I had to do it. I couldn’t resist. Even though I’d vowed not to get any new plants until fall planting season when I saw the one gallon Pride of Madeira just begging for a new home I succumbed to my impulse. I rationalized this plant was on my wish list and will be drought tolerant so I wasn’t being totally irresponsible.
I’ve always wanted an echium fastuosum on my hillside. I admire those huge spires of purple-blue flowers whenever I see them in other gardens. These are tough plants getting by with no summer water once established and the flower spikes are bee magnets. I covered it with a layer of shade cloth for a few days because it was so hot when I planted it. This will help it establish more quickly while the roots take hold in the soil.
Flame tree on Stanford campus
In your own garden it’s wise to establish a drought to-do list. I’m talking about what plants get your precious water and what to let go.
As we enter another dry year many of our ornamental and fruit trees are dying. Many were watered along with the lawn you have now let go brown. Others might have been surviving on natural rainfall. Whatever the case in your garden don’t let your trees die.
Nature has already killed an estimated 12 million trees in Calif. forests since the drought began four years ago. Most of these have fallen victim to bark beetles that attack trees weakened by drought.
In our own neighborhoods, trees are a long-lived asset. A tree is not something that can be easily replaced. It’s OK to appropriately water trees. Dying trees can be a safety hazard and removing a dead tree is expensive.
It takes years to grow a tree to mature size. Save and use shower and cooking water to help them out. Maybe it’s time to install an simple laundry-to-landscape system to water your landscape trees. Or set up a separate drip or soaker hose for your trees and give them a good deep drink at least once or twice a month. And remember that the tree’s feeder roots are not at the base of the trunk but out at the drip line and a little beyond.
Laurel tree on Stanford campus
A rule of thumb for determining when to irrigate is when 50% of the water has been depleted from the soil in the plants’ root zone. This allows a buffer of water in the soil in case the weather suddenly turns hot and windy and applies to trees, shrubs and perennials.
Sandy soils hold less water than clay soils and must be irrigated more frequently. A common misconception is that it takes more water to grow plants in sandy soil than in clay soil. Actually the total amount required for the whole year is the same for both soil types. The amount of sunlight, wind, temperature and humidity control how much water a plants needs – the soil is only the reservoir.
To check the water content in the soil dig 8-16 inches down into the soil with a trowel, shovel or soil tube and feel the soil. At about 50% available water:
* Course soil appears almost dry and forms a ball that does not hold shape.
* Loamy soil forms a dark ball that is somewhat moldable and can form a weak ribbon when squeezed
between the finders.
* Clayey soil forms a good, dark ball and makes a ribbon an inch or so long and slightly sticky.
If you are planning to plant some new trees this fall, be sure they are drought tolerant natives or low water use non-natives. There are many nice specimens to choose from. And don’t skimp on the mulch.
It’s important to maintain our existing tree canopy and plant for the future. Even in times of drought, no especially in drought, planting and stewardship of trees is critical. Not just for their future but for ours as well.
Alluvial Terrace Nursery
There’s nothing like learning about trees from someone who has discovered for themselves what makes a winner and how to grow it. Recently I had the opportunity to tour a small wholesale nursery near Corralitos. Jon Craig has evolved from Silicon engineer to a propagator of plants and trees and he’s all the happier for it. He laughs when he says he has loved plants for a very long time starting with his first job mowing lawns. As a former engineer it’s all about the research and the plants he grows showcase his success.
His very favorite tree is the dogwood. Not just any dogwood but the ones that bloom with the largest flowers for the longest time. There are four main species of dogwood trees. From the Himalayas in China comes cornus capitata, Korea is home to cornus kousa. Cornus florida grows on the east coast and the west coast is home to cornus nuttallii or Western dogwood.
Jon Craig with cornus capitata ‘Mountain Moon’
We are all familiar with the Eastern dogwood that blooms early in the spring. It’s beautiful but rain and wind can cut short the flowering season many a year and the root system is prone to disease. Our Western dogwood is prone to leaf spot fungal diseases. The Kousa dogwood is a more drought tolerant, disease resistant and a tougher plant all around. Large, showy flowers open after the tree has leafed out and remain for a long time. This makes it good for hybridizing with other varieties.
The Stella series is a mix of a florida on kousa dogwood roots. Vesuvius series is a cross of our native nuttallii with a florida as is Eddie’s White Wonder. There is also a nuttullii-kousa cross called Venus that displays huge flowers and gets its disease resistance from the kousa roots. All these cultivars strive to produce a tree with superior disease resistance and huge, long lasting blooms.
Deciduous dogwoods don’t like wet feet especially in the winter. That’s how they develop fungal disease. But there’s an evergreen dogwood that can handle moisture all year round. That tree is Jon Craig’s very favorite. With a name like Mountain Moon you can just picture it blooming high in the Himalayas. Huge flowers up to 6” wide can last from late spring into early summer. After flowering, the fruits begin to form and grow into red balls about the size of large strawberries. This is the reason is it also known as the Himalayan Strawberry Tree. They are edible but bland and tasteless to us. The birds love then though and they remain on the tree while woodpeckers and robins have a feast.
