Daylight Saving Time

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.

Gemini

P80617Astrology is an interesting concept. It is amazing how accurate the various zodiacs are. In fact, they are so accurate, that all twelve of the zodiacs can apply to just about anyone, regardless of their respective birthday.

For example, Gemini people are gentle, affectionate, curious and adaptable. Well, who isn’t? If I told you that these traits applied to Leo, Aquarius or Sagittarius, would you believe me? The weaknesses of Gemini are nervousness, inconsistency and indecisiveness. We all of us experience these weaknesses at one time or another. Gemini people like music, books, magazines and strolling about town. What about Aries, Capricorn and Taurus? Don’t they? Are Gemini people unique in their dislike for loneliness, confinement or repetition? Probably not.

June 20 will be the end of Gemini. It will then be time for Cancer, with its set of distinctive traits, strengths and weaknesses.

Gardening according to astrology might seem to be just as ‘accurate’, but there is a bit more science to justify it. Back before calenders were commonly in use, the seasons were identified by the weather. Since weather changes like . . . well, like the weather, astrology provided another level of accuracy based on the time of year rather than on variable weather. For years when warm weather lingered into autumn, astrology dictated when cool season vegetables needed to be planted, even if the weather suggested that it was too early. Astrology was also used to forecast the last frost date, even while winter was still cold. It might have taken decades to compile enough data for the system to work, but it really was, and continues to be effective. After all, the calendars that we use now are based on the position of the Earth within the Solar System, or in other words, astrology.

Gemini

P80617Astrology is an interesting concept. It is amazing how accurate the various zodiacs are. In fact, they are so accurate, that all twelve of the zodiacs can apply to just about anyone, regardless of their respective birthday.

For example, Gemini people are gentle, affectionate, curious and adaptable. Well, who isn’t? If I told you that these traits applied to Leo, Aquarius or Sagittarius, would you believe me? The weaknesses of Gemini are nervousness, inconsistency and indecisiveness. We all of us experience these weaknesses at one time or another. Gemini people like music, books, magazines and strolling about town. What about Aries, Capricorn and Taurus? Don’t they? Are Gemini people unique in their dislike for loneliness, confinement or repetition? Probably not.

June 20 will be the end of Gemini. It will then be time for Cancer, with its set of distinctive traits, strengths and weaknesses.

Gardening according to astrology might seem to be just as ‘accurate’, but there is a bit more science to justify it. Back before calenders were commonly in use, the seasons were identified by the weather. Since weather changes like . . . well, like the weather, astrology provided another level of accuracy based on the time of year rather than on variable weather. For years when warm weather lingered into autumn, astrology dictated when cool season vegetables needed to be planted, even if the weather suggested that it was too early. Astrology was also used to forecast the last frost date, even while winter was still cold. It might have taken decades to compile enough data for the system to work, but it really was, and continues to be effective. After all, the calendars that we use now are based on the position of the Earth within the Solar System, or in other words, astrology.

Seriously?!

P71104Gardening is not for everyone. If you are reading this, you probably enjoy gardening. There are many more people who simply are not interested in it. Some tend to their own gardens in a basic manner just to keep their homes looking good. Most hire gardeners to maintain their landscapes for them.

I use the term ‘maintain’ very lightly. What they really do is keep the lawn from getting too deep, and other plants from getting too overgrown. Very few really care how they accomplish these basic requirements.

I could go into the detail about how they brag about saving water while wasting enough to drown trees, or how they shear everything within reach into nondescript . . . whatever they get shorn into, or how most problems that arborists encounter in their work are caused by gardeners. Instead, I am just gong to talk briefly about two examples of the lack of expertise or concern or both exhibited by gardeners who maintain the landscape at a small office building in my neighborhood.

There are a few healthy ‘Prairie Fire’ flowering crabapple trees in this landscape. A few years ago, they bloomed spectacularly! The following year, they were about to do the same thing. They were quite healthy, with plump buds that were swelling nicely as winter became spring. Just as the buds were about to pop, and the bright pink of the flowers within was becoming visible between the bud scales, the gardeners arrived and pollarded all the trees. Yes, they pruned away ALL of the blooming stems, cut them up, and disposed of them, leaving bare trunks and limbs. There was not bloom.

