When Life Gives You Lemons

80131thumbWhen life gives you lemons, it is likely this time of year. Although, the most popular garden varieties of lemon, like ‘Meyer’ and ‘Eureka’, continue to produce at least a few more fruits sporadically through the year. ‘Lisbon’ lemon that is still used in orchard production, and is the ancestor of the household ‘Eureka’ lemon, produces almost all of its fruit in winter, and blooms shortly afterward.

Ripe citrus in the middle of winter impresses those in climates where winter is too cold for much to happen in the garden. They could not grow a citrus tree if they wanted to. Even here, frost can damage some of the more sensitive citrus varieties, like ‘Mexican’ lime. Unlike the fruits of summer, citrus fruits ripen slowly and are not so perishable, so do not need to be harvested right away.

This means that if it is raining, cold or just to wintery to go outside, citrus fruits can be left on the tree until the weather improves. Most of us prefer to pick them in small batches anyway. Ideally, fruit should get picked as it is consumed. Lemons and limes typically get picked individually as needed, until there are so many that some need to be bagged and shared with friends and neighbors.

Mandarin oranges are the most perishable of the citrus. Because their skins are so loosely attached to the pulp, the pulp can oxidize, lose flavor and eventually get dry and pithy. Incidentally, a ‘tangerine’ is merely a Mandarin orange that was developed in North or South America. A surprisingly sour (unknown) Mandarin orange might really be a ‘Rangpur lime’, which is not a lime at all.

Unlike most fruit that continues to ripen after harvest, or pears that actually delay ripening until after harvest, citrus fruits stop developing flavor once picked. It is best to taste them for confirmation of ripe flavor prior to harvest. Some Mandarin oranges may have slightly greenish blotches on them even when completely ripe. The best ‘Valencia’ oranges can look rather yellowish. Grapefruits might mellow if left in their trees past ripeness, but can also inhibit bloom.

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Okie Mowers

P80120They are excellent at weeding and vegetation management too, particularly where brambles are too thick to get through. They also convert unwanted vegetation into useful fertilizer. Goats are remarkably versatile and useful machines around the garden.

The goat in this picture is no ordinary goat. She is a pygmy fainting goat. Her kind were bred to faint when startled, in order to keep a predator occupied instead of eating other more desirable livestock in their herd. What a strange job description! When we went to Oklahoma a few years ago, we stayed on a farm with quite a herd of these small and pleasantly mannered goats.

It was winter while we were there, so there was not much to do in regard to vegetation management or gardening. There were a few blackjack oaks near the homes that I pruned up for clearance and just to neaten them up a bit. The goats came over to watch what I was doing, and seemed to know to stay back when branches fell. Nonetheless, the commotion of some of the larger branches falling was enough to cause some of the closer goats to faint and fall to the ground. They would get back up within a few seconds and proceed to eat the twigs from the branches. By the time I was finished pruning, only the larger stems remained to be dragged off and staged next to a burn pile of other debris that had accumulated earlier in the year.

Late one evening, my friend Steven decided to burn the burn pile. ( https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/oklahoma/ and https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/birthday/ ) I do not know why Steven thought that it would be a good idea to burn it in the dark. The neighbors off in the distance were probably wondering the same thing. Once it was started, there was no point in extinguishing it for a more convenient time. I went out to help him finish the job.

The initial pile flared up pretty well, and then took some time to die down. All the goats who happened to be in the main pasture at the time came over and gathered around to watch. They all seemed to be so interested, and formed a very neat and uniform circle around the fire. Their happy faces glowed like those of a really big troop of Boy Scouts.

It took a while, but the fire eventually died down enough to start throwing on the staged limbs of the blackjack oaks. The goats did not seem to mind as Steven shooed a few of them aside to get a nice hefty limb. From a few feet back, Steven innocently dropped the limb onto the fire.

The limb went down.

The flurry of sparks went up.

The entire herd of goats went down.

