Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For The Birds

 The Fall is such a wonderful time of year for gardeners in Southern California. It is the best time of year to plant almost anything other than tropicals since the soil is still warm, the air is still mild (or at least in theory) and the rainy season is on its way. Plants like trees, shrubs and perennials planted in the fall have a chance to establish their root systems in the warm soil before the spring growing season starts, giving them a distinct head start. However we have been having such hot weather along with the continuing drought, it has just not been the right conditions for doing any planting yet. This hasn't kept me away from the nurseries though, as I dream of cooler days to come.

 Instead of bringing home plants doomed to struggle in the heat, I decided to enhance my bird friendly accessories in the way of a few pretty new birdhouses and a new feeder to hold nyger seeds. Rodents don't like these bird seeds and since I stopped feeding the birds a few years ago due to the growing population of rats and mice that were making the feeders their local dining preference, I'm hoping this will attract the small songbirds that do like the seeds.

There is something about the light that is especially lovely this time of year. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler and soon it will be time again to focus on the indoors and family and holidays, but hopefully there will be a window of opportunity to replace many of the plants that have disappeared during this long, hot dry summer, that just couldn't tolerate another year of drought.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

This and That in September

 Not sure what this little guys is - maybe a hoverfly? He is kind of cute!

 My favorites, abutilon, is starting to bloom as the days get shorter and the nights get cooler.

 Don't remember planting this, but I am enjoying this pretty display of allums nerver-the-less!

We have never has squirrels here in SJC - until I bought this sweet little squirrel ornament. Suddenly I have started to see them here and there in the gardens! Weird!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Attracting Butterflies.

 I've been focusing on adding more plants that attract butterflies. Luckily there was a Master Gardener class focusing on just that which I attended a couple months ago that introduced me to some new plants that will do the trick that I don't grow - yet.

 There was an abundance of cleome at the nurseries this summer and I bought a number of them. They add nice summer color and the butterflies love them.

 I have fennel that has self seeded throughout the gardens.

 I have never grown gomphrena before, but after planting it I have a new appreciation for it. It went totally wilted when the new sprinkler weren't working, but bounced right back bigger than ever.

Of course there are the standard butterfly attractions like milkweed and passion flowers. It all must be working because there are more butterflies around than ever this year in the garden - much to my delight! Of course along with butterflies comes caterpillars and some damage to the garden while they eat their way to cocoons, so it is important to eliminate sprays, even organic ones, if you want to make them comfortable sharing your garden.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tales of Woe and One of Graditude

 This is what many plants look like when you plant them in the heat of the summer in a drought. I was deseperately trying to fill in bare spots with plants to prepare for a big party I was planning that would take place out in the SJC gardens. All the leaves died within the first month on this acanthus, but new ones have already started to grow.

 I know I wasn't the only one with sick looking dahlias, I heard many other gardeners complaining this year. Since they hate soggy soil you would think they would do better with limited water. This may be the result of a virus or disease, but that is what happens to stressed plants - they are more likely to fall to either of those maladies as well as insects, than when they are well watered (for their needs) and strong.

 I don't know what kind of tree this is on our neighbor's property behind us that looks like it is on its last leg, but it was once a full, lovely tree that added dimension to our garden. It is just over the fence in a part of their large property that doesn't get watered at all except from rain. I imagine that it may be reaching its roots out to get some from our garden, but if it is near its end of life span, it may not be getting enough to hold it over.

I am so grateful for our trees that are wonderful at cooling the yards and house with their shade. It is about 20 degrees cooler standing under them than walking out into the hot sun. One is a Brazilian pepper tree that was already here and the others are California pepper trees that we planted about six or seven years ago. Both kinds are very drought tolerant and I see them growing around here in terrible conditions looking like little oases of green in an ocean of brown. I would love to pull over every time I see someone in our neighbor hood installing synthetic lawns and advise them to plant a few drought tolerant trees (there are lots of them) and surround them with a crunchy gravel and a few distinctive but beautiful agaves or native perennials and they will be much happier as will the wildlife!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When Plants Get Stressed

 Different plants respond differently to stress (much like people). Many plants, like this brilliant 'Santa Barbara' bougainvillea, think it's best to send out as many flowers as possible to help spread seeds before it may expire. Although it is considered a tropical plant, and I think of tropical plants as ones coming from lush, rain forest-y places, many are extremely drought tolerant. This is probably why the most beautiful and prolific bougainvilleas are usually found in the most desolate places like abandoned buildings or deserted parking lots and yet we can't get them to bloom in our own backyards.

 Every year I have the queen palm trees at our SJC home trimmed in the fall when they put out their flowers and annoying seeds. They cover the ground with scrappy little flower petals then cherry-sized seeds that make a big mess when you have 100 of them. This year I have already had to bring my tree trimmers out once in the summer because they were uncharacteristically blooming and seeding all over the place in July, I'm assuming due to the lack of water. We removed the seed pods, flowers and any dying branches. As you can see here it is almost time to do it again.

 Although it is impossible to remove established acanthus, they do not like the drought at all. I have lost a whole bed of them in Laguna and the ones I have placed here and there in the shade in SJC are not fairing well. As you can see, this one has lost all it's leaves but is desperately trying to establish its legacy by expending every last bit of energy in putting out this lone flower stalk. I'm sure it will survive and I hate to say it, but I have never seen them sprout from seed in my gardens yet.

 The good news is that a bit of stress can force a stubborn non-bloomer to finally bloom like this little banana tree! I have grown bananas in Laguna for many years and planted a couple trees as soon as we moved into SJC, but they never bloomed. This week I was delighted to see the first flower on my little 'Ice Cream' plant. Hopefully by the time the holidays come I can show the grandkids how bananas grow.

Not all plants respond to stress with prolific blooms. My roses have been almost non-existent this year. They seem to pull in and reserve all their strength to withstand the cut back in water and when they do bloom they are small, sad flowers. I have fertilized same as usual, but they prefer to wait it out until more water is available. I have noticed that the vacant lot down the street where a gentleman grows dozens and dozens of rose bushes for his hobby of showing roses in contests is as prolific as usual. He does use synthetic fertilizers which stimulate the blooms no matter what is going on with Mother Nature. Of course along with that he has to use lots of sprays and lots of water, but he does have glorious flowers!