Monday, October 26, 2009


In my garden there is one type of plant that is gaining prominence.  Succulents are becoming my new hobby plant.  Being heat and drought tolerant, these plants are easy to grow.  They are slow-growing and they maintain the way they look for a long period of time.  Their beauty is in the shape, color, and arrangement of the leaves.  Some of them are glossy while others are matte and still some are hairy.   So far I have a small collection of them but I intend to expand it. My collection does not include the spiny cactus.  I don't intend to acquire them. The roses are already being extracted from my garden because I dislike the thorns.  Heaven forbid that I should introduce a different form of those thorns.    My plants came from various sources.  One of my favorite varieties came from my sister-in-law's (Jennifer's) previous garden.  Another one is from Pat Brown's garden.  When my family went to Point Arena in 2008 for our wedding anniversary, I broke (or more accurately, stole) a branch from one of the plants near the house we rented and now I have a lot of them but I still have not found the name for it.  In the mean time I will call it the "anniversary cactus".  I have never seen this one in any garden center so far.  The rest have been purchased somewhere.   I intend to do my research to figure out the names of all my succulent plants.  That is another project. 

I have enlisted my husband to make me some wooden boxes for these plants.  He has made one so far, and I planted it this morning.  The greyish green color of the leaves contrasts well with the color of the wood.   This is an experimental project, and I'm curious to see how they the whole display looks when the wood ages some more and all the plants cover the soil.

Monday, October 19, 2009

After the Storm

Monday was stormy where the rain gauge in our backyard registered 6 inches.  That was enough water to saturate the ground (all air spaces in the soil is replaced with water) making the soil very loose.  There was more rain than the soil can hold resulting in excessive erosion.  Not only that the winds were gusty at a speed of 55mph.  This combinanation of rain and wind knocked down a lot of trees, broke branches and forced the leaves off some trees even before they could show their beautiful colors.

Clean Up the Yard  It is a good idea to clean the yard as soon as possible after the storm.  Aside from aesthetic reasons, this will help eliminate breeding places for garden pests such as snails and slugs.
 Slugs and snails lay their eggs in dark and damp soil such as under those layers of plant debris and of rocks. They feed on living or decaying plant material. Their eggs take from 2 months to 2 years to become adult slugs and snails.  Thick ground covers are ideal hiding and breeding places for slugs and snails.  In my garden their favorite places to hide are under the boxwood plants.  Clearing the base of the hedges and collecting the dead leaves that have collected there make this an unfavorable place for them.  

Drain every container that has collected water.  In my yard there pots and containers that collect water whenever it rains.  If left undrained, these will become breeding places for mosquitos.  Sometimes part of our gutter does not drain properly and this can become a perfect place for mosquitos to lay their eggs if the water remains there for at least one week.  Checking the gutters after the storm is indeed a good thing to do after the storm. 

Prune Trees  Make clean cuts where the branches have been broken.  This will allow the trees to heal faster.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Little Explanation

When I started this blog, Mastering Horticulture, I decided to follow a simple process - to write about the activities that I do in my small garden and the observations and thoughts along the way.  I assumed that this was going to be an easy process - yet I found out that the thoughts that run in my head get old so quickly.  I would be gardening and see what would be good topic to write but the travel between my yard and the computer fades my desire to write about the idea.  I'm therefore contemplating on carrying a small notebook and a pen so that I could write the points that I'd be interested to write about.   After all, the dullest pencil is better than the sharpest mind. 

I blog about gardening but the irony of this is that gardening actually hinders my blogging and my blogging hinders by gardening.  Help!  Am I the only blogger who is trapped in this dilemma? Fortunately, gardening always wins.  Blogging is a new addition in my schedule hence, I need to discipline myself.  I must learn to adjust my speed in my other activities like doing laundry, cooking, studying the bible, grocery shopping, eating, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.  This would lengthen my time for blogging.

Blogging helps me organize my thoughts. This is particularly an important exercise for me because English is my third language.  I speak Ilocano (one of the many dialects spoken in the Philippines) as my mother tongue and Pilipino (also known as Tagalog) as my second language.  With this reason for my blogging, rest assured that I will persevere in blogging.