Neither Steven nor I saw much of what happened after that. As fast as the goats got back up, we both went down, laughing too hard to stand. The neighbors must have thought we were crazy. The goats were more certain of it. By the time we recovered and got back up, all the goats were gone . . . off into the distance and the darkness of that cool winter night in Oklahoma.

Litter Box

P80120+++++Perhaps I should elaborate on the ‘litter boxes’ in the ‘Six on Saturday’ post earlier this morning. As I already mentioned, they are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures. They were formerly inhabited by Italian cypress trees that would now be like those nearby if they had survived.

This is no joke. Someone really selected the tree that provides the least shade for hot pavement, and attracts the most birds to do what birds do on parked cars.

Because they were installed as large boxed specimens, and were watered generously enough to maintain swampy conditions in the surrounding soil, most of the cypresses could not disperse their roots fast enough, and consequently got blown over onto parked cars in their first or second winter. The survivors took many years to get established, and were bound to big and unsightly lodgepole stakes for years.

Rather than getting outfitted with ‘shade’ trees or perennials, . . . or anything, these litter box planters remain as blank and uselessly small rectangular lawns, requiring regular mowing, edging and lots of watering. Incidentally, many of us around town let our lawns die to conserve water. Brown is the new green.

Because they are in such a high traffic area, and sometimes get run over by cars, the sprinkler heads are always in need of adjustment. They are quite generous with sharing their water with the surrounding pavement and any cars that might be parked there early in the morning, which makes the waste of water more blatant. The curbs are tripping hazards.

So, what are these litter boxes good for? Are they reserved for grave sites? ‘Very’ miniature golf perhaps? No one knows. This is not exactly a nice spot for a picnic or a game of volleyball.P80120k

Six on Saturday: Cat Walk in the Kitty City

P801201. What have we here?

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2. Oh, directions.

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3. Oh my! What is THAT!

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4. Another one!

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5. Meet the parents.

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6. These must be their litter boxes.

The Cat Walk is a rather ingenious exhibit of several concrete cat sculptures displayed in various street trees on the two main streets of downtown. The locations of these sculptures are cited on a map available to anyone who wants one. Most of us prefer a light duty challenge of trying to find all of the sculptures without the map. Some are hidden better than others, but all are easily visible from the sidewalk. What a fun way to utilize our otherwise unremarkable downtown street trees! Unfortunately, some of the sculptures have been dislodged from their original positions, which is why the two pictured here in opposite sides of the same holly oak seem to be be out of sorts. I am sorry for the bad quality of the pictures, especially #4.

The parents are not sculptures of the Cat Walk, but are modern reproductions of the famous and historical ‘Cats’ flanking the driveway of the old Wood Residence. No one knows which one is Leo and which one is Leona. The only difference between the two is that one has his or her eyes closed, and the other has his or her eyes open. They flank the driveway of a shopping center just north of Highway 9 on North Santa Cruz Avenue.

The sixth picture of the grassy ‘litter boxes’ is included as an almost funny example of really bad landscaping. They are in the same parking lot as the Leo and Leona sculptures, and formerly contained Italian cypress trees like the the one in the foreground and the two in the distance.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Blue Hibiscus

70118Like euryops daisy, sweet pea shrub and New Zealand tea tree, the blue hibiscus, Alyogyne huegelii, blooms whenever it wants to, even if it wants to bloom sporadically through winter. It should bloom more abundantly in phases though spring and summer, but even that is difficult to predict. The three inch wide flowers are lavender blue, but can be rich purple or white. Pink is very rare.

Young plants can grow quickly but sparsely. Lanky stems can be tip pruned after a spring bloom phase to promote branching and improve density. Growth slows with maturity. Plants can get five feet high and wide in their second year, but might never reach the eaves. They like full sun and shelter from wind, but should not mind a bit of shade. Established plants do not need much water.

