Goodness! For the first time in a very long time, I neglected to collect six pictures for Six on Saturday. Furthermore, after frantically assembling these random pictures that I had no use for otherwise, I posted them later than typical. I have a good excuse though. I am on vacation. Actually, I happen to be in Ilwaco in Washington. I will be meeting with the blogger of Tangly Cottage Garden later in the morning, so should have more interesting pictures for next week. I realize that I said that last week in regard to Rhody’s Roady, but as I mentioned, I presently have other very important priorities. By the way, I do intend to explain Rhody’s Roady!
The tiny, yellow buds at the center of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) blooms are actually the unimpressive flowers. The colorful red, white, pink or rarely pale orange bracts surrounding these flowers are merely colorful leaves. Some varieties have marbled, blotched or spotted bracts. Compact potted plants that are mostly less than two feet tall and broad can get quite lanky and taller than ten feet in the garden. The dark green leaves are about three to five inches long.
Just three weeks after Christmas, many of us are already wondering what to do with poinsettias, cyclamens, Christmas cacti, hollies and living Christmas trees. Christmas cacti and hollies are perhaps the easiest of these to accommodate. Christmas cacti do not even need to leave the home as their flowers eventually deteriorate, since they are happy as foliar houseplants or potted on sheltered porches, and with good sun exposure, will bloom annually. Hollies make handsome shrubbery where their prickly foliage will not be a problem. Since some hollies get quite large, and others stay low and compact, it is helpful to know which variety any particular holly plant is.
Cyclamens are popular as cool season bedding plants as well as blooming potted plants. Gardeners typically dispose of those grown as bedding plants as if they were mere annuals. However, they are actually cool season perennials that go dormant through summer. If they are not in the way of warm season annuals in spring, and are among other plants that will cover for them during their dormancy, they can be left in the garden to regenerate and bloom again next winter. Individual potted plants that get too tired to be appealing in the home can be retired to partly shaded shallow ground cover or mixed perennials for a bit of winter color.
Poinsettias are a bit more complicated, which is why so many people simply discard them as they slowly lose their color after Christmas. They can keep their color for many months, and be happy as houseplants, but rarely bloom again in the home once their first bloom is gone. Alternatively, they can be planted into sheltered and partly shaded spots in the garden after frost. Through summer, they develop taller scrawny stems that bloom early in January or so. (Yes, they bloom ‘after’ Christmas.) They are sensitive to frost, so like to be under eaves.
Of all the popular potted plants associated with Christmas, living Christmas trees are the most problematic, not because they are difficult to care for, but because they so often get planted in bad situations. Only the compact conifers, like spruces, junipers and Scots pines, can stay potted to function as Christmas trees for a few years or more. Almost all other pines grow too vigorously to be happy for long in containers. After Christmas, they should instead get their circling roots severed, and then be planted into the garden.
The problem is that most living Christmas trees are Italian stone pines or Canary Island pines, each of which gets much too large for confined garden spaces. If there is not enough space for such a tree to grow to maturity without causing trouble, it best to find another home for it, or to discard it when it outgrows containment.
Many plants are deciduous in autumn and winter, which means that they defoliate or die back, and then refoliate or regenerate in spring. Many others are evergreen, which simply means that they are always foliated through all seasons. What many people do not realize is that evergreen plants replace their foliage just like deciduous plants do. They just do not do it in such distinct phases of defoliation, dormancy and refoliation.
Tropical plants like cannas and some of the various begonias really have no need for formal defoliation, since they are from climates that lack winter. In the wild, they continually and systematically shed old stems as they produce new stems. Locally, they tend to shed more than they grow during late autumn and winter. The large types of begonias tend to keep their canes for so many years that it is not so obvious. Where winters are colder, cannas freeze to the ground, only to regenerate from their thick rhizomes as winter ends.
Zonal geraniums may seem rather tired this time of year for the opposite reason. They expect late autumn weather to include frost that would kill them back to the ground where they would stay relatively dormant until warmer weather after winter. Just because their foliage is instead evergreen through winter does not mean that it should be. It lingers and often becomes infested with mildew and rust (fungal diseases) that proliferate in humid autumn weather.
However, zonal geraniums need not be pruned back just yet. Even if they eventually get damaged by frost, pruning should be delayed so that the already damaged older foliage and stems can shelter the even more sensitive new growth as it emerges below. They can get cut back after frost would be likely.
