Humidity And Wind Affect Heat

Heat is more than mere temperature.

Gardening is not so much fun when the weather gets as warm as it has been recently. It is more comfortable to stay inside with air conditioning, or at least where it is shadier. The plants out in the garden are on their own. Except only for those that are potted, they do not have the option of coming in out of the heat.

Most plants actually do not mind the sort of heat that is uncomfortable for us. Some actually enjoy it. The problem is that heat often occurs in conjunction with other weather conditions that can collectively become really unpleasant for plants.

Minimal humidity makes otherwise unpleasantly warm weather more comfortable for us, but can desiccate foliage that prefers more humidity. Japanese aralia, fuchsia, rhododendron, split-leaf philodendron and many other plants that should not mind warmth can get roasted if warm weather is also too dry. Because sunlight enhances the process, exposed foliage is much more susceptible to damage. To make matters worse, sunlight is more penetrating through clear dry air.

Wind that makes us feel a bit cooler in warm temperatures can likewise cause desiccation as it draws more moisture from foliage. Finely textured plants like Japanese maple, many ferns and some grasses, are particularly susceptible. Offshore wind, like the famous Santa Anna Winds of Southern California, are the worst, because they come in both hot and dry from more arid inland areas, combining all three factors of minimal humidity, heat and wind.

Many of the plants that are susceptible to damage from heat happen to be tropical or subtropical plants that typically enjoy heat as long as the air is humid and still. Others are ‘understory’ plants that naturally live in the shelter of higher trees, so do not like direct sun exposure or wind. Yet, even substantial trees, like fern pine (Podocarpus spp.) and even redwood, can get a bit roasted if the weather gets hot, dry and windy enough.

Conservation of water makes warm weather even more uncomfortable for sensitive plants. They really want more water to keep their foliage and stems well hydrated. Hosing ferns and grasses when things get really hot helps to cool the foliage, and briefly increase the ambient humidity. Because thin young bark is more susceptible to sun-scald in hot weather, pruning that would expose more bark should be delayed until the weather turns cool again.

Sunlight Is Becoming A Commodity

Sunlight has not changed. Architecture did.

Shade trees are no longer appreciated like they had been. Only half a century ago, they were important components of suburban landscapes. Big deciduous trees shaded broad lawns and sprawling roofs during the warmth of summer. They defoliated to let warming sunlight through during winter. Now, modern architecture would not accommodate them.

Sunlight has not changed. Human interaction with it has. Modern homes are significantly taller, so create bigger shadows. They are closer together, with less garden space that is not within their bigger shadows, or shadows of adjacent homes. Higher fences intended to compensate for the minimal proximity of adjacent homes contribute even more shade.

Gardening can be difficult within the limited space and abundant shade of modern home gardens. Small evergreen trees or big shrubs that obscure unwanted scenery above the fences can also obscure much of the sunlight that manages to get past the infrastructure. Substantial vegetation in neighboring gardens can get close enough to be influential too. 

The primary part of modern homes that is not excessively shaded is the roof, which is not used for gardening. Trees that are proportionate to modern home gardens are not much taller than associated modern roofs. Modern attics are fortunately insulated so efficiently that shade is not important. Besides, many modern homes are outfitted with solar panels. 

Walls and windows of modern homes are efficiently insulated as well. Warming sunlight during winter is therefore not as much of an advantage as it is for older homes, although it is appealing within sunnier homes. Ironically, the utility cables of many modern homes are subterranean, so will not interfere with trees that get too big for their confined spaces. 

Regardless of their functions within their landscapes, even small trees can develop roots that are sufficiently aggressive to displace pavement and deck suspensions, particularly since they are likely to be close to them where space is limited. Turf grass that is thin and wimpy because of insufficient sunlight is more susceptible to lumpiness of surface roots. Because of proximity, neighboring gardens must be considered too.

Sunburn

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Out with the old, . . .

There are two types of horticultural sunburn. Sun scald is what happens to formerly shaded bark if it suddenly becomes too exposed. (As I mentioned in my gardening column for this week, which posted last Monday here, sun scald that occurs during winter in colder climates is caused more by frost than by sunlight.) Scorch is what happens to overly exposed sensitive foliage.

The picture above is an example of scorch on a significant scale. The bigleaf maple was formerly shaded by a big Douglas fir that fell last May, leaving the maple both severely disfigured and very exposed. Such exposure would not have been a problem it the foliage had always been so exposed. The problem was that it developed in shade, so could not adapt to the new exposure.

