Asparagus Fern

51209The softest and laciest of the asparagus is the asparagus fern, Asparagus setaceus. The extremely small ‘leaves’ (or ‘cladodes’) are less than a quarter of an inch long. The tiny and mostly unnoticed pale white flowers that bloom sporadically in warm weather make it obvious that asparagus fern is not really a fern. (Ferns do not bloom.) If any green berries develop, they are toxic.

The wiry perennial stems can climb like vines to almost reach upstairs eaves, although most get less than half as high. Individual plants produce only a few stems, rarely more than ten. Pruning out old deteriorating stems stimulates new growth. Potted asparagus fern eventually gets crowded with swollen roots, so needs to graduate to larger pots. As a houseplant, it needs regular watering.


Living Christmas Trees Grow Up

81031All around town, there are Italian stone pines, Canary Island pines, Monterey pines and Aleppo pines that are much too big for the home gardens that they live in. Some are too close to pavement or foundations. Others are under utility cables. Many are shading or crowding out other more desirable plants. What most have in common is that they started out as living Christmas trees.

Because they seem to be so cute and innocent when they are decorated in a small pot, living Christmas trees very often get planted where they really do not belong. Not much consideration is given to their true potential. Pines are innately difficult to contain, and can not easily be pruned back for confinement once they get growing in a space that is not spacious enough for them.

Living Christmas trees simply are not often the horticulturally responsible option for Christmas trees that we would like to believe that they are. Very few end up in good situations where they have room to grow. Planting them in the wild is not practical, since their roots are too confined to survive without watering. Because they are not native, they should not be planted in the wild anyway.

Contrary to popular belief, the most popular of the living Christmas trees do not do well in containers long enough to function as Christmas trees for more than just a few years. Some spruces and small pines can be happy in containers for many years, but can be demanding. If their roots get too disfigured, they are less likely to adapt to the landscape when they outgrow containment.

Ironically, cut Christmas trees are usually more practical than living Christmas trees. They may seem to be expensive, but they are less expensive than living Christmas trees of good quality (unless a living Christmas tree functions for a few years.) Even though they are bigger, cut Christmas trees are not as heavy and unwieldy as the big tubs of soil needed to sustain living trees.

Cut Christmas trees are not harvested from forests, but are grown on farms like any other horticultural commodity. There should be no guilt associated with bringing one into the home. In the end, they can be composted or otherwise recycled like green-waste. There is no long term commitment, and no need to provide accommodations for an eventually humongous tree in the garden.

Those who insist on procuring a living Christmas tree should choose responsibly, and be ready to accommodate a growing young tree. Although not big enough to be real Christmas trees, dwarf Alberta spruce like those in the picture above are sometimes decorated as a small live Christmas tree. They happen to be conducive to confinement in proportionate pots. One in the ground, they grow like strictly conical shrubs that do not get big enough to cause problems.

Horridculture ā€“ Lack Of Planning

P81128+This is a recycled picture that still annoys me. There was another that I did not want to use because it happens to be from a landscape that I sometimes work in.
The picture that I did not use shows a variety of annuals in a half wine barrel that is set on cobble stone that fills a square that is about five feet by five feet that was cut out of an asphalt paved area.
The area was paved to function as a patio.
A square was cut into the pavement perhaps because there was too much pavement.
The square was filled with stone because there was too much exposed soil where there should have been pavement.
A half wine barrel of various annuals was installed on top of the stone as if a square filled with stone was not adequately in the way.\
The half wine barrel and stone should be removed so that the are can be paved as usable patio space. . . like it had originally been.
It reminds me of a monologue by the renowned comedian, Bill Cosby. He discussed the small compartment that is designed to keep butter from getting too cold within a refrigerator that is designed to keep food cold, within the home that is heated to keep the interior from getting too cold.
Now, back to the picture above. It annoys me even more because it is not the result of a series of mistakes by several different volunteers working in the landscape that I did not post a picture of. It was done by so-called ‘professionals’, like those I briefly worked for a few years ago.
The area was paved. I might add that it was paved quite well. Then, either because there was too much pavement, or because someone wanted to sell more junk, potted plants and the associated irrigation system were installed onto the pavement, so that the affected portion of pavement is now useless.
How does this makes sense? It should have been done properly when the pavement was installed only a few years ago. I would guess from looking at it that the pavement was done properly, but someone just wanted to sell more infrastructure.
The bigger urn in the foreground is planted with pink jasmine on a trellis. I explained the problem with the vine not getting released from its bindings last week. Not only does a bundled thicket of stems remain in the middle, but all the new growth is crowded on top of the trellis because the landscape ‘professionals’ planted a big vine on a tiny trellis, and then neglect to maintain it. What is the point of a trellised vine in the first place? I mean, what does it ‘do’? Wouldn’t something shrubbier or a cascading perennial have been more appropriate? Do we really want to see the bare soil and accumulated cigarette butts below the vine? What about the landscape behind the potted plants? Why obscure that? Why create more obstacles for those who sweep or blow debris from the area.
Just look at all the pointless infrastructure in this useless space. Rather than a nice well designed landscape adjacent to clean and usable pavement, we have pointless potted plants cluttering the area, leaking water that stains the now useless pavement, and just getting in the way!