Berries Are For The Birds

51125It is probably no coincidence that certain berries and small fruits are so colorful through winter while colorful flowers are relatively scarce. Like flowers, they want to get others to do something for them. Flowers use color, aroma, flavor and sometimes even texture to attract and reward pollinators. Colorful berries and fruits do the same to attract birds and animals who disperse their seeds.

There are not many colorful flowers blooming in winter to distract anyone from colorful berries and fruit. Those who want them are pretty intent on finding them anyway. There is not much else for overwintering birds to eat. Squirrels probably have plenty of acorns and nuts stored, but might enjoy a few berries too. No matter how abundant they are, there is serious competition for berries.

Most types of berries and small fruits that are so colorful through winter contain tiny seeds that get eaten along with the fruit. In this manner, the seeds get taken away from their origin as easily as birds fly away. They then get dispersed as birds do what birds do (that can be so annoying on a freshly washed car). Digestion only scarifies these seeds, which might not germinate otherwise.

This all might be much more information than necessary for home gardening. All we really need to know is that there are several plants that can produce colorful berries through winter while other color is limited. Although, it might be useful to be aware that these colorful berries are likely to eventually be depleted by the birds and any other wildlife that they are intended to be appealing to.

Then again, winter berries are popularly grown specifically to attract birds and wildlife to the garden. Either way, if berries are grown for their color or to attract birds, they have the potential to be messy. Those that do not get eaten eventually fall onto whatever is below them. Those that do get eaten fall (in ‘another form’) all over the neighborhood, and of course, onto freshly washed cars.

Coincidentally, most plants that produce colorful winter berries are related. They are of the ‘rose’ family, ‘Rosaceae’, and produce similar ‘pomme’ fruits that look like minute apples. Firethorn (pyracantha) is the most colorful and prolific. The various cotoneasters, including some low growing ground-covers, are similar, but not so prolific. Toyon is a colorful native that works nicely in unrefined landscapes. English hawthorn is a small deciduous tree.

Winter Coat

P80117Wire haired terriers know how it works. They wear wiry hair through summer to shade their skin while allowing cooling air circulation. Their softer and fuzzier undercoat that develops in autumn provides better insulation from cold weather through winter.

Beards are not naturally so adaptable, but can be manipulated to function better. Thick beards might insulate and deflect wind through winter. Short beards may not work as well in that regard, but might absorb warmth from sunlight if still darkly colored. As weather gets warmer in spring, beards can simply be removed to optimize cooling air circulation, and eliminate the extra insulation. However, long and gray beards can provide shade without absorbing much warmth from sunlight.

Have you ever noticed that plants that live near foggy coasts or in the lower levels of shady jungles and forests are the darkest green? They want to absorb all the sunlight they can get. Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, coast redwood and the many ferns that live on the ground below them are classic examples.

Plants that live in exposed situations or high elevations are lighter green. Some have glaucous foliage that is shaded gray or blue to reflect a bit of sunlight. Colorado blue spruce, silver leaved mountain gum, century plant and silver sage exemplify this technique. The old man cactus actually shades itself with weirdly elongated spines that resemble gray hair.

English walnut, maple, apple and pear have sensitive bark that would get burned if too exposed during summer. Yet, they are all deciduous and bare through winter. They do not mind, because the intensity of the sunlight through winter is inhibited by the low angle of the sun. By the time the sun is higher in the sky, and the sunlight is more direct (passing through less of the atmosphere at the higher angle), the sensitive bark will be shaded by new foliage.P71019

‘Silver Falls’ Dichondra

80124No one seems to know what ever happened to old fashioned dichondra lawns. Everyone seemed to like them, especially those of us who dislike turf grasses. Somehow, they became passe and very rare. The formerly common dichondra that such lawns were made of is now merely a resilient weed in turf lawns. But wait! We have not heard the last of this resilient and appealing perennial.

