Six on Saturday: Origins

Most of what comes to recover in the nursery here was originally from the landscapes at work. Some needed to be removed because it was deteriorating. Some was obstructive to another project. Some of what is here grows from seed that was found in the landscapes. Several plants here came from more unusual and unexpected sources. A few plants grew from seed or cuttings that I found while out and about elsewhere, merely because I took interest in them. Such procurement would not be such a bad habit if more of such plants were actually useful to the landscapes here. Vines require too much maintenance. Cacti, palms and tropical foliage are not sufficiently compliant with the style of our landscapes.

1. Salvia elegans, pineapple sage is the most likely of this Six to be useful to landscapes at work. I grew cuttings from a stem that was obstructive to my use of an ATM machine.

2. Distictis riversii (or Distictis ‘Rivers’), royal trumpet vine grew from cuttings of a wiry and stray stem that encroached far enough into a public parking space to annoy Carson.

3. Washingtonia filifera, California fan palm, or desert fan palm, is the only palm that is native to California, but is rare locally. I took seed when I got the chance, but now what?

4. Musa basjoo, Japanese banana is one of four pups that I was quite pleased to acquire from an established specimen within a private garden. It now has three additional pups!

5. Opuntia microdasys, bunny ears cactus was originally a component of a prefabricated ‘terrarium’ of small tropical plants that need regular water. It was removed and left here.

6. Carnegiea gigantea, saguaro cactus arrived with assorted potted succulents that were left by a relocating neighbor family. Actually though, I have no idea what species this is.

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

Pups Of A Horticultural Nature

Pups are copies of their parents.

Pups of the most familiar type are canine. Most are puppies of domestic dogs. Some are foxes or wolves. A few are seals, otters or various other animals. Garden variety pups do not get much consideration though. They develop into new progeny of plants rather than animals. Unlike animal pups, they are genetically identical clones of their single parents.

Pups of the horticultural sort generally develop from subterranean stems, such as corms, tubers or rhizomes. Most emerge from formerly dormant buds. Some grow adventitiously from roots. Pups appear as basal sideshoots against or close to their parent plants. They efficiently disperse their own roots to eventually survive as new and independent plants.

Most plants that produce pups are perennials. Some are so proficient with the technique that they grow into substantial colonies of genetically identical clones. For some, it is the primary method of replication. They actually prefer to replicate vegetatively than by seed. Some trees and woody plants do the same, but their clones lack the same classification.

For many perennials, propagation by division is merely the separation of pups from their parent plants. Most types of banana trees eventually generate a few surplus pups. Some types generate an abundance of pups to share with anyone who wants them. Separation of their pups is very similar to division of the smaller rhizomes of canna or lily of the Nile.

Individual rosettes of various species of Agave and a few terrestrial species of Yucca are monocarpic. In other words, they die after blooming only once. However, instead of dying completely, most generate several pups prior to bloom. Some produce pups excessively! Such pups can be difficult and hazardous to separate, but can replace their own parents.

Mediterranean fan palm is one of only a few palms here that generates pups. That is why it develops multiple trunks. Surplus pups can survive separation to grow as distinct trees. However, because of their densely fibrous roots, separation of intact pups can be difficult or impossible. Sago palms, which are not actually palms, are more compliant to division, even for rootless pups that develop on their stout trunks.

Six on Saturday: Bad Habit

Growing horticultural commodities can be a very rewarding occupation, even if not very lucrative. Growing random plants merely because they are available may be a bad habit. Sometimes, I procure propagation stock intentionally because I want to grow copies of a particular plant. Perhaps more often, I grow something merely because I can not bear to discard good propagation stock or actual plants. That is why there are so many homeless cannas here now! After I prune zonal geraniums, I feel obligated to process all the scraps into cuttings rather than simply discard them into the compost.

1. Opuntia (of unidentified species or hybrid), prickly pear lives at a clinic in Santa Cruz. Someone with a weed whacker busted off a few pads. It is good for both nopal and tuna. It is shabby and canned because someone with a weed whacker here kept cutting it also.

2. Clivia miniata, Natal lily was pulled from a trailside prior to weed whacking. I do not know if it is feral from seed or a cultivar from landscape debris. They have not bloomed.

3. Iris pseudacorus, yellow flag is naturalized in a roadside ditch in Ben Lomond. It is an invasive species in some regions. Therefore, it must be contained and deadheaded here.

