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.

Red Trumpet Vine

60420Red trumpet vine, Distictis buccinatoria, is more green than red. The tubular orangish red flowers with yellow throats are pretty while weather is warm, but not too abundant. Slightly distressed plants tend to bloom more abundantly. Each evergreen compound leaf is a pair of leaflets with a sneaky central tendril that will grab onto anything while holdfast discs get a more permanent grip.

Vines tolerate significant shade, but will find their way to sunnier situations where they grow more aggressively. They can easily reach the roof of a two story house, and grow out of reach in trees. Their holdfast discs will damage paint, and even shingles! Overgrown plants can be cut to the ground and allowed to regenerate.

Red trumpet vine wants to be watered somewhat regularly while young. Mature plants can disperse their roots well enough to find water if they do not get it directly.

Vines Are Naturally Social Climbers

70906thumbIf more of us knew how vines compete in the wild, fewer of us would grow them in our home gardens. Understory plants that are satisfied with the sunlight that reaches them through a higher forest canopy are the most passive. Taller trees compete for sunnier exposure above. Vines are the most aggressive as they climb and overwhelm trees to get the best exposure on top of everything.

English and Algerian ivies happens to be among the more efficient of aggressive vines. While young, juvenile growth creeps along the ground searching for victims. Once it encounters something to climb, the stems develop aerial roots so that they can climb vertically. Once the climbing stems reach the top of the support, they develop shrubby adult growth that blooms and produces seed.

In home gardens, ivy is a popular and practical groundcover. However, if allowed to climb as a vine, it can root into walls and ruin paint. Even if the vines are removed, the unsightly aerial roots remain. The shrubby adult growth can overwhelm and even shade out and kill the trees or shrubbery that originally supported it. If it climbs onto a roof, it can accumulate debris and promote rot.

Creeping fig is even nastier. Its network of clinging vines grafts together as it grows, and then strangles the supportive trees as they continue to grow within the constrictive network of grafted stems. Yet, it and Boston ivy work nicely and harmlessly on concrete freeway sound-walls where their aggressive behavior is a major advantage, and their clinging aerial roots are not a problem.

Wisteria and red trumpet vine are considerably better behaved, but even they will crush lattice and anything else they wrap around. If they get into trees, they quickly grow out of reach. They may seem to be more appealing than the trees that they climb are, but can strangle and kill substantial limbs. Even without aerial roots, red trumpet vine clings with holdfast discs that damage paint.

Even though many vines are practical for home gardens, their personalities need to be considered. Star jasmine and honeysuckle can either grow as groundcover or as climbing vines. They can get big, but are not often destructive. Potato vine works nicely on fences, but gets aggressive in trees. Carolina jessamine, lilac vine and mandevilla are some of the more complaisant of vines.

Horridculture – Ivy League

P90306English ivy, Hedera helix, is probably the nastiest and most aggressively invasive exotic species that I work with. It climbs high into redwood trees and overwhelms understory plants (that live below the trees). It invades many of the landscapes, and worst of all, it climbs building where it ruins paint and causes rot. It grows faster than we can keep up with it.

English ivy is actually a nice ground cover plant for refined landscapes. I grew it at my home in town. Contrary to popular belief, it does not root into and parasitize the trees that it climbs. Actually, it rarely overwhelms and shades out large trees. It prefers to keep them alive for support, from which it disperses its seed. However, it does promote decay in the trunks that it climbs, particularly where it retains moisture at ground level. Native trees are not accustomed to that.

We try to remove as much English ivy at work as possible, which includes removing it from trees and buildings. So far, with a few exceptions of small bits of ivy that broke off high in the trees that it climbed, I have been able to remove all ivy from the trees and walls that I have worked on.

Others were not so fortunate. When quick and efficient removal of ivy from the bases of as many mature trees as possible is the priority, ivy is more often severed down low, and left to die on the trunks of the infested trees. It looks shabby to say the least, and takes many years to deteriorate and fall away. In the picture above, dead ivy that was severed within the past few years is already being replaced by new ivy, which will also need to be severed.

The same technique happens with ivy on buildings. It gets cut at the foundations, but left on the walls to shrivel and turn brown. The dead ivy in the picture below was reaching upstairs eaves when it was severed, and remains there a few years later.

