Horridculture – True Colors

P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.

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Can’t See The Tree For The Forest

P90818Big trees get big problems. Part of our job is to tend to these problems before they become dangerous. Many of these problems are somewhat easy to identify. A deteriorating ponderosa pine with browning foliage it difficult to ignore if it is tall enough to be seen above the rest of the forest more than a mile away.

There are a few problems that are not so easy to identify. Some are caused by the weather, without prior warning. Others are hidden in the forests. One might think that those in the forests would not concern us. However, our landscape and facilities are so intricately mixed with the forests.

The shiner in the picture above was where a big broken limb needed to be cut from a big fir tree. It may not look big in the picture, but the limb was probably more than nine inches wide, and long enough to weigh a few hundred pounds. The lower right edge of the shiner is frayed because the limb broke right at the trunk, and was hanging vertically against the trunk.

The yellow arrow in the picture below indicates where the shiner is located. The trunk of the tree is not as tapered as it seems to be in the picture. It only looks like this because it is so tall that the the upper portion is very far from the camera! Although this fir is a wild forest tree, it is only a few feet from the cabin below. The broken limb was dangling directly over the roof!

There was no way to predict that this limb would break. It did not seem to be any more structurally deficient than those that remain. Of course, once broken, it was removed faster than I could get a picture of it.P90818+

Fasciated Lily-of-the-Nile

P90817K

Floral fasciation is a rare developmental disfigurement of a bloom, supposedly caused by the fusion of two or more blooms. Many fasciated blooms really do look like two blooms stuck together, like double daisies. Alternatively, fasciation can cause distention of a single flower of many on a foral spike of foxglove.

Fasciation of lily-of-the-Nile bloom is typically expressed merely as a few stray florets on the otherwise bare stalk below the main floral truss. A smaller subordinate stalk may seem to be fused to the main stalk below the stray florets.

The specimen in the picture above is exceptional. It really does look like a double bloom, with one stacked on top of the other. The atypically short and stout stem looks like a tightly fused bundle of several smaller stems. Those who do not know better might find the more billowy and more colorful fasciated bloom to be more appealing than the normal bloom pictured below.

The first picture of my ‘Six on Saturday‘ post this morning shows that this is not the only fasciated bloom here. There is another similar fasciated bloom right next to it. This suggests that the fasciation is likely caused by a genetic mutation that was shared with each of two rhizomes that split from the original.

If the mutation is sufficiently stable, and not likely to soon revert, more copies could be propagated later by division. The rhizomes split after bloom; so if one split into two last year, the two that are here now could split into four next year. If genetically stable, all four should bloom with the same fasciation next year.

To monitor their genetic stability, I should probably relocate these two odd rhizomes, to separate them from the others for observation. I suspect that they will eventually revert anyway.

P90817++

Six on Saturday: Out Of Africa

 

Lily-of-the-Nile was the first perennial that I divided and propagated on a substantial scale. Back when I was in the seventh grade, I was instructed to remove an overgrown specimen that was nearly a quarter of a century old. It was too tough, big and heavy to dig up intact, but relatively easy to dismantle and remove in smaller pieces. These smaller pieces were all too easy to split into individual rhizomes with single terminal shoots. These individual rhizomes were easily groomed and planted where I thought copies of the same lily-of-the-Nile would be nice. A few years later, these copies were big enough to be dug and divided into even more copies. Nearly four decades later, I am still growing a few copies.

Because it is so resilient and undemanding, lily-of-the-Nile is one of the most common perennials here. They bloom through summer, with their firework shaped blooms at their best in time or the Fourth of July. Now that they are finishing their long bloom season, the deteriorating flowers must be removed, by ‘deadheading’.

1. Lily-of-the-Nile, although common, really is a delightful perennial. I thought I was getting a good representative picture here, but can now see that the two lower blooms in the foreground are fasciated, so are more billowy than typical blooms are. Also, the sunlight at about noon was a bit too harsh for a good picture of the foliage.P90817

2. This very late blooming floral truss is how all the other blooms started out.P90817+

3. This one shows how they look at full bloom. It is only beginning to deteriorate.P90817++

4. As individual florets fall away, these maturing green seed capsuled remain. They slowly dry and turn tan before tossing their seed late in autumn or winter. Of course, they should get pruned out before they do so.P90817+++

5. Lily-of-the-Nile are very easy to work with, but snotty with this goo that flows from all cut floral stems and any damaged leaves. Ick!P90817++++

6. This is the pile of deadheaded bloom that got cut on Wednesday. More will be cut next Wednesday. Almost all typically finish within two weeks or so. However, they started a bit late this year, and are finishing more randomly than they normally do.P90817+++++

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Horridculture – Stumpy

P90814Among pines, firs, redwoods and most excurrent trees (with central leader trunks), stubs or stumps of limbs that were shed are common and more apparent than they are among decurrent trees (which branch into many main limbs). The older lower stubs slowly but eventually decay and fall away as the trunks compartmentalize (heal over) where they were formerly attached.

