Winter Berries Attract Migrating Birds

English hawthorn is like deciduous firethorn.

Bloom and colorful foliage provide most of the color besides green within home gardens during spring and summer. Deciduous foliage becomes more colorful for autumn. Winter berries and a few other lingering fruits become more colorful as deciduous foliage sheds through winter. All this color adheres to precise schedules within a collective ecosystem.

Many plants exploit wildlife. It is how they compensate for their immobility. Many provide incentive for the services that they desire from the wildlife that they exploit. For example, after enticing pollinators with fragrance or color, flowers happily exchange extra pollen or nectar for pollination. Many plants provide edible fruits in exchange for seed distribution.

It is no coincidence that so many different winter berries ripen through autumn for winter. They provide sustenance to many migratory birds who rely on them. Overwintering birds who compete with migratory birds appreciate their efforts as well. Such winter berries are small but abundant, for ‘grab and go’ convenience. Bright color is the best advertisement.

Some people appreciate how winter berries attract birds and squirrels into their gardens. Some appreciate the seasonal color of such berries more than the wildlife. Unfortunately, wildlife decides the outcome, and such outcomes are variable. It is impossible to predict if berries will disappear as they ripen, or linger as they deteriorate through most of winter.

Firethorn is likely the most familiar of the winter berries here. It seems to be more prolific with its brilliant red berries than any other species. Some old fashioned cultivars produce bright orange or perhaps even bright yellow berries. Some sorts of cotoneaster resemble firethorn, but with subdued rusty or orangish red display for less refined woodsy gardens.

Toyon, or California holly, is most prolific with winter berries where it grows wildly without pruning. It gets big though. Real hollies, which are more popular in other regions, do not produce many berries locally, particularly since male pollinators are uncommon. English Hawthorn is a small deciduous tree that displays berries that resemble those of firethorn, but on bare stems.

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: Winter Lite

There is not much time to finish all of the winter chores. Deciduous plants defoliate a bit late and refoliate a bit early. They do not stay bare for long. Roses were a priority for this week. We managed to prune all of them, and relocate several of them as well. Their buds are plump but still dormant. Although the weather has been pleasantly mild for the past several days, it has been more seasonably cool and even frosty for night. Seriously, there was genuine frost and even ice! It would not impress those who are familiar with wintry weather, but it makes our work a bit less rushed. All that we need now is a bit more rain. 

1. Pruning roses is one of my favorite winter chores. It is almost as much fun as pruning fruit trees. Just a few are my favorite hybrid tea roses though. This is merely understock.

2. Carpet roses are the most common roses in our landscapes. I loathe them. However, I have been enjoying some of them. The smaller of two big colonies generated this debris.

3. Salvia greggii appeared mysteriously near some of the roses last year. Seriously, it is a mystery. I like it enough to layer the stems from the right for little new plants to the left.

4. White fir appeared mysteriously behind the Salvia greggii just recently. It lacks roots! Excellent! It can not damage pavement or septic systems! I should propagate more of it.

5. Angel’s trumpet has been confused since it arrived. It bloomed before developing new foliage last spring, stopped blooming before autumn, and now, is trying to bloom again!

6. Winter is famously mild here. Nonetheless, the weather sometimes gets cool and even frosty. On rare occasion, it gets cold enough for icicles. This appeared here on January 2. 

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

Summer Bulbs After Spring Bulbs

Summer bulbs start late in winter.

It was easy to bury spring bulbs so discourteously in shallow graves last autumn. None of them got proper funerals. Perhaps cool season annuals obscured their interment sites. No one needed to know they were there. It seemed like a perfect crime, until now. They are back like the undead. After all, they were not dead when interred. They were merely dormant, and likely plump and healthy.

Crocus, snowdrop, narcissus and some of the other related daffodil might already be blooming. Otherwise, their foliage is emerging above the soil. They do not necessarily wait for the soil to get warmer later in winter. Hyacinth and tulip will bloom a bit later. Delayed planting delays bloom, but only for the first season. Established spring bulbs from previous seasons will bloom as they like.

Spring bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, prefer early interment for a reason. They appreciate a good chill through winter. Although most get refrigerated artificially prior to sale, they certainly do not mind a bit more chill. Besides, they also appreciate early root dispersion, even while still dormant. They prefer to bloom early, but unfortunately, also finish bloom early.

Summer bulbs are very different. They go into the garden later because they do not require chill. Furthermore, many types are sensitive to minor frost if they begin to grow too early in winter. Since they start growth later than spring bulbs, summer bulbs generally bloom later. However, some bloom for extensive seasons. A few summer bulbs bloom from early summer until frost in late autumn.