The exposed foliage survived for a while, but eventually succumbed to warmth, sunlight and aridity (minimal humidity). Deterioration accelerated as the weather became warmer in just the last several days. Because the foliage scorched rather than succumbed to cooling autumn weather as it would have done a few months later, it remains attached to the stems that it grew on.

That is actually an unsightly advantage for the bark of the stems that are shaded below. If the bark suddenly became exposed too, it would be susceptible to sun scald. This tree knows what it is doing. Deteriorated foliage that does not get dislodged by later winter weather will be dislodged as new foliage develops next spring. The new foliage will be adapted to the new exposure.

The picture below shows how new grow that is adapted to the new exposure develops adventitiously from the exposed trunk. It does more than just exploit the increase of sunlight. Ideally, it shades suddenly exposed bark to protect it from sun scald.

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. . . and in with the new.

Sun Scald Happens Here Too

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Sun scald ruins otherwise good stems.

Those who enjoy gardening where winter weather is harsh likely know what sun scald is. It happens late in winter, if exposed bark warms enough to prematurely resume vascular activity during the day. Vascularly active tissue then succumbs to hard frost at night. Wintry sunlight is not sufficiently intense to scald bark; but the damage suggests otherwise. Glare from snow enhances exposure.

Of course, without hard frost or snow, this sort of sun scald is not a concern here. However, there is another sort of sun scald that happens during the warmth of summer. It truly is scald, caused by exposure to sunlight that is sufficiently intense to literally cook vascular tissue just below thin bark. Although induced by opposite extremes of seasonal weather, the damage is remarkably similar.

Since even deciduous trees are foliated during summer, most bark is safe from summertime sun scald. Bark becomes more exposed and susceptible if deprived of some of what shades it. That can easily happen if aggressive pruning diminishes the foliar canopy above. Removal of a nearby tree also eliminates significant shade. Painting an adjacent wall a light color can enhance glare.

White paint applied to the trunks of susceptible orchard trees reflects most of the damaging sunlight, but is too unsightly for landscape trees. Stubble of small twiggy stems can shade the trunks of some young trees until their canopies are broad enough to provide shade. Sun scald typically develops on southwestern and upper exposures that are more exposed to the most intense sunlight.

Maple, oak, ash, birch, flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, English walnut and almost all deciduous fruit trees are innately susceptible to sun scald. The interior stems of privet, holly and English laurel are more resilient to sun scald if exposed by major pruning during late winter rather than during summer. Although, with only a few exceptions, any thin bark can be susceptible to sun scald.

Foliage of many plants can be damaged by enhanced exposure too, but that is known as ‘scorch’, and is another topic.

Horridculture – Green Is The New Black

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Foliage does not get any blacker than this.

This is not another of my many racial slurs for the renowned Southern Californian landscape designer, Brent Green. Believe or not, I endure many more of such slurs from him; so will not even bother putting something else out there that compels his retaliation. This is about Japanese laurel, Aucuba japonica, which is incidentally rather yellowish with rich golden variegation.

Japanese laurel, which is known as gold dust plant locally, is happy in partial shade, and will tolerate rather significant shade. That is a distinct advantage in landscapes that are dominated by so many big redwoods. Even without significant bloom, the bright yellowish foliage is an asset in visually dark parts of the landscapes. There probably should be more of it here than there is.

It is not one of my favorites though. It does not cooperate with pruning, and often produces overly vigorous growth that flops over in response to aggressive pruning. It shelters proliferation of snails in warmer climates. What I dislike most about it is the prominent blackening of some of the foliage that is too exposed to direct sunlight. It is so unsightly in front of the cheery gold.

After pruning a few overly vigorous stems that became floppy, I noticed how quickly the lush and fresh new foliage blackens from exposure. The pictures above and below were taken about two hours after the stems were pruned. The stems grew in a notably shaded situation, and were then left out on a hot black bed liner without shade, which of course accelerated the process.

I should have gotten a picture of the foliage as I found it, with all exposed surfaces blackened, as if spray painted where they were on the black vinyl. The portions of the leaves that remain green were shaded under other foliage.

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Shaded parts are still fresh and gold dusted green. Exposed parts are roasted to a crisp.

Gravitropism Gets Germinating Seeds Oriented

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Toward the light. Away from gravity.

Germinating seedlings know which way is up. Perhaps they just know which way is down. They can not see, hear, taste, smell or feel anything like we can. Nonetheless, they know which direction to extend their first root and stem. One thing that they can perceive is gravity. Gravitropism, which was formerly known as geotropism, is how they respond to gravity, or the Earth that generates it.

