Dog Days Of Summer Warmth

Every lawn has its dog days.

Summer began more than a week ago. Subsequently, the dog days of summer continue from the third of July to the eleventh of August. These forty dog days are the twenty days prior to and after the twenty-third of July. That is when the Sun aligns with Sirius, the Dog Star of the constellation of Canis Major, or ‘the Great Dog’. Dogs are actually uninvolved.

Nonetheless, dog days actually are a time for dogs to languish through much of the most unpleasantly warm weather of summer. Although local climates are generally mild, warm weather is not rare. It merely seems to be less oppressive than in other climates because of less humidity, and perhaps more of a breeze. Coastal influence is a major advantage.

Dogs drink more water during the dog days of summer because they lose moisture, with warmth, while panting. Vegetation also needs more than typical quantities of moisture to compensate for increasing evaporation from foliar surfaces. Aridity and any wind, both of which render warmth more comfortable for dogs and people, increase such evaporation.

Also, for most exotic (nonnative) vegetation, regular watering helps to sustain growth that warmth stimulates. Lily of the Nile can likely get enough moisture through the local rainy season to survive through the dry season. However, it is healthier and more appealing if occasionally watered to sustain its most vigorous growth during the dog days of summer.

Many plants are native to climates that supply rain in conjunction with warmth. They rely on moisture for normal growth. Various bananas, canna, angel’s trumpet and giant bird of Paradise grow very vigorously with sufficient moisture. Unfortunately though, insufficient moisture is very distressing to them. Drought tolerant species have a distinct advantage.

Turf, bedding plants and vegetable gardens need abundant water during the dog days of summer. Although some can survive with less than others, none are exempt. Most potted plants, especially those in hanging pots, are likewise dependent on systematic watering. Even if the weather is too warm to enjoy other gardening, watering can not be neglected.

Arid Climates Can Be Challenging

Some plants shrivel in arid warmth.

‘Mediterranean’ translates as an adjective that describes being at the middle of the Earth. Those who inhabited that region many centuries ago considered the Mediterranean Sea to be central to their World. That was long ago and far away. Nonetheless, climates here and now are somehow Mediterranean. Maybe semi arid climates of Italy are Californian.

Mediterranean climates are temperately warm with dry weather through summer. Rain is almost exclusive to a rainy season between autumn and spring. Although rain can briefly get abundant during the rainy season, the average annual rainfall is modest. Humidity is minimal for much of the time. Arid warmth is more comfortable than rarely humid warmth.

Desert climates accumulate less than ten inches of rain annually. Local climates receive more than fifteen inches of rain annually. They are therefore not sufficiently arid to qualify as desert climates. Technically, they are only semi arid chaparral climates. This climactic designation is perhaps more appropriate than the regional designation of Mediterranean.

Native plants and plants that are native to other chaparral climates are naturally pleased with the local climate. However, some initiate at least partial dormancy to survive through the long and arid summers. They may bloom early, but then partially defoliate for several months. Some delay dormancy if watered. A few dislike watering. It is unnatural for them.

Most plants in home gardens are not native to chaparral climates. They require watering to compensate for aridity during summer. Minimal humidity accelerates evaporation from foliar surfaces, which increases the demand for moisture. In conjunction with warmth and wind, aridity can desiccate foliage. Like people and pets, plants must maintain hydration.

Humid warmth that is less comfortable for people and pets is more comfortable for plants than arid warmth is. Humidity inhibits evaporation from foliar surfaces so plants consume less moisture. Incidentally, most pathogens, such as fungal diseases, bacterial diseases and most insects, also prefer warm humidity. People and pets seem to be in the minority.

Frosted Foliage Is Ugly Foliage

Frosted foliage can be removed now.

Weather is variable everywhere. Climates and seasons are imprecisely regulating. They merely define predictable ranges of the elements of weather, such as temperature, wind, humidity, precipitation and cloudiness. As unusual as weather sometimes seems to be, it generally conforms. Winter weather is mild here, but sometimes leave vegetation frosted. 

Frost was sneaky this winter, by occurring during nights between pleasantly warm days. All elements of the weather were within ranges that are normal for local climate, but their chronology was deceptive. Frost seemed unlikely after such springlike daytime weather. Some foliage was frosted only because protection from frost seemed to be unnecessary.

Frost is now unlikely for most local climates so late in the season. Only climates that are at significant elevation or significantly inland might still experience frost. Coastal and low elevation climates are generally past their last frost dates. Some climates experience no frost at all. Except for within the coolest situations, no more vegetation should be frosted.