Silver Falls dichondra, Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, has the same tiny rounded leaves, dense growth and fine texture as old fashioned dichondra lawns, but instead of rich deep green, it is strikingly silvery gray. It does not tolerate traffic well enough to work as lawn, but is a distinctive small scale groundcover, and cascades exquisitely from urns of mixed perennials or hanging pots.

The trailing growth spreads indefinitely over the surface of the soil, but is not very fast about it. As ground cover, individual plants should therefore be planted only two or three feet apart. They get two to four inches deep. Hanging growth (that can not root into the soil) can cascade more than three feet downward. Silver Falls dichondra prefers regular watering and full sun or a bit of shade.

Proper Bare Root Planting Technique

80124thumbBare root plants are less expensive, easier to handle, and easier to prune into a desired form than canned (potted) plants are. Also, they get established into the garden easier. Yes, even with less roots, they disperse their new roots directly into the surrounding soil more efficiently than secondary roots escaping from crowded roots that had been confined to cans of media (potting soil).

Bare root plants have no incentive to stay confined. They get planted while dormant, and wake up surrounded only by their new soil, with nothing else to get in the way. Canned plants might have been circling their roots within a limited volume of media for a while, trying to find a way out. Once they get in the ground, they may not like what they find there, and try to stay close to the familiar.

Bare root plants should not get too much of a good thing. The need only minimal soil amendment. They might like a bit of organic matter to retain moisture and to keep the soil loose while they get oriented to their new home. A bit of fertilizer would be nice too. Yet, new bare root plants should not get so much amendment that they do not want to disperse their roots beyond the planting hole.

Planting holes do not need to be very big at all. They should be wider than the roots can be spread, but not deeper. Loosing the soil and adding amendments below will cause new plants to sink. Graft unions of grafted plants must remain above grade. Plants with big roots, like fruit trees and roses, prefer their roots to be spread out over a cone of soil in the center of their planting hole.

Most bare root fruit trees are sold with more branches than they need, so should be pruned after planting. Some might get pruned by half. The superfluous stems are there both to cushion the trees in transport, and also to allow more choices for pruning. Some of us want to prune down to lower branches, while others want to prune up to slightly higher branches. Berry canes need very small planting holes, and get pruned back to only two or three buds above ground.P80115

Vasona

P80114Only a few bits and pieces of natural native vegetation can be found on the floor of the Santa Clara Valley. They are primarily in spots that were not useful for some sort of development. Almost all of the big coast live oaks and valley oaks that lived in the flat areas are gone. Riparian vegetation still survives on the banks of creeks, and in adjacent areas where it has not yet been cleared.

Vasona Lake Park is a Santa Clara County Park situated around the small Vasona Reservoir just north of town. Although much of the natural vegetation was cleared a very long time ago, and exotic vegetation was either added or naturalized, several big native trees remain, including several California sycamore trees.

Because these grand sycamores were more common here than anywhere else in our childhood world, and we did not know what they were, my younger brother knew them simply as ‘Vasona’ trees. They were tall and gnarly, with big holes in their bulky leaning trunks. The lowest branches were far too high for us to reach, so we cold not climb them. The leaves were not clean and smooth like maple leaves, so we did not mess with them too much.

Unlike most deciduous trees that drop their leaves within a limited time in autumn, California sycamores drop their leaves whenever they want to. Most leaves fall in autumn. Some linger into winter. If the summer is exceptionally dry or warm, many leaves fall very early. Anthracnose can make the first spring leaves fall almost as quickly as they develop.

Somewhere along the line, my younger brother learned that catching a falling leaf before it reaches the ground is lucky. Consequently, we often ran after leaves that we saw falling from high up in the sycamore treees, if they were falling slowly enough for us to get to where they were going before they did.

I ignore them now. I notice the patterns of defoliation just because I am an arborist, but that is about the extent of it. However, I happened to see this leaf falling slowly from near the top of a massive California sycamore, and just had to catch it; my lucky Vasona tree leaf.