It is not as bad as it looks.

No, this is not wheat. It is the larger of the two Mexican fan palms that I dug and canned more than a week ago. ‘Wheat’ refers to the unpleasant phase that it is now going through. It is a long and awkward story about how it became known as the ‘wheat’ phase. All that anyone should know is that it refers to the color of the fading foliage. It fades from green to golden brown, just like ‘wheat’.

I say that the explanation is awkward because it involves an old skit by an offensive comedian on HBO in 1986, when the renowned landscape designer, Brent Green, was my college roommate.

Yes, we will just leave it at that.

Anyway, this is not at all unexpected. It is a normal process. I just wish it could be avoided. Every time I dig and can a palm, I hope that it will not happen; and I actually engage the associated palm as if it will somehow be different from the rest, and maintain all of its healthy green foliage. Some get through it more efficiently. Some start to produce new foliage before their old foliage dies off.

I actually relocated a mature windmill palm that somehow maintained the upper half of its canopy until it started to produce new foliage. That was all the fronds that were above a right angle to the trunk! I was impressed by that one. It was very different though. Most of the roots had already been damaged prior to relocation. Also, it was relocated in autumn, so had all winter to start recovery.

This unfortunate palm was dug not very long ago, just as the cool and rainy weather of winter was ending. Now that the weather is suddenly warming to around 80 degrees, the foliage is resuming vascular activity that the severed roots can not sustain. To compensate, it will shed this foliage that is now browning, while diverting resources into new foliage and roots. It knows what it is doing.

The new fronds that are still folded up in the middle are just fine. They will unfold into healthy new fronds as the palm recovers through summer. The first few fronds might be a bit stunted, but that is just part of the process. Newly relocated palms tend to accelerate foliar growth during such recovery, so, in just a few months, this cute little palm may look as good as it did when I canned it here.

Six on Saturday: Moving Day

A neighbor family relocated to a new home a short distance away. The former home needs such major repair that it may instead be demolished and replaced. For now, it remains abandoned. I collected a few plants from the abandoned garden so that some could be relocated to the new home. So far, only two Philodendron selloum and one Mexican fan palm went. The rest remain here, and may actually go to other homes.

1. In all my career, I have never seen a trunk of a palm shrivel from desiccation like this. All of the now absent roots were desiccated also. I seriously doubt that this queen palm will survive.P00418-1

2. It got canned anyway. Without significant roots, it certainly did not need all this medium. It only got a #15 can so that the shriveled trunk could be buried, sort of like a weird palm cutting.P00418-2

3. This lemon tree was almost left behind because it is so mutilated. It looks a bit suspicious too, sort of like shaddock understock of a formerly grafted tree. Actually, it is ‘Ponderosa’ lemon.P00418-3

4. The smaller of two Mexican fan palms got canned into a #5 can until it starts to produce new roots and foliage. Actually, only the queen palm and the big Mexican fan palm got larger cans.P00418-4

5. This bigger Mexican fan palm got a squat #20 can because the trunk is wider than a #5 can. There are not very many roots in there yet. It got left here to divert traffic around the garden.P00418-5

6. These three Philodendron selloum were all I originally wanted to salvage. One lacks foliage for now. The other can that seems to be empty contains bare tubers of an unidentified heliconia.P00418-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Norwegian Wood

Isn’t it good?

This is really getting to be a problem. Too many feral plants that we find at work get canned as if they will eventually be installed back into a landscape somewhere. The small nursery where they recover until their relocation is getting crowded. Although many are practical and appropriate for such recycling within the landscapes here, some are not, so may be with us for a while.

Five feral Norway maple saplings were found in one of the landscapes where mature trees were pruned for clearance from a roof. We could not just leave them there. They eventually would have been overwhelmed by the rest of the forest, or grown too close to the same roof that we pruned other trees away from. They were very easily dug, so came back to the nursery with us.

It was too late to prune them as necessary. They are tall and lanky trunks, with too many comparably lanky branches. As much as I am instinctively compelled to prune them while they are bare and dormant, I will refrain until later in spring or summer, when they will not bleed so much. They look ridiculous. They seem happy though. Their buds are beginning to swell already.