Cornus capitata ‘Mountain Moon’ is a tough tree that can handle strong winds and isn’t bothered by any pests or diseases. They enjoy lots of organic matter as do all dogwoods. Many people think of dogwoods as an understory tree but this location is often too shady. Grow them in a full or partial sun location that gets afternoon shade after 4pm. Add a couple of extra drip emitters or inline drip tubing to your irrigation system and they’re happy.
Ruby Fall redbud
Besides enjoying the hundreds of blooming dogwoods, I learned about a redbud that is not as fussy as the lovely Forest Pansy. Ruby Falls and Merlot promise to be more reliable in the garden and more heat resistant.
Jon will try his hand growing just about any plant that he thinks others will also enjoy. A fine crop of Alice oakleaf hydrangea grew near a block of Michelia ‘Inspiration’ getting ready to flower and scent the air. The lilacs had finished blooming but the peonies were just starting their show. Jon shared a tip about tree peonies he learned recently from a well-seasoned Japanese gardener. He followed her advice and cut back the tree peony stem in the dormant season forcing it to produce new stems. Voila- they are now loaded with flowers.
Jon grows many other types of dogwood and also Copper beech, magnolia macrophylla, Royal Raindrops crabapple , Sheri’s Cloud nyssa and even a Purple-leaved hazel. I could only fit a couple of 5 gallon cans in my car so a beautiful smoke bush in full bloom and a Black Lace elderberry now call Bonny Doon home. But I have my eye on one of those spectacular Mountain Moon evergreen dogwoods for the back garden.
Outside my window, the Forest Pansy Redbud has started to display its spectacular burnt orange fall color. There’s a suet feeder hanging from the branches so I get to enjoy the antics of the Pygmy Nuthatches, Purple Finches and the Chestnut-backed Chickadees all day long as I watch the changing colors of the foliage. Out back I have a Catawba Crape Myrtle also starting to show fall color. Its leaves are turning a rich butterscotch shade which is lovely but not the reddish-orange described in the books. What causes fall color to vary from plant to plant? How does location in the garden, weather, climate and growing conditions affect what you see each fall?
The brilliant fall color we see in the leaves of trees and plants is always there. It’s just masked by chlorophyll during the growing season as the plant is busy making food while the sun shines during photosynthesis. Come autumn, shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the trees to switch into energy-storage mode, at which point their leaves stop producing chlorophyll. For the few weeks before the leave fall to the ground, they are colored only by their natural pigments. It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins and yellow and orange carotenoids that make fall foliage so glorious.
Some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights. A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent. Freezing temperatures or winds meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly denying them opportunity to enter their slow, colorful dormancy. Finally, trees that are under stress because of pests, disease, injury or drought may drop their leaves with no color change at all.
So if your garden becomes shady early in the fall this may result in less vivid fall foliage. If your trees are stressed by drought like this year you may not get the usual colorful fall display. These and the above factors all affect the intensity of fall foliage colors.
Now is a good time to shop for plants and trees that can punch up the color of fall in your garden. Seeing your new addition in person will show you exactly what color you are going to get. Sure Autumn Gold Ginkgo will probably always color up bright yellow and Sango Kaku Japanese maples will show off their characteristic golden foliage but the fall color of Purple Smoke Bush, Katsura tree, Witch Hazel, Pomegranate, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Blueberry, to name just a few, can vary.
I received an email from someone new to the area about when to expect our first frost. I’ve kept a weather journal since 1992 and based on my records occasionally we get a light frost at the end of October. Mostly though, the earliest frost has occurred about second week of November with late November being the most common. Be prepared by moving frost tender plants under overhangs if possible or having frost blankets (not plastic) ready to cover delicate plants.
Transplanting in Fall
Need to move a plant or install plants out of containers and into the garden soil? Now through February offers the best time to do this. Soils are still warm at this time of year which helps new roots get established quicker than in later winter.
Prepare the new location first before excavating any plant. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball, but just the same depth. Use a sharp spade to make clean cuts through roots. Cut roots will form new, dense and healthy roots.
Before replanting, especially from a container, check for roots that have circled the interior of the pot. These must be tugged loose and straightened when planted. Don’t be shy about loosening roots. When replanting be certain to keep the rootball at the same level it was and don’t add soil over the rootball. Most plants need oxygen at the soil level.
The other day I visited the campus of Stanford University to view something from their archives. The campus is beautiful. Flowering trees in bloom every where you look. I was told by a colleague that Stanford has a huge collection of trees some planted back in the late 1880’s when the university was first built and the landscaping installed. The designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect also created New York’s Central Park. I wanted to find a mature specimen of a California native, the Catalina Ironwood, which is listed in their Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs and Vines.
The campus is huge and with so many areas to explore I missed the grove of Ironwood. There are over 400 species, 150 genera and 60 families which total 27,000+ individual trees growing on the central campus. Senator Leland Stanford vowed that no healthy oak be cut down and even today the dominant tree on campus is the coast live oak. There has been a loss of diversity from the original tree and shrub plantings of the 1880’s and 1890’s, which is well documented for conifers. Still the sheer number and variety of trees is impressive.
In the main quad by the Memorial Church and the grounds surrounding the Music library and the Green library I found dozens of trees which were all surveyed and named on a map I found online. It was fun to locate each tree.
