Orchids Have History In California

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Breeding has done wonders with orchids.

It is funny how so many different plants get here from all over the world, and then become so popular so far from their natural homes that they seem to have always been here. It is now hard to imagine that some of the more popular cymbidium orchids actually came from tropical and subtropical Asia and northern Australia. Other orchids are from tropical Africa or South America.

As the Nineteenth Century turned to the Twentieth, orchids were popularized by those who profited from industry in the east, and then moved west to escape harsh winters. They arrived in the Mediterranean climate of the Santa Barbara region with resources to spend on outfitting luxury homes with comparably luxurious gardens and exotic plants. Orchids were a natural choice.

At homes in Montecito and Hope Ranch, cymbidium orchids were grown is mass plantings, and maintained by professional horticulturists. The popularity of orchids continued for decades. As the extensive orchid collections of England were threatened by the bombing and fuel shortages of World War II, collectors and horticulturists in California brought them here to be safe and warm.

Many of these refugee orchids were bred extensively by Californian horticulturists to produce many of the countless varieties that are now available. Production of blooming potted orchid plants and cut orchid flowers have become major horticultural industries in California. To this day, the Santa Barbara region produces more orchids than any other region in America. Modern tissue culture cloning technology has made it possible to propagate and grow more orchid plants at a faster rate than ever before. This makes them more affordable.

Even though mass plantings of cymbidium orchids are now rare, orchids are probably as popular as they ever have been, simply because they are so available to more people who can enjoy them. They are not limited to fancy gardens of luxury homes. Cymbidiums are still popular potted plants for sheltered porches. Small but flashy moth orchids are among the most popular of blooming potted plants for homes and offices.

Weeding Earlier Rather Than Later

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Weeding is not much fun. Some of us might enjoy the relaxing monotony of productive weeding. Realistically though, most of us would prefer to do something else in the garden. There is certainly plenty of other chores that need to be done now, after earlier rain, and before the weather gets significantly warmer. However, such weather is why it is important to start weeding earlier than later.

By definition, weeds are weeds, because they are unwanted. They get to be unwanted by dominating space and exploiting resources more aggressively than wanted plants. Some innately grow faster and more aggressively than most other plants. Some are innately prolific with seed. Some employ multiple tactics to gain unfair advantages. Weeding is how we help our gardens compete.

Weeds grow throughout the year. Most slow down through the dry warmth of summer, and many die off then. However, there are always some weeds growing somewhere. When they die off, it is only after they have dispersed seed for their next generation. Some generate a few generation annually. Some are perennial weeds, or even shrubs, vines and trees, which survive for many years.

Weeding is more of a concern now because the majority of weeds grow so much more aggressively after the earliest rain of winter. Warming weather later in winter accelerates their proliferation. This is the time of year that weeds start to crowd desirable plants. If weeding is delayed for too long, weeds eventually bloom and toss seed. Some weeds extend stolons to disperse vegetatively.

The good news is that the same rain that promotes the proliferation of weeds also facilitates weeding. Weeds are easier to pull while the soil is still damp than they will be as the soil dries later in spring and summer. Also, while weeds are still fresh and turgid, they are less likely to leave roots or stolons behind in the soil. They are more difficult to pull intact as they begin to deteriorate later.

Furthermore, weeding should be done before weeds bloom and disperse seed for subsequent generations. Some are sneaky and quick.

Overworked Plants May Recover Slowly

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Some potted plants are real overachievers.

Landscaping and growing houseplants really is no way to bring nature closer to home. If it were up to nature, most of our gardens would be relatively bare. Most of the few native trees are less than ideal for home gardens. The few native annuals and perennials with colorful flowers bloom only briefly. Almost all native shrubbery is scrubby and not conducive to pruning. After all, most of us live in what would naturally be coastal chaparral.

This is why home gardens contain so many exotic plants from so many different climates and regions all over the world. These plants get pruned, shorn and mown in all sorts of unnatural ways. Most do better if watered unnaturally through naturally dry summer weather. Many crave unnatural fertilizer. Houseplants and a few others are confined to pots so that roots can not disperse like they want to.

Potted plants that are forced into bloom to decorate home interiors are the most unnatural of all. They are among the most extensively bred of plants. They are grown in contrived environments that coerce them to bloom whenever their blooms are needed. Poinsettias, lilies, azaleas, hydrangeas, kalanchoes, callas, miniature roses, chrysanthemums and some orchids are the more familiar of these sorts of plants.

