Cool Season Vegetables Are Coming

40910thumbWhat happened with the tomatoes?! In past years, they were inhibited by mild summer weather. This year, they had plenty of warmth, but did not seem to perform much better. Perhaps they wanted more humidity. Now that those that started slowly are starting to produce better, they do not have much time left before warm summer weather gets cooler towards autumn.

Eventually, cool season vegetables will move into the garden. Seed for the earliest beets and chard may have already been sown directly into the garden. Subsequent phases of beet seed can be sown every three weeks or so until about a month prior to the return of warm season vegetables at the end of winter. Each subsequent phase should begin to produce at about the time that the previous phase gets depleted.

Unlike beet roots that get pulled up completely when harvested, chard produces foliage for quite a while, so is often planted only once. A second phase added sometime in winter may prolong production into late spring. However, by the time the first phase actually finishes, there will be plenty of warm season greens to grow. Because only a few chard plants are enough, they do not need to be grown from directly sown seed, but can alternatively be grown from cell-pack seedlings purchased from a nursery.

Cell-pack seedlings are actually often more practical than seed is for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and some heading lettuces. Seedlings get growing faster, so are less likely to get eaten by pests as they germinate. A cell-pack of seedlings does not cost much more than an envelop of seed, but contains about as many plants as one garden needs.

Carrots, radishes, peas, spinach and leafy lettuces should be grown from directly sown seed because so many individual plants of each variety are needed for adequate production. Besides, carrots and radishes are roots that get disfigured if initially confined to cell-packs; and peas have very sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted. Seed for leafy lettuces grown for ‘baby greens’ can be sown densely because leaves get plucked through the season, without getting very large.

There are three options for growing onions. Seed is practical, but takes a while, and can be the riskiest option for large bulbing onions. Onion sets are tiny onions that grew from seed last year, and only need to be grown another year for plump mature bulbs. They will grow as green onions if planted deeply and harvested early. Crowded cell-pack seedlings grow into tight clumps of disfigured onions, but can be separated and grown into well formed individual onions.

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Color Wanes As Summer Ends

40903thumbBlack-eyed Susan, sunflowers and a few of the late warm season annuals and perennials are still blooming, and a few will continue into autumn. By that time, cool season annuals can move in; and some of the deciduous trees, shrubs and vines that turn color for autumn will be doing so. Realistically though, this can be the leanest time of year for color in the garden. Even some of the foliage that is colorful through spring and summer has faded.

There are certainly plenty of flowers in season now. However, not many are colorful. Honeysuckle vine is pleasantly fragrant as it bloom in random phases until the weather gets cooler, but the flowers are only pale yellowish white. Some melaleuca trees bloom profusely enough to make a mess, but are just as pale, and do not even provide fragrance; although some have pretty light pink flowers. Abelia flowers are pink and abundant, but are really not all that flashy against their bronzy foliage.

Some of the more colorful flowers are not quite as reliable. Princess flower, hibiscus, blue hibiscus and mandevilla certainly can bloom in late summer or autumn, but sometimes bloom earlier than expected, so have nothing left for later. The bright red flowers of blood red trumpet vine are quite impressive, but only if they are not obscured by the accompanying foliage. Some roses bloom in phases as late as the weather will allow, but actually, most are done by now.

Fuchsia and angel’s trumpet likewise bloom in a few phases once they get started, but unlike the many cultivars of roses, they are much more reliable for a late bloom phase. Escallonia blooms late with small but colorful flowers, but only if they have not been shorn in the past few months. Shearing deprives them of the blooming stem tips that they had worked most of the year for.

Butterfly bush, tree mallow, cape plumbago, bee balm and several varieties of sage and salvia are among the most reliable plants for late summer or autumn bloom. Even without multiple bloom phases, they just naturally bloom at the end of their growing season, before winter dormancy.

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.

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!

Fall For Colors Of Fall

51111thumbMild winter weather on the West Coast limits the choices for autumn color. So many of the trees, shrubs, vines and perennials that get so colorful where autumn weather is cooler do not get so colorful here. Mild weather also allows so many more evergreen plants and plants that do not get colorful in autumn to thrive here than in harsher climates. Consequently, the tougher and more colorful plants are not so common.

Fortunately for those who appreciate autumn color, there are a few choices that do not mind mild weather. The three most reliable trees for autumn color are sweetgum (liquidambar), Chinese pistache and flowering pear. All three turn yellow, orange and red. Maidenhair tree (gingko) is just as reliable, and turns bright yellow, but lacks orange and red. (‘Saratoga’ gingko turns pale yellow.)

If the weather is right, fruitless mulberry, tulip tree, black walnut and the various poplars display clear yellow foliage. Eastern redbud can do the same, but is a small tree. Smoke tree and crape myrtle are large shrubbery or small trees that can get as colorful with yellow, orange and red as Chinese pistache does. Japanese maples have the potential to turn yellow or even orange, but more often turn dingy brown.

