Can’t See The Tree For The Forest

This old article reminds me that our work here is never done.

Tony Tomeo

P90818Big trees get big problems. Part of our job is to tend to these problems before they become dangerous. Many of these problems are somewhat easy to identify. A deteriorating ponderosa pine with browning foliage it difficult to ignore if it is tall enough to be seen above the rest of the forest more than a mile away.

There are a few problems that are not so easy to identify. Some are caused by the weather, without prior warning. Others are hidden in the forests. One might think that those in the forests would not concern us. However, our landscape and facilities are so intricately mixed with the forests.

The shiner in the picture above was where a big broken limb needed to be cut from a big fir tree. It may not look big in the picture, but the limb was probably more than nine inches wide, and long…

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Fasciated Lily-of-the-Nile

Three years later, this particular lily of the Nile bloomed with several more similarly fasciated flower stalks. (It split during the past three years.) Others within the same colony also exhibit fasciated bloom though. They all may be genetically identical.

Tony Tomeo

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Floral fasciation is a rare developmental disfigurement of a bloom, supposedly caused by the fusion of two or more blooms. Many fasciated blooms really do look like two blooms stuck together, like double daisies. Alternatively, fasciation can cause distention of a single flower of many on a foral spike of foxglove.

Fasciation of lily-of-the-Nile bloom is typically expressed merely as a few stray florets on the otherwise bare stalk below the main floral truss. A smaller subordinate stalk may seem to be fused to the main stalk below the stray florets.

The specimen in the picture above is exceptional. It really does look like a double bloom, with one stacked on top of the other. The atypically short and stout stem looks like a tightly fused bundle of several smaller stems. Those who do not know better might find the more billowy and more colorful fasciated bloom to be more…

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Six on Saturday: Canna flaccida?!

Canna have been so extensively hybridized that very few modern cultivars are identified by species. They are known merely by their generic designation of Canna with a cultivar name. Canna flaccida is an ancestor of many hybrids, and the only species that is native north of the Rio Grande, but seems to be rare here. I want it! NOW! I should be satisfied with flashier modern cultivars, but I prefer simpler species, especially one from Florida.

Well, it may be here already. Late last spring, at the worst time to dig Canna, I dug a big colony of it from a site that was about to be landscaped. Even after most were recycled to other gardens, the remnants were canned into two dozen #5 cans. One dozen contained three rhizomes each of ‘Wyoming’. The other dozen cans contained five rhizomes each of an unidentified cultivar with narrower green leaves and yellow bloom. That is enough to plant thirty-six linear feet of ‘Wyoming’ and sixty linear feet of the yellow sort! Now that they are blooming, the unidentified yellow sort seems to be the rare Canna flaccida. I do not know for certain, but it keys out accordingly. If so, it is much more than I hoped for!

Two other Canna that live here were omitted from these pictures because there are only Six on Saturday rather than eight. Without its billowy red bloom, the foliage of a cultivar that remains unidentified is indistinguishable from #1 anyway. ‘Cleopatra’ is normally a hot mess of color, but is sharing only green foliage at the moment. Its foliage is typically randomly striped with broad and narrow bands of green like #1 and dark bronze like #2. Its weird bloom is randomly blotched with bright red and bright yellow, like condiments that squirt out the far side of a hamburger, or Pikachu on the grill of a Buick.

1. ‘Edulis’ was a gift from a neighbor. I wanted it for its fat rhizomes, which are like small potatoes. The slender flowers are red. (‘Edulis’ is a group of many cultivars and hybrids.)

2. ‘Australia’ is one of very few plants that I actually purchased. It cost nearly six dollars! A neighbor of my downtown planter box requested bronzed foliage; but I still feel guilty.

3. ‘Musifolia’ may have inhabited one of our landscapes since its construction in 1968. It gets so tall that I bend it down for deadheading. It and ‘Edulis’ produce viable seed. The slender flowers are peachy orange. (‘Musifolia’ is a group of many cultivars and hybrids.)

4. ‘Pretoria’ lived with ‘Musifolia’, but in spring, was dug and canned for protection from gophers. Only four #1 cans of its rhizomes survive. The billowy flowers are vivid orange.

5. ‘Wyoming’ is recovering from relocation while actively growing last spring. Most went directly to new homes. The billowy and vivid orange flowers resemble those of ‘Pretoria’.

6. Canna flaccida remains unidentified. It arrived with ‘Wyoming’, so is also recovering from untimely relocation. The elongated foliage is simple light green. Flowers are mildly fragrant at night. Apparently, only one other extremely rare species of Canna is fragrant.

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

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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