Keep Vegetation Clear From Chimneys

51028thumbFireplaces simply are not what they used to be. Building regulations in many municipalities do not allow for the construction of new fireplaces, except only for pellet stoves. Fireplaces that get damaged by earthquakes are commonly removed instead of repaired. Now that urban sprawl has replaced so many of the rural areas and defunct orchards, firewood is more expensive, even if purchased from a tree service. When a tree needs to be cut down, no one seems to have the time to cut and split the wood.

Modern heating systems are so much more reliable, efficient and just plain easy. Their fuel can actually be less expensive than firewood, and is not nearly as polluting. There is no smoke to offend the neighbors. There are no potentially dangerous sparks. There is no dirty chimney that needs to be cleaned. There is no need for firewood occupying space in the garden. Yet, with all the advantages of other heating systems, many of who still have fireplaces like to use them now that the weather is getting cool.

Because so much heat and a few sparks go out through the chimney, it is extremely important to keep trees and vines away from the top of the chimney. Cypress, pines, cedars, large junipers, eucalypti and fan palms that are not groomed of their dried old leaves are very combustible. Vines like wisteria, bougainvillea, creeping fig and Boston ivy are not unusually combustible, but have a sneaky way of overwhelming chimneys and accumulating debris (and sometimes rat or bird nests!). Any vegetation will be combustible if it gets hot enough. Sparks from burning foliage above can easily ignite old fashioned cedar shingles.

Trees should also be pruned away from roofs, gutters, fences and anything else that can be damaged by the abrasive motion of the stems and foliage in the wind. Stems of deciduous trees lose weight as they defoliate, and may even lift off of roofs that they had been leaning onto just a few weeks ago, but should be pruned accordingly anyway. Branches that have been leaning on a roof for quite a while may have accumulated a bit more debris than would be expected. Gutters and downspouts should be cleared of debris before the rain starts, and may need to be cleared again later where deciduous trees fill them up through autumn and winter.

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.

BAD IVY!!!

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++

The Wrath Of Grapes

P91006Jocular reference was made to ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ on our our backward version on the way to Oklahoma several years ago. We happened to drive through Salinas, where author John Steinbeck was from, and Bakersfield near Weedpatch, where the migration from Oklahoma in the story ended. From there, we literally drove the same route from Oklahoma, but in reverse.

I never read ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.

I do enjoy growing the sort of grape vines that some of us grow in our home gardens for fruit that can be eaten fresh. (I loath wine grapes and vineyards, but that is another topic for later.) There happens to be a nice big unidentified grapevine at work that needed major pruning last winter. It was a sloppy and formerly unpruned mess, with rampant long canes strewn about.

Some of these canes developed roots where they had been laying on the ground long enough to do so. The process is simply and conveniently known as ‘layering’. It is actually a technique for propagation that is sometimes done intentionally to plants that are not doing it naturally, (Again, that is another topic for later.) After giving a few rooted canes away, there were a few extra.

Since last winter, seven copies of the original grapevine are still here! I really do not know what to do with them. I could give them to neighbors before the end of this winter, but would then worry about them not getting the annual pruning they need, and overwhelming the landscapes they inhabit, just like the original vine did. Even in their cans, they are already a sloppy mess.

Many surplus plants are accumulating here. Many will go into landscapes as rainy weather starts. However, there are a few that will not be so easy to accommodate.

Chilean Jasmine

90814This is not just another mandevilla. Well, maybe it is. Mandevilla laxa is special though. It is known as Chilean jasmine because, unlike other mandevillas, it is so delightfully fragrant, particularly on warm summer evenings. Some say the fragrance is similar to that of gardenia, but not as strong. Others say it has a bit of vanilla mixed in. Sporadic bloom continues through most of summer.

The two inch long pure white flowers flare out to be a bit wider than long, and are a bit more relaxed than the neatly tailored flowers of other mandevillas. They bloom sequentially in small groups, with new flowers replacing the old for quite a while. The glossy rich green leaves can get almost twice as long at the flowers. Foliage last better on the coast, but is mostly deciduous elsewhere.

