Arizona Cypress

Arizona cypress can be strikingly blue.

If Hetz blue juniper grew as a tree, it might look something like Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica. The evergreen foliage of modern cultivars is almost as blue as blue spruce. Older trees that grew from seed (not cloned) can exhibit significant genetic variability, and are more grayish green than blue. Some are stout and shrubby. Taller specimens might exhibit sculpturally irregular form.

In the wild, Arizona cypress is even more variable, with as many as five distinct varieties. Some varieties are sometimes classified as separate species. Shorter types may get no taller than a two story house. Taller types get twice as tall, and as wide as thirty feet. Trunks can get two feet wide. Smooth Arizona cypress has patches of distinctively flaking bark over shiny chestnut brown bark.

Arizona cypress are best where they can develop their natural form. They prefer no more than minor pruning of awkward stems. Although, none seem to mind grooming to eliminate dead or aging stems. Modern cultivars are more conducive to minor pruning than older trees. Some cultivars supposedly make nicely dense shorn hedges. Furthermore, shearing enhances the blue foliar color.

Evergreens Make A Mess Too

Big evergreen trees make big messes.

Nature is messy. It is that simple. Leaves, flowers, fruits and stems regularly fall from vegetation onto the ground. Animals contribute their mess too. Insects and microorganisms seem to eliminate most of the mess. In reality, they merely accelerate the process of recycling the mess back into more mess. Decomposing organic matter sustains viable vegetation as it perpetuates the process.

Natural mess serves many other purposes as well. It really is an important component of ecology. It retains moisture and insulates the soil. Many plants drop foliage that inhibits the germination of competing plants. Many merely smother competing plants with their mess. Several, particularly locally, produce combustible debris to incinerate their competition in the next convenient forest fire!

Obviously, the sort of mess that is so beneficial in nature is not so desirable in home gardens. Even if weed suppression and moisture retention are appealing, combustibility is not! Neither is any mess that vegetation deposits onto hardscapes, roofs or lawns. Such mess becomes more apparent as deciduous trees defoliate this time of year. Most produced no other mess since last year.

As messy as deciduous trees are, they are generally no messier than evergreen trees. They just happen to defoliate within a very limited season, rather than throughout the year. Some evergreen trees shed more in a particular season, typically as new foliage replaces the old. Otherwise, they shed slowly and persistently throughout the year. The mess seems like less, but is just prolonged.

Both evergreen and deciduous trees serve their respective purposes. Evergreen trees obscure unwanted scenery all year. Deciduous trees provide cooling shade for summer, and allow warming sunlight through for winter. The misconception that deciduous trees are necessarily messier should not exclude them from home gardens. Deciduous trees are often the most appropriate options.

Every species and cultivar of tree is unique. Many deciduous trees actually are messier than some evergreen trees. However, most are not.

Too Late For Pie

Shortly after this article posted three years ago, a leaky pipe was exposed, and has since been repaired.

Tony Tomeo

P71203Just a few feet downhill from where the old valley oak had lived for centuries (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/), a pumpkin vine appeared shortly after the big oak stump was ground out. That was in late September, so was much too late for it to do much; or so I thought.

The vine grew very quickly! It is hard to say if it got water from a leaking pipe. A valve manifold that is visible in front of the stump in the original picture is completely obscured by the foliage of the vine in the second picture. With all the heavy work that was done right on that spot, it would have been very easy for a pipe or exposed valve to get damaged. (Water from a previously leaky pipe or valve could have contributed to the demise of the tree, by promoting the development of excessively heavy foliage that caused…

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Felton Covered Bridge

Ha! This old article shows how less uptight I was about blogging three years ago.

Tony Tomeo

04Now that I have been watching a few other blogs for three months, I notice that some people write some very interesting or at least entertaining articles about topic that are not directly related to the main topic of their respective blogs. Most are just like old fashioned slide shows (remember those?) with cool pictures from around the neighborhood, travels, home projects, or whatever might be interesting. I have not done this yet; but I happen to have a bit of free time at the moment, so thought that I would post these three pictures of the historic Felton Covered Bridge. Although I am technically from Los Gatos, my home is in the Santa Cruz Mountains between Los Gatos and Felton. I also have history in Felton, since my grandparents and my Pa used to live here.

