Summer Is Not For Planting

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New plants are less reliant on irrigation if installed at the beginning of the rainy season.

Autumn is the time for planting. Cooling weather slows plants down so that they do not mind disruption so much. Increasing rain (hopefully) keeps the soil evenly moist while roots slowly disperse. The combination of cooling weather, increasing rain and shorter days keeps plants well hydrated so they can slowly ease into spring.

Why is this important now? Well, it probably is not important. It merely demonstrates why this is not the best time for planting. Only a few warm season annuals and vegetables get planted this time of year. Seeds for certain autumn vegetables get sown now. Otherwise, more substantial plants should wait until autumn if possible.

Mid summer in some ways is the opposite of autumn. While the weather is warm, plants are too active to be bothered. Even minor disruption can be stressful. Soil moisture provided by irrigation is often too irregular and unreliable for dispersion of many new roots. There is less time to recover from stress during shorter nights.

Smaller plants and seeds survive summer planting better than larger plants do. Seeds need to disperse all new roots anyway, so they  will adapt to what they get. They certainly need regular watering, but are quite talented at putting their roots wherever the moisture goes. With a bit more time, smaller plants will do the same.

Larger plants have more difficulty with the planting process because they need to disperse so many more roots to get established. When they get planted, all their roots are initially confined to the volume of media (potting soil) that they were grown in. They are susceptible to whatever happens within  that limited volume.
For example, a small plant in a four inch wide pot is initially confined to less than sixty-four cubic inches of soil. It can double its soil volume to one hundred forty-four cubic inches by merely dispersing roots less than one inch laterally. A tree in a 24-inch wide box needs to disperse roots ten inches laterally to do the same!
It would seem that drought tolerant plants would be less susceptible to the stress of planting in summer.

However, they are more sensitive because they are so reliant on extensive root dispersion. Until they disperse their roots, they actually need to be watered as frequently as other plants do.

Mild Weather Is Still Problematic

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Minimal frost delayed certain spring blooms.

It is amazing that so many orchards are so productive in California, and that so many similar orchards had formerly been productive in the urban areas in which so many of us now live. Nowadays, it takes so much work to care for just a few fruit trees in home gardens. Horticulture is not what it used to be.

Diseases and pests get transmitted all over the world at a rate unlike at any other time in history. It is just too easy to buy and sell infected plants online, and get them delivered without adequate inspection. Many varieties of plants that are so easily imported may not perform as reliably as the more traditional varieties.

Modern landscaping does not make fruit production any easier. Most deciduous fruit trees do not get pruned adequately or properly. Many get too much water. Almost all must live in crowded landscape conditions where diseases and pest proliferate. Sanitation (removal of infected plant parts) is rarely as efficient as it should be.

Then there is all this crazy weather! First, the winter does not get as cool as it should. Then, it does not get warm enough in spring. It is all so difficult to keep track of. Many plants do not know how to respond. Those that stay dormant through cool weather got an early start. Those that like warmth in spring started late.

The unfortunate deciduous fruit trees that need both a good chill through winter and nice warm spring weather are really confused. Early blooms were ruined by brief late frosts or brief rain showers. Some delayed blooms were not synchronized with pollinators. Some of the minimal fruit is developing slowly.

Even the fruitless or ‘flowering’ relatives of the deciduous fruit trees are annoyed by the weather. Many flowering cherry trees that should have bloomed profusely prior to foliation delayed bloom until lower foliage started to appear. However, both bloom and foliation are so slow and sporadic that upper stems stayed bare quite late.

Flowering crabapple trees, which generally bloom after flowering cherries, actually bloomed more reliably, and were not delayed as much. Hopefully, fruiting apple and pear trees, although late, will be more productive than so many of the cherry, apricot, plum, peach and nectarine trees will be this year.

When It Rains, It Pours

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Mudslide!

The only reason we developed a small vegetable garden here this year is that we have been unable to go to work for about a month. Without my second most time consuming employment, I had time to clear a small unused space (which was not nearly as simple as that sounds) and sow seed for vegetables. It was a late start a month ago, but not too late.

