Thursday, June 25, 2020

Dividing Fox Tail Agave

Fox Tail Agave (Agave attenuata) 

If you are familiar with Agave attenuata, you are aware that they are beautiful plants to have. They make a dramatic statement wherever they are in the garden.  In addition to that they are also easy to grow.  However, they tend to get woody and heavy.   Like most succulents, the leaves serve as water storage and so you can imagine the weight.  They are also very phototropic which means that they tend to grow towards the source of light.  For a while I grew two of these in large pots which are equivalent to five gallons.  They were positioned in the yard against the east facing wall of our house.  They got the milder morning sun and were shaded by the house later in the afternoon. The condition was favorable for their growth, they got big but growing towards only one side.  Soon the pots could not stand without much help anymore because of their weight. 

My plants needed to be repotted two years ago but the job seemed daunting.  I procrastinated.  But during these days we have a lot of time to spare.  I asked my husband helped me.  First of all we had to break the pot - they were totally root bound and there was no way of separating the roots from the pot without breaking the plants - and then break the individual heads.

Agave in our front yard.  It's about to fall on one side.  

These are the things I learned from the process:
1.  Agave attenuata are great for handling, they don't hurt you.
2.  Hand saw works perfectly for cutting the stems apart.  
3.  Remove all the old roots.  The newly cut stems will have to problem growing new roots.
4.  If the stems are too long and they can be shortened by cutting the stem with the saw. 
5.  Soak the ends of the stems in water for a couple of days or plant them directly. 
6.  Separate all the little pups and plant them in appropriately sized pots to have more plants.  
7. The little plants are perfect for giving away to friends and neighbors.

Newly repotted Agave attenuata

Note: In spite of the number of years that I had these plants, they haven't bloomed in my possession yet - in other words they have not shown me their fox tail yet. And for that reason, I still feel more comfortable calling them Agave attenuata. 😃

Some tasks in the garden might seem daunting but when we confront them, we become more informed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Gardening amidst Pandemic

Tulip "Angelique" (April 2020)
2020 is now halfway over.  Covid-19 pandemic has presented the world situations we have never experienced all our lives.  We all had to adapt in our own ways to the threat of the virus and its effects on what we've considered normal.  "Sheltering in place" was something we had never known.  But then one day in March, Governor Newsom of California said we all had to shelter in place to slowdown the spread of the virus.  Some people called it a lock down or quarantine.  We were also instructed to observe social distancing to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. So we did.  Three months later, although some businesses are slowly and cautiously opening, we are still sheltering in place.

One of the things that resulted from sheltering in place and social distancing is that we (my husband and I) acquired more free time.  Time was a gift that came from this unprecedented global disaster.   Busyness, a situation where the time allowance we get in a day is committed to the max suddenly lost its force as a social status indicator.  With the sudden surge of time, we started to spend more of it in the garden either by enjoying; maintaining; or changing it.  We planted more plants and cared for them better than we would have done had we been distracted by travels and social obligations.

Last year I was already planning to change our small front lawn.   Inspired by Monty Don on Gardeners World, I was intent on rewilding or at least increasing biodiversity the  the yard.  The monotonous and water and fertilizer-voracious grass is now old and irrelevant.  For the first step, we planted three Rainbow Ascot euphorbia (1 gal) and two gallardia along the perimeter of the grass. So I bought  some seeds (California poppies) and collected some (Queen Anne's Lace) from the wild during our morning walks with the intention of sowing them in December.  But I missed my schedule and sowed them late.  I think it was already February when I sowed them.  None of the poppies survived but a group of Queen Anne's lace emerged and with some help, they made it.  This year, God-willing, I will sow seeds in the fall.  I'll mark my calendar and ask Alexa to notify me. 

One thing we did according to plan was to plant bulbs: tulips in pots; and alliums in the ground.  Most of the tulips we planted were parrot and peony type.  They were a beautiful and since I have not grown them before, each variety carried an element of surprise as they bloomed in the spring.  The different varieties bloomed in succession and so we enjoyed them longer.  The alliums on the other hand were a complete failure.  We never saw a leaf grow beyond one inch above the ground.  We then made a path on the area where we planted them where they were immediately forgotten.

There are more things we did and are continuing to do in the garden as triggered by the pandemic which I will continue to chronicle in the succeeding posts.

Gardening is a peaceful and therapeutic engagement with nature.  
Grow a plant today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Survival of the Fittest

During the last month and a half, we traveled all over (the world) for one reason or another.  As a result the garden was left to tend for itself most of the time.  Thanks to automated irrigation system, the plants are all fine.  The only problem was that there are some plants scattered all over the yard that are normally hand-watered, just because I like doing it.  Some of them, such as the zinnias, basil, chives, palm trees and some succulents, got severely stressed.  Fortunately, I am not an emotional gardener - I threw away those that did not make it.  The reason they died is that I was attending to more important things in life.  Yes, there are more important things than the garden.  Anyone who is says otherwise doesn't have life :)

Today I was in backyard filling up the bird feeders,watering, and taking pictures when I saw noticed that the grape vine attach itself onto the faucet as if it is trying to get water from it.  It was trying to survive in my absence!  😄

Slowly over the years, my garden has evolved from a high to a low maintenance garden.  First step was to eliminate all that are not supposed to be in my garden such as thorny roses.  They are beautiful plants but they are not always beautiful.  This gardener also does not fancy being poked by plants.  Now, we are at the phase where, the fittest remain.  A plant is fit for my garden if it not only survives but remain beautiful even when I do not tend to it for two weeks or more.  These are the plants that a gardener can enjoy. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Some Random Thoughts

Finch: Dining in style

In every garden some life form beyond the gardener's design will appear, thrive, provide, consume, destroy, or invade .  The garden can be artificial in the sense that some things abound beyond the natural.  As a result life thrive there - not only the things we put and plant there but also some others.  One gardening action is not an end but a beginning of a series of changes in the place.  For example, the simple act of digging the soil exposes some weed seeds in the deeper parts of the ground.  Then the seed is exposed to more surface moisture and warmth from the sun.  It grows into a plant called weed.  Soon a butterfly is attracted to the flowers which will soon attract small birds.  The small birds linger around and soon predators will their way to the garden.  Ans do so on.   

