Horridculture – Turf & Surf

P00219No, that is not backward. It refers to a legendarily disastrous incident with artificial turf at the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center. Prior to about 2010, while I was the only horticulturist on a big staff of a big so-called ‘landscape’ company that expressed almost no interest in horticulture, I was summoned to the site to investigate an ‘issue’. I was told nothing about artificial turf.

Upon arrival, it became immediately obvious that this was no horticultural issue. Wind was generating waves in the recently installed artificial turf that were taller than the unfortunate guy who was scurrying about in an futile attempt to nail the turf surf to the ground. I was dismayed. I know nothing about artificial turf. Why was a so-called ‘landscape’ company even involved?

I suppose I should not have been too surprised. It was not as if many of the rest of our collective staff knew any more about horticulture than artificial turf. They seemed to take me way too seriously when I joked about the special farm that grows the artificial seed for the yellow and white stripes and yard line numbers. Otherwise, I would have told them about blue Smurf Turf.

As much as I dislike it, I know that artificial turf is quite practical for particular applications. However, it is most certainly not a horticultural commodity. It is a synthetic turf substitute that works like carpeting for landscapes and athletic fields. So-called ‘landscape’ companies that maintain it should be qualified to do so, with at least some sort of relevant and practical expertise.

That being said, why is it all green? We all know it is fake, so why not have some fun with the color, like the colorful fake snow on flocked Christmas trees in the 1970s? Some of us might like penalty line yellow. Yard line number white would be my favorite color, but would look like snow, and be difficult to keep clean. I think iron oxide red might be nice, or perhaps simple brown.

Heck, why not mix it up a bit? Sky blue with white clouds might be fun. Black and white checkerboard? Purple swirled with orange? Why not make it resemble a made-in-China Persian rug, with patterns of all sorts of colors?! What about a Gothic cathedral labyrinth? Oh, a road map of Route 66! A map of Kansas might work nicely for a small space. The possibilities are endless!

Horridculture – Artificial Turf

P00212
Artificial seems to be no worse than the real deal.

There is no right answer. For lawns that is. Horticulturists who actually enjoy horticulture . . . and are not specialists of turf . . . loath them. (Yes, there are horticulturists who are specialists of turf.) We merely tolerate them because they are so useful for so many applications, and they do happen to be very visually appealing within or in the foreground of interesting landscapes.

After all, lawns are the vegetative green carpeting that covers otherwise bare ground without interfering with the flow of pedestrian traffic. For parks and other public paces, it is better than other types of ground cover, mulch, pavement or lowly mown naturalized weeds that would grow if nothing else were there to occupy the space. For athletic fields, there are no alternatives.

They are just so unnatural. Most plants in our garden are selected for their natural attributes, and because they appreciate our respective climates and soils. Lawns must be mown regularly because they would otherwise get too deep and sloppy. They must be irrigated very regularly and generously because they can not survive on seasonal rainfall or even moderate irrigation.

In fact, lawns are so unnatural that, to many horticulturists, they are no worse than artificial turf. All the plasticky infrastructure of elaborate irrigation systems, all the chemical pesticides and fertilizers, all the fuel consumed by mowers, all the water, and all the labor that goes into the maintenance of lawns is no closer to nature than artificial turf is. Strange but strangely true.

Artificial turf is no fun either. The plasticky texture is so blatant and unavoidable. Although it needs only minimal maintenance and last for many years, it does not last forever, and slowly deteriorates like carpet. Once replaced with more of the same sort of plasticky artificial turf, it must be disposed of like so much other used up plastic that the World should be using less of.

Horridculture – Skipping Ahead

January 17 is as far as I have gotten with the backlog of articles from blogs that I follow. I am now two and a half weeks behind schedule. Articles are old news by the time I see them. I have been trying to catch up for weeks or maybe months, but have instead been getting farther behind. The video above is from the article I posted back then. There has been no rain since then.

The video also looks like what I feel I am doing to that backlog of article while I skip ahead to current articles beginning with February 5. Flushing them like this seems so negligent. I feel so obligated to read the articles of blogs that I follow. That is why I follow them. However, if I do not flush the backlog, articles that are current now will also be old news by the time I get them.

I have been reading some of these blogs so regularly that those who write them sometimes include notes to me within the contexts of their articles. Sometimes they comment on something that they think I would be particularly interested in. Sometimes they ask questions that they think I might know the answers to, or just ask for a bit of advice. Flushing all that is just wrong.