In fact, there was still time to do it before the last storm to go through. I know that sounds trivial, but as a Californian who is accustomed to gardening in a chaparral climate, and sometimes where there is no water available, planting prior to a storm ‘seems’ to be rather important. I know it is not. Water is available here. Otherwise, I would not grow vegetables.

Not only was there a storm, but there was a second storm later! Of course, it is not really that simple. The first light duty storm was nice, and soaked things sufficiently. Then the weather stayed strangely cool for this time of year. Nothing germinated. Then the second storm was brief but torrential enough to erode all of the recently sown seed right out of the new garden!

It was too comical for me to be too annoyed by it. I only needed to see what survived the erosion so that I could replace what did not. I almost replaced everything anyway, just because I was that certain that nothing survived.

Well, as it turned out, not much was missing! The garden got a slow start, and was delayed again by cool weather, but somehow seems to be recovering nicely. Even some of the very old seed that I did not expect to be viable has germinated.

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A late batch of radish somehow survived.

Now, I must go work in the garden.

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Late but ready to go.

Springtime On Time

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According to these maples, spring is right on time.

Seasons in the Santa Clara Valley are not very distinct. They are not much more distinct in the Santa Cruz Mountains above. Hot weather in summer does not last for more than a few days, and usually cools off somewhat at night. Winter is never very cold, with light snow rarely falling only on the tops of the highest peaks.

Some believe that summer is our only season, with a few days of ‘not summer’. I would say that it is more like springtime all the time, with a few warm days, a few cool days, and a few rainy days. In many ways, it is great for gardening. However, it can be limiting for species that prefer more warmth in summer, or a good chill in winter. It can also be rather boring.

The vast orchards that formerly occupied the Santa Clara Valley were fortunately satisfied with the mild climate here, and actually enjoyed it. They got just enough chill and just enough warmth, but just as importantly, they appreciated the aridity. Late rain and humidity can ruin the same sorts of fruits in other climates.

Even without much distinction between seasons, springtime in the Santa Clara Valley was spectacular before the orchards were exterminated. A long time ago, tourists came to see it like the fall color of New England. Many or most tourists witnessed it while the weather where they came from was more like late winter. Natives considered the timing to be right on schedule.

However, the schedule did not coincide with what we learned about seasons in kindergarten. We cut out colored leaves from construction paper in autumn, even though there was not much fall color. We cut out snowflakes from white paper in winter, even though most of us had never seen snow. By the time we started cutting out flowers, most spring bloom was already done.

Norway maples always seemed to know what time of year it was. Schwedler maple, which is a darkly bronzed cultivar of Norway maple, was a common street tree in the Santa Clara Valley back then, particularly in tract neighborhoods that were build in the middle of the 1950s. Some disliked how it stayed bare and seemed to be dead after other trees bloomed and foliated.

To some of us, the reddish new growth of the Schwedler maples was what let us know that it really was springtime. Of course, we were done with all our spring planting by then, as allowed by the local climates. Also, the bloomed out orchards were already foliating. The maples just let us know that winter was completely finished and would not be back for several months.

Five young feral Norway maples at work are doing that splendidly right now. They lack the bolder color of the Schwedler maples, but they make the same statement. The bloom of the flowering cherries is exquisite, but not as convincing as the foliation of the maples.

Mild Seasons

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These daisies are rarely without some degree of bloom.

There is not as much difference between the seasons here like there is in other climates. It might seem like we get only summer, with a briefly cooler and slightly rainy time of ‘not summer’. I can recognize the changing of the seasons because I am familiar with them. Those acquainted with more normal climate mind find our subdued seasons to be rather boring, and restrictive.

People from climates with more extreme weather and more pronounced seasons might not expect mild weather and mild climate to be restrictive or limiting. They tend to notice what grows here that would not survive out in gardens through colder winters, such as bougainvilleas, tropical hibiscus and so many of the popular succulents. Even more tropicals survive farther south.

What they do not notice are what does not do so well here. Although stone fruit does remarkably well here, and many apples and pears are more than adequately productive, there are many cultivars of apple and pear that prefer more chill than they could get here. Lilac gets sufficient chill to bloom well here, but not enough to bloom as splendidly as it does in the Upper Midwest.

