Deadhead To Eliminate Fading Bloom

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Deadhead finished daffodils to conserve resources.

The need to deadhead so early in spring is one of the few minor consequences of spring bulbs. Long before it becomes necessary to deadhead zinnia, canna and rose, the first flowers to bloom as winter ends are already finished. Many are those of spring bulbs. Their lingering deteriorating bloom can be slightly unappealing. What is more of a concern, is that some will likely try to go to seed.

The process of producing unwanted seed consumes resources that could otherwise sustain more useful growth. However, for spring bulbs that have finished blooming, production of seed for a new generation is more important than their own survival. That is why it is helpful to deadhead bulbs and many other plants after bloom. If deprived of seed production, they divert resources elsewhere.

Deadheaded narcissus, daffodil, freesia, lily and tulip store more resources into new bulbs, which they generate to bloom next year. Snowdrop and grape hyacinth cultivars that get deadheaded are not likely to get overwhelmed by their own feral seedlings. (It is neither practical nor necessary to deadhead crocus or big naturalized colonies of snowflake, feral snowdrop or feral grape hyacinth.)

While it is important to deadhead most spring bulbs after bloom, it is also important to not remove deteriorating foliage prematurely. After all, the foliage produces the resources that are necessary to generate healthy new bulbs for next year. Such foliage starts to slowly deteriorate immediately after bloom, but may linger for many months. Bulbs will shed their foliage when they no longer need it.

Until then, bedding plants or low perennials can obscure deteriorating bulb foliage as it falls over. Trailing gazania and dwarf periwinkle work nicely for shorter bulbs. If they get shorn low for winter, trailing plumbago, common periwinkle and African daisy can work nicely for taller bulbs.

Good Looks Are Not Everything

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Less color can mean more fragrance.

More flowers bloom as winter becomes early spring than at any other time of year. For many flowers, bloom is significantly accelerated this year because winter was so very warm. Flowering cherry, purple leaf plum and most of the stone fruit trees (such as almond, cherry, apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, prune and all their various hybrids) have already bloomed.

Color is what gets noticed first. After all, that is what all the flashy colors are intended for, to get the attention of pollinators. Yet, there is more to the indirect mating strategies of flowers than color. Because flowers lack the mobility to pollinate each other, they do what they must to attract others to disperse their pollen for them. Some use fragrance.

Generally, flowers prefer one tactic or the other. This is why the most colorful flowers lack fragrance, and the most fragrant lack color. Gardenia (which is not easy to grow locally), star jasmine, honeysuckle, Pittosporum tobira, Pittosporum undulatum and night blooming jasmine are not exactly colorful while blooming. The powerfully fragrant flowers of sweet osmanthus and sweet box barely get noticed.

Pink jasmine and mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) are flashier, only because their blooms are so profuse. Southern magnolia has spectacularly big flowers, but they are mostly obscured by dense foliage high above view. Cereus cactus and moon flower are likewise spectacular, but bloom at night to attract nocturnal moths for pollination.

Only a few flowers are both colorful and fragrant. Lilac and wisteria are among the more familiar. Both bloom early in spring, with a similar color range of lavender, blue, pink and white. Lilac is shrubby. Wisteria is an aggressive vine. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ angel’s trumpet is a big shrubby perennial that blooms rich yellow, but may only be fragrant at sundown.

Freesia, hyacinth, lily and bearded iris are flashy and fragrant flowers grown from bulbs, although hyacinth and most lilies rarely bloom a second year, and many lilies and bearded iris lack fragrance. Sweet alyssum is a mildly fragrant annual that blooms white, pink or lavender.

Rodents Will Never Give Up

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Warming weather brings out the gophers.

None of the most problematic rodents here hibernate completely. Only ground squirrels hibernate, but they are rare, and tend to avoid home gardens and refined landscapes. Some other rodents are less active through the cooler parts of winter, but never completely stop eating, chewing and digging up what they want from our gardens. Many will become more active with warming weather.

Gophers are the most destructive rodents right now. They might still be excavating the mud of last winter from their tunnels. They will find plenty to eat as warming weather stimulates root growth of their favorite plants. Young gophers are growing up and leaving home, to excavate more tunnels and consume more vegetation elsewhere. They are more numerous now than they will be all year.