Chilean jasmine grows fast in spring, especially if pruned well after winter, but is surprisingly tame. It can grow past downstairs eaves, but should not reach upstairs eaves. It is satisfied with a light duty trellis. If carefully pruned out and removed each winter, it is one of the few vines that is complaisant enough for lattice. Light frost can kill stems to the ground, but they usually recover in spring.

Mandevilla

60803‘Alice Dupont’ mandevilla that was so popular through the 1980’s was already a cool vigorous but not too overwhelming vine, with big clear pink radial flowers. It grows rather vigorously to upstairs eaves, and tends to get bunched where it reaches the top of its support. Modern cultivars with red, white or bright pink flowers are more compact and tame, and can stay below downstairs eaves.

The wiry twining stems neither root into their support like ivy does, not get bulky enough to constrict and crush their support like wisteria does. However, old vines might get thick enough to split lattice apart. New plants are greener in partial shade, although they will probably climb to where they get full sun exposure. The glossy evergreen foliage is surprisingly sensitive to even mild frost.

Mandevilla is tropical, so enjoys warmth, but not aridity (minimal humidity). Overly exposed foliage can get scorched by hot weather. Sporadic bloom continues from spring through autumn, with more prolific bloom phases in response to warm weather. Unfortunately, mealybug, aphid, scale and whitefly enjoy warm weather too. While pruning, the caustic white sap can be a toxic nuisance.

Vines Do Not Replace Hedges

90619thumbUrban homes are innately close to other urban homes. Newer homes are even closer to each other than older homes are, and are more imposing. Establishing or maintaining privacy can be a challenge, especially for high windows in narrow spaces. Even though home builders prefer to place windows strategically, some windows invariably face into neighboring windows or gardens.

Trellised vines are a popular but rarely effective remedy to this dilemma. The narrow spaces between houses and below the eaves can be dark enough to inhibit growth. Consequently, vines are typically sparse or bunched on top of their trellises. Their most vigorous growth is often awkwardly long shoots trying to find a way out of the shade. Vines are not exactly easy to work with anyway.

There are of course exceptions. With regular maintenance, some finely textured vines that are reasonably tolerant of shade can be effective for downstairs windows. (Upstairs windows are out of reach.) If shorn very regularly, English ivy on lattice works almost like a hedge. (Ivy does not fill in on more open trellises.) Trellised star jasmine is even better, but needs more depth (front to back).

Yet, with few exceptions, big evergreen shrubs or small evergreen trees that tolerate shade are more practical. They support their own weight, so only need to be pruned for confinement and clearance from the houses that they provide privacy for. Some shrubs and trees should be pruned to stay at the desired height, so that superfluous upper growth does not shade out lower growth.

The various podocarpus are some of the better small trees for narrow spaces between houses because they are are somewhat tolerant to shade, and are so easily pruned into shape. Some of the taller and more upright pittosporums work nicely in sunnier spots. Arborvitae tolerates more shade, and naturally stays narrower. Since some of these better options might grow slowly, they can be planted with faster growing shrubbery that can be pruned back, and eventually removed as the preferred plants mature.90619

Morning Glory

90807A landscape designer would have more fun describing both the modern and the good old fashioned varieties of morning glory. Their vivid colors are so resplendent. Their rich green foliage is so luxuriant. Their delicate vines are so elegant. Hey, perhaps this is not so difficult. Anyway, the popular garden varieties of morning glory are descendents of various species of the genus Ipomea.

Except for a few obscure types, and the perennial blue dawn flower, popular garden varieties of morning glory are surprisingly complaisant annual vines, which grow from seed sown at the end of winter. Without getting too invasive or weedy, they sometimes reseed where they get watered, although they might revert to a more feral state after a few generations, or after the first generation.

Some varieties of morning glory have the potential to reach single story eaves, although most stay a bit lower, and some varieties do not get much higher than a doorknob. They work well on small trellises, or even simple stakes, and are just right for picket fences. The simple two or three inch wide flowers are rich hues of blue, purple, red, pink and white, some with spots, stripes or streaks.

