Do Not Forget Potted Plants

30918thumbAside from all the seasonal raking and dormant pruning, there is not as much to do in the garden as there was earlier in the year. Lawns do not need much mowing. Hedges do not need much shearing. Untimely mowing and shearing can actually damage lawns and hedges. Watering, which was so important while the weather was warm, is now rare in the cool weather between rain.

Watering is now so infrequent that the few plants that still need it sometimes do without. Plants that are merely sheltered by eaves probably do not mind so much because their roots are dispersed beyond the eaves. However, potted plants that are sheltered by eaves do not have that option. It may take a while in the cool and damp air, but they can slowly get uncomfortably dry.

Watering sheltered potted plants is too easy to forget about while everything that is not sheltered is getting soaked by rain. It is even more easy to forget because it is so infrequent. Things just do not dry out like they do in summer. Also, plants are less active, and many are dormant and defoliated, so really do not lose much moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces.)

In fact, overzealous watering can be just as detrimental as neglect. Soil saturation may not be as immediately dangerous as it would be during warmer weather, but eventually kills roots. Even with adequate drainage, soil moisture can linger if plants do not consume it. Determining how much water is needed for sheltered potted plants may not be as simple as it should be.

Larger plants in smaller pots want more water than smaller plants in larger pots. Those that are exposed to wind will get dry faster than those that are protected. Hanging pots dry out the fastest. Ironically, drought tolerant plants that need the least water in the ground often want the most in pots. They are the most reliant on extensive root dispersion, which is not possible in confinement.

Some potted (frost tolerant) plants might get slightly relocated out into the weather so that they get the rain that keeps the rest of the garden well watered through winter.

Advertisements

Potted Plants Have Their Place

30918thumbPavement serves a purpose in a landscape. So does decking. They are the flooring of the outdoor spaces that are used for outdoor living. Patios and decks are where we barbecue and dine. Walkways and porches are how we get around the exteriors of our homes. Driveways are where we park cars. For what they get used for, they are better than turf grass, ground cover or bare soil.

So why is it so trendy to clutter pavement and decking with potted plants that would really prefer to be in the ground? It would be more practical to pave less area, and leave more space to plant things in the ground. There would be no damp pots staining concrete or rotting decking. There would be less area to rake or blow, with fewer obstacles in the way. Watering would be much easier.

Well, as it turns out, there are a few plants that should be potted. Houseplants are the most obvious. After all, not many homes have exposed soil where houseplants can be grown on the inside. Even if they did, it is still easier to keep houseplants potted for portability. Plants such as orchids and Christmas cactus, can live in the garden most of the time, and then come in while blooming. Portability is also important for tropical plants that need protection from even mild frost. It might be easier to move them than to cover them.

There are also a few plants that are contained because they are invasive. Mint and horseradish are culinary plants that are so famously invasive that not many of us would bother growing them if they were not so much better fresh from the garden than purchased from elsewhere. Rather than allow them to escape, mint is popularly potted, and horseradish is commonly grown in deep tubs.

Container gardening and growing plants in pots is something that we do for out own convenience, or just because it looks good cluttering otherwise useful parts of the landscape. With only a few exceptions, plants prefer to be in the ground, where they can disperse their roots as extensively as they like. They are healthier, and need less attention. To them, container gardening is unnatural.

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.

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.

Being Cool Might Be Overrated

31218thumbThis really is the best climate for gardening. Even though summers are mild, there are not many plants that want for more warmth. Even though winters are mild, it gets just cool enough for many plants that require winter chilling. Yet, there are a few plants, particularly plants from tropical climates, that can be damaged by frost. The best way to protect such plants from frost is to not grow them.

Of course, this oversimplified technique would prevent the cultivation of familiar plants like banana, angel wing begonia and angel’s trumpet. In cooler regions, it might involve bougainvillea, philodendron and some types of citrus. Most of us would prefer to take some degree of risk to grow marginal plants. Some may get damaged by frost and then recover. Others may be killed by frost.

Potted plants can be moved to sheltered spots when threatened by frost. Some can be brought into the home or garage temporarily. For some, the simple shelter of a porch or a dense evergreen tree might be sufficient. Bougainvillea and other plants that do not like to be potted might prefer to be planted under the eaves against a warm south-facing wall. A bit of warmth radiates from walls at night.

