Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Baby Blue Jay

Baby Blue Jay

Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) seem to consider our garden as a prime location for building nests. Previously, they had a nest on the lemon tree and on the Cecile Brunner rose that was by our front door.  But the best so far was when they had a nest on a three-foot tall standard rose in the backyard.  My two older kids, who were then very young, looked at the eggs every day.  This year, our resident blue jays built another nest on the grape arbor.  My daughter (younger) watched them as they gathered twigs for the nest.  She observed every activity there - touched the three eggs and then heard the little baby blue jays claim their worm every feeding time. When the nest became too small for them and the mommy bird prodded them to fly but one of them was still too weak to take flight. It fell to the ground.  We put it back to the nest that night but soon we saw her in one of the bushes where she was safe.

Getting ready for the first flight.

It is amazing to watch the birds take care of their young - they are like humans in the way they teach their kids - one lesson at a time.  The other day I watched the parent blue jays teach the babies to splash water from the bird bath.  It was amusing.  

Out of the nest for the first time.

 Attract the blue jays to your vegetable garden with corn or peanut seeds.  And they will eat all your tomato hornworms too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Growing 'Woolly Rose'

Fig. 1    Woolly Rose (Echeveria cristata 'Doris Taylor') flowers

Every summer in my garden, the Echeveria cristata 'Woolly Rose' (a.k.a. Echeveria 'Doris Taylor') sends out colorful flowers that look like candies.  The rosette foliage of this plant is covered evenly with a thick mat of trichomes that gives it a velvety appearance - thus the name Woolly Rose.   Not only the plant is beautiful but it is also a source of nectar for the hummingbirds (Fig. 2).  Whenever my plants bloom, I move the ones that are in pots to a place where we can enjoy the view from the kitchen window.  

Fig. 2    When in bloom, Echeveria cristata is a hummingbird magnet.

Tips in Growing Woolly Rose 

1.  Soil.  Plant Woolly Rose in the garden where the soil is well drained.  Improve drainage of clay soils by adding sand or pumice in planting area.  In containers, use cactus mix for good drainage and weight.  Adding good amount of Perlite and sand to regular potting soil works as well.  

2.  Sunlight.  Woolly Rose is adaptable to a wide range of environments but the plant will look its best in the right place.  In the summer (Zone 9), position Woolly Rose where it will get a few hours of morning sun or a short period of afternoon sun.  Too much exposure to sunlight will result in washed out yellowish color of the leaves while too little sunlight gives relatively greener foliage and longer internodes.  The right amount of sunlight will give the plant a bluish green color and compact rosette foliage.  Contrary to popular belief, succulents thrive best in partly shaded environment.

3.  Water.  The plant can tolerate periods of dry conditions but they grow faster and look better if they get adequate water.  Adjust watering based on the weather.  Watering is needed more frequently in summer and spring time, when the soil dries up faster, than in the cooler months of fall and winter.  The size of container is also a factor to consider when it comes to watering.  Plants in smaller containers require more frequent watering than those in larger containers/

Fig. 3    Echeveria cristata planted along with some Aloes.

 4.  Fertilizer.  Woolly Rose performs better when it gets sufficient soil nutrients.  Although the plant does not need a lot of fertilizer, it is responsive to fertilization during growing season.  A low dose of complete fertilizer is all the plant needs.  Succulent/cactus fertilizers (2-7-7 and 1-7-6), available at local nurseries, are easy to use and can be applied as often as every other week.  

5.  Protection from Frost.  Woolly Rose is easy to grow - the only problem, especially where I live, is the susceptibility of the plant to frost damage.  In areas where freezing temperatures are expected, protect the plant by moving them to a sheltered area.  With a little bit of protection this plant will continue to provide a delightful touch in the succulent garden.

6.  Propagation.  The plant is easy to propagate through cuttings.  Stem cuttings collected under the lowest leaves are the fastest to root.  Collect and stick the cuttings where there is a little bit of moisture and warmth. Figure 3 shows Woolly Rose growing from the sides of an orchid plant. Cuttings were directly planted into the holes.  Some succulents can be easily propagated from the leaves but this is not the case with Woolly Rose.  

