Pruning Evergreen Shrubs

Let’s consider evergreen shrubs, which differ from deciduous shrubs by continuing in leaf year-round. This is not the same as retaining leaves all year: evergreen shrubs sometimes are described as dropping their leaves year-round, for on-going renewal.

A separate group of evergreens is comprised of coniferous trees and shrubs, which are pruned primarily in late winter or early spring, before the appearance of new growth. It is now generally too late in the year for pruning coniferous evergreens. Exceptions include removing unwanted whole branches of spruces and junipers, which may be done at any time, and trimming yews and arborvitae can be done when they have a second flush of growth in mid-summer.

We will address the pruning of conifers next winter. These plants require minimal pruning, except as needed to control their size and shape. If you have such plants in your landscape, mark your calendar with a reminder to consider pruning needs around next February.

The larger group of evergreen shrubs should be pruned as needed in April or May, i.e., in mid-spring, after any risk of frost has passed and ideally before new growth starts. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, there is little chance of frost except in inland regions, and new growth might appear early in the spring. If the gardener initiates light pruning after new growth can be seen, the downside is that some of the plant’s energy will have been wasted, but the plant will simply replace the shoots that have been trimmed.

For pruning purposes, evergreen shrubs can be regarded in one of three groups.

  • Early flowering. Examples include Berberis, Camellia, Ceanothus, Daphne, Mahonia, Pieris, Azalea, Rhododendron, and Viburnum. They bloom in winter, spring or early summer. Many shrubs in this group should be pruned only lightly and deadheaded.
  • Late flowering. Examples include Eucryphia (Leatherwood), and laurels (e.g., English Laurel). These plants bloom in summer and late autumn on either old or new growth. They need little pruning.
  • Mid-season flowering. Examples include Calluna (Heather), Erica, Lavandula (Lavender), Santolina, and Thymus (Thyme). These bloom on old growth in spring or early summer, or on new growth in late summer and autumn. Generally, pruning involves removing shoots after flowering to about one inch of the previous year’s growth.
Daphne Bloom

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata” in bloom

The pruning strategy for these plants follows these following basic steps;

First, remove any diseased, damaged, or dead branches. They will not heal themselves and could spread disease, so prompt removal benefits the healthy parts of the plant and helps the gardener to evaluate other needs for pruning.

The second step, then, is to remove branches that are crowding other branches, or compromising the desired appearance of the shrub. The pruning objectives might include reducing the overall size of the plant, either to work better within the landscape plan or to clear a walkway.

A common problem arises when an established, healthy plant grows larger than expected or wanted. Such outcomes should not be surprising: information on the mature size of a plant is readily available at the garden center or in a reference book or website. A bit of research during plant selection can save future effort.

Shrubs that have become badly overgrown might need rejuvenation pruning. In such cases, remove one-third to one-half of the branches to ground level, and reduce all other branches by one-third. In the following two years, remove half of the older branches to ground level.

Pruning time also should be used as an opportunity to evaluate the overall health of the plant. If it has sparse or leggy growth, consider the need for greater exposure to sunlight. For example, a nearby tree might have grown to shade a plant that grows best in full sun, or the plant might have been installed originally in partial shade. In such cases, prune the tree that blocks the sun, or move the shrub to a sunnier spot.

Another factor limiting the plant’s growth might be poor soil, which can be treated with fertilization during the growth period, and regular applications of compost. The gardener should avoid planting in soil with minimal nutrient value, e.g., sandy soil or sub-soil (lacking loamy top soil). If this is unavoidable, consider planting in better soil in mounds, raised beds, or containers.

A third factor might be insufficient drainage. Some shrubs thrive in soggy soil, but the large majority need oxygen at their roots, so the surrounding soil must be allowed to dry out between irrigations. This can be a problem that results when plants are placed in low-lying areas, or in moisture-retaining clay soil.

The third step in pruning includes mulching and feeding. These actions minimize weeds around the plant and help the plant to grow.

