Gopher Architecture

P90922If gopher burrows had windows, this burrow would have hillside views. If gophers had better eyesight, the one who lives here could enjoy the views from such windows. Of course, views are not a concern for any gopher. They just want to burrow through the soil to eat the many roots they encounter. They do not often emerge from their homes for more than the ejection of soil.

If it happens in gardens and landscapes, the consumption of roots by gophers is a serious problem. It can kill substantial plants faster than associated symptoms become apparent. Agaves and yuccas that are safe from grazing animals that might want to eat them from above have no protection from gopher who attack from below. Small perennials and annuals get taken whole.

Excavation such as that in these two pictures is a major problem too. When I see soil accumulating here, I wonder where it came from. Should I expect a sink hole to appear somewhere else? Soil displacement can enhance and promote erosion, and displace pavers. Holes and volcanoes (mounds) are tripping hazards in lawns, especially if the holes do not appear until stepped on.

The damage seen here is not yet as serious as it looks. The only roots for gophers to eat here are those of black locusts that I must eradicate anyway. Gophers will not bother the bay trees or redwood trees; and if they do somehow bother the bay trees, I would not mind. However, I don’t want gophers to eventually find and kill any of the lauristinus that I just installed nearby.

It all would be so much easier and mutually beneficial if inconsiderate gophers could be trained to be neater and discrete with their otherwise sloppy excavation, and to eat only weeds and other unwanted plants.P90922+

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Six on Saturday – II: Six More

 

Six on Saturday‘ is a popular popular gardening meme that many of us garden bloggers participate in on Saturdays. The link explains how it works. Simply, we post six pictures of what is happening in our gardens or landscapes at the time, along with brief explanations. Mine just posted at midnight. I know I should be done, but I happened to find a few more pictures to share.

These six pictures of marigolds that were just installed at work are not as interesting as the topic I wrote about earlier, but are just too pretty to be discarded before I show them off. The second and third pictures, as well as the fourth and the fifth pictures, might be redundant to each other if they show the same varieties of marigolds, but I do not care. They are all so pretty.

Marigold will not likely be featured in my weekly gardening column this year, because the bigger but related African marigold was featured last October. These here are the smaller and more traditional French marigold. Their bright yellows, bright oranges and rusty reds suit late summer and autumn like miniature chrysanthemums. Their foliage is so delightfully aromatic.

Although I am none too keen on annual bedding plants, I happen to like marigold. They were more popular when I was a kid. They were not so variable back then; and there were certainly none of those pathetic fake white sorts that are really just pale yellow. They were plain and simple orange, yellow and rusty red, in blends or uniform. We could easily grow them from seed.

Unfortunately, marigolds will not be with us for long. They were planted to replace petunias that did not last long enough. At the end of autumn, they will be replaced by cyclamen for winter.

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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/

Six on Saturday: Locust

 

John the Baptist did not really eat orthopteran insects out in the desert. The locust he ate were the beans of the carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua. They are actually quite nutritious. Supposedly, they are known as locust because they resemble the elongated abdomens of the insects with the same name. A few other related trees that also produce beans are collective known as such.

Robinia pseudoacacia happens to be known as black locust, even though there is nothing black about it, and the tiny and papery beans do not even remotely resemble insects. Supposedly, it arrived with Gold Rush prospectors who wanted something of their homes in Eastern North America. It naturalized aggressively, and is now an invasive exotic species in much of the West.

We tolerate a few at work. They are too pretty to cut down without a good excuse. However, one gave us a good excuse when it fell last winter. It was notably polite about it, by falling into a gap between two roofs that a cat could jump across. Damage was very minimal. Nonetheless, the tree and its destabilizing associates needed to be removed. They are gone but not forgotten.

1. Thorns of black locust only look blurry in this picture. They are wickedly sharp! The sharpest are on the most vigorous stems, which is exactly what the freshly cut stumps here generate.P90921

2. Thickets of suckers (or watersprouts) like these developed where black locust trees were cut down last winter. Most developed on freshly cut stumps. Many emerged from random roots.P90921+

3. More than half of the suckers from the formerly impenetrable thicket around the stump at the center of the picture were removed to relinquish space for the lauristinus in the foreground.P90921++

4. A few bay trees got cut down with the black locust trees. I wanted them coppiced, but was away when they instead got VERY badly pollarded. Oh, the shame! (I will coppice them later.)P90921+++

5. As nasty as black locust is, it has a few attributes. Spring bloom resembles that of white wisteria, and is almost as fragrant. This finely textured pinnately compound foliage is quite elegant.P90921++++

6. Their high and open canopies provide nice shade too. It is just enough for warm summer weather, but not too much to exclude turf grass and understory plants that tolerate partial shade.P90921+++++

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/

Gardenia

40917It seems that everyone who has ever experienced the seductive yet powerful fragrance of gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides, wants to grow it, but very few actually can. Gardenias like warmth, but prefer more humidity than they get here, which is why they seem to be happier in partial shade, in atriums, or in urns that can be moved out of harsh exposure during summer. In such sheltered spots, aphid, scale and sometimes whitefly can be problematic.