I’m always on the lookout for mature tree specimens to photograph. When I recommend a tree to be included in a design I like to be able to share the image of what the tree will look like in the future. Trees anchor your house to the land. They are more than just a pretty face to look at from the kitchen window. They provide habitat, food and shelter to birds as well as giving shade in the summer. Some of the trees I saw on the Stanford campus may not be suitable for all gardens but they are interesting to learn about. Here are a few of the highlights of my campus botanical adventure.
In the main quad there are 8 circular planting beds containing over 80 individual trees. One that I was attracted to because of its unusual trunk and branching structure was the Flame tree or brachychiton acerifolius. Although not yet in bloom it will soon be covered with scarlet bells. I learned from the campus encyclopedia that this tree was planted in 1998 after the original specimen died. That flame tree, planted in 1891, was famous for the brilliant display it put on in May and June, covering the ground with a mantle of red bells. The pod-like fruits contain masses of irritating bristles but also nutritious yellow seeds that were eaten by the Aborigines after toasting.
The next tree that caught my eye had such formidable thorns that I wondered where it grew naturally. How could it come by the pretty name, Floss Silk tree, with those deadly spines? I learned in September this tree redeems itself with masses of showy pinkish-white flowers so numerous they hide the foliage. Hummingbirds enjoy the nectar of the flowers which are used in Brazil as threads in upholstery. But the most distinctive feature of the tree is the wicked looking array of stout spines that crowd the trunk and protrude by an inch or more. Who knows why they evolved this way? The fruit of the Floss Silk tree is very large and on ripening the pods open to expose masses of white cottony kapok-like material that perhaps acts as a barrier to rats seeking the tiny seeds. Is it rats that the trees are hoping to deter by growing the huge spines?
Redwoods, giant sequoia and Bristlecone pine live a long time but there’s something impressive about an ornamental tree that is over 100 years old. Planted in 1889, the trunk of the Red Mulberry tree growing in the quad has attained great character and girth. Mulberry leaves are the food of the silkworm and if you grow your own silkworms you can make silk. One silkworm produces about half a mile of incredibly strong monofilament to make its cocoon. The pale berries of the red mulberry are not as good to eat as the black mulberry but both grow quickly to provide shade for your home or patio.
A tree planted for beauty shade, habitat and posterity is a gift to all.
Last fall my sister lost her favorite tree in a windstorm. She lives on Fox Island in the southern part of Puget Sound. I remember hearing about the extraordinary Pacific storm on the national news shattering records in the Northwest. Gusts up to 76 mph closed bridges, falling trees hurt 2 people and thousands lost power. Her Silk Tree didn’t stand a chance.
While visiting over the Christmas holiday I thought it would be a nice present to replace her dearly departed tree. Several nice ornamental trees made the short list including the Katsura tree with leaves that smell like vanilla in the fall and Forest Pansy redbud with magenta spring flowers, burgundy heart-shaped summer leaves and reddish-orange fall color. We also considered the native Pacific dogwood but she already had one in the yard. Driving around we started to notice the beautiful color of the Coral Bark Japanese maples in many landscapes and the decision was made.
I knew we would have no trouble finding a good specimen in the Pacific Northwest and I was right. Close by in Gig Harbor we found Yang’s Nursery and I walked into the realm of a Japanese maple expert. Owner Won Yang opened the nursery to give us a tour of the grounds. We walked between rows of hundreds of maples and marveled at the huge bonsai specimens of Weeping Katsura tree, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, several different conifers and a very impressive, beautifully pruned Oshio Beni Japanese maple all over 20 years old.
Won showed us his greenhouses where he propagates the maples himself. He has been in the business for 30 years so he knows his stuff. Starting with a small green maple seedling with a half inch stem that is cut off 6″ above the ground, he carefully grafts a tiny tip of new growth from the desired specimen onto the larger stem. It will take at least 3 years before the new tree will be big enough to sell. Won’s pride in his work was apparent as he smiled at the rows of newly grafted maples.
Back out among the maples, I had my eye on the rows of coral barked Sangu Kaku maples when I saw them. Lined up alongside were several trees with bark so bright I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are these”, I asked? Won just smiled and told me they were called Beni Kawa Japanese maples and were a cultivar originally developed in 1987. They are prized for their brilliant salmon red bark which is much brighter than the regular coral bark maple. I was hooked. How could I not plant this gorgeous tree in my sister’s yard?
I learned that the bark of this tree can be polished to keep the bright color. Lichen often grows on older trees hiding the salmon red bark of the new branches. I’ll have to try using a soft cloth on my coral bark maple and see how it turns out. The Beni Kawa is a fast growing Japanese maple that will eventually reach 10-15 ft tall and 5-12 ft wide. It is hardy to 15 degrees.
Won grows his trees in a 50/50 mixture of top soil blend and fine crushed bark. He fertilizes with a balanced granular fertilizer and prunes in the winter. The 6 ft tree I bought my sister will not need to be pruned for a couple of years allowing it to establish a strong root system.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the new tree evolves as it grows especially since I know where this Beni Kawa Japanese maple was born.
When you look out your windows into your landscaping what catches your eye first? Maybe the hydrangeas are looking beautiful about now covered with giant flowers in sky blue, dark pink or white. Maybe it's the purple and red spikes of your salvias that both you and the hummingbirds enjoy. But I'll bet the most majestic and inspiring sight in your garden are the trees that frame your house giving it a sense of permanence, welcoming you home and providing a haven for songbirds that serenade you on a spring day.