The trees recovered through the year, and produced plenty of stems to bloom the following spring. Again, the buds swelled at the end of winter, only to be completely removed when the trees were pollarded just before bloom. The trees were not even pollarded correctly. It was quite a hack job. This happens every year now. The trees never bloom.

A stone retaining wall below this landscape was well landscaped with rosemary hanging down from the top, and Boston ivy climbing up from below. The two will eventually be redundant to each other as the rosemary grows enough to cover the wall without the help of the Boston ivy, but for now, they work well together.

The Boston ivy was just beginning to show autumn color. It happens to be one of the few plants that colors reliably in our mild climate, with bright yellow, orange, red and burgundy. It would have been spectacular, but, like the budded stems of the flowering crabapples, all the Boston ivy was cut down to the ground. All the foliage that was just about to do what it does best was completely removed and disposed of.

There is certainly nothing wrong with exposing parts of the handsome stone wall. The rosemary still cascades from above to break up the expansiveness of the wall. The problem is the untimely removal of something that should have been an asset for the landscape, rather than just a liability. The Boston Ivy could have been cut back in winter, after displaying its spectacular autumn foliar color. Professionals should know how to accomplish this.

The property manager pays a lot of money for this sort of nonsense. Hey, we all know mistakes happen; but this is inexcusable. Seriously, people who know nothing about gardening could do better than these so called professionals.

My Philosophy On Garden Chemicals

70927lthumbspareI have very few reservations about using chemicals in my garden. I bet you did not expect to read that. It is the quick and easy explanation about my philosophy on garden chemicals. Almost all chemicals that are available to the general public are reasonably safe if handled and applied properly. I am actually more concerned about the larger volumes of chemicals used in the landscape industry, and applied by technicians who can not read the labels or write their use reports. Yes, it happens. Anyway, some of the sugars, salts, preservative and other components of some of the food I eat is more dangerous than chemicals I use in the garden.

That is because I use almost no synthetic chemicals. I have almost no use for them. I only occasionally use semi-synthetic fertilizers like fish emulsion. Just about every disease or insect problem I have encountered in my own garden was most efficiently controlled by cultural methods or simple home remedies that have been effective for centuries, or even thousands of years, long before the first and worst of the really nasty garden chemicals were invented less than two centuries ago.

That certainly does not mean that all home remedies are completely safe, or even any safer that some of what are considered to be ‘chemicals’. I mean, they are supposed to ‘kill’ things. Tobacco is unfortunately toxic, and kills many people quite regularly. That is precisely why a cigar butt or a few cigarette filters can be simmered into a tea to spray onto small potted plants, like fuchsias, to kill aphid. Adding a few drops of dish soap makes it even more effective (although in a different way). Is it toxic? Yes. Am I concerned about it? Not really. Although, it would be nice if no one used tobacco anymore.

Dish soap that so many of us use as a ‘natural’ remedy for aphid is almost as effective for immediate kill even without tobacco tea, but lacks residual toxicity. Because it is necessary to use a slight bit more soap if it is used alone, it is more likely to damage tender foliage. Also, most dish soap is actually less ‘natural’ than tobacco is! Homemade soap made from bacon fat may seem to be more natural, but the fat contains of all sorts of unnatural nitrates. It certainly does not bother me any; but those seeking totally natural remedies should know. (They probably should not eat bacon anyway.)

What do I do for peach leaf curl? Nothing. Well, nearly nothing while the disease is actively ruining foliage. However, while the trees are bare through winter, I prune them very aggressively. Pruning is done so that the trees do not overburden themselves with fruit, but it also stimulates vigorous vegetative growth the following spring and summer. After bloom, while peach leaf curl is busy ruining the first phase of foliage, vigorous vegetative (non-fruiting) stems are busy speeding beyond infection with reasonably healthy foliage. Inadequately pruned trees lack vigor, and are therefore more susceptible to the disease.

The worst of the damaged foliage lower in the canopy falls away as it gets replaced by healthier foliage. It should be raked and disposed of (not composted) because spores of the disease overwinter in the fallen foliage. I actually prefer to pluck much of the damaged foliage from the trees because, technically, it dispersed spores more efficiently while still viable and actively infected. Does this eliminate the disease? No; but neither does spraying chemicals.

