Summer Turns Up The Heat

90626thumbDoes the heat seem to have come on suddenly this year? There was all that rain through winter, then a quick but delightful spring, and now it is suddenly over a hundred degrees in some places! What happened?! There is certainly nothing abnormal about such warmth in the middle of June. It just comes as a surprise when it arrives so suddenly after such pleasantly mild spring weather.

At least warm weather here is not as dreadful as it is in other climates. It cools down a bit overnight. Humidity is typically (although not always) low. There is typically at least a bit of breeze by late afternoon, just after the worst of the warmth. We need not contend with the sort of dankly humid heat, that lasts all day and into the night without even a slight breeze, that so much of America gets.

Of course, that is no consolation now. By our standards, it is hot. Gardening is no fun, and some of it gets neglected. We become more aware of where shade trees should have been planted. We might also notice wilted or pallid plants that are not getting enough water. Pruning that was delayed while new spring growth matured may need to be delayed a bit longer, until the weather cools.

Unfortunately, the minimal humidity and occasional breezes that make the weather more comfortable for us make it more uncomfortable for the plants in the garden. Plants can realistically tolerate more heat than we can, but prefer it to be in conjunction with humidity. Otherwise, they can lose too much moisture to evapotransipiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces), and wilt or desiccate.

Automated irrigation obviously needs to be adjusted accordingly. Potted plants need more of an increase than those in the ground. Those that are overgrown, in hanging pots, or exposed to the typical evening breezes will be the most consumptive. It is not always easy to know how much they need, but one can be certain that if they are wilting, they need more than they have been getting.

Pots exposed to sunlight can get uncomfortably warm. If cascading or bushy growth does not shade the south sides, smaller potted plants can.


Crop Circles

P90616These are perfect conditions for crop circles. Even without any convenient grain crops, there is plenty of tall grass in unmanaged and ungrazed fields. All this grass needs is to be crafted into crop circles.
The first crop circles that I ever witnessed were made by cows. I was not much more than six, and my younger brother who found them was not much more than five. No one bothered to explain to us that cows were related to cattle who grazed nearby. Consequently, we had no concept of what cows were.
Earlier in the day, we had discovered what was described to us as a ‘cow pie’. Naturally, we were skeptical. It looked just like what cattle leave behind, which was not good. I was not about to try it, so got my younger brother to taste it. Apparently, it tasted about as bad as it looked. It seemed quite suspicious that a cow would made such an unappealing pie, and then just leave it out on the ground like that.
When we found the first of a few crop circles, our older sister and her friend told us that it and those we found afterward were made by the same cow or cows who made the unappetizing pie. Apparently, cows like to lay down in long grass. Although we did not know what a cow looked like, we ascertained from the sizes and shapes of the crop circles that the cows who made them were quite large and somewhat circular.
Furthermore, since we did not see any trails leading to or from the crop circles, we deduced that the the cows who made them flew in from above. We were very intelligent kids.
Of course, since then, I found that baby deer make small crop circles; but because they have such long and lanky legs, they do not leave such obvious trails leading to and from such crop circles either. There is no need to fly in from above.
Rhody made a very small crop circle, and because he is so lean, did not leave much of a trail coming or going. He is not tall enough to step over the grass, but is narrow enough to get through it without disturbing it much.P90616+

Pink Trumpet Tree


This is why I do not often use pictures that my colleague, Brent Green, sends to me. He frequently tells me what I should feature in my gardening column, and sends me what he considers to be good pictures for such topics. This picture would have been good for writing about the sky over Los Angeles, or the neighbors’ driveway, since those are two of the most prominent features here. Where did all the smog go?

Chimneys in Los Angeles seem silly to me. Even if the weather got cool enough for a fire in a fireplace, there is no firewood to burn. The chimney to the far right certainly seems to be original to the house, but how did it survive all the earthquakes since the house was built, probably in the 1940s or 1950s? There have been a few moderate earthquakes since then.

Those signs that warn potential criminals of non-existent home security systems are even sillier, and just cluttering otherwise nice landscapes. There is nothing official looking about them. There are bins of them for sale in the local big box stores. Shouldn’t we all assume that since the home on the left is in Los Angeles, that it is outfitted with home security system that is more impressive than that silly, irrelevant and unwelcoming sign?

I would guess that what Brent really wanted to send a picture of was the big pink trumpet tree, Tabebuia heterophylla. After all, it does happen to be sort of in the middle of the picture. It really was spectacular while blooming late last winter. However, even if Brent had sent a good picture of it, I would not have featured it. Most of those who read my gardening column are not within regions where pink trumpet tree blooms like this.

Six on Saturday: Gophers and Weeds


Both have been very active all spring. Some of the sneakiest have been getting away with their activity unobserved.