I have no choice. I have no time for it all. I write my brief gardening articles for more small newspapers than I can keep track of. I still work at a part-time and temporary job that involves maintenance of landscapes and small scale arboriculture because I can not bear to leave! I intend to eventually return to work at nursery production, but have been too overworked to do so.

Meanwhile, former clients and clients of former clients continue to contact me in need of services that I can no longer provide. I can find no one to refer them to for comparable services. All of the best arborists and horticulturists are retired, deceased or too busy (compensating for the lack of those of us who are retired or deceased) to accommodate more work. It is saddening.

On top of all that, I am supposed to be canning cedar trees and plugging sycamore cuttings for street trees in Los Angeles a few years from now . . . and maybe working in the garden?!?!

Horridculture – Dried Plums?

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Dried prunes are experiencing something of an identity crisis.

Nomenclature used to be more predictably standardized than it is now. When I write about how it works, I compare it to the names of cars. For example, ‘General Motors’ is just a family. ‘Buick’ is a genus. ‘Electra’ is a species. ‘Limited’ is a variety. Well, my Sebring was labeled as a Chyrsler but made by Mercedes Benz. Modern horticultural nomenclature is no more accurate.

With all the promiscuity going on nowadays, it is impossible to know who the parent of some of our favorite plants are. Many are interspecific hybrids. Some are intergeneric hybrids. Some are so complicated that their species names are merely omitted; and no one seems to notice! That is like driving a Mercury LS without knowing or caring if it is a Grand Marquis or a Lynx.

So, now we can grow such aberrations of traditional stone fruit as as aprium, apriplum, pluot, plumcot, nectaplum, pluerry and peacotum. The first half of the names supposedly indicate who the promiscuous maternal parent is. The second half refers to the male pollinator. Parents who contributed fewer letters to the name were supposedly already hybridized prior to breeding.

For example, an apricot pollinated by a plum creates an aprium; and an aprium pollinated by a plum creates an apriplum. The apriplum gets an extra letter from plum ancestry because it is %75 plum and %25 apricot. A plum pollinated by an apricot creates a pluot; and a plum pollinated by a pluot creates a plumcot. There are, of course, many other complicating combinations.

Sure, the resulting fruit is very good; but is it any better than what it was bred from? If everyone could have tasted the simple, traditional and exemplary stone fruits that formerly grew in the vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, there would be no need for all this hooey. Besides, why is there all this interest in creating new and weird fruit while eliminating some of the old?

Prunes and plums, as I explained earlier, are two distinct types of fruits. Japanese plums are the richly flavored and typically more brightly colored fruits that were more popular in home gardens than in orchards, since they are not easy to transport. European prunes are the sweeter but mildly flavored freestone fruits that grew in orchards, generally for drying and canning.

Apparently, the name of ‘prunes’ was not appealing enough . . . or was actually considered to be unappealing. Almost twenty years ago, prunes were consequently reclassified as plums. Dried prunes are now known as dried plums, as if they are dried versions of the classic ‘Santa Rosa’ plums that so many of us grow in our home gardens. Some of them just might be! Who knows?!

Plum juice could be extracted from Japanese plums, which actually make excellently rich juice, but is more likely from fresh (not dried) French or Italian prunes. However, there is still such a beverage that is known as prune juice. It is extracted from, of all things, rehydrated dried plums . . . or dried prunes. These unfortunate fruits get dehydrated, rehydrated, and then juiced!

The juice of rehydraded dehydrated plums or prunes might be the only remaining application of the word ‘prune’. At least it is useful for that; in the sense that it designates the source of the juice as rehydrated dehydrated fruit of some sort, rather than fresh fruit of some sort. Whether such fruit is a plum or what was formerly known as a prune remains something of a mystery.

Horridculture – NO TRESSPASSING

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NO TRESPASSING? . . . No respect!

Growing fruit takes a bit of effort. Trees that produce the fruit must be planted and maintained for all the many years that they produce. They might need to be irrigated through summer. Most need specialized pruning every winter.

Canning surplus fruit takes a bit of effort too. All the jars must be cleaned. All the fruit must be collected, processed and cooked. The jars must be packed and boiled and so on.

Drying fruit is less work than canning, but takes a bit of effort nonetheless.

Where I lived in town, I grew a peach tree closer to the apartment building to the north, and a fig tree closer to the apartment building to the south. I maintained both trees meticulously. Many of the neighbors appreciated the fresh fruit. At the end of their season, there was (almost) always surplus peaches for canning. Sometimes, there were surplus figs for drying.

I really would not have minded if there had not been surplus fruit. It would have been better to have it consumed by the neighbors while fresh, than after it had been canned. Besides, it would have been less work for me.

