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.

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Fasciated Lily-of-the-Nile

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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.

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Summer Perennials Are Now Blooming

90731thumbAre warm season annuals really the most colorful flowers for summer? Perhaps. They have their limits though. They are also very demanding. They need to be watered very regularly, and should probably be fertilized too. Many need to be deadheaded frequently. After all that, they are only temporary, and will get replaced with cool season annuals in autumn. Perennials are more practical.

Lily-of-the-Nile is likely the most common and most familiar of blooming summer perennials. It is a shame that it blooms only once. Bloom is usually in time for the Fourth of July, and lasts a good long time, but is already fading. Deadheading as the blue or white color is eventually exhausted will not promote subsequent bloom, but will keep the evergreen foliage looking tidy until next year.

Daylily might be the second most popular of summer perennials. Some of the older types bloom only once like lily-of-the-Nile, but various cultivars bloom at various times to prolong the season if a few are grown together in the same garden. The most popular modern cultivars probably bloomed earlier, and will bloom again, perhaps with little time in between. The color range is extensive.

Penstemon are not committed to their natural schedule of blooming in late spring and again in autumn. A good pruning at the end of winter eliminates tired old foliage, and enhances and delays bloom until summer, without compromising the later autumn bloom. Like daylily, a few different varieties of penstemon in the same garden prolong bloom, which can be white, pink, red or purple.

Salvias are a big group of summer perennials that really should be more popular than they are. Some are native. Others are from other chaparral climates. Naturally, they are right at home here. Many bloom about now, and some will bloom again in autumn if deadheaded or pruned back. What they lack in flashy color, they compensate for in resiliency and reliability. They really are tough.

This is by no means a complete list of summer perennials. It does not even include the perennial daisies such as coneflower, black-eyed Susan and gaillardia.

Six on Saturday: Off Schedule

 

Every year is different. The weather is different. Bloom times are different. Growth rates are different.

1. Asiatic lily. This is one of five that were planted late enough last winter to be blooming right now, after others have finished. I would not have planted them so late, but that was when one of the neighbors shared them. They are a different color of the same sort of lily as the rose lily that was also blooming late last week.P90608

2. Peruvian lily. It seems to me that they were only beginning to bloom by this time last year. This year, they started blooming sparsely more than a month ago, and were blooming as profusely as they are now more than two weeks ago. There are pink and peach Peruvian lilies here too. I showed them off last years. (A peach flower can be seen out of focus at the bottom of the picture. A pink flower can be seen out of focus at the lower left corner of the previous picture #1 of Asiatic lily.P90608+

3. Rhododendron. Some bloom early and get battered by winter weather. Some bloom late and might get slightly roasted in the arid air of late spring. This one always bloom late like this, and has no problem with the weather. I do not know what cultivar it is. It certainly seems happy.P90608++

4. Dahlia. #1 Asiatic lily bloomed late. #2 Peruvian lily bloomed early. #3 rhododendron bloomed late. This dahlia did both. Dahlias typically only begin to bloom late in June. As you can see, this one already bloomed. I would not have shared this bad picture of a deteriorating early bloom, but was impressed that it bloomed at all. You see, it was dug and stored TWO winters ago, and then forgotten about. It somehow survived in storage through last year. I found it late last winter, and after determining that part of it was actually still viable, buried it right behind the lilies #1. It grew as if nothing had ever happened, and bloomed a year late and a month early. It has nice buds on in, so should resume bloom right on schedule, and continue to frost.P90608+++

5. Boston ivy. Four were planted over winter to climb a concrete retaining wall and a pair of concrete pillars supporting a bridge. The plan is to remove the Algerian ivy that hangs down over the retaining wall as it is replaced by the Boston ivy climbing up from below. I do not want to remove the Algerian ivy until necessary. I just want to keep it out of the way. I did not expect the Boston ivy to start growing like a weed so early. I cut the Algerian ivy farther to the left after getting this picture.P90608++++

6. Flowering cherry. Two plants; above were early. Two were late. One was both early and late. Well, this one won’t break the tie. These flowering cherries bloomed on time and are well foliated as they should be. In fact, they are better foliated and healthier than they have been in several years. They were so unhealthy last year that we had planned to cut them down and replace them by now. We just have not done so because we have not found replacements for them yet. Therefore, we are late; but it is not their fault. If it were at all possible, I would not remove them.P90608+++++

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/

Deadheading Promotes And Prolongs Bloom

90612thumbApril showers bring May flowers. May flowers make a mess. Well, some of them do. Most simply disintegrate and fall from the trees, shrubs and vines that produced them, and decompose into the soil below. Some might have needed to be swept off of pavement and decks. Regardless, most of us do not notice the very minor consequences for the majority of spectacular spring bloom.