During the coldest nights, some of the most sensitive plants that can not be moved to shelter may need shelter brought to them. Burlap, plastic, paper or any sort of sheeting that can be temporarily suspended on stakes above the foliage should be sufficient. Leaves that touch the sheeting can potentially get frozen. The sheeting should be removed during the day so that it does not get too warm in the sunlight.

Foliage that does get damaged by frost should not be pruned away immediately. It may be unsightly, but if left for later, it helps to insulate inner foliage and stems from subsequent damage from later frost. Besides, immediate pruning stimulates new growth that will be even more sensitive to frost than was the foliage and stems that had already been damaged.

Arborists Are Very Specialized Horticulturists

81205thumbThe first storm of the year has a way of reminding us if our trees need attention. Whether then need to be worked on this year or not, we tend to notice how they blow in the wind, or if they are full of dead and deteriorating debris that falls into the garden or onto the roof. As deciduous trees defoliate, they are less likely to be damaged by wind, but their structural deficiencies become visible.
This is when some of us will contact arborists to inspect and perform necessary arboricultural procedures for trees that have grown to big for us to maintain. We do not want trees to be damaged by the wind. Nor do we want them dropping limbs or falling onto whatever is within their reach. Those that are biggest and most beyond our reach have the most potential to cause major damage.
Arborists are horticulturists who specialize in the horticulture of trees, which is known as arboriculture. They assess the healthy, stability and structural integrity of trees, then prescribe necessary corrective arboricultural procedures, and if necessary, prescribe the best time for such procedures. Most arborists work with a tree service that is equipped to perform the prescribed procedures.
Arborists who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their credential by continued involvement with the educational seminars, classes and workshops of the ISA. More information about the ISA, local certified arborists and even arboriculture, can be found at the website http://www.isa-arbor.com.
As mentioned earlier, arboriculture is specialized horticulture of trees. It is not something that gardeners should be expected to perform; particularly mow, blow and go gardeners who are not even proficient with simple gardening. Many arborists can concur that unqualified gardeners sometimes kill trees, and cause much of the damage to trees that arborists must later correct. Besides, arboriculture is the sort of work that can be very dangerous to those who lack training, experience or the necessary equipment.

Colorful Berries Linger Through Winter

51125thumbJust as many flowers attract pollinators with color, some types of fruit employ color to get the attention of birds and other animals. Just as many flowers reward their pollinators with nectar, fruit is its own reward to the animals that eat it. The only catch is that those who want the fruit must disperse the seed within. For both the hungry animals and the fruiting plants that lack mobility, it is a rather equitable arrangement.

Much of the fruit that uses this technique ripens in autumn, and linger through winter, when there is not much other fruit. It is available to migratory birds and animals that want to fatten up for winter. Unlike nuts and large seeds that get buried locally by squirrels, the tiny seeds of winter berries typically get eaten and ‘dispersed’ more remotely. Some actually need to be scarified by digestion before they will germinate.

Because they put as much effort into attracting vectors to disperse their seed as flowers put into attracting pollinators, fruit and berries can add significant color to the home garden. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruits and other citrus are quite colorful, even though they do not expect to be taken away by birds, To attract crows, persimmon fruits get as colorful for winter as their foliage was through autumn.

Firethorn (pyracantha) is probably the most colorful and profuse of the ornamental berries. Various specie and cultivars of cotoneaster produce similar berries, but not quite so prolifically. They are popular for their resiliency. Toyon, which is the native ‘California holly’ that Hollywood is named for, is a bit too finicky for irrigated and refined gardens, but can be quite colorful with berries in wild or casual landscapes.

Firethorn, cotoneaster and toyon, as well as English hawthorn, all produce similar ‘pomme’ fruits, which are actually more like tiny apples than real berries. They are so popular with the birds that they are not very messy; although the birds may be if they loiter. English hawthorn is a small deciduous tree, so yellows and defoliates as the bright red fruit ripens.

Propagation Of Perennials By Division

80718thumbAutumn is for more than planting. It is when most of the aggressive pruning gets stared. It might be the best time to work with compost and conditioning the soil. Bulbs get planted. Gutters get cleaned. Leaves get raked. Perennials get groomed. We might think of it as a time of slowing down after such a busy summer, but in many gardens, autumn is just as busy with seasonal chores.

Autumn is when many of the spring, and some of the early summer, blooming perennials get divided. That means that they get dug up, split into smaller parts, and then replanted. Because there will be more smaller plants after the process than there were bigger plants before the process, some should get planted over a larger area, in other parts of the landscape, or shared with friends.