Gardenias want their own space, where their roots will not be bothered by excavation or roots of more aggressive plants. They do not even want annuals around them, because annuals need such regular cultivation. Docile ground cover plants or simple mulch is best. Gardenias like rich soil and acid fertilizer or fish emulsion to be applied regularly as long as the weather is warm.

The creamy white flowers that fade to French vanilla can seem mundane relative to their alluring fragrance and handsomely glossy foliage. The largest flowers rarely get to three inches wide. ‘Mystery’, which can slowly get four feet tall, is the most familiar cultivar, even though it does not bloom so much after spring. ‘Veitchii’, which can eventually get three feet tall and twice as wide, has small inch-wide flowers, but is still blooming. Modern cultivars bloom just as late, but with larger flowers.

Autumn Simply Will Not Wait

40917thumbReady or not, it will be autumn in just a few days. Formal hedges can be shorn one last time if they need it. They will not grow much until spring. Actually, photinia and the various pittosporums should not be shorn much later than now if they exhibit any dieback. Some of the diseases that cause dieback are more likely to infest freshly cut stems during rainy weather. Citrus and plants that can be sensitive to frost should not be pruned later, since pruning can stimulate new growth that will be more sensitive.

For the same reason, most plants should not need fertilizer as their growth naturally slows. Through winter, new growth is likely to be damaged by wind or discolored by nutrient deficiency. Even if the nutrients that keep foliage green prior to autumn are in the soil, some are less soluble at cooler temperatures. It is really best to allow plants to get some rest. Only plants that are active through winter, like cool season vegetables, cool season annuals, and some cool season turf, will benefit from fertilizer.

However, some plants that are generally dormant through cool winter weather will not be completely inactive. Many plants, particularly tough evergreen perennials like lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and many ferns, continue to disperse their roots to be ready to sustain new foliar growth next spring. This is one of the reasons why autumn is the best time to get such plants into the garden, even if they do not seem to do much until spring. Autumn is also a good time to seed lawns or install sod.

The other reason for planting in autumn is that, as the weather gets cooler and rainy, new plants that have not yet dispersed their roots will be less likely to dry out than they would be in spring or summer. Some bulbs that will soon be available in nurseries want to be in the garden before winter because a bit of cold weather promotes healthier bloom.

Horridculture – On The Fence

P90522Where I lived in town, the backyard was surrounded on three sides by fences, with the house on the only unfenced fourth side. These were the sort of fences that were common in suburban neighborhoods. They kept children and dogs in or out of adjacent gardens, and probably provided some sense of privacy, although I never understood why we all needed such privacy there.

I mean, if I really wanted significant privacy, I would not have lived in town, where the homes and gardens were all so close together. I enjoyed living there, and I enjoyed my neighbors. We could hear some of each others conversations and televisions, but no one seemed to mind. It was worth living in such an excellent neighborhood so close to everything we could want in town.

Years ago, suburban fences were not too obtrusive. They were only about four feet high. Some of the older homes were still outfitted with picket fences that were only about three feet high. We could still talk to neighbors over them, and sometimes pass over a bag of extra fruit or vegetables, or even flowers, from the garden. Dogs and young children were effectively contained.

Then everyone became obsessed with privacy. At the same time, many of us added onto our homes or replaced them with new homes that occupied more of the allowable space within their compact formerly suburban, but now urban parcels. Smaller remaining garden spaces became more shaded by bigger houses and taller fences. Gardening, as we once knew it, became passe.

What are all these big fences for? What are they keeping out? . . . or . . . What are they keeping in? Why do so many who want so much privacy live so close to so many who crave the same?!

Pittosporum tobira

90925A surplus of common names seems to be a common theme for many plants that we thought we knew the names of. The simple Pittosporum tobira, which might be known here by its Latin name, might instead be known as mock orange, Australian laurel, Japanese pittosporum, and Japanese cheesewood. Its native range is about as diverse, including Greece, Japan, Korea and China.

Back in the 1990s, the compact cultivar known as ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ was common enough to be as cliché as tam junipers were in the 1950s. There are actually a few other dwarf and variegated cultivars that do not share that reputation. Most are low, dense and mounding. ‘Variegata’, although not a compact dwarf, grows slower and stays smaller than the unvariegated straight species.