However, there are some flowers that demand a bit more attention after they finish blooming. They linger after the show is over, and can look shabby as they deteriorate. Small ones can simply be plucked. Larger blooms might need to be pruned out. The process of removing deteriorating blooms is known as ‘deadheading’, and it is done for more reasons than just to keep plants groomed.

Plants bloom to produce seed, and the production of seed takes resources. Removal of seed structures not only diverts resources to more useful functions, but for many plants, it also stimulates subsequent bloom in response to interrupted seed production. They literally keep trying until they are able to produce viable seed, even if they must continue all season until late autumn dormancy.

Most plants that benefit from deadheading are perennials. Shasta daisy, black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, cone flower, yarrow, lavender and beard tongue (penstemon) bloom more abundantly and for a longer time with regular deadheading. The various lavenders, as well as other perennials that are comparably shrubby, are easily deadheaded by shearing after profuse bloom phases.

For bulbs and bulb like perennials that bloom only once annually, deadheading will not promote subsequent bloom during the same year, but conserves resources for the following year. Daffodil, lily, clivia, various iris and, during summer, gladiolus and dahlia, all appreciate diligent deadheading.

Petunia and marigold are two annuals that happen to bloom better with regularly deadheading. They bloom so profusely that deadheading can be quite a chore. Plants that can be invasive, such as salsify, should be deadheaded before dispersing seed.

Roses Can Not Be Neglected

P80602+Roses are not for the meek. They are too demanding, too sensitive, too thorny, and without their flowers, they are not even very attractive. They have no business in a low-maintenance landscape, or in a landscape maintained by mow, blow and go gardeners. Those who want to grow rose plants for their flowers should be ready to give them what they want, and to prune them aggressively.

The most aggressive pruning gets done during winter dormancy. That process alone can be quite intimidating for those who are just getting acquainted with roses. After seeing them grow through the year, it seems counterproductive to prune big plants back to only a few short canes. Yet, by now, those canes should have produced much taller new canes that are already blooming profusely.

Now it is time to prune roses again, or will be time to do so soon. Deteriorating flowers need to be pruned away to promote continued bloom, a process known as ‘deadheading’. Otherwise, the fruiting structures that develop, known as ‘rose hips’, divert resources and inhibit bloom. Of course, blooms taken as cut flowers leave no hips, but they might leave stubs that may need grooming.

The popular technique of pruning back to the fifth leaf below a hip is not necessarily what roses want. It probably originated from the recommendation of pruning back to a low leaf with five leaflets because the buds associated with upper leaves with three or less leaflets are not as likely to develop into productive stems. However, pruning a bit too low is probably better than pruning too high.

When cutting roses to bring in, it is better to cut long stems, and then shorten them later if necessary. Each stem should be cut just above a leaf so that the bud in the leaf axil can develop into a new stem without much of a stub above it. The cut stem left behind on the plant should not be so long that it extends too far above the canes that were pruned over winter, or becomes crowded.

Crowded stems inhibit growth of vigorous blooming canes, and are more susceptible to rust, mildew and blackspot.P80602++

Spectacular Bloom Can Be Lethal

70510thumbAfter providing remarkably striking foliage for many years, the biggest and boldest agaves bolt with spectacularly tall floral stalks that support horizontal pads of flowers. These stalks can bloom for months, and stand for months after bloom is finished. Then things get ugly. The foliage around each bloom folds back, desiccates and dies. There is no nice way to describe it. Bloom is death.

Plants that bloom only once and then die are ‘monocarpic’. Agaves are not truly monocarpic, since they do not really die completely. They survive by producing pups (offshoots) as their original rosettes of foliage die. Some agaves start to produce pups years prior to bloom, just to be ready. Most terrestrial yuccas (that do not form trunks) go through the same process shortly after bloom.