One summer, there was a major surplus of peaches. We wanted to can them as efficiently as possible because we know how perishable they are. We planned to do all the canning on a Saturday, so got all the jars from the attic and washed them on Friday afternoon. The canning pots and utensils were ready to go. We had purchased lids and several pounds of sugar.

Also on Friday afternoon, the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the north.

The major surplus of peaches, every last peach, was completely gone when we went to collect early Saturday morning.

Now, really, I don’t mind sharing. That is what the tree is there for. I really don’t even mind if a few people want to take all the surplus fruit. I just want to be told about it before I make plans and prepare to do something else with it. What really angered me was the complete disregard for those of us who put the effort into growing all those excellent peaches.

The fig tree to the south produced an early crop of figs before the peaches, and a late crop of figs after the peaches. Each crop lasted a long time, so there were not often too many figs at any one time that needed to be dried. Most were eaten fresh.

I often noticed an annoying absence of figs each day after the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the south. It was not as bothersome as the missing peaches, since I got quite a bit of figs in between. What angered me was that every fig that could be harvested at the appointed time was taken, leaving none for anyone else.

Horridculture – Multi-Grafts

P91116+++Bare root fruit trees will be available in about a month. It is probably my favorite time of year for going to nurseries. (Since I grow just about everything I want from bits of landscape debris, I do not often go to retail nurseries.) It is also rather frustrating to see what sorts of bare root material are popular nowadays, and what sorts are not. Horticulture has gotten so ridiculous!

Most of the formerly common cultivars of fruit trees that I remember are no longer available. They were common for a reason. They perform well here. Retailers used to select cultivars for their respective regions, instead of pimping out weird new but unproven cultivars, or just taking the same faddish cultivars that get sent to other stores within a vast chain of big box stores.

One of the weirdest of fads are multi-grafted fruit trees and roses.

Multi-grafts are certainly not new technology. Back when horticulture was taken more seriously, fruit trees for home gardens (which might be the only ones of their kind in their respective gardens) were sometimes, if needed, outfitted with a secondary scion of a pollinating cultivar. The pollinator could be pruned low and subordinated, as long as it bloomed with a few flowers.

Most of us preferred to simply plant two separate trees that could pollinate each other. If one was less desirable than the other, it was just maintained as a smaller tree so that it would not occupy so much space that could be utilized by more desirable types. Each tree had its own uncrowded area. If one succumbed to disease, it did not necessarily affect those associated with it.

Multi-graft trees are not so easy. If the trunk of a multi-graft pear tree gets infested with fire blight, all the scions grafted to it succumb. Because almost no one prunes them properly, the most vigorous cultivars dominate and crowd the less vigorous. Even well pruned trees are always asymmetrical because each cultivar exhibits a different growth rate and branch structure.

Multi-graft rose standards (trees) just look weird and freakishly unnatural. Pruning must ensure that one cultivar does not crowd out the other, just like for fruit trees. The multi-graft rose in the picture above was planted with three others just like it. Two of them crowded out one of their two scions. It would have been easier to simply plant two in white and two in burgundy.

Multi-graft plants are useful only if ground space is very limited, but air space is not. For example, such a tree planted in a hole in a deck can extend limbs over the deck where other trees can not live. If maintained properly and separately, each part can produce its share of fruit in season. I once did this with a pear tree that was espaliered on a fence over a concrete driveway.

Horridculture – “One Of These Things . . . “

P91120Remember this from Sesame Street?

One of these things is not like the others
One of these things just doesn’t belong
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Identifying a blue balloon as different from three red balloons might be construed as discriminatory, but was fun back before we went into kindergarten. So was selecting the bigger bowl of Big Bird’s birdseed from three small bowls; or the beanie from three pairs of sunglasses; or the letter from three numbers. It is not so fun now, when conformity to a landscape is important.

In the picture above, one of the four prominent trees in the foreground of the walkway and rail fence, excluding the obscured middle tree, is different from the others. They are all the same age. They are all sycamores. They are all happy and healthy. They were all supposed to conform to the landscape of native vegetation in the background. Which thing is not like the others?

The second tree from the left is a London plane, Platanus X acerifolia. The other trees, as well as the fifth middle tree and the sycamores in the background, are native California sycamores, Platanus racemosa. Not only is the London plane not native, but it is distinctly smaller and more symmetrical, with a conspicuously straighter trunk and relatively orangish autumn foliage.

