Frost Is Now Old News

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

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.


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:


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.


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

Rain Shadow

P91222Hollywood is famous as the Cinema Capital of the World. Niles was its predecessor. Both are within regions of remarkably diverse scenery that is so important to cinema. Mountains, deserts, chaparrals, forests, lakes and big cities are conveniently nearby. There are not many places in the World with such a thorough mix of geography and climate. California really does have it all.

It is a challenge for gardening though. The stone fruits that grow so naturally in the Santa Clara Valley are not quite as productive just a few miles to the South in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The pears and apples that do so well in the Santa Cruz Mountains are not quite as happy in the Santa Clara Valley. Species that want a good chill in winter do not want to be in Los Angeles.

On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of Felton, a few days of rain filled the bin in the picture above. The rain continued just as long throughout the area, including the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the adjacent Santa Clara Valley. Although the duration of the rain was approximately the same, the volume of precipitation was very different.

The water in the bin is more than a foot deep. That is about the average annual rainfall for my former neighborhood at about this same elevation, but on the opposite and inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Storms must drop much of their moisture to get up and over, but are then able to retain much of the remaining moisture as they drop in elevation on the other side.

The drier inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and adjacent portion of the Santa Clara Valley are in what is known as a ‘rain shadow’.

Some Plants Need To Chill

41210thumbIt is easy to snivel about the weather when it gets uncomfortable for us. The rain gets too wet. The temperature gets too cool. Even here on the west coast, without the cold of Minnesota, the heat of Arizona, the humidity of Louisiana or the rain of the west coast of Washington, we tend to think about weather by limited human standards. What we fail to consider is that many other organisms rely on a variety of weather conditions for their survival.

Deciduous plants make it obvious that they know how to deal with cool winter weather. What is not so obvious that that many deciduous plants actually need specific wintry conditions to be convinced that it really is winter. If the weather does not get cool enough, or stay cool long enough, some plants do not go dormant long enough to get the rest that they need in order to perform adequately the following spring and summer.

For example, the reason that only a few of the many different varieties of apple can be grown locally is that most have chill requirements that exceed what they get here. A chill requirement is a specific duration of cool winter weather. Only a minority of all varieties were bred for their minimal chill requirements, so that they will produce reliably even where winters are innately mild.

Besides chill requirements, some seeds like to be soaked in moist soil before they germinate the following spring. This lets them know that it is raining, like it typically does in winter. Pecans, for example, can be soaked for a while inside before sowing, bur really prefer to be out in the garden through winter, where they can tell than rain water is actually flowing past them through the soil, and the microorganisms in the soil help to break down their shells.

It is all about timing. Chill requirements get apple trees to bloom in spring, only after they were convinced that it was already winter. If they were not so specific, they might bloom after a brief cool spell in autumn, leaving their blossoms or developing fruit vulnerable to later frost. Pecans germinate and grow only after the danger of frost, but before the weather gets too dry. If they start too early, they may not survive frost. If they start too late, they may desiccate through summer.

Rainy Season



As I mentioned this morning, the first storm since spring delivered a bit more than an inch and a half of rain before dawn on Wednesday, ending the fire season. The second storm is here right now. It is expected to be followed by a continuous series of storms that will provide rain through Monday, showers through Thursday, more rain on Friday, and showers . . . forever!

It is now the rainy season.

The video above shows what rain does. It gets things wet. It is, after all, composed of water. It falls mysteriously from the sky, which, as you can plainly see, is occupied only by a mostly monochromatic gray cloud cover. Seriously! There is nothing else up there. There is no one on the roof with a hose or anything of the sort. All that water just falls from the cloud cover above.

I could not get video of individual raindrops falling. They are too small and too fast. Only a few can be seen indirectly in the video, falling in front of the water cascading from the rusted out gutter. The spots on the video are raindrops that landed on the lens, so were no longer so animate. The cascading water is, of course, an accumulation of many raindrops that fell on the roof.

Besides ending the long fire season, rain also disrupts the slim fall color season, when foliage of certain deciduous trees turns color as the weather cools in autumn. There is not much to brag about anyway. Only a few native trees are moderately colorful. More colorful exotic trees are not very popular because they do not color as well as they do where autumn weather is cooler.P91130K

Before the rain, these birches were a nice clear yellow, but were already defoliating. Their fallen leaves were as pretty on the ground as they were in the trees, but unfortunately needed to be blown. By now, there is likely more on the ground than there is in the trees, but it will need to be blown too. At least it gets to stay on the open ground in the rest of the casual landscape.P91130K+

The only tulip tree here got cool enough to defoliate before the birches this year, but not quite cool enough to color well first. It is a grand tree nonetheless. We do not expect exemplary color in autumn in our splendidly mild climate anyway. The sweetgums will compensate. They are only beginning to color, and should hold some of their foliage rather well through the weather.P91130K++

Six on Saturday: First Storm


The first storm since spring came through Tuesday night. It was cool enough for a bit of snow on the summits of the Diablo Range, including Mount Hamilton, east of the Santa Clara Valley. The fire season is now over. More storms are forecast. More will continue through the remainder of winter and into spring. Even chaparral climates eventually get a seasonal ration of rain.

1. An inch and a half of rain is generous for a first storm. It is more than 10% of what my garden in town got annually. This side of the Santa Cruz Mountains gets about three times as much.P91130

2. My reflection in the rain caught in this ‘tote’ is not as artistic as it was in the green bucket last year. I tried. A flash would have added interest. I do not really know how the camera works.P91130+

3. Cyclamen, even the common florists’ type, deserve more than to be grown as cool season annuals, and then discarded in spring. I can rant about that later. For now, they sure are pretty.P91130++

4. After the rain, even a close up of this seriously abused juniper is pretty. It was recycled from one site into another, only to be removed again. It is now canned and waiting for a new home.P91130+++

5. Storms are messy. There was not much wind with this storm. Nonetheless, rotten limbs get heavier and softer as they get soaked by rain. This one broke apart more as I dragged it away.P91130++++

6. What is worse than runoff from the road washing away some of the yellow birch foliage dislodged by rain, is that it likely took away some of the amaryllis seed tossed out here earlier.P91130+++++

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

Almost RAIN!

P91123KThere have been only three hints at precipitation since last spring.

The (sideways) picture above shows the same dampened hood of a Chevrolet that provided the illustration for a post on another blog on September 30.

The picture below shows a similarly dampened but different windshield from that which provided the illustration for a post on November 16, regarding a bit of precipitation two days prior, on November 14.P91123K+

All four pictures here were actually taken just after a very brief rain shower that happened just after midnight on November 19. I tried to be artistic with them, but I am not a photographer.

The picture below demonstrates how difficult it is to hold the camera steady while getting a close up picture of rain dripping from a lumber rack at night. Do digital cameras automatically extend exposure to accommodate for the darkness? Is it blurred or merely ‘abstract’?P91123K++

The rain shower was very brief, lasting only a few minutes, but dropped dozens of individual raindrops, maybe more than a hundred! In fact, there were enough of them to collectively flow from one of the roofs, accumulate in a gutter, and flow down this downspout and onto the pavement below! (I really do not know why a diverter is needed on pavement, but there it is.)P91123K+++

I bet that if all the precipitation than fell from the sky during these last three incidents could have been collected, there would have been more than a pint! As excellent as it was, it was not even the best of it. For the first time since last spring, a storm is predicted to move in and start RAINING about noon on Tuesday, November 26! Showers should continue afterward.

The rainy season will likely begin with this first storm. That is how the weather typically operates here.