Plants Know What Time It Is

Deciduous trees will eventually begin to defoliate.

Even without significant cool weather, the garden knows that it is now autumn. Most of the late summer blooming flowers are finishing their last bloom phases. Leaves of some of the deciduous trees, shrubs and vines are changing color, and some are already falling. Perennials that are dormant through winter are starting to deteriorate.

One of the several difficulties of living in a climate with so few difficulties is that autumn and winter weather is so very mild. Just as so many warm season annuals and vegetables want to continue to perform when it is time for them to relinquish their space to cool season annuals and vegetables, many other plants that should go dormant in autumn really want to stay awake as long as they can. Some semi-deciduous perennials even start to regenerate new growth before they shed their old growth.

Where winters are cooler, such plants generally shed the growth that developed in the previous year; in other words, they die back. They then stay dormant through the coolest part of winter, to break dormancy and regenerate late in winter or early in spring.

Beard tongue (Penstemon) can really look bad as the last flower spikes deteriorate, and the foliage gets spotty and grungy. It will be tempting to cut them back early. If possible, it is better to prune off only the deteriorating flower spikes, but wait until later in winter for major pruning. Premature pruning stimulates premature development of new growth that does not mature as well or as fast through winter as it would in spring. Such growth can be discolored, sparse and less vigorous until it gets obscured by later growth.

Marguerite daisy, ginger, canna, some salvias, most begonias, the various pelargoniums and all sorts of other perennials will likewise seem to be rather tired this time of year and through winter, but do not necessarily need to be pruned back just yet. Simply plucking or shearing off deteriorating flowers should be enough for now. Ginger and canna should not need to be pruned back until the foliage deteriorates enough to be almost unsightly. Begonias and pelargoniums, particularly common zonal geraniums, will be better insulated from potential frost damage through winter, and may not produce so much sensitive new growth if not pruned early.

Horridculture – Lessons From Motivational Posters

Goodness! Recycling these old articles involves some unpleasant memories, . . . but also some good ones.

Tony Tomeo

P81010I work for the best. I do not intend to be too terribly pompous about it. I am just being honest.
This is not first time I have worked for the best. I have worked for at least three of the best arborists in the Santa Clara Valley, and two legendary horticulturists. I intend to eventually return to work for one of those legendary horticulturists back on the farm.
The main work I do now is part time and temporary. That means that I work less than four days each week, and will not be working there forever. I try to not think about leaving because it is saddening. I enjoy those whom I work for so much.
I work for only one other horticulturist, and one who is studying to be an arborist. Neither of them grow any significant quantity of nursery stock like I intend to spend the…

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Canna

Most cannas have more billowy bloom.

It grows from dormant rhizomes like a few of the popular early spring bulbs do. However, the many garden varieties of Canna are actually late or summer bulbs. They will become available after last frost, at about the time that early bulbs bloom. Also unlike early bulbs that mostly bloom prolifically once, Canna bloom sporadically from late spring until frost.

Canna foliage can be as appealing as the bloom. The big and lush leaves can be green, bronze, striped or irregularly variegated. ‘Australia’ has strikingly dark bronze foliage with red bloom. ‘Tropicana’ is striped green, yellow, bronze red and purplish pink, with orange bloom. ‘Stuttgart’ is irregularly variegated with white, with ribbony peachy orange bloom.

Of course, the bloom can be quite spectacular atop all that foliage too. Flowers might be pink, red, orange, yellow, creamy white, or a spotty combination of two such colors. Most popular cannas bloom with big and floppy flowers. Some have narrower and wispy floral parts. Bigger cannas can get taller than eight feet. All growth dies back after frost though. New growth regenerates fast in spring.

Early Bulbs Start Even Earlier

Daffodils for next spring start now.

Crocus, daffodil and narcissus are among the earliest of the popular early bulbs to bloom at the end of winter. Hyacinth, tulip, freesia, anemone, ranunculus and some types of iris bloom shortly afterward. That process should begin in February or so, about five months from now. Early bulbs are seasonable now though. This is when they go into the garden.