What annoys me so much about this technique is that it does not take much extra effort or time to tug quite most of the lower ivy from trees and walls. For most situations, all ivy can be dislodged, although tiny aerial roots remain. It is much easier to dislodge while fresh than after it is dried and crispy.P90306+

Horridculture – Lack Of Planning

P81128+This is a recycled picture that still annoys me. There was another that I did not want to use because it happens to be from a landscape that I sometimes work in.
The picture that I did not use shows a variety of annuals in a half wine barrel that is set on cobble stone that fills a square that is about five feet by five feet that was cut out of an asphalt paved area.
The area was paved to function as a patio.
A square was cut into the pavement perhaps because there was too much pavement.
The square was filled with stone because there was too much exposed soil where there should have been pavement.
A half wine barrel of various annuals was installed on top of the stone as if a square filled with stone was not adequately in the way.\
The half wine barrel and stone should be removed so that the are can be paved as usable patio space. . . like it had originally been.
It reminds me of a monologue by the renowned comedian, Bill Cosby. He discussed the small compartment that is designed to keep butter from getting too cold within a refrigerator that is designed to keep food cold, within the home that is heated to keep the interior from getting too cold.
Now, back to the picture above. It annoys me even more because it is not the result of a series of mistakes by several different volunteers working in the landscape that I did not post a picture of. It was done by so-called ‘professionals’, like those I briefly worked for a few years ago.
The area was paved. I might add that it was paved quite well. Then, either because there was too much pavement, or because someone wanted to sell more junk, potted plants and the associated irrigation system were installed onto the pavement, so that the affected portion of pavement is now useless.
How does this makes sense? It should have been done properly when the pavement was installed only a few years ago. I would guess from looking at it that the pavement was done properly, but someone just wanted to sell more infrastructure.
The bigger urn in the foreground is planted with pink jasmine on a trellis. I explained the problem with the vine not getting released from its bindings last week. Not only does a bundled thicket of stems remain in the middle, but all the new growth is crowded on top of the trellis because the landscape ‘professionals’ planted a big vine on a tiny trellis, and then neglect to maintain it. What is the point of a trellised vine in the first place? I mean, what does it ‘do’? Wouldn’t something shrubbier or a cascading perennial have been more appropriate? Do we really want to see the bare soil and accumulated cigarette butts below the vine? What about the landscape behind the potted plants? Why obscure that? Why create more obstacles for those who sweep or blow debris from the area.
Just look at all the pointless infrastructure in this useless space. Rather than a nice well designed landscape adjacent to clean and usable pavement, we have pointless potted plants cluttering the area, leaking water that stains the now useless pavement, and just getting in the way!

Ornamental Grape

51202Boston ivy is not really ivy at all; but is more closely related to grape. Along with creeping fig, it is one of the two best vines for freeway sound-walls. It protects the walls from graffiti and muffles sound. Unlike creeping fig, which is evergreen, Boston ivy is surprisingly colorful through autumn. Unfortunately, it clings to whatever it climbs with holdfast discs, so ruins paint, stucco, and any other surface it gets a hold of.

Then there is ornamental grape, Vitis vinifera. It is about as colorful as Boston ivy, and can climb almost as aggressively to thirty feet, but lacks the damaging holdfast discs. It is nearly fruitless, which may seem like a waste of an otherwise perfectly good grape vine; but it will not make much of a mess until it defoliates. If any of the tiny fruit actually matures, it will almost certainly get eaten by birds before anyone notices.

Since it does not grip so tightly to what it climbs, ornamental grape can get rather shrubby. Outer growth can overwhelm and shade out inner growth, and can eventually produce a thicket of dead canes. Pruning back superfluous shrubby growth while bare in winter promotes more vigorous new growth the following spring and summer. Ornamental grape likes full sun exposure.

Horridculture – Well Done Stakes Are Rare


Stakes are temporary. That is what so called maintenance ‘gardeners’ do not seem to understand. Stakes should not stay any longer than necessary, so need to be removed sooner than later, depending on their function. Stakes that are left too long can interfere with the healthy development of the trees and vines that they were intended to help.
Nursery stakes are used either to straighten the trunks of developing trees, or to support climbing vines. They must be removed when the trees or vines that they worked for get installed into the landscape, or as soon after installation as possible. Some flimsy trees may need their stakes for more than their first year.
The problem with leaving trees bound to their nursery stakes for too long is that they rely on the stakes for support as they grow, so do not put much effort into supporting their own weight.
The picture above shows a coast live oak that was staked properly with landscape stakes to the side, but while still bound to the original nursery stake. Because the tree was bound for too long as it grew, it may be too flimsy to support itself without bending when the binding nursery stakes eventually gets removed. For this particular tree, the bindings may need to be removed in phases so that the tree can learn to support itself before the last binding is cut loose.
The problem with leaving vines bound to their nursery stakes is that they remain bundled in the middle while new growth spreads out more naturally. Vines should instead be unbound and spread out onto their support, even if they need to be bound to the new support like they were bound to their nursery stake. Only a few vines that will get cut to the ground annually or after their first growing season, such as Boston ivy and creeping fig, can remain bound through their first year, only because the whole mess will be pruned to the ground, and replaced with new growth later.
The picture below shows a pink jasmine vine that is still bound to its stake, right in front of a disproportionately small trellis. The bundled mess of stems in the middle is partially obscured only because the tangled upper growth is so overgrown. There are so many problems with this unfortunate potted pink jasmine that it will be a topic for next week.P81128+

