Six on Saturday: After The Storm


Contrary to popular belief, we do get a bit of wintry weather here. It is neither as cold nor as snowy as weather is in most other regions, but it gets sufficiently cool and rainy to let us know it is winter. In fact, here on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we get the little bit of extra weather that does not quite get over the Summit into the Santa Clara Valley. Clouds must unload slightly in order to gain sufficient altitude.

There have been more storms so far this winter than there normally are, and this last week was particularly stormy. It is both a lot of fun, and a lot of work. Storms are innately wet, as well as messy. By the time we catch up from one storm, another arrives. The first few storms are something to be celebrated. The last few start to be rather bothersome.

1. Do you see the well kept shop buildings on the left and right? Neither do I. This is what I found when I got to work on Thursday morning after the electricity was put out by a wicked storm. The lights in the middle are those of a car out on the road. I managed to set up the coffee ‘machine’ to make coffee for the crew when the electricity came back on. I also put the leftover coffee that someone made late the previous night into a pitcher, so that if the electricity did not come back on in time for the crew to make fresh coffee, the first few to arrive could warm up the leftover coffee in the . . . . . . microwave. Okay, perhaps that was not such a good idea. The coffee was just swell cold.P90216

2. Many trees fell during the last few storms. Many more trees lost significant limbs. This unfortunate coast live oak is not as bad as it looks. Once the stub of the fractured limb is removed, it should be just fine. We try to identify potentially hazardous trees, and either work with them to make them less hazardous, or remove them completely. It is nonetheless impossible to predict all hazards. I would have not considered this particular subject to be hazardous prior to the damage seen here.P90216+

3. Artificial poinsettias were removed about a month after Christmas. They are no longer seasonal. Besides, this is the stormy season here, when these artificial poinsettias would be likely to get blown about the neighborhood if left out. If they were to survive the storms, they would fade in sunnier weather of spring. But hey; why must I justify their removal? They are tacky! They will stay hanging in the barn until after next Thanksgiving.P90216++

4. Pruning scraps from zonal geraniums that needed to be pruned back earlier in winter were just too tempting. Rather than discard them, I processed them into cuttings. I tried to give most of them away, but ultimately needed to plug some back into the landscape. They get plugged this time of year so that they get soaked by the rain as they disperse roots. Many went into situations where they will be without automated irrigation. If planted too late, they would just desiccate when the rain stops. These are in a neat row along the base of a stone wall separating a few roses from the roadway, so they will get a bit of water from the roses. So far, they ALL are doing well. Propagation can be such a bad habit.P90216+++

5. This was NOT my idea. I am none too keen on Japanese maples. Yet, this one works very nicely for the particular landscape it is in. I am impressed by the vibrant red color because this particular tree is somewhat sheltered and partly shaded. (Exposure to sunlight and cool wintry weather enhances color.) It looks great among the redwoods.P90216++++

6. No, I do NOT grow ANY of the snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, or any of the hybrids. ‘Snowflakes’, Leucojum vernum, are only here because they naturalized on the riverbank, likely from seed or bulbs that washed in from a garden upriver. They are spreading quite nicely, and are pleased to bloom in this unirrigated spot after soaked by a few storms. I could have gotten a picture with more flowers in it, but most are already deteriorating. I got these as a closeup instead. I know they are not really snowdrops, but I can brag about them anyway.P90216+++++

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


Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.

San Lorenzo River

P90210It may not look like much, but before all the rain started, the San Lorenzo river was shallow enough here to walk across. The water was clear and barely flowing. It is impossible to guess how deep it is now. It looks like cafe au lait, and is certainly flowing better than it had been. The watershed is less than a hundred and fifty square miles, so all this water is not coming from very far away.
The first picture above, of the San Lorenzo River flowing south to Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay, was taken from the western of the two windows on the south side of the Felton Covered Bridge. Experts believe this to be the best of the four windows. My Mother has an old black and white picture of my older sister, my younger brother and I looking out from this window when were just little tykes. There was a railroad bridge out there a long time ago. Only concrete foundations remain.
The second picture below, of the San Lorenzo River flowing from the Santa Cruz Mountains beyond, was taken from the western of the two windows on the north side of the Felton Covered Bridge. The San Lorenzo River flows south on this side too!
It has been raining rather well here. Boulder Creek, which is at the far north end of the San Lorenzo Valley, gets more rain than most places in California, and far more than the rain shadow region on the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Local rain does nothing for the water supply of the rest of California, but is a good indication that snow is falling in the Sierra Nevada, where most of the water for much of the rest of California is stored in the snowpack.P90210+


IMG_8681What is this? It looks more like hail now. It was softer and squishier when it fell out of the sky only an hour or so before this picture was taken. There was a slight bit of snow up on Summit above Los Gatos. It will probably melt as quickly as the clouds clear to let the sunlight through. Snow sometimes appears on the higher peaks around the region, but is rare in lower elevations. Forty three years ago from today, on February 5 in 1976, snow fell in the Santa Clara Valley. It was about half an inch deep in some areas, an inch and a half in others, and was the last snow to fall there.

