Category Archives: weather

Precipitation: Subtle and Uncertain

fogWeather shapes our lives. We celebrate when the weather is good although that might mean mild and sunny for the soccer game or a rainy day when we desperately need it. We watch the Weather Channel forecast and the satellite image for what’s headed our way. Our climate is changing but it’s the seasonal weather that gets out attention.

Seems like we’ve had quite a few heat waves so far this year and it’s only mid-summer. Recently the temps soared to the high 90’s and low 100’s in some places and remained high even at night. The next day brought fog so thick it dripped from the trees. I could almost hear the trees absorbing the moisture. We know that redwoods thrive along the coast because of the fog. Have you ever wondered how much water a tree can get from this source?

Fog drip is precipitation that forms when fog droplets condense on the needles or leaves of trees. Redwoods especially are extremely efficient producers of fog drip but other conifers like Douglas fir and pines can collect quite a bit as do large madrone leaves. According to Dr. Todd Dawson, author of “Redwood” by the National Park Service, “A relatively small 100 foot tall redwood can gather the equivalent of four inches of rain in a single evening.”

Dawson’s studies have found that Doug firs along our coast produced anywhere from 7-27 inches of fog drip each year. He measured the fog drip below a single tanoak at a whopping 59 inches of precipitation along the Northern California coast. This summer moisture can provide as much as half the water coming into a forest for over a year. Trees can absorb a small amount of water through their needles and leaves, too. Every little bit helps in our summer dry climate.

Because of the water that accumulates below the trees many plants like our native Western Sword fern, the small Epipactis orchid and Phantom orchid are found in these unique conditions.

Fog drip occurs every summer. Ask Mark Twain said or whoever really penned the saying, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”.

But what about this upcoming winter’s rainfall forecast? What’s the latest on our chances of El Nino coming to visit and bringing some nice soaking rainfall with it?

According to the National Weather Service at NOAA our hopes are dimming but not altogether gone that the drought will be eased with this winter’s rain. What started out as much warmer than normal Pacific Ocean temperatures last May indicating a strong El Nino effect has not changed much since. The Weather Service Center is still predicting that sea surface temperatures will be warmer than usual – the phenomenon known as El Nino-but the effect will be only “weak to moderate”.

That’s because the Pacific Ocean temperatures near the International Date Line have not continued to rise since earlier this year when they were well about average. While strong El Nino weather patterns usually create more rain for California, weaker El Nino”s typically don’t bring more rains to the region.

The Center said that there is now a 70% chance El Nino will develop by the end of the summer and an 80% chance that one will develop by the early winter. Unfortunately, Northern California isn’t likely to get a bump with a moderate event but Southern California just may benefit anyway.

Hopefully, we’ll be on the winning side of these forecasts. Water conservation will always be a part of our lives. Start planning now the changes you want to make in your garden this fall.

Precipitation: Subtle and Uncertain

fogWeather shapes our lives. We celebrate when the weather is good although that might mean mild and sunny for the soccer game or a rainy day when we desperately need it. We watch the Weather Channel forecast and the satellite image for what’s headed our way. Our climate is changing but it’s the seasonal weather that gets out attention.

Seems like we’ve had quite a few heat waves so far this year and it’s only mid-summer. Recently the temps soared to the high 90’s and low 100’s in some places and remained high even at night. The next day brought fog so thick it dripped from the trees. I could almost hear the trees absorbing the moisture. We know that redwoods thrive along the coast because of the fog. Have you ever wondered how much water a tree can get from this source?

Fog drip is precipitation that forms when fog droplets condense on the needles or leaves of trees. Redwoods especially are extremely efficient producers of fog drip but other conifers like Douglas fir and pines can collect quite a bit as do large madrone leaves. According to Dr. Todd Dawson, author of “Redwood” by the National Park Service, “A relatively small 100 foot tall redwood can gather the equivalent of four inches of rain in a single evening.”

Dawson’s studies have found that Doug firs along our coast produced anywhere from 7-27 inches of fog drip each year. He measured the fog drip below a single tanoak at a whopping 59 inches of precipitation along the Northern California coast. This summer moisture can provide as much as half the water coming into a forest for over a year. Trees can absorb a small amount of water through their needles and leaves, too. Every little bit helps in our summer dry climate.

Because of the water that accumulates below the trees many plants like our native Western Sword fern, the small Epipactis orchid and Phantom orchid are found in these unique conditions.

Fog drip occurs every summer. Ask Mark Twain said or whoever really penned the saying, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”.