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Falling Leaves and Hormones

Why do leaves and fruits fall naturally from the plant?  Before we blame it on gravity, let us look at the role of some hormones.

"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn." 
~Elizabeth Lawrence

Abscission is the physiological process plants go through to separate entire organs, such as leaves, flowers and fruits.  This is the natural process that allows plants to discard organs to conserve their resources.  Plants will develop leaves and flowers as much as they are capable to support.  Sometimes environmental conditions become unfavorable that maintaining all the organs such as leaves and fruits will put the whole plant in jeopardy.  It is a survival mechanism for a plant under stress. 

During the process of abscission, a weakened layer known as abscision zone develops at the base of the petiole.  This is a layer of specialized cells that develops into a scar tissue.  Here's a science fiction idea for you: Imagine that you have an unwanted conditon on your arm.  You are in so much pain and becoming very weak.  Without doing anything, you notice that a scar tissue begins to develop around your armpit separating your arm from your body.  The separation would start from the outer layer of your skin and going deeper until every last cell that is holding your arm in place has turned into clean scar.  That is called abscision; fortunately it happens only in plants.

There are three plant hormones that are known to be responsible for abscission: 
1.  Ethylene is the senescence and ripening hormone.
2.  Auxin is a growth hormone. 
3.  Abscisic Acid (ABA) is the stress hormone.
These hormones have other important functions in the plant but for the sake of explaining abscision we will focus on the above descriptions.

The interaction of these three hormones results in the falling of leaves in the fall.  Abscisic acid plays a role in the way plants respond to diverse range of environmental conditions.  Changes in temperature and photoperiod are interpreted by the plant as stress.  Under stress, the plant increases its abscisic acid levels while reducing the auxin levels.   Reduced auxin levels slow cell elongation process which means that growth is minimized or stopped.  The plant then shifts priorities from growth to survival until conditions become favorable for growth.    In the meantime, a part of the plant will interpret the cessation of growth as senescence- ethylene levels will increase to facilitate all senescence-related processes.  As the leaves stop growing, the nutrients in the senescing leaves will be mobilized to the other parts of the plant (branches, roots, etc.) depleting the leaves from nitrogen.  The yellowing of the leaves is a reflection of this process.  When low temperatures combine with bright sunny days in the beginning of fall, the leaves will tend to have a red tint in them.  This is because the sunny days will still induce the leaves to photosynthesize but since the development of the abscision zone or the scar tissue is already in process, sugars are trapped in the leaves.   The beautiful colors of the leaves after all are a symptom of a stressed plant.  The falling leaves are a sign of a plant that is purging itself in order to survive a stressful period. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A New Season

Once again we've come to a new season.  Fall is here.  Just like the other seasons, fall is triggered by a change in the angle that sunlight strikes the earth's surface.  The amount of solar radiation upon the earth known as insolation (different from insulation) determines the seasons.  

Plants exist to photosynthesize (produce).  Plants photosynthesize using energy from sunlight.  Therefore, whenever gardening is the subject matter, seasons will always be a major consideration.

Change in temperature.  Last week we have experienced a significant drop in temperature.   Fall comes as the long awaited relief from the hot summer temperatures.  Warm temperatures will still be around for a while (here in California) but the maximum temperatures will occur in shorter periods resulting in less stress for the plants.   Water loss through evaporation and transpiration will also be reduced.  It is wise to adjust irrigation schedule at this time.

Change in Daylength or Photoperiod.  Photoperiod is the length of time, expressed in hours, when plants are exposed to sunlight during a 24-hour period.  Around summer solstice days can be as long as 15 hours (14 hours and 49 minutes) and from there they get shorter everyday until they are as short as 9 hours and 30 minutes at winter solstice.  By fall, the change is significant enough that the plants will begin to respond.  Photoperiod affects some of the processes in plant growth including germination, flowering, tuberization, and abscission.  Plants are sometimes classified as either short-day, long-day, or day-neutral depending on the daylength that is required to initiate their flowering. 

Did You Know?
In the Philippines (where I grew up), there are only two seasons in a year: the wet season and the dry season. Although rains come throughout the year, some months are a lot wetter than some. Throughout the year temperatures are always high because the Philippines lies very close to the equator and gets almost the same insolation throughout the year.
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