Early February – What to Do in the Garden

Blireana_budsGiven the strange weather we’ve had so far this winter I shouldn’t be surprised that many of the plants and trees are showing signs of life. I see white blossoms on Flowering pears and the huge pink flowers of Saucer magnolia starting to open. My Blireana flowering plum is covered with rosy buds ready to scent the garden with fragrance when they open. This mild weather signals the birds to eat as much as they can in preparation for the breeding season. The other morning an Anna’s hummingbird landed on the mulched ground to pick up a spider or insect. Hummingbirds seek out small insects during the breeding season as they contain the protein needed to start a family. Spring is afoot to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes.

Seemed I had so much time to complete my winter-dormant season gardening chores a month ago. But time has a way of getting away from you and now I need to do some of the more important tasks in the next few weeks. I’m not a “weekend warrior” type, preferring to enjoy working in my garden so I’ll just do a little here and there until I’ve gotten my list checked off. Here are my priorities.

I used to live in mostly shade where invasive and noxious weeds were not a Hedge_parsley_weedproblem. I now live in more sun in Bonny Doon and I am engaged in a great battle. There exists here an annual weed that produces seeds covered with tiny burrs. They stick to your socks, your shoelaces, your dog’s fur, your pants, your gardening gloves- anything that brushes against them and they are nearly impossible to remove. It’s called Hedge parsley or Torilis arvensis and now is the time to control it. If you have this weed on your property pay attention to the following advice. It applies to most any annual weed you might need to get rid of.

My goal is to prevent the production of seed in this obnoxious weed. Hedge parsley can set flower umbels as early as late spring so I still have some time to get a handle on it before the dreaded spiny balls appear to ruin my clothes and the dog’s fur. I prefer to use non-chemical control methods. These are more time consuming but life’s a trade off the way I see it.

In larger areas where I see this weed has germinated I can cut the taproot with a hoe or spade 1-2” below the surface. The seedlings look like small carrots or parsley now. Do not rototill or turn the soil. This will just bring up more buried seed.

I can also pull the seedlings while the soil is moist if they are growing next to or within a perennial or shrub. If some still persist when the flower stalks start to lengthen but well before they have gone to seed, I’ll mow or weed wack them down. I may have to do this a time or two but I’m determined that this noxious weed will not rule my life and prevent me from wandering on my hillside come fall. There’s a saying about weeds- “One year’s seeding means seven years’ weeding”.

I also might try a homemade natural weed herbicide in a few areas. The recipe is 1/2 gallon vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons dish soap. Worth a try on this annual weed. In a nutshell, weeding is one of my top priorities.

Later mid to late February I’ll have other tasks to add to my list. Right now I’ll concentrate on pruning roses, hydrangeas, fuchsias, fruit, nut and shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis. Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage, artemisia and butterfly bush. You can cut back these plants close to the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Prune them lightly after blooming.

I’ll also wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. It’s been fairly mild at night lately but the next month or so can bring a cold snap.

I won’t prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.

As always spend as much time enjoying your garden as you can. Reward yourself for your efforts.

What Landscape Designers Grow in their own Gardens

alstroemeria_Inca-Ice.1600It probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that I have a lot of friends that are also landscape designers. We get together to talk plants, garden design challenges and plant problems while enjoying good food along with a little wine thrown in for good measure. Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of these friends and although I was only there briefly to pick up something I couldn’t help but ask about several of the beautiful plantain her own garden. Some of her favorites include those with interesting foliage and texture and that flower over a long season. Maybe some of these plant ideas will work in your own garden.

Being winter and all I was immediately drawn to the hundreds of soft apricot and creamy yellow flowers covering a 3 foot wide Peruvian Lily. This selection of alstroemeria, called Inca Ice, is much shorter and compact that the taller ones that can be somewhat floppy in the garden. Alstroemeria were named by Carl Linnaeus, often called the Father of Taxonomy, for his friend and student Klaus von Alstroemer. Native to South America, the summer growing types come from eastern Brazil while the winter growing plants are from central Chile.

Peruvian Lily spread slowly outward from rhizomes and grow in full to part sun. They are hardy to 15-20 degrees and can tolerate dry conditions although they look best with irrigation. The Inca series grows 2-3 ft tall and can be covered with flowers from spring to late fall or winter if the weather is mild. The flower stems are long enough for cutting. This variety also comes in light orchid, pale yellow and white with red and green markings. What’s not to love about this plant?