Squirrels are not so industrious. For now, they are destructive only if they dig out recently planted seedlings and bedding plants, or eat flowers and freshly emerging foliage. They should otherwise be temporarily satisfied with acorns that they hid late last year. They will become more of a problem as they eat ripening fruit, nuts and maybe vegetables later in summer. Some might chew bark.

Rats are sneakier than squirrels. They are not as destructive to ripening nuts and stone fruits, but do eat some of what falls to the ground. Although not a problem for the garden, well fed rats infest adjacent homes, where they cause serious damage. At this time of year, rats sometimes ruin citrus fruit. They eat the pulp out from the rinds of oranges and tangerines, and the rind off of lemons.

Rodents are nearly impossible to exclude completely and safely from gardens. Poisons are too dangerous to be practical around the home, particularly if there are dogs or cats anywhere nearby. Traps are safer and effective, but require diligence. Also, some traps are difficult to set. Each type of rodent exhibits distinct characteristics. That which controls one type is ineffective for another.

Sanitation and vegetation management deters some rodents by depriving them of sustenance and nesting sites.

No One Likes A Sucker

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Citrus have been bred for centuries.

Citrus trees that are grown from seed take a few years to mature enough to produce fruit. As they mature, the juvenile stems are outfitted with thorns that are even nastier than thorns on adult growth! Because most citrus has been extensively bred, seed grown trees are very likely to exhibit genetic variations. This is why citrus trees are cloned from stems of stock trees.

Cloned trees are genetically identical to their parents, so will always produce the same fruit. They are cloned from adult growth, so do not need time to mature from juvenile seedlings. They can therefore bloom and produce fruit as soon as their roots are ready. Also, their thorns are less dangerous.

Cloning citrus is not as simple as rooting them from cuttings though. With few exceptions, citrus trees are grafted onto genetically different rootstock. Most citrus trees in home gardens are grafted onto dwarfing rootstock that limits the size of the trees when mature. Orchard trees are grafted onto rootstock that allows them to get significantly larger.

The graft union, where the upper part of a grafted tree is attached to the rootstock, is typically visible just above the ground. The base of the trunk below the graft union is typically a bit more stout than the relatively lean section of trunk above the graft. Trunks of old trees are often more furrowed below the graft union than above it.

Sometimes, the rootstock tries to do more than provide roots. It can produce stems from below the graft union, known as ‘suckers’ that can potentially compete with the grafted portion of the tree above. Unfortunately, understock grows more aggressively than most types of citrus, so can overwhelm and shade out the desirable parts of an otherwise healthy citrus tree.

The most common understock for citrus produces suckers that are outfitted with unusually big and wicked thorns that are not to be messed with! If fruit develops, it seems to be humongous and disfigured lemons that lack flavor. Before they overtake good citrus trees, suckers should be pruned neatly away as they develop, without leaving any stubble to regenerate more sucker.

Crop Rotation For Home Gardens

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Pepper plants should get relocated annually.

Vegetable gardening is not permanent landscaping. With few exceptions, vegetable plants are annuals, like bedding plants. They do their respective jobs within only a few months. When finished, they relinquish their space to different vegetable plants of a different season. More of the same will be in season again in a few months. Crop rotation is something to consider when that happens.

Crop rotation is standard procedure for field crops involving several acres of the same variety of vegetable. Some crops grow on the same land for a few years. Some change annually. With few exceptions of big perennial vegetable plants, none stay in the same location for too long. Some fields go fallow for a season without production. Most simply produce a different type of vegetable.

Vegetables that grow for too long in the same soil eventually deplete some of the nutrients that they use most. Different types of vegetables deplete different types of nutrients. Crop rotation allows soil that was depleted by one type of vegetable to be used by another type that does not mind the depletion. While slowly depleted of a new set of nutrients, soil recovers from previous depletion.

For example, a sunny side of a fence is an ideal spot to grow pole beans. It is tempting to grow them there annually. However, they do not perform as well for a second season, and are likely to be scant for a third year. However, tomatoes appreciate what beans do to the soil, and do not miss what they took from it. After tomatoes take what they want for a season, beans are ready to return.

Crop rotation also helps to disrupt the proliferation of host-specific pathogens that overwinter in the soil and decomposing plant parts.

Generally, new vegetable plants should not be of the same family as vegetable plants that they replace in a particular location. Beans, squash, okra or corn should be happy where tomatoes grew last year. Peppers and eggplants are of the same plant family as tomatoes, so are likely to crave what the tomatoes already depleted. They are also susceptible to some of the same pathogens.