Pups can be so prolific that they get crowded. Because the larger agaves are so big, they can conquer a significant area with just a few pups. With all their dangerously nasty foliar spines, extra pups are not at all easy to remove. Once removed, pups can be planted elsewhere as new plants, but they will grow up into even more agaves that will eventually bloom and make more pups!

Removal of the carcasses of bloomed yuccas without getting stabbed by the sharply tipped leaves is challenging. Removal of the carcasses of big agaves is hellish! Spines of old foliage never go dull. Pups hiding below the old foliage are just as dangerous. Tall blooms must be cut down like small trees. The debris can not be recycled in green waste, so must be disposed of like trash.

Furcraeas, which are related to agaves and yuccas, produce fewer pups, or may not produce any pups at all. Of course, a bloomed plant without pups will die completely. However, the huge conical blooms (that resemble Christmas trees) produce bulbils, which are tiny new plants that can be plugged back into the garden to grow into new plants! Regardless of all the work, furcraeas, as well as yuccas and agaves (within reason), are worth growing for their dramatic foliage and impressive bloom.

Splat!

P90310There are a few consequences to all this excellent rain. Gutters are flooding. Trees are falling. Mud is sliding. As much as we should be grateful for what we are getting while we are getting it, it is getting rather old. Clear and sunny weather that is forecast after today will be a welcome relief from all this muddy sogginess.
Almost all of the flowering cherries have somehow postponed bloom. It has not been unusually cold. It is as if the trees somehow know better than to bloom while so much unusually heavy rain is falling. Otherwise, they might have bloomed only briefly before the blossoms got knocked off. The buds are so fat that I expect they will begin to bloom by the middle of the week.
Only one flowering cherry that always blooms significantly earlier than the others bloomed on time, and is already finished. Considering how heavy the rain was during that time, the light duty bloom actually lasted impressively well.
Daffodils tried to delay their bloom as well; but some could wait no longer. Many were not bothered by the heavy rain. Others were knocked flat, and needed to be propped with small hoop stakes. Only some of those that were planted late in the planting season kept their buds closed this late.
I should be pleased that these hyacinth bloomed at all this year. They are the sort of bulbs that bloom only once in their first year, but then do not get sufficient chill in winter to bloom again. They must be in a cold spot. Unfortunately, it is also a shady spot. The floral stems stretched so much in the shade that they were easily knocked down by the heavy rain. Now they lay there like they have fallen and can’t get up.

Bloom Is Earlier If Forced

60224thumbProperly pruned deciduous fruit trees probably do not have too many extra stems to spare now. Neglected trees would have more to offer. Believe it or not, a few of us who prune deciduous fruit trees diligently and meticulously in winter sometimes leave a few unwanted stems to prune out and take into the home now that the flower buds are beginning to swell and are about to bloom.

Bloom accelerates once the bare twigs are inside where the nights are warmer than outside. If the buds are plump enough, they can bloom in a day or a few. (If not plump enough, the buds may desiccate before they bloom.) Twigs that are already blooming can be brought in as well, but do not last quite as long. Blossoms are a bit messy as they later drop petals, but are worth the bother.

The technique is simply known as ‘forcing’, which works something like forcing bulbs to bloom prematurely. Timing is critical. If a few blossoms are already blooming elsewhere on the tree, the fattest unblooming buds that are already showing color are ready to be cut and brought in. They only need to be put in a vase with water like any other cut flower, and can mix with other flowers.

Stone fruits (of the genus Prunus) like almond, apricot, plum, prune, peach, nectarine and cherry, start to bloom about now, although not in this order. Apple and pear bloom later. All their fruitless counterparts, known simply as flowering plum, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple and so on, are even more colorful, and some types bloom with ruffled double flowers. All bloom without foliage.

Flowering quince and forsythia have already bloomed, but would have been the most spectacular bare twigs to force into bloom. Pussywillow is probably the most familiar forced bloom twig. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) blooms something like pear, but the aroma may be objectionable to some. More adventurous garden enthusiasts force witch hazel (winter), redbud and star magnolia.

Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.