Fig. 4   Trichome-covered rosette foliage.

Note:  Extreme temperatures, drought, and nutritional deficiency are conditions that can cause stress to Woolly Rose - all of which can contribute in the loss of the basal leaves and exposing a dark brown stem (Fig. 4).   However, this is not necessarily alarming.  In fact, this is a natural process that gives that plant an aged look. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Radicchio in my Kitchen Garden

Radicchio (Cichorium intybus) made it into my vegetable garden when my husband sowed (literally poured) a packet of Salad Greens seeds in between tomato plants last summer (2013).  The seeds emerged quickly, produced healthy foliage till they began to bolt and produced flowers.  Autumn came; one type of the greens continued to grow and did not bolt.  Then winter came; the leaves of this plant began to form heads - like that of cabbage.  The new leaves also began to turn wine-red in color.  It was then when I began to wonder what this plant was - Radicchio!

When Monocle Magazine named radicchio Vegetable of 2014, I was determined to keep a close observation on these curious plants growing in my garden.  The mildly bitter and vibrant red radicchio is considered a super food due to its high antioxidant content.  It was tempting but I resisted harvesting them.  At this point they were more valuable as a learning tool than food.

Spring came and the radicchio heads began to unfurl and flower initiation began.  The plant finally began to bolt.  The ground-hugging salad item suddenly turned into seven-foot flowering plant.  Beautiful blue flowers opened every morning and faded in the afternoon.  This scheduled flower opening made the bees busy during the cooler time of the day.  Indeed, radicchio is a good insectary plant.  Being a member of the Asteraceae plant family (commonly known as aster or sunflower family), the flowers are designed in such a way that insects can land on them with conveniently.

 Plant radicchio for food, beautiful flowers and insectary plant.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cymbidium Season

There is a season for everything.  In my garden, now is cymbidium season.   While the rest of the plants are just beginning to awake from their winter rest, these outdoor orchids are putting on a spectacular show. 

Cymbidium flowers have an incredibly long life span. When left outdoor under a protected area the blooms can last from four to six weeks depending on prevailing temperatures and available moisture. Based on my experience, they can outlive their desirability. With clean water, cut flowers have a vase-life of two to three weeks.

Cymbidiums prefer being outdoors where they can get bright lights but away from direct hot sun, gusty winds and frost.  Here in our Zone 9 area, night time temperatures still come close to freezing at times and the ornamental pear tree (Bradford) that provides a protective shelter in the summer is still bare at this time.  And although these orchids can withstand some frost, we usually move them into the patio for protection during the cold months of January-March and also for a little cover from direct sunlight.  When they are done blooming they go back where they can get as much sunlight as they can while temperatures are still below "scorching-levels". This arrangement works well for me since the patio is right next to the dining room window; we get to enjoy the flowers more. It is alright to bring the orchids indoors when they are bursting with flowers but they need to go back outside as soon as possible in order to keep the plants healthy and strong. Generally, I prefer to cut the flowers and leave the mother-plants outside. This way, next year's bloom is not compromised.

It is obvious from the pictures here that I need to learn the discipline of staking.  Staking is a process. It is not a one-time activity.  Success in staking can be achieved when the process is started when the spikes are short and then tied progressively higher as they lengthen.  Staked flower spikes look stately and elegant but the natural bent-look of their unsupported counterparts gives the appearance of freedom and playfulness in the cymbidium.  So it is a matter of preference.

  The name cymbidium comes from the ancient Greek word "kymbe" meaning hollow vessel - referring to the cupped base of the lip.  For that reason, cymbidium is also referred to as the boat orchid

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Spring Flowers Meet the Rain for the First Time

First Flowers:  Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera

After a record-breaking period of no measurable precipitation in our area, the rain has finally come this year. Between yesterday and today, some four inches of rain (and counting) has already blessed our soils.  For the first time this year, the soil is getting close to saturation within the root zone.  It is beautiful to see the leaves of the plants glisten under an overcast sky.  The colors of the flowers look more intense in the rain.  Even with just two rainy days, so far, signs of accelerated activity among the plants are now visible.