In an attempt to keep this post relevant to horticulture, I should mention…

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Six on Saturday: After The Fire

Much of my work for the second half of the week is still affected by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire of last summer. Combustibility of the forest is a major concern. Vegetation management is now a priority. Fire roads must be cleared. Trees that are too close to buildings or hang over roofs must be removed. I am not accustomed to condemning trees at such an accelerated rate.

Resources have been reallocated. Some maintenance has been deferred. Even without fresh seasonal annuals, flowers continue to bloom, but I am not out there to see much of them.

1. Charred remains of a neighbor’s home fill a bin that should otherwise be filled with greenwaste. Even common trash would be better. The forest smells burnt rather than like fallen leaves.

2. Perennial pea roasted during evacuation, before I flagged a rare white bloomer for relocation while dormant in winter. Although briefly regenerating, they all look the same without bloom.

3. Nightshade is not a bothersome weed. It is just unappealing. It somehow looks gloomy. I suppose that it could be pretty in the right situation, perhaps in a vase with some autumn flowers.

4. Muppets do not grow here. This is just a wet and deteriorating thistle of some sort. It should have been cut down before bloom. More significant vegetation management is now a priority.

5. Cottonwood colored well for autumn. Bigleaf maple and birch are just as colorful. Sweetgum is still mostly green, but ultimately develops the best variety of color. It really is autumn here.

6. Mud proves it! From Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, it rained for the first time since spring. The few dirty raindrops during the Fire do not count. Anyway, the rain was grand!

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/

Angel Wing Begonia

This is not the common Angel Wing begonia. I just found it online, in the pictures that are not protected by copyright. I could not find my picture. Storage has been a problem.

The simple pink or sometimes red or white flowers of angel wing begonia are not as flashy as those of other begonias, and are not abundant enough to provide much color. During warm weather, they are merely a minor bonus to the striking foliage. As the name implies, the big and angularly lobed leaves are shaped like wings of angels. Upper surfaces are glossy and dark green with irregular silvery spots. Undersides are even glossier and reddish bronze. With support, the lanky cane stems can get more than twelve feet tall. However, because older tall canes produce runty foliage, they are often pruned out to promote more vigorous and lushly foliated young canes.

Because they are sensitive to frost, and also because they are ideal houseplants, angel wing begonias are typically grown in containers. They like rather regular but not excessive watering, and rich potting soil. Abundant sunlight enhances foliar color; but harsh exposure roasts foliage. Partial shade is not a problem.

Dormancy And Defoliation Are Advantageous

Kahili ginger is finished blooming, and should get cut back once the foliage succumbs to frost.

Many plants are deciduous in autumn and winter, which means that they defoliate or die back, and then refoliate or regenerate in spring. Many others are evergreen, which simply means that they are always foliated through all seasons. What many people do not realize is that evergreen plants replace their foliage just like deciduous plants do. They just do not do it in such distinct phases of defoliation, dormancy and refoliation.

Tropical plants like cannas and some of the various begonias really have no need for formal defoliation, since they are from climates that lack winter. In the wild, they continually and systematically shed old stems as they produce new stems. Locally, they tend to shed more than they grow during late autumn and winter. The large types of begonias tend to keep their canes for so many years that it is not so obvious. Where winters are colder, cannas freeze to the ground, only to regenerate from their thick rhizomes as winter ends.

Zonal geraniums may seem rather tired this time of year for the opposite reason. They expect late autumn weather to include frost that would kill them back to the ground where they would stay relatively dormant until warmer weather after winter. Just because their foliage is instead evergreen through winter does not mean that it should be. It lingers and often becomes infested with mildew and rust (fungal diseases) that proliferate in humid autumn weather.

However, zonal geraniums need not be pruned back just yet. Even if they eventually get damaged by frost, pruning should be delayed so that the already damaged older foliage and stems can shelter the even more sensitive new growth as it emerges below. They can get cut back after frost would be likely.

