Pruning Plants in winter

Prune fuchsias back by 1/3. Fuchsias bloom on new wood. Pinch new growth occasionally to encourage more stems.

I’m not sure if it’s me or my plants that are confused. They probably know exactly what they’re doing. That long warm spell at the beginning of January stimulated many of my plants to start growing early. Then the rain and cold arrived. What’s a gardener to do when the roses, fuchsias and many other plants never really became dormant this year? Here are some February tasks that I’m going to be doing.

Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate lush new growth. Trim plants like Mexican bush sage and artemisia to within a few inches of the ground. Don’t use this approach on lavender rosemary or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune those after blooming later in the season. If you cut back to the bare wood inside these plants you might lose the whole thing.

Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim. Do this right away if you haven’t already done so. A plant is wasting energy on new growth if it’s trimmed off later.

Now’s the time to prune mophead and paniculate hydrangeas. Oakleaf hydrangea bloom on old wood and should be pruned right after flowering in the fall.

Cut back hydrangeas stems that bloomed last year and apply a soil acidifier, if you want the flowers blue. Although aluminum sulfate is the traditional favorite for quickly acidifying soil it’s not as kind to beneficial soil microorganisms. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are better for your soil.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, weigela, spirea or flowering trees such as cherry, plum and crabapple now. These and evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias should be pruned after they flower. You can cut some branches while they are blooming to bring into the house for bouquets.

Even if you have pruned your roses be sure to remove old leaves still clinging to the plant even if the leaves look okay now. They will most likely develop fungal spots and diseases later if you don’t. Rake up any debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores

Roses are super forgiving and you can trim them up again using the following guidelines. The goal is to produce lots of roses not just a few of exhibition size. Aim for a vase-shaped bush with an open center.

Prune old garden roses that bloom once in the spring after flowering. Climbing roses require little pruning. Cut out extra stems if there are too many and also cut back long established canes to about the place where they are slightly thicker than a pencil. Then cut each side stem down to several inches. This will cause the cane to flower along its complete length for a beautiful spring display.

Wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. Same goes for shrubs that might have gotten hit by frost. That damaged foliage can protect the plant from further frost damage. Mid-March is the estimated date of hard frost in our area or at least it used to be. We gardeners are always betting Mother Nature will go our way and our efforts will not have gone in vain.

Prune fruit, nut, shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis.

Cut back ornamental grasses if you live where you rarely get frost. When I grew pruning California fuchsia, salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ and hummingbird sage I’d prune now to encourage new, compact growth.

And remember to enjoy your time in the garden. It’s only work if you think of it that way.

Citrus & Avocado for the Santa Cruz mts

Late September and you can feel autumn in the air. While our days are still beautiful and warm, nights are getting cooler with less daylight hours. Perfect weather for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden.

Why is this a good time? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees ( even broadleaf evergreens ) are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the roots system should be well established.

So take advantage of fall planting weather. Decide what changes or additions you want to make in your garden.
Perhaps it’s time to remove lawn from banks or slopes where water runs off instead of soaking in. Replant with more drought tolerant ornamental grasses or perennials.  Picture hummingbirds feeding on beautiful variegated autumn sage, their creamy white and green leaves topped with brilliant red flowers from summer until frost.

If you have a small lawn on flat land and want to improve water absorption and reduce water waste, rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base. Then aerated your lawn in a hollow-tine aerator or power aerator from a rental yard.  This brings plugs of soil to the surface, then rake compost over the hoes and water well.

Now is a good time to plant citrus and avocado. They will fair better during the cold winter months if roots are established.  Remember to give older citrus a good soak every week or so or the fruit will be dry.

If you’ve always wanted an avocado tree there are several varieties that do well here.  The Bacon avocado is hardy to 24 degrees. You can harvest medium sized fruit from November-March. They even produce at a young age and grow to 30 feet tall. Fuerte avocado have excellent flavor. This tree is large and spreading, hardy to 28 degrees and the fruit ripens from November-June. Zutano is another good variety for this area. Mexicola varieties are also very good.
 