Large or small trees make the world go round. They produce oxygen and act as a giant filter that cleans the air we breathe. A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.
Trees clean the soil by absorbing dangerous chemicals and other pollutants that have entered the soil. They can either store harmful pollutants or actually change the pollutant into a less harmful form. Trees can filter sewage and clean water that runs off into our streams. They can absorb and lock away carbon dioxide as wood so it is not available as greenhouse gasses.
If you live near a busy street trees can muffle the noise almost as effectively as a stone wall. They also act as a windbreak during windy and cold seasons reducing the drying effect of the wind and keeping it from blowing precious topsoil away.
Trees slow storm water runoff helping to recharge our Santa Margarita and Lompico aquifers. On top of all the cool things trees do for us they provide shade and cool us in the summer. In the winter they break up the wind reducing heating costs. Trees increase property values.
If you've been thinking about adding a few trees to your own property here are some of my favorites. Some don't get enough recognition and some are classics. All make great additions to the garden.
Early in spring the flowering plums and cherries let us know that winter is over and a new season has begun. Then the dogwoods start to bloom and we're awestruck. Maybe you know of an especially beautiful specimen that gets your attention each year when it blooms. There are a couple varieties that I like to include in designs that are easy to grow and live for many decades.
Introduced to me by Barrie Coate, the renowned arborist and horticultural consultant, the Evergreen Dogwood, Cornus capitata, is also known as Himalayan flowering dogwood and lives up to its name in every respect. This under used tree is breathtaking in late spring and early summer with large flower bracts over 3" across. A friend has one in her garden and it is the showiest tree on her property for several months. This variety is slow growing reaching 20 ft tall in sun or partial shade after about 25 years. After flowering, red fruit provides a treat for the birds.
Another dogwood variety that makes a wonderful addition to the garden is the Venus dogwood. I've heard it said that some consider it even showier than the Evergreen dogwood but I like them all. It's a fast growing deciduous hybrid with white flowers as large as your hand. Summer flowers give way to strawberry-like fall fruit as the leaves turn color. It's highly resistant to disease and drought conditions. What's not to love? I also recommend Cornus Eddie's White Wonder for it's beauty and disease resistance.
If you would like a tree in a certain spot but don't have lots of room, consider a Drimys winteri, commonly known as Winter's Bark. This evergreen, slender tree from Chile has aromatic mahogany-red bark which cured sailors in past centuries from scurvy and leathery fragrant leaves. Small clusters of jasmine-scented, creamy white flower appear in winter and spring. It grows to only 20 feet tall.
Other trees that are favorites of mine include Forest Pansy redbud for its stunning red foliage and Sango Kaku Japanese maple for its year round interest. Arbutus Marina, Oklahoma Texas redbud and Tristania laurina Elegant are also wonderful trees for the landscape.
Plant a tree for yourself and future generations.
Warm days, rainy days, short days, cold days- all in the fall of the year here in the Santa Cruz mountains. It's part of what makes our area so special to us. We are inspired by Mother Nature and our mountains. We feel a connection with nature as we enjoy our gardens. There are some easy things you can do at this time of year to extend that enjoyment. Gardening should be fun, too.
Taking cuttings of shrubs is a relatively easy and economical way to make new plants. Some plants that can be increased by hardwood cuttings include manzanita, coffeeberry, crape myrtle, pittosporum, euonymous, forsythia, spirea, viburnum and roses. Edible plants like currants, figs, grapes and quinces also make good subjects.
For deciduous plants it's best to take cuttings soon after the shrub drops leaves and the plant goes dormant. Evergreen shrub cuttings can be taken now. Start by taking cuttings of year old wood that's about a quarter inch in diameter. Discard the top couple of inches of each stem since this unripened wood doesn't have enough stored nutrients to survive. Cut the stems into 6-9 inch pieces. Because a cutting won't grow if planted upside down, make the top cut at a slant, so you can keep track of it. Then dip the bottom ends in rooting hormone and tap off any excess.
You can store cuttings from dormant shrubs bundled and labeled in boxes of sand in the garage or outdoors in a well-drained trench. Each will form a callus at the base where roots will form next spring. Come spring , plant the cuttings in good soil in shade with only the top bud exposed. Water as needed and once the new plants develop leaves and increase in size, start feeding them monthly with a balanced fertilizer. By next fall your new shrubs should be well established and ready to be moved to their permanent place in the landscape.
Some plants like abelia and spice bush are propagated by softwood cuttings in June. You can check the UC Davis website http://rooting,ucdavis.edu for information on specific plants you might be interested in.
Also you can simply pin down a stem of a plant like manzanita by putting a rock on it so the soil makes contact. After a year or so you will have a new plant that you can dig up and move. Other natives like ceanothus can be propagated in a peat and grit mix and will root in about 50 days if given bottom heat. Take these cuttings in January.
Stake trees. Trunks with leaning tops or those planted in very windy areas need support. To determine how high to place ties, move your hand up the trunk until the treetops straightens. I usually allow the stake to reach up into the canopy a bit so that a wind gust doesn't snap off the trunk right at the base of the canopy. Tie the tree to the stake loosely in several places. Trees in containers are tied tightly to the the stake but those in the ground should have some wiggle room to stimulate the trunk to be stronger. This is a good time to check existing tree stakes to make sure the ties aren't digging into the trunk and the stakes are large enough to support your tree. Remember to keep your tree staked only as long as needed and then remove the supports.