The final step is to stand back to appreciate a job well done.

Pruning Deciduous Shrubs

Right now is the right time to prune some (not all) shrubs in your garden.

The first group of targets for pruning in April included flowering shrubs that bloom in the spring on old wood. These plants should be pruned soon after their blooms have faded. This practice allows ample time for buds to develop and bloom in the following spring. Pruning long after the blooms have faded will remove buds as they develop, and reduce or eliminate blooming next year.

Fading Lilac Bloom

The accompany photo shows fading blooms of a Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘White Angel’) in my garden. This is one of the Descanso Hybrids, which were developed in southern California for mild winter regions, like the Monterey Bay area. Unlike the lilacs from my youth in Connecticut, these hybrids bloom without a winter chill. This plant bloomed nicely and produced a fine fragrance, and now needs pruning in preparation for next year’s flowering.

Here are examples of additional plants in this group that grow well in the Monterey Bay area.

  • Flowering Quince Chaenomeles speciosa)
  • Forsythia (F. ovata and other species)
  • Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica)
  • Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub (Pieris japonica)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii and other species)
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius and other species)
  • Purple-leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus × cistena)
  • Viburnum (V. tinus ‘Compactum’ and other species)
  • Weigela (W. florida and hybrids)
  • Winter Daphne (D. odora)

You can identify additional plants in this group by direct observation. If you are undecided, look up your plant in Sunset’s Western Garden Book, the American Horticultural Society’s A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, or a pruning reference book. You can also search for the plant on the Internet, ideally by botanical name.

Some gardeners are reluctant to prune their plants, either because of uncertainty or a fear of damaging the plant. It can be helpful to regard pruning as therapy for the plant, i.e., it helps and does not hurt the plant.

Pruning improves the plant first by removing dead, broken or diseased twigs and branches. Such parts of the plant are not good for the plant, and could be harming it by spreading disease or drawing resources.

Other benefits are beneficial primarily for the gardener. Timely pruning will improve flowering, fruiting, and overall shape. Flowering shrubs growing without the care of gardeners or landscapers will develop a pleasing natural habit entirely on their own. They will also produce enough flowers and fruit to reproduce, and enough roots and branches to ensure healthy growth. With this in mind, always prune for specific objectives. Before picking up the clippers, take the time to stand or sit down to examine the plant and decide what pruning is needed.

There are two main approaches to pruning: cut back the plant more or less evenly, and remove selected stems or branches entirely. These approaches can be combined. In this case of the lilac, cut below each faded blossom, just above a developing bud, and also remove entirely up to one third of the older branches to encourage new branches growing from the base.

Net week, we’ll consider seasonal pruning of evergreen shrubs.

Remember to sharpen your clippers to make your cuts clean and easy.

Moving a Large Rose

The message for today is about the benefit of study before action. This report happily does not include a disastrous mistake resulting from a lack of preparation.

My occasion for garden research involves transplanting a large rose.

A large rose can be an asset in the garden when it is in a place where it grows well and looks good. Occasionally, however, a rose that has been growing for years in a suitable location needs to be relocated. Reasons for transplanting an established rose usually involve landscaping issues: wrong color, need the space for a different plant, too close to a walkway, too big for the space, etc. Other reasons might have cultural factors related to soil quality or sun exposure.

In my garden, the plant at issue is a Dortmund rose. This is a large climber that the American Rose Society has rated at 9.2 (“Outstanding”), in recognition of its glossy green foliage, crimson red single blossoms with a white eye, vigor, hardiness, and disease resistance. It is a popular and well-known variety hybridized in 1955 by The House of Kordes in Germany.

dortmund_cluster_1024x768 copy

It has been growing for several years in my garden on an arbor gate. Like all roses, it thrives in full sun, but it is being overshadowed by the growth of a very large Pittosporum tree. The Dortmund would produce an abundance of its gorgeous blooms if it were in full sun.