They are certainly colorful by the time they leave the greenhouses they were grown in. By the time they come home, they are in the middle of full bloom. There is no work to get them to bloom. The work is in keeping blooms as healthy and as colorful as possible, for as long as possible. Most of these plants only want to be watered regularly, and are happy to keep their color for quite a while.

By the time they want fertilizer, blooming potted plants will have finished blooming. Sadly, at that time, most get discarded instead. Realistically though, such systematically abused plants can be rather ugly as they replace their greenhouse foliage with foliage that is better adapted to the garden. The process of forcing them into bloom is just too unnatural and difficult to recover from easily.

Yet, with enough patience and pampering, most blooming potted plants should eventually recover and adapt to a garden lifestyle. Lilies, callas and other bulb-like plants should be put aside in the garden while their foliage fades and eventually separates from the bulbs. The dormant bulbs can then be planted and allowed to grow into their new environments.

Seasonal Pruning Is Precisely That

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Some trees get pruned after bloom.

Seasonal pruning is just as the terminology implies, seasonal. It might seem as if it all happens in winter. Most of it begins after cooling autumn weather initiates dormancy. Most of it is completed before warming spring weather stimulates vascular activity and resumption of growth. That is why most seasonal pruning is referred to simply as winter pruning. Winter really is best for most of it.

However, most is not all. Plants that are damaged by frost should not be pruned immediately. Because pruning removes insulating vegetation, and stimulates new growth that is more sensitive to frost, such pruning is delayed until after the threat of subsequent frost. Birches and perhaps maples are popularly pruned in late summer or autumn because they bleed so much if pruned in winter.

Flowering cherry, plum, peach, crabapple and quince do not need the same sort of pruning that their fruiting counterparts rely on. Their exquisite bloom is the priority, rather than fruit. Pruning prior to bloom could diminish their potential. They can instead be pruned immediately after bloom, as new growth is emerging, or later in summer after soft new growth has become a bit more resilient.

Lilac and forsythia should likewise be pruned after spring bloom, but more aggressively than the flowering fruitless ‘fruit’ trees. If not pruned enough, they will produce fewer canes through summer to bloom the following spring. Older and gnarlier canes should be cut to the ground to favor younger and less branched canes. Old Oregon grape and Heavenly bamboo canes can be culled too.

Redtwig dogwood and cultivars of willow that are pollarded or coppiced for their colorful twigs can be pruned later too. There is no need to deprive them of their primary assets prematurely. They should be pruned as winter ends though, before their buds start to pop. Pussy willow is an exception that gets harvested after buds have fuzzily popped, but before new growth begins to develop.

Evergreen plants can be pruned late in winter, just before new growth develops to replace what gets pruned away.

Deciduous Fruit Trees Need Pruning

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Dormant fruit trees will bloom soon.

Deciduous fruit trees have no business in a low maintenance landscape. They need as much specialized pruning while dormant in winter as roses need, and on a much larger scale. Neglected trees get disfigured by the weight of their own fruit. Disease proliferates in their thicket growth that develops without pruning. Overgrown trees produce most of their fruit where no one can easily reach it. Fruit that can not be harvested attracts rodents.

Of course, deciduous fruit trees are certainly worth growing if they get the specialized pruning that they need. Pruning concentrates resources so fewer but better fruits develop. Fruit bearing stems are better structured to support the weight of their fruit, and lower so that the fruit is easier to reach. Pruning also promotes more vigorous growth, which is less susceptible to disease and insects.

Now that it is February, and the weather has been unusually warm, deciduous fruit trees that have not yet been pruned will need to be pruned very soon. They will be sensitive to such major pruning once they start to bloom. The pruning is too specialized to explain here in just a few sentences. Fortunately, Sunset publishes an very detailed book about “Fruit Tree Pruning” that explains how to prune each of the different fruit trees. Pruning will be more extensive each year as trees grow, but also becomes more familiar.

Stone fruits like apricots, plums, prunes, nectarines and peaches (that have hard seeds known as stones), need the most severe pruning. Their fruit develops on stems that grew last year. These stems should get cut short enough to support the weight of the fruit expected to develop next year. The ‘four Ds’, which are dead, dying, damaged and diseased stems, should get pruned out as well. Cherries and almonds do not get pruned as much because their fruit is so lightweight; and out-of-reach almonds simply get shaken down anyway.

Apples and pears are pomme fruits that need similar pruning, but also produce on stunted ‘spur’ stems that should not be pruned away. Spurs may continue to be productive for many years. Figs, persimmons, pomegranates, mulberries and grapevines all need their own specialized styles of pruning.

Pollarding And Coppicing Appall Arborists

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Pollarding is disturbingly severe but effective.