But what about this upcoming winter’s rainfall forecast? What’s the latest on our chances of El Nino coming to visit and bringing some nice soaking rainfall with it?

According to the National Weather Service at NOAA our hopes are dimming but not altogether gone that the drought will be eased with this winter’s rain. What started out as much warmer than normal Pacific Ocean temperatures last May indicating a strong El Nino effect has not changed much since. The Weather Service Center is still predicting that sea surface temperatures will be warmer than usual – the phenomenon known as El Nino-but the effect will be only “weak to moderate”.

That’s because the Pacific Ocean temperatures near the International Date Line have not continued to rise since earlier this year when they were well about average. While strong El Nino weather patterns usually create more rain for California, weaker El Nino”s typically don’t bring more rains to the region.

The Center said that there is now a 70% chance El Nino will develop by the end of the summer and an 80% chance that one will develop by the early winter. Unfortunately, Northern California isn’t likely to get a bump with a moderate event but Southern California just may benefit anyway.

Hopefully, we’ll be on the winning side of these forecasts. Water conservation will always be a part of our lives. Start planning now the changes you want to make in your garden this fall.

Spring Tasks for Santa Cruz Mountain Gardeners

tulips4You know spring is here when bleeding hearts and tulips are in full bloom. When baseball season begins and song birds start their families. Can you imagine our ground frozen 30″ down like it is in Chicago’s Wrigley Field? My heart goes out to those gardeners still dreaming over seed catalogs. Just yesterday I was in a rose garden in Scotts Valley. The Double Delight roses had already started to open and the fragrance was lovely. All of the roses were lush, healthy and full of buds. Just like all your plants should be. If you haven’t gotten to the following garden tasks now’s the time so your garden this year can be beautiful and use less water.

* Check drip systems for leaks or emitters clogged by dirt or earwigs. Flush sediment from filters and check screens for algae. You may need to add emitters if plants have grown significantly and move them farther away from the crown of the plant and out to the feeder roots under the canopy.

* Spread fresh compost or bark mulch around all your plants. Good soil is the secret bleeding_heartsto successful gardening. The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil and it will feed the plant. Remember that all gardening used to be organic. Layer 2-3″ of compost or mulch on top of the soil and let it slowly decompose and filter down into the earth. Bark nuggets and shredded bark do not increase your soil’s fertility like compost of bark chips do.

* Transplant if you need to move any plants in the garden that have outgrown their space or are not with other plants of the same water usage  Now is a good time because plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. As you plant new additions to the garden add organic matter to the soil. If your garden’s soil is sandy, organic matter enriches it and allows it to hold water more efficiently. If your soil tends toward clay, organic matter will loosen it up and improve drainage. In well-amended soil, plants grow deep roots, are hardier for cold, more resistant to disease and more drought tolerant.  Organic matter, such as compost, planting mix and well-rotted manure, boosts nutrition and improves soil structure.

* Fertilize if you haven’t already done so. Citrus, shrubs and fruit trees just emerging from dormancy are begging for their first meal of the season. Lawns begin their spring growth now also and benefit from a boost of organic nitrogen. You can also spread a thin layer of composted manure over your lawn. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn will benefit it by shading the roots as it get warmer and as they break down they help feed it, too. Perennials benefit from both a fresh layer of compost or manure and a light application of balanced fertilizer. They respond to the phosphorus from bone meal especially in the spring for root growth, stem sturdiness and flower development. Wait until azaleas, camellias and rhododendron have finished blooming before feeding them.

* Weed – Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Weeds rob your plants of precious water. Think of weeding as free gym time.

* Check for aphids. They are out in full force sucking plant juices from the tender new leaves of everything from roses to hellebore to Japanese maples.  A strong spray from the hose may be enough to dislodge them.   If they still persist, you can spray organic insecticidal soap, neem oil or horticultural oil to kill them.  As with all pesticide sprays, do this early in the morning or later when they are not in the sun.  Be sure to test first to make sure the spray doesn’t burn the new growth and always mix according to the directions.

Ants can also bring aphids up into trees and shrubs such as camellias, citrus and roses.  Ants feed off honeydew secreted by aphids, scale and other plant-juice sucking insects.  Ants also protect these pests from natural predators.  To keep them off, wrap trunks with a 1-2″ wide strip of masking tape and coat with a sticky barrier like  Tanglefoot.  Keep the barriers free of dirt and check them periodically for breaks.  Reapply when necessary

* The most important to -do for early spring is to take time out and enjoy your garden and our beautiful surroundings. Those last few weeds will be there tomorrow but you’ll never get another today.

