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.


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.

Horridculture – Sign Up

P91016Perhaps the signs should be down instead. They are obscured by the crape myrtles where they are now. They would be more visible if they were either higher or lower, but not in line with all these trees. The trees were planted only a few years ago, but have done very well. Lodgepoles need to be removed. The specimen to the left is recovering well from earlier disfigurement.

Selection of trees for parking lots is not easy. Such trees must disperse complaisant roots that are not likely to displace pavement or curbs. They should should be reasonably high branched and conducive to pruning for clearance above parked cars, and where necessary, for delivery trucks. Excessive floral or foliar mess would be a problem. So would fruit that attracts wildlife.

Unfortunately, not many trees conform to all limitations. Those with the most complaisant roots do not get big enough to be pruned up high enough for adequate clearance, or even provide significant shade over the often hot black pavement below. Since shade is the primary function of such trees, an abundance of diminutive trees often compensate for fewer substantial trees.

This presents another range of problems. The smaller trees can be pruned for minimal clearance above pedestrians and parked cars, but not delivery trucks. What is worse is that they can not be pruned above lighting and shop signs either. Pruning them lower than the signs instead would only work if the signs were to be viewed horizontally, from the same height as the signs.

Nonetheless, that is what is most commonly done. This is the result. All those flashy and expensive signs on the buildings in the distance are mostly obscured from this vantage. Fortunately, the honey locusts closer to the signs can be pruned up higher for adequate clearance.

Horridculture – Halloween

P91009Halloween is a topic that I could rant about for days. Seriously. I loathe it. I dislike any formerly respectable holiday that has been ruined by excessive commercialization. We all know what happened to Christmas. For me, Halloween, in some regards, is even worse. Christmas is at least pretty. Halloween is intended to be morbid and grotesque and creepy and . . . just plain bad.

This should be about gardening though. Yes, there is always that guy who gets too drunk at the Halloween party down the road, but manages to stagger just far enough to vomit on my lawn. Then, I need to figure out how to get all the toilet paper out of the redwoods. The nasturtiums that get trampled by hasty brats who are too old for trick-or-treating will eventually recover.

The worst, though, are the Halloween ‘decorations’ in the front yard! We put too much work into maintaining our gardens in good condition to make them look so bad. I do not care if it is just for one day out of the year. Seriously, it is just wrong, on so many levels. Why on Earth should I want my garden to look as cheap and trashy as young ladies dressed up as naughty nurses?!

Pumpkins and even Jack-O’-lanterns are tolerable, and even appealing in a traditional sort of way, but spiderwebs make me think that the witches could put their brooms to better use than frequent flier miles. All those angry black cats should more efficiently control all the spiders and bats. Tombstones?! – Corpses in various degrees of decay?! – There goes the neighborhood!!P91009+

What about the effigies concealed by white sheets, and the other effigies hanging from trees and porches? Whoever thought those were good ideas?! Perhaps Brent can share some insight.


Horridculture – PPE

P91002Personal Protective Equipment. That is what PPE is for. Acronyms can be so vague. PPE could be for Purple People Eater for all we know. That movie just happened to be released to cinema at the end of 1988, just a few months after my summer internship with an exemplary crew of arborists who instructed be about the importance of PPE. I am glad to have missed the movie.

In 1988, the machinery used by arborists as well as lumberjacks was more dangerous, and PPE was more primitive. Hearing protection was only beginning to be standardized. Many of us were not even using it back then, even though the chippers were terrifyingly loud. For some of us, cheap sunglasses sufficed as eye protection. Chaps had been available, but were quite rare.

From the beginnings of their respective careers, younger arborists and lumberjacks learn to use safer machinery and standardized PPE that was still being developed in 1988. Nonetheless, their work is potentially very dangerous. They still work with machines that are designed cut cut down big trees and shred the resulting debris! PPE is just as important now as it ever was.