Grapevines and wisteria are vines that can be somewhat colorful if they hold their foliage long enough to get noticed. Boston ivy, which is actually more closely related to grapevines than to ivy, is the most colorful of the vines in autumn. Unfortunately, it can be too destructive to paint, wood and whatever else it grabs hold of to be practical for home gardens. It works nicely on indestructible concrete walls.

Heavenly bamboo, which seems to have appealing but distinct foliar color for every season, turns richer shades of reddish bronze through autumn. Some cultivars turn rich brown. Others become more purplish red or burgundy. Unlike other autumn foliage that sooner or later falls through winter, heavenly bamboo is evergreen, so hold its color until it get replaced by another color in spring. Unfortunately, there are not many other evergreens that turn color in such mild weather.

Mulch Suits Autumn Quite Naturally

81114thumbIt is silly for us to think that we know more about gardening that the plants who live out in the garden full time. We can help them along by giving them a bit more of what they need to survive, such as water and fertilizer. We can prune them to help them concentrate their resources into bloom and fruit production. Through it all though, we really need to be observant of what they do naturally.

For example, we water many plants through dry summer and autumn weather because we know that they are naturally endemic to climates that provide a bit of rain throughout the year, and that they can get dry without it. We fertilize them when they are actively growing because we know that is when they want it. Most deciduous plants get pruned in winter because they are dormant then.

This time of year, deciduous plants are defoliating in a very obvious manner. Evergreen plants are more subtle about shedding some of their foliage. Defoliation and shedding happens this time of year because plants do not need so much foliage, if any, when there is not so much sunlight for foliage to exploit. The days are shorter, and the sun is at a lower angle, so sunlight is less direct.

There are other reasons why winter defoliation is sensible. It makes deciduous plants more aerodynamic, and less likely to be damaged or blown down than they would be if they kept their foliage for wintery winds to blow against. Likewise, when the weather gets frosty, defoliated deciduous plants leave little to get ruined. What does all this suggest for seasonal garden chores for autumn?

Mulch, which can be spread at any time, is particularly timely for autumn, because that is when the garden expects organic material from above. Just like fallen leaves would do in the wild, mulch settles in through rainy winter weather, and helps to retain moisture after the rain stops next spring. It inhibits weeds that will want to grow as soon as the rain starts, and insulates perennials that grow slower or go dormant when the weather gets cooler. Mulch helps an unnaturally cultivated garden do what it wants to do naturally.

Neither Here Nor There

P81103KIs it coming or going? Autumn that is. It normally gets here last. We are typically only beginning to see the first foliar color of autumn while other parts of America get their first snow. We typically get a few more tomatoes out of our vegetable gardens long after most everyone else has pulled out their frosted tomato plants.
Well, we still got it. Tomatoes that is. The plant that produces these bright orange cherry tomatoes is looking a bit tired and pale, but the tomatoes are as good as ever. It probably will not last until frost. The plant might get pulled out when the tomatoes run out. Without bloom, that could be pretty soon. Frost does not happen until well into winter. Regardless, tired tomato plants say that autumn is coming.
We got foliar color too. This Japanese maple turned this nice garnet red quite some time ago. Sweetgum trees all over town are also well colored. They seem to be ahead of schedule, as if winter is on the way. Defoliating black oak trees say that autumn is going.
While the days are still pleasantly warm, with temperatures into the 80s, the nights get cool enough to color deciduous foliage. Warm days are quite normal for this time of year. So are cool nights. However, the two typically do not happen together for more than a few days. Warm days typically alternate with mild nights. Cool nights typically alternate with cool days.
Well, even in our mild climate, the weather is always full of surprises. We will enjoy it while it lasts. Autumn has always been a mere in-between season anyway. In the chaparral and desert climates of California, winter and the rain that comes with it will be welcome when they arrive.P81103K+

Falling Leaves Get Into Everything

51028thumbEven if they had been clean since they were emptied out last winter, gutters (eaves-troughs) near deciduous trees will eventually need to be cleaned again as they collect falling leaves through autumn. Leaves may continue to fall for several weeks, and will fall more abundantly as they get dislodged by rain.

Too many fallen leaves clog gutters and downspouts. If too much debris is left in downspouts for too long, it rots and settles so that it can be very difficult to dislodge. If rainwater can not adequately drain through gutters and downspouts, it can only flow over the edges of gutters. The falling water can erode the ground below, and splatter mud onto nearby walls.

This may not seem like much of a problem, but the reason that gutters and downspouts drain rainwater to the ground gently is to keep the walls dry and clean. Damp walls are likely to rot, especially if water splatters into basement vents. This is why early American homes that lacked expensive gutters were often outfitted with dense ‘foundation’ shrubbery or perennials to soften the splatter.

Leaves that accumulate in the valleys of the roof (where perpendicular slopes meet) should also be removed. Debris can also collect on the upslope side of a chimney. Homes with room additions have more awkward spots to collect debris than unaltered homes. Flat roofs and parapet roofs are of course very likely to collect debris under trees, and may need to be raked more than once.