Smart Irrigation

dry_river_bed2.1280Several years ago I was invited to tour a beautiful garden in the hills above Scott Valley High School. Robby Frank was more than eager to share his techniques for gardening in deer country. He was also in a personal battle with gophers and moles and I affectionately bestowed upon him the title, serial mole killer. I am happy to report that Robby has won the war on all fronts. His garden is more lush than ever and with that comes the ongoing dilemma of saving water in the landscape especially in this time of drought.  He solved the problem by installing a Smart Irrigation Controller and has been so pleased with the results he’s on a Smart Irrigation crusade to educate fellow gardeners. Here’s his story.

We all know mulching is one of the ways to conserve water in the landscape. Robby has long been an advocate of composting and regularly renews the mulch in his garden. He even calls himself  “Mr Mulch”. He has permeable paths and a dry river bed that allow rainwater runoff to soak into the soil slowly. He keeps his plants pruned in a naturalistic manner because “smaller plants use less water'”. But all this wasn’t enough. His 3 “dumb timers”, as he calls them, were using too much water. That’s when he started researching weather based smart irrigation timers.
drought_tolerant_plantings.1024
“To me it seemed like an easy way to conserve water and it’s better for the plants as well”, Robby said. “It will increase the irrigation times if the weather is hotter and dryer than usual,  decrease if it’s colder and turn itself off if it rains”. Robby was already familiar with the Rainbird brand of controllers although there are many other companies that offer them. That’s why he eventually chose the “Simple to Set” Smart Indoor/Outdoor Irrigation timer or Rainbird SST 1200s.
Rainbird_Smart_Irrigation_Controller
Scotts Valley Water District offers a Landscape Rebate program for weather based irrigation controllers and has a list of acceptable models on their website. Robby paid $165 online for his controller as he couldn’t find a local store that stocked them. Since then he has convinced the local Ace Hardware to carry them.  It replaced his 3 old controllers and he received a rebate from the SV water district for $100. San Lorenzo Water District has a similar rebate program.

To qualify for the credit, he arranged for someone to come to his house to take pictures of his old watering_schedule.1280controllers. After installation they came again to see the new controller and he completed the necessary paperwork. The rebate credit which can vary from $75-$100 doesn’t cover the cost of the controller or installation labor and is determined by the type of controller installed. You can’t go wrong with saving water, money and getting a rebate, too.

The best part of the new system is how it saves water and is better for the plants.  The controller is never turned off. You enter your zip code and the watering schedule you prefer and the controller adjust the amount of water either up or down as needed. For instance, when it was dry before the December freeze, the controller watered his landscape at 20-30% of normal so the plants were not totally dry during that week and were better able to stand the extended freezing temps.

Likewise, the sensor can trigger the controller to irrigate 130% of normal if it’s exceedingly hot and dry. The controller, also called a timer, comes with 10 years of historical weather data for any US ZIP code and includes a rain and temperature sensor.

Robby showed me how amazingly easy it is to set up and program the controller. It’s called the Simple to Set irrigation timer and I agree. Because he propagates most of his succulents himself from cuttings, it’s easy for him to add a bit of extra irrigation on a one-time or sort term basis until they become established. He couldn’t do that with his old timer. It had to water the whole area on a valve the same. Now he has 12 zones that he easily programmed for just the right amount of water whether it’s several times a week or once a month.

Robby Frank is on a crusade to save water and Smart Irrigation is the way to do it. If you want to read more about how he battles deer and moles you can access the story I previously wrote about him on my blog by searching Serial Mole Killer. He would love to find other local like-minded gardeners to share stories.

Frozen Plant Care and Plants that Don’t Freeze

toyon.1600Early on one of those freezing mornings I came across a large stand of California native toyon shrubs, every branch covered with juicy red berries. Dozens of songbirds were enjoying the feast loading up and bracing for another cold night. You couldn’t ask for a more Christmas-y plant. Bright red and green- the Christmas colors.  I made a note to put toyon on my list for gift ideas.  What would be better than to give my loved ones something that feeds the birds and the spirit?

Toyon is a hardy shrub in our area no matter how low the temps drop. Many of the plants in your garden may not be so lucky after the multiple nights of freezing weather we recently experienced. Even if you covered sensitive plants a hard frost can nip plants that normally would be fine in a light frost.  Here’s how to deal with frost damage.

Don’t be tempted to rush out and prune away the damaged parts of  plants.  This winter will have more cold weather and the upper part of your plant, even if damaged, can protect the crown from further freezing and provide protection for tender new buds and shoots coming along for next year. This applies to citrus trees, too. If a perennial like Mexican sage froze to a gooey, black mess, cut the plant down to the ground. It will re-grow come spring from the root system.