Therefore, it is generally safe to prune and groom away unsightly frosted vegetation. It is no longer helpful to insulate undamaged vegetation below. Any new growth that pruning of this nature may stimulate or expose should be safe from frost. Within climates that lack frost, vegetation that gets shabby from chill might also appreciate pruning and grooming.

Pruning and grooming of frosted vegetation can be challenging. Many frosted plants are already actively growing in response to warmer weather. Their new growth mingles with their damaged growth that must be removed. Efficient separation of the two requires a bit of effort and persistence. Fresh and tender new growth is innately vulnerable to damage. 

For example, small new shoots of angel’s trumpet break away very easily if bulky frosted stems fall onto or through them in the process of removal. New shoots of several types of canna emerge from the soil among old shoots while it is too early to cut the old shoots to the ground. Grooming is easier where it can happen earlier, or for cannas that grow later. 

Warmth Accelerates Early Spring Bloom

Deciduous fruit trees should remain dormant.

Unseasonable warmth and dryness has been great this winter. Such weather is often an advantage of this locally mild climate. Chill never gets too harsh. Rain does not continue for too long. However, even by local standards, the weather has been unusually dry and warm for quite a while. Although appealing to people, it can get disruptive horticulturally.

Obviously, a lack of rain eventually becomes a lack of moisture. Some evergreen plants, potted plants, ground cover plants and lawns may already need watering. Although rain, or lack thereof, does not affect availability of water from municipal sources, it determines when irrigation with such water becomes necessary. It will be sooner than later this year.

Obviously, warmth accelerates this process. It draws moisture both from intact evergreen foliage and the soil below. (Dormant deciduous plants still do not lose as much moisture without foliage.) Unseasonable aridity (minimal humidity) and wind intensify the effect of unseasonable warmth. Desiccation is not the worst consequence of the weather though.

Unseasonable or premature warmth might stimulate premature spring bloom and growth. This can be very disruptive for plants that rely on sustained chill to maintain their minimal dormancy requirements. Peonies that are marginal where they normally experience their minimal chill requirements might be dissatisfied with inadequate chill through this winter. 

Even for plants that do not require much or any chill, premature bloom can be vulnerable to normal aspects of wintry weather if and when it resumes. Flowering cherry trees might bloom during sustained warmth. Such bloom would be quite susceptible to damage from resuming winter rain. Resumed chill might stall premature magnolia bloom until it molds. 

Prematurely developing fruit, accelerated by unseasonable warmth, is also vulnerable to resumption of wintry weather. Heavy rain, which is still possible through the remainder of winter, can dislodge freshly pollinated flowers, or small fruit as it begins to develop. More developed fruit is vulnerable to rot or mold during cool and damp weather prior to spring.

Six on Saturday: Isolation

I seem to have flunked my Covid test. Nonetheless, I felt that I was sick with ‘something’ that, regardless of how minor, should not be shared. I would have ignored it a few years ago. That is no longer an option. I isolated at home for the past week, avoided work, and did not venture out much. Consequently, I did not take pictures for this Six on Saturday. Half were taken here at the last minute. Half were taken prior to last week.

1. Esperanza and poinciana (pride of Barbados) seed from Crazy Green Thumbs got here a month ago. Sowing is delayed for frost. I am too ashamed to say what happened to the esperanza seed from The Shrub Queen earlier. I will explain when I sow these after frost. 

2. Pineapple sage grew from five cuttings on a windowsill right in the middle of winter. I had no plan for them when their original stem got in my way at an ATM. It needed to go. 

3. Hottentot fig, which is also known as common freeway iceplant, gets no respect. I was pleased to see it mixing with other succulents for a planter box in town earlier last week.

4. Narcissus bloomed at about the same time that I saw the Hottentot fig in town. It was in our landscapes though. It brings back childhood memories of summering in Montara. 

5. Mistletoe is making a comeback, after an unexplained decline a few years ago. I really wanted to show the unseasonably clear blue sky, but this seemed to be more interesting.

6. This is how the weather should behave at this time of year. There has been no rain for a month or so. It is quite dry. I believe that I recorded this video on Christmas morning.

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/

Frost Damage Is Not Cool

Frost damage is a cold reality.