Very few arborists in America condone the extreme pruning techniques known as pollarding and coppicing. Both techniques essentially ruin trees, and deprive them of their natural form. Affected trees likely require such procedures to be repeated every few years or annually. Otherwise, they are likely to succumb to resulting structural deficiency. Restoration of such trees is rarely practical.

Pollarding is severe pruning to remove all except the main trunk and a few or perhaps several main limbs. Coppicing is even more severe, and leaves only a stump. Both are done while subjects are dormant through winter. Most or all new growth that develops is spring is concentrated around pruning wounds of the previous winter. Some coppiced stumps generate growth from the roots.

If pollarded or coppiced annually, all growth that developed during the previous season gets pruned cleanly away to where it grew from since the previous procedure. Distended ‘knuckles’ develop at the ends of pollarded limbs or coppiced stumps as the pruning is repeated for a few years. ‘English’ pollarding leaves a well oriented stub of any desired length to slowly elongate each knuckle.

Pruning wounds should be as flush to each knuckle as possible, without intrusive stubble. The many small pruning wounds left on each distended knuckle will compartmentalize (heal) efficiently as new growth develops during the following season. Pruning below a knuckle might seem to be more practical, but leaves a single but big wound that could decay before it gets compartmentalized.

Delaying pruning for a few years creates bigger wounds, and allows innately structurally compromised stems to get heavy.

Pollarding and coppicing were developed a long time ago to produce kindling, fence stakes, cane for basketry, and fodder for livestock, as well as silkworms. Nowadays, it is done to contain big trees, enhance the size and color of leaves, produce juvenile foliage, produce colorful twiggy growth, or prevent unwanted bloom or fruit. Not many trees are conducive to such severe techniques.

Pollarding Is Extreme Tree Pruning

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Pollarded knuckles look like science fiction.

Most arborists insist that pollarding is horticulturally incorrect. However, most of us who pollard trees in our home gardens are not arborists. Pollarding is technically detrimentally disfiguring to trees. However, some trees that are naturally short lived can live much longer if pollarded properly. That is the trick; doing it properly. Pollarding is certainly a distinctive pruning style that is not for everyone, but can be both practical and sustainable in certain situations.

Pollarding is an extreme pruning technique that involves the removal of all or almost all of the stems that grew since the last time the technique was done. The new growth gets cut back cleanly to distended ‘knuckles’ that develop at the ends of the original stems. Traditionally, one or two strategically aimed stubs from the removed new growth are left on each knuckle to form a new knuckle a bit beyond knuckles of the previous year. Locally though, stubs are typically omitted.

New growth must get cut back cleanly so that the wounds can get compartmentalized (healed over) as efficiently as possibly. Stubs interfere with this process. If one or two stubs are left on knuckles to form new knuckles, they should be long enough to get some distance from the original stubs, but short enough to not be too awkward. Knuckles should not get cut off! Such large wounds do not compartmentalize fast enough to avoid rotting.

Pollarding can only be done in winter, both because plants are dormant, and also because the weather is not so dangerous. New growth starts to shade exposed bark before it gets scalded by intensifying sunlight and heat in summer. Once they come out of dormancy, plants would be seriously distressed by such severe pruning. Because new growth is so vigorous after pollarding, it can become sloppy if pollarded less than annually. Some plants that grow slowly or produce stout stems may get pollarded less frequently.

London plane (sycamore) and fruitless mulberry are the most commonly pollarded trees. Silver maple, silk tree and various elms, willows and poplars adapt well to pollarding as well. Locust and purple leaf plum can be pollarded, but will be deprived of bloom. Bottlebrush can bloom later in the same year after getting pollarded, and probably will not need annual pollarding anyway. Pollarded bay trees can be kept small, and will provide better herbal foliage. Certain eucalyptus can be kept juvenile if their juvenile foliage is more appealing than their adult foliage.

Bulb-Like Perennials For Summer

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Dahlias planted now bloom in summer.

Like something of bad science fiction, they are back. The earliest of spring bulbs that were so discourteously buried in shallow graves last autumn are making their presence known. Even before the weather gets noticeably warmer, their foliage emerges above the surface of the soil. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop are already blooming. Hyacinth, tulip and anemone will be next.

We know them as spring bulbs, or alternatively, as hardy bulbs. However, in this climate, many bloom through late winter, so are finished by spring. Also, many are technically not really bulbs. They might be corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. They are hardy bulbs because they want to be planted through autumn so that they can get a bit of chill through winter before their early bloom.