Docile Annual And Perennial Vines

90710Most of the familiar vines really are exploitative bullies. They shade the same trees and shrubs that they climb for support. Some will even strangle and kill those who make it possible to get where they want to be. If they do not find trees or shrubs to victimize, they are likely to climb walls and ruin the paint, stucco or siding. Their aggressive nature can be a problem in landscape situations.

Fortunately, there are several vines that are not so aggressive or destructive, such as mandevilla, lilac vine, star jasmine and Carolina jessamine. Other vines that are even more complaisant are light duty perennials and annuals that might grow like weeds while the weather is warm, but then do not have enough time to grow too big or do much damage before they die back through winter.

If flashy color is not important, vining vegetable plants such as pole beans, cucumbers and peas, can cover fences very nicely. On flat fence surfaces, such vines will climb string strung in a vertical zigzag pattern between a horizontal row of protruding nails at the top, and another similar row at the bottom. Unsightly cyclone fences are even better, but will need be harvested from both sides.

Although it is too late to sow beans and cucumbers, a new phase of peas can be sown in mid summer for production in autumn. Fragrant and subtly colorful sweet peas, which are grown for their flowers rather than as vegetable plants, take considerably more effort here. They get started in autumn for the following spring. Trailing nasturtium can get sown at any time, for summer or winter.

As the name implies, perennial pea is a perennial that can get almost rampant, but dies back by autumn.

Passion fruit vine can either be a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter, only to regenerate the following spring, or a somewhat woody vine with wiry stems that survive for several years. Those that retain their vines through winter can get cumbersomely big, or can alternatively be cut back severely late in winter, to behave almost like more docile types that die back for the winter.

Star Jasmine

90619There is some debate about the origin of the common name of Confederate jasmine. Some attribute it to its popularity in the former Confederate States of America. Others believe it originated in the Malay Confederacy, much closer to its native range. That is irrelevant here, where we know this popular vine with very fragrant flowers simply as star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.

One might think that it is too common, but there are reasons for that. The dark green foliage is so delightfully glossy all year. As appealing as it is alone, it is even better as a contrasting backdrop for the small but strikingly white star shaped flowers that bloom in profusion about now, and continue to bloom sporadically for much of the rest of the year. The lavish fragrance is totally awesome!

The twining vines climb luxuriantly to about the height of first floor eaves. They can climb much higher, but higher growth takes a while to get as billowy as lower growth. However, it is more often grown as a shrubby ground cover, only about two feet deep. The simple leaves are two to three inches long, and one to one and a half inches wide. The clustered flowers are about an inch wide.

Vines For Better Or Worse

90619thumbVines in the wild are downright exploitative. They do not support their own weight, so instead climb or sprawl over shrubbery and trees. Some are satisfied staying down below the canopy of the hosts who support them, as if aware that a healthy host will support them for a good long time. Many vines climb aggressively to the top and overwhelm their hosts, even if it eventually kills them.

There is nothing civil about the technique of the strangler figs, which incidentally includes two popular houseplants, fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) and creeping fig (Ficus pumila). They wrap their hosts in networks of stems and roots that strangle the hosts as both the hosts and the clinging vines grow and expand. As the hosts die and rot, the vines develops into self supporting tree trunks.

That is how fiddle-leaf fig, as it is known as a houseplant, grows as a free standing tree rather than as a creeping vine. It is grown from cuttings from the self supporting adult growth rather than the creeping juvenile growth. Conversely, creeping fig is grown from juvenile vines, which find a support to cling to, and ultimately develop shrubby adult growth when they get to the top of the support.

English and Algerian ivies are not quite as aggressive, since they do not intend to kill their hosts. They are not often intentionally grown as vines, and are almost never planted anymore, but their juvenile growth still works as ground cover in many mature landscapes. One of the main problems with ivy is that it is constantly trying to climb walls and trees so that it can bloom and toss seed.

That is not such a problem on concrete walls, but ruins wooden and painted surfaces, and makes a mess of trees. Boston ivy (which is not really an ivy) lacks a juvenile ‘ground cover’ phase, but if kept off of painted and wooden surfaces, happens to work better on concrete infrastructures. It is important to know how a particular vine will behave before selecting it for a particular application.

Carolina jessamine, mandevilla, lilac vine and star jasmine are a few complaisant vines.