4. Platanus racemosa, California sycamore was a sucker on one of the big trees at work. It pulled off with roots attached, so got canned. Its trunk died, so is now replacing itself.

5. Washingtonia robusta, Mexican fan palm needed to be removed from a yard in Santa Clara. Many were in pavement. Someone else got most that were salvageable. I got eight.

6. Cinnamomum camphora, camphor tree seedlings grew out sidewalk expansion joints at a job in San Jose. I pulled some out. A few came out with roots, and grew up like this.

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

How To Deceive Smart Seeds

Some seeds need help to germinate.

Plants could not proliferate as they do if they were as unintelligent as they seem to be. Actually, much of their activity would be considered quite ingenious if it could be observed in a more ‘human’ perspective. From their exploitation of pollinators to their aggressive tactics for competition with other plants, the behavior of plants is obviously very deliberate and purposeful.

Because they are so reliant on the weather, pollinators and so many other environmental factors, the life cycles of plants are on strict schedules. They must also adapt to diseases and all sorts of other pathogens. Fires and grazing animals are problems for many, but advantages to most.

Most seeds develop during summer and autumn. When they fall to the ground, they need to know to delay germination until spring to avoid frost and the likelihood of getting eaten. Seeds of many plants, particularly those from more severe climates, germinate only after being ‘stratified’ by a specific duration of cold weather. Such seeds need to be artificially stratified by refrigeration in order to germinate any differently from their natural schedule, or where winters are not sufficiently cold.

Many seeds require ‘scarification’ by digestion by animals that naturally eat them, or by the quick heat of a wildfire, to break or soften a hard outer coating that otherwise inhibits germination. Seeds that need to be digested actually rely on animals for distribution. Seed that need heat want to be the first to regenerate after a wildfire, before competing plants recover.

Goldenrain tree, and many maples and pines produce so many seeds that even if less than one percent germinate in the garden, they seem to be prolific. However, for more reliable germination of a majority of seeds, they should be scarified. The seeds of many pines that crave fire can be heated briefly in an already hot oven to simulate fire, just enough to heat the seed coat without roasting the seeds. Some people actually prefer to spread them on a piece of paper, and then burn the paper. Seeds that only need their hard outer coating to be damaged slightly might need only to be sanded lightly on sandpaper. I actually prefer to rub my canna or Heavenly bamboo (nandina) seeds on a brick or bit of sandstone.

Six on Saturday: Best For Last

Seed are germinating; and cuttings are rooting. I try to finish my propagation before the end of winter. Some seed appreciate the last bit of chill to maintain their schedule. Some cuttings prefer to start their rooting process while still dormant, so that they are ready to grow by spring. The last and most important of these six pictures is irrelevant to cuttings and seed though. Only the names of those involved are relevant to horticulture; and half of that relevance is merely, although amusingly, coincidental. It will be interesting to see how many can answer the question presented with the last picture. It was difficult to get a reasonably clear picture, and after all the effort, the clarity may not help much.

1. Esperanza seed from Crazy Green Thumbs is finally germinating! Poinciana seed that came with them are still inactive. My rush to sow them prior to spring seems unfounded.

2. Poinciana seed of another kind and from another source is germinating though. Brent thought that I got royal poinciana seed. Rather than disappoint, I procured a few online.

3. Canna seed germination is a surprise. These seed were discarded runts from pods that were still green when deadheaded. I saw them growing from the trash and canned them.

4. Red passion flower vine was a runt also. None of a few other cuttings that got plugged properly took root. This one was too dinky, so was left in its jar of water, where it rooted.

5. Angel’s trumpet cuttings are growing like the red passion flower cuttings should have. They were scraps from pruned out frost damage. Many appeared dead prior to plugging.

6. Lily and Rhody are nearly indistinguishable as they frolic. Their genders are opposite, and their faces are distinct, but they scamper too fast to discern. Can you identify them?

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

Air Layer Overgrown Houseplants.

Air layering big houseplants, like these lanky rubber trees, keeps them proportionate to limited space while also propagating new plants.

Most of the favorite houseplants are grown for dense evergreen foliage. Stems of Chinese evergreen, anthuriums, bromeliads and most ferns should never be seen. Yet, there are many houseplants that grow like small trees or coarse vines. Various ficus, dracaenas and philodendrons can get too big for their situations if not pruned. Palms can not be pruned down, so can only be moved or given to friends with higher ceilings.

Pruning and discarding overgrown but slowly growing stems seems like such a waste. Technically, stems from almost any overgrown houseplant can be rooted as cuttings. In reality though, most rot before they develop roots.

