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:


Finish Transplanting Before Winter Ends

90220thumbAutumn is for planting; and for good reasons. It is the beginning of dormancy for almost all plants, including evergreens. It precedes cool and rainy weather that inhibits desiccation until new roots are able to disperse sufficiently to sustain new plants. Some plants need to be in the garden in time for winter chill in order to initiate bloom. However, not everything should get planted in autumn.

Winter is the best season for some plants. Many summer blooming bulbs get planted in winter because they are likely to start growing prematurely and get damaged by frost if planted in autumn with spring bulbs. Some perennials that are slightly sensitive to frost may get planted after average frost season so that they can bulk up enough to be more resilient to frost by the following winter.

Besides new plants that are purchased from nurseries to be planted in the garden, there are plants that are already established in the garden that might need to get dug, divided, and then planted back into the garden, or shared with friends and neighbors. Some might need to be transplanted because they are crowded or in the way of something. These present a different set of variables.

Once divided and transplanted, grasses, New Zealand flax, lily-of-the-Nile, African iris and other stoloniferous perennials (that spread by creeping stems known as stolons) are more susceptible to rot than nursery grown plants, because so many of their roots get severed. Even if aggressively pruned while getting divided and transplanted, shrubby plants, like lilac and forsythia, are more susceptible to desiccation than nursery grown plants, simply because they lack sufficient roots.

If divided or transplanted through winter rather than autumn, plants get a few weeks of cool and rainy weather to settle and disperse their roots, but do not have enough time to rot or desiccate before the weather gets warm enough for them to resume growth and recover resiliency. Perennials that get cut back in the process spend less time looking shabby before new growth develops.


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.

Bulbs Are Not Finished Yet

90213thumbIt was easy to forget about spring bulbs after they went into the ground so unceremoniously last autumn. They got buried without so much as proper funerals. Cool season annuals got planted over the grave sites of some, just because bare soil is not much to look at. They stayed silent out in the garden through the cool and rainy winter weather. It might have seemed like the perfect crime.

Now they are back. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop might already be blooming. If not, they are at least extending their vertical foliage. Tulip will be right after them. Spring bulbs tend to bloom in very early spring or late winter here, just in time to remind us that there are even more bulbs and bulb like perennials to plant. This is the time of year for planting summer blooming bulbs.

As the name implies, summer blooming bulbs bloom later than spring blooming bulbs. They also get planted later. Unlike spring bulbs, they do not enjoy winter in the garden. (Most spring bulbs are chilled before sale, but would otherwise need winter chill to bloom in spring.) In fact, some summer bulbs are sensitive to frost if they start to grow too early. Types that bloom only once can be planted late to extend bloom, but will need to be watered more carefully after the rain stops.

Dahlia, canna and the old fashioned big white calla are the easiest of summer bulbs. Happy dahlias can last for years, and can be divided if they get big enough. Cannas are even more reliable and more prolific. Big white callas are slow to get started, but can be difficult to contain of once they get established. However, the smaller colorful types are quite demanding, and not so reliable.

Gladiolus and the various lilies are among the most impressive of summer bulbs, but they bloom only once annually, and if not grown in ideal conditions, are unlikely to bloom more than once ever. Lilies want to be watered and fertilized regularly, and grown in rich potting medium. Gladiolus bulbs are typically planted in groups, but only a few in each group will likely regenerate after bloom.

Plant Bare Root Plants Properly

90206thumbCompared to canned (potted) nursery stock, bare root plants have a few advantages. They are less expensive, easier to handle, more conducive to pruning into a desired form, and they disperse roots and get established more efficiently. One more advantage that is not often considered is that they are easier to install into the garden. For some, it is as simple as poking a stick in the mud.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of bare root plants is that they must be planted immediately, so that they get their roots soaked and settled into the ground into which they will disperse new roots. If planting must be delayed, roots can soak in a bucket of water for only a few days. Unless they are to live in big pots, potting for a season only delays and interferes with efficient root dispersion.

Only bare root trees that need root barriers (to divert roots from pavement) or mesh gopher baskets (to divert gophers from roots) will need planting holes that are as big as those for canned nursery stock. Otherwise, planting holes need be only as wide as the bare roots, and should be no deeper. If soil is loosened too deeply below, new plants will sink as loose soil settles. Graft unions must remain above grade.

Well flared roots can be spread over a cone of soil formed at the bottom of the planting hole. Conversely, cane berries, after their roots get loosened, can simply be dropped into slots formed by sticking a shovel into the ground and prying it back.

Soil amendments that are useful for providing a transition zone between potting media of canned nursery stock the surrounding soil are not so important with bare root stock. Bare root plants only want a bit of soil amendment if the soil is too sandy or too dense with clay. Otherwise, too much amendment can actually inhibit root dispersion by tempting roots to stay where the richest soil is.

Once planted, trees can be pruned as desired. Most come with superfluous stems to provide more options for pruning, and some stems will be damaged in transport. Fertilizer need not be applied until growth resumes in spring.

The Rose And Fall . . .

p90113Winter is for pruning. Any good native of the Santa Clara Valley knows that. It starts as soon as the first deciduous fruit trees defoliate and continues to the last minute rush to finish before the buds start to swell at the end of winter. It may seem like there would be no last minute rush now that all the orchards are gone, but there is so much in landscapes to prune that prioritizing and scheduling pruning takes a bit of effort. Just like we know that apples and pears can be pruned slightly later than apricots and prunes, in the landscape, we know that sycamores might be delayed until the birches are done. Naturally, I feel compelled to prune the flowering cherries and fosythias, but am almost content to wait until after they finish blooming in early spring. Of course, I cringe as I write this.
Roses are getting pruned now. I first finished a few scrawny hybrid tea roses, including a few ‘tree roses’. They really should be relocated to a sunnier spot, but not this year. Afterward, I did a row of climbing roses that are not exactly climbing the fence that they were planted against. They really should be moved too, but like the others, not this year. I still need to prune a bank covered with modern carpet roses. I am none too keen on them. Actually, I rather dislike them. However, of all the roses, they are the only ones that happen to be in the right situation, and are doing a nice job.
Just before I started with the first batch of hybrid tea roses, I pruned a single potted hybrid tea rose that is all alone on a deck across the street. I wanted to get it done when I thought about it so that I would not forget about it in the process of pruning everything else. It had bothered me for some time because it was so tall. I mean, I could not reach the top of it. The blooms up there were closer to upstairs windows than to anyone wanting to seem them from ground level. The supporting lower canes were bare of foliage, but well armed with nasty thorns. Honestly, I thought that the deck would have been more inviting without it.
Pruning it was rather simple; just three major cuts. Since the rose is where people mingle, I chopped the thorns just so that they are not so sharp. The remaining three canes were older than one year, but did not seem too terribly old. In fact, there was still a bud to cut back to on one of the canes. For the other two, I had to cut back to old petiole scars, expecting that dormant buds are still in there. That was about it.
The problem that I was not aware of is that the rose was left that tall intentionally because a former gardener liked it that way! Now I feel badly. I really thought that it had just been neglected. Like I mentioned, the canes did not seem to be several years old. They must have replaced older canes in just the last few years. Regardless, I can not put it back. In the partial shade there, it will probably grow back as tall within the year. I hope that the former gardener does not find out about it before then. I know that if someone did that to a roses that I had pruned in a specific manner, I would be really angry about it.p90113+

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+


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.

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.