Evergreen pear can get very spotty once the warm weather runs out because the same damp and cool weather that inhibits its growth also promotes proliferation of the blight that damages and discolors the foliage. The damaged foliage eventually gets replaced as new foliage emerges in spring, but will remain spotty and discolored until then. Photinia does not get as spotty, but holds blighted foliage longer into the following summer. Ivy can be temporarily damaged by a visually similar blight.
Here on the west coast, autumn and winter weather is so mild that the native coral bells are already starting to develop new foliage on top of the old foliage from this last year. Technically, they are evergreen, so the old foliage does not need to be shed; but if it is not too much to ask, some types look better with a bit of grooming.
Other perennial plants that are from climates with stronger seasons and colder winters are not quite so evergreen. Many shed all of their foliage and are completely bare for at least part of the winter. Only a few, like cyclamen, are at their best through autumn and winter.
Dried watsonia foliage should be removed now if it has not been removed already. It is not so easy to pluck off like gladiola foliage is, so it should be cut off with shears. Because new foliage for next year develops before the old foliage of this past year is completely brown, it is often necessary to cut the old a few inches above the ground in order to avoid damaging the new.
The so called ‘evergreen’ daylilies can be even messier. New foliage is rather delicate, so it is easily tattered by the removal of old foliage. The ‘deciduous’ types may seem to be less appealing because they are bare for part of autumn and winter, but are so much easier to groom by simply removing all of the deteriorating old foliage as soon as it separates easily from the roots.
Deteriorating flowers can be removed from cannas; but their lush foliage can stay until it starts to deteriorate later in winter. Even if it survives winter, it should eventually be cut to the ground as it gets replaced by new growth in spring.
The many different iris have many different personalities. Most should be groomed sometime between summer and late autumn, although Dutch iris were groomed much earlier. Bearded iris that do not get divided can be groomed simply by plucking off big old leaves to expose smaller new shoots below.
Some dahlias bloom until they get frosted. Most though, are already finished. They do not need to be cut back all at once, but can be cut back in phases as leaves and stems dry and turn brown.
Weather is not quite as warm as it had been. Warm days do not last quite as long as they did earlier in summer. Afterward, the longer nights get a bit cooler. Technically, autumn is only a few days from now. Although seasonal changes are mild, and a bit later here than in other regions, they eventually catch up. Plant activity has already been getting slower.
Seasonal changes keep gardening interesting. Plants that are now growing slower than earlier may need less attention. However, some need more attention, precisely because they are growing slower. Some of the work that was so important through summer should conclude until spring. Some of the work that will be important through winter begins now.
Although evergreen, photinia and pittosporum hedges do not do much between now and next spring. If shorn too late, new growth develops slowly, and may become shabby as a result of cooler and rainier weather later. Late pruning of citrus stimulates vigorous newer growth that may be sensitive to frost through winter. Lemons are particularly susceptible.
Conversely, dormant pruning can begin as deciduous foliage starts to fall. Although most roses and fruit trees supposedly prefer to wait until winter, they may soon be too dormant to notice if pruning is a bit premature. This is partly why autumn is the season of planting. Mostly dormant plants are more resilient to discomforts than they would be while awake.
New Zealand flax, lily of the Nile, African iris and other rugged perennials are conducive to division now. They will soon be about as dormant as they get, but will want to disperse roots for winter anyway. They resume growth before winter ends, so want to be ready for it. Once rainier and cooler weather resumes, they will need no watering until next spring.
Fertilizer should be passe soon also. Most plants consume less nutrients through cooler weather. Besides, many nutrients are less soluble, and therefore less available to plants while the weather is cool. Turf, cool season vegetables, cool season annuals, and some small palms are a few exceptions that could benefit from minor applications of fertilizers.
Gardening is work. The extent of such work is proportionate to the techniques and scale of the gardening. Substantial gardens likely need substantial work. Fruit trees, roses and vegetables need more specialized work than lawns and wildflowers. Seasonal changes demand a strict schedule. It never ends. It is ironic that so many enjoy gardening to relax.
In some climates, gardening is less work through the harshest of winter weather. No one wants to be outside in harsh weather anyway. That is no excuse here, where the garden remains active throughout the year. Perhaps that is a disadvantage of such mild climate. Furthermore, seasonal changes, regardless of how mild or slow, are reliably continuous.
