Italian Stone Pine

P90102Even though it can get about fifty feet tall and wide, Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, often gets planted as a small living Christmas tree into confined urban gardens. It gets so big so fast that it can get to be a serious problem, as well as expensive to remove, before anyone notices. It is really only proportionate to large public spaces such as parks or medians for big boulevards. The bulky trunks typically lean one way or another. The long limbs spread laterally to form an unusually broad and flat-topped canopy.

The paired needles are about four to six inches long. However, small living Christmas trees are still outfitted with juvenile foliage that looks nothing like adult foliage. Juvenile needles are single, very glaucous (bluish) and only about an inch or an inch and a half long. Adult foliage may not develop for a few years. The four or five inch long cones mature slowly for three years. Squirrels and birds like the big seeds, which would otherwise be known as pine-nuts if people could get them first.

(Apologies for this inadequate illustration of Italian stone pines damaged by traffic. It was the only picture of Italian stone pine I could find.)

Christmas Trees – Dead Or Alive

41203thumbChristmas trees are like vegetables. Really, they are like big vegetables that do not get eaten. They are grown on farms, and then harvested and sent off to consumers. Although they smell like a forest, and they are descendents of trees that naturally grow in the wild somewhere, there is nothing natural about their cultivation. In fact, most are grown a very long way from where their kind are from. Therefore, bringing a cut Christmas tree into the home takes nothing from the wild, and does not interfere with nature any more than eating vegetables does.

Firs, particularly Douglas fir, are the most popular of Christmas trees. Pines are probably the second most popular. Redwoods, spruces, cedars, cypresses or even Junipers can also work. They each have their own distinct color, texture and aroma. Healthy and well hydrated trees that continue to get watered as needed should have no problem lasting through Christmas. Ultimately though, cut Christmas trees are not good for much after Christmas, and eventually get composted or otherwise disposed of.

Living Christmas trees might seem like a better option to cut Christmas trees because they dispel any unfounded guilt associated with cut Christmas trees, and initially seem to be less disposable. The problem is that they have problems of their own. Simply purchasing one is a big expense. Even the big ones are smaller than cut trees, but much heavier and unwieldy. Contrary to popular belief, only a few types that grow slowly, such as some spruce, can actually live in a tub for more than one or two years, and even they can be finicky.

The main problem is where to plant a living Christmas tree when it outgrows its container. Conifers innately do not like to be confined for too long. Yet, in the ground, most grow into substantial trees. The common little Christmas trees that are already decorated are actually the worst since they are juvenile Italian stone pines or Canary Island pines, which grow big and fast. Potted trees can not be planted out in the wild because their confined roots need to be watered until new roots can disperse. Even if they could survive, non-native trees should not go into natural ecosystems.

Horridculture – Half-Breed

70726thumbCher explained a long time ago that a half-breed is nothing to brag about. Some of us just don’t get it. A few clients still introduce me to their weirdly bred stone fruit trees as if they are both justification for great pride, as well as something that a professional horticulturist of the Santa Clara Valley has not already encountered a few thousand times. I at least try to act impressed.

The stone fruits that grew in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley half a century ago were the best. That is why they were grown here. The climate and soil were ideal for their production. Traditional cultivars produced so abundantly and reliably that there was no need to breed new cultivars. The quality was exemplary. Consequently, only a few were actually developed here.

Half-breeds, or weird breeds of any unnatural ratio, started to be developed more than a century ago. A few happened incidentally where different species of the same genus of Prunus grew. They were enjoyed as novelties for home gardens, but were not sufficiently productive or reliable for orchard production. Their fruit was for fresh eating only, since it did not dry or can well.

Now that the orchards are gone, and the only stone fruits in the Santa Clara Valley are in home gardens, these weird half-breeds and others are becoming more popular. Nurseries will soon be stocking several along with their incoming bare root stock. There is certainly nothing wrong with them. However, they are not necessarily any better than their well bred ancestors either.

Apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum and prune, as well as almond, are the traditional stone fruits, of the genus Prunus. (Almonds are the seeds or ‘stones’ of a stone fruit that does not get eaten, but instead gets discarded as a hull.) There are many cultivars of each. Some can be canned. Prunes and some apricots can be dried. There is no need for more, or for ‘improvement’.

Pluot, plumcot, aprium, apriplum, nectaplum, peacotum, pluerry and others like them are the weird interspecific hybrids (which are hybrids of two or more species within the same genus, which for these examples is ‘Prunus‘). Some are half-breeds. Some are breeds of different ratios, such as a half-breed with a half-breed parent, or a half-breed grandparent. It is confusing!

It is also an unjustifiable fad. There are more disadvantages to these weirdly bred stone-fruits than there are advantages. They really don’t get the best of both parents, but might get half of each. Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. There are those who legitimately prefer such hybrids. The point is that fads are not necessarily good, and many are just plain weird.

Karo

91211Of all the popular pittosporums in Western landscapes nowadays, the karo, Pittosporum crassifolium, is certainly not one of the most familiar. It might have been one of the earliest to have been popularized here though. Because of its resiliency to coastal climates, it was a common hedge in San Francisco during the Victorian Period. With minimal watering, it did well farther inland too.