The plants seem to be singing in the rain right now.

HortiCOOlture - The Mutant Cactus

Fig. 1   Hibotan:  Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var.friedrichii 

Mutation happens when there is a sudden change in the DNA sequence of a gene which contributes largely to the diversity among plants.

Hibotan or Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. friedrichii) is a mutant cactus. This mutation is characterized by the absence of chlorophyll in the plant.  The colors of the normal Gymnocalycium range from green to greenish purple, but their mutated counterparts - lacking the green pigmentation - exhibit bright colors in yellow, pink, creamy-white, orange, or red. 

Plants are by nature autotrophs - capable of producing their own food through the process of photosynthesis. However, the absence of chlorophyll, a key component to photosynthesis, disqualifies the mutant cactus (Hibotan) from being a self-feeding organism.  On their own, they will not survive for more than a week since they cannot produce sugars for nourishment.  However, in spite of its inability to photosynthesize, the absence of the green pigmentation resulted in clear vivid coloration of the plant that mimics the vibrant hue of flowers.  Indeed, the colorful part of the Hibotan (Fig. 1) is not a flower.  On the contrary, it is a handicapped plant that is grafted to a physiologically functioning plant for nutritional support.  The composite plant with brightly colored scion on green stock creates an appearance of a cactus in bloom (Fig.1).

It is not a flower -- it is a chlorophyll-free cactus attached to a green stock.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking Back: Heavy Lessons on Thinning Young Fruits

Peaches in my garden - summer 2013 

Too much of anything is not a good thing.  There is balance to be observed between that which is beneficial and that which is permissible for a healthy life - plants included.   This year we were delighted to see a beautiful crop of peaches which is attributed to the absence of leaf curl infection.  The drier weather from late winter to early spring was not conducive for the proliferation of the pathogen Taphrina deformans.  In previous years, the tree would lose all its early leaves leaving the developing fruits to starve until the new set of healthy leaves come out.  Sometimes the fruits also get infected which results not only in low yield but poor quality crop.  

As the fruits grew larger under the summer sun, the problem slowly surfaced.  The slender stems laden with fruits began to hang straight downwards.  One of the larger branches was so heavy. I was afraid that it might break.  We had to prop it up with three pieces of 2x4x8 lumber.  I admit that my tree is not in its best form.  Pruning on this tree has been mainly for the purpose of making sure it does not arch into our neighbors' yard.  (I doubt they appreciate peaches falling into their swimming pool.)  This effort has led to the formation of a lop-sided tree.  It is a nice tree but it not strong enough to bear a heavy crop.  
A heavy fruit load can be detrimental to the tree.

Based on the situation described here, the problem that needed to be addressed is excessive fruits.
Under favorable growing conditions, such as what we had this year, fruit trees set more fruits than they can support adequately.  And this problem is magnified when trees have not been properly pruned in the previous season.  A heavy fruit load can result in branch breakage.  When there are too many fruits competing for carbohydrates, the fruits cannot reach their optimum size.  The tree also gets nutritionally deprived and weakened - making it more susceptible to pests and even sunburn damage.  Another possible effect of excessive fruits on trees is alternate bearing (the cycle in which the tree bears a heavy crop in one year and a skimpy or no yield in the next).  This phenomenon happens when the tree is nutritionally deprived while supporting its fruits - a situation that will continue to plague my tree until I will muster enough discipline to remove the excess fruits when they are young.  

Rule for fruit thinning:  Mature fruits should not be touching each other.

Peaches are among the fruit trees that require fruit thinning for best results - superior quality fruits are produced while maintaining a healthy tree.  As a general rule, allow room in between fruits so that at maturity fruits should not be touching each other.

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