There is quite a bit of open space in some parts of the landscapes. It is not as if the landscapes are lacking much. There just happens to be a few spots where a bit more could be added. This expanse of healthy English ivy was already appealing, but lacked interest.

There is also quite a bit of spare plants out and about in the landscapes. It is not as if there is anything wrong with spare plants. There just happens to be too many of them. These cannas got overgrown and crowded within their original colony in another landscape, so needed to be divided and thinned out.

We are not a so-called ‘landscape’ company, which profits from the removal of some plants, and the installation of others. There is no incentive to dispose of as much vegetation as we could bill a client for. Nor is there any incentive to install as many new and expensive plants as we could fit into any available space. It is not a ‘business’.

To the contrary, it is in our own best interest to exploit resources that are already available to us. For example, when we thinned out these crowded cannas from one situation, we reassigned them to other situations where they could grow and become assets to their new landscapes. Also, viburnums that were removed from one site were reassigned as hedges in other situations.

We will be doing more of this sort of reassignment now that the weather is cooler and rainier, and the plants that will get relocated are dormant. Carpet roses that must be removed from the boundary of a playground because they are too thorny will be relocated to a broad roadside, where they can grow wild. They will be replaced with lily-of-the-Nile that is crowded elsewhere.

Division Renovates Tired Old Perennials

91204thumbAutumn is a time for planting partly because it is when many plants are beginning their winter dormancy. They are, or will soon be, less active than they would be at any other time of year. Some may not start to grow again until after winter ends. Others will want to secretly disperse their roots through the rainy winter weather, while merely appearing to be dormant from above the soil level.

That is why autumn is also the best time for division of many types of perennials. Such perennials should be adequately dormant to not be bothered by the process of getting dug and divided into smaller parts, then replanted. They actually prefer to get it done sooner than later, so that they can slowly disperse their roots through cool and rainy winter weather, and be ready to grow in spring.

Divisions is often done to renovate bulky perennials that have become overgrown, shabby, or too crowded with their own growth to bloom well. Some of the more vigorous perennials may benefit from division for renovation every several years or so. Many complaisant perennials may never benefit from division. Of these, some might be divided merely for propagation of more of the same.

Japanese anemone, bergenia and other perennials that bloom in autumn and winter should get divided later, after bloom. Like perennials that get divided now, they tend to recover and efficiently disperse roots before spring. However, they may need to be watered a bit more than typical if the weather gets warm and dry early next year. Their schedules do not coincide with local climates.

Lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and New Zealand flax can be divided into individual shoots, even if a few shoots get planted together in clumps. Entire plants do not need to be dug if it would be easier to merely pluck a few outer shoots from the perimeters of congested parent plants. Black-eyed Susan and Shasta daisy can be divided into clumps of several dormant basal rhizomes and roots.

‘Pups’, or sideshoots, of agaves and some types of yuccas can be carefully pried from their parent plants without disturbing them.


P91109KCalifornia flora is remarkable. It all does what it must to live comfortably in every ecosystem, climate and geographical region here.

California horsechestnut or California buckeye, Aesculus californica, is one of the more unusual native species. It is so in tune with the climate that it makes other deciduous trees seem to be inexperienced. Of course, to those who are unfamiliar with it, it just looks dead right now.

In chaparral climates of California, some deciduous trees start to defoliate early, before the weather starts to get cool in autumn. California sycamores, for example, can start to defoliate late in summer if the weather gets too warm and dry for them to want to hold their foliage any later. Such defoliation is more the result of minimal humidity than the result of chill.

California horsechestnut takes this technique one step further, by shedding spring foliage even earlier in summer, then refoliating once the rain starts in autumn, and then defoliating again as the late autumn foliage succumbs to frost through winter. It is ‘twice-deciduous’. It is a weird process that should not work, but obviously does.

It seems like a tree that is defoliated most of the time would exhaust its resources and wear itself out. However, California horsechestnut somehow stores enough resources to produce weirdly big seeds. These in the picture above are the same that were featured in ‘Six on Saturday‘ last week, while they were still in their husks.

