Bell Peppers

90320The weather here is excellent for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but is not exactly ideal for bell peppers. Cool nights between warm days are comfortable for us, but limit production of even the healthiest and most robust of plants. Although they like warm nights, the fruit can be sensitive to hot days, and can even get scalded. Bell pepper plants like rich soil and regular watering.

Bell peppers lack capsaicin, which causes other peppers (‘chiles’) to be distinctively ‘hot.’ The fruits of the more popular varieties of green bell pepper are generally harvested while immature, but would otherwise ripen to red. However, most popular red bell peppers are different varieties that produce somewhat elongated fruits with milder flavor. Other varieties produce orange or yellow fruits. Uncommon purple, lavender, brown and white bell peppers are just . . . weird.90320thumb


Vegetables Get Harvested At Their Prime

90327’Zucchini’ is Italian for ‘little squash.’ They certainly can grow to become big squash, but by then, they do not taste so good. They are best before they get to about six inches long. As they mature, they get bitter and tough, and the seedy pulp within develop an unappealing texture. Maturing zucchini also waste resources that would otherwise go to the development of more younger zucchini.

Other summer squash, as well as cucumbers, should likewise be harvested while young and tender, not only because the juvenile fruits are best, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of developing fruit. Patty pan squash should be only about three inches wide. Except for lemon cucumbers, most cucumbers should be uniformly deep green, before yellowing.

Green beans, even if they are purple or yellow or some other unnaturally weird color, should be harvested while still lean and smooth, before they get lumpy from the developing seeds within. Lumpy beans, although preferred for some types of cuisine, are a bit starchier, and a bit firmer. Just like squash and cucumber, bean vines are more productive if the fruits are harvested regularly.

Shelling beans that remain on the vines until they mature completely are of course completely different. They should probably be harvested faster than birds and rodents take them, but need not be rushed otherwise. The same applies to black-eyed peas, sunflower seeds and popcorn, or any other dried corn. However, these sorts of vegetables are uncommon in local vegetable gardens.

Fresh corn is ready when the formerly light green silk protruding from the end of each ear is brownish tan. By the time the silk dries out, or the husks start to yellow, the corn within will be starchy. Blunt ears are better developed than more tapered ears. Because it wants so much water, fertilizer and space, corn should not be as popular as it is; but some of us like it fresh from the garden.

Although, it last a good while, corn really should be eaten as soon as possible after harvest. Flavor and texture start to deteriorate as soon as the ears are separated from the stalks. Likewise, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are best straight from the garden as soon as they ripen and get to their best color. Refrigeration slows decay, but accelerates deterioration of flavor and texture.60824+

Horridculture – True Colors

P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.

Himalayan Blackberry

90828Of all the aggressively invasive exotic species on the West Coast, Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, could be the nastiest! It seems to be impossible to kill. It forms dense thickets of wickedly thorny canes that develop roots where they touch the ground. Even if canes are cut to the ground, and the roots are pulled out, new plants regenerate quickly from remaining bits of roots.

Individual canes can grow more than twenty feet long in their first year! They may lay on the ground to creep under a thicket, or arch up and over other plants that are fifteen feet tall. These canes develop blooming and fruiting branches in their second year. By their third year, they are replaced by new canes. The palmately compound leaves are smaller for the fruiting second year canes.

Trusses of white or very pale pink flowers bloom late in spring. Dark purplish black berries that started ripening a few weeks ago are now being depleted. Some experts believe that Himalayan blackberries are bigger and sweeter than the fruit of most garden varieties. However, berries are only bigger among well cultivated canes; and keeping canes contained and pruned is not easy.

Fruit From Non Fruit Trees

90828thumbThose of us who grew up with the old fashioned stone fruit orchards or vineyards might remember some of the traditional methods for protecting the ripening fruit from birds. Mulberry trees were grown on the corners of some orchards to keep birds well fed and less hungry for the ripe orchard fruit. Mulberry cultivars were selected to ripen just prior to the fruit within the particular orchards.

The trees were not there to produce fruit to be harvested like the fruit within the orchards was. Most, but not all of what the birds did not consume fell to the ground and rotted. Only small quantities of the overly abundant fruit was taken by a few neighbors who made jam or syrup with with it. Mulberries were a byproduct of the orchards that some put to good use just because it was available.

Decades ago, it was much easier to get a bit of fruit from neglected or naturalized fruit trees in rural regions and on roadsides without offending anyone. Isolated remnants of the old fruit orchards were common. American plum, which had been used as understock for orchard trees, had naturalized in some regions. For those daring enough to harvest them, so had Himalayan blackberry.

Even now, we can find a bit of fruit where do not expect it to be. A few plants that are grown more for their visual appeal can be surprisingly generous with their fruit production. Pineapple guava, which is now popularly grown as a simple evergreen hedge, used to be grown instead for its small tart guavas. Purple leaf plum, as it matures, may not be quite as fruitless as it is purported to be.

The difficulty with the more unfamiliar types of fruit is finding practical uses for it. The native blue elderberry makes excellent jelly or syrup, like black elderberry, but not many of us even know it is edible once cooked. Australian brush cherry, strawberry tree, English hawthorn and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn, are never overly productive, but might sometimes make enough fruit for jelly.

Of course, no unfamiliar fruit or nut should be eaten prior to confirmation that it is safe for consumption.

Can’t See The Tree For The Forest

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 enough to weigh a few hundred pounds. The lower right edge of the shiner is frayed because the limb broke right at the trunk, and was hanging vertically against the trunk.

The yellow arrow in the picture below indicates where the shiner is located. The trunk of the tree is not as tapered as it seems to be in the picture. It only looks like this because it is so tall that the the upper portion is very far from the camera! Although this fir is a wild forest tree, it is only a few feet from the cabin below. The broken limb was dangling directly over the roof!

