Some Annuals Are Not Annual

50114thumb
Some summer annuals can survive winter.

So many annuals are actually perennials. They just get dug and replaced because they are not pretty enough during their off season. For warm season annuals, winter is the off season. For cool season annuals, summer is the off season. However, if left alone, many annuals that are actually perennials go dormant so that they can survive through their off season to regenerate and perform again for another season, or several seasons

Cyclamen and various primroses are cool season annuals that are in season now. Cyclamen will go dormant and defoliate as the weather gets warm in summer. Primroses do not defoliate, but get rather runty through warm weather. If planted with other light duty warm season perennials that take over for them, no one notices. For example, primroses are colorful enough now to distract from tired fleabane. By the time primroses fade, the fleabane takes over.

Chrysanthemums are among the flashiest of perennial annuals, but also have a short season. They typically get planted while blooming in autumn, but finish their bloom cycle before winter. After all the rain and cool weather . . . and then a bit of warm weather, some are already dying back to the ground; but closer examination might reveal new growth already emerging from the roots!

Nasturtiums can obscure regenerating chrysanthemums nicely. If the frost sets them back, they recovery quickly. They will bloom more colorfully by spring, and continue until summer gets too warm. By that time, the chrysanthemums should be filling out nicely to bloom by autumn. As the chrysanthemums finish, the nasturtiums will have sown their seeds, so that the process can start over again. Neither chrysanthemum nor nasturtium need to be removed while out of season. They only need to be pruned back and groomed accordingly.

Coleus, impatiens, fibrous begonias and maybe even polka dot plant that were only moderately damaged by frost might be salvageable if they can stay put long enough. That is the advantage of growing them in pots with other small perennials that will cover for them when they die back or need to be pruned back.

Fruit Trees Need Specialized Pruning

00122thumb
Even almond trees need some pruning.

For centuries, fruit trees have been bred to produce unnaturally abundant and unnaturally big fruit. That has worked out well for those who enjoy the resulting fruit. It is not such an advantage for the exploited trees that must produce it. Without specialized pruning, most of such trees are unable to sustain healthy development of all the fruit they could potentially produce, or support the weight.

Specialized pruning concentrates resources into less excessive fruit of superior quality. It improves structural integrity of limbs that support the weight of all the fruit too. Trees that produce smaller and lighter fruit, such as cherries, may only need to be trimmed occasionally to eliminate structurally deficient growth. Heavier fruit, such as peaches, necessitates much more aggressive pruning.

Almost all deciduous fruit trees should be pruned about now, before they bloom and foliate at the end of winter. Such pruning is too severe to be done while the trees are active in spring. Summer pruning to maximize production within less space is the only practical option to dormant pruning. Evergreen fruit trees, such as citrus and avocado, should not be pruned or groomed during winter.

The main group of deciduous fruit trees that require dormant pruning in winter are stone fruit, of the genus Prunus. This includes peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, prune, cherry, various hybrids and almond. The second main group are pomme fruit, such as apple, pear and quince. Fig, persimmon and grapevines, as well as roses, need specialized and perhaps very aggressive pruning too.

Dormant pruning of deciduous fruit trees, roses and grapevines is too complex to describe adequately here in just a few paragraphs. Nonetheless, those who grow such plants must be aware of how important it is, and ideally, know how to do it. Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to procure services of horticultural professionals who know or care how to execute such procedures properly.

Frost Is Just Too Cool

31218thumb
Frost makes tender foliage ugly fast.

Is it too late to warn about frost? After all the rain, the recent and sudden cold weather was quite a surprise. Fortunately, these recent frosts were relatively mild. This sort of weather is probably just enough to start to satisfy plants that require chilling through winter without causing too much damage to too many sensitive plants. So far, only the most sensitive plants, like angels’ trumpet, canna and left-out houseplants show symptoms of frost damage. (Cannas should get cut to the ground at the end of winter anyway.)

Doing without all frost sensitive plants would be too limiting. Lemon, avocado, bougainvillea, fuchsia and Australian tree fern would be off limits. Such plants are worth growing, as long as we understand the potential for occasional frost damage. Those that are too big to protect may sometimes need to get pruned for removal of stems that get killed by frost. In milder climates, such damage will be very rare. In cooler spots, damage is more common, and may involve a few tougher plants, like jacaranda.