Frost happens. It may not happen every winter. It may not happen everywhere. For a few of the mildest climates, it may not be a major concern. For some climates though, it might have potential to cause significant problems. The best means to avert frost damage is to avoid plants that are vulnerable to a degree of frost that is normal for a particular climate.

Of course, that is not as simple as it sounds. Even in mild climates, angel’s trumpet might get shabby from chill that is not cold enough for frost. Where weather gets cooler, familiar plants such as bougainvillea, avocado, lemon, fuchsia and pelargonium may experience frost damage. Such plants necessitate certain precautions, and must assume innate risk. 

Some plants that are susceptible to frost damage can live in portable pots that can move to sheltered situations prior to frosty weather. Some might be houseplants that live in the garden for part of the year, but come inside at least for winter. Eaves, particularly if above walls of heated buildings, may be adequate protection for marginally susceptible plants.

Plants that are susceptible to frost damage, but live in the ground or are too big to move, may need temporary protection from frost. Such protection might consist of tarps, burlap, old sheets, plastic trash bags or cardboard, suspended above by stakes and string. Thin materials, such as sheets or trash bags, can freeze through, so should not touch foliage.

Protective tenting materials should not remain over sensitive foliage for too long. Ideally, they should be in place immediately prior to frost, and then gone immediately after. Since frost occurs at night here, protection is useful only overnight. During daytime, it obstructs sunlight, but collects heat to stimulate new growth that is more sensitive to frost damage.

Many plants are too big to protect. Fortunately, bigger plants are less susceptible to frost damage than smaller plants. If possible, outer foliage that succumbs should remain until the local last frost date. Although unsightly, it shelters inner growth. Moreover, premature removal of frost damage stimulates new growth that is even more susceptible to subsequent frost damage.

Frost Is Different From Chill

Frost has already stricken some regions.

‘Chill’ could almost be a pleasant euphemism for ‘frost’. Both words describe cool or cold weather that occurs during winter. The obvious difference is that one is good, and one is bad. Chill is a minimum duration of cool weather that some plants require through winter to maintain their schedules. Frost is weather that is cool enough to damage some plants. 

This technical difference is that chill is at or below forty-five degrees Fahrenheit (≤45°F), and frost is at or below thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit (≤32°F). That is a difference of only thirteen degrees Fahrenheit (13°F), just above the freezing temperature of water. Climate and weather are simply not cooperative enough to comply to such precise technicalities.

Climates that provide sufficient chill for many plants that require it are also likely to inflict frost on occasion. Where chill is sufficient for most plants that need it, frost is likely much too severe for plants that are sensitive to it. Climates that lack frost are unlikely to provide enough chill for plants that need just a bit. High chill apples and oranges should not mix.

Of course, just as various chill dependent plants require various degrees of chill, various frost sensitive plants tolerate various degrees of frost. Some orange cultivars can survive frost as cold as twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit (25°F) within climates that low chill apple cultivars are happy with. Angel’s trumpet though, succumbs as soon as ice crystals form. 

It is helpful to know which plants are sensitive to frost, even in frostless climates. Tropical plants might get rather pallid when the weather is too cool for too long, even if frost is not a direct threat. Potted plants are more susceptible to frost damage than they would be in the ground, but can migrate to sheltered situations. Some can be temporary houseplants. 

Frost naturally limits the selection of plants. Various tropical plants that are appropriate to frostless climates are not appropriate for climates with harsh winter weather. That can be confusing with so many distinct climates within such minimal proximity. Coastal, inland, mountain, and all climates are so very different from each other.

Chill Helps Plants Distinguish Seasons

Spring bulbs know what chill means.

The Santa Clara Valley was formerly famous for stone fruit orchards. The San Fernando Valley was formerly famous for citrus orchards. The Wenatchee Region of Washington is still famous for apple orchards. Many variables influence which agricultural commodities grow or grew in each region. Of these, one of the more obvious is temperature and ‘chill’. 

Citrus could not be productive in the Wenatchee Region because it could not survive the chill of winter there. Although productive in home gardens of the Santa Clara Valley, it is not quite as productive as it is where winter is warmer in the San Fernando Valley. Citrus appreciates warmth but not chill. Many tropical and subtropical plants feel the same way. 

However, many of the numerous cultivars of apple that are so famously productive in the Wenatchee Region would be unproductive in the Santa Clara Valley. Only a scant few of these might produce relatively meagerly in the San Fernando Valley. Unlike citrus, which dislike chill, apple trees need chill for production. Some cultivars need more than others.