There was no way to predict that this limb would break. It did not seem to be any more structurally deficient than those that remain. Of course, once broken, it was removed faster than I could get a picture of it.P90818+

Fasciated Lily-of-the-Nile


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 appealing than the normal bloom pictured below.

The first picture of my ‘Six on Saturday‘ post this morning shows that this is not the only fasciated bloom here. There is another similar fasciated bloom right next to it. This suggests that the fasciation is likely caused by a genetic mutation that was shared with each of two rhizomes that split from the original.

If the mutation is sufficiently stable, and not likely to soon revert, more copies could be propagated later by division. The rhizomes split after bloom; so if one split into two last year, the two that are here now could split into four next year. If genetically stable, all four should bloom with the same fasciation next year.

To monitor their genetic stability, I should probably relocate these two odd rhizomes, to separate them from the others for observation. I suspect that they will eventually revert anyway.


Six on Saturday: Out Of Africa


Lily-of-the-Nile was the first perennial that I divided and propagated on a substantial scale. Back when I was in the seventh grade, I was instructed to remove an overgrown specimen that was nearly a quarter of a century old. It was too tough, big and heavy to dig up intact, but relatively easy to dismantle and remove in smaller pieces. These smaller pieces were all too easy to split into individual rhizomes with single terminal shoots. These individual rhizomes were easily groomed and planted where I thought copies of the same lily-of-the-Nile would be nice. A few years later, these copies were big enough to be dug and divided into even more copies. Nearly four decades later, I am still growing a few copies.

Because it is so resilient and undemanding, lily-of-the-Nile is one of the most common perennials here. They bloom through summer, with their firework shaped blooms at their best in time or the Fourth of July. Now that they are finishing their long bloom season, the deteriorating flowers must be removed, by ‘deadheading’.

1. Lily-of-the-Nile, although common, really is a delightful perennial. I thought I was getting a good representative picture here, but can now see that the two lower blooms in the foreground are fasciated, so are more billowy than typical blooms are. Also, the sunlight at about noon was a bit too harsh for a good picture of the foliage.P90817

2. This very late blooming floral truss is how all the other blooms started out.P90817+

3. This one shows how they look at full bloom. It is only beginning to deteriorate.P90817++

4. As individual florets fall away, these maturing green seed capsuled remain. They slowly dry and turn tan before tossing their seed late in autumn or winter. Of course, they should get pruned out before they do so.P90817+++

5. Lily-of-the-Nile are very easy to work with, but snotty with this goo that flows from all cut floral stems and any damaged leaves. Ick!P90817++++

6. This is the pile of deadheaded bloom that got cut on Wednesday. More will be cut next Wednesday. Almost all typically finish within two weeks or so. However, they started a bit late this year, and are finishing more randomly than they normally do.P90817+++++

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


60817It may not look too nasty, but barberry, Berberis thunbergii, is the sort of small hedge that one goes through only once. It does not have big strong branches to hold anyone back. In fact, the limber branches are quite twiggy. The tiny spines are not impressive either, and might go unnoticed by cursory observation. Yet, they are sharp enough and plentiful enough to make quite an impression!

Because it is so unpleasant to prune, barberry should probably be planted where it has room to grow as big as it wants to without bothering anyone. If it is too close to walkways, it will either offend whomever bumps into it, or whomever needs to prune it to keep it out of the way. Mature plants will unfortunately need to be pruned eventually, so that old deteriorating stems can be groomed out.

The most popular cultivars of barberry have dark reddish or purplish foliage. A few are variegated with white; and a few have golden foliage. Green barberries are now uncommon. The tiny leaves turn bright orange in autumn before winter defoliation. Densely dwarf cultivars may not get much taller than two feet. Taller cultivars might get taller than six feet. Some barberries are very vertical.

Colorful Foliage Fades Through Summer

P90713Autumn foliar color is not the concern yet. It develops later as deciduous plants defoliate for winter. Purplish, reddish, yellowish, bluish or gray foliar color that can be seen now is provided by plants that are colorful while actively growing. Almost all of this sort of foliage is most colorful when it is young and fresh, early in spring. Then, through summer, some of the best foliar color fades.

This process is perfectly natural. It does not imply that anything was done improperly, or that plants were not given what they need. In fact, most plants with colorful foliage would rather be green. They are mutants that were reproduced specifically for their distinctive color. Some try to revert back to green by producing greener shoots that grow faster because they have more chlorophyll.

Photinia is an odd one. By now, The rich green foliage shows no clue that it was rich reddish bronze when it developed early in spring. The foliage did not really fade. It merely matured. Then there are the newer cultivars of purple leaf plum, which maintain their color from spring to autumn. It is amazing that such darkly colored foliage that seems be devoid of chlorophyll can photosynthesise!

Some plants maintain their color better than others. Gray or bluish foliage is always gray or bluish; but admittedly, blue spruce and blue junipers are not quite as striking now as they were earlier. If red fountain grass and bronze aonium fade, it will be too slight to notice. Stems of bronze, gold or striped cannas that fade after bloom get pruned out in favor of more colorful unbloomed stems.

‘Forest Pansy’ redbud, ‘Summer Chocolate’ silk tree and ‘Sunburst’ honeylocust are notorious for fading. By now, the formerly richly bronzed redbud and silk tree merely seem to be stained with coffee. Golden honeylocust might have been bright yellow in spring, but now just looks sickly. Gold tipped and silver tipped deodar cedars can likewise be a bit pale. Bronze elderberries hold color well, but golden elderberry might now be chartreuse.P90713+