Smaller plants that are sensitive to frost, such as jade plant, angel wing begonia and the various pelargoniums, can be grown in containers so that they can be moved to sheltered spots before the weather gets too cold for them. The most sensitive sorts need to be moved under a porch roof or eave, or maybe into a garage. More resilient plants may be safe under overhanging trees or against a wall. South or west facing stucco walls radiate a slight bit of warmth at night.

Frost sensitive plants that get too big for containers should be planted in sheltered spots, like below eaves or larger trees. If a severe frost is predicted, young plants can be protected by burlap, paper, trash bags or any convenient sheeting suspended above by stakes. Foliage that touches the sheeting may get frozen, but foliage within should be fine.

Foliage and stems that get damaged by frost should not necessarily get pruned away immediately. Although unsightly, the dead foliage insulates damaged stems below from subsequent frost. Besides, premature pruning can stimulate new growth, which is more sensitive to subsequent frost.

Planting Bare Root Stock Properly

00115thumb
Bare root roses bloom next summer.

Most of the advantages of bare root stock are obvious. Bare root stock is less expensive and easier to work with in regard to installation and pruning to a desired form. What some of us may find difficult to understand is that it actually gets established into a new garden more efficiently than canned (potted) nursery stock does. As incredible as it seems, there are a few simple reasons why.

Instead of dispersing roots within the confinement of cans, bare root stock disperses roots directly an extensively into the soil into which it gets planted. Their initial deficiency of roots encourages them to do so quickly. Roots of canned stock must recover from confinement. Their new roots may be hesitant to leave the comfort of the extra rich medium in which their original roots developed.

The holes dug for planting bare root stock need not be much wider than the roots can be spread apart, and no deeper. If too deep, newly planted stock will sink as the loosened soil below settles. Grafted plants must not sink enough for their graft unions to be below grade. A cone formed of firmly pressed soil at the bottom of a planting hole can be useful for spreading roots out evenly over.

Rich soil needs no amendment. If compost is added to loosen dense soil, it should be as minimal as practical. Too much amendment will tempt roots to stay close rather than dispersing remotely. Fertilizer is not necessary immediately after planting. However, because the soil does not stay very cold here, and roots start growing before spring, mild fertilizer can be applied shortly afterward.

Finally, most bare root stock should be groomed and probably pruned after planting. Fruit trees are often sold with only minimal prior pruning. Superfluous stems function as packing material that buffers the ravages of transportation, and also provide more options for preliminary structural pruning. Aggressive pruning of plants that benefit from it concentrates resources for growth in spring.

Bare Plants With Bare Roots

00108thumb
Dormant plants do not miss soil.

Knowing how colorfully bulbs will eventually bloom can initially make planting them disappointing, since there is nothing to see for all the effort. Planting bare root plants is not much more rewarding. The bare stems are a bit more proof of the effort, but will do nothing until they break dormancy in spring. Now that Christmas trees have vacated nurseries, bare root plants will be arriving, and will need to be planted before winter ends.

As the name implies, bare root plants have bare roots, without the soil they were grown in. Better equipped nurseries ‘heel in’ bare root plants in moist sand, which simply means that the roots get buried temporarily. When purchased, the plants get pulled from the sand and wrapped for the trip to their new home garden, where they get planted permanently into real soil.

Alternatively, bare root plants can be prepackaged in bags of moist sawdust. They only need to be removed from their packaging and sawdust before getting planted into the garden. Mail order plants, including plants purchased online, often get packaged even more simply, with a damp bag around the roots, maybe with a bit of gel or damp paper. The plants are safely dormant, so are not even aware of what is going on.

The main advantage of bare root plants is that they cost about a third of what typical nursery stock in heavier cans of media (soil) cost. Because they are so much less cumbersome, several bare root plants can be purchased at a time, and brought home in a small car without much effort. Since they lack the luxury of the soil they were grown in, they immediately disperse their roots directly into the surrounding soil.

Roots of bare root plants should be spread away from each other at planting. Soil amendment is nice, but should not be so copious that roots will not want to disperse outside of the amended soil. Even if rain is expected, newly planted bare root plants should initially get soaked so that soil settles around the roots. Grafted plants should be planted with the graft union above grade.

Fruit trees such as apricot, cherry, plum, prune, peach, nectarine, almond, apple and pear, as well as roses, are the most popular of bare root plants. Flowering crabapple, flowering cherry, poplar, willow, lilac, forsythia, wisteria and grape are also available.