At the same time, the time has come to complete another large arbor, elsewhere in the garden. That work has been scheduled and should be completed within a month’s time. The new arbor, in the middle of the rose garden, would be a fine location for a climbing rose, and a good, sunny home for the Dortmund.

My Internet search on moving a large rose soon yielded the different procedures for transplanting during dormant and non-dormant periods. Early spring (about now) is the non-dormant or growing period, and still an acceptable time for this task.

The most important preparation for moving a rose as it is growing is to irrigate it generously, to ensure that its cells are maximally full of water before cutting its roots.

Treatment with liquid B1 transplanting fertilizer has been recommended as well, but field trials reported in Sunset magazine have demonstrated that plain water works better!

Suggested supplementary treatments include Green Light Liquid Root Stimulator, and Dr. Earth Organic #2 Starter Fertilizer with beneficial microbes. These would be worth including.

Other preparatory steps include cutting down much of the top growth to reduce demand on the roots and to make moving the plant easier.

To transplant a shrub rose, cut the top growth to twelve-to-eighteen inches. A review of best practices for pruning a climbing rose, however, suggests retaining long, flexible canes to be trained to grow as horizontally as possible. Horizontal canes promote the development of vertical, bloom-producing shoots.

As soon as the new arbor is completed, it’s rose transplanting time!

Growing Tomatoes

If you are thinking of growing tomatoes this year, you have joined with many (millions?) of gardeners who have made tomatoes the most popular edible plant for home gardens.

There are many reasons for this popularity:

  • Tomatoes are good for your diet. They are very good sources of flavonoids and desirable phytochemicals, and have anti-carcinogenic properties.
  • Organically grown tomatoes (which the home gardener can ensure) are more nutritious. They might be smaller than conventionally grown tomatoes (not important) but they offer more vitamin C and phenolic content.
  • Home grown tomatoes often have flavor that is superior to commercial varieties.
  • Growing your own tomatoes also provides access to a wide range of heirloom varieties.
  • Tomatoes are exceptionally versatile in the diet and in the kitchen.
  • They quite possibly the easiest edible plant to grow (along with garlic).

Assuming you are inspired to try growing tomatoes in your garden, the first step, as usual, is plant selection. There are thousands of varieties to choose from. Many will thrive in the moderate climate of the Monterey Bay area, but here’s a short list of recommendation compiled by organic gardening expert Barbara Pleasant.

These selections are for the Pacific Northwest. Plant recommendations often are for the Pacific Northwest or the Southwest, leaving central coastal California somewhere in the middle, but the Monterey Bay area seems closest to the Pacific Northwest in terms of seasonal temperatures and sun exposure.

Slicer Tomatoes:  ‘Early Girl’, ‘Beefsteak’, and ‘Stupice’, followed by ‘Big Beef’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, and ‘Willamette’.

Cherry Tomatoes: ‘Super Sweet 100’, ‘Sungold’, and ‘Sweet Million’, followed by ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Gold Nugget’.

Paste/Canning: ‘Roma’, ‘San Marzano’,  ‘Amish Paste’, followed by  ‘Viva Italia’ and ‘Principe Borghese’.

Really Big Ones: ‘Brandywine’, ‘Beefsteak’,  ‘Mortgage Lifter’, followed by  ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Goliath,’ and ‘Hillbilly’.

Saladette/Pear: ‘Yellow Pear’,  ‘Stupice’, ‘Glacier’, then ‘Juliet’, and ‘Principe Borghese’.

Here are tips for growing a bounty of tasty tomatoes.

  • Plant seedlings that you buy or grow yourself because transplants grow best.
  • Plant in full sun about two feet apart, to provide access and airflow between plants.
  • Provide good nutrients by adding compost to the soil, plus organic fertilizers, including sulfur and crushed eggshells.
  • Pinch the lower leaves from the seedling and buy the stem so that the lowest leaves are just above the soil. Roots will grow from the leaf nodes so deep planting adds stability to the plant.
  • Water for a couple days, then two inches of water per week. (Some people claim that withholding water after fruit set adds to the flavo of the fruit00r. Dry farming tomatoes in this way is most successful after ample winter rains…like this year!)
  • As the plant grows, prune the smaller shoots, leaving four or five main branches. Support the plant with stakes or a tomato cage to keep the fruit off the ground and make harvesting easier.