Does putting ‘Tanglefoot’ or axle grease around the trunk of a lemon tree infested with scale eliminate the scale? Of course not. It merely keeps out the ants that cultivated the scale. (Ants have a symbiotic relationship with the scale because the ants consume the honeydew excreted by the aphid. Ick!) Without the ants to herd them around and protect them from natural predators, the scale are not so prolific. You might not even know they are there. ‘Controlling’ them just might be better than ‘eliminating’ them with a chemical insecticide. Besides, it leaves something for their natural predators to consume so that they are there when we need them.

After centuries of breeding plants to do what we want them to do and behave very unnaturally, we really should consider how to get nature to do some of the work it really wants to do ‘naturally’.

Heat Lingers With Indian Summer

70920thumbIt is still too early to say if, or for how long, warm Indian Summer weather will linger into what should be autumn. This last spell of unseasonable heat (in California) was merely a heat wave. Of course, at the time, there was nothing ‘mere’ about it. It was downright hot! It was weirdly humid too. As uncomfortable as it was for us, the humidity made the unseasonable heat more tolerable for some plants.

Heat has a nasty habit of drying things out. Humidity does the opposite, although not quite as efficiently. Many plants might have been seriously desiccated if the weather had gotten so warm without the humidity. A cooling breeze might have made things more comfortable for us, but likewise would have been more uncomfortable for plants by enhancing the desiccating effect of heat.

So, again, we disagree with our plants. One thing we all agree on is that this last heat wave was unseasonable, and came at a time when summer should be on the downhill side toward autumn. Some evergreen plants are producing foliage designed for cooler weather. Worst of all, many of the gardening procedures that get done this time of year are in anticipation of cooling weather.

Not too long ago, pruning and shearing of hedges and other evergreens was an important topic. The objective was to get it done one last time before autumn. If done too late, new growth develops slowly through the cool winter weather, and is more susceptible to discoloration and frost damage. Now, the problem is that some of the fresh new foliage was scorched by the heat!

Also, fertilizer should have been applied one last time before autumn. Later application stimulates new growth so late in the season that it is sensitive to frost through winter. Just like pruning, the fertilizer stimulated new growth that might have been damaged by the heat. So, proper pruning and application of fertilizer to limit frost damage may have left plants more susceptible to scorch.

Just like with frost damage, scorched foliage should not necessarily be pruned away immediately. If not too unsightly, it might be best to leave it alone. Some evergreen plants will not replace it until next year anyway. Deciduous plants will shed it when convenient. Large leaves like those of philodendron and banana, may deteriorate so badly that pruning them away is the best option.

Timing Is Everything For Pruning

70906thumbThere are certain disadvantages to gardening in such a perfect climate. We can not grow things that require significant chilling in winter. Nor can we grow things that require prolonged heat in summer. Seasons change so gently that it is easy to get behind schedule. It is already late summer, whether it seems like it or not. What we do not do in the garden is as important as what we do.
Plants know what time it is. Almost all are slowing down significantly. Many natives do almost all of their growth in spring, and then spend the later half of summer just getting ready for autumn. By now, the buds of deciduous trees like sycamore, oak and willow are already getting plump, even though they will not do anything until the end of winter. Non native plants will not be too far behind.
Evergreen plants that get pruned or shorn a few times through summer might need to be pruned or shorn one last time. If not done now, it probably should not be done any later. They need a bit of time to recover and regenerate a little bit of new growth prior to autumn. Otherwise, the exposed inner growth will stay exposed, and get worn by the weather as summer progresses into autumn.
Some plants need a bit more time to for new growth to mature than others do. Privet hedges for example, are quite tough, and do not seem to mind getting shorn at any time. New growth of holly, pittosporum and photinia gets stunted and discolored if still trying to grow as the weather gets too cool for it to continue. With enough time, new growth starts, and then ‘hardens off’ before autumn.
Like pruning, fertilizer promotes new growth, so should likewise not be applied too late. One last application of fertilizer can improve the color of citrus foliage before winter. Greener lemon and lime foliage tends to be more resilient to frost. Iron is particularly helpful for foliage, and is less likely than complete fertilizers are to stimulate new growth that will be sensitive to frost later in winter.