Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hort Art - Pollarding

Pollarded tree at the Jardin du Luxembourg

During their recent trip to France my husband and my son took pictures of pollarded trees in the gardens of Paris.  Although they think that they went there at the wrong time because the plants are still bare, I personally think that it is the best time to see the distinguished architectural beauty of pollarded trees.  The appearance of newly polarded trees may exhibit an ignoble sight with their fresh cuts.  Those that have gone through years of this drastic pruning method, however, display an unparalled presence of endurance and persistence through their stubby and gnarled formation.

Pollarded tree at the Jardin du Luxembourg

Pollarding is the method of pruning where the top tree branches and stems are cut back drastically.   Pollarding starts with a maiden tree, a tree that has not been pollarded.  A pollarded tree is called a pollard.  Pollarding results in a flush growth of slender shoots and branches which needs to be removed annually.  The annual attempt of the tree to grow a scar tissue over the repeated cut, results in the formation of bulges at the ends of the branches. 

Pollarded trees at the Jardin du Plantes

Pollarding is very popular in France especially in urban gardens and parks (I noticed from the pictures).  This procedure controls the growth of the plants beyond their space allowances.  Pollarding reduces the canopy cover of trees which is important in maintaining the desired level of shade.  It increases the resistance of the trees to winds.  Root growth is regulated preventing them from being to invasive.

Rows of pollarded trees at the Jardin du Plantes

Rows of leafless tall pollards look stately in the spring.  In the summer I imagine evenly clipped trees that provide a continuous row of shade.  This are not common in California where we live...so I wonder how these tall trees are pruned and how much time, manpower, and Euros are spent in pruning them?   I guess whatever the cost of maintaining them that they are worth it.  

Friday, March 26, 2010


Aphids on Chives

Spring is here...even aphids are having a blast in the garden.  They have infested my chives and some of my roses.  The problem with aphids is that they reproduce so quickly.  With the mild climate of California, aphids can reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis (females can have offspring even without males) even faster. 

It is important to keep checking your plants for infestation - twice a week would be a good idea.  It is difficult to get rid of them once the population gets high. They cause the leaves to curl and then use these damaged-leaves as hiding places.   When you observe a trail of ants climbing onto your plants, it is likely that they are tending some aphids somewhere.   Ants eat the honeydew that aphids excrete. 
To get rid of aphids, spray them off with water.  They can drown easily.  If your plants are delicate, hand spray them with a mixture of one pint of water and 1-2 tsp of dishwashing liquid detergent.  Repeat as necessary.

To learn more about aphids, the UC Davis IPM Online provides a good resource.

Gardening is not all beds of roses.  Challenges present themselves from time to time in different forms.  As a gardener keep your eyes open to recognize your enemies before they damage your plants.

Monday, March 22, 2010


 Cyclamen persicum

Inspired by the sight of the beautiful cyclamen on the table out in my patio, I decided to post this old old poem about the plant.  It demonstrates how pronunciation of a name can be influenced by many factors.  Go ahead and read it out loud. 


How shall we sound its mystic name
Of Greek descent and Persian fame?
Shall "y" be long and "a" be short,
Or will the "y" and "a" retort?
Shall "y" be lightly rippled o'er,
Or should we emphasize it more?
Alas! The doctors disagree,
For "y's" a doubtful quantity.
 Some people use it now and then,
As if 'twere written "Sickly-men";
But as it comes from kuklos, Greek,
Why not "kick-laymen," so to speak?
 The gardener, with his ready wit,
Upon another mode has hit;
He's terse and brief -- long names dislikes,
And so he renders it as "Sykes."

Stroll in your garden today and pay attention to the colorful language of spring. 
Appreciate the magical emergence of life and the crescendo of canopies they bring.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Removing the Fruits For Increased Fruiting

Lemon (Citrus limon)

After giving away so many lemons, this tree still stands laden with large bright yellow fruits.  I like harvesting fresh lemons whenever I need one so I could just leave the fruits on.  However, today I saw purple flower buds pushing their way out ...which means that those fruits (at least most of them) will have to come off the tree.  