Landscape stakes are very different from nursery stakes. They are not needed to straighten trunks of trees, but are merely used for a little bit of support while new trees disperse their roots. When trees have adequately dispersed their roots and are stable enough to stand up to a bit of wind on their own, landscape stakes must be removed. They are not as likely to interfere with the development of structural integrity like nursery stakes do, but can interfere with root dispersion and development of adequate stability if trees become reliant on them for support.
The flowering cherry tree in the picture below obviously does not need the support of the unsightly landscape stakes that remain partly strapped to the trunk. The stakes did not compromise stability only because the tree is so naturally stout. The stakes really are unsightly though. So is the overgrown Boston ivy on the trunk and up into the canopy, . . . and the mutilated stubs and stems that were ‘pruned’ by the maintenance ‘gardeners’. Seriously; what kind of ‘gardener’ does this sort of atrocious work?! Well, those topics can be addressed at another time.P81128

Cape Honeysuckle

51118It may not bloom profusely, but cape honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis, blooms sporadically at random times throughout the year, and often while not much else is blooming. The bright reddish orange flowers contrast nicely against glossy evergreen foliage. Some blooms are slightly more reddish, while others are slightly more orangeish. A somewhat more compact cultivar blooms with light yellow flowers.

The long and limber stems of cape honeysuckle can not decide if they want to grow as vines or as shrubbery. They can be tied back and espaliered against a fence or trellis, or pruned and left to stand on their own. Large plants can get higher than the eaves. Overgrown thickets of stems can be cut down to the ground at the end of winter. They can regenerate and resume blooming before summer.

The narrow tubular flowers are about two inches long. They develop in terminal trusses, but only a few within a truss bloom at the same time. Shade inhibits bloom. Fertilizer seems to inhibit bloom by promoting vigorous vegetative growth. Fortunately, these vigorous shoots eventually bloom as vigorously as the grew. The four or five inch long leaves are pinnately compound, with five to seven small serrate leaflets.

Groundcover Is Carpeting For Landscapes

80912thumbIf shade trees are the ceilings, and hedges and shrubbery are the walls, then turf and other groundcover plants are the floors of some of our outdoor living spaces. Except for turf grasses, most groundcovers are not as useful as hardscapes like pavement and decking, but they perform other functions in areas that do not get such use. Groundcovers inhibit weeds, erosion, dust and mud.

Turf grasses used for lawn are of course the most popular groundcovers, and are a separate topic from other groundcover plants that grow over unused or lightly used ground. Because they need not tolerate traffic, these other groundcover plants need not be as resilient, or as flat as turf grasses are. They can be perennials, vines or low sprawling shrubbery. Most, but not all are evergreen.

Groundcover plants work something like mulch, although most want to be watered. They inhibit weed growth by occupying the space that weeds want. Many hold soil together with their roots. They may seem like they would compete with other plants, but groundcover plants insulate the soil, which makes it more comfortable for other plants. Many retain more moisture than they utilize.

Gazanias and iceplants are two of the most popular perennial groundcovers. They tend to replace their own growth regularly as old stems decompose below new growth that spreads over the top. They therefore do not get very deep. Some gazanias eventually develop bald spots. When they get trimmed around the edges, the scraps can be plugged back into bald spots as cuttings.

Cultivars of myoporum, cotoneaster, ceanothus, rosemary, juniper and other low and sprawling shrubbery that make good groundcover must not be confused with cultivars that grow as upright shrubbery or even trees. There is a big difference between creeping myoporum that stays less than a foot deep, and shrubby myoporum that can get almost thirty feet tall! Also, vines used as groundcover, like ivy and honeysuckle, should be maintained as such, and not allowed to climb trees, shrubbery and other landscape features, like vines naturally want to do.