We have no idea where they will go from here. After pruning, they should develop into exemplary specimens. As goofy as they are now, their trunks are remarkably straight. I happen to be fond of Norway maple, and would be pleased to find an application for them here. The problems is that there are too many trees here, and the forests and landscapes continue to make more!

Horticulture in a forest can be like that. It seems like there is plenty of space out there, but so much of the space is too shaded or too crowded.

They Don’t Know When To Quit

The good news is that these billowy white blooms were not wasted.

The main difficulty with such a mild climate is that many plants do not get sufficient chill in winter. Several types of apples do not perform well here without it. Only a few are productive in Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region), where I sometimes need to modify my gardening column accordingly. A few of my neighbors here somehow grow peonies; but I do not even bother.

Even plant that require more chill than they get here seem to be aware that it is cooler at this time of year. Their deciduous foliage turns color and eventually falls to the ground. They just want the weather to get a bit cooler and to stay cooler for a bit longer before they are convinced that it is really winter. Otherwise, they think that autumn simply merges directly into spring.

I really do not know what hydrangeas are thinking though. They perform about as well in milder climates of Southern California, and may not bother to defoliate completely if old foliage can linger until it is replaced by new foliage. In the mildest climates, bloom is merely subdued through winter, but might continue sporadically. I am not convinced that they need any chill at all.

The hydrangeas here get pruned shortly after the roses, and almost as severely. (They are a bit more complicated than roses, and a bit less cooperative, but respond well to their pruning.) I started the process on Thursday with a few that needed to be relocated, and will be finishing on Wednesday or Thursday. Most of the remaining yellowed old foliage falls away in the process.

Their lingering bloom is a bit more disconcerting. I hate to waste what the old hydrangeas put so much effort into producing. Some of the best blooms were outfitted with a bit of eucalyptus foliage (since they lacked their own) and given away to others who work here. However, there were invariably some undeveloped blooms that were just discarded as they got pruned away.

Undeveloped bloom was merely discarded with the rest of the debris.

Hydrangeas seem to appreciate a good chill, but do not seem to need it, or expect it to last for very long. I sometimes wonder if I could just groom them to remove old canes throughout the year rather than pruning them aggressively in winter. I do not remember ever pruning any in Southern California, but might expect them to be less responsive to the even milder weather.

For me, they would be easier to prune where winter is cool enough for them to be completely dormant. Without foliage, it would not seem like I would be pruning them while they are still active. Without bloom, I would not be concerned about the waste. I could just prune them like so many other deciduous plants. There really are a few disadvantages to mild winter weather.

Hydrangeas that were transplanted got pruned and dug bare root.

Deodar Cedar Migration – Update

Reassigned deodar cedars have adapted to their new landscape.

Reassignment is in season right now. The brief article about it that posted yesterday links to three other related articles. We have done quite a bit of it here, and intend to do a bit more for useful plants that happen to be in the wrong situations. It should be done before winter ends, to take advantage of both natural dormancy and cool winter rain that settles transplanted roots.

Most plants that get reassigned get dug from situations where they can not stay, and transplanted directly to where they will likely become assets to their respective landscapes. Those that do not get transplanted directly into other landscapes get canned and housed temporarily in the nursery. Some need to recover. Some must wait for landscapes that can accommodate them.

Some reassigned plants are feral descendants of exotic (non-native) species, that grew from self sown seed. Others were originally planted intentionally, but for one reason or a few, are no longer appropriate for their particular situations. Some are overgrown perennials that needed to be divided. On rare occasion, we encounter specimens of native species that get reassigned.

Deodar cedar that were reassigned slightly more than a year ago recovered from the process last spring and summer, so should grow this year as if nothing ever happened. Unfortunately, several were inadvertently killed when the roadside weeds and grasses that they grow amongst were cut down. In other areas, too many superfluous specimens survived, so must be culled.