Tucked next to the blooming Inca Ice Peruvian Lily, a clump of bright, Festival_grass-leucodendron.1600burgundy red Festival grass complemented the soft yellow of a Leucodendron discolor and a variegated Flamingo Glow Beschorneria. I was not familiar with this variegated agave relative with its soft-tipped chartreuse striped leaves. I found out this beautiful plant is drought tolerant, hardy to 15 degrees and will bloom with 5 foot pink stalks with reddish pink bracts.

Other plants that boast more foliage color than flowers brought this winter garden to life. Several varieties of helleborus just starting to show pink, white and rose color were surrounded by the brilliant chartreuse-yellow foliage of sedum Angelina ground cover. A variegated Japanese Lily-of-the-Valley shrub grew nearby getting ready to bloom soon.

Beautiful bright pink, cream and green variegated Jester Leucodendron bordered the driveway. I’ve seen this plant also called Safari Sunshine in nurseries. With its smaller size of 4-5 feet this evergreen shrub has showy, rich red bracts that sit atop the branches now in late winter and lasting into spring. Drought tolerant like Safari Sunset and deer resistant, too, leaucodendron are hardier than other protea.

Every interesting garden has good bones. It has focal points, texture, repetition and unity among other elements. My friends garden is no exception. A lovely caramel colored New Zealand Wind Grass dominated another area allowing my eye to rest for a while. I wish they would quit renaming this plant that used to be stipa arundinacea but is now anemanthele lessoniana. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but the effect is beautiful in the garden. I’ve always called it Pheasant Tail grass but I could find no reference as to why this common name is used. Life used to be simple before DNA sequencing!

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what a landscape designer grows in her own garden.

Yosemite: Fire, Water, Renewal

Yosemite ValleyI spent my holiday in a most remarkable place. I drove through miles of the Stanislaus National Forest devastated by the Rim Fire a couple of years ago. It was the 3rd largest wildfire in California history. I played in the snow at Crane Flat before descending into Yosemite Valley where water flowed freely after several years of drought. Nature is renewing herself as she always has. At this time of year it’s especially relevant to look the process of rebuilding. Take a lesson from nature.

There is much controversy about the dams and reservoirs that supply Hetch Hetchy reservoirdrinking water. Should some, like the Hetch Hetchy reservoir that sits within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, be restored to the pristine valley that was there originally? It’s a complicated question, one that I pondered while hiking over the O’Shaughnessy Dam on the way to Wapama Falls. With a storm brewing I made my way along the rim of this breathtaking, glacier carved valley surrounded by towering granite cliffs much like Yosemite valley.

newt.1600Bright orange Sierra newts waddled across the trail looking for a crevice in a rock or log. Their skin secretes a toxin which is a hundred times more deadly than cyanide and is being studied at Stanford University as a pain medication. Under some burned Black Oaks, I found a lush stand of Tufted tufted rock ferns.1280Rock ferns described by John Muir when he hiked and camped in the area in 1873 as having “rare beauty”.

Hetch Hetchy is a lesson in the value of a watershed, this one being supported by the Upper Tuolumne River. With much of the forest and chaparral destroyed by the Rim fire the forest surrounding the reservoir is starting to come back with succession plants like the resprouting of California black oak, ceanothus and manzanita in the lower elevations and Ponderosa pine, dogwood and incense cedar in the higher areas.

Forest rejuvenation began immediately after the Rim fire went out. Native burned forestwood-boring beetles rapidly colonize burned areas while black-backed woodpeckers depend on them as a high-protein food source eating over 13,000 beetle larvae every year. Remote sensing satellite images indicate that virtually all the vegetation is dead on nearly 40% of the burned area. Chaparral and oaks will resprout but ecologist say it could take 30 to 50 years for the forest to reestablish itself. It scorched some of the last remaining old growth in the Stanislaus National Forest and 78,000 acres of Yosemite National Park.

Merced RiverRecent rains and snowfall have been welcome in all of California but it is especially important in a burned forest. Yosemite valley was spared the brunt of the fire but not the effects of the drought of the past several years. Water is flowing in the Merced river and the waterfalls are spectacular but the light dusting of snow on El Capitan, Half Dome and other famous peak are mostly picturesque. It’s the snowpack in the Sierra that provides so much of the drinking water for Californians and the snow has mostly been falling at the higher altitudes so far this season. Still the reservoir levels are increasing with each storm and if Mother Nature can keep up the good work between now and April we’ll be in better shape than the last couple of drought years.

The California Dept of Water Resources has published electronic readings of the snow survey which show that its water equivalent is only 54% of the average statewide so far. The winter’s first manual measurement of the snow pack is set for December 30th. They will publish the findings on their website. Reservoir levels and precipitation levels can also be found on the CDEC website.

We gardeners approach the New Year with optimism and hope. Here’s to 2015 and all that it brings.