African Daisy

81212It seems like not so long ago when the only African daisy that was commonly available was the trailing African daisy that makes such a nice relaxed ground cover for small spaces. The simple white flowers have navy blue centers, and are occasionally joined by mutant light purple flowers. The cultivar that blooms only in light purple was not as popular. Things have certainly changed!

African daisies, Osteospermum, have been bred and hybridized so extensively that most of the modern cultivars are not categorized by specie, so are known by their cultivar names. Most are likely related to Osteospermum ecklonis, which was the first of the shrubby specie to become popular. Although often grown as cool season annuals, African daisies are short term perennials.

Flowers can be various pastel hues of purple, pink, orange, yellow or white. Bloom can be profuse in random phases, and sporadic bloom is almost continuous between early spring and late autumn. It is only postponed by the coolest winter weather and the warmest summer weather. Mature plants can get a bit more than two feet high and wide. They want full sun and regular watering.

Get Perennials Ready For Winter

81212thumbDilemmas are common in gardening. Should summer vegetables that are still producing be removed so that winter vegetables can get started on time? What about replacing summer annuals that are still blooming with winter annuals, and then replacing winter annuals with summer annuals half a year later? Should tender perennials be regarded as annuals, or get a second chance?

Right now, some perennials are looking tired. Many will be going dormant for winter. Many do not get much down time, and will start to develop new growth faster than old growth deteriorates. Not many make their intentions obvious. Deciding how to work with them can be confusing at times. It might take a few years and a few mistakes to get familiar with the habits and lifestyles of some.

If cut back too early, hardy zonal geraniums will not regenerate much until the weather gets warmer at the end of winter. In the interim, they are more likely to be killed by frost without the protection provided by old growth However, some varieties start to grow in winter. If not cut back soon enough, new growth mingles with old, so that they are difficult to separate when they do get cut back.

It is best to observe what hardy geraniums are up to before deciding on when to prune. If they start to develop vigorous new growth down near the ground, the old growth should probably be cut down as far as the new growth. It is likely better to take a chance that they might be damaged by frost. Those that do not start to grow right away can enjoy the insulation of old foliage for a while.

Thoroughly deciduous perennials, like deciduous daylilies, dahlias and some ferns, can be groomed of their deteriorated old growth without risk that they will start to regenerate new growth prematurely. However, cutting back some specie of salvia might actually stimulate development of exposed and frost sensitive new growth. Perennials that get damaged by frost later In winter should not be groomed of damaged growth right away. The damaged material provides a bit of insulation for lower growth, particularly if new growth was stimulated by the damage.

The Humongous Fungus Among Us

04Is this Armillaria mellea, the dreaded oak root rot fungus? I really do not know. All the elements are here. The stump is that of a coast live oak. Bellow the stump there are the remains of roots. Those necrotic roots are undoubtedly decomposing as a result of rot. That rot is undoubtedly associated with this fungus. Furthermore, it fits the description of oak root rot fungus. The toasted spots were probably caused by weathering as the mushrooms started to develop while the weather was still warm and dry.

Now that the soil and rotting wood are damp from rain, this fungus is really proliferating. The individual mushrooms within the soccer ball sized mass were only about as big as those at the lower left margin of the picture just prior to the rain. They do not last long, and might become gooey black slop after only a few sunny days. The stump may continue to rot for a few more years. It is out of the way, so there is not need to get rid of it.

It annoys me when landscape professionals tell me that a particular spot in the region has oak root rot fungus. Of course it does. It is everywhere. It is quite natural here.

Oak root rot fungus is justifiably dreaded. It can easily kill the most majestic oaks that have survived for centuries.

However, most of the problems with oak root rot fungus in landscape situations are caused by supplemental irrigation and other gardening techniques. Oaks that have survived on natural seasonal rainfall for centuries are much more susceptible to rot if their roots are kept continually moist by the irrigation needed to sustain other plants added around them. Roots that get severed for the installation of pavement or building foundations are likewise much more susceptible to rot, particularly in spots where drainage from roofs or paved surfaces enhances soil moisture.

For this particular pathogen, gardening is more often the problem.