Vines should not be allowed to climb onto roofs. They can tear apart roofing material, collect debris, and promote rot. Likewise, limbs of trees and large shrubbery should not be allowed to touch roofs, gutters, or even walls. Their motion in the breeze is abrasive to shingles, gutters, paint and siding. They can literally grind off shingles and break terracotta tiles.

Tree limbs should also be kept clear of chimneys. Even during rainy weather, hot exhaust from a chimney can dry and ignite limbs that get too close. Pine, cypress, cedar, and palms with beards (accumulated dead fronds) are very combustible.

Six on Saturday: Expect The Unexpected

 

There will be no more bragging about how late the nice summer weather continued into autumn here. Foliage and berries are already coloring for autumn. During this past week, there were a few other unexpected discoveries in the garden, and one that was not in the garden.

1. Pampas grass is an old fashioned cut flower that was popular when I was a kid in the early 1970s. It lost popularity as the style of floral design became less informal and more refined. The pampas grass plants that produce the blooms were beginning to be recognized as seriously invasive exotic specie at about the same time. Those that produce the biggest and most billowy white blooms are not as invasive as those that produce the leaner pinkish tan blooms. Well, I could write another article about pampas grass; but presently, I only need to say is that I did not expect to see these big billowy pampas grass flowers up above and in the background of this big floral display that was left at work from a wedding there last Saturday.P81020

2. Red hydrangea is too modern for my taste. Deep blue or deep purple are no better. I believe that hydrangeas should be white or pastel hues of pink or blue, or perhaps lavender. You can’t improve on perfection. I did not expect to take a liking to this rich maroon hydrangea.P81020+

3. Dogwood foliage, as well as other foliage that colors in autumn, should develop color later here in our mild climate that in most of America. I did not expect to find such bright red foliage on a dogwood tree already.P81020++

4. Cotoneaster berries should likewise develop color as they ripen a bit later than they do elsewhere. I did not expect to find such ripe red cotoneaster berries already.P81020+++

5. Star magnolia was in rough condition after being relocated over summer. It was in an area that was in the process of being landscaped, so the relocation could not have been delayed until after defoliation in autumn or winter. The little magnolia initially seemed to tolerate the process rather well, but about two weeks later, started to wilt and discolor in warm weather. Subsequent defoliation was a slow process that continued into the end of summer. Axillary buds swelled slightly, as if the tree was getting ready for premature autumn dormancy. That was what I was hoping for. I did not expect the now seemingly happy little star magnolia to develop a second phase of new foliage that it will now need to shed later in autumn.P81020++++

6. Apples ripen at various times. Some cultivars finish as early as late July. Others are just finishing now, and might hang on the trees until early November! These apples are from an old tree on a vacant parcel that I do not get to very often. I intend to prune the tree over winter so that it can be renovated and cultivated as such a distinguished old tree should be. I will be recycling this picture tomorrow, and writing more about it. You will understand why if you read that article. Because I do not know what cultivar this tree is, I did know what to expect from it, but after ignoring it for a while, I did not expect that there would be so many apples remaining.P81020+++++

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/

Fall For Spring Bulbs Now

61019thumbThey are certainly not much to look at now. They are even less interesting once buried out of sight in the garden. The big and colorful pictures on the boxes that they arrive in are probably a bit more spectacular than the flowers expected early next spring will actually be. Nonetheless, it will be amazing to see such flashy bloom emerge from seemingly lifeless bulbs that get planted now.

Dormant bulbs are so easy to plants precisely because they are dormant, and therefore lacking any foliage, bloom or roots that can be damaged in the process of planting. They only want to be planted at the right depth, and preferably in the correct orientation (with their tops up and their bottoms down). They like to be planted now, so that they can slowly chill through cool winter weather.

Chill through winter is important to convince dormant bulbs that it really is winter. In such a mild climate, some plants might wonder about that. Cool winter weather either initiates the development of blooms within dormant bulbs, or stimulates bloom as weather subsequently warms. Many tulip, hyacinth, anemone and ranunculus might not get enough chill here to bloom after their first year.

Daffodil, narcissus, grape hyacinth and some iris are not so discriminating. They are likely to bloom even better in their second spring, and can naturalize in good soil with occasional watering. Freesia and crocus might also naturalize, but want more water. Crocosmia and montbretia can actually be invasive. Dahlia and gladiola are summer bulbs, so will be available for planting later.

All bulbs, as well as the corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots that are commonly known as bulbs, become available in nurseries when it is time for them to be planted, for obvious reasons. Some will be available for quite a while, so can be planted in phases every two week or so, like vegetable plants. Each subsequent phase starts to bloom as each previous phase finishes bloom.

Phasing only works for certain bulbs that are on a tight schedule, and only for the first season. By the second year, they will be synchronized. Iris, anemone and ranunculus tend to bloom together, when the weather is right, regardless of when they were phased. Plants with aggressive roots might not bother bulbs in their first season, but can smother bulbs that might otherwise naturalize.