Remember If you have plants that need covering in another frost later this winter, use a frost blanket, light towel, sheets, burlap or other type of cloth and not plastic.  The cold will go right through plastic and damage the plant.

Getting back to my Christmas list, everybody loves color in the winter garden. Besides toyon berries to feed the birds and other wildlife, Strawberry trees have fruit for much of the winter as do crabapples, beautyberry,  pyracantha and nandina if the robins don’t get them first.

Mahonia or Oregon grape will be blooming soon and their yellow flowers  would look great with golden Iceland poppies. Many of their leaves are purplish or bronze now that the nights have gotten cold and are very colorful.  Hummingbirds favor their flowers and many songbirds eat the delicious berries.

For those really dark places, fragrant sarcococca is perfect combined with red primroses and will be blooming very soon. You can smell their perfume from a long distance. Hellebores bloom in the winter, too, and offer texture in your containers.  A variegated osmanthus will hold up in even our harshest weather and would be a show stopper in a Chinese red container.

If the idea of sitting under a beautiful shade tree in the summer would appeal to the gardener on your list, flowering cherryyou might consider giving them a Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn that’s covered in masses of rosy blossoms in the spring and colorful berries in the winter.  October Glory Maple is a great tree for shade and gorgeous fall color. Autumnalis Flowering Cherry blooms twice a year giving you double the show.  Mine is in the middle of its fall blooming cycle right now.  It’s a welcome sight. A smaller Southern Magnolia like ‘Little Gem‘ with huge fragrant white flowers would also make a nice gift.

These are just a few of the shade and ornamental trees that would make a valuable addition to any landscape. Visit a nursery to look for those plants with berries and winter color for other gift ideas.

January To-Do’s for the Santa Cruz Mtns

A new year in the garden. I'm already starting to make journal entries for January. Not much to shout about in the weather department. We've had dry Decembers before but if January turns out to be the start of 6 weeks of Caribbean-like weather like last year we'll never catch up.

The weather affects how things grow as much as the soil that plants grow in. Remember the cool spring and summer we had while you waited for your tomatoes to ripen? I was just looking at the weather forecasts for 2010 that the Farmer's Almanac predicted. Last May when I first wrote about them they were way off for the first half of the year and at best were hit and miss for the latter half. October did bring rain for us as predicted but they hedged their bets for November calling for "bands of showers" off and on during the month. December for us brought lots of frost and a heavy wind storm.  Although the frost was predicted by the Almanac, I didn't see any "light to moderate rainfall" in December. I put my trust in the satellite map, internet weather sites and my own common sense to judge when to start planting, pruning and transplanting for the season.

This year I'm going to start off right by noting on my calendar at the beginning of each month just what I need to do to ensure a happy, healthy garden.

Here are the tasks to do in the garden in January:

  • Plan for spring. Bareroot fruit, nut, berry and ornamental season runs through the end of February. Don't miss this inexpensive way to add to your edible garden or your landscape.
  • Cut back hydrangeas if you haven't already done so. Apply soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate or other acidifier if you want to encourage blue flowers. You must do this before they set flower buds or it won't help.
  • Prune fruit, nut and shade trees and spray with horticultural oil, lime sulfur, liquid sulfur or copper dormant spray. You should get one more spraying in about Valentine's Day. This is actually the most important one as it's just before bud break. Don't use lime-sulfer on apricots, though.
  • Cut back summer flowering deciduous shrubs and vines.  Don't prune spring flowering varieties like lilac, flowering cherry, plum and crabapple, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela and spirea until after flowering but you can cut some during flowering to bring in for bouquets.
  • Control overgrown honeysuckle, potato vine, morning glory, trumpet creeper and pink jasmine by thinning now or even cutting back low to the ground if  they are a big tangled mess.
  • Prune roses towards the end of the month. I'll tell you how to do this later but it's not as hard as it sounds.
  • Bait for slugs and snails

And here are the tasks you should not do in January:

  • Don't cut back grasses yet if you get frost in the area where they grow.
  • Wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost
  • Wait until February to prune frost  damaged shrubs  if you can tell how far down the die back goes otherwise wait until growth starts in the spring.
  • Wait to prune fuchsias and other perennials until February.
  • Don't fertilize houseplants until March. Because they are resting at this time of year, they use little water.  Don't overwater.  Be sure they are dry before watering.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me. I'd love to hear from you.