Not all perennials need to be divided annually, and some may never need to be divided at all. Perennials that bloom in autumn or winter, such as Japanese anemone and bergenia, get divided in spring, since they will have plenty of time to recover from the process to bloom on schedule. Black-eyed Susan does not likely care if it gets crowded, but can get divided simply for propagation.

Lily-of-the-Nile should be divided if it gets too crowded to bloom well. Division allows more room for the individual shoots to grow and bloom as they should. However, because it takes a while for newly divided shoots to recover, they should only be divided every few years or so, and only if they happen to be getting crowded. African iris gets divided if overgrown plants are looking shabby.

It is not always necessary to dig entire plants. If dividing New Zealand flax just for propagation, it is easier to pry the desired number of side shoots from a mature clump, without digging the main part of the clump. Agave pups might be (very carefully) pried off of larger rosettes just to keep the main rosettes neat. Black-eyed Susan and other deciduous perennials get divided while bare.

When It Rains It Pours

51118thumbFor those who do not remember ancient history, this wet stuff that fell from the sky recently is known as “rain”. It used to be more common, particularly through winter. It has an unfortunate way of getting everything exposed to it quite wet. It makes soil muddy. Yet, rain has many attributes. It is composed of water, so provides much of what irrigation systems have provided for so long in the absence of rain.

Most of us have already been using less water around the garden than in the past. Some plants have suffered, and a some may have died. Surviving lawns are probably not as green as we would like them to be. Just when we think that the garden can not get by with any less, the weather takes over. Even sporadic rain mixed in with mostly sunny weather provides significant moisture.

Not only is more moisture falling from the sky, but the plants and lawns that want it become less demanding through autumn and winter. Evergreen foliage loses less moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces) because it is exposed to less sunlight during shorter days, and because the air is cooler and more humid. Deciduous plants drop their leaves, so do not lose moisture.

Even plants that are sheltered from rain by eaves will need less water because of the cool and humid weather, and shorter days. Some potted evergreen plants that are disproportionately large relative to their pots will likely want to be watered between the rain, only because their roots are so confined. Potted deciduous plants may need their soil moistened if the weather stays dry long enough for the soil to get dry.

Automated irrigation systems need to be adjusted for the changing weather. Some systems may need to be adjusted a few times. By the time the weather gets reliably rainy and cool later in winter, some irrigation systems can be temporarily disabled until the weather gets warmer and drier in spring. Not only does this conserve water; it also makes over-watering and soil saturation less likely.

Fall Color Is More Foliar

71122As zinnias, petunias, cosmos and other warm season annuals fade in the cooling weather, we might add a few chrysanthemums or marigolds for color through autumn, or we might go straight for pansies, violas or other cool season annuals that will provide color through winter. In the locally mild climate, there is always potential for some sort of colorful bloom. Mild weather has advantages.

It also has a few disadvantages. It is what limits the variety of apples that can be grown here. It limits the potential for bulbs that will naturalize. It is why we do not even bother with maple sugaring. Although mild autumn weather promotes colorful bloom of cool season annuals, and allows some of the warm season annuals to bloom right into winter, It subdues the color of deciduous foliage.

Sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo are the most reliable trees for autumn foliar color here, even in the mildest of autumns. Sweetgum and Chinese pistache exhibit the most impressive range of vibrant colors. Flowering pear can be comparable, and often displays deep burgundy red as well. Ginkgo exhibits only bright yellow, but it is probably the best of bright yellow.

There are a few more choices. Fruitless mulberry, tulip tree, black walnut and the poplars turn nice yellow if the weather is right, but they do not get quite as bright as ginkgo. If it gets cold enough, Chinese tallow turns rich purplish burgundy. Red oak turns a nice uniform brown. Most cultivars of crape myrtle can get as colorful as sweetgum, and also provide colorful bloom through summer.

Of course, it is very important to learn about the distinct personality of a particular tree before adding it to the garden. After all, no tree is perfect. Sweetgum eventually drops messy and prickly seed pods. Roots of both sweetgum and Chinese pistache can be aggressive with concrete. Flowering pear is susceptible to fire blight. Then there are a few trees that are colorful in autumn, that also have other benefits. Persimmon trees that are grown for their fruit turn the most fiery orange in autumn!