Early bulbs, or spring bulbs, take commitment. While dormant, they are not much to look at. There is less to look at after their internment into shallow graves, where they disperse their roots secretly through winter. They will not make an appearance until they bloom in spring. Fortunately, their performance is more than adequate compensation for the effort.

Early bulbs go into the garden now because they take time to get ready for spring bloom. While dispersing roots, they also begin to develop foliage and floral stems. Such growth remains safe and invisible below the surface of the soil until the weather is warm enough for it to emerge. Until then, chilly and rainy weather helps bulbs adhere to their schedule. 

Whether they are true ‘bulbs’, or they are corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots, early bulbs are specialized storage structures. They contain what the particular plants need to grow to maturity and bloom within their preferred season. They should resume dormancy afterward, to repeat the process as perennials. However, few modern cultivars will do so. 

Realistically, extensive breeding for the development of the more extravagant of modern early bulbs has compromised their vigor. Consequently, some are not reliably perennial. Some simpler crocus, daffodils and narcissus can naturalize as perennial in comfortable situations. Otherwise, more of the later bulbs, like canna, cala and dahlia, are perennial.

Whether they naturalize or not, most early bulbs bloom just once annually. Planting them in phases prolongs bloom. Ideally, a subsequent phase begins to bloom as its preceding phase finishes. The length of bloom determines the frequency of phases. For example, if tulips bloom for a week, phases can be weekly. Winter annuals cover nicely when done.

No Rain

The first rain of the season is quite an event here. It happened on the sixth day of October when this article originally posted three years ago. It is now the third day of October, and although there has been neither rain nor rain in the weather forecast, it could happen at any time.

Tony Tomeo

P81006KFor the first time since last winter, a few raindrops were heard on the roof early last Monday morning. It was over by the time I realized that the odd and unfamiliar noise really was that of raindrops. By the time the sun came up, everything was dry. I do not even know if these few raindrops could be considered to be the first rain of the season. There were a few similar raindrops on my windshield a while back, but they were dismissed as such; merely a few random raindrops rather than a confirmed rain shower.
That is how our climate works here. The Santa Clara Valley is in a chaparral climate. Much of Southern California is in a desert climate. We do not get much rain, and it is almost exclusive to a limited rainy season that is centered around winter.
Dust and crud that accumulates on foliage…

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Gilley’s

Goodness, after three years, I still miss Gilley’s

Tony Tomeo

P80930Immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nothing was open for business downtown on North Santa Cruz Avenue south of Bean Avenue. As buildings were inspected for safety and cleaned up, sections of cyclone fence that had kept everyone out were slowly and systematically moved out so that businesses on the east side could open for business. The same slow process was repeated on the west side, moving south from the corner at Bean Avenue, but did not get very far. The old Los Gatos Cinema, as well as the several other building between it and the seemingly destroyed old La Canada Building on the southern corner of the block, were too badly damaged for the fence to be removed.
Right there next door to the Cinema where the fence stopped moving, Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe happened to be one of the fortunate businesses that was able to open for business again…

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Six on Saturday: Williamsburg!

Williamsburg in Virginia is one of those magical places that I heard about when I was a tyke, but have never been to. My parents went there as newlyweds, as they were considering relocating to Vienna, which is also in Virginia, near Washington. Well, Woodland Gnome of Our Forest Garden happens to be there, and sent me some seedlings of the native American beautyberry that I have been wanting to grow for a very long time! They arrived on Thursday. I retrieved them yesterday. As I prefer, they are what grows wild there, rather than cultivars.

1. Packages in the mail are so much fun! This package came all the way across North America, from Williamsburg in Virginia! That is farther than Ilwaco! Heck, that is farther than Oklahoma!

2. Hand written notes attached to such packages demonstrate impeccable cultural refinement. Oh my, I do not write such notes because it seems to me that no one appreciates them anymore.

3. Beautyberry seedlings in a six pack are the first of the species that I ever met! They looked neater after I set the six pack within another for added integrity, and rinsed the potting media off.