Electric Snow

P81230It was one of the more common types of snow in the Santa Clara Valley in the early 1970s.
In school, we made paper snow by folding paper squares in half and then into thirds (so that they were folded into sixths), and then cutting notches and slices out of them. They unfolded into the prettiest and laciest snowflakes!
In Westgate Mall, snow was blown by small fans about the new models of Singer sewing machines that were magically suspended in big acrylic spheres. We children could not get into the spheres, so were left wondering if the snow within was as cold and wet as we were told it was, and why it was necessary to demonstrate that the new sewing machines were resistant to weather. Our mother did her sewing inside.
We sort of suspected that the snow around the Nativity at Saint Thomas of Canterbury and other local parishes might be artificial because it looked like the stuffing of a pillow, which is something that all children seem to be familiar with. We said nothing about it, just in case our parents were not aware of the potential deception. However, it was rather disturbing to see so much of the same sort of snow at Christmas in the Park in San Jose. At that point, we accepted that either it must be genuine, or that we were committed to just going along with it.
Snow that was sprayed onto Christmas trees was rather interesting. It was neither wet nor cold, and sometimes it wasn’t even white. It could be pastel blue or pink, and was often sparkly with glitter! Wow!
Off in the distance, we could see snow on top of Mount Hamilton. Sometimes it was just on top. Sometimes, it was spread out from left to right, along the ridge. On rare occasion, snow appeared on the ridge of the East Hills, in front of the Diablo Range that Mount Hamilton is part of. We never saw who was up there folding and cutting all that snow, but they must have been VERY busy!
Snow on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains, right behind our part of the Santa Clara Valley, was closer to home, but did not look like much. The greenish blue of the forest was just a lighter hue of blue, with more mottling. It was exciting anyway.
Then, on February 5 in 1976, it actually SNOWED on the floor of the Santa Clara Valley!
It really was as awesome as snow was supposed to be. It was cold. It was wet. It was white. It was fun to wad up and throw at each other. It accumulated just like it would in a blizzard, and got almost an inch deep!
. . . but . . . was it really SNOW?P81230+

Windows Of Heaven

P81229KOr . . . a close encounter of the third kind. Let’s just go with the former rather than the latter.

I am no photographer. The pictures that I post are merely illustrations for articles from my gardening column, and other articles. This picture just happened to make itself available while I was getting the first of the six pictures of the earlier ‘Six on Saturday’ post. The location is nothing special. It is not really out in the forest like it seems to be. A lodge building of six suites is directly to the left. A big ‘housekeeping’ building is to the right. There is a road in the background above, as well as below, from where the picture was taken.

Even the flora in uninteresting. The most prominent straight trunk in the middle is that of a young Douglas fir. The slightly leaning trunk with upward reaching branches to the right is some sort of cypress. There are a few nice small coast live oaks to the left. Most of the other trees to the right are black locusts that I really should cut down. The small shoots in the foreground are watersprounts from black oak saplings that were already cut down. There are some California bay trees in there somewhere, probably off in the background to the very far left.

The deteriorated colony of oak root rot fungus, Armillaria mellea, that was described too graphically in the earlier post was located in the foreground of the lodge building to the left. . There was not much left of it then, so there would be even less now. . . fortunately.

Well, isn’t this way more information than necessary? I should have left this (too artistic for my ability) picture with just the title.


P80110We are now two days into it. Is it any different than three days ago, the last day of autumn? Not really. Even in harsher climates, the changes from one season to the next are gradual. Like the phases of the moon, the seasons are constantly phasing out of the previous, and into the next. The dates of the first and last days of each season, which are determined by the position of the Earth within its orbit around the sun, are technicalities.
Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are of course opposite of what they are here. That seems odd to me. The calendar is the same there as here. It seems obvious to me that winter and all seasons should be determined by the same dates there that they are determined by here. If winter began last Friday here, it should have done the same there, on the the same date. Longer days and warmer weather are consequences of location, south of the Equator. It is hard to imagine that January and February are summer there.
It also seems odd to me that all maps are oriented with North directed towards the top. Shouldn’t South be at the top South of the Equator? Must Australia be the ‘land down under’ to those who live there? Things would be so much simpler if Columbus has just stayed home, and the World was still flat.
Anyway, we do not get much winter here. The weather gets a bit cooler, and we will eventually get more rain. When I went to Oklahoma six years ago, I thought that I would finally get to experience a real winter, but we left just before New Year’s Day, while the weather was still somewhat mild. This little bit of snow was about all we got.

Red Sky At Morning

81222K.JPGRed sky at morning; sailor take warning. Stormy weather is to be expected.
Back before modern meteorology, there were all sorts of ways to predict the weather. Some of the ways to know what to expect in the short term were obvious, such as simply observing what was happening off in the distance in the direction from which the weather comes. For the experienced, it is easy enough to feel changes in humidity and temperature in an incoming breeze.
Halos around the moon or sun, as well as the color of the sky at sunrise, provided a bit of insight about what could be expected a bit farther out than the short term. Some techniques were not always accurate, and some were not accurate at all.
Flora and fauna are better at predicting the weather than we are. Horses, dogs and cats get extra fluffy if they expect the winter weather to be colder than it normally is, and they shed early if they expect an unusually warm summer. Sycamore trees are so responsive to the weather that what they are saying about it is not always obvious. Are they browning and defoliating just because the weather got too hot and arid late in summer, or because autumn is going to be extra cool? Experts could tell, but because of modern meteorology, there are not many experts left here.
This red sky over Mount Hermon occurred at sunrise last Sunday, just prior to the storm that finished early Monday morning, and provide picture #6 for my earlier Six on Saturday post. I tried to avoid the streetlamp at the bottom of the right edge. I did not see the bird when I took the picture. The tree to the left is a golden honeylocust.