Evergreen pear can get very spotty once the warm weather runs out because the same damp and cool weather that inhibits its growth also promotes proliferation of the blight that damages and discolors the foliage. The damaged foliage eventually gets replaced as new foliage emerges in spring, but will remain spotty and discolored until then. Photinia does not get as spotty, but holds blighted foliage longer into the following summer. Ivy can be temporarily damaged by a visually similar blight.

Sculpture

This article from three years ago definitely conforms to the ‘Horridculture’ meme for Wednesday.

Tony Tomeo

P71206

I use the term loosely. Okay, so maybe I use it mockingly in this context. This sort of thing really should have no connection to the works of Calder, Rodin or Brancusi. It might be worthy of a few fancy adjectives, such as ‘severe’, ‘unusual’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘bold’. Horticulturally though, we might be thinking more like ‘disgraceful’, ‘abhorrent’, ‘ridiculous’ or ‘just plain sad’.

There is nothing wrong with pollarding, that severe sort of pruning that almost all other arborists will tell you is wrong. It involves pruning trees back to the same distended terminal knuckles every winter. Only a few trees are adaptable to the technique, and technically, sweetgum happens to be one of those few trees.

The stipulation is that once pollarded, they MUST be cut back to the same knuckles EVERY winter. A small stub or maybe two can be left on knuckles to allow them to elongate…

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Curve Leaf Yucca

Curve leaf yucca can be variegated.

Some perennials are too easy to grow. Curve leaf yucca, Yucca recurvifolia (or Yucca gloriosa ‘Tristis’), is remarkably resilient. It migrates slowly but surely. If it becomes obtrusive, it is difficult to contain and remove. Removal of foliar rosettes above does nothing to slow the roots below. The roots merely produce new foliage. Of course that can be a distinct advantage for harsh conditions.

The striking foliar form resembles that of other species of Yucca, except that it reliably arches softly downward. Foliage is not as soft as it seems though. Each leaf terminates with a sharp spine. Sharp edges can cause wicked paper cuts. Foliar color is bluish gray. Although, variegated cultivars are increasingly popular. Old plants can develop trunks that slowly grow more than six feet tall.

Tall and elegant spikes of relatively small creamy white flowers stand grandly above the evergreen foliage in late spring or summer. Bloom is best with warm and sunny exposure, and lasts a long time. Viable seed is rare. Propagation by division of some of the many pups is simple though. Popular variegated cultivars exhibit more docile growth with fewer pups, but bloom less abundantly.

Dividing Perennials Equates To Multiplying

Yuccas can get divided after bloom.

This seems like bad algebra. Horticulturally, dividing and multiplying really are the same. Division is the separation of crowded perennials into smaller but more numerous portions. It multiplies the number of individual plants. The smaller portions perform better than they did while crowded. Division is both a method of vegetative (clonal) propagation, and a form of healthy social distancing.

Many perennials are ready for dividing about now. They finished blooming through spring or summer, and are going dormant for winter. Some defoliate. Division is not so disruptive to them while they rest. Cool and damp weather keeps them hydrated. They can disperse roots and resume growth as winter ends, as if nothing ever happened. They should bloom right on schedule next year.

The most popular perennials grow for many years before getting overgrown enough to benefit from division. Some may technically never need dividing. They manage to perform adequately even as dense thicket growth. For some, division is primarily for propagation. Only a few perennials appreciate annual division. Perennials that bloom in autumn or winter prefer division in early spring.

Pigsqueak will bloom later in winter. Dividing it now with other perennials would inhibit and retard the blooming process. It will be ready for dividing before winter ends, so can settle in with the last winter and spring rain. The same applies to Japanese anemone, which might still be blooming now. Dividing these two perennials is typically for propagation or containment, rather than crowding.

Lily of the Nile and African iris do not need dividing often, but when they do, it can be a major chore. For moderate crowding, it is relatively easy to pluck many individual shoots without disturbing remaining shoots. However, it is typically more practical to dig bulky colonies, divide them into individual shoots, and then plant the shoots. African iris shoots work best in groups of five to twelve.

Lily of the Nile, with dividing earlier than later, disperses roots in winter, to bloom for summer.