However, wild trees are rarely completely without such stubs. As the older lower stubs are shed, newer stubs develop higher up. The worst of their stubs get pruned away only when more refined landscapes are developed around such trees, and they get pruned accordingly. If the trees get groomed regularly every few years or so, not many new stubs get a chance to develop.

When pruning out viable limbs, they must be cut cleanly from the trunk or supporting limb, without stubs. Since they do not deteriorate slowly before falling away, the trunk or supporting limb has no time to start the process of compartmentalizing (healing) over where such limbs were attached. Cutting away cleanly eliminates as much obstruction to that process as possible.

Pruning necrotic stubs from trunks of excurrent trees is not quite so important because the trunks have a tendency to start the process of compartmentalization as such stubs are decaying, and can actually constrict and crush stubs if they do not fall away efficiently enough. Nonetheless, necrotic stubs get pruned out when trees are groomed, just because they are unappealing.

So, no matter what, stubs should not be left when pruning. It is not complicated. It is actually easier to control a saw when it is up against a tree trunk or main limb. Yet, many who do not know better, and many who really should, more often than not, leave trees looking like this fir tree.

No Cherry On Top

P90811Weeping flowering cherry is another type of tree that almost never gets appreciated like it should. Like so many Japanese maples, they get planted into situation where so-called ‘gardeners’ shear them into nondescript globs of worthless foliage that only get in the way. Some get shorn so regularly that they are deprived of bloom. Their form and bloom are their two main assets.

The climate here is not easy on them either. Although comfortably mild, the climate is also arid. This aridity enhances the potential for sun scald of exposed bark. Because upper limbs bend over to hang back downward, their bark is more exposed than that of upright flowering cherries. Consequently, upper limbs are often scalded and ruined, disfiguring the remaining canopy.

Pruning can be complicated. Removal of scalded upper growth exposes inner growth that is more sensitive to scald. It is sometimes necessary to leave damaged upper growth until it gets replaced from below by newer growth. Regular pruning to remove as much of the superfluous lower growth as possible should stimulate more vigorous growth among the stems that remain.

This is really the best technique for preventing scald among upper growth. It may sound silly, but pruning from below to concentrate growth into fewer stems that extend from or through the top of the canopy keeps the top of the canopy healthy and resilient to scald. It also elevates the pendulous canopy that needs to be pruned very regularly for vertical clearance anyway.

It is not easy to see in this picture, but this small weeping cherry tree is developing two distinct canopies. The original upper canopy was damaged by scald and is now disfigured. It is mostly to the upper left of center of the picture. A more symmetrical inner canopy that is developing where superfluous inner growth was pruned out last winter is evident below and to the right.

If there were not a walkway so close to the tree, and I were not concerned with maintaining vertical clearance, I could prune the upper canopy back over a few years, and subordinate it to the healthier lower canopy as it grows through it. Instead, I will prune out most of the inner canopy, leaving only a few vigorous stems that can replace what is missing in the upper canopy.

There is no need to be concerned with it now. The lower stems are not too obtrusive yet. They can bloom next spring, and get pruned out next summer before they really do get obtrusive.

The Grass Is Not Always Greener

P90810KThe lawn around the three small but gnarly oaks that were featured this morning in ‘Six on Saturday: Do Not Sit On Tree‘ was not always so perfectly green and uniform. Only a few months ago, it was real grass. Well, it was ‘sort of’ real grass. It was mostly dusty sand with some grass growing it in. There were weeds too, but even they were not very happy to be there.

Maintenance was ridiculous. Because some of the grass was actually alive, it needed to be mown regularly, which sometimes rutted damp soil, but more often blew dust from dry soil into the surrounding buildings. Because the soil retained such minimal moisture, the lawn needed to be irrigated regularly; but because of the old oaks trees, it could not be irrigated too generously.