1. This is a fifteen foot tall camellia, or what remains of it. For comparison, that is a six foot long bench it is laying on. It still looks green and healthy, but started leaning. Upon closer examination, I found that it was not rooted to the ground. It pulled right out! The roots were almost completely gone! There was no indication that there was a problem.P90615

2. This is what remained of the root system. Gophers ate through just about everything that was sustaining and supporting the big camellia above. No excavation or gopher mounds were observed. The area around the camellia was obscured by Algerian ivy. This all happened faster than the camellia could express symptoms associated with such damage.P90615+

3. ‘Kramer’s Supreme’. More specifically, “Award Winning – ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ – Camellia japonica – Trade Mark Registered”. Someone should have removed the label before it damaged the stem it was attached to. Actually, the long dead stem was stubbed just a few inches above the upper margin of this picture. It doesn’t matter now anyway.P90615++

4. This big mound of greenery is all a single big weed, perennial pea. I put it next to the wheel for comparison of size. It grew in a newly landscaped area where we did not expect such big weeds to grow so quickly. It did not seem to be as big as it is, so was easily ignored. Why didn’t gophers eat this instead of the now dead camellia above?!P90615+++

5. As you can almost see in the bad picture, perennial pea is not an unsightly weed. It also lays low and fits into the landscape in such a manner that it is easy to ignore while targeting more obtrusive weeds elsewhere. That is how the specimen in the picture above got so big. This one is not nearly as big, but overwhelmed a few smaller perennials.P90615++++

6. Perennial pea flowers are quite pretty. If possible, I like to let them bloom before pulling them up. Most look like these. Some bloom with fluffier double flowers. Some are lighter pink. A few are darker purplish. White is quite rare. As prolific as they are where they are not wanted, they are surprisingly unreliable from seed sown where actually desired.P90615+++++

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

Hinoki Cypress

60615In California, it is hard to imagine that hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, gets big enough to be harvested for lumber in Japan. Almost all of the local garden varieties stay quite short. The largest rarely get up to second story eaves. The most compact types that are grown for bonsai, do not get much more than a few inches tall. Most are somewhere in between, to about ten feet tall.

The ruffled sprays of evergreen foliage are surprisingly dense relative to the soft texture and often irregularly loose branch structure. Mature trees often shed branches to reveal sculptural reddish trunks and limbs within, while maintaining the distinct density of their foliar tufts. The minute leaf scales have rounded tips. (Other specie have pointed leaves.) Tiny round cones are rarely seen.

Because of slow growth and irregular form, hinoki cypress is an excellent specimen ‘trophy’ tree, but not so useful as hedging shrubbery. It prefers a bit of shade, and will tolerate considerable shade. However, varieties with yellow new growth are more colorful with good (but not harsh) exposure. It does not take much pruning and grooming to enhance form and expose branch structure.

Foliar Color Long Before Autumn

51104The best and brightest color in the garden is obviously still provided by flowers. Autumn color can be spectacular, but only amongst relatively few deciduous trees, shrubs and vines that turn color reliably in mild climates, and only if the weather is conducive to coloration. The next best option for color beyond green is the sort of colored foliage that does not wait for autumn to materialize.

Foliage can be shaded with varying degrees of yellow, red, pink, purple, bronze, grayish blue or gray, or variegated with white, yellow or silvery gray. Plants that display such colorful foliage can be as small as flowering annuals, or as substantial as shade trees. Many are deciduous plants that also turn color in autumn. Most of the best are actually evergreen, so hold their color through winter.

Color tends to be richest as new foliage emerges in spring, and fades more or less through summer. Gold junipers only start out gold, but then fade to green within only a few months. The purplish foliage of ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud fades to coffee stained green. Yet, bronze New Zealand flax is always bronze. Dusty miller is always gray. Some plants are more reliably colorful than others are.

Exposure is important too. Most blue or gray foliage, whether juniper, agave, spruce, eucalyptus, olive or silver Mediterranean fan palm foliage, will be significantly greener if shaded. However, white variegation of English holly, hydrangea, ivy, hosta and pittosporum have better contrast if partly shaded. Colorful Japanese maples color better with good exposure, but roast if too exposed.

Many plants with colorful foliage are notorious for developing greener mutant growth known as ‘sports’. Because sports have more chlorophyll, they grow more vigorously than more colorful growth does, and can overwhelm and replace the more desirable colorful foliage if not pruned out. Many types of white or yellow variegated euonymus, as well as the more intricately variegated New Zealand flax, can revert to monochromatic green within only a few years.