Another month of summer remains. That may seem like enough time to stay on schedule for summer gardening, and maybe take some time to relax. However, it is already time to begin preparation for autumn gardening. Gardening should progress as efficiently as the seasons do. Seasonal planning facilitates this process. It will be autumn in only a month.
Warm season annuals and bedding plants are still in season. Most will remain in season until cool weather in autumn or perhaps the first frost. Nonetheless, cool season annuals for autumn begin to grow from seed about now. If started early enough, they will be ready for planting into the garden at the proper time to replace their warm season counterparts.
The same applies to vegetables. Many warm season vegetables can produce until frost. A last phase of corn should still have time to mature. In the meantime, some cool season vegetables can begin to grow from seed. Broccoli, cabbage and larger types can start in cell packs or flats. For direct sowing, root vegetables may need to wait for garden space.
Some of the many plants that bloom through most of summer bloom less later in summer, even though the weather remains conducive to bloom. Some prefer to divert resources to seed production as the days get shorter. Old fashioned oleander with fragrant bloom can get shabby with seeds. Modern sterile types lack fragrance, but bloom until cool weather. It is a good time to collect seed from formerly seasonal flowers.
Fertilizer, in simple terms, helps plants grow. It provides a bit more of what growing plants crave. In some situations, it compensates for nutrient deficiencies. Fertilizer can be organic or synthetic. Various formulations serve a variety of purposes. Custom formulations appeal to plants with discriminating taste, such as citrus, orchids and roses. Slow release fertilizer lasts for a month or two.
Of course, proper scheduling of the application of fertilizer is very important. Fertilizer can actually become toxic with excessively frequent application. Fertilizer that provides significant nitrogen to promote vegetative growth after bloom can inhibit floral growth prior to bloom. Fertilizer that promotes root growth for new plants is unnecessary for mature plants. The diets of plants are variable.
Summer lingers later here. Regardless of the weather, it is now autumn. This is when deciduous plants start the process of defoliation for their winter dormancy. Evergreen plants are less obvious about their winter dormancy. Some remain active and even bloom through autumn and winter locally. Nonetheless, cooling weather and shortening days inhibit vascular activity of almost all plants.
Except for cool season vegetables and bedding plants, not many plants benefit from fertilizer applied this late. New plants might appreciate a bit just to help them adjust to their new environment. Some deciduous plants, particularly roses, like a last late application of fertilizer as they get ready for their long winter dormancy. Lawns might want fertilizer this late or perhaps later to stay green.
Otherwise, it is getting late to utilize fertilizer.
Late application of fertilizer can be very detrimental to plants that are sensitive to cool weather. Such plants typically finish growing through summer. By autumn, their mature foliage and stems are either resilient to minor frost, or are dieing back (defoliating) for winter dormancy. Fertilizer can stimulate premature development of new growth that will be much more sensitive to even mild frost.
Apologies for the lapse of posting articles as typically scheduled at midnight here for this morning and yesterday morning. The article that had been scheduled for yesterday morning posted an hour earlier, at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday night. The article that had been scheduled for this morning posted an hour earlier, at 11:00 p.m. last night. I neglected to adjust the schedule on Sunday for Daylight Saving Time.
The flora in our gardens north of the Tropics must think we are crazy for making such a fuss about it while they are trying to sleep. Even flora south of the tropics does not understand. All flora everywhere is more concerned with how the seasons change according to the position of the Earth around the Sun. Precise dates, times and numbers are meaningless.
It sort of seems odd to me that within each time zone, it is the same time and date both north and south of the Equator, but the seasons of each side are opposite. Today started in sparsely populated regions of the Pacific Ocean, worked its way through Australia earlier, and is somehow still the same ‘today’ that is here now. Yet it is winter here, and summer to the south.
Now, if January can be in the cool time of year here, and the warm time of year in Australia, it seems to me that winter could be both the cool season here, and the warm season in Australia. If the dates are the same, it seems like the seasons should be too. Alternatively, if the seasons are half a year early or late in opposite Hemispheres, it seems like dates should be too.
According to such logic, it could be either winter or July 1 in Australia and elsewhere south of the Equator right now! . . . But would that be July 1 of 2019 or 2021? Too many technicalities!
Well, it is more than the flora in the garden is concerned about anyway. It is winter here now, and summer south of the Equator. It is the beginning of January everywhere that the Gregorian calendar is used, north and south.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Note: ‘Horridculture’ will resume next Wednesday. It did not seem appropriate for the first day of 2020.