These avocados are self fertile for the home gardener. You can expect your tree to live for about which is a lot of guacamole.

If you receive frost of consecutive night during the winter you can easily protect a young avocado or citrus by erecting a simple frame of 1×1" stakes that extends above the height of your tree.  Then drape with a frost blanket or beach blanket on cold night. Don’t use plastic- the cold will go right through it.

Take advantage of this great fall planting weather. Bon appetit !

Originally posted 2009-09-27 07:13:36.

Landscaping in the Early 1900’s in San Lorenzo Valley

Our gardens reflect who we are. Some of us plant edibles while others fill their gardens with fragrance. Some concentrate on native plants, attracting hummingbirds and wildlife while others have a bit of everything.

Our area is rich in history. I love to look at old photos and try to identify what the early settlers planted around their homes in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s.  Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country.  Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brushland to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebes from New Zealand were all the rage.  The brochure for this world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …" a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled."

My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at a friends family photographs from the turn of the century. His family had a resort with a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths close to Hwy 9 in south Felton. This was very near the Big Tree Grove resort ( now Toll House ) that opened in 1867.     I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown back but at that time there was lots of sunshine, a by product of clear cutting.   I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Landscaping in the Santa Cruz mountains in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could be lush or sparse depending on the location and logging activities. A picture from the 1880s of the Harmon cabin off Hwy 9 shows many palms that look like Canary Island date palms. Perhaps they were imported from a nursery in San Francisco and brought down here by railroad. The landscaping is lush and full of plants.

Pictures of the Locatelli barn in 1892 near the grammar school in Boulder Creek, however, show the hills nearly clear cut. Railroad tracks at that time ran right through downtown.  Simple houses with picket fences were located very near the tracks and these yards had no trees, shrubs or flowers at all. It must have been quite hot for them in the summertime.

By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms, and hollyhocks in their yard. Out on Bear Creek Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs.  Most likely they originated from the deserts in the southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.

California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns.  Black locust trees planted for their fragrance and flowers are still seen here today where they have naturalized.  Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

The 1915 Panama Pacific Expo introduced more plants to the public. In 1916, construction of a home in Brookdale featured timber, flooring and doors shipped from the expo to this area by Southern Pacific railroad. When the house was finished in 1926, photographs show a beautiful home surrounded by hollyhocks, roses and wisteria.

Also in the museum archives are the scrapbooks of the Valley Floral Club, later called the Valley Garden Club. Dating back to 1947 they contain old newspaper clippings as well as the minutes of monthly meetings, details of various speakers and pictures of plants and members. One old clipping from 1928 shows as ad for "Calif. Redwood Burl Ferns " for 75 cents that were a ..".guaranteed curiosity in any home for several years".

That’s my trip down the memory lane of horticulture. Many thanks to Linda Phillips and Maya Caldwell from the SLV Museum for their help in researching this information.

If you have any of these plants in your garden, remember the early settlers enjoyed them also. You might even plants a for the fun of it.
 

Originally posted 2009-09-27 07:01:03.

Summer pruning for Fruit trees

Here’s some advice for those of you growing fruit trees. August is the best time to do summer pruning. If you haven’t already done so, thin out shoots and crossing branches. This allows more air and light into the tree, reduces disease and promotes earlier ripening of the fruit. Remove most water sprouts. These are the soft, fast growing shoots usually growing straight up. Cut them back to a main branch. If you need to fill in a spot in the tree and there’s a water sprout growing there, cut that one back to about 2" and it will promote a fruiting spur.

Pruning fruit trees this month controls the size of the tree and can also prevent rampant sprout growth next spring. That’s because pruning removes many of the little food factories ( leaves ) that supply energy to the plant  and store it,  to be used for growth in the spring.

Prune to maintain a vase shape. By promoting upright limbs high in the tree and pruning hardest in upper and outer portions, fruiting wood is maintained throughout the tree. Also eliminate limbs growing inward. Remember never to prune more that 1/4 of the total mass of your tree at any one time and no more than 1/3 per year. Better to space out corrective pruning over 4 years if your tree has gone too long since the last pruning.

