Chrysanthe-Mum Is The Word

51021Only a few decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, potted blooming plants like chrysanthemums, orchids, azaleas, hydrangeas, lilies and even poinsettias, got the respect that they really deserve. Now they are more commonly purchased in full bloom, enjoyed only as long as their bloom lasts, and then discarded as their blooms deteriorate.

Some get put outside, but often die before they actually get repotted or planted into the garden. Many of those that do get planted, die when their sensitive greenhouse-grown foliage gets scorched by real sun exposure. Others succumb to desiccation before they can disperse their roots. Only orchids want to stay in their original pots for a while, but they rarely get the attention and regular watering that they crave.

Chrysanthemums happen to be in season now, both as potted plants for the interior of the home, and as autumn annuals in the garden. Yet, they are quite sustainable as perennials that can live for quite a few years. They only need to be groomed accordingly so that they can bloom in season, and new stems can replace the old. When they get planted into the garden, multiple plants in a single pot should be separated.

Many chrysanthemums get tall enough to require staking. If left to perform naturally, they bloom profusely. Hobbyists who want to grow larger flowers remove axillary flower buds (sideshoots) to concentrate resources into single terminal (top) flowers that most effectively display their distinctive colors, textures and forms. Sadly, many of the most impressive chrysanthemums have become rare as more profuse bloomers have become more popular.

The Chrysanthemum Society, which can be found on Facebook, is one of the most reliable resources for anyone wanting to grow some of the rare but really fancy exhibition types of Chrysanthemums. The internet makes it possible to get involved with regional chapters well beyond their designated regions. Chrysanthemum fanatics are more than happy to show off and talk about their favorite flowers.


Horridculture ā€“ Arborists Are . . . Unique.

80221thumbThere are many different types of horticulturists. We are all unique, both individually as well as collectively within our respective professional group classifications. For some of us, individuality interferes with conformity to the collective generalizations that are so commonly associated with our collective groups. For some of us, the stereotypes are a perfect fit.
‘Primarily’, I am a nurseryman. We are the intellectual ones. Well, at least we get most of the credit for being the intellectual ones. Most of us really are quite intellectual. Most of us are rather humble about it.
My excuse for nonconformity to the latter is that I am ‘secondarily’ an arborist. Arboriculture is something that I have never been able to get away from. I did an internship with the most excellent arborists in the entire universe in the summer of 1988. After all these years of mostly growing horticultural commodities, I still sometimes conduct inspections and compile reports for trees that other arborists and their clients are concerned about.
You see, arborists are the passionate ones. One might say that we are enthusiastic, fanatical and zealous. Nurseryman might say that we lack restraint and cultural refinement. It is not such a simple task to distinguish between exuberant dedication and primitive efficiency. Regardless, most arborists do not like to write reports. It is easier to get a nurseryman to do it.
In fact, arborists do not like to write much of anything. There are several elaborate blogs that are written by nurserymen; but blogs written by arborists are rare, with brief and infrequently posted articles.
The irony of this is that it is more important for arborists to express professionalism with clients than it is for nurserymen. Arborists are out in the real world, working directly with clients. Nurserymen work on the farm, isolated from those who purchase the horticultural commodities that are grown there.
Arborists are horticulturists who specialize in the horticulture of trees. The best are just as educated and experienced as nurserymen are. In fact, much of my education was derived from arborists. Yet, arborists are so often regarded as mere gardeners who go up trees.
That is where I get offended. Yes, I am aware that there are hackers out there. I am also aware of what clearance pruning of utility cables entails. I also know how serious my arborist colleagues are about their profession. They are not to be compared to gardeners.
There are many gardeners who are just as educated, experienced and proficient with horticulture as arborists and nurserymen. However, the majority of gardeners are not. I will not elaborate on this presently. It will be the subject of other rants. I have written articles about my professional experience with gardeners already, and none of them go well. (I lack experience with good gardeners simply because they have no need for my expertise.)
The picture above is an example of a sycamore that is pollarded in the traditional English style. The work is exemplary, and is repeated annually every winter. It is no simple task. I certainly would not want to do it. I can not think of any other nurseryman who would know how to do it properly. It is the work of a very skilled and very experienced arborist.