Positive gravitropism is why the first root to emerge from a seed extends downward toward gravity. Negative gravitropism is why the first stem to emerge from a seed extends upward away from gravity. Positive is toward. Negative is away. Roots and stems that develop after the first, disperse in other directions in response to other stimuli, but never really forget where gravity comes from.

Once a primary stem of a seedling emerges from the soil, it immediately responds to sunlight. Just as it exhibits negative gravitropism to grow away from gravity, it exhibits positive phototropism to grow toward sunlight. Since sunlight comes from above, positive phototropism is compliant to negative gravitropism. Branches will later disperse laterally to avoid the shade of other branches.

While branches are finding their way in the World, roots are doing the same. All of them can not always reach for the center of the Earth. They branch and disperse laterally as they sense that they are sufficiently deep in the soil. Those that venture too deeply sense an inhibition of gas exchange. Those that are too shallow sense if they get too warm or dry. There are a few types of tropisms.

Roots respond to moisture, nutrients, chemicals, temperature and mechanical stimulation within the soil. Branches and foliage respond to humidity, wind, temperature variations and air pollution. In order to function within their dynamic situations, plants somehow coordinate their responses to all of the many stimuli they experience. They are impressively perceptive, as well as responsive.

Even celery, green onions and leafy tops of carrot in a refrigerator can reach upward away from gravity.

Shade Can Be An Asset

90911thumbJust about every home garden has some sort of shade. Even if there are no substantial trees or shrubbery, there are northern walls of homes and garages, and they likely have eaves that extend their shadows a bit farther. Fences to the south create shade to the north. Gardens of modern homes are smaller, and surrounded by higher homes and fences, so are shadier than older gardens.

Those who enjoy gardening tend to enjoy more trees and substantial shrubbery than those who do not enjoy gardening, so generally contend with more shade. It is both and asset and a liability. Cooling shade makes outdoor living spaces more comfortable in the heat of summer, but limits what we can grow. With very few exceptions that are not worth mentioning, all plants need sunlight.

Fortunately, many plants need less than others. Of these, many are understory species, which live in the partial shade of larger plants in their natural environments. Not only do they naturally need less sunlight, many prefer to be in partially shaded or sheltered situation. Their foliage and bloom can be scorched by sunlight if too exposed, especially while the weather is warm, windy or arid.

Plants that prefer partially shaded and sheltered situations are characteristically different from those that prefer more exposure. Their leaves tend to be bigger and darker green to absorb more sunlight. Those that are sensitive to frost may prefer shelter from evergreen shade. To compete for pollinators with bloom above, flowers may be either bigger and more colorful, or more fragrant.

There are, of course, many exceptions. Ferns are probably the most familiar foliar plants for shade, but provide no bloom. Cast iron plant is comparable to fern for providing rich green foliage, but with insignificant bloom. Caladium, coleus and hosta are grown for lush foliage that is strikingly colorful instead of rich green. Hosta contrarily blooms with pastel flowers that are not even fragrant.

Kaffir lily, calla, hydrangea, azalea, rhododendron and impatiens provide more color for partial shade.

The Wrong Time For Pruning

80801thumbNot many plants are sensitive to mere heat alone. Actually, many plants prefer warm weather. The difficulty that some plants have with heat locally is that it typically accompanies aridity, and often accompanies afternoon breezes. As appealing as breezes and minimal humidity are to us while the weather is warm, they promote and accelerate desiccation of exposed sensitive foliage.

Pruning, which obviously becomes necessary while warm weather promotes growth, can make plants more sensitive to damage caused by warm, sunny, arid and perhaps breezy weather. It exposes formerly sheltered stems and inner foliage, which are more sensitive than outer foliage is, to more sunlight and drying breezes. Exposed foliage can either desiccate or roast, or both!

A bit of unsightly but relatively minor foliar damage on the extremities of the outer canopy might be only superficial, but major damage can be dangerous. Superficial damage often gets replaced by fresh new growth before it deteriorates enough to expose more foliage and stems below. However, recovery from major damage can be delayed by the distress associated with the damage.

Japanese maple, aralia, philodendron, rhododendron and all sorts of ferns can easily get damaged by increased exposure. Low ferns are not likely to become too exposed by any loss of their own foliage, but often become more exposed by the pruning of plants above them. Like frost damage, foliar scorch might need to be left to shelter remaining foliage until new growth develops.