Karo are nice fluffy evergreen shrubs that can get fifteen feet tall. They excel both as informal screens and refined hedges, and can be staked as small trees on single straight trunks. Alternatively, lower growth of big shrubby specimens can be pruned up to expose a few delightfully sculptural trunks. ‘Compactum’ is a densely foliated mounding cultivar that might stay less than three feet tall.

The Latin name, Pittosporum crassifolium, is quite descriptive. The literal translation is “sticky-seed thick-leaf”. The two or three inch long leaves are not really thick, but their slightly grayish upper surfaces and more grayish tomentous (fuzzy) undersides make them seem almost succulent. Small and round seed pods eventually split open to reveal dark seed glued together with sticky resin.

Winter Berries Are Showing Color

91211thumbNothing lasts forever. Spring flowers fade. Summer fruit gets eaten. Fall color falls from the trees and gets raked away. Berries and other small fruits that ripen to provide a bit of color through late autumn get eaten by birds and squirrels through winter. Every type of berry and every season is unique. It is impossible to predict how long particular berries will last through any particular season.

It would be presumptuous to believe that colorful berries should remain uneaten in our gardens until they decay. After all, they are produced specially for the birds and rodents who consume them. Their visually appealing bright colors are more culinarily appealing to overwintering wildlife. It is no free lunch though. Well fed wildlife is expected to disperse the seed within the berries they eat.

It is an ingenious system. Wildlife might think that they exploit the inanimate flora who produces the berries and small fruit for them. The associated flora could think that they exploit the mobility of the wildlife who eats their seed laden fruit. Those of us who grow plants who utilize this technique get to enjoy the color of the fruit while it lasts. Some of us prefer to enjoy the wildlife attracted to it.

Firethorn (pyracantha), toyon, cotoneaster and English hawthorn are the best for colorful red berries in late autumn and winter. All are of the family Rosaceae, and produce similar clusters of small bright red or maybe reddish orange berries. Yellow firethorn is rare here. Cotoneaster can be tall shrubbery, sprawling shrubbery, or groundcover. Only English hawthorn is a deciduous small tree.

The many species and cultivars of holly are unrelated to the family Rosaceae. In other regions, some are famous for producing seemingly similar berries. However, those that are the most prolific with berries are unpopular here. Those that are somewhat popular produce only a few berries due to a lack of pollinators. (They are dioecious, so female plants must be pollinated by rare males.)

This is the time of year to appreciate the colorful berries while they last.

Deciduous Evergreens

P91201Well, that is certainly a contradiction of terms. One might say it is an oxymoron. Decades ago, it really was how we classified what we now know more simply as ‘deciduous conifers’. There are not many of them. Ginkgo is a gymnosperm like conifers are, but is not really a conifer. Otherwise, there are only five other types of deciduous conifers, which defoliate through winter.

Laryx is a genus of about a dozen species that are known collectively as larch. Taxodium includes two species known as bald cypress, as well as a third evergreen species. Pseudolaryx amabilis, known as golden larch, Glyptostrobus pensilis, known as Chinese swamp cypress, and Metasequoia glyptostroboides, known as dawn redwood, are all three monospecific genera.

Some species of larch are common within their respective natural ranges. So are the bald cypresses. The others are quite rare. However, dawn redwood became a fad decades ago, so is not so rare in landscape situations. To those of us who expect all conifers to be evergreen, deciduous conifers seem to die suddenly in autumn. To some, it is not exactly a desirable characteristic.

The dawn redwood above lives in our landscapes. The tall evergreen trees behind it are native coastal redwood. Obscured by the yellowing birch to the right, a small giant redwood (another oxymoron) represents the third and only other species of redwood. The fall color of this dawn redwood appeals to some, but to others, it looks like one of the native redwoods abruptly died.

Our bald cypress below does not look so much like a dead redwood. The foliar texture and branch structure are quite distinct. The cinnamon brown fall color is actually rather appealing.

Of course, these pictures are nearly two weeks old. By now, both trees are likely bare because of the rain.P91201+

Rainy Season

 

 

As I mentioned this morning, the first storm since spring delivered a bit more than an inch and a half of rain before dawn on Wednesday, ending the fire season. The second storm is here right now. It is expected to be followed by a continuous series of storms that will provide rain through Monday, showers through Thursday, more rain on Friday, and showers . . . forever!

It is now the rainy season.

The video above shows what rain does. It gets things wet. It is, after all, composed of water. It falls mysteriously from the sky, which, as you can plainly see, is occupied only by a mostly monochromatic gray cloud cover. Seriously! There is nothing else up there. There is no one on the roof with a hose or anything of the sort. All that water just falls from the cloud cover above.

I could not get video of individual raindrops falling. They are too small and too fast. Only a few can be seen indirectly in the video, falling in front of the water cascading from the rusted out gutter. The spots on the video are raindrops that landed on the lens, so were no longer so animate. The cascading water is, of course, an accumulation of many raindrops that fell on the roof.