Bigleaf Maple

81024It is native from the extreme southern tip of Alaska to the extreme southwestern corner of California, but not many of us will see bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, in our neighborhoods. It is planted only rarely, particularly where winters are mild. Relative to other maples, its roots can be more aggressive, and its shade can be darker, so is likely to interfere with lawn and other plants.

Mature trees in exposed situations can get more than fifty feet tall and quite broad. Old wild trees that compete with other trees in a forest can get three times as tall! The big palmate leaves from which the name is derived are about half a foot to a foot wide, and can get a two feet wide on the most vigorous or shaded growth. They turn a nice golden yellow in autumn, even in mild climates.

Bigleaf maple is like the sugar maple of the West. The sap can be processed into maple syrup and sugar. The wood is made into furniture and musical instruments. The very ornamental wood known as bird’s eye maple is derived from burl growth of various maple specie, particularly bigleaf maple. Bigleaf maple is uncommon in landscapes only because it is so aggressive and big.

Autumn Is For Planting ā€“ Especially Bulbs

81024thumbAutumn is for planting. Cliche? Yes; but true. Autumn is when most plants are beginning dormancy, and are therefore not so bothered by the discomforts associated with transplant. The weather is cooler and wetter, so that even if they are bothered, such discomforts are not as discomforting as they would be in summer. Once in the ground, plants have a few months to recover before spring.

The two main exceptions to the rule that ‘autumn is for planting’ are plants that are sensitive to frost, and bare root plants. Plants that are sensitive to frost should obviously be planted after the last frost date, at the far end of winter. Bare roots plants do not wait that long, but should wait until they are completely dormant in mid winter before being dug, separated from their soil, and relocated.

Dormant bulbs and bulb like plants, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, epitomize the autumn planting rule. They must be planted while dormant in autumn or winter. They arrive in nurseries about the same time that they should be planted into the garden. Spring blooming bulbs become available and should be planted earliest. Summer bulbs become available a bit later.

Daffodil, narcissus, tulip, crocus, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus, montbretia, crocosmia, most lily and some types of iris will all want to get into the ground when the rain starts. Rain leaching through the soil around them, as well as cooler temperatures through winter, tell them what time of year it is, so that they will be ready to bloom when weather warms in spring.

Each type of bulb prefers to be planted at a particular depth. Bearded iris rhizomes want to be buried horizontally, just below the soil surface. As long as the latest get planted within their respective planting season, some types of bulbs can be planted in phases every week or two, so that a later phase starts to bloom as an earlier phase finishes. Daffodil, narcissus and especially grape hyacinth have the potential to naturalize and bloom annually. Montbretia and crocosmia can be downright invasive.

Indian Laurel

61019It is hard to believe that such a delightfully robust and luxuriant tree like the Indian laurel, Ficus microcarpa nitida, can be so problematic. It looks so perfect, with lustrous evergreen foliage, like something that would be seen on Sesame Street. The broad and dense canopy is very symmetrical and neat. The stout trunk and limbs, outfitted with whitish gray bark, are bold and sculptural.

The problem is that the roots are so extremely aggressive. Buttressed roots elevate curbs, sidewalks and anything else that they can get under. Fibrous roots clog drainage, and strangle roots of more complaisant plants. Indian laurel is a tree that really needs room to grow. The canopy can get wider than fifty feet, and roots will spread much farther if they want to. Fortunately, Indian laurel shorn as a hedge has less foliage, so does not need to disperse roots so extensively.

Memorial Memorial

P81014The little Memorial Tree in Felton Covered Bridge park that I so frequently write about is not the first to be planted there in its parking lot island. It is actually the fourth! The first was a California black oak like the other four in the other islands. They were all planted with the original landscape. It did not live there long before getting run over by a car. The island was empty for many years.

The second tree (above) was an Eastern red cedar that I brought from Oklahoma. It arrived here very early in the morning on the last day of 2012, in a bag with a few others that I pulled out of the ground the day before we left. They may be nothing special within their native range, but they are very exotic to me. At the time, I had no plans for the small trees. I just wanted to grow them.