The bark of many plants, although not susceptible to desiccation, is very sensitive to sun-scald if too exposed. Young and smooth bark is the most sensitive, particularly if it had always been shaded. Scald kills bark and the vascular tissue below. As it decays, it exposes interior wood to more decay that is likely to compromise the structural integrity of the affected stems and trunks.

Pruning during relatively cool weather and while there are a few relatively cool days in the forecast allows foliage a bit of time to adapt to a new exposure before the weather gets dangerous. Through summer, pruning should not be so aggressive that too much sensitive foliage or bark are exposed, even if it is necessary to leave a bit of unwanted sloppy growth to partly shade bark. Aggressive pruning of exposed and sensitive plants should be delayed until autumn, when sunlight is not so intense, and weather is cooler and wetter.

Krispy Kritter

P80715KThis really is the best climate here. Winters are just cool enough for many plants that require a bit of a chill, but not unpleasantly cold. Summers are just warm enough for most plants that need warmth, but the weather does not stay too unpleasantly hot for too long. Warm weather here typically lasts no more than a week, and is accompanied by light evening breezes and cooler nights. Minimal humidity typically makes the worst of the heat a bit more tolerable.
While much of North America and parts of Europe were experiencing abnormally and uncomfortably warm weather earlier in summer, our weather somehow stayed relatively mild. For a while, it was significantly warmer in Portland than here. It certainly was nothing to complain about. Vegetable plants that crave warmth were not too inhibited by the mild weather. Flowers that typically deteriorate in warm and arid summer weather lasted a bit longer than expected.
Then the weather changed. It did not get too unseasonable warm. In fact, the weather merely did what is typical for this time of year. The problem was that it happened so suddenly. The weather went from pleasantly mild and somewhat humid, to more seasonably warm and arid overnight. Flowers faded and warm season annuals wanted for more water.
The worst of it was that exposed foliage of some plants got roasted. English laurel and rhododendron were particularly susceptible Because we had no way of anticipating the sudden change of weather, we had just shorn a large hedge of English laurel, just in time for the warm weather to cook the freshly exposed inner foliage.
At about the same time, new plants were being installed into a small newly landscaped area. The transition from the cool and comfortable nursery on the coast to the warm and arid landscape where they were surrounded by black groundcloth (prior to the installation of chips) was too much of a shock for some of them. We could not water them enough to prevent some of the foliage from desiccating.
This crispy barberry is fortunately not as dead as it seems to be. Only the outer foliage is roasted. The stems and buds do not seem to be damaged. It will probably foliate again before defoliating in autumn. Even if it induces premature dormancy, it should recover as next winter ends.
Nonetheless, such damage on new plants is disconcerting.

 

Things Heat Up In Summer

70705thumbThis does not seem like such a mild climate when it is difficult to distinguish between the time and the temperature on a local bank clock tower. You know; when punctuation is the only difference between four minutes past one, and one hundred four degrees. Fortunately, like mild frost in winter, hot weather does not happen too often, which is why this climate really is milder than most.

Most of us know what to do for the garden when the weather gets warmer. Obviously, many plants want more water. What we do not often consider is that there a few things that we should ‘not’ do. Unlike us, the plants in the garden can not find shade when the weather gets warm. Those that are exposed find creative ways to provide their own shade. We really do not want to mess with that.

By this time of year, outer foliage of exposed plants is mature enough to tolerate heat. Only foliage of plants that prefer to be partly shaded is likely to be damaged. However, inner foliage of even the toughest plants is not as resilient as outer foliage is. Simply shearing a hedge exposes inner foliage that can be scorched by overexposure. Sunlight enhances the effects of heat and aridity.

If possible, it is best to delay such pruning and shearing until after unusually hot weather. No one wants to be out working in the garden on a hot day anyway. More typical seasonable weather may not seem to be much cooler, but a few degrees can be a big difference to plants. Once exposed, inner foliage should adapt, and hopefully be resilient to heat before the weather gets hot again.

While young and thin, formerly shaded bark that suddenly becomes exposed can be damaged by sun scald. (Deciduous trees do not get scalded while defoliated in winter because the intensity of sunlight is diminished at that time of year.) Sun scald of bark is much more serious than foliar scorch because it kills bark, leaving open wounds on main limbs and trunks. Decay within these wounds compromises structural integrity, and can ruin otherwise healthy trees.

Although rare, spontaneous limb failure can occur in some trees during warm weather, particularly if humidity increases and breezes remain minimal. It sounds silly, but warmth accelerates vascular activity, possibly until foliage becomes too heavy for the limbs that support it. If limbs break, they can cause major disfigurement, and detrimentally expose bark of inner limbs and trunks.