Squirrels might chew on a few of these seeds, but do not bother storing them. They are mostly ignored by wildlife, perhaps because of their objectionable flavor. So, without squirrels to bury them, they fall to the forest floor near the trees that produce them, where they are too bulky to sift through the detritus to reach the soil below.

It makes one wonder why they put so much of their limited resources into seeds that are too big to reach the soil, but unappealing to wildlife that might otherwise disperse and bury them.

They know what they are doing.

Once the rain starts, and the seed sense that the weather is damp, they germinate on the surface of the detritus on the forest floor, and extend their tap roots through the detritus to the soil below. The seeds are too bulky to reach the soil directly, but contain all that their primary tap roots need to survive without desiccation until they reach the damp soil.


Horridculture – Home Greenhouses

P91023Why do we all think we need a greenhouse? Some of us may rely on them for sheltering plants through cold winters. Some of us grow seedling late in winter, for an early start in spring. For some of us, greenhouses are where we grow plants that would not be as happy out in the natural climate. There is a multitude of uses for a greenhouse; but really, how many of us need one?

When I grew citrus trees, I needed a greenhouse. It was where the freshly grafted cuttings were rooted. (Citrus are grafted and rooted simultaneously, literally by grafting the scions to the unrooted understock, and ‘sticking’ the combination as a cutting into rooting media.) The greenhouse contained humidity to prevent desiccation, and warmth to stimulate root development.

From there, freshly rooted citrus trees were canned and moved out of the greenhouse and into a partly sheltered location to harden off. Once well rooted, they graduated from #1 cans to #5 cans, and were moved out to the field where they were completely exposed to the weather. All those acres of citrus tree production used only a few hundred square feet of greenhouse space.

Most of us are not rooting freshly grafted citrus cuttings, or many other cuttings that can not be rooted out in the real weather. Really, in this particularly mild climate, not many of us have any practical use for a greenhouse. It is just something that we believe a well outfitted garden should include, even if we need to procure a few rare and needfully tropical plants to prove it.

Contrary to what anyone says, plants in greenhouses need more work than those of comparable substance outside. They need to be watered even during rainy weather. They need the vents opened during warm weather. Most pathogens proliferate much more aggressively inside a greenhouse than outside. Greenhouses can create almost as much extra work as they eliminate.

The saran house in the picture above works nicely for a few plants that want a bit of shelter. Some plants are recovering from removal from landscapes, and will eventually get planted back into other landscapes. We grew a few of these plants from cuttings. They all get a bit of shelter from hot direct sunlight in summer, and frost in winter. We grow many more plants outside.

Shade trees, even the nearby deciduous box elders, could provide as much shelter as the saran house provides. Nothing fancy is necessary. Plants that need any more shelter than what they could get here or under a shade tree are useless in our landscapes. After all, our landscapes, by nature, are all outside. The plants that go into them must therefore be able to survive outside.

The Wrath Of Grapes

P91006Jocular reference was made to ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ on our our backward version on the way to Oklahoma several years ago. We happened to drive through Salinas, where author John Steinbeck was from, and Bakersfield near Weedpatch, where the migration from Oklahoma in the story ended. From there, we literally drove the same route from Oklahoma, but in reverse.

I never read ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.

I do enjoy growing the sort of grape vines that some of us grow in our home gardens for fruit that can be eaten fresh. (I loath wine grapes and vineyards, but that is another topic for later.) There happens to be a nice big unidentified grapevine at work that needed major pruning last winter. It was a sloppy and formerly unpruned mess, with rampant long canes strewn about.

Some of these canes developed roots where they had been laying on the ground long enough to do so. The process is simply and conveniently known as ‘layering’. It is actually a technique for propagation that is sometimes done intentionally to plants that are not doing it naturally, (Again, that is another topic for later.) After giving a few rooted canes away, there were a few extra.

Since last winter, seven copies of the original grapevine are still here! I really do not know what to do with them. I could give them to neighbors before the end of this winter, but would then worry about them not getting the annual pruning they need, and overwhelming the landscapes they inhabit, just like the original vine did. Even in their cans, they are already a sloppy mess.

Many surplus plants are accumulating here. Many will go into landscapes as rainy weather starts. However, there are a few that will not be so easy to accommodate.