Hummingbirds still need a nectar source. Don't take down your feeder in the fall. Anna's hummingbirds live and breed in this area all year long. They need your nectar more in the winter, when very little is in bloom. Even a species like the Rufous benefits from access to a large nectar supply to stock up on before a long migration. Keep your feeders up year-round and keep them clean.
The recent rains will allow weed seeds to sprout which is just what you want if you're planning a wildflower meadow. The most common mistake when planting wildflower seeds is not getting rid of the existing weed and grass seeds that are in the soil and will germinate along with the wildflowers. These fast-growing weeds smother the slower growing wildflowers. Take time to eliminate the competition. Get rid of existing weeds when they sprout by cultivating the soil to a depth of not more than 1 inch. Deeper cultivation exposes more weed seeds that will germinate along with the wildflower seeds.
Pick last roses and add alfalfa meal or pellets which will soak into ground and prepare them for next spring. Don't prune until the end of January.
Groom strawberries and mulch to deter slugs in winter.
To help protect citrus from frost damage, pull mulch back from below the canopy. This allows the ground to absorb heat during the day and release it at night.
I can see snow-covered Mt. Rainier from my sister's deck. Last night a rainbow bridged the Puget Sound which flows around Fox Island at the southern end of the sound.
The landscape here is lush and green. Dogwoods, foxgloves and rhododendrons are still in full bloom. This temperate rain forest receives more rain than ours but I see many of the same woodland plants that we grow. I study each garden for new ideas.
The next day we head for Vancouver Island. As the clouds clear the Victoria Clipper pulls into the harbor. The Empress Hotel's landscaping is picture perfect. Purple rhododendron, hosta, and hellebore grow under the white Kousa dogwood trees. Late afternoon sun backlights each leaf. Gingko trees and weeping birch frame the Parliament building. The lights come on and outline each gable and tower. Still exploring the city later I look at my watch. It's after 10pm and still light. I forget we are closer to the land of the midnight sun at this latitude.
Visiting gardens is always the highlight of all my trips. Butchart Gardens, a National Historic site of Canada, is a prime example of quarry restoration. Huge 100 year old poplar trees with gnarled trunks frame the famous sunken garden. Throughout the perfectly manicured lawns perennial beds grow oriental poppy, Japanese iris, Asian lily, hosta, black mondo grass, black-eyed susan, and lady's mantle. This kind of perfection comes with a price. We saw several gardeners raking and deadheading while several others cleaned around the stone border with pastry brushes.
Victoria is famous for its hanging baskets. At Butchart Gardens several hundred hand from every arbor, trellis, pergola and shepherd's hook. Mixed baskets of long blooming annuals and perennials are started early in the greenhouse then brought out in full bloom. One of my favorites featured peach-toned tuberous begonias, trailing sapphire lobelia, bacopa and coral calibrachoa. I was drawn to the dozens of hanging fuchsias and a rainbow of begonias planted with columbine, ferns and gold acorus grasses.
It must be fun to plant up the large pots that decorate the grounds. Even the wooden recycling receptacles have mixed planting on the top. Several noteworthy pots were planted with orange flowering maples paired with blue Mexican poppies and a variegated geranium. Another we liked contained a striking Electric Pink cordyline, coral petunia, calibroachoa and Bonfire begonia.
Fragrant flowers entice the senses and are planted everywhere. Strolling through the garden, vanilla scented heliotrope greet you. Spice-scented stock is planted nose high atop rock walls. Mrs. Butchart started this tradition and the garden strives to have something fragrant blooming every season of the year.
The roses were just starting to open. Many of them originated in England and Australia. The Queen's
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Golden Jubilee was honored with decorative flags hung from the light posts. Flanked my tall gorgeous blue delphiniums it was quite a sight.
If it was early for the roses, the peony did not disappoint. I have never seen so many in one place. This climate is perfect for their culture. I had a hard time deciding which was my favorite. Double deep burgundy flowers grew alongside soft peach and bright pink ones. A cool white one paired well with Bridal Veil spirea. A soft peach variety looked great with the darker orange oriental poppies.
Always on the lookout for planting ideas, the endless vignettes were inspiring. The many different garden rooms in this garden allowed for countless combinations. One that caught my eye paired a purple smoke bush with coral verbascum and the variegated iris pallida. The blue flowers of the iris contrasted perfectly with the coral flowers and burgundy foliage of the other two plants.
I saw this garden in a new light on this visit. It was spectacular. Next week I'll recount my visit to Abkhazi Garden outside Victoria.
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.
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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.
Well, it’s that time of year again when all things seem possible. Hope springs eternal – the spring will be warm and the veggies will get off to a good start this year. That torrential rains won’t knock off the fruit blossoms and that all will be right with creatures big and small. The narcissus are blooming already signaling the start of the new season.
An important thing to remember is that garden is a verb as well as a noun. It’s the act of gardening that’s important not so much what your garden looks like. So relax a little and enjoy it. With that in mind here are some tips to improve the health of your garden.