Those that will be culled out need not go far. They can be plugged back to replace those that were mown down. The second process will be easier than the first. Superfluous specimens were reassigned because we expected nearly half to not survive the process. Except for those that were mown down, almost all survived. If not culled, they will get too crowded in just a few years.

There are plenty more where they came from. The four parent trees are prolific with their seedlings. We can not reassign all of them to other landscapes, and should not waste resources on canning specimens that will not likely be accommodated within any of our landscapes. I will likely can many of them, but not for here. They may become GREEN street trees in Los Angeles.

The four reassigned deodar cedars in this small space are not easy to see in this picture.

If it seems as if the reassigned deodar cedars are too close to surrounding trees, it is only because the surrounding trees will be subordinated and eventually removed as the deodar cedars grow big enough to replace them. One is a dangerously disfigured sweetgum with roots that are displacing pavement above. Two others are disfigured and deteriorating California bay trees.


African iris are happily rehomed.

African iris, Dietes bicolor, that I mentioned three weeks ago were finally installed into a new landscape. It may not be permanent. They may need to be relocated again if they happened to land where two of four birch will be installed as the landscape is slowly assembled before winter ends. The installation was done hastily before the last storm delivered a good dose of rain.

It could not be delayed any longer. These African iris had been divided and groomed so long before they were featured on the fourteenth of December that they were likely to succumb to rot or desiccation if installation was delayed any longer. They soaked in buckets of water for days at a time, and were then left to drain for days at a time so that they would not soak for too long.

I do not remember how many times I repeated the process. I knew it was getting risky. Surprisingly, by the time they were installed, only a few of the worst of the rhizomes were beginning to exhibit negligible indications of rot. Now that they are in moist but fluffy and well aerated soil, they can recover and begin to disperse new roots, even if they must be relocated again later.

If relocated again later, the process will be fast and direct. They will get dug and plugged within minutes. Compared to alternated soaking and draining for more than a month, it will be easy.

The formerly feral birch that will eventually be added to this landscape are also being reassigned. Of nine that were removed from another landscape in the neighborhood, five were already plugged directly into a landscape across the road. The other four were canned temporarily until we determine where they will fit into this new landscape. They will arrive before winter ends.

Lauristinus that formerly inhabited this area were already being reassigned as hedges in other landscapes before we planned to reassign extra African iris and feral birch to this landscape. A few got canned to replace any that do not survive the process. So far though, all have not only survived where they were reassigned, but were growing happily before the weather got cool.

Growing Problem

P91221KRecycling plant material is practical and gratifying. We do quite a bit of it here. Back in September, I briefly wrote about recycling laurustinus that was removed from an area that was about to be landscaped, and relocated to other sites where it can grow into functional informal hedges. We were able to use something that was a problem in one location as an asset somewhere else.

We will be doing more of this sort of recycling now that the rainy season has started. Right now, the plants that need to be removed are as dormant as they get, so do not mind getting dug as much as they would have while they were still active. Rain helps settle them in at their new locations. A few get canned and stocked into the nursery, to be planted into new landscapes later.

Some of what gets recycled was intentionally installed in the past, but for one reason or another, became inappropriate for a particular site. For example, I will soon be relocating agapanthus that performed well for many years, but eventually became too shaded by growing trees nearby. Forsythia that has already been relocated was too big and awkward for its confined space.

Many plants that get recycled were not intentionally planted, but happened to grow wild in situations where they can not stay. Some are native. Some are descendents of desirable exotics. The laurustinus that I mentioned above are such an example. Just yesterday, I relocated a few naturalized but superfluous birches from an established landscape to an unlandscaped area.

We certainly do not recycle everything that can be recycled. Many plants, both native and naturalized exotic, are just too problematic. Fleabane that I wrote about yesterday is marginal.

Sweetgum happens to be one of those trees that we probably should not recycle. They are splendidly colorful in autumn, and particularly spectacular amongst the deep green redwoods. The problems are that the now overgrown trees here are developing serious structural deficiency, and producing an overwhelming abundance of messy and potentially hazardous maces (fruits).