Bare Root Season Has Begun

00108thumbBefore all the Christmas trees were sold and relinquished their space, the smaller types of bare root stock started arriving in local nurseries. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, grapes, strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, may have been available for a while. More substantial bare root stock, such as roses, fruit trees and ornamentals, may already be arriving.

Bare root stock is known as such simply because its roots are bare. It gets dug as dormancy begins in autumn, and separated from the soil it grew in. It remains dormant as it gets transported to nurseries, and then to home gardens where it ultimately gets planted. It is completely unaware of the otherwise unsurvivable processes until it wakes up to resume growth in a new home in spring.

The roots of some of the smaller bare root plants and roses, as well as some fruit trees, are bagged in damp sawdust. Most bare root fruit trees, as well as some of the smaller plants, are merely heeled-in to damp sand, and upon purchase, pulled from the sand and bagged without packing material. Roots can soak in water for a few days prior to planting, but will not survive dry exposure.

There are several advantages to bare root stock. It is significantly less expensive than canned (potted) stock. It is also easier to get from a nursery and into the home garden. Branch structure can develop directly in a garden, rather than adapt from how it developed earlier in a nursery. New roots disperse directly into the soil, so need not recover from former confinement within a can (pot).

The more popular bare root fruit trees that are now becoming available are stone fruits, pomme fruits, persimmons, figs, mulberries and walnuts. Stone fruits are those of the genus Prunus, which contain single large seeds known as stones. These include apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches, nectarines, almonds and their weird hybrids. Apples, pears, and quinces are pomme fruits.

(Almonds are nuts that are actually stones of leathery fruits that dry and separate from the stones as hulls.)

Why Cyclamen Are So Popular

41224thumbCyclamen are everywhere! Some nurseries have more cyclamen than all other cool season annuals combined. Not all cyclamen are represented though. Almost all are white or simple red. Pink, salmon and other shades of red are noticeable scarce because they are not traditional colors of Christmas. The plants are mostly of impeccable quality, and outfitted with abundant flowers. While there is not much else blooming, the popularity of cyclamen is impossible to ignore.

The problem with cyclamen is the expense. Relative to other cool season annuals, they are large plants that are only available in four inch and larger pots, so naturally cost more. They can not be purchased in less expensive cell packs. Even though they are perennials that can last for many years, they are almost always used as disposable cool season annuals that get replaced when warm season annuals come into season. It can be difficult to justify such an expense for something that lasts only a few months.

The advantage to cyclamen is that they look good instantly, even if they do not perform as reliably during the next few months. This is something that the other cool season annuals have difficulty with. Only larger and more expensive annuals in four inch pots are so immediately colorful, and even they need some time to fluff out and get established in the garden. They just do not grow as fast now as they did earlier in autumn. The weather is now cooler. The days are now shorter.

This is why it was important to replace warm season annuals with cool season annuals earlier instead of later, even if some of the warm season annuals had still been blooming somewhat well. It gave the cool season annuals some time to mature before winter really slowed everything down. Even though they do not grow as actively now, they are already big enough to bloom impressively.

Pansy, viola, stock, Iceland poppy, nemesia, various primroses and ornamental cabbage and kale can certainly get planted now, but will grow a bit slower than they would have if they had been planted earlier in autumn. If necessary, it might be worth planting them a bit more densely than typical, or planting larger plants from four inch pots.

Winter Is For Dormant Pruning

P90316++++The internet makes it possible to communicate with people who enjoy gardening all over the World. It can be amusing to hear what garden enthusiasts in Australia are doing now in early summer. Is it always summer in Ecuador? A common theme in much of America is that there is not much gardening to do right now. It might be more accurate to say that no one wants to go out in the cold.

Where winter weather is too unpleasantly cold to work in the garden, many winter chores can either be done earlier in late autumn, or delayed until early spring. Such scheduling is not a problem, since the plants involved are so deeply dormant through such cold weather anyway. Until the weather warms a bit, they do not want to work in their gardens either. Scheduling is very different here.

Not only does mild weather facilitate gardening chores, but it necessitates the completion of certain chores before the end of winter. Many plants that are mostly dormant while the weather is cool are actually dispersing their roots now that the soil is moistened by winter rain. They will be ready to break dormancy weeks before they would where winters are colder. There is no time for delay.