For example, some might be impressed by the perennial daisies that bloom sporadically whenever they want to throughout the year here. These daisies take no time off for winter, and are rarely damaged by frost every few years or so. They are so rarely without bloom that it is not often possible to shear off deteriorating bloom without removing some of the unbloomed buds.

What goes unnoticed is the potentially subdued bloom of the forsythias, which are so reliably prolific where winters are cooler. Some are real duds this year, and all are blooming notably late. This is one of the consequences of a mild climate.

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Forsythia, with twigs that are still bare in the background, is not much to brag about.

Frost Is Now Old News

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Minor frost can cause major damage.

Frost was something of a nonissue for some of us this winter. For those of us in milder climates, in rarely is. Those who limit selection of what grows in their gardens to species that are resilient to frost need not be concerned with it. Those of us who enjoy gardening a bit too much are more likely to grow a few marginal species that would prefer to be somewhere with milder winter weather.

Protection from frost might have been a concern prior to the onset of cold weather. Then, there was more concern for the few plants that might have been damaged by frost. Grooming and pruning of damaged foliage and stems needed to be delayed until after the threat of subsequent frost. Now that it is so late in the season, subsequent frost is very unlikely. It is safe to clean up any mess.

Pruning and grooming of foliage and stems that were damaged by frost is delayed for two main reasons. Firstly, the damaged material, although unsightly, helps insulate undamaged foliage and stems below it from subsequent frost. Secondly, premature removal of damaged material stimulates premature development of new foliage and stems that are more sensitive to subsequent frost.

Not only is it now safe to prune and groom frost damaged plants, but such procedures should not be delayed while affected plants recover. The same frost damaged material that provided a bit of protective insulation earlier would now interfere with the healthy development of new stems and foliage. Pruning can now promote new growth that was preferably delayed through colder weather.

Because the weather has been so pleasantly mild for quite a while already, new growth may already be developing among some frost damaged plants. Damaged material should be removed as carefully as possible to limit damage to such new growth. Many perennials that were not damaged this year might be pruned as if they were, to remove tired old growth, and promote new growth.

Many of the dormant spores of fungal and bacterial pathogens that overwinter in old foliage will be removed as such foliage gets groomed away.

Blow Out

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Wind is messy!

While strong Santa Anna Winds were blowing through Los Angeles four hundred miles to the south, and Storm Ciara was arriving in Scotland and Norway, we were getting some remarkably strong winds of our own. They were not nearly as strong as winds that were causing so much damage in Europe, and involved no flooding rain, but they were dangerously messy nonetheless.

We live and work among dense forests of coastal redwood, the tallest tree species in the World. Beyond the upper edge of the redwood forests are more forests of huge Ponderosa pine. Huge Douglas fir are mixed throughout. Their understory includes trees that would be considered to be massive anywhere else, such as coast live oak, tanoak, Shreve oak, bay laurel and madrone.

Such big trees drop big limb, and in abundance. Furthermore, limbs that fall from such great heights are significantly more dangerous than those that fall from smaller trees that are closer to the ground. They gather major inertia on the way down. They do not necessarily fall straight down either, but can get blown significant distances to where falling limbs may not be expected.

While the winds were blowing through, I could hear crashing of falling limbs and entire trees from the mostly deciduous riparian forest outside. I know that many of the big cottonwoods, box elders, willows, alders and sycamores are deteriorating, but did not expect so many to be blown down while bare. I suspected damage would be worse among the bigger and evergreen trees.

The pile to the left in the picture above is just the debris that was collected last Monday (while I was conveniently not here to help). It is more spread out but at least twice as voluminous as the pile on the right, which is pruning debris that took me several days prior to the wind to collect. The green cargo containers in the background demonstrate how big the piles of debris are.

More debris was collected on Tuesday (while I was still doing other work). The mess was not the worst of it. The roofs of a few buildings were impaled by falling limbs. Some of the damage is significant. Fortunately, the only big trees that fell did so into forested areas where there are no buildings, and electrical service was disrupted for less than a day. No injuries were reported.