Resident Dove

Wildlife, wild as we call them, benefit directly and indirectly from our domesticated yards called gardens.  Here at the Lewis garden, the  mocking birds come to eat their share grapes when the fruits are ripe and what ever we do not harvest, the squirrels will slowly harvest them even when the grapes become dry as raisins.  I think they prefer it that way.  We feed the doves and quails but the hawks and cats come uninvited.  We plant apples to enjoy some fruits but the worms enjoy the first bite.  The same thing is true with all the vegetables we plant.  We dream of nice organic clean lettuce for the salad but the aphids always try to take the first taste.  I guess that is how the world operates.  :)

We change our environment and our environment will change us, hopefully for the better.  That is the point of tending the ground.  Plants we plant change the yard around our homes.  Things come and go; grow and die; produce and consume; beautify and tarnish - because we did something different. And then we see a different world.  Suddenly we realize that we live in a different place.  It is very delightful to see life (plants and animals alike) come and linger around.  They make us slow down and appreciate the things we often take for granted.  And it is all because of a single act we do.  


Squirrel eating dry grapes

Quails:  Standing room only

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Garden Chores

The first daffodil flower this year.

Things we did in the yard today:
My fellow gardener (aka husband) and I took the time to do some work in the yard on this overcast day.

1.  Remove all old leaves around the yard.   There some areas in the yard where a layer of leaves might be used as mulch.  However there are also areas that are intended to be kept neat and clean - at this time should should be cleaned from all old plant parts.

2.  Empty water from open vessels.  There are always containers or pot saucers in the yard that collect water when it rains which need to be emptied to discourage mosquitoes from breeding in them and to protect the roots of plants in containers.

3.  Fill up bird feeders.  The birds are not only delightful to watch but they are also helpful in eating some of the pests around the yard.

4.  Spread snail bait and pesticide (granules) for soil-born insects such as grubs on the lawn area.

5.  Fertilize the lawn.  At this time of the year, complete fertilizer, such as 16-16-16 helps the grass develop not just the part that are seen but also the the roots which is necessary for our dry area.  The better root system the plants have, the better ability it has to search for water and other resources during the drier months.  With that said, my fellow gardener decided to use the Weed and Feed from last year.  It contained a high dose of nitrogen (28-0-2) and some herbicide (2,4 D).  High levels of nitrogen is not needed by the grass at this time but it's not detrimental, so no big deal.  The problem was the herbicide in the fertilizer because I saw him spreading it around the succulents!  We'll see what happens next.  :)

6.  Prune shrubs.  Rosemary, Mexican sage, Santa Barbara daisies.

7.  Fortified the surrounding hollow blocks of the compost pile.

Mint:  Expelled from the vegetable plot.

8.  Remove mint runners from vegetable plots.  I left one mint plant outside the container last year and this time there are new mint everywhere.  I knew it was going to happen but I did not anticipate how far they would go within a year.  :)

9.  Mow the grass.  The grass needed a little haircut today.  And it looks better now.

After we got done with yard work, we had lunch and then watched the Masterpiece movie "Great Expectations".  I think we deserved it. :)

Every day spent tending the garden is a beautiful day.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Super Sugar Snap Pea

Pea 'Super Sugar Snap' (Pisum sativum) Seeds

Today marks the beginning of spring in my garden because the first seeds that would grow in my little garden this year just got planted.  Our weather here can change swiftly from cold (Foothills-cold) to hot (Inland-hot) which poses a challenge in  scheduling to plant any of the cool season crops such as peas.  In previous years, the consistent problem has been having the temperatures get critically high before my peas produce pods.  Hopefully this time will be different.

Super Sugar Snap is an earlier variety, maturing within 64 days from planting.  It is supposed to have shorter veins than the older varieties which would make it snap better and more fun to eat.  Another favorable feature of this variety is its high resistance to powdery mildew and leaf roll virus. We need to understand that the conditions that favor the growth of powdery mildew is the same as the conditions required by the most of the cool-season crops: High relative humidity (RH) at nighttime; drier or low RH during daytime; and mild temperatures (70-80 ºF).  Therefore, in choosing a variety, diseases resistance must be given special consideration. 

Every day spent tending the garden is a beautiful day.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima) is a unique plant with silvery and lacy leaves which varies with variety.  which made it useful in creating contrast and accent against the predominantly green or red foliage in the garden.  It's neutral color makes it a great choice for as a filler plant in any border.

Last season, I planted dusty miller along with marigolds and blue lobelia and alyssum in the large containers that hold orange and pomegranate trees.  The arrangement was delightful all the way to the late fall.  But now only the silvery dusty miller remains.   Dusty miller, as much as it is labelled as an annual in your local nursery, is a perennial.  Yes, dusty miller is a perennial plant.

When the plant gets to a mature stage, the shape becomes irregular and the stems get woody.  The plant seem to undergo bolting at flowering.  However,  this can be solved by pruning the plant to shape.  As for the ones I have in my containers (as seen in the picture below) they will soon be transferred to the ground before I plant new annuals into the containers again.  

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