This would be a good year to add to your tomato-growing experience and pleasure.

Your local garden center or grocery store might well have good seeds or seedlings for your garden. You could also explore these sources:

  • Tomato Fest: A Mendocino County grower of heirloom tomatoes
  • Love Apple Farm: Great varieties for sale at Ivy’s Porch, 5311 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley (to June 4), and San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (April 5-9)
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: Mail order sources for seeds of tomatoes and many other edibles.

Enjoy growing tomatoes in your garden— and eating them anywhere.

Growing Dahlias

Dahlias are among the easier blossoming plants to cultivate in the garden. As natives of Mexico, they thrive in the Monterey Bay area climate and bring drought-tolerance as well.

As mentioned in today’s article about the upcoming sale of the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, dahlias are available in many different blossom forms and colors and can be a fine addition to the garden.

This column offers basic practices for growing dahlias after you have selected tubers at the Society’s sale.

The first consideration is to select a location will full exposure to the sun and good drainage. Dahlias, like most flowering plants, grow best with six hours of sun each day, and in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is fine, but clay soil will require substantial amendment with organic material.

Dahlia with Bee

Dahlias can be planted any time between the last day of frost (which is not a concern in this area) and as late as mid-June. The local tuber sale is scheduled around the time when last season’s tubers are ready to be dug and divided, so the day of the sale represents a good beginning for the local planting season. If you are not ready to plant, store your new tubers temporarily in a cool, shady environment.

Most dahlias will need staking, so it’s a good practice to position a sturdy stake for each tuber, and to install the stake at the same time that you plant the tune. Inserting a stake later runs the risk of stabbing the tuber.

If you don’t want bare stakes in the garden while the plant develops, you could install a short piece of plastic pipe with the top at ground level next to the tuber, then, when the plant grows to need staking, insert a thin stake (bamboo?) in the plastic pipe and tie the plant to the stake.

Plant the tuber several inches deep, with the “eye” (the growing point) facing up. Some tubers might lack such an eye, and will not sprout, but well-selected tubers will have viable growing points. The eye can be difficult to confirm, so selection can require some experience in identifying tubers that are ready to grow.

Separate the tubers from each other by about two feet.

Protect the sprouting plants from snails and slugs. A good practice is to visit your plants in the night (with a flashlight) or in the early morning to remove any crawling pests that have discovered them. Regular applications of an organic snail control, e.g., Sluggo, also works.

Control flying pests with insecticidal soap or other organic pesticides.

Generally, soil with ample organic content will provide sufficient nutrients for dahlias. If your soil seems “lean,” regular applications of high-nitrogen, organic fertilizer would be helpful.

As each plant grows, tie it to a stake to ensure that it remains upright. The first tie should hold the main stalk loosely to the stake; later ties could connect branches to the stake.

Each branch generally will produce three buds. To produce large blossoms, many gardeners remove two of these buds when they appear. This disbudding process allows the plant to direct nutrients to the remaining bud, with positive effect. If you have several dahlias growing in the garden, you will still have lots o blooms.

At the end of the season, the top growth dies back, and the plant produces several new tubers. The gardener can remove the top growth, and can either dig and replant the tubers or leave them in the ground. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, dahlias grow quite well when simply left in the ground. After two or three years, they will become crowded and will benefit from dividing.

Enjoy your dahlias! They are wonderful additions to the garden.

Communing with Nature

Good gardening practices almost always equal “working with Nature.” That is simply because natural processes have emerged after many eons as the Earth’s flora and fauna developed strategies for successful survival and propagation.