Crape Myrtle Finale

P81201KIt is certainly not my favorite small tree. Actually, in most situations, I rather dislike it, which is why I sometimes accidentally spell it without the first ‘e’. It is a cop out; a micro tree that too often ends up where a larger and more respectable tree would be more appropriate. They are not shade trees. They are not not big enough for freeway landscapes or to be street trees on wide boulevards. They are not immune to diseases and insect infestations; and they commonly drop honeydew from aphid or scale infestation, and lose their bloom to powdery mildew. They are not ‘low-maintenance’, and really should be pruned more than they are, but will get you in trouble with the neighbors if you prune them as aggressively as they should be pruned.
They are popular because of their potential for remarkably flashy bloom, and because they do not get big enough to damage the sidewalks and curbs that they are so often planted next to. ‘Gardeners’ like them because they survive their neglect. That is no long list of attributes; but there is one more.
FALL COLOR! On a bad year, they merely turn bright yellow. This year, some are this exquisitely bright orange with a slight red blush. The various cultivars display various colors, so some are more colorful than others. They are also on different schedules, so the most colorful are not necessarily the most colorful every year. Those that colored early are already bare, but could be the most colorful next year if the weather turns cold early. A bunch in town that are also defoliating as fast as they color because of the recent rain, could be the most colorful next year if rain is delayed later than it was this year.P81201K+

Six on Saturday: Too Much Autumn Color II ā€“ Natives & Exotics


Now we have a bit more variety than the last batch of six.

Red stem dogwood of the first and second pictures is the only species that is locally native. The California currant of the fourth picture, and the California black walnut of the fifth picture are both as native to California as the names imply, but are not native locally. The flowering dogwood of the third picture is from Eastern North America. You can guess the origin of the Chinese wisteria of the sixth picture, which happens to be the only vine represented in all four groups of six pictures.

The first three of the six pictures, or half, are of dogwood. The first two pictures are the only two in all four groups of six pictures that are the same species, namely red stem dogwood. Both were posted just to demonstrate that red twig dogwood, which typically turns only pale yellow like the foliage of the first picture, can develop a bit of red foliage like that of the second picture, if conditions are just so. Both the red stem dogwood of the second picture, and the flowering dogwood of the third picture, are the first two examples of red foliage from my four groups of six pictures. In the next two groups of six pictures, there is only one other example of bright red foliage, as well as an example of brown foliage, and an example of irregularly bronzed orange foliage. Those are topics for next week.

1. red stem dogwoodP81208

2. red stem dogwoodP81208+

3. flowering dogwoodP81208++

4. California currantP81208+++

5. California black walnutP81208++++

6. Chinese wisteriaP81208+++++

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

Six on Saturday: Too Much Autumn Color I – Natives


The merely adequate color among the sweetgums early in the season suggested that color would be insipid this year. Then, the weather did something that set it all off. There was too much autumn foliar color this week to select just six pictures. So, I didn’t. These six are only the first of four groups of six. It would not be practical to post a group weekly for four weeks, particularly since some of the colorful foliage in these pictures was dislodged by generous rainstorms shortly after the pictures were taken. There will be very little foliage left by the time the last group of six posts. Instead, two groups of six will be posted presently, and the other two groups of six will be posted next Saturday, before they are two weeks old. I hope this does not violate any rules.

All six specie in this first group happen to be locally native. They are also all yellow, which is the standard color here. Regionally, there is not much orange or red. The thimbleberry in the first picture is rather pale yellow, but that is more color than it typically gets. Of these six, the thimbleberry is also the only species that does not grow as a tree, or a shrub like the hazelnut of the second picture. The hazelnut happens to be a Western hazelnut. The cottonwood happens to be a black cottonwood, although I would not know what distinguishes it from any other cottonwood. The sycamore is more specifically a California sycamore, which really is quite distinct.

1. thimbleberryP81201

2. hazelnutP81201+

3. cottonwoodP81201++

4. sycamoreP81201+++

5. boxelderP81201++++

6. bigleaf mapleP81201+++++

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

Ornamental Grape

51202Boston ivy is not really ivy at all; but is more closely related to grape. Along with creeping fig, it is one of the two best vines for freeway sound-walls. It protects the walls from graffiti and muffles sound. Unlike creeping fig, which is evergreen, Boston ivy is surprisingly colorful through autumn. Unfortunately, it clings to whatever it climbs with holdfast discs, so ruins paint, stucco, and any other surface it gets a hold of.

Then there is ornamental grape, Vitis vinifera. It is about as colorful as Boston ivy, and can climb almost as aggressively to thirty feet, but lacks the damaging holdfast discs. It is nearly fruitless, which may seem like a waste of an otherwise perfectly good grape vine; but it will not make much of a mess until it defoliates. If any of the tiny fruit actually matures, it will almost certainly get eaten by birds before anyone notices.

Since it does not grip so tightly to what it climbs, ornamental grape can get rather shrubby. Outer growth can overwhelm and shade out inner growth, and can eventually produce a thicket of dead canes. Pruning back superfluous shrubby growth while bare in winter promotes more vigorous new growth the following spring and summer. Ornamental grape likes full sun exposure.