I was downtown and up late the following night when I realized that it was nearing midnight between 2012 and 2013. I took out a trowel, dug a small hole in the island, and planted one of the Eastern red cedars right at the moment that one year changed to the next. I did not give it any more thought than that. Otherwise, I would have preferred a native species like the Park was originally landscaped with.

Sadly, that tree lasted only a few months before succumbing to what dogs do to young trees in parking lot islands. It was a bare root tree, so was not very resilient.

The third tree (below) was a native bigleaf maple that was planted the following winter between 2013 and 2014. It did not get much more planning than the Eastern red cedar. I found it growing on the side of the road where it would have been killed by vegetation management within the utility easement. Like the little Eastern red cedar, I pulled it up and planted it bare root. It was a better choice in some ways, but would have needed to be watered by bucket for the first few years. It survived through the first year and half way through 2015 before it too succumbed to what dogs do. I was being optimistic by thinking that a bare root tree would survive that.

The fourth tree is the little native valley oak Memorial Tree that is there now. I found it for just a few dollars at a local nursery. It was planted in the winter between 2015 and 2016, so this was its third summer. It was a canned tree, so started with more of a root system than the previous two trees that were planted bare root. Nonetheless, life out in that exposed parking lot island is not easy. The tree was severely damaged by weed whackers both in 2016 and in 2017, so barely grew, and is recovering slowly. It is quite well rooted now, so should have a much better season next summer. – This is a link to one of the more recent articles about the Memorial Tree. It includes a link to another previous article, which also links to other older articles. I really do not remember how many updates I have written about the Memorial Tree.P81014+

Fall For Spring Bulbs Now

61019thumbThey are certainly not much to look at now. They are even less interesting once buried out of sight in the garden. The big and colorful pictures on the boxes that they arrive in are probably a bit more spectacular than the flowers expected early next spring will actually be. Nonetheless, it will be amazing to see such flashy bloom emerge from seemingly lifeless bulbs that get planted now.

Dormant bulbs are so easy to plants precisely because they are dormant, and therefore lacking any foliage, bloom or roots that can be damaged in the process of planting. They only want to be planted at the right depth, and preferably in the correct orientation (with their tops up and their bottoms down). They like to be planted now, so that they can slowly chill through cool winter weather.

Chill through winter is important to convince dormant bulbs that it really is winter. In such a mild climate, some plants might wonder about that. Cool winter weather either initiates the development of blooms within dormant bulbs, or stimulates bloom as weather subsequently warms. Many tulip, hyacinth, anemone and ranunculus might not get enough chill here to bloom after their first year.

Daffodil, narcissus, grape hyacinth and some iris are not so discriminating. They are likely to bloom even better in their second spring, and can naturalize in good soil with occasional watering. Freesia and crocus might also naturalize, but want more water. Crocosmia and montbretia can actually be invasive. Dahlia and gladiola are summer bulbs, so will be available for planting later.

All bulbs, as well as the corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots that are commonly known as bulbs, become available in nurseries when it is time for them to be planted, for obvious reasons. Some will be available for quite a while, so can be planted in phases every two week or so, like vegetable plants. Each subsequent phase starts to bloom as each previous phase finishes bloom.

Phasing only works for certain bulbs that are on a tight schedule, and only for the first season. By the second year, they will be synchronized. Iris, anemone and ranunculus tend to bloom together, when the weather is right, regardless of when they were phased. Plants with aggressive roots might not bother bulbs in their first season, but can smother bulbs that might otherwise naturalize.