California Is A Big Place

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There are all kinds of natives.

California is a big place, with more environmental diversity than any other state and most other countries. It includes rainy and cool forests of Del Norte County, and dry and hot deserts of Imperial County. The snowy mountains of Placer County and the mild coastal plains of Los Angeles County are here too. There are hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and big fertile valleys.

Consequently, plants that are native to California are just as diverse. Many that are very well adapted to the environments that they naturally live in are not so well adapted to other environments that may be only a few miles away. They really do not want to go to some of the more divergent climates in other regions.

Coastal redwood that is so happy within its natural range on the foggy western slopes of the coast ranges to the north are not so happy on the drier eastern slopes of the same ranges. It probably would not survive for long in the Mojave Desert. California fan palm from the hot and arid region of Palm Springs languishes on the damp and cool western edge of San Francisco.

Most of the popular California native plants are popular because they do not need much water, if they need any at all. However, some are as unhappy with local climate conditions as exotic plants from other continents are. For example, few plants tolerate drought as well as Joshua tree does. Yet, Joshua tree is likely to grow fast and then rot because winters are too damp for them locally.

Of all the excellent plants that are native to California, the most excellent for local gardens are either the few plants that are native to the local region, or the many others that are native to similar regions. They do not need cold Sierra Nevada Winters, hot Death Valley summers, Mojave Desert aridity or San Francisco fog. They are right at home here.

Even natives need some help adapting to a new garden. Confining their roots to cans while they grow in nurseries is very unnatural for them. Once planted, they will need to be watered while their roots disperse enough to survive on rainfall, or with minimal watering.

Cool Vegetable Gardening Goes Warm

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Warm season vegetables enjoy warming weather.

The weather agrees with the calendar this year. It is time to start replacing remaining cool season vegetable plants with fresh warm season vegetable plants. In fact, according to how the weather has been through February, the process could have begun quite some time ago. Frost, which is the limiting factor for warm season vegetables, is very unlikely this late, even if wintry rain resumes.

The past month of springy weather makes it easier to replace aging cool season vegetable plants with those that are now in season. Cool season vegetable plants obviously perform best through the cool weather of autumn and winter. They perform into spring where winters are cooler. Unseasonable warmth here accelerated their maturation. They deteriorate if not harvested soon enough.

Most of the the cool season vegetable plants produce vegetables that truly are vegetative. Most individual plants produce only once. For example, one cabbage plant produces only one cabbage. Conversely, most warm season vegetable plants actually produce fruit. Some produce many fruits through their season. Even some warm season vegetative leafy greens can produce repeatedly.

Tomato, pepper, eggplant pole beans and the various summer squash can get planted early to produce until they succumb to frost at the end of the season. Cucumber and pea do not produce for such an extensive season, so might be grown only in spring or the end of summer. Corn and root vegetables produce only once, so their seed get sown in multiple phases to prolong their season.

Corn, root vegetables and most greens grow best from seed sown directly into a garden. There is no need to start them inside here. Confinement can disfigure root vegetables anyway. Because so many individual plants are grown, it is impractical to purchase seedlings.

However, purchasing a few seedlings of tomato, pepper, zucchini and most other warm season vegetable plants is not as impractical. If only a few are desired, they are not much more expensive than seed. They are conducive to transplant, and will continue to produce through the season.

Ferns Are Made For Shade

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Ferns are famous for distinctive foliage.

Without color or fragrance of flowers, ferns provide some of the most distinctive foliage in the garden. They do not turn color in autumn. Only a few tree ferns develop sculptural branch structure. Yet, they do their job well, and many are happy to do so in spots that are a bit too shady for other plants.

Almost all ferns are low perennials that produce foliage that arches outward from the center. Some can get quite broad. A few tree ferns grow upward on trunks (although the trunks are merely tough roots that grow through decomposing stems). Australian tree ferns can get quite tall and broad where sheltered from wind.

The staghorn fern is a weird epiphyte that naturally clings to tree trunks or rock outcroppings where it collects organic debris that falls from trees above. In home gardens, it is popularly grown on wooden plaques or as a hanging plant. Hanging plants do not necessarily need pots, or sometimes engulf their pots as they grow.

Leaves of ferns are known as ‘fronds’, and with few exceptions, are intricately lobed or divided into smaller leaflets known as ‘pinnae’, which are arranged on opposite sides of leafstalks known as ‘rachi’ (or singularly as ‘rachis’). The staghorn fern has unusually branched but otherwise unlobed fronds. The bird’s next fern has has distinctively simple fronds without any lobes or pinnae.

