Why Autumn Is Also Fall

50923thumbNow that leaves are falling, they need to be raked. Large leaves, like those of sycamore and fruitless mulberry, can shade out lawn, shallow ground cover or dense shrubbery. If shade is not a problem right away, mildew can be after only a bit of rain. If abundant enough, finely textured silk tree or jacaranda foliage that typically sifts harmlessly through shrubbery and most ground cover, can accumulate and damage lawn, dichondra and the densest of ground cover. Walnut foliage has an herbicidal effect on sensitive annuals and some perennials.

Foliage is only beginning to fall. Cooling weather causes deciduous trees to shed more. Rain and wind bring the foliage down even faster. Even evergreen trees that naturally shed throughout the year will likely shed more through the upcoming wintry weather. Some trees start to defoliate early in autumn. Some hold their foliage until frost. Some trees that seem to be evergreen hold their foliage through winter, and then only drop their older foliage as it gets replaced by new foliage as winter ends.

Pavement and decks should be raked of leaves, not only to avoid staining, but also because rotting leaves can become dangerously slippery. Curbside gutters are too visible to get neglected for too long. However, heavy rain can quickly deliver to the cleanest of gutters a mess of fallen leaves as well as any other debris and litter that happens to be up the road. Strong wind can be filtered through hedges, leaving drifts of blowing leaves.

Leaves should also be cleared from roof gutters and downspouts, and may need to be cleared away again later in the season. More debris may need to be removed from awkward spots where it might accumulate, such as behind chimneys. Flat roofs may need to be raked.

There are a few exceptions to the need to rake fallen leaves. Where they get absorbed into coarse ground cover like Algerian ivy, falling leaves are generally not a problem. Pine needles and cypress foliage can be left if it happens to be useful for the natural suppression of weeds. Mature coast live oaks and valley oaks that are accustomed to a layer of their own fallen leaves over the surface of the soil actually want it to stay. For them, the foliar debris is a mulch that adds organic matter, insulates the soil, and retains moisture.

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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.

Artificial Turf Has Real Advantages

p90512.jpgLawn is the carpeting for our outdoor spaces. Like pavement or decking, it makes the space in or gardens useful for more than growing other plants. Since it is designed to share its space with us, we give it more ground space than any other type of plant. For what it contributes, most of us do not mind giving lawn all the water and attention that it requires. It really seems indispensable.

Realistically though, most of us are lazy; and we really should be using less water in our gardens. Perhaps it would be more polite to say that we should more selectively prioritize the expenditure of limited resources and effort. Lawns that do not get much use are probably not worth all the work and water. There are easier ways of managing extra space than covering it with turf grass lawn.

Whether we like it or not, artificial turf is very undemanding, and requires no water. It is a bit too uniform and perfectly colored to convince those who bother to notice that it is not real turf, but it is still more convincing than old fashioned artificial turf. It is durable enough for children and dogs, as long as no one tries to dig in it. It does well where dark shade prevents real grass from growing.

The cost of artificial turf is an important consideration. It is relatively expensive for those who maintain their own lawns. However, artificial turf that last for many years is less expensive than paying gardeners to mow for just two or three years. The perfect uniformity of color and texture that might be unappealingly unnatural for horticultural purists is so worth the extra expense to perfectionists.

Installation of artificial turf in a new landscape is relatively easy, since irrigation can be installed only for adjacent plants that require it. Replacement of real lawn with artificial turf in an established landscape is much more challenging, or in rare situations, impractical. Trees and adjacent plants that are reliant on lawn irrigation will need to be watered (somewhat) where the original lawn was.

It seems silly and contrary to water conservation to water artificial turf, but it is sometimes necessary until roots of established plants adapt and migrate to other sources of water. This can take a few years for trees that are surrounded only by lawn. Irrigation need not be as frequent as it was to sustain turf grass, but should be sufficient to sustain any other plants while they figure things out.

Fake New Lawn

P90512A new lawn is getting installed at work. Yes, installed. It will not be grown like lawns were decades ago. It will be unrolled and fastened into place, not like sod, but more like carpet. It will be synthetic artificial turf. After considerable deliberation, it was determined to be the most practical option for the particular application. The real turf that was there before succumbed to excessive traffic above and very sandy soil below.
The contractor who will be installing this lawn sent a sample piece of it prior to the final installation. We actually do not know why we got a sample, since we already know what the particular artificial turf is like. There was some concern that it would get too warm in sunlight, but it arrived with no explanation. It was unrolled onto the asphalt driveway at our maintenance shops, and surrounded with cones to protect it from getting driven on.
Rhody wasted no time in trying it out. Obviously, he found it to be quite satisfactory. He rolls around on it and tried to dig into it like it is real grass. With all the fallen locust flowers and cottonwood fuzz, it even looks like a real lawn in need of raking. I certainly hope that it does not expect to be watered and mowed as well.
You might think that all horticulturists would automatically dislike artificial turf. Yet, I am not the only one who prefers it to real turf grass in some situations. You see, real turf takes so much effort that those of us who enjoy horticulture would rather put into other more interesting and productive chores. After all, lawn is the most demanding feature of most landscapes, but is also the most monotonous and boring. Many of the best get no use.P90512+

By the way, this article was intended for yesterday. The article that should have posted today got posted yesterday instead. I am sorry for the glitch of chronology.

Pseudodendron falsifolia

p90126kLatin and the other languages used to designate botanical names can make the mundane seem compelling, and the unpleasant sound appealing. ‘Nasturtium’ certainly sounds better than ‘nose twister’, which refers to the reaction to the unpleasant fragrance of the flowers. Horticultural professionals can use such language to our advantage, and for more than designating real genera and specie. ‘Necrodendron’ certainly sounds more interesting than ‘dead tree’, and is less likely to offend tree huggers.
‘Pseudodendron’ is a euphemism for ‘fake tree’. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sometimes points them out in interiorscapes, or worse, in real exterior landscapes. We sometimes analyze them as if they are real. We both are amused to see fake bananas or fake pineapples, or both, hanging from fake cocoanut palms. Sometimes, someone who overhears our conversation feels compelled to inform us that the pseudodendrons that we are so intrigued by are fake. Sometimes, someone asks about growing them in their own gardens.
Of course, hassling Brent about his artificial turf never gets old. It is installed outside of his office to demonstrate how practical it is for clients who are considering it for their landscapes. It really does look great though. Brent probably gives it plenty of fertilizer, and waters it well.
By the time Brent finds out that there is something much worse in one of the landscapes that I work in, it will be gone. Now that it is late January, these fake poinsettias will be removed any day. I will not miss them. Even if they were real, they would still look silly. That is just too much red.
Unfortunately, these poinsettias are perennial. They will be put away until next winter, when they will come out of storage to go back into the same spot in the landscape.

Halston Junior

P80610Apparently, the warnings were effective. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/caution/ . They managed to avoid the traps and survive to perpetuate another generation under the lawn of Felton Covered Bridge Park. It is impossible to know if they are directly related to the now deceased Halston https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/halston/ who infested a landscape only about two miles away. It is unimportant. They all are intent on conquest.

Halston Junior, a baby gopher who may or may not be a descendant of the famed Halston, was found wet and shivering on the surface of the ridiculously perforated lawn. Rhody wanted to play, but was restrained from consorting with the enemy. The prisoner was detained, dried and put in one of Rhody’s blankets to recover. There was no formal interrogation, but the detainee was found to be well armed.

It is impossible to imagine what sort of damage such sharp and strong claws could inflict!P80610+

It is equally as impossible to imagine how dangerous such nasty fangs could be!P80610++

The purpose of this formidable weapon is unknown, but it is undoubtedly very dangerous!P80610+++However, the most effective weapons of all were mind control techniques. Halston Junior used them merely for self defense, by convincing his captors that he was too cute to be euthanized. It could have been much worse if he had not been so mentally compromised from his ordeal.

We knew that Halston Junior could not be released back into the lawn from which he came, but we also knew that relocating him somewhere else would disrupt the ecosystem slightly, and that Halston Junior would likely migrate back to where he came from. Ultimately, he did get released into a nearby meadow. We can only hope that the rest of the ecosystem will not notice.

Halston Junior won this battle, but not the war.

 

The Lawn Is Always Greener

70419thumbTurf grasses are the ultimate in groundcover. They are very durable, and useful for covering large areas in a very user friendly manner. The toughest varieties are used for athletic fields because they withstand the wear and tear. In home gardens, all sorts of varieties are grown as lawns. Like other groundcovers, lawns limit erosion, and are cleaner than bare summer dust and winter mud.

Yes, turf grasses and lawns are the most useful of plant materials; but they are also the most demanding. They require more water than almost anything else, except only aquatic plants and some bedding plants. A healthy lawn must be mown and edged regularly, and as often as weekly in warm weather. Weeds are difficult to control once established. Gophers can cause serious damage.

Regardless, for all sorts of landscapes ranging from athletic fields to home gardens, a lawn is worth the work it takes to grow it. Only Trona High School has a dirt athletic field; and only because the soil is too saline and the weather is too scorching for turf grass. At least home garden lawns are more modest than they were years ago, with larger patios and decks, and other groundcover.

Artificial turf still has a bad reputation. The first AstroTurf of the late 1960s was nothing like real turf grass. It had a coarse texture, and eventually faded and deteriorated. Its main problem was that it was so regularly compared to real turf grass instead of recognized for its own attributes as an alternative to lawn, like carpeting for outdoor spaces. Yet, it was popular for certain applications.

Modern artificial turf looks and feels a bit more convincing, and is more resistant to wear and weathering. It might be more convincing if it were not so perfectly uniform. It is already more popular than old fashioned AstroTurf was, even for playgrounds and athletic fields. Artificial turf is expensive to purchase and install, but not as expensive as the maintenance and watering of real grass.

Compared to the installation of real turf grass that needs irrigation and soil amendment, the installation of artificial turf necessitates less excavation. It is therefore less invasive to the shallow roots of established trees and shrubs that are already in the landscape. However, plants that are accustomed to generous lawn irrigation might need to be watered through newly installed artificial turf.

Six on Saturday: Big League

 

Again, my six pictures are not from my own garden, which incidentally, is not at all interesting. Instead, these pictures are from the biggest site I work at. It is many acres, with some very big features.
1. Big lawns are acres of turf. The kid in front of the building in the distance shows how big the building and lawn is. This is the biggest of three big lawns.P80217
2. Big trees are very common here. These are coastal redwoods. There are also big Douglas firs and ponderosa pines.P80217+
3. Big water features are not constructed backyard fountains or koi ponds. This is Bean Creek, which flows into Zayante Creek less than half a mile away. It is more than a hundred feet below where the picture was taken.P80217++
4. Big shovels are necessary for working in such big gardens.P80217+++
5. Big garden sheds and big garden carts made by Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet are also very important.P80217++++
6. Big insects are quite at home in such big gardens.P80217+++++
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/

Litter Box

P80120+++++Perhaps I should elaborate on the ‘litter boxes’ in the ‘Six on Saturday’ post earlier this morning. As I already mentioned, they are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures. They were formerly inhabited by Italian cypress trees that would now be like those nearby if they had survived.

This is no joke. Someone really selected the tree that provides the least shade for hot pavement, and attracts the most birds to do what birds do on parked cars.

Because they were installed as large boxed specimens, and were watered generously enough to maintain swampy conditions in the surrounding soil, most of the cypresses could not disperse their roots fast enough, and consequently got blown over onto parked cars in their first or second winter. The survivors took many years to get established, and were bound to big and unsightly lodgepole stakes for years.

Rather than getting outfitted with ‘shade’ trees or perennials, . . . or anything, these litter box planters remain as blank and uselessly small rectangular lawns, requiring regular mowing, edging and lots of watering. Incidentally, many of us around town let our lawns die to conserve water. Brown is the new green.

Because they are in such a high traffic area, and sometimes get run over by cars, the sprinkler heads are always in need of adjustment. They are quite generous with sharing their water with the surrounding pavement and any cars that might be parked there early in the morning, which makes the waste of water more blatant. The curbs are tripping hazards.

So, what are these litter boxes good for? Are they reserved for grave sites? ‘Very’ miniature golf perhaps? No one knows. This is not exactly a nice spot for a picnic or a game of volleyball.P80120k