A notable lack of some of most basic of PPE at a local Lumberjack Contest was difficult to ignore. Even PPE that was unnecessary would have been appropriate for demonstration purposes.

In this picture, a few items of PPE are in order. Chaps were appropriate for bucking, and more than I had access to back in 1988. Boots, which can not be seen in this picture, were adequate. Stylish sunglasses that are also obscured, were likely rated as sufficient for eye protection. There is no need to tuck the shirt in for bucking logs that are stripped of branches that might snag.

What is lacking? Gloves, even for those who do not wear them at work, would have been proper attire for this contest. A hard hat, which is for protection from falling debris, could potentially deflect a kickbacked saw. Hearing protection might have been unnecessary with the fancy and remarkably efficient muffler on this saw; but I actually do not know, (and I saw no earplugs).

Horridculture – Watersprouts or Suckers?!

90501thumbDo we really know the differences between watersprouts and suckers? It seems simple enough. The definitions of each should be rather distinct.

When I grew citrus, I knew what sort of sucker that I had to contend with. Suckers were any unwanted stem and foliar growth from the understock below the graft union. In the picture of the trunk of the young plum tree above, the graft union is clearly visible between the scion to the upper left and the understock to the lower right. Suckers would be below such a graft union.

This sort of sucker is known as such because it sucks resources that should be directed to the more desirable but often weaker scion. A sucker that is more vigorous than its associated scion is likely to overwhelm and replace it if not removed. Scions are expected on freshly grafted plants, but should become less prevalent as they mature, and the scion dominates the understock.

Suckers might develop either on the short section of understock trunk between the graft union and the ground, or on the roots below the ground. They only need to be below the graft union.

Okay; that definition is simple enough. Here is another.

Watersprouts, as far as I am (still) concerned, are unusually vigorous and typically adventitious stem growth that can resemble suckers, but develops above a graft union. They should likely be removed, but might just be pruned back a bit if they happen to be where a new branch is desired. After all, they are genetically identical to the desired plant, whether it is grafted or not.

Because watersprouts grow above a graft union, they occur only among the branches and main trunks above the ground. They do not grow from the roots of understock below the ground.P90921+++

The picture above shows watersprouts on (VERY badly) pollarded bay trees.

Okay; that is another simple definition.

What about vigorous stems that grow from the roots of ungrafted trees? Can they be suckers if they are not sucking resources from a scion above a graft union? Can they be watersprouts if they are not growing from stems or trunks? It seems that the simple distinction between watersprout and sucker was the location relative to a graft union. What if there is no graft union?!

The vigorous black locust stems in the picture below are growing from the roots of ungrafted black locust trees (which, incidentally, were cut down last winter). Some might say that they are root suckers, which is a third and accurately descriptive designation for such vigorous stem growth. Otherwise, they could be either (or both) suckers or (and) watersprouts. Both work.

I know that many arborists refer to such root suckers from ungrafted trees as watersprouts, which is not at all inaccurate. I am also aware that many arborists refer to watersprouts like those on the bay trees above as suckers, . . . which is sort of inaccurate. I will not argue. I know what they mean.P90921+

Horridculture – On The Fence

P90522Where I lived in town, the backyard was surrounded on three sides by fences, with the house on the only unfenced fourth side. These were the sort of fences that were common in suburban neighborhoods. They kept children and dogs in or out of adjacent gardens, and probably provided some sense of privacy, although I never understood why we all needed such privacy there.

I mean, if I really wanted significant privacy, I would not have lived in town, where the homes and gardens were all so close together. I enjoyed living there, and I enjoyed my neighbors. We could hear some of each others conversations and televisions, but no one seemed to mind. It was worth living in such an excellent neighborhood so close to everything we could want in town.

Years ago, suburban fences were not too obtrusive. They were only about four feet high. Some of the older homes were still outfitted with picket fences that were only about three feet high. We could still talk to neighbors over them, and sometimes pass over a bag of extra fruit or vegetables, or even flowers, from the garden. Dogs and young children were effectively contained.