The picture below shows the bark of London plane, with a trunk of a California sycamore in the background. The second picture shows how dissimilar the bark of the California sycamore is.P91120+P91120++

Individually, there is nothing wrong with the London plane. A few could have made a nice homogenous grove in the same spot, although they would never attain the grand scale expected of California sycamore. The problem is that the London plane is similar to, but not the same as, the California sycamores. It will always look like one of the California sycamores with problems.

A completely distinct tree would have been better. If it were a redwood or a magnolia, or anything that is not so similar to California sycamore, it would not be expected to conform to them.

I see it commonly. Himalayan birch get added to groves of European white birch, even though their trunks are whiter and straighter, and their canopies are much more upright. Taller and leaner Mexican fan palms get added to otherwise formal rows of California fan palms. The formality of rows of tall and slim Lombardy poplars is similarly disrupted by fatter Theves poplar.

These bad matches are often honest mistakes. It is not easy to distinguish Theves poplar from Lombardy poplar; and Lombardy poplar is rarely available. Sometimes, so-called ‘gardeners’ or ‘landscapers’ simply do not care. An ‘Aptos Blue’ redwood was added to a grove that was exclusive to ‘Soquel’ in a nearby park, just because it was closest to the parking lot at the nursery.

So-called ‘landscapers’ sometimes ‘sub’, or substitute, a commonly available cultivar or species for something that was specified by a landscape design, but is not so readily available. It often works out just fine. However, I once inspected a landscape in which a ground cover cultivar of cotoneaster was subbed with Cotoneaster lacteus, which promptly grew higher than the eaves!

Horridculture – Clinging Vines

P91113Ivy often climbs into trees, buildings and all sorts of other situations where it becomes problematic. It might have been planted intentionally. It might have grown from seed left by birds. When it gets into trouble, we can easily blame it on the ivy. Even that which was planted was intended to be mere ground cover. It only climbs out of control because that is what ivy does.

BAD IVY!!!

This Boston ivy that . . . ‘someone’ planted almost a year ago was actually expected to climb. That is what Boston ivy does. Even if it would be willing to grow as a ground cover, it would not work well as such because it is deciduous. As a climber, it covers freeway sound walls and any associated graffiti with vibrant green foliage that turns fiery orange and red this time of year.

The problem with it is that there are not many practical applications for it. Yes, it does well on freeway sound walls. It also does well on concrete parking structures, where it can not reach painted or wooden surfaces. There are a few unpainted reinforced concrete building out there that it would work nicely on, as long as it gets trimmed around windows, doorways and roofs.

It has no business on painted wooden surfaces, or even stucco. It clings with these weird ‘suction discs’ that never let go! (They do not really use suction, but an adhesive instead.) You can see a few to the right in this picture below. When vines get pruned back every few years, the suction discs remain attached. Although not a problem for concrete, they promote rot in wood.P91113+

What concerns me with the Boston ivy in these pictures is that it grew to the top of the pillars that they were planted on in less than a year. Even if they get pruned down this winter, they will grow farther next year, and will reach the wooden bridge above. It will be a lot of work to keep them pruned back from the bridge.

As you can see I the picture below, Boston ivy is quite pretty on the concrete. Fall color is delayed this year. P91113++

Horridculture – Sealant

P90810++++Grafting compound is a thick sealant applied to a fresh graft union to limit desiccation while the graft knits. A bit more typically gets applied to the cut distal end of the scion. There are various formulations of grafting compound, ranging from something resembling roof patch to a something with the consistency of thick paint.

The stuff, as sloppy and icky as it is, really is helpful. I can not imagine how big orchards were grafted before it was invented.

It is also useful for keeping cane borers out of the cut ends of freshly pruned roses. For those of us who remember how to prune roses properly, leaving only a few thick canes, grafting compound really is practical. I just don’t use it on roses because cane borers are not a problem here.

Since I do not use grafting compound on roses, and the plants that I graft do not need grafting compound, I presently have no use for it. I suppose I could use it on apple and pear trees, but it really is not necessary. When I get around to grafting apricots and peaches, it will only be for a few trees in my own garden, so I will just use candle wax.

This surprises people. At work, I am often asked about ‘painting’ pruning wounds and shiners as trees get pruned, presumably with sealant. Decades ago, it was actually commonly done. Even when I did my internship in arboriculture in 1988, some arborists were applying sealant because it was easier than arguing with their clients about it not being necessary.

The problem with applying sealant to large wounds is that is actually seals moisture within the otherwise exposed wood, and promotes rot. It is best to do nothing, and allow the affected trees to compartmentalize their wounds as they would do naturally if limbs were broken off by the weather. Trees know more about their processes than we do.

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.