Daphne

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Bloom worthy of a Scooby Snack

Jeepers!! As Daphne Blake’s colleague, Fred Jones, might say, “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.” What got into this Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’?! It rarely performs so well here, particularly so soon after being planted into a new landscape. This particular specimen, and about three others nearby, were planted as they finished bloom less than a year ago.

Since their season began, I have been commenting to those who share pictures of theirs, that such healthy and prolifically blooming daphne is enviable to those of us who do not live within a climate that is favorable to such performance. I know that this diminutive floral truss is not exactly exemplary compared to those of other regions, but for this region, it is almost spectacular.

The aroma is exquisite! It is everything that the rest of us grow daphne for, and is enhanced by the delightful but unseasonably clear and warm weather. Surroundings forests dampened by rain almost a month ago maintain just enough humidity for the fragrance to disperse. If it were not such a distinct fragrance, I would be wondering where it is originating. It is so unexpected.

Those in other regions believe that we can grow a more extensive variety of species here where winters are relatively mild. For some, that might be true. However, there are many climactic factors that limit what can be grown in every region. Species that require sustained chill in winter are not very happy here. For daphne, minimal humidity might be what they dislike locally.

Perhaps daphne happens to be happy in the particular location, next to a stream that enhances humidity much of the time when there is not much breeze. Perhaps the weather happened to be be conducive to such a performance. Perhaps it will remain a mystery.

Six on Saturday: When It Rains, It Pours

 

The frequency and duration of rainy weather here is not very much more than in the rain shadow where the inland base of the Santa Cruz Mountains merges into the Santa Clara Valley. However, the volume is about triple! My former neighborhood in town just about fifteen miles away gets about one foot of rain annually. The average annual rainfall here is about three feet.

That extra two feet sometimes seems to fall all at once.

1. Rain got heavy enough for me to bother recording this first of six brief videos. I do not know why the lights upstairs were pulsating and blinking. The downspout seems to be jet propelled.

2. This was certainly more than I expected. Off to the left, there were only two sandbags to put in front of a doorway that is three sandbags wide. This was a major problem. I did not panic.

3. Now I panicked. I called for help, but my radio was too wet to operate. There was nothing anyone could do anyway; or so I thought. I stopped the camera and went upstairs to investigate.

4. Removal of debris from the grate over this drain fixed everything fast. This was more than I expected too. We all know that this drain is partially clogged. The water and hail was freezing!

5. Within a minute or so, the water drained away surprisingly efficiently, leaving this icy mess on the small patio between the two stairways. It was like a Slurpee mixed with redwood debris.

6. More of the grungy Slurpee remained on the lower patio outside the doorway that lacked adequate sandbags. Water barely crossed the threshold to dampen a few square inches of carpet.

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

P00101-1January 1, 2020! The first day of the Twenties!

The flora in our gardens north of the Tropics must think we are crazy for making such a fuss about it while they are trying to sleep. Even flora south of the tropics does not understand. All flora everywhere is more concerned with how the seasons change according to the position of the Earth around the Sun. Precise dates, times and numbers are meaningless.

It sort of seems odd to me that within each time zone, it is the same time and date both north and south of the Equator, but the seasons of each side are opposite. Today started in sparsely populated regions of the Pacific Ocean, worked its way through Australia earlier, and is somehow still the same ‘today’ that is here now. Yet it is winter here, and summer to the south.

Now, if January can be in the cool time of year here, and the warm time of year in Australia, it seems to me that winter could be both the cool season here, and the warm season in Australia. If the dates are the same, it seems like the seasons should be too. Alternatively, if the seasons are half a year early or late in opposite Hemispheres, it seems like dates should be too.

According to such logic, it could be either winter or July 1 in Australia and elsewhere south of the Equator right now! . . . But would that be July 1 of 2019 or 2021? Too many technicalities!

Well, it is more than the flora in the garden is concerned about anyway. It is winter here now, and summer south of the Equator. It is the beginning of January everywhere that the Gregorian calendar is used, north and south.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Note: ‘Horridculture’ will resume next Wednesday. It did not seem appropriate for the first day of 2020.P00101-2