Dahlia, canna and old fashioned white calla are the more reliable of summer bulbs to plant now. Old fashioned white calla may be rare in nurseries. Smaller, more colorful, but less vigorous callas are more popular. Such summer bulbs are more sustainable than spring bulbs, and can perform for many years. Gladiolus and various lily are spectacular summer bulbs, but bloom once annually.

Incidentally, unlike the spring bulbs, most summer bulbs are actually corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots.

Six on Saturday: (Two is Enough)

Six on Saturday is about gardening. It should therefore feature flowery pictures. I do sometimes try to comply, but often neglect to include flowery pictures. I included one for this week, and two more horticulturally oriented pictures. Of course, the most important picture is of Rhody; because everyone loves Rhody. The other two pictures are neither horticulturally oriented, nor relevant to Rhody. I just found them appealing.

1. Rhody is who you came here for. I did not even bother saving the best for last this time. Do you really need to see the other five? I am sorry that he does not cooperate for better pictures.

2. Prunus bloom provides a flowery picture. This and the picture of Rhody are all my Six on Saturday needs. I do not know what species this is. It was understock of a tree that got cut down.

3. Daffodil bloom after other narcissus, so typically get thrashed less by wintry weather. Each year is unique though. Paperwhite narcissus bloomed before stormy weather started this year.

4. Palms do not dominate all of the landscapes of California. Although they are common near the Coast of Southern California, they are uncommon, and look weird, here among the redwoods.

5. Lichens are not exactly relevant to horticulture. I just happened to notice how uniformly these lichens cover this fence. If they were greener, they might resemble a squarely shorn hedge.

6. Bean Creek flowing from the top of the picture into Zayante Creek is irrelevant to horticulture as well. I just happened to like this picture of this bit of the forest. Bean Creek flows through the Farm just a few miles away. Ferndell Creek is barely visible where it flows into the middle of this picture from an unseen waterfall to the right. Miley Cyrus was filmed there for ‘Malibu’.

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/

Winter Is Time For Pruning

Pomegranate trees appreciate major specialized pruning.

Plants are unable to migrate to warmer climates for winter like so many migratory birds do. They are immobile for their entire lives. Only potted plants can move to more sheltered situations when the weather gets too cool for them. Some get to live inside as houseplants. Otherwise, they all must contend with seasonally changing weather. Most are impressively efficient with how they do so.

Most that do not adapt efficiently to cool winter weather are tropical species. Tropicals that are native to high elevations can tolerate cold weather. However, many of the familiar tropical species are from low elevations where they never experience cold weather. Frost damages or kills them. Warm season annuals do not tolerate cool weather either. They just die at the end of their season.

Otherwise, almost all other plants go dormant through winter, at least to some degree. Even evergreen plants, which may not seem to go dormant, grow much slower during winter, or do not grow at all. Deciduous plants are much more obvious about their dormancy, because they defoliate. While bare, they are less susceptible to damage from wintry weather. Dormancy is like hibernation.

This is why winter is the best time for pruning most plants. While dormant, they are less susceptible to distress associated with pruning. Some plants expect some degree of damage from wintery weather during their dormancy anyway. They wake in spring, with no idea of what happened while they slept, and resume normal growth. Winter pruning conforms quite naturally to their life cycles.

There are, of course, a few exceptions. Citrus and avocado should not be pruned during winter. Such pruning stimulates new growth, which is sensitive to frost. Maple and birch should have been pruned earlier. They bleed annoyingly if pruned late into winter. Flowering trees that produce no fruit, such as flowering dogwood and flowering cherry, should be pruned after bloom, late in spring.

Deciduous fruiting trees, such as apricot, cherry, plum, peach, apple and pear, require specialized pruning during winter.

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.

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.

Redtwig Dogwood

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Colorful bark for the wintry landscape.

Most dogwoods are popular for spectacular white or pink spring bloom prior to foliation. Redtwig dogwood, Cornus sericea, is an odd one though. It is a ‘dog’wood that is appropriately grown for colorful twig ‘bark’. It blooms later than other dogwoods, and after foliation. The one to two inch wide trusses of tiny pale white flowers lack the flashy bracts that make other dogwoods so colorful.

Another difference is that, unlike more familiar dogwoods, redtwig dogwood naturally grows as a shrubby riparian thicket rather than as a small tree. Long limber branches can grow to more than fifteen feet high only by leaning into other trees or shrubbery. In home gardens, they typically get coppiced or pollarded just before foliating in spring, to develop twiggy growth for color next winter.

After a bit of autumn chill and defoliation, young stems of well exposed wild redtwig dogwood are a delightful glossy ruddy brown. Twigs of garden varieties are richer cinnamon red, rusty orange, soft yellow, orange blushed pale yellow, or yellowish green. Color is subdued by shade. Some cultivars have variegated foliage. Autumnal foliar color is more impressive in more severe climates.