I received an email from a reader asking that I please advise people to save the life of their trees, including redwoods and oaks, by removing the ivy that grows up the trunk. Ivy can kill trees by tightening its hold on the trunk while both of them grow and can eventually stop the supply of nutrients and water from the roots to the branches. Trees supporting heavy ivy growth can be uprooted or broken by wind. The environment ivy creates is also harmful to trees. It keeps moisture against the bark of the trunk, creating a state of constant wetness which attracts insects. It covers up any developing problems with the tree. Many tree diseases and decay became major problems because they were hidden by ivy growth.
If you have a tree with a lot of ivy coverage, there are a few simple steps you can take to remove the ivy. Go around the tree and cut out a vertical section of ivy about 1-2 feet wide around the entire tree. A large screwdriver or forked garden tool can be used to pry and snap the cut section away from the trunk. The lower portion of ivy will need to be pulled and cut off periodically to prevent further growth from the base. The upper ivy will die on its own and can be removed much later when it’s easier to pull.
What else should we be doing to enjoy our gardens more?
Use plants that bloom over a long season, have colorful leaves and attractive bark and berries.
Garden on a small scale using containers and small, easy to manage plots for organic vegetables, flowers and herbs.
Add low voltage, LED or solar lighting so you can use the garden after dark.
Furnish your patio during the warm season with pots, furniture,a fire pit and a patio heater.
Add water to your garden with a small recirculating fountain or pondless waterfall.
gold, chartreuse, variegated or burgundy colored foliage in the garden. Abelia Kaleidescope paired with Purple Smoke tree is one of my favorite combinations. A combo to try for the shadier parts of the garden is Black mondo grass with white variegated Jack Frost brunnera. Look at your garden as a series of small vignettes and pair new plants together you haven’t tried before.
Go through one of your seed catalogs and see what’s being offered in these tones.
Remember that garden is a verb as well as a noun. It’s the act of gardening that’s important not so much what your garden looks like so don’t sweat the small stuff.
National Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 and is celebrated on the last Friday in April. This year it falls on April 30th. The simple goal of this day is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. So whether you’ve been thinking about planting a fruit tree to feed the family, a shade tree to save on summer cooling, a flowering tree to attract pollinators, or some trees to hang the hammock on this is a good time to plant as well as nurture and celebrate all trees.
Trees are remarkable in how they grow and adapt to their environment. Some trees, like crape myrtle, sycamore, madrone and cherry have especially beautiful bark. This is the tree’s protection from the outside world. Continually renewed from within, it helps keep out moisture in rain and prevents the tree from losing moisture when the air is dry. It insulates against cold and heat and wards off insect enemies.
The inner bark, or phloem, is the pipeline through which food is passed to the rest of the tree, It lives for only a short time, then dies and turns to cork to become part of the protective outer bark.
The next layer in is the cambium cell layer which is the growing part of the trunk. It annually produces new bark and new wood in response to hormones that pass down through the phloem with food from the leaves. These hormones are called auxins and stimulate growth in the cells. They are produced by leaf buds at the ends of branches as they start growing in spring.
Inside the cambium layer is the sapwood or xylem which moves water from the roots to the leaves. Sapwood is new wood. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner rings lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.
Finally, the central supporting pillar of the tree is called heartwood. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel.
Leaves make food for the tree. Their shapes help them reduce wind resistance, shed rain that could decay the leaf if left standing and produce chlorophyll. The narrow needles of a Douglas fir, for instance, exposes as much as three acres of surface to the sun.
There is a tree to please everyone. Don’t have much space for a fruit tree? Consider a Garden Annie dwarf apricot, a dwarf Garden Prince almond, Compact Stella cherry, dwarf Red Sunset nectarine or a Garden Delicious apple.
Rather not have fruit to contend with? How about a flowering crabapple, cherry or plum? Want a deciduous shade tree that grows fast? Red maples with blazing fall color fit the bill.
Need to screen a neighbor quickly? Then plant a honey locust or catalpa. Another fast growing,deer resistant tree is the silk tree. It’s flat topped, spreading canopy make this a good patio tree and is especially beautiful when viewed from above, as from a deck or hilltop. If left unpruned it will become a multi-stemmed tree but with training can be grown as a single trunk 10-20 foot umbrella. Fluffy pink flowers like pincushions bloom in summer. Grow it in full sun to partial shade. With regular water it grows fast. They are attractive to birds, too.
Be kind to your trees. They are a valuable asset to your home and our environment.
Recently I got to enjoy this beautiful October weather walking among the redwoods, mixed oak woodland and open fields watching hawks soar overhead and listening to migrating warblers in the trees. I was not here in Santa Cruz county, however, but Pt. Reyes National Seashore-a similar but different environment. What struck me was how the gardens of the local residents reflect where they live. There was a sense of place to the landscaping.
Our gardens reflect where we live, too. What can we learn from our surroundings that will help us in our own gardens?
Look to the horizon. Check views from every possible angel. Borrow scenery if it’s attractive or screen eyesores and distract the eye from them.
Highlight existing features. Develop designs that retain and enhance elements on site like interesting rock formations, meadows, existing trees and native woodland plants.
Consider all aspects of your outdoor space. What are your favorite flower and plant foliage colors? What patio materials do you like -flagstone, wood, gravel, pavers? What is your favorite season- spring flowering trees and bulbs or fall foliage and berries? How many hours do you spend enjoying the garden- sitting, reading, working, relaxing or entertaining?