‘Air layering’ is probably the most efficient technique of propagation of houseplants from overgrown stems. It involves rooting the stems while still attached to the original plant. In the end, an unwanted stem gets pruned away as a freshly rooted new plant.

Air layering needs a bare and manageable section of stem that is at least a few inches long. This section does not necessarily need to be where the stem will eventually get pruned away from. It can be a bit higher (or farther out from the origin) if a shorter copy (new rooted plant) is desired. The extra length of stem in between can be pruned out when the copy gets separated.

The stem should be notched up to a third of the way through. This notch will develop roots better if rubbed with rooting hormone. A big wad of wrung out damp sphagnum moss a bit larger than a softball then gets wrapped around the notch, and then wrapped in plastic film. A cut up freezer bag should work nicely. The bag should be held in place with plant tie tape or something as simple as electrical tape, wrapped firmly around the stem above and below the sphagnum moss. Smaller stems can get smaller wads of sphagnum moss.

Unfortunately, there is no way to disguise the unappealing wrapped moss during the few months that may be needed for roots to develop. Eventually, roots become visible through the plastic, or the moss becomes firm with roots. The newly rooted stem can then be cut below the roots, unwrapped and potted as a new copy of the old houseplant. The stub below can be pruned away, or left to develop new shoots.

Daddy’s Garden

Truly sustainable plants are less lucrative to the nursery industries.

My rhubarb really has been around a while! My father’s father’s father and mother grew it quite some time ago, and shared some shoots of it with my father. He then shared it with my maternal grandmother, who shared it with her mother, another of my great grandmothers, who thought it was something really exotic. Along the way, it was undoubtedly shared with friends and neighbors all over the place.

My great grandparents with the original rhubarb also grew old varieties of grapes, oranges, lemons, walnuts and all sorts of vegetables. Their two (‘Carpathian’ English from Persia) walnut trees were remnants from an orchard that was already old before their home was new in 1940. The few ‘ornamental’ features of their garden included such old fashioned but resilient plants as junipers, callas, pelargoniums (geraniums), dahlias and roses. Yes, the stereotypical Italian American garden. My great grandfather even gave me my first nasturtium seeds.

My maternal grandfather likewise grew all sorts of traditional vegetables, as well as cherries, peaches, avocados, blackberries and raspberries. My grandmother competed for limited garden space to tend to her many roses, as well as lilacs and bearded iris that she got from her mother. My mother still grows a large herd of the original iris, several lilacs and a copy of the peach tree.

My very first experiences with gardening were in the old fashioned but remarkably sustainable gardens of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Such gardening with so many old fashioned plants would seem primitive by modern standards, but really demonstrates how sustainable proper horticulture is.

Of course, as a horticulturist, I work with all sorts of exotic plants and modern varieties. Although some are fun to work with, the best and most sustainable plants are the old classics and simpler ‘unimproved’ plants, especially those that can be propagated from seed, division or cuttings from established plants.

Many modern varieties of plants are more beneficial to the retail nursery industry than to home gardens, since they do not last too long. They are generally either not well suited to local climates, or are genetically weak from extensive breeding or mutation. (Many of the mutant characteristics that some varieties are selected for, such as variegated foliage or compact growth, compromise vigor.) As they come and go, more new plants are needed from nurseries to replace them. This is actually contrary to the sustainability fad that so many nurseries claim to promote.

Perhaps our parents know more about gardening and sustainability than we give them credit for.

The Need For Seed

Seed for some pines is easy to collect as their cones open during warm summer weather. However, some pine cones must be dried or even heated to release their seed.

Lily of the Nile is so easy to propagate by division of congested old plants that not many of us bother to grow it from seed. No one wants to leave the prominent but less than appealing seed pods out in the garden long enough to turn brown and ripen after the blue or white flowers are gone anyway. Besides, only the most basic old fashioned varieties reliably produce genetically similar seed, and even these often revert between blue and white. Yet, collecting seed for propagation is still an option for those who do not mind the risk of genetic variation.

The natural variation of flower color among seedlings of some plants can actually make gardening a bit more interesting. No one really knows if naturalized four o’ clocks will bloom white, yellow, pink or red until they actually bloom. The few types of iris that produce viable seed almost always produce seedlings with identical flowers, but oddities sometimes appear. (Most bearded iris have serious potential for genetic variation, but do not often produce viable seed.)