The only reason that the lawn was there at all was because it got so much use. No one seemed to mind that it was such a dusty mess. The lawn dutifully served its purpose for half a century. Nonetheless, a better lawn was needed.

New sod would have been excellent, but would eventually succumb to the same wear and tear that was so brutal for the original lawn. There was also concern that the irrigation needed to sustain a turf lawn, particularly a new turf lawn, would eventually distress the aging oaks within. Ultimately, artificial turf was selected as an alternative to the real turf of the original lawn.

Rather than sow artificial seed for the artificial turf, artificial sod was installed, just like carpeting. It was remarkably quick and easy, and no one seems to mind that it is . . . well, artificial.

Because the old oaks are accustomed to the regularly scheduled irrigation of the original lawn, they will get watered by hose for the next few years, until they adapt to the lack of irrigation. (Of course, they will not get irrigated nearly as regularly as the original lawn was, but might get occasional deep irrigation just a few times through summer for only the next few summers.)

As resilient and undemanding as artificial turf is, it is not perfect. Almost immediately after installation, two melted spots appeared where guest had barbecued in portable grill. We do not know what happened to cause the damage, but we do know that the lawn will not repair itself.

Six on Saturday: Do Not Sit On Tree

 

1. Seriously!P90810

2. Allow me to explain. This is one of three small but very gnarly coast live oaks that grew from the roots of a single tree that was cut down or fell several decades ago. Because the trunks of the three trees are so horizontal and sculptural, children climb on them. Sometimes many children sit on the trunk of this particular tree to get their group picture taken. We had been concerned about how this might compromise the stability of the tree for quite a while. Before we constructed suspension devices to prop it and one of the other two trees with, it destabilized and sagged! We pruned much of the canopy away to eliminate some of the weight that exerts so much leverage against the root system, and propped the trunk with a saw horse. We hope that the tree survives the loss of roots that likely broke away in the process, but would not be surprised if it does not. We are not ready to cut it down. It and the two other trees are so well known and popular among guests. The sign is visible to the right. I will explain the colored yarn on the trunk in a moment.P90810+

3. The subject tree is to the lower right in this picture. The two other trees are sprawled to the upper left. The tree that extends farthest to the left will get propped as well. All three have been pruned more aggressively than they should have been to eliminate much of the weight.P90810++

4. The yarn on the trunks is decoration that the camp counselors installed prior to the arrival of the guests. It must have taken a long time to wrap this much yarn around the trunks, and there is a whole lot more in many other trees. I wrote about it earlier in ‘Boom! Zap! Wow! Bam! Zing!‘.P90810+++

5. This is a completely different coast live oak, with a completely different problem. It needed to be pruned for clearance from an adjacent roadway and walkway. The major limb that was here supported less than one tenth of the total canopy, but because it had been cut back repeatedly, it was unusually bulky. Consequently, the shiner that remains is about as wide ad the remaining trunk! That is VERY arboriculturally incorrect. To make matters worse, the cut was not at the correct angle, so eliminated the lower half of the ‘collar’ that is supposed to expand to compartmentalize (heal) the shiner. The problem now is that by the time the shiner heals, the interior of the trunk may be so rotten that the tree may need to be removed anyway. The limb needed to be removed. The only other option was to remove the entire tree.P90810++++

6. Nothing was done to this coast live oak. It grew like this naturally. Although not an exemplary specimen, it certainly is impressive.P90810+++++

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Horridculture – Stinky Flowers

P90807Wednesday is my day to rant. However, I neglected to get out to find a picture or even a topic to rant about. Instead, I found this ugly little . . . what I believe to be a dormant rhizome. It looks more like a tuber or a tuberous root, and very well could be. Someone at work brought it from his home garden, where countless more naturalized and became aggressively invasive.

I do not know for certain what it is. I only know that it is some species of Arum. We refer to it as the ‘death arum’ because, while in bloom, it smells like death. Yet, it seems to be immune to death. It is extremely resilient. All attempts to eradicate any of it have only angered it, and accelerated its migration into other formerly uninfested parts of the garden. Now we have it here.

I am told that the deciduous rhizomes . . . or whatever they are, remain dormant through summer, and then regenerate foliage once the rain starts in autumn. Their visually unimpressive but olfactorily objectionable flowers bloom by late spring or early summer. Foliage and bloom shrivel in warm summer weather, and the remaining seeded stalks collapse shortly afterward.