Six on Saturday: Rain On My Parade


Actually, this rain ‘is’ the parade. In parts of California, we do not get much of it, so when rain happens, it is worth celebrating. Although this side of the Santa Cruz Mountains gets significantly more rainfall than the chaparral on the other side in the Santa Clara Valley, there are not many more rainy days here. What that means is that when it rains here, it does so with more volume than in the Santa Clara Valley.

Rain is not easy to get pictures of. The first four picture just show water from one of our first major storms of the season. The fifth pictures does not even show that much. The sixth picture is from the most recent storm that came through Sunday night and finished on Monday morning.

1. This waterfall was flowing both through and over the deteriorated and also clogged gutter on the roof of the shop building across the driveway from the gardening shop at work. The gutter is so deteriorated that I would have expected all of the water to just flow through it. Incidentally, the big roll-up door to the lower left of the picture happens to be that of the plumbing shop.P81222

2. This waterfall was flowing through a storm drain on the Mount Hermon Road bridge over Zayante Creek, East Zayante Road, and the railroad tracks in between them.. This section of Mount Hermon Road is known to some as ‘the Bypass’ because it bypassed the older Conference Drive in picture #5. What is not visible in this picture is that the upper part of the waterfall lands in the ditch on the side of East Zayante Road below. It might have seemed like a good idea when the bridge was built, but so much water falls from so high up that it erodes the ditch, and splatters gravel onto cars driving by. The lower part of the waterfall flows into a ditch on the edge of the railroad tracks, and then under the tracks towards picture #3 below.P81222+

3. This waterfall was flowing out into Zayante Creek from a culvert just downhill from the culvert under the railroad tracks mentioned in #2 above. It is the same water that was falling from the Mount Hermon Road bridge.P81222++

4. These two waterfalls were flowing from the roofs of the local supermarket and adjacent drug store and pharmacy, and onto the newsstand below. What is disturbing about this picture is these drains are merely back up drains that do not allow the flat roofs surrounded by parapet walls to fill with too much water if the main drains get clogged. The main drains are likely at the rear of the building where they can drain discretely and out of the way. These back up drains are on the front of the building so that they get noticed if they start to flow. All this water flowing out of them indicates that the main drains are clogged, and that the roofs are flooded.P81222+++

5. This is the Conference Drive bridge over Zayante Creek, East Zayante Road, and the railroad tracks in between them. It is the bridge that was bypassed by the Mount Hermon Road bridge in picture #2. The big greenwaste pile where I dump debris from the landscapes is directly below the southern edge of this bridge, which is to the left in this picture. You can not see it in this picture that was taken before the rain started, but a bit of water drains from this bridge onto the greenwaste pile. It is not much, but it is enough to be a bother when I am unloading debris in the rain. It falls from so high up, that even if I am avoiding the spot where the falling water lands, the wind can blow it all over me. From that height, any bit of road gravel that falls with it can give me quite a sting.P81222++++

6. The most recent storm finished early Monday morning, after dropping two and a half inches of rain.P81222+++++

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


P81125We do not get much frost here. This picture of the view through the windshield of one of the work vehicles was taken more than a week ago, while the humidity and the temperatures were still quite low. The sparse and angular pattern of the frost on the windshield is a result of the minimal humidity. There will be more frost later in winter, although there will not be nearly as much as most other climates get.
After a cool Monday morning last week, the weather got a bit warmer, or really just less cool. Rain started about midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, and continued through the day and into the night. More rain is predicted to start after noon next Tuesday, and continue through Thursday. There will be no frost during this weather pattern. Frost happens here only between rainy weather. One might think that since we do not get much rain, there would be plenty of time in between for frost. Really though, much of our winter weather is simply quite pleasant, neither rainy nor frosty.
As appealing as this might be to those in harsher climates, it has certain disadvantages.
So far, there was just enough chill to start defoliation of the black locusts and box elders in the background of the picture, and just enough rain to almost finish it. Trees that need more of a chill to start this process are not so impressed with the weather. Many of the crape myrtles have not even started to color yet. Cottonwoods are starting to defoliate, but are doing so while still only dingy greenish yellow because they did not get enough chill for better color.
Spring bulbs that got planted earlier or are being planted about now will bloom next spring because they were so optimal and primed to do so before they were planted. However, many will not get enough chill in their second winter to bloom again. Consequently, many of the bulbs that would be perennial in other climates are grown as expensive annuals here. Likewise, seed of certain specie that self sow may not get enough chill through winter to germinate next spring.
So again, what is comfortable for us is not so ideal for everything in the garden.