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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

HortiCOOLture - Designed for Dispersion

Bitter Melon fruits are dehiscent - they crack open when ripe.

Plants continually amaze me.  The designer of life, I personally believe it to be God, made sure that each one is uniquely equipped with everything it needs to succeed.  For plants, success means to be able to reproduce their kind.  They photosynthesize and grow in order to flower.  Flowers eventually turn into fruits.  Fruits bear the seeds.  The seeds are dispersed to begin a new life.  And the cycle goes on.  Unlike other organisms plants do not have the mobility that would facilitate dispersal of seeds.  Nonetheless, plants have the ability to lure other life forms and the environment into scattering their seeds.  In the wild world where cultivation is not an option, plant seeds are dispersed by animals, wind, and water.

Case Example
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia L.), a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, produces fruits that are characteristically bitter.  Unaided, this unpalatable plant has a chance to grow only on the same place over and over again.  That would be a losing proposition.  But this plant is equipped with a mechanism that compensates for the bitterness of its fruit.  First of all, this plant is equipped with dehiscent fruits.  Dehiscent fruits are those that split open at maturity.  Most plants in the Cucurbitaceae family produce fruits called pepo with thick rind like that of the watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumber - they are indehiscent fruits.   But the bitter melon is one of the rare exceptions.  The fruits crack at maturity.  Secondly, as the fruit opens, the seeds that are encased in sweet red membrane are revealed to the rest of the world inviting all to come and have a taste.  Animals cannot resist the succulent and sweet seed-covering but they leave the seeds elsewhere.  At this point, seed dispersal is complete.

Have you observed any special plant features that aid seed dispersal lately?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tomatoes in September

Fig. 1   Harvest ('Sun Gold' and 'Super Fantastic' -  September 18,2013)

Today my husband brought in these tomatoes from the garden.  They are still producing and the fruits are still sweet and juicy.  Here in our area, as long as we continue to tend to these indeterminate tomatoes, we can expect to have fresh tomatoes until early November or Thanksgiving depending on the weather.  

Fig. 2  Super Fantastic showing flower buds as of September 18, 2013

As seen on the growing tips of the indeterminate 'Super Fantastic' tomatoes (Fig 2) flowering continues even as we approach the end of summer.  In fact, they will continue to flower until the temperature gets too cold. (Determinate tomato varieties, on the other hand, will cease to flower in spite of favorable growing conditions.)  At some point however, even when the flowers set, low temperature will hinder the fruits from growing into reasonable-size tomatoes as they will also fail to ripen.  This is the reason for fried green-tomatoes in my kitchen.

Fig. 3  Beautiful fruit set

I also noticed some signs of tomato worm damage in the tips of the tomatoes.  Fortunately, because we have resident Blue Jays in the garden, the damage is not extensive at all.  

 How are your tomatoes doing this month?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pride of Madeira

 Echium candicans
Common Name: Pride of Madeira
Family: Boraginaceae
Plant Type: Annual or Biennial or Shrub
Country of Origin: Portugal (Madeira), Spain (Canary Islands)
Zone: 14-24

First encounter
Every year, for one reason or another, we would find ourselves roaming or driving along the coast of California enjoying the wet salty breeze on our skin.  This is what inland-Californians do, I guess.   And almost always, my eyes seem to be awakened and drawn towards an elegant shrub covered with purplish blue flowers flower heads that point to the sky.  The Echium candicans is a very delightful plant overall.  I fall in love with it every time I see it.  I can remember seeing it first a long time ago (before internet was open to everyone) in Carmel while on the 17-Mile Drive.  Looking at it from a distance I knew I saw something good that I wasn't looking for.  From that time on I saw it again many times but it was when my family was visiting the Mission San Luis Obispo that I came very close to the "Pride of Madeira" (its American nickname). The temptation to have this plant rushed all over me that I could not resist to break off a tiny branch from the shrub. Wrapped in a moistened paper towel tucked it in a plastic bag, the branch came home with me.   I gave all the necessary tender care and it rewarded me by showing me some roots and then new leaves grew.  The plant lives!  But when winter came that year, the plant died.   And I didn't even know its name.  

Funnel-shaped flowers are borne on spike-like panicles.

Facts about the Pride of Madeira
It was only when I started working at the nursery that I came to know more about the plant.  I found out that this plant has the following attributes:
  • Large gorgeous plant (5-6 ft tall and 6-10 ft wide)
  • Beautiful purplish-blue flowers from spring to summer float above foliage.
  • Evergreen (green and grey-silver) leaves
  • Attracts butterflies, bees and birds.
  • Drought tolerant in the coastal areas 
  • Tolerates poor soils
  • Deer Resistant
  • Poisonous (all plant parts)
  • Reseeds - it can become a weed if unchecked.

New branches do not grow on old wood. 

Factors to Consider in Growing Pride of Madeira

  • Sun - Full Sun or part shade in hot climates (like mine),
  • Soil - moderately fertile; sand, clay or loam; well-drained soil.  Neutral or alkaline pH.  Rich soils can hinder good flowering.
  • Fertilize during growing period.  No fertilizer is required in winter.
  • Pruning for shape is not necessary.  If you need to prune only within the branches that have leaves.  The plant branch only on new stems.  
  • Deadhead to avoid reseeding.
  • The plant naturally forms into a round shrub.
  • Protect from frost in situ with frost cloth.  Young growths are susceptible to freezing temperature.
  • Potential pests include snails and slugs especially when the shoots are young.

Recently, my family visited Angel Island and again "Pride of Madeira", in full bloom all over the island, captured my heart. (The pictures featured in this post were all taken from the island.) The sad truth is - this plant is not adaptable to my Zone 9 climate.  But I will try to bring her to my garden one more time.

Did you know?  Echium candicans is poisonous.  This is probably why it is deer resistant.  

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