Horridculture – Pesticides

P90612‘Cide’ as a suffix that designates something to be killed. ‘Insecticide’ kills insects. ‘Miticide’ kills mites. ‘Molluscicide’ kills molluscs such as snails and slugs. ‘Herbicide’ kills herbaceous plants, which are presumably weeds. These examples and other chemicals that kill things that are considered to be pests are collectively known as ‘pesticides’. Many are potentially useful in the garden, since that is where so many familiar pests are problematic.
Most modern pesticides are designed for physiological characteristics that are unique to the targeted pest. They therefore kill only very specific pests, but are generally harmless to other organisms. For example, horticultural oil, which is one of the simplest of all insecticides and miticides, kills insects and mites by obstructing the exoskeletal pores through which they respire. It is harmless to those of us who conduct respiration by means of lungs.
In fact, most (although not all) commonly available pesticides, if used properly, are relatively safe for those who are not the targeted pests. (Rodenticides that remain toxic to predators who eat afflicted rodents are some of the exceptions, but that is a topic for later.) That is why I have no compunction about using such pesticides. When necessary, I would use them on the farm, in the landscapes that I so often work in, or in the home garden.
However, such pesticides are almost never necessary. Seriously. I would not refrain from using them, but the need for such use almost never presents itself. Insecticides and, to a much lesser extent, miticides are sometimes applied on the farm (although I have not been there to apply any in a few years). I applied a minor fungicide for rust on English daisies in a landscape more than a year ago. Otherwise, pesticides are almost never necessary.
It is not that there are no pests. There most certainly are. Roses get aphid. Rhododendrons get thrip. Snapdragons get rust. We just deal with such pests without much pesticides.
There are so many alternative horticultural techniques to use instead. We prune roses so aggressively in winter that they regenerate faster in spring than the aphid can keep up with. We prune rhododendrons to eliminate much of the congested and sheltered inner growth where thrip tend to proliferate. Snapdragons are so susceptible to rust that we probably will not grow them again. Pests are not eradicated, but are reasonably controlled.
All too often, the problem with pests is not the pests at all, but improper horticulture.

Star Jasmine

90619There is some debate about the origin of the common name of Confederate jasmine. Some attribute it to its popularity in the former Confederate States of America. Others believe it originated in the Malay Confederacy, much closer to its native range. That is irrelevant here, where we know this popular vine with very fragrant flowers simply as star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.

One might think that it is too common, but there are reasons for that. The dark green foliage is so delightfully glossy all year. As appealing as it is alone, it is even better as a contrasting backdrop for the small but strikingly white star shaped flowers that bloom in profusion about now, and continue to bloom sporadically for much of the rest of the year. The lavish fragrance is totally awesome!

The twining vines climb luxuriantly to about the height of first floor eaves. They can climb much higher, but higher growth takes a while to get as billowy as lower growth. However, it is more often grown as a shrubby ground cover, only about two feet deep. The simple leaves are two to three inches long, and one to one and a half inches wide. The clustered flowers are about an inch wide.

Vines For Better Or Worse

90619thumbVines in the wild are downright exploitative. They do not support their own weight, so instead climb or sprawl over shrubbery and trees. Some are satisfied staying down below the canopy of the hosts who support them, as if aware that a healthy host will support them for a good long time. Many vines climb aggressively to the top and overwhelm their hosts, even if it eventually kills them.

There is nothing civil about the technique of the strangler figs, which incidentally includes two popular houseplants, fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) and creeping fig (Ficus pumila). They wrap their hosts in networks of stems and roots that strangle the hosts as both the hosts and the clinging vines grow and expand. As the hosts die and rot, the vines develops into self supporting tree trunks.

That is how fiddle-leaf fig, as it is known as a houseplant, grows as a free standing tree rather than as a creeping vine. It is grown from cuttings from the self supporting adult growth rather than the creeping juvenile growth. Conversely, creeping fig is grown from juvenile vines, which find a support to cling to, and ultimately develop shrubby adult growth when they get to the top of the support.

English and Algerian ivies are not quite as aggressive, since they do not intend to kill their hosts. They are not often intentionally grown as vines, and are almost never planted anymore, but their juvenile growth still works as ground cover in many mature landscapes. One of the main problems with ivy is that it is constantly trying to climb walls and trees so that it can bloom and toss seed.

That is not such a problem on concrete walls, but ruins wooden and painted surfaces, and makes a mess of trees. Boston ivy (which is not really an ivy) lacks a juvenile ‘ground cover’ phase, but if kept off of painted and wooden surfaces, happens to work better on concrete infrastructures. It is important to know how a particular vine will behave before selecting it for a particular application.

Carolina jessamine, mandevilla, lilac vine and star jasmine are a few complaisant vines.

A Bee See

P90609They were impossible to miss. They came at a weird time too.
As guests were arriving for a big event, a fire alarm was activated, and compelled everyone to leave the building that they were gathering in. The swarming bees met the guests as they came outside. The bees just happened to show up in the same place and at the same time as the guests were forced outside. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind, and some found the swarming bees to be compelling enough to stop and take pictures.
Initially, all the bees were flying in a big swarm. Those closest to the middle of the swarm were flying fast, sort of like angry wasps. No one saw the queen that the swarm was centered around, but she apparently landed on this redwood limb about forty feet up. The swarming bees slowly collected in this mass around the queen. By the time I took this picture, almost all were attached to the mass, with only a few still flying about.
At least three swarms started to establish new hives in buildings near here last year, and needed to be removed by beekeepers. One hive started to develop where another had just been removed. Another swarm was removed before establishing a new hive.
Bees seem to be attracted here. Perhaps they appreciate all the flowers in the landscapes. It is unfortunate that they can not stay where they typically try to move in. Most of us really like them.
This swarm was still here when I left, so I do not know what happened to it afterward. Hopefully, it either left the area, or at least moved into a place where it will not be problem, such as in a rotten tree trunk out in the forest where bees belong.