With a few exceptions, winter is the season for pruning here. Maples and birches should have been pruned earlier, or should be pruned later, so that they do not bleed sap. Citrus get pruned and groomed after the last frost because pruning stimulates new growth that is sensitive to frost. Early blooming flowering crabapples, flowering cherries and forsythias should get pruned after bloom.

Otherwise, most deciduous plants and many evergreen plants should be pruned in winter, while they are as dormant as they get. Pruning now will be less disruptive than it would be while they are more active. They wake up in spring and resume growth as if nothing happened, but relieved of the superfluous growth that was pruned away. Winter pruning is what fits best into their schedules.

Of all plants in the garden, deciduous fruit trees and roses rely on specialized pruning more than most others.

Not All Evergreens Are Conifers

41217thumb‘Conifer’ and ‘evergreen’ are almost synonymous. Of the two, ‘evergreen’ is the more familiar term. Some people do not know what a ‘conifer’ is. Simply speaking, an evergreen is a plant that retains foliage throughout the year, even while deciduous plants defoliate through winter. A conifer is a plant that produces seeds in cones, such as pine cones, although many are not easy to recognize as such. Actually though, not all evergreens are conifers; and not all conifers are evergreens.

Southern magnolia, glossy privet, lily of the Nile, all sorts of eucalyptus and all sorts of palms retain their foliage through winter, but none are conifers. Larch, dawn redwood and bald cypress are conifers, but are also deciduous. This can be quite a surprise for anyone expecting them to be evergreen. The foliage turns brown enough to resemble death before defoliation, although larch can get quite colorful in autumn where winters are cooler.

Now that flowers for cutting are scarce, evergreen foliage is popularly cut and brought into the home instead. Here in California, not many of us have fir or spruce out in the garden. Redwood, pine, cypress and cedar (deodar and Atlas) are more common. Leyland cypress, Western red cedar, incense cedar and the various chamaecyparis are not as common, but are just as effective. Incense cedar as well as some of the junipers (unshorn) are particularly aromatic.

Since the various hollies are uncommon here, Californians prefer other evergreens with berries, such as firethorn (pyracantha), contoneaster and toyon. Incidentally, toyon had been so recognized as a substitute for holly that it had historically been known as California holly, and is the origin of the name of Hollywood. Magnolia grenades (fruiting structures) can function like weird pine cones. Southern magnolia has big and glossy leaves with rusty orange undersides. They can provide bold color and texture, even if they have dried to a rich brown.

There are of course no rules for cut foliage. Anything that is still foliated and appealing in the garden may work nicely in the home. Ferns are an obvious choice, although some drop spores that stain fabric. Various pittosporums, podocarpus, eucalyptus, New Zealand flax and even the leaves of bird of paradise are all worth a try.

Evergreens From Our Home Gardens

91225thumbEvergreens are popular for home d├ęcor through winter because there is not much blooming so late in most other American climates. The tradition endures, even though cut flowers of all sorts can easily be purchased from common supermarkets nowadays. Here on the West Coast, where several varieties of flowers can bloom through winter, evergreen foliage is as popular as it ever was.

Christmas trees are the most substantial form of traditional seasonal evergreens. The biggest wreaths occupy less space, and are mostly confined to walls rather than floors. Garlands can be big too, but their less defined form fits more neatly into limited space. For many of us, neatness is not a priority. Displays of evergreens and all the associated ornamentation can get quite elaborate.

Not many of us grow our own Christmas trees. It is more practical to purchase them as if they are very large cut flowers. Most but not all of us who hang garland likewise procure it already made. Some purchase prefabricated wreathes too. However, it is possible that more of us create our own. Other bits and pieces of evergreens are unlikely purchased. Most are from our home gardens.

Most of the pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, yew, arborvitae, and various genera known collectively as cedar, that are traditional evergreens in other regions are scarce here. A few other exotic species of pine, as well as natives, are more common in some landscapes. There are also different cedar and arborvitae. Blue spruce can sometimes be found. Douglas fir is native to nearby mountains.

Other regions lack the abundance of various cypress and juniper that are common here, as well as coastal redwood. (Redwood foliage is perishable once cut.)

There are no rules about cut evergreens anyway. Within reason, we can cut and bring in whatever we happen to find to be appealing in our gardens. We should cut the foliage properly though, as if pruning. Also, we should not cut too much from any particular spot, but instead harvest evenly over a large area. It helps to take pieces that are out of view, or that need to be pruned out anyway.