Whatever landscape design elements you use in your garden, remember they can be broken into smaller parts to make them more manageable- paving this year, planting trees next year, then shrubs, perennials, garden art. Installing a garden is about the journey. There is never a finishing point.
Important in any design is your choice of trees. More than any other living feature in your landscape, trees contribute to your sense of place. Imaging how different this area would look without the redwoods, spreading oak trees or tall ponderosa pines.
A tree that looks good and thrives in many types of gardens while requiring little summer water once established is the Strawberry tree or arbutus. A relative of the madrone, this evergreen tree is interesting year round. In the fall and winter, clusters of small white or pink, urn-shaped flowers hang from rich, reddish-brown branches with shedding bark. Fruit resembling strawberries ripen in the fall and attract birds. The handsome glossy green leaves emerge from red stems and contrast nicely with the bark, flowers and berriies. Growing to about 25 ft tall they accept full sun or part shade. What’s not to love about a tree with ornamental bark, dainty flowers, decorative edible fruit and handsome foliage?
Another tree to dress your garden for fall is Prairifire flowering crabapple. Birds love the berries and the 1/2 inch fruit remains on the tree for a long time after leaves drop providing food well into winter. Many of the popular crabapple varieties of the past were highly prone to fungal diseases but this one is among the new disease- resistant varieties now available. Prairifire bloom later than most crabapples with long lasting bright red flowers. Even the red leaves lend color to the garden when they emerge in the spring. If your looking for a small 20 foot ornamental tree with spring flowers and fall berries, this is a good choice for your garden.
Let your landscape express a sense of place to your garden.
Whether you grow a full-blown vegetable garden or a few herbs and edible flowers in containers, celebrate this Fourth of July by serving a menu created with produce harvested from your own garden. It may be too early for your corn or tomatoes to be ready but peas served with a touch of basil would be delicious. A fellow gardener recently told me that she loves steamed baby zucchini cooked with a small pinch of lavender flowers. I haven’t tried this myself but it sounds interesting, maybe garnished some some edible nasturtium or viola flowers.
Actively growing vegetables and flowers need a boost from They use a lot of nutrients, especially nitrogen, at this time of year. Add water soluble fertilizer to your drip irrigation system or apply it through a hose-end sprayer. Sprinkle dry fertilizers over the soil around the plants or apply in trenches next to the rows. Water deeply afterward.
Remember that weeds compete with vegetables and flowers for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Weeds can also serve as alternate hosts for disease and pest problems. You can prevent weeds from getting out of control by using the "half-hour" rule. Weeding for just half an hour every couple of days will save you hours of hard work in the future. By staying ahead of the weeds, you’ll grow more healthy produce and flowers.
If you battle dandelions and don’t want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. then pole a bunch a holes and drop in some grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won’t remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.
Trees are the most important living asset on your property. They cool your house and offer shade and protection for your plants. They provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Summer heat can take a toll on trees. Fruit trees, citrus and flowering trees need a deep irrigation every other week. Less thirsty established trees like Chinese pistache and strawberry tree need irrigation about once a month. Newly planted trees need water regularly. Gradually reduce frequency after a year or so.
There are ways to maximize the efficiency of the water you apply. Drill several 4" wide holes about 24-30" deep around the drip line of the tree, being careful not to damage large roots. Fill the holes with compost and water. Or you can use a soaker hose on the surface to slowly water the tree. Mulch heavily all planting beds. Do not use rocks or gravel as a mulch because hey add heat to the soil and moisture evaporates faster.
Happy Fourth of July.
Picture yourself this summer with your family outdoors during your "staycation" – relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard. Now is the perfect time to plan while the yard is still a bit bare and you can see the space for what it really is. Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.
Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable in the hot summer. We usually get a heat wave in May so be prepared early. National Arbor Day in the last week of April but each state sets its own day of celebration. California celebrates this week, March 7-14, as the week to plant a tree.
There are so many good choices for our area. First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions. Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak. Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple. If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.
What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, with brick or pavers? If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.
How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden. Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.
After you’ve planted your tree and planned your hidden getaway take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden . Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start. If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time. Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time. The last frost of the season is approximately March 15th. Spring is on its way.
We tend to think of September and October as ‘Indian Summer‘ because the weather is balmy, even on the foggy coast. The actual definition from the American Meteorological Society describes ‘a time interval, in mid or late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights.’
Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost or freeze. And while we may expect wintery weather to arrive in November or December, here in this part of the world we consider this time of year our Indian summer.
The term ‘Indian Summer’ dates back to the 18th century. A Frenchman named John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1778 about ‘an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, it’s characteristics… a tranquil atmosphere.’ No one know if is has anything to do with Indians, either. It has been speculated that cargo ships in the 1700”s did much of their sailing over the Indian Ocean during the fair weather season in ‘Indian Summer’. No one theory has been proven and since it’s been centuries since the term first appeared, it will probably rest with it’s originators.
One thing we do know, fall is the best planting season of the year. The soil is still warm encouraging root growth, the nights are cooler and days shorter which helps to conserve water, too. This is a good time if you’re looking to add a new tree to shade the south side of your home, or perhaps start a hedge to screen the road. If you want to add perennials to a border or start cool season annuals this is the time.