Then everyone became obsessed with privacy. At the same time, many of us added onto our homes or replaced them with new homes that occupied more of the allowable space within their compact formerly suburban, but now urban parcels. Smaller remaining garden spaces became more shaded by bigger houses and taller fences. Gardening, as we once knew it, became passe.

What are all these big fences for? What are they keeping out? . . . or . . . What are they keeping in? Why do so many who want so much privacy live so close to so many who crave the same?!

Horridculture – True Colors

P90821Bearded iris can bloom in almost any color. It is expected of them. There is not much they can do to surprise us.

Dahlias exhibit a remarkable range of both color and floral form. Only a few colors are beyond their range.

Roses, gladiolus, freesias, tulips, hyacinths, petunias, pansies, primroses and several of the most prolific bloomers are expected to provide many choices of color.

Other flowers are not so diverse. Forsythia blooms only in bright yellow, or perhaps a lighter hue of yellow. Mock orange blooms only in white, either single or double. Until recently, before purple was invented, the common species of lily-of-the-Nile were either blue or white. We tend to appreciate such flowers for their simplicity, and do not expect anything more from them.

Decades ago, hydrangeas were either white or pink or blue. I say ‘either’ because what seems to be three choices is actually only two. White hydrangeas were always white. Pink or blue hydrangeas were the same, but were pink in alkaline soil, or blue in acidic soil. Blue hydrangeas planted into alkaline soil turned pink. Conversely, pink hydrangeas turned blue in acidic soil.

In the slightly alkaline soil of the Santa Clara Valley, pink hydrangeas were common. Blue hydrangeas were fertilized regularly with aluminum sulfate or some sort of acidifying fertilizer.

In the more acidic soil of the West Coast of Washington, pink hydrangeas would have been blue without lime.

Some more recently bred cultivars of hydrangea excel at either pink or blue. It does not take much to convince them to exhibit their preferred color in less than conducive conditions. These cultivars made it easier to grow blue hydrangeas in the Santa Clara Valley, or pink hydrangeas on the West Coast of Washington.

Then breeding got ridiculous. Hydrangeas were bred to bloom reliably in rich shades of purple, red, or dark blue, with minimal sensitivity to the pH of the soil. They are appealing to those who like these unnaturally rich colors; but to those of us who expect hydrangeas to bloom in white or traditionally soft hues of pink or blue, they are just too weird.

Horridculture – Stumpy

P90814Among pines, firs, redwoods and most excurrent trees (with central leader trunks), stubs or stumps of limbs that were shed are common and more apparent than they are among decurrent trees (which branch into many main limbs). The older lower stubs slowly but eventually decay and fall away as the trunks compartmentalize (heal over) where they were formerly attached.

However, wild trees are rarely completely without such stubs. As the older lower stubs are shed, newer stubs develop higher up. The worst of their stubs get pruned away only when more refined landscapes are developed around such trees, and they get pruned accordingly. If the trees get groomed regularly every few years or so, not many new stubs get a chance to develop.

When pruning out viable limbs, they must be cut cleanly from the trunk or supporting limb, without stubs. Since they do not deteriorate slowly before falling away, the trunk or supporting limb has no time to start the process of compartmentalizing (healing) over where such limbs were attached. Cutting away cleanly eliminates as much obstruction to that process as possible.

Pruning necrotic stubs from trunks of excurrent trees is not quite so important because the trunks have a tendency to start the process of compartmentalization as such stubs are decaying, and can actually constrict and crush stubs if they do not fall away efficiently enough. Nonetheless, necrotic stubs get pruned out when trees are groomed, just because they are unappealing.

So, no matter what, stubs should not be left when pruning. It is not complicated. It is actually easier to control a saw when it is up against a tree trunk or main limb. Yet, many who do not know better, and many who really should, more often than not, leave trees looking like this fir tree.