed. We are actually careful about vegetation management.
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
The 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.
It 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!
As I have been recycling old articles such as this one for the past several weeks, it has been difficult to conform to the ‘Horridculture’ theme on Wednesdays. I will resume the tradition as I eventually resume writing new articles.
Heating homes has certainly changed. It has gotten much more efficient and less polluting. Homes are much better insulated than they were only a few decades ago. Heating systems use much less fuel, and produce much cleaner exhaust. That is partly how more than a million people who live in San Jose now make less smog than when there were half as many.
The unfortunate part of that efficiency is the decline in popularity of traditional fireplaces and stoves. Burning wood is now politically incorrect, and at times, even illegal. ‘Spare the air’ days are strictly enforced when air quality gets unpleasant.
In San Jose, building codes do not allow fireplaces to be build into new homes. Only homes that were build with fireplaces or stoves prior to the ordinance are outfitted with them. Fireplaces that are damaged by earthquakes are often removed instead of repaired.