Otherwise, Pittosporum tobira gets about ten feet tall and wide. It can eventually get significantly taller, especially if lower growth is pruned away to expose the sculptural trunks within. If shorn as a hedge, it should not be shorn so frequently that the dense foliage is always tattered. Leaves are delightfully glossy and convex. Small trusses of modest pale white flowers are sometimes fragrant.

Mediterranean Climate Is Something Special

90925thumbThe climate here is pretty cool, at least in winter. Right now, it is pleasantly warm. It does not often get uncomfortably cold or hot, and when it does, it does not stay like that for too long. In between the warmest days of summer, the nights typically cool off nicely. In between the coolest nights of winter, the days typically warm up nicely. Humidity is normally minimal. Rain is adequate in season.

We have here what is known as a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. Obviously, it is similar to many climates of the Mediterranean Basin. Beyond the Mediterranean region, there are not many other places in the World that enjoy such reliably temperate weather. Most of such places are in southern and southwestern Australia, the Western Cape of South Africa, central Chile, and evidently, right here.

This particular region of Mediterranean climate is quite large, and extends into northern Baja California. Native plants know how to live here, and many of those that are adaptable to landscapes and home gardens can survive quite nicely with little or no irrigation. Some exotic (non-native) plants want climates with more warmth in summer, more chill in winter, or more rain through the year.

The best, as well as the worst, exotic plant species for local landscapes are those that are native to other Mediterranean climates.

The worst are those that are so happy in the local climate that they naturalize and become invasive to native ecosystems. Without pathogens or competing species that inhibited their proliferation within their respective native ranges, many naturalized species are detrimentally aggressive in ecosystems that they invade. Pampas grass, broom and Acacia dealbata are familiar examples.

The best exotics are not so threatening. Australian fuchsia, kangaroo paw, coprosma, westringia, bottle brush, grevillea, dracaena palm and eucalyptus originated from Australia. Lemon verbena, mayten and some salvias are from Chile. African iris, lily-of-the-Nile, bird-of-Paradise and all of the aloes came from South Africa. Olive, oleander, cistus, and all the lavenders are Mediterranean.

Another Johnny Appleseed

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Just to be clear, I earned the title of Johnny Appleseed before my colleague Brent Green did. While Brent was secretive about our tree planting projects in Los Angeles, I was not so about our similar projects in Los Gatos. While Brent’s neighbors wondered where their new street trees were coming from, mine read about their new park trees in the Los Gatos Weekly Times.

In fact, the exposure from that article is how I started my weekly gardening column in the same newspaper just a few months later, in October of 1998. Los Gatos is a smaller town than Los Angeles is. Secrecy was not an option. Sadly, our projects in Los Gatos, and then in Scott’s Valley, did not continue. We concentrated our urban tree planting efforts in Mid City Los Angeles.

The tree planting projects that I am referring to are our Birthday Trees that I wrote about last January. As I explain in that article, Brent had been wanting to plant trees in the formerly blank and broad medians of San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles. I just happened to be able to supply such trees from those at the farm that got a bit too past their prime to be marketable.

I do not intend to be redundant to that article, but want to share this video, Johnny Appleseed. As much as I hate to admit it, Brent is much more entertaining than I am. (I should later share one of my old videos from Gardening By The Yard, so you can compare.) I should probably look through more of Brent’s old videos to see if there are others that would be interesting.

If I had more time, I would write more about Brent’s work to improve the urban forests of the Los Angeles Region.

Mr. McNugget

P90914KWildlife is a topic that is notably lacking from my articles. I mention only that which must be ‘escorted’ out of the landscapes, like Halston Junior. Gophers, racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, mice, opossums, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, turkeys, geese, woodpeckers, jays, crows, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and feral boars can potentially be problematic.

There are probably at least a few more. This list does not even include bad neighbors or domestic animals. Nor does it include foxes, just because they eat mice, rats and snails, and do not seem to cause any problems. Butterflies and most birds, except those listed, are quite tolerable. Insects and mites that damage plants deserve their own list. I don’t know where ticks fit in.

Most unwelcome wildlife at least tries to stay out of my way. Others seem to make sport of antagonizing me. Skunks try to be friendly; but I must pass on that. Turkeys are . . . just turkeys.

This strangely calm black-chinned hummingbird who watches me from the same spot in a flowering cherry tree is either unaware of my disdain for wildlife, or is merely unconcerned about it. He just sits there . . . silently . . . observing . . . as if plotting or scheming or . . . something. He seems to be harmless; but I really don’t know. He could have sharp talons or another weapon!

I named him Mr. McNugget.

His species is apparently rare. I had nothing to do with that. Even if I believed that he tastes like chicken, I couldn’t catch him anyway. His kind fly at supersonic speed! He might use one of those ‘transporters’ like on Star Trek. Besides, I really don’t want to mess with that. A feral boar would be easier.