Friday, July 25, 2014

The Robin and the Worm

An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) gets the worm - early in the morning.

"I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm."   Franklin D. Roosevelt

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.

 Mastering Horticulture

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. 

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