We write “almost always” from an excess of caution: it would be safe to say “always,” except for the use of the slippery term, “good.” The term “best” would also be debatable.

Still, all gardening practices that are beneficial for air, water, soil, plants and animals turn out to be time-honored, natural practices.

Not surprisingly, these practices are also beneficial to the gardeners, because we are also members of the animal kingdom, and tool-users as well.

Some of the gardener’s benefits are physical: everyone can gain health from exercise that is appropriate to one’s age and ability. Some are economic, providing either an inexpensive form of recreation or, for those with backyard nurseries, supplemental income.

Most benefits, however, are psychological, generating positive feelings, mental peace, and the release of “happy hormones,” e.g., serotonin and dopamine. Admittedly, the latter benefit could be called a physical benefit, but it affects the psyche.

Working with Nature, therefore, works best for gardeners and literally everything in their surroundings. This concept can and should guide the gardener’s response to questions that arise in the garden. “What would Nature do about [insert gardening issue here]?”

This concept also works in reverse. Many commercially motivated gardening practices might appear to save time or increase productivity, but they often create harm in the long run, and sometimes even in the short run.

The worst of these practices involves bringing synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides into the garden. Non-toxic, effective organic products are readily available and should always be preferred.

Another avoidable and unnatural practice is the use of power tools in the garden, with gas-powered devices being the most problematic. The most common of these are gas-powered leaf blowers, which contribute faster than cars to climate change and air pollution and disturb the peace that we value in our gardens and neighborhoods.

The usual arguments favoring leaf-blowers include (a) our desire for tidy surroundings and (b) the operator’s interest in making the surroundings tidy as quickly as possible.

We should acknowledge, firstly, that Nature is not tidy. When trees drop their leaves in natural surroundings, the leaves decompose in time and add nutrients to the soil. When trees drop their leaves on pavement, we perceive untidiness. This suggests that we should plant trees only where their leaf drops would be beneficial.

If that is unrealistic (many people like street trees and patio trees), we should use manual methods to remove dropped leaves. Rakes and brooms work quite well, and in capable hands can be as efficient as leaf-blowers, and certainly much easier on the environment and our psyches.

Ken Foster of Terra Nova Landscaping demonstrates an alternative to leaf blowers. Photo by Dan Coryo, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Ken Foster of Terra Nova Landscaping demonstrates an alternative to leaf blowers. Photo by Dan Coryo, Santa Cruz Sentinel

For these reasons, many communities have already banned gas-powered leaf blowers, including Carmel and Santa Barbara to our south, and Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Menlo Park to our north. The Santa Cruz Coalition for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE) has launched a petition favoring a local ordinance to ban these unnecessary and harmful tools. Check it out at http://preview.tinyurl.com/kvgws3d .

 

Succulent Dish Gardens

While the rain soaks your garden, there still good ways to explore the world of horticulture. Planning landscape improvement and browsing the Internet for ideas or answers to questions both can be rewarding.

Developing a dish garden is a third option, one that involves actual gardening, albeit on a small scale.

Dish gardening can be enjoyed at any time, but it’s well suited as a rainy-day activity: it requires little time or space, yet it invites the application of gardening knowledge and aesthetic sensibilities.

A wide range of plants could be placed in a dish garden. Generally, good choices include plants that produce small leaves, grow slowly, and will thrive in the environment intended for placement of the finished garden.

Plant selection determines the design of the project, which might emphasize foliage, color, shady setting (e.g., a moss garden), a miniature landscape (e.g., a fairy garden), a Zen garden, a rock garden, cacti, or succulents. For inspiration, browse to Pinterest and search for “dish-garden” or “succulent dish garden” or other design concepts.

Here are two very different examples

Zen Dish Garden

Zen Dish Garden

 

 

 

Succulent Dish Garden

Succulent Dish Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article focuses on succulent plants, which have good form while young, and many will either stay small or grow slowly.