There are lots of deciduous trees to choose from that provide shade in the summer while letting the sun warm the house in the winter. At this time of year trees with fall color come to mind.
Maples like October Glory, Autumn Fantasy, Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze have gorgeous crimson red, magenta pink, or scarlet fall foliage, Growing fairly fast to a mature height of 40-50 ft, they are large enough to provide that much needed summer shade. Provide them with occasional deep watering and periodic feed to help keep roots deep.
What about a hedge that screens the neighbor while also producing fruit? Strawberry guavas can be grown as a 20 ft. single trunk tree, or a 10-15 ft multi-trunked tree , but are more often seen as a shrub 8-10 ft high. Their 1 1/2" fruit is dark red or nearly black when ripe, with white flesh that is sweet but tart. It can be harvested green and ripened at room temperature and is good eaten fresh or used in jellies, purees and juice drinks. Even the bark of this evergreen shrub is a beautiful reddish to golden brown. If you’re looking to add more edibles to your garden this is a good candidate.
Another shrub that would make a good addition to your garden is Rose of Sharon. This hardy member of the hibiscus family blooms from mid summer until frost. When dry summers have taken a toll on the rest of your border let this tough plant provide you with spectacular flowers.
There are dozes of varieties from double flowering forms to those with a contrasting eye. Some reach 10 ft tall but can be pruned to shape. One smaller one that I particularly like is called‘Red Heart‘. It blooms with large white flowers with a burgundy eye, grows only 3 ft tall and looks beautiful when combined with the wine red flowers of chocolate cosmos. Another favorite is ‘Blue Bird’ , a rich lavender blue variety with a deep red eye. This one grows 3-5 ft tall and fits into the smaller garden, too. Hibiscus syriacus are easy to grow. They prefer full sun and tolerate some drought. They are hardy to -10 degrees so our winters are a picnic for them.
Take advantage of Indian Summer to plant something new.
We live under oaks and are surrounded by redwoods. We know the value of trees in the landscape. Trees shade us in the summer. Their showy blossoms herald a much awaited spring and their colorful foliage in the fall quietly marks the end of the growing season. You can hang a hammock between two of them or tie a rope swing for the kids from a large branch. Yes, trees are our companions, but how can you create a garden under one of them?
Planting under a mature tree can be a challenge. Caution is required to avoid damaging their roots and the plants will need to cope with dry soil, shade, root competition and ever-changing moisture and light conditions. You want both your new plants and your tree to thrive.
Meet your tree’s needs first. Some trees are more agreeable than others about giving up some of their ground. You can still plant beneath trees that are sensitive to having their roots disturbed, but you’ll need to make a few concessions. When purchasing plants to grow under trees, think small. Small plants require a smaller planting hole and this will minimize disturbance to the roots. You may have to buy more plants but you’ll have an easier time tucking them among the roots.
Don’t alter the grade of the soil or change the soil pH very much. Even adding a layer of soil that is more than 2" deep can reduce the amount of moisture and oxygen available to the tree and hinder gas exchange to existing roots, causing trees to suffer or even die.
Only the toughest plants have a chance of surviving among the surface roots of shallow rooted trees. Be careful when disturbing sugar maples, elms. cherries and plums, dogwoods, magnolias, pines and oaks. The majority of a trees roots are small woody roots and fine hair roots that grow within the upper 12-18" of soil and extend far beyond the trees drip line. These roots are responsible for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil.
If you encounter a root larger than 1 1/2 – 2" in diameter while digging a hole for a plant, move the planting hole a few inches away to avoid slicing through the root. You will sever mats of small tree roots when digging, but they’ll regenerate fairly quickly.
To avoid wounding the bark, which may cause insect and disease problems, start planting at least 12" away from the trunk. Oaks, remember, shouldn’t have any plantings closer than 6-10 feet from the trunk and those should be drought tolerant. After planting, water to settle the soil and spread 2-3" of mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. Be sure to keep mulch at least 12" away from the base of the tree. Mulch can hold moisture against a tree’s bark and cause rot and disease.
Trees that will tolerate some disturbance to the root zone include Eastern redbuds( both the green-leafed species and the purple- leafed Forest Pansy ) and red maples ( also a good lawn tree. ).
Common trees that are easy going about planting underneath are crabapples, ginkgos, hawthorns, honey locust, poplars, silver maples and willows.
So what plants will transform your bare patch of hard earth and knobby roots into a shady nook? If you’re going for a lush look, consider hostas and ferns, paired with the hardy geranium Biokova. Other good companions are astilbes with their feathery flower plumes and variegated euonymus fortunei with bergenia or digitalis mertonensis.
Trees with branches limbed high look good with small shrubs planted underneath. Red-leaf barberry can brighten up this spot and also provide fall color. Small nandinas like Harbor Dwarf make a good ground cover and their foliage takes on an orange-red color in winter. Fragrant sarcococca grows well in this situation, too.
Low groundcovers make a simple statement under the crown of a tree. Ajuga, pachysandra and sweet woodruff all grow well here. Or you might like the look of the shade tolerant grass-like plant , cares morrowii ‘Evergold’. This stunning sedge makes a beautiful clump 1-2 ft. high and 2-3 ft wide with dark green leaves and a central band of creamy white.
You can have a beautiful garden under a mature tree by following these tips and conquering this challenging site.