Besides ending the long fire season, rain also disrupts the slim fall color season, when foliage of certain deciduous trees turns color as the weather cools in autumn. There is not much to brag about anyway. Only a few native trees are moderately colorful. More colorful exotic trees are not very popular because they do not color as well as they do where autumn weather is cooler.P91130K

Before the rain, these birches were a nice clear yellow, but were already defoliating. Their fallen leaves were as pretty on the ground as they were in the trees, but unfortunately needed to be blown. By now, there is likely more on the ground than there is in the trees, but it will need to be blown too. At least it gets to stay on the open ground in the rest of the casual landscape.P91130K+

The only tulip tree here got cool enough to defoliate before the birches this year, but not quite cool enough to color well first. It is a grand tree nonetheless. We do not expect exemplary color in autumn in our splendidly mild climate anyway. The sweetgums will compensate. They are only beginning to color, and should hold some of their foliage rather well through the weather.P91130K++

Six on Saturday: First Storm

 

The first storm since spring came through Tuesday night. It was cool enough for a bit of snow on the summits of the Diablo Range, including Mount Hamilton, east of the Santa Clara Valley. The fire season is now over. More storms are forecast. More will continue through the remainder of winter and into spring. Even chaparral climates eventually get a seasonal ration of rain.

1. An inch and a half of rain is generous for a first storm. It is more than 10% of what my garden in town got annually. This side of the Santa Cruz Mountains gets about three times as much.P91130

2. My reflection in the rain caught in this ‘tote’ is not as artistic as it was in the green bucket last year. I tried. A flash would have added interest. I do not really know how the camera works.P91130+

3. Cyclamen, even the common florists’ type, deserve more than to be grown as cool season annuals, and then discarded in spring. I can rant about that later. For now, they sure are pretty.P91130++

4. After the rain, even a close up of this seriously abused juniper is pretty. It was recycled from one site into another, only to be removed again. It is now canned and waiting for a new home.P91130+++

5. Storms are messy. There was not much wind with this storm. Nonetheless, rotten limbs get heavier and softer as they get soaked by rain. This one broke apart more as I dragged it away.P91130++++

6. What is worse than runoff from the road washing away some of the yellow birch foliage dislodged by rain, is that it likely took away some of the amaryllis seed tossed out here earlier.P91130+++++

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/

Persimmon

41126A mature persimmon tree, Diospyros kaki, is often too much of a good thing. The fruit is both big and abundant as it ripens this time of year. Much of the fruit in taller trees is out of reach. Nearly ripened but somewhat firm fruit can be picked and shared with neighbors for a while, but must be picked immediately once completely ripe. Otherwise, it falls and makes a squishy mess that can not be raked up! Nearly ripe fruit ripens easily off the tree. Individual fruits only need to be spread out in a single layer to limit molding.

‘Fuyu’ is probably the most popular variety because the ripe fruit can be eaten while still firm, or after it has gotten soft. ‘Hachiya’ produces the largest fruit, sometimes bigger than a softball; but the fruit is too astringent to eat until completely ripe. It is actually best after it is so overly ripe that it is too squishy to handle. Persimmon fruits are very bright orange. ‘Hachiya’ fruit can be slightly reddish. The foliage gets just as colorful. Typically, the foliage colors first, and then falls to reveal the fruit. This year, the fruit seems to be coloring first.

Colorful Autumn And Winter Berries

41126thumbBefore the colorful foliage of autumn falls and gets raked away, a few types of berries and fruit start to provide a bit of color to last into winter, or at least until birds and other wildlife eat them. Technically, the most colorful berries are actually intended for the birds, both those that overwinter and those that migrate south for the winter. The berries are designed by the plants that produce them to both entice birds, and to reward them for dispersing the seeds within.

Pyracantha (or firethorn) is the most colorful of the berries. Cotoneaster is similar, but not quite so prolific. Toyon and English hawthorn, which can grow as small trees, produce open clusters of similar bright red berries. Of these, only English hawthorn is deciduous, and can defoliate before the berries disappear. Although such fruit is abundant, it is not often messy because it gets devoured before it reaches the ground. However, the birds can be messy.

English holly really should produce more berries than it does, but there are not enough pollinators out there. (Hollies are dioecious, which means that plants are either male or female. Female plants need male pollinators to produce fruit.) Decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, male pollinator plants were marketed with female plants. Some other types of holly somehow make a few more berries, especially as they get older.

Loquat, mahonia, pomegranate and some flowering crabapples try to produce colorful fruit, but are not quite as colorful. Pomegranate fruit can be impressive in its own way, but are just rusty reddish brown on the outside. Strawberry tree produces a few red berries throughout most of the year. Many types of pittosporum develop fruit, but most are about as green as their foliage. The sticky amber seeds are ‘interesting’ when the fruit splits open, if anyone happens to look that closely.

Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, mandarins and other citrus will be colorful later in winter, even though they do not care if they attract any birds. For now, persimmons are the biggest and most colorful fruits out in the garden.