Some spring bulbs require a bit more of a chill than they get in the locally mild climate. They bloom very well in their first season because they are pre-chilled before they are sold. Once dormant, they get dug and chilled in refrigeration to entice them to bloom well for subsequent seasons. That happens much later in the year though. For now, long before spring, we get to enjoy their bloom.

Summer bulbs, which are not so hardy, are what gets planted about now. Their planting is delayed, not just because they do not need chill, but also because they dislike it. If their foliage develops too early, it can be damaged by late frost. Once established, summer bulbs are more resilient to minor frost damage of premature foliage. They can therefore remain in the garden for many years.

Canna, dahlia and big old fashioned white calla are the simplest of summer bulb-like perennials to plant now. Those that are already established can be divided if crowded. The smaller and more colorful callas can be a bit more finicky. Gladiolus and various lilies are spectacular, but bloom only once annually, rather than throughout summer. They are also unlikely to establish as perennials.

Bulb-like perennials that bloom only once might be planted in phases to prolong their potentially brief bloom season.

Figs Are Easy To Propagate

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Some grasses can propagate by division.

The easiest way to propagate new fig trees may seem to be violent, but it works. Basal shoots that grew last year from the roots near the trunks of ungrafted trees can simply be torn out of the ground with as many attached roots as possible. These shoots can then be planted directly wherever new trees are desired, and watered in. Larger shoots may need to be dug out, and might do better if pruned down to just a foot or two tall when planted. Smaller shoots can be potted to grow through next summer, and then get planted in the ground next winter.

Tearing the shoots off in this unpleasant manner is effective for two reasons. It gets the most roots for the shoots to help the grow into new trees. It also removes more of the burl growth that produces the shoots than simply cutting the shoots neatly. Even if copies of the original tree are not desired, the basal shoots must be removed anyway. Simply pruning them away leaves more burl growth so that more shoots grow back next summer. Ideally, well maintained trees should actually not produce basal shoots.

Fig trees are innately easy to grow from basal shoots or cuttings while dormant through winter. Basal shoots, even those that get pulled without any obvious roots, will develop roots more efficiently than stem cuttings that were never in contact with the soil. However, if no basal shoots are available, stem cutting work just fine. Furthermore, grafted trees (which are quite rare) can only be copied by cuttings from above the graft. Basal shoots from below the graft will only produce copies of the understock.

Just as unwanted basal shoots and cuttings from pruning scraps can be grown into fig trees, overgrown perennials in need of thinning can be divided to propagate more of the same. Lily of the Nile, red hot poker, daylily, mondo grass, African iris, terrestrial yuccas, some ferns and some grasses are not only easy to propagate by division through winter, but many perform better if divided every few years or so, before they get too crowded. The common giant yucca develops big trunks instead of clumping shoots, but can be propagated just as easily from big cuttings.

Citrus Are Summery Winter Fruits

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Kumquats are now at their prime.

Citrus seem like such summery fruits. Chilled lemonade and lemon meringue pie are best during warm weather. There are certainly plenty of lemons that ripen randomly throughout the year, and plenty that last for months on their trees. Most limes, some grapefruits and ‘Valencia’ oranges will be around in summer too. Otherwise, most citrus are at their best right about now, through winter.

Mandarin oranges are traditional ingredients of well stuffed Christmas stockings. Where winters are cold and snowy, far from where they grow, they seem contrary to their natural ripening season.

Of all the citrus, they are the most perishable, so are best as they ripen. Their loosely fitting skins, that are so easy to peel, allow them to oxidize and dehydrate more readily than other citrus fruits.

Tangerines are just Mandarin oranges that were developed in North or South America. ‘Rangpur’ limes are actually sour Mandarin oranges that are somewhat less perishable because their skins happen to fit more firmly. Calamondins, which are odd but likely natural hybrids of Mandarin oranges and kumquats, are diminutive tangy fruits that do not last much longer than Mandarin oranges.

‘Bearss’ limes are preferably harvested right as they grow to mature size, but just before they ripen completely. Their flavor mellows as they ripen and yellow. Fortunately, they develop sporadically through an extensive season, so can be available any time fresh limes are desired. Grapefruits can be left intentionally to mellow on their trees after ripening, although this tactic can inhibit bloom.

Otherwise, many citrus fruits can last for more than three months on their trees without consequence. Some improve with mellowing. ‘Meyer’ lemons, which are a hybrid of an orange and a lemon, ripen like richly flavored lemons, and then mellow like very tart oranges. Since citrus fruits stop ripening when harvested, it is advisable to taste one before harvesting too many that are not ready.

Some ripened Mandarin oranges may have slight green blotches. ‘Valencia’ oranges may be slightly yellowish.