Citrus Limon 'Ponderosa'

Here are some important cultural and post-harvest practices to consider:

1.  Harvest fruits before the flowers come out will ensure a good crop for the next season.   
2.  Prune to remove unproductive branches, allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy, and train the branches to grow towards desired direction. 
3.  Apply fertilizer under the following conditions: the leaves are yellowish; or when the tree is planted in a pot.   My lemon tree is planted on good soil; no fertilization is required.  On the other hand, I have two orange trees planted in large pots which need regular application of nutrients.
4.  Juice and freeze for future consumption.   Lemonades in the summer will be appreciated.   
5.  Make lemon curd; they are good for pancakes and scones. 
6.  Share.  Give some of your lemons to friends. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Volunteer mushrooms

Beautiful and healthy mushrooms were all over our neighbors' yard last month.  They were concentrated on the mulched areas of their garden.  This leads me to believe that spores were carried with the mulch.  For the gardener, mushrooms are not considered pest, they only grow when the soil is moist.   When the season change and the rainfall is less or down to nothing, mushrooms will not grow.  Having said so, some gardeners still find mushrooms on their lawns even in the spring or summer.  The reason for this has something to do with management practices and it is avoidable.   When an area in the yard is over-watered at a frequent interval, the soil remains moist providing a favorable growing media for mushrooms.   To solve the problem, irrigate deeply at lesser intervals.  It is alright to allow the soil to get close to dry before the next watering schedule. 

If you have small curious children in the home, teach them that some types of mushrooms are poisonous.  As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I played with all sorts of mushrooms (different shapes and colors) in the wild.  Since we never ate mushrooms raw, it was not inviting for a little girls to taste them.  There was one rule that my grandmother told me which I still remember and apply even up to this time:  Avoid all mushrooms with rings on their stem; they are poisonous.  However, this is not the only indicator that a mushroom is toxic or not.  MykoWeb provides an expansive reference about the different mushrooms in California. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Question of Dormancy

Seed germinating inside a tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruit

All these years I have believed that tomato seeds cannot germinate without being washed and dried first.  I was surprised to see "seedlings" inside this tomato...obviously this one did not make it into my salsa.   This occurrence was observed in half of the tomatoes in the tray that I bought from Costco.  It happened only once so far...but it definitely caused me to wonder.

I am not sure what variety of tomato this is.  It is a common knowledge that the tomato seeds are coated with growth inhibitors which keep them dormant.  Abscisic acid (ABA) inhibits growth and controls dormancy in most seeds.  Could it be that this particular variety of tomato has not enough ABA content to effectively impose dormancy?  

We also know that both producer and vendor have to make sure that their produce maintains good shelf appearance and eating quality.  Could it also be that this tomato has been subjected to excessive post harvest treatment that the ABA has been broken down before the produce reached the market? 

Either way, something went wrong.  I would not recommend having tomato sprouts in my salad or in my sandwiches.  Neither would you.  Although some sprouts (such as broccoli, alfalfa, mungbean, etc.) are considered nutritious, tomato, being in the night-shade family (Solanum), should never be considered as such.  Unless it can be proven that the toxic substance in the leaves are processed only upon exposure to direct light.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata) on Flat-Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

This seven-spotted lady beetle (ladybug or ladybird beetle) has been spotted in my yard.  Fortunately, this lady is a gardener's friends. Scientifically it is called the Coccinella septempunctata.   Being a predatory insect, the C. septempunctata plays an important role in the biological control of aphids.  Both the adult and the larvae feed voraciously on aphids.  Adults hibernate or overwinter in protected areas.  In the spring when temperatures get warmer, they come out and feed on aphids before they lay eggs.  The females can lay up to 1000 eggs within a three month beginning in spring.  The females are very strategic in their choice of a place to lay their eggs.  They prefer areas with a high insect population such as in gardens, fields and tree canopies. 

The C. septempunctata is commonly identified by the seven black spots on the bright red elitra (singular elytron: are the tough fore wings of beetles and earwigs).  It undergoes a complete metamorphosis.  This means that it has to undergo four stages of change to complete its life cycle:  Egg; Larvae; Pupa; Adult. 

Although most ladybugs are beneficial to plants, some of them are considered pests.  In a future post I will name those bugs and describe why they are not so "lady-like."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Japanese Magnolia

Among the first flowers that announce the near arrival of spring is the Japanese magnolia (Magnolia x Soulangiana).  Although I might have seen the flowers many times in the past, the first time I came close (close-up) to one was when we visited the mission in San Luis Obispo.  There at the entrance was this tree with a stunning display of pink inflorescence while everything else still looked gray.