One last thing, fertilize your trees one more time. Most established fruit trees need their first application when the tree begins to emerge from dormancy in the spring, another after fruit set and the third immediately after harvest. For young trees in the first, second or third growing season, apply at half the rate.

Feed your trees and they’ll feed you.

Originally posted 2009-09-09 16:33:12.

Plants for the Senses

With students going back to school, my thoughts turn to young people and how to peak their interest in the plant world.  Many schools have life lab gardens and families growing vegetables and fruit trees have a head start.  What better way to learn how plants grow? It’s a big horticultural world out there, filled with plants to taste, smell and touch. Kindle a child’s curiosity early and you create a gardener for life.

Pettable plants are a sure hit with kids. Usually we tell them, "Don’t touch", so to actually have someone encourage this is a rare treat. If your own garden doesn’t have plants that look and feel so soft that you can’t resist petting them, consider adding one of the following:
    ?    lamb’s ears
    ?    scotch moss
    ?    fiber optic grass
    ?    lotus Golden Flames
    ?    coleonema Sunset Gold
    ?    artemisia Powis Castle
    ?    red fountain grass

Fragrant flowers teach us to stop and savor our surroundings. I always love it when I can introduce a youngster to the different plant smells. They never forget the experience and will go back again and again to a fragrance they like. Some common plants I enjoy at this time of year are:
    ?    chocolate cosmos
    ?    sweet alyssum
    ?    heliotrope
    ?    chocolate mint
    ?    nemesia

Originally posted 2009-09-09 16:29:32.

Succulents for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Earlier this year I had so many deer browsing in my garden, I thought the term "deer resistant" was a cruel joke. Don’t they read those lists anymore? My succulents, however, were never victims. If you haven’t paid much attention to these old standbys for a while, it’s time for another look.

There are succulents that thrive i shade as well as sun. That’s because they originate from many different environments. Many come from the deserts of the world while others developed in the cold, windy alpine regions of Europe in poor, rocky soil. A surprising number os succulent plants are native to the Rocky Mountains and Peruvian Andes. Still others evolved on the shores of salt water lakes and oceans where they adapted to high salt concentrations. Almost any environment is suitable for growing some kind of succulent, it merely depends on choosing the right one.

Many of the gardens in this area are frosty in the winter. The common winter hardy succulent varieties most resistant to cold are sedum, sempervivum, echeveria, crassula, agave, dudleya and yucca.

To ensure success when growing succulents, make sure your soil is fast draining. Our winter rains can rot even the toughest plants when their feet sit in soggy soil. Add sand and gravel to your soil or plant on mounds to increase drainage.

Sempervivum and echeveria, both low growing ground covers, are also known as hens-and-chicks. They spread by producing identical offsets that surround the mother plant like chicks. Due to extensive breeding you can choose from more than 4,000 named varieties. Some are tightly clustered, others more open with smooth or velvety leaves in shades ranging from near black to pinks, purples, lavender, apricot and every shade of green. A metallic sheen glints off the leaves of some types, while others like Silver King and Red Ruben have leaves outlined in fuzzy, white hairs. The colors change through the seasons and in summer, starlike flowers bloom atop fat, tall stems.

While the distinct rosette forms of hens & chicks are easily recognizable, in their shape and colors. Low growing varieties include sedum makinoi Ogon, on my my favorites, for their tiny carpet-like golden foliage. Coppertone grows 12" tall with thick coppery colored leaves. Sedum tricolor makes a nice ground cover in sunny areas. Sedum Autumn Joy’s rosy pink flower clusters look beautiful in large swaths combined with pheasant tail grass and Santa Barbara daisy.

There are many other sedums to choose from that do well in our area. All are reliable perennials in our climate. They will not take foot traffic but are otherwise tough, low maintenance plants.

Succulents can be used in so many ways in the garden. Use them in pots or in the front of the border where they provide texture. They can be used to fill in between shrubs or clumps of perennials.

Every garden has a problem spot- one that is too hot, too dry, awkward or shallow for other plants. That’s where succulents come to the rescue.

Originally posted 2009-09-09 09:05:14.

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