4. There are cuttings also! I have not processed these yet, but should do so in the morning. The foliage remains firmly attached, so will stay with these cuttings until they defoliate for autumn.

5. Berries that are attached to the cuttings might contain viable seed. They will likely be sown in the same cans that the cuttings get plugged into. If there are many, they will get separate cans.

6. Butterfly ginger is a major bonus in the package. It is another species that I had been wanting, but had not yet procured. If its bloom is white enough, some of it may go live at the Cathedral.

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

String Of Pearls

Weird but elegantly pendulous string of pearls likes to hang around. It cascades nicely from hanging pots or tall urns.

It is difficult to see how string of pearls, Senecio rowleyanus, is related to much more colorful daisies and asters. The small, fuzzy and sickly white flowers are not much to look at, and only clutter the elegantly pendulous and oddly succulent foliage. The round leaves are light bluish green, so actually resemble peas more than they resemble pearls. The stems are so very thin and limber that they can only stand a few inches high, but can cascade to three feet!

Although evergreen, stems of outdoor plants can be cut back while dormant through winter to promote fresher growth in spring. The pruning scraps are very easy to propagate as cuttings. Roots are undemanding and sensitive to rot, so should be allowed to get nearly dry between watering. Bright ambient light without too much direct sun exposure is best. Incidentally, all parts of Senecio rowleyanus are toxic.

Not All Plants Like Fads.

Ornate pots and planters can be as decorative as the plants within them, and provide extra accommodation for more plants.

Like so many fads too often are, container gardening is overrated, and is actually contrary to the currently most faddish of fads; sustainability. Plants in containers need more regular watering than those that can disperse their roots more extensively into the ground. Those that are so indulged also want fertilizer to be applied more regularly, but are more likely to be damaged if fertilized too generously. Because confinement is stressful, plants in containers are innately more susceptible to disease and pests. Some plants need more pruning for confinement.

Then there are the problems with the containers. If exposed to sunlight, thin plastic containers get warm enough to cook roots within. Pots that do not drain adequately or that sit in their own drainage basins can stay saturated enough to kill roots. Water in drainage basins allows mosquitoes to proliferate. Seepage from large pots can rot decks and stain pavement. Self watering containers work nicely for houseplants (if used properly!), but lack drainage, so can not be used out where they are exposed to rain.

The advantages to container gardening are actually quite limited. Containers are obviously needed for houseplants, and where exposed soil is not available, like on balconies. They are also convenient for plants that want better soil than they can get in the garden, especially if the rest of the garden is responsibly landscaped with sustainably undemanding plants that do not require soil amendment or regular watering. Frost sensitive plants can be moved easily to sheltered locations if contained. Flashy plants like orchids and tuberous begonias that get displayed prominently while blooming can be concealed while not so impressive.

Of course there are many pendulous plants like Boston fern, spider plant, string or pearls and burro’s tail that really are at their best in hanging pots. It is also hard to deny that there are all sorts of artsy containers, like colorfully glazed pots and sculptural concrete urns, which are appealing enough to justify growing plants in them, even if just to show off the fun containers. Bonsai requires containers, but that is another big topic!

Horridculture – Ignoring Arboriculture

This landscape had formerly been rather distinctive. All the appealing features are now gone. It is easy to be offended by what people charge money for.

Tony Tomeo

P81003There are too many different types of horticultural professionals to count. There are nurserymen who grow horticultural commodities. There are landscape architects and landscape designers who design the landscapes into which some of these horticultural commodities will go. There are landscapers who install such landscapes. Of course, there are gardeners who maintain the landscapes after they are installed. These are just a few of the more familiar horticultural professionals.
I will refrain from my typical ranting about the extreme lack of professionalism among almost all horticultural professionals who are not nurserymen or arborists (okay, and one landscape designer), but must point out something in the picture above. Do you see it?
It is not the fact that this once very well designed landscape was dismantled and mostly replaced with a cheap slapped together assemblage of cliché plants by someone who just needed work.
Nor is it the pointlessly disfigured shrubbery…

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