The thin rubbery leaves are intricately lobed and spotted, which is very distinct from foliage of other arums. Each thin bloom is comprised of a sickly greenish white spathe and a comparably sickly pale tan or yellowish spadix. Seeds are contained in tiny round fruits that resemble capers, that linger briefly on top of the spotted stalks of faded blooms. It all is as weird as it sounds.

I will can (pot) the rhizome . . . (let’s just leave it at that) before autumn, and see what it does. I certainly do not want to plant it into the ground where it can get established and proliferate. Perhaps I will just grow it as a potted foliar oddity, and snip off floral stalks before they bloom. Perhaps I should send it to my colleague in Los Angeles, three hundred and sixty miles away!

Like many of the genera in the family Araceae, what we know as the death arum exhibits an objectionable floral fragrance because it is pollinated by flies. It does what it must to attract the pollinators whom it relies on. The technique is obviously effective, because seeded fruit develops, and the seed within gets dispersed farther and faster than the rhizomes ( . . . ) can migrate.

Suckers For Street Trees

P90804This grand sycamore has likely been here since the third day of Genesis. A few of the top branches got broken off when Noah’s Ark floated over. When I was a little kid, it was on the edge of a vacant field where road debris was dumped, and older kids rode their dirt bikes. Now it is on the western edge of the parking lot of Felton Covered Bridge Park. I write about it sometimes.

California Sycamore‘, ‘Hanging Gardens Of Babylon‘, ‘Nature Is Messy‘ and ‘Tufts‘ are some of the articles that feature this exquisite specimen. The last three of these examples describe some of the difficulties of old age for sycamores. Something that I may not have mentioned in these article though, is that such mature sycamores eventually develop root suckers.

I use the term ‘suckers’ loosely. For those of us who grow grafted trees, ‘suckers’ are stems that develop from below the graft unions of grafted trees, even if above the roots. They are from the understock below, so are genetically different from the scions above. Unusually vigorous stems above graft unions or on ungrafted trees, including the roots, are known as ‘watersprouts’.

For all other intents and purposes, ‘suckers’ really are just vigorous stems that emerge from roots, which is what we have here. Because no one was here to graft this grand sycamore on the third day of Genesis, these ‘suckers’ are genetically identical to the main tree. Unfortunately, their appearance indicates that the tree is finally acknowledging that it is slowly deteriorating.

Many trees do it, especially old riparian trees. When they know that they will not be around much longer, but still have some time to do so, they divert resources into their own replacement. Suckers are expected to mature into new trees after the original is gone. They recycle the mature original root system until they eventually replace it with younger and more vigorous roots.

Arborists may try to interfere with this process by removing suckers and watersprouts, and diverting resources back into older stems. This is actually helpful for trees that are distressed, but not yet decaying. For trees as mature as this sycamore, removal of vigorous suckers and watersprouts is mostly cosmetic, because thickets of such rampant growth becomes unsightly.

As violent as it sounds, it is best to abscise suckers like these when they first appear, and any that appear afterward. That involves literally tearing them from their roots to remove some of the callus growth from which they emerged. Cutting them at the ground not only leaves the callus growth to develop into distended burls, but also stimulates more vigorous sucker growth!

Now that these suckers have been cut down repeatedly over the past several years, simple abscision is no longer possible. Callus grown has expanded and fused into broad subterranean burl growth. Removal of such extensive burl would severely distress and possibly contribute to the destabilization of the already distressed tree. Suckers can now only be cut down to the ground.

Several years ago, when the first of the suckers started to appear, they were much easier to abscise. The process was delayed until winter dormancy. The small defoliated suckers were then abscised along with much of their associated callus. It did not accomplish much for the massive tree, and only delayed the inevitable for a few years, but generated an interesting byproduct.

The bare suckers with their bit of callus were ideal for growing into copies of the same tree. Most were plugged back into the riparian area nearby, but later killed by necessary vegetation management. A few others were canned (potted), and grew into small sycamore trees that were planted, with other sycamores, into broad medians and parkstrips in Mid City Los Angeles.

It is a long story about how those few trees ended up in Los Angeles, and were added to the fifty or so Birthday Trees that we plant annually on January 18. Sadly, their identities were lost in the process. If the other sycamores are genetically identical clones of each other, it may eventually be possible to distinguish genetic variations of those that were once root suckers here.