Chill regulates the schedules of many plants that are originally endemic to climates with cool winters. It confirms the occurrence of winter, which is a convenient time to finish one annual cycle and begin another. Some plants require only a minimal chill. Those that are from climates with harsh winters require coercion by more significant and sustained chill.  

One of the primary reasons that spring bulbs are available for planting early in autumn is that some benefit from spending winter in a cool and damp garden. Although, most bulbs are chilled prior to marketing. Some previously chilled spring bulbs bloom splendidly for their first season, but then bloom unsatisfactorily if chill is inadequate for them afterward.

Most plants that need more chill than they can get locally are simply not available locally. Some are available online though. A few locally popular plants that are marginal for mild climates get confused by the seasons. This is why some flowers such as torch lily, bloom randomly or out of season. Daphne and some late winter flowers may be blooming now, and could get damaged by frost later.

Plants Know What Time It Is

Deciduous trees will eventually begin to defoliate.

Even without significant cool weather, the garden knows that it is now autumn. Most of the late summer blooming flowers are finishing their last bloom phases. Leaves of some of the deciduous trees, shrubs and vines are changing color, and some are already falling. Perennials that are dormant through winter are starting to deteriorate.

One of the several difficulties of living in a climate with so few difficulties is that autumn and winter weather is so very mild. Just as so many warm season annuals and vegetables want to continue to perform when it is time for them to relinquish their space to cool season annuals and vegetables, many other plants that should go dormant in autumn really want to stay awake as long as they can. Some semi-deciduous perennials even start to regenerate new growth before they shed their old growth.

Where winters are cooler, such plants generally shed the growth that developed in the previous year; in other words, they die back. They then stay dormant through the coolest part of winter, to break dormancy and regenerate late in winter or early in spring.

Beard tongue (Penstemon) can really look bad as the last flower spikes deteriorate, and the foliage gets spotty and grungy. It will be tempting to cut them back early. If possible, it is better to prune off only the deteriorating flower spikes, but wait until later in winter for major pruning. Premature pruning stimulates premature development of new growth that does not mature as well or as fast through winter as it would in spring. Such growth can be discolored, sparse and less vigorous until it gets obscured by later growth.

Marguerite daisy, ginger, canna, some salvias, most begonias, the various pelargoniums and all sorts of other perennials will likewise seem to be rather tired this time of year and through winter, but do not necessarily need to be pruned back just yet. Simply plucking or shearing off deteriorating flowers should be enough for now. Ginger and canna should not need to be pruned back until the foliage deteriorates enough to be almost unsightly. Begonias and pelargoniums, particularly common zonal geraniums, will be better insulated from potential frost damage through winter, and may not produce so much sensitive new growth if not pruned early.

Cooler Weather Is Slower Weather

Cooling weather can damage new growth.

Weather is not quite as warm as it had been. Warm days do not last quite as long as they did earlier in summer. Afterward, the longer nights get a bit cooler. Technically, autumn is only a few days from now. Although seasonal changes are mild, and a bit later here than in other regions, they eventually catch up. Plant activity has already been getting slower.

Seasonal changes keep gardening interesting. Plants that are now growing slower than earlier may need less attention. However, some need more attention, precisely because they are growing slower. Some of the work that was so important through summer should conclude until spring. Some of the work that will be important through winter begins now. 

Although evergreen, photinia and pittosporum hedges do not do much between now and next spring. If shorn too late, new growth develops slowly, and may become shabby as a result of cooler and rainier weather later. Late pruning of citrus stimulates vigorous newer growth that may be sensitive to frost through winter. Lemons are particularly susceptible.

Conversely, dormant pruning can begin as deciduous foliage starts to fall. Although most roses and fruit trees supposedly prefer to wait until winter, they may soon be too dormant to notice if pruning is a bit premature. This is partly why autumn is the season of planting. Mostly dormant plants are more resilient to discomforts than they would be while awake.

New Zealand flax, lily of the Nile, African iris and other rugged perennials are conducive to division now. They will soon be about as dormant as they get, but will want to disperse roots for winter anyway. They resume growth before winter ends, so want to be ready for it. Once rainier and cooler weather resumes, they will need no watering until next spring. 

Fertilizer should be passe soon also. Most plants consume less nutrients through cooler weather. Besides, many nutrients are less soluble, and therefore less available to plants while the weather is cool. Turf, cool season vegetables, cool season annuals, and some small palms are a few exceptions that could benefit from minor applications of fertilizers.