Start by selecting plants. If you are already growing succulents, you will have ready access to small plants or cuttings that will root easily in a dish garden. If you don’t have sufficient succulents, small plants are readily available at garden centers. Gather plants with a specific grouping in mind.

Another important consideration is container selection. Dish gardens usually are placed in shallow containers; they provide enough root room for small plants, and they are lightweight enough to move easily. Bonsai containers work well, but any container could be pressed into service. Even actual dishes could be used, but they could be tricky to provide ample soil and to water without drainage (water lightly!)

As a practical matter, choose a container that will fit in the location intended for the finished dish garden.

Once the plants have been placed, parts of the planting surface might remain exposed. These areas could provide an aesthetically desirable context for the plant, like “white space” in graphic design. They could be covered by a top dressing that would complement the design: sand, pebbles, gravel, and decorative rocks are popular options.

Non-plant elements are optional. Some designs call for the inclusion of natural components, e.g., rocks, driftwood, shells, etc. They should be selected for their attractive character because they will be viewed close-up.

Some designs require artificial decorative items for completion or enhancement. Such items should be selected and placed as integral components of the design, rather than included merely because they are cute or colorful.

It is at this point that we note that personal preferences are of paramount importance. Dish gardens are, after all, expressions of an individual’s creative ideas, so whatever pleases the dish gardener stands as a success.

So, when weather frustrates your gardening goals, consider dish gardening as an indoor alternative.

Spring is the Time for New Plants

The first day of spring, astronomically speaking, will arrive on March 20th. It’s time to think about planting for the spring.

Actually, as we’ve noted more than once, the fall months are the best time for planting, to allow time for root development before the warmth of spring awakens the plants. The coming of spring might be regarded more as the traditional time for planting because that’s when the first tastes of warm weather awaken the gardeners.

The garden centers and online nurseries are oriented to the spring rush of gardeners seeking a few floriferous features for their gardens. The surge of mail-order catalogs and magazine galleries of new introductions manifests this orientation.

It can be quite interesting to peruse the new plants that are offered at this time each year. There are many familiar favorites, but the real headliners are plants that have been recently discovered by plant hunters or created by hybridizers.

Some plant hunters roam the globe in search of garden-worthy plants that have not been seen in their natïve lands. The history of gardening includes a long list of plant hunters who have served to relocate plants from exotic places to the gardens of Europe and, more recently, the United States. The best known of the contemporary plant hunters is Daniel Hinkley who shares his travels and horticultural discoveries in his books and articles in Horticulture magazine and other periodicals. Check out his website.

Plant hunting doesn’t always require traipsing through distant lands. New discoveries also can be made by close observation of large groups of plants in cultivation. As plants pollinate each other, potentials exist for mutations or “sports” to appear with novel characteristics. Because these natural changes are random rather than evolutionary, they will include a significant percentage of uninteresting innovations, but occasionally a natural mutation results in a desirable variation of a familiar plant. Then, the grower’s role is to propagate the newcomer to produce enough plants for commercial distribution, come up with an appealing name for the plant, and introduced it into the trade.

A third approach to developing new plants involves hybridizing. The process is quite simple, at its core: the hybridizer selects two plants of the same species with different but desirable traits. For example, one might have a good blossom color and the other might have strong stems. The hybridizer transfers pollen from one plant to the other, plants the seeds that result from this mating, and examine the seedlings for the desired combination of traits. Typically, the hybridizer will reject many of the seedlings as unsuccessful relative to the objectives, and, with luck, will find one or more successful results. These are propagated further for commercial distribution.

Given the uncertain outcomes of this process, it requires time, patience, and good record-keeping to result in a financial payoff.

This brings to mind the secret to making a small fortune in the plant breeding business: begin with a large fortune.

The process of finding or creating new plants always targets the individual gardeners who want to add the latest introductions to their gardens. One that has caught my eye is a Sempervivum hybrid ‘Gold Nugget’, available from ChickCharms, which specializes in collectable hens & chicks. