The dark bronze and variegated varieties of tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, are so much more popular than the simple species, that the simple species with plain green foliage is now rather rare. The succulent stems do not stand much more than three feet tall. They get about as broad, and can get even broader as lower stems develop roots and grow into new plants. The succulent rosettes of foliage of well watered plants can be fragile to handle. Mature plants can bloom in spring with unusual conical trusses of yellowish or chartreuse flowers.
Cut Christmas trees really are the way to go. There is no obligation to take care of them after Christmas. They do not need to planted out into a garden that will be too small for them as they grow. They do not need to be maintained in a pot, only to get disfigured or partially defoliated before next Christmas. They simple get removed from the home and composted or otherwise disposed of.
Potted living Christmas trees may seem like a good idea, but they are not as sustainable as they seem to be. Only the smaller and more compact types of conifers can be confined to big pots or planted into compact garden spaces. Rosemary shorn into small cones happens do well either in big pots or out in the garden, and if preferred, can be allowed to assume its natural bushy form.
Many other potted plants that are popularly brought into the home for Christmas decoration are easier to accommodate but take a bit of effort. Poinsettias are the most familiar of these. They can grow as houseplants for years, and might hold their colorful bracts for months. In mild climates, they can be planted in the garden, but will never look like they did originally. Most get discarded.
Hollies and azaleas are more sustainable, but are not as popular. Of these, hollies are the easiest. They can be planted in larger pots or directly into the garden later, when the worst of winter is over. Azaleas will eventually drop their flowers, and will likely look very distressed for a few months, but if watered regularly, can regenerate new foliage that is adapted to their new environments.
Christmas cactus happens to be a delightful houseplant regardless of the season. It will also drop its flowers, but will generate appealing pendulous foliage that cascades nicely from hanging pots. It can bloom annually, although timing of bloom is quite variable. It can do the same outside, if sheltered. Amaryllis also prefers to stay potted. It will replace its tall flower stalks with a few leaves that sustain the bulbs until dormancy next autumn, and can bloom again next winter if given a chance.
People really stress out over Christmas trees. Some do not want a cut Christmas tree because it involves killing the tree. Some do not want an artificial Christmas tree because it is . . . artificial. Some do not want a living Christmas tree because it is too expensive for a tree that is too small. There are so many myths and misconceptions about Christmas trees, yet everyone wants one.
As mentioned, artificial trees are . . . artificial. Obviously. They are not a horticultural commodity, so are not an appropriate topic for a gardening column. What can be said about them is that they are not a more environmentally responsible option to disposable cut real trees. Countless dinosaurs died to make the petroleum for the plastic that these non-biodegradable trees are made of.
Cut trees are still the most environmentally responsible option. They are not harvested from forests, but from plantations, just like any other cut foliage, cut flowers or vegetable crops. Many are grown from the branched stumps of previously harvested trees, by a process known simply enough as ‘stump culture’. It works like coppicing, and allows some stumps to produce for many years.
Potted living trees are the most misunderstood type of Christmas trees. There is nothing environmentally friendly about them. They are exotic (non-native) trees grown in synthetic media (potting soil) in vinyl pots. They get synthetic fertilizer, artificial irrigation and very unnatural pruning while growing within artificially regulated environments that are designed to promote efficient production.
Only a few of the more compact types of living Christmas trees, like Colorado blue spruce and dwarf Alberta spruce, can survive confinement in pots for more than just a few years. Austrian black pine and dwarf limber pine need a bit of trimming as they grow, but also have the potential to work for a few Christmas seasons. The common small potted Christmas trees that are already decorated are Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, which do not survive confinement for long, and get too big for home gardens.
Aside from all the seasonal raking and dormant pruning, there is not as much to do in the garden as there was earlier in the year. Lawns do not need much mowing. Hedges do not need much shearing. Untimely mowing and shearing can actually damage lawns and hedges. Watering, which was so important while the weather was warm, is now rare in the cool weather between rain.
Watering is now so infrequent that the few plants that still need it sometimes do without. Plants that are merely sheltered by eaves probably do not mind so much because their roots are dispersed beyond the eaves. However, potted plants that are sheltered by eaves do not have that option. It may take a while in the cool and damp air, but they can slowly get uncomfortably dry.
Watering sheltered potted plants is too easy to forget about while everything that is not sheltered is getting soaked by rain. It is even more easy to forget because it is so infrequent. Things just do not dry out like they do in summer. Also, plants are less active, and many are dormant and defoliated, so really do not lose much moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces.)
In fact, overzealous watering can be just as detrimental as neglect. Soil saturation may not be as immediately dangerous as it would be during warmer weather, but eventually kills roots. Even with adequate drainage, soil moisture can linger if plants do not consume it. Determining how much water is needed for sheltered potted plants may not be as simple as it should be.
Larger plants in smaller pots want more water than smaller plants in larger pots. Those that are exposed to wind will get dry faster than those that are protected. Hanging pots dry out the fastest. Ironically, drought tolerant plants that need the least water in the ground often want the most in pots. They are the most reliant on extensive root dispersion, which is not possible in confinement.
Some potted (frost tolerant) plants might get slightly relocated out into the weather so that they get the rain that keeps the rest of the garden well watered through winter.
Pavement serves a purpose in a landscape. So does decking. They are the flooring of the outdoor spaces that are used for outdoor living. Patios and decks are where we barbecue and dine. Walkways and porches are how we get around the exteriors of our homes. Driveways are where we park cars. For what they get used for, they are better than turf grass, ground cover or bare soil.
So why is it so trendy to clutter pavement and decking with potted plants that would really prefer to be in the ground? It would be more practical to pave less area, and leave more space to plant things in the ground. There would be no damp pots staining concrete or rotting decking. There would be less area to rake or blow, with fewer obstacles in the way. Watering would be much easier.
Well, as it turns out, there are a few plants that should be potted. Houseplants are the most obvious. After all, not many homes have exposed soil where houseplants can be grown on the inside. Even if they did, it is still easier to keep houseplants potted for portability. Plants such as orchids and Christmas cactus, can live in the garden most of the time, and then come in while blooming. Portability is also important for tropical plants that need protection from even mild frost. It might be easier to move them than to cover them.
There are also a few plants that are contained because they are invasive. Mint and horseradish are culinary plants that are so famously invasive that not many of us would bother growing them if they were not so much better fresh from the garden than purchased from elsewhere. Rather than allow them to escape, mint is popularly potted, and horseradish is commonly grown in deep tubs.
Container gardening and growing plants in pots is something that we do for out own convenience, or just because it looks good cluttering otherwise useful parts of the landscape. With only a few exceptions, plants prefer to be in the ground, where they can disperse their roots as extensively as they like. They are healthier, and need less attention. To them, container gardening is unnatural.
This is a recycled picture that still annoys me. There was another that I did not want to use because it happens to be from a landscape that I sometimes work in.
The picture that I did not use shows a variety of annuals in a half wine barrel that is set on cobble stone that fills a square that is about five feet by five feet that was cut out of an asphalt paved area.
The area was paved to function as a patio.
A square was cut into the pavement perhaps because there was too much pavement.
The square was filled with stone because there was too much exposed soil where there should have been pavement.
A half wine barrel of various annuals was installed on top of the stone as if a square filled with stone was not adequately in the way.\
The half wine barrel and stone should be removed so that the are can be paved as usable patio space. . . like it had originally been.
It reminds me of a monologue by the renowned comedian, Bill Cosby. He discussed the small compartment that is designed to keep butter from getting too cold within a refrigerator that is designed to keep food cold, within the home that is heated to keep the interior from getting too cold.
Now, back to the picture above. It annoys me even more because it is not the result of a series of mistakes by several different volunteers working in the landscape that I did not post a picture of. It was done by so-called ‘professionals’, like those I briefly worked for a few years ago.
The area was paved. I might add that it was paved quite well. Then, either because there was too much pavement, or because someone wanted to sell more junk, potted plants and the associated irrigation system were installed onto the pavement, so that the affected portion of pavement is now useless.
How does this makes sense? It should have been done properly when the pavement was installed only a few years ago. I would guess from looking at it that the pavement was done properly, but someone just wanted to sell more infrastructure.
The bigger urn in the foreground is planted with pink jasmine on a trellis. I explained the problem with the vine not getting released from its bindings last week. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/11/28/horridculture-well-done-stakes-are-rare/ Not only does a bundled thicket of stems remain in the middle, but all the new growth is crowded on top of the trellis because the landscape ‘professionals’ planted a big vine on a tiny trellis, and then neglect to maintain it. What is the point of a trellised vine in the first place? I mean, what does it ‘do’? Wouldn’t something shrubbier or a cascading perennial have been more appropriate? Do we really want to see the bare soil and accumulated cigarette butts below the vine? What about the landscape behind the potted plants? Why obscure that? Why create more obstacles for those who sweep or blow debris from the area.
Just look at all the pointless infrastructure in this useless space. Rather than a nice well designed landscape adjacent to clean and usable pavement, we have pointless potted plants cluttering the area, leaking water that stains the now useless pavement, and just getting in the way!
Two others have already written about this far more proficiently than I would have:
Amaryllis, Queen of the Forced Bulbs
These two articles say it all. I would not have bothered to write about it too if I had not already taken the picture above. I did not read the label to learn what one of these articles said about why these bulbs were waxed. It seals in moisture, so that the bulbs do not desiccate while they bloom without water or moist media. They at least get water when forced by the conventional manner.
I suppose to many who force amaryllis bulbs, there is no problem with waxing them like this, since they are typically discarded as their forced bloom deteriorates. There is no expectation for the bulbs to survive the process to regenerate and bloom the following year.
We can at least pretend that we intend to nurture amaryllis bulbs that bloom in a ‘forcing kit’ that includes a small volume of potting media that sort of sustains the fleshy roots through the process. After all, they can survive the process and get potted into larger volumes of media to recover and bloom again. Some of us have actually sustained such bulbs for a few years Bulbs that are purchased bare and then potted directly into more reasonable volumes of media are of course more sustainable from the beginning.
Poinsettias and living Christmas trees are no better than forced amaryllis. Nor are the Easter lilies in spring.
Like amaryllis bulbs, Easter lilies can be purchased bare and grown directly out in the garden. Those that are forced in pots can be planted out in the garden afterward to possibly recover. Otherwise, they too get discarded after bloom.
Poinsettias can technically be grown as houseplants, but rarely survive that long. Those that do not get tossed after they shed their colorful bracts are likely to get tossed as they languish in recovery from the process of forcing them to bloom in a very contrived greenhouse environment.
Living Christmas trees are actually more of a problem if the ‘do’ survive. They so often get planted into small gardens, and often next to foundations of homes, with the belief that they will always stay small and innocent. The problem is that most are seedlings of the Italian stone pine, which grows very big and very fast, and soon becomes a problem that is very expensive to remove. If not planted in a garden and allowed to destroy all within reach, they die from neglect and confinement within their own pots, often within their first year.
Immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nothing was open for business downtown on North Santa Cruz Avenue south of Bean Avenue. As buildings were inspected for safety and cleaned up, sections of cyclone fence that had kept everyone out were slowly and systematically moved out so that businesses on the east side could open for business. The same slow process was repeated on the west side, moving south from the corner at Bean Avenue, but did not get very far. The old Los Gatos Cinema, as well as the several other building between it and the seemingly destroyed old La Canada Building on the southern corner of the block, were too badly damaged for the fence to be removed.
Right there next door to the Cinema where the fence stopped moving, Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe happened to be one of the fortunate businesses that was able to open for business again, and serve breakfast and lunch to those so diligently reconstructing downtown. It had always been there, longer than anyone can remember. Older people knew it as the ‘Sweet Shoppe’, a soda fountain that was very popular with those who cruised North Santa Cruz Avenue. It was the last of the first business that that moved into the old Cannery Building when it was converted to retail stores. Gilley converted it to more of a coffee shoppe and named it after himself in the 1970s. While everything in Los Gatos changed around it, Gilley’s remained about the same. Everyone knows Gilley’s.
I had not gone there more than a few times prior to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. I was away at school for the second half of the 1980s, and just did not go downtown much while in high school or earlier. I stopped by on the way to work early one autumn morning in 1990 because it was the only restaurant that was open in the recovering downtown neighborhood It instantly became my place to go for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch. It was nothing fancy, but it was what I wanted.
For the past twenty eight years, Gilley’s was where many of my work days started. I used their tables to sketch out irrigation systems and small sections of landscapes. I met clients there rather than at my home office. Back when I was able to write about local gardening events in my gardening column, I conducted interviews there. Readers sometimes brought me pieces of plants for identification, or for diagnoses of a disease. When Gilley’s sold and was prettied up a slight bit in the early 1990s, I procured small potted bromeliads, and later, cut flowers for the tables. Before permanent succulent were installed into the big pots flanking the door, I cycled flowering annuals for a little bit of color out front. A whole lot of horticulture went on at Gilley’s.
Sadly, nothing is permanent. Los Gatos is always changing, just like it has always done. By the time you read this, after 3:00 on September 30, 2018, Gilley’s will have closed for the last time.
The common names of ‘Dutchman’s pipe’ and ‘queen of the night’ are not much less awkward the the Latin name of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, which might be why the Latin name is more common than the common names are. Some know it as ‘white ephiphyllum’ or even more simply as ‘white epi’. It is one of the more popular of the epiphyllums; and it is the most popular with white flowers.
The nocturnal flowers appeal to nocturnal pollinators. What we see simply as luminescent white is actually outfitted with exquisite patterns that are only visible to those who can see ultraviolet light, like nocturnal moths. Bats are as blind as . . . well, bats, but can follow the richly sweet fragrance if they choose to. Sunlight disables fragrance immediately, and causes flowers to close soon after.
In the wild, sprawling primary stems can cascade almost twenty feet. Of course, they are much shorter in home gardens. The more pendulous secondary stems that bloom get about a foot long, and perhaps three inches wide. Flowers bloom in summer, and can be half a foot wide and a foot long. Epiphyllums naturally hang from trees as epiphytes, so will do the same from hanging pots.
They were not always houseplants. They came from somewhere else. Most came from shady tropical forests, which is why they have such big dark green leaves, and are so tolerant of shady home interiors. They are pretty good sports about tolerating the domestic lifestyles that we subject them to, but they would really prefer to be thousands of miles away, growing wild back home.
Home interiors lack the sort of weather that the natural environments of houseplants get. The majority of houseplants would prefer rain, humidity, occasional breezes and perhaps more warmth. Some succulents may not miss the rain, but might crave heat and more sunlight. Regardless of what houseplants want, that can not get all of it in the comfort of our homes. They want to get out!
Unfortunately, that is not an option. Plants that have adapted to the relative darkness and protection from (shortwave or SUV) ultraviolet light in the home would roast if suddenly exposed to direct sunlight. (Windows block SUV light.) They would get battered by wind and damaged or killed by frost in winter. Those that become outdoor plants should be transitioned slowly and methodically.
However, there are a few times a year when the weather is not expected to get too cold, hot or windy, when houseplants can come out to the garden to get very lightly rinsed with a hose. Taking them out immediately prior to a light rain is even better. Rain is gentler and more sustained than a brief and coarse hose rinsing. Both techniques rinse away dust and residue from insect activity.
Rinsing does not eliminate mite, scale or mealybug infestations, but temporarily eliminates the residue from such infestations, and somewhat disrupts their activity. Mites prefer dusty plants to clean ones. While plant are outside, it would be a good time for any necessary repotting, or to apply horticultural oil to control mites or scale. Mineral deposits can also be scrubbed from saucers and the bottoms of pots. If hosed during sunny weather, houseplants should be shaded by a larger tree or awning.