Most of the popular ferns are naturally understory plants that grow below larger plants. Even most tree ferns grow amongst larger trees. This is why so many ferns tolerate shade so well. In fact, many prefer partial shade, and will actually fade or scorch if too exposed. However, it is also why so many ferns prefer rich soil with an abundance of organic matter.

Maidenhair, rabbit’s foot, bird’s nest, holly, Boston and a few other ferns are popular as houseplants. Because home interiors are a somewhat arid for them (lacking humidity), some ferns like to be misted daily. Ferns respond well to regular but light application of fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can roast foliage.

Because ferns are not expected to bloom, nitrogen (which can inhibit bloom for some plants) is not a problem. Ferns that are out in the garden can therefore get fish emulsion or a bit of the same sort of nitrogen fertilizers that keep lawns green.

Foliage Is Meant For Weather

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Lush foliar houseplants enjoy occasional rinsing.

Foliage needs sunlight for photosynthesis. Foliage needs air for respiration. Roots need moisture to sustain foliage. Houseplants can technically get all of what they need from the confinement of their pots within the interiors of homes and other buildings. They only require sufficient moisture to be delivered to them, and sufficient sunlight from windows. The air is the same that we all utilize.

However, there is no substitute for nature. While hydroponics and synthetic light facilitate yet more deprivation of what is natural, the plants involved would appreciate more consideration. Without exception, domesticated plants are descendants of plants that grew wild somewhere. Those that dislike local weather would be pleased with the weather of their respective ancestral homelands.

Most of the popular houseplants that are grown for their lush foliage originated from tropical forests. Many were understory plants that prefer the shade of larger trees. That is how they tolerate the relatively shaded interiors of buildings. Now that they are here as houseplants, they appreciate shelter from frost. They probably miss rain, humidity, sporadic breezes and tropical warmth though.

Rinsing tropical foliage plants in the shower eliminates some of the dust that they accumulate where air stagnates. Rinsing them out in the garden is even better because it does not make such a mess in the shower. What is even better than both of these options is allowing a gentle rain to rinse the foliage. Plants only need to be moved to a windless spot prior to an expected rain shower.

The weather was much too cool earlier in winter. There will be no rain later in summer. This time of year, and again next autumn, the weather is safely mild; and eventually, a few showers are likely. Timing is critical. Plants should be brought out just prior to rain, and brought in before the weather gets sunny. Foliage that has always been sheltered is very sensitive to scald from direct sunlight.

Saucers and pots can be cleaned while outside. Crowded plant can be repotted.

Cacti Have Bite Without Bark

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Cacti exhibit unique and striking form.

The most inhospitable spots in the garden that no one wants to put any work into seem to be the domain of cacti, whether or not any cacti actually live there. “Oh, I will just put some cactus there!” is cliché in regard to shadeless and dry spots that get too hot with glare from a south-facing wall. Yet, such spots typically continue to be neglected, and the cactus never get planted.

Why are such distinctive and interesting plants considered to be so lowly that they should be banished to the badlands? Why should they be expected to endure what not other plants are expected to endure? After all, there are so many other distinctive xeric plants, like yuccas, agaves and some aloes, that are just as resilient, and according to some, just as lowly.

Cacti really are not as independent as commonly believed. New plants should actually get watered occasionally until they disperse their roots. If they get watered regularly, they need coarse soil that drains very well. Cactus plants that were grown in sheltered spots really can get scaled if planted where they are too harshly exposed during hot weather.

The main problem with cactus is their nasty spines. Simply planting small plants without getting poked is a challenge. Moving big potted specimens or removing overgrown cactus plants without getting seriously perforated can be daunting. So, even though they might do well in the harsh exposure at the curb, they do not belong in such a high traffic area.

Without foliage or conventional stems, cactus are either awkward to prune, or can not be pruned at all. Barrel cactus have only one or very few round stems. If one of these stems gets to wide, it can not be pruned back. Prickly pear cactus is easier to accommodate only because it has enough stems to spare those that grow out of bounds.

What makes cacti so excellent is their distinctive form. Some have strictly upright stems that resemble those of the organ pipe cactus. Some grow as clumps of short and fat stems. Others grow upward and outward with rounded and flat stems like those of the beaver tail cactus.