Nonetheless, I found and canned these four rooted sweetgum watersprouts. They were growing from roots of one of several big and very problematic sweetgums that got removed last year. If they get planted here, they and their associated problems will be located outside of refined landscapes. In the future, thy can drop maces and limbs in the forest without bothering anyone.

Six on Saturday: Recycling Weeds


A weed is a plant where it is not wanted. There are plenty here. There are also a few situations that could use some of the plants that are considered to be weeds in their present situations. Since we are not a ‘landscape’ company that earns more by needlessly disposing of, and installing, as much plant material as possible, we sometimes get to recycle some of our useful weeds.

Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, which I refer to simply as ‘viburnum’, has politely naturalized here. It is not prolific enough to be invasive. It just has a sneaky way of getting around, mostly in irrigated landscaped areas. It lives in the wild too. It sometimes grows into situations where it is an asset. It sometimes becomes a problem. I don’t mind removing it. I am none to keen on it.

A thicket of viburnum is in the process of being removed from an area that will soon be outfitted with a new and more appropriate landscape. Rather than merely removing and disposing of all of the viburnum, we are relocating it into other landscapes where it will be more useful as informal screening hedges. I would prefer to wait until autumn, but the new landscape is waiting.

For the informal screening hedges that we want, these viburnums will work splendidly. They will fit right into the unrefined and unlandscaped areas as if they belong there. Prettier species that I would prefer would be more conspicuous, and look like something that was planted. I know that these recycled plants will initially not be as uniform as nursery stock, but I do not care.

1. This thicket of viburnum has been here as long as anyone can remember. It gets cut down when it gets too high, and takes a few years to regenerate. A new landscape will be going in here.P90914

2. The biggest and gnarliest specimens get discarded. It would not be practical to salvage them. These mid-sized specimens with relatively compact root systems should be easily relocated.P90914+

3. They clean up nicely, with most of their foliage pruned away, and their long stems pruned back. Some of their roots get pruned to facilitate planting, and also to stimulate new root growth.P90914++

4. Once planted and soaked in, many of the relocated specimens seem to be comparable to what might have been purchased from a nursery. Even with the warm weather, wilting is minimal.P90914+++

5. With two more that are out of view beyond the right margin of this picture, these five make a nice hedge of seven newly relocated viburnum. They are nothing fancy, but should work well.P90914++++

6. This is the view that they are intended to obscure, featuring seven dumpsters and various utilitarian unpleasantries. That’s them in a neat row across the lower right corner of the picture.P90914+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Finish Transplanting Before Winter Ends

90220thumbAutumn is for planting; and for good reasons. It is the beginning of dormancy for almost all plants, including evergreens. It precedes cool and rainy weather that inhibits desiccation until new roots are able to disperse sufficiently to sustain new plants. Some plants need to be in the garden in time for winter chill in order to initiate bloom. However, not everything should get planted in autumn.

Winter is the best season for some plants. Many summer blooming bulbs get planted in winter because they are likely to start growing prematurely and get damaged by frost if planted in autumn with spring bulbs. Some perennials that are slightly sensitive to frost may get planted after average frost season so that they can bulk up enough to be more resilient to frost by the following winter.

Besides new plants that are purchased from nurseries to be planted in the garden, there are plants that are already established in the garden that might need to get dug, divided, and then planted back into the garden, or shared with friends and neighbors. Some might need to be transplanted because they are crowded or in the way of something. These present a different set of variables.

Once divided and transplanted, grasses, New Zealand flax, lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and other stoloniferous perennials (that spread by creeping stems known as stolons) are more susceptible to rot than nursery grown plants, because so many of their roots get severed. Even if aggressively pruned while getting divided and transplanted, shrubby plants, like lilac and forsythia, are more susceptible to desiccation than nursery grown plants, simply because they lack sufficient roots.

If divided or transplanted through winter rather than autumn, plants get a few weeks of cool and rainy weather to settle and disperse their roots, but do not have enough time to rot or desiccate before the weather gets warm enough for them to resume growth and recover resiliency. Perennials that get cut back in the process spend less time looking shabby before new growth develops.