The Japanese magnolia is also commonly known as the saucer magnolia.  The huge flowers resemble the shape of tulip flowers that sometimes it is also referred to as tulip tree.  However, be careful not to mistake it with the African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) or the other Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Unlike the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which is an evergreen, the Japanese magnolia is a deciduous plant meaning they lose their leaves in the winter.  When the tree resumes its growth, the flowers emerge first making it a beautiful specimen plant. 

The following pictures were taken in El Dorado Hills near the library.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An Enemy

Brown Garden Snail  (Cantareus aspersus)

I saw this enemy in the garden today.  Although it has not been named as a serious pest in California, snails, along with their relatives the gray garden slug (Deroceras reticulatum, formerly Agriolimax meticulatus) are annoying pests in home gardens especially during this time of the year when the herbaceous plants are just beginning to emerge from the ground.  It is easy to mechanically control the snails but I prefer to deal with slugs chemically using metaldehyde (2,4,6,8-tetramethy 1,3,5,7 tetraoxycyclo-octane) in late winter and very early spring.  This is the only time I put slug/snail bait in the garden mainly for the purpose of protecting the seedlings.  Later on I hand-pick those that survived.  This way we can enjoy slug-free strawberries.

Important Link: IPM for Snails and Slugs

Did you know?

The brown garden snail is closely related to the Roman Snail (Helix pomiata), the edible snail which is commonly known as Escargot in French cooking.

The Philippines has its own edible aquatic snails known as Kuhol or the Channeled Apple-Snail (Pomacea canaliculata).  They are aquatic; usually found in rice fields as pests.  Recently, it has been found to be good source of feed supplement for livestock and poultry. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two More

It's happening...I am slowly being converted into a cymbidium enthusiast!  Well, not quite.  I only gave in to buying two more orchids from Costco.  Just like the other two that I already have, these were not labeled; therefore I could not tell what variety or hybrids they are. I can either do my research and make my best guess or I will just content myself in differentiating them by their colors.  After all, I only have four orchids, so far.
Last Saturday, Tim and I attended a Cymbidium Show in Sacramento.   The cymbidium display was not particularly impressive...maybe because for a neophyte like me, the orchids all looked the same except for color and size.  Maybe as I learn more about them that I will also develop the eye to appreciate the variation among varieties.  In one corner, however, were old issues of Cymbidium Society of America (CSA) Journals as give-away; I picked up a couple.  After reading about an interview with Loren Batchman of Casa De Las Orquideas, it seems like a door has been opened for my imagination to wander.  I am now inspired to play around with this genus of the Orchidaceae family.  I hope that the challenges of our dry weather condition will not reduce this new excitement into ningas cogon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is probably one of the best perennial plants that I've ever planted in my garden.   Some may judge a plant by the appearance of the flowers but these is not the case here.  My regard for this plant is based from its ability to maintain a beautiful presence throughout the seasons. The plant starts out gray-green (as seen in the picture) and grows up to be upright with increased tinge of yellow.  The flowers develop into the summer and last till winter.  This plant is drought tolerant which is good for the forgetful gardener.

Right now, my Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is just beginning to emerge from the ground.   More stems from the same plant emerge every year.  I love this picture of new growth-stubs emerging behind the old stems. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Succulents

I happened to be at Home Depot buying a new dishwasher and as a general rule I had to swing by the nursery.  Of course it is hard to go there without being heart-broken watching those poor plants without any home. (Just kidding...) I got a couple more to add to my new collection of succulents.  I am continually amazed at the various shapes, color, texture and architecture of their leaves.  I always prefer to buy in the smallest pots because they are cheaper and I like to understand the behavior of the plants by watching them grow.

It is a good idea to check the condition of the plants by looking at the roots before buying them.   If you have a choice, get the ones that combine good foliage and root system (the sign of a healthy plant).  Root-bound plants are already stressed;  they will take longer time to get established in your garden. 

Transplant (repot) new plants into slightly bigger pots to allow more room for the roots and to give a base that is proportional to the size of the foliage.  My plants are exposed to winds; the smaller plants and those with large leaves are prone to being blown away.  Therefore, I prefer heavier pots over plastic ones.
Echeveria shaviana

Compact Mini Jade (Crassula argentea 'Compacta')

Graptosedum 'Alpenglow'/'Vera Higgins'

 Aloe Hybrid (Aloe 'Crosby's Prolific')
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