Six on Saturday: Souvenirs


My first rhubarb was given to my by my paternal-paternal great grandfather before I was in kindergarten. My Iris pallida also goes back four generations. I got one of my two favorite zonal geraniums from a compost pile in Montara, and snuck it back on the train when I was in the seventh grade. Some of the plants I grow have been with me for a remarkably long time.

Well, I did not get pictures of my rhubarb, Iris pallida or zonal geranium for today. Instead, these are five plants with whom I became acquainted more recently, and my first yucca whom I met three decades ago. They all have their respective stories that are more interesting than what I mentioned here. None are directly from nurseries, although #2 and #4 are from cultivars.

I sort of suspect that these plants and others of such significance to me will be with me for a very long time. I know that blue gum is nearly impossible to tame, and that windmill palm can’t be pruned down like the others. I will not force them to comply. The others can give me more cuttings to replace themselves indefinitely. The place names designate where I acquired them.

1. Holmby Hills ~ Los Angeles – Yucca elephantipes – This was my very first Yucca. My colleague, Brent Green, removed it from a project he was working on back in about 1988. It lived as a houseplant next to my desk for many years, and produced a few pups.P91095

2. Mid City ~ Los Angeles – Brugmansia suaveolens – Brent got me cuttings for this angels’ trumpet from another of his landscapes a few years ago because I really wanted a single white to add to the four more complicated cultivars that I already accumulated.P91095+

3. Reno ~ Nevada – Salix laevigata – I know that there is nothing special about the all too common red willow. I like this one anyway, because it grew from a broken twig I happened to grab on the Truckee Riverwalk through Reno. I should be more discriminating.P91095++

4. Murphys – Ficus carica – A few of these little fig trees were grown from pruning scraps. A friend wanted copies of the original tree before selling the home where the tree lived. We do not now what cultivar it is, but we sort of suspect it is the common ‘Mission’.P91095+++

5. Santa Cruz – Eucalyptus globulus – While waiting for a friend who needed a ride, and pacing outside, I started plucking a few tiny weeds from planter. One of the weeds happened to be a tiny blue gum seedling. Against my better judgment, I did not discard it.P91095++++

6. West San Jose – Trachycarpus fortunei – An old friend’s mother grew flowery annuals and perennials in pots on the porch. This windmill palm grew from seed in one of the pots, and was happy there for a few years, but eventually got too big. It lives here now.P91095+++++

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

Recycle And Repurpose Overgrown Perennials

60720thumbJust like anything else that gets planted in the garden, new perennials seem to be so cute and innocent. They get even better as they mature. Some grow and spread to impressive proportions. Then . . . some perennials get to be too large. Some get overgrown enough to obscure their own appealing characteristics or other plants. Others get crowded enough to inhibit their own bloom.

Lily of the Nile, which is one of the most common and resilient of perennials, grows and blooms indefinitely. It does not spread too quickly, but eventually creeps a few feet every decade or so. However, if it is too healthy, individual shoots can get too crowded to bloom as prolifically as they want to. Also, shoots that get too close to walkways or other plants eventually become obtrusive.

Anyone who has tried to shear encroaching foliage of lily of the Nile knows that doing so ruins the natural lushness of the foliage. Once scalped, it will stay that way until obscured by new foliage that will be just as obtrusive as the removed foliage. The only remedy is to remove the shoots that produce the foliage, leaving the shoots behind them with adequate clearance for their foliage.

Lily of the Nile shoots are not easy to remove. Their rubbery roots have quite a grip! Yet, once removed, the stout stems can be planted as new plants wherever more new plants are desired. They only need to be watered regularly for the first few months until winter, so that they can disperse roots. If dug and replanted in autumn, they generate roots over winter, and are ready to go by spring.

Overly congested colonies of lily of the Nile, as well as African iris and New Zealand flax, can be dug, split into individual shoots, groomed of deteriorating foliage, and then replanted. Because New Zealand flax has such big leaves, it should be processed in autumn or winter; and its leaves should be cut short so that they do not get tattered and floppy while new foliage and shoots grow.

Bird of Paradise can be divided similarly, but carefully because the shoots are surprisingly fragile. However, giant bird of Paradise is a completely different animal. The tallest trunks eventually begin to deteriorate, so get cut down like trees. Basal shoots are left intact to replace them, so only get divided if obtrusive or overly abundant. Most perennials prefer to be divided after bloom.