P81013I prefer to call it ‘autumn’. It sounds prettier. Perhaps it even sounds a bit more exotic, like something that happens in far away climates were the seasons are more distinct, and the weather gets a bit cooler this time of year.
‘Fall’ sounds more like a simple verb. It is merely what outdated leaves do when deciduous trees no longer have use for them. Many trees in mild climates do not even bother to indulge their foliage with a bit of color first.
Exotic places like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Kentucky get autumn. Oklahoma, Oregon and Alaska get it as well, although it is commonly mistaken for fall because the deciduous foliage of most native specie turns brown in Oklahoma, and yellow in Oregon and Alaska, with significantly less of the oranges, reds and other bright colors that are so prominent in other regions.
Rather than complain about the minimal variety of color among out native specie, and how the best color is provided by very accommodating exotic specie that color well even in our locally mild weather, I prefer to brag about how excellent the weather is through our fall. Except for the longer and cooler nights, our fall is like an extension of summer. It is often referred to as Indian summer. While others share pictures of their colorful autumn foliage, I get to share pictures of fall roses that continue blooming until frost,or even right through winter. Yes, in some regards, fall can be better than autumn.
Then, this happened. While dahlia, zinnia, black-eyed Susan and even rose continue to bloom for those whom I would otherwise shame with my superior blooms, fall moved in, and is already defoliating a few trees! Sweetgum is starting to turn orange and red, but cottonwood, box elder, various willows and other riparian trees are beginning to defoliate without much color at all. This black oak is significantly farther along. At least it turned a nice rusty brown before defoliating.
How embarrassing! I can brag neither about extended bloom through a late fall, nor the bright foliar color of autumn!P81013+

Six on Saturday: Clearance


Clearance can get one into some interesting situations. Yes, with the necessary clearance, one can get into penitentiaries, protected military facilities, sensitive areas of the White House, or even Area 51.

The sort of clearance that I was concerned with this past week and the week prior was not so interesting. Now that roofs and gutters of the buildings at work are in the process of being cleaned before wintry weather, trees must also be pruned for clearance. As they grew through summer, some got detrimentally close to the roofs and gutters that are getting cleaned, as well as chimneys, windows, outdoor lighting and walkways. Such clearance is a concern throughout the year, but becomes more of a priority as we get ready for winter. No one wants to go back onto the roofs any more than necessary.

1. Before. The redwoods must be pruned for adequate clearance from the roof, chimney, lamppost, and even the umbrella on the patio that can not be opened without pushing a bit of foliage aside.P81013

2. After.P81013+

3. Soot on the tip of one of the redwood limbs demonstrates why clearance from chimneys is so important. Foliage that gets too close to chimneys can ignite and fall back onto the roof below, where it has the potential to ignite any foliar debris that might have accumulated behind the chimney since last year.P81013++

4. The belfry of the chapel next door really bothered me. Clearance was barely adequate. Although I am not worried about the shingles or painted surfaced getting damaged as wind starts to blow during winter, I think that the chapel would look better with more clearance from the encroaching redwood limbs. The problem was that I could not reach the limbs. Because this clearance was not a priority, the pruning here was postponed. A colleague who is not as plump as I am suggested that I get onto the roof through that gap between the top of the louvered sides of the belfry, and the underside of the roof above. Now, even if I could somehow get through that little gap, where would I go on the outside?! Let Quasimodo do it!P81013+++

5. The chapel was built among the redwoods, very literally. Expanding trunks are beginning to displace the foundation and utilities. I can not prune for the sort of clearance that is needed here. Because the chapel is such an important building, and the redwoods are such important trees, it would be feasible to move the chapel over onto a new foundation. The problem with that idea is that the redwood trunks are pressing up against the building on three sides! There is no place to move the building without cutting something out!P81013++++

6. Phytophthora ramorum, which is commonly known as Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, or SODS, continues to kill tanoaks, (Notho)lithocarpus densiflorus, and coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia. These trees do not need to be pruned for clearance, but must be removed before they start to deteriorate and drop limbs onto adjacent buildings or whatever happens to be below.P81013+++++

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

Mexican Bush Sage

51014In the first year, Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, does not get very big. Then it gets cut back to the ground at the end of winter. It gets about twice as big in the second year, only to get cut back again as winter ends. By the third or fourth year, healthy maturing plants can grow to five feet tall and seven feet wide each season. While cut back, big clumps can be divided to propagate.

Strikingly purplish blue floral spikes bloom from summer or early autumn until frost. The odd white ‘tags’ that protrude from the fuzzy bracts are the true flowers. The lanceolate leaves are grayish sage green and somewhat fuzzy. Plants are well rounded like tumble weeds, and should not be shorn. Mexican bush sage is very popular among hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

Mexican bush sage wants full sun exposure, and unlike most other sages, it prefers relatively rich soil. Fertilizer can compensate for inferior or dense soil, and improves foliar density, but too much can delay bloom. New plants like to be watered regularly, especially if they grow well. As they mature and disperse their roots, they become less reliant on regular watering.