Cannas are likewise likely to produce seedlings that are indistinguishable from the parents. However, seedlings of many of the fancier cultivars are often variable. Their seed are very hard so should be scarified before sowing. However, I find that I get so many canna seeds that even if less than half germinate without scarification, there are too many anyway! (Scarification involves scratching or chipping the hard seed coat to promote germination. It can be as simple as rubbing the seeds on a file or sand paper, but should not be so aggressive that it damages the seed within.) 

African iris are just as easy to divide as lily of the Nile are, and are as easy to grow from seed as naturalized four o’ clocks are. The difference is that they lack genetic variation, so are always indistinguishable from their parents. The only problem is that they are so easy to propagate that they can soon dominate the garden.

If seed capsules have not been groomed from the various perennials and annuals that can be grown from seed, or if they have been left out in the garden intentionally so that they can ripen, this would be a good time to collect them for their seed. (Four o’ clocks should have been collected earlier though.) Seeds from certain trees, such as silk tree, redbud and the many specie of pine, can likewise be collected. Most seeds prefer to be sown about now to chill through winter, since cold winter weather actually promotes germination when weather warms in spring. However, seeds for annuals and frost sensitive perennials, like cannas, that might germinate early and get damaged by frost, should probably wait until the end of winter to get sown.

Six on Saturday: More Bad Recycling (Even More)

This is the season for digging and relocating crowded or redundant plants. Most of them get recycled directly back into other landscapes, so that there is no need for the extra work of canning and storing them. Most of the daylily (#1) were simply relocated with only a few leftovers for canning. Bamboo (#2) and perennial pea (#4) were actually canned earlier in the year. Ponderosa lemon (#5) is a rooted cutting (which is ungrafted and therefore ‘on its own roots’) that I grew from a pruning scrap. I have no idea of what to do with it. I really should limit all these recycling projects to plant material that is actually useful.

1. Hemerocallis, daylily, migrated too aggressively, so needed to be removed from under benches and other perennials. More of another cultivar got dug where an old sewer pipe was replaced.

2. Phyllostachys aurea, golden bamboo, appeared within an unrefined landscape, and wasted no time migrating. It should have been killed and discarded rather than canned live for recycling.

3. Salvia mellifera, black sage, layered a few copies from an original specimen that was planted intentionally. It is native here, but unpopular. Some find the foliar aroma to be a bit too strong.

4. Lathyrus latifolia, perennial pea, is a persistently and invasively naturalized exotic species. In other words, it is a weed. I canned this and three copies of another, because they bloom white.

5. Citrus x pyriformis, ‘Ponderosa’ lemon, is not really a lemon, but is a weird hybrid of pomelo and citron. The fruit might weigh five pounds. What can I do with just one five pound ‘lemon’?!

6. Felis catus, Darla, only allowed me to get this picture by zooming in from a distance. She tolerates Rhody, but hates me. She protects cuttings and seedlings from rodents and perhaps birds.

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

Six on Saturday: More Bad Recycling

Recycling can be a bad habit. We accumulate more material here than we can use back out in the landscapes. Some gets shared with friends and neighbors. Of these six, all but the Agave (#4) grew from seed, so are not cultivars. Although the Agave grows from genetically identical pups, no one know what species it is! Fortunately, around here, we are not too discriminating.

1. Liquidambar styraciflua, after pruning to compensate for severed roots, has only a few twiggy branches, but is more than sixteen feet tall! What a homely sweetgum! Was it worth recycling?

2. Liquidambar styraciflua grew from seed where it could not stay. It is twice as tall as the eight foot bed of the pickup is long. The roots are now contained in a squatty #15 (fifteen gallon) can.

3. Cornus florida, flowering dogwood, was significantly more prolific with seed than the sweetgum. We wanted to recycle just a few seedlings, but got eighty four. Each cell contains a seedling.

4. Agave of an unknown species was removed from one of the landscapes a few years ago, but has been trying to regenerate since then. We dig and can the pups, but cannot give them all away.

5. Phoenix dactylifera, date palm, grew from seed in a compost pile. There are about seven of them. It is impossible to predict which will be female, or what the quality of their fruit will be like.

6. Acer platanoides, Norway maple, might be invasive, even here. A few that grew from seed in one of the landscapes were therefore removed, but not discarded. I used them as understock for the much more desirable and noninvasive ‘Schwedler’ cultivar last year. The scions, which are above the yellow tie, did not take. I must now try again, or pollard them so they produce no seed.

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