Canna and calla prefer to be dug and relocated as their foliage dies back after bloom, just before new shoots develop. However, new shoots often develop before older foliage must be cut back.

Finish Transplanting Before Winter Ends

90220thumbAutumn is for planting; and for good reasons. It is the beginning of dormancy for almost all plants, including evergreens. It precedes cool and rainy weather that inhibits desiccation until new roots are able to disperse sufficiently to sustain new plants. Some plants need to be in the garden in time for winter chill in order to initiate bloom. However, not everything should get planted in autumn.

Winter is the best season for some plants. Many summer blooming bulbs get planted in winter because they are likely to start growing prematurely and get damaged by frost if planted in autumn with spring bulbs. Some perennials that are slightly sensitive to frost may get planted after average frost season so that they can bulk up enough to be more resilient to frost by the following winter.

Besides new plants that are purchased from nurseries to be planted in the garden, there are plants that are already established in the garden that might need to get dug, divided, and then planted back into the garden, or shared with friends and neighbors. Some might need to be transplanted because they are crowded or in the way of something. These present a different set of variables.

Once divided and transplanted, grasses, New Zealand flax, lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and other stoloniferous perennials (that spread by creeping stems known as stolons) are more susceptible to rot than nursery grown plants, because so many of their roots get severed. Even if aggressively pruned while getting divided and transplanted, shrubby plants, like lilac and forsythia, are more susceptible to desiccation than nursery grown plants, simply because they lack sufficient roots.

If divided or transplanted through winter rather than autumn, plants get a few weeks of cool and rainy weather to settle and disperse their roots, but do not have enough time to rot or desiccate before the weather gets warm enough for them to resume growth and recover resiliency. Perennials that get cut back in the process spend less time looking shabby before new growth develops.

Tree Houseleek

60210The 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.

Six on Saturday: Forsythia Division


Stems that develop roots to grow into new plants as they lay on the ground are known as ‘layers’. Because cane berries develop tall vertical canes that seem to leap as they arch over to touch the ground and root in, the new plants that develop where they do so are known as ‘leapers’. I sort of think that ‘layers’ sounds more like reliable hens than self propagating plants. I also sort of think that ‘leapers’ just sounds funny.

A big forsythia at work had become overgrown with several layers or leapers. I am not really sure which they are, but there was quite a mess of them. We needed to remove the superfluous plants. Also, we wanted a few forsythias in other parts of the landscape. Well, you can figure this out. We decided to kill two layers with one stone . . . or something like that. We decided to pull up the unwanted layers or leapers in one area, and plant them where they were actually desired. We decided to get it all done just prior to a big storm that would help settle the new plants in.

1. Forsythia before division.p90112

2. Forsythia after division. The entire left half of the original clump, which happens to be the original plant, as well as a few small layers or leapers, were removed. This remaining portion of the clump was not pruned yet. It will be pruned after later winter or very early spring bloom. This picture is approximately in the same position as the previous picture #1.p90112+

3. This largest of the new plants to be divided from the main plant was actually the original plant. The label was found on one of the old canes. Four smaller layers or leapers are to the right. The four smallest that are shown in picture #5 are not visible here. Because they needed to be pruned back to compensate for the root damage associated with the process, these plants were pruned almost as they would have been after bloom, which will unfortunately limit bloom in their first season.p90112++

4. This is the same largest clump in picture #3 after getting pruned and installed into another part of the landscape just before the rain. If it does not get pruned after bloom this year, the big older caned will be cut to the ground after bloom next year. By that time, there will be plenty of basal stems to replace them. Ideally, it will be pruned annually after bloom by a process known as ‘alternating canes’, which involved removing old canes to favor newer canes. Individual canes last no more than a few years before getting pruned out.p90112+++

5. After the largest of the freshly divided plants were installed directly into the landscape, the four smallest layers or leapers were canned and put into the nursery, just because we could not think of a place to plant them directly right away. A layer in the hand is worth two in the bush, and four in the nursery is even better.p90112++++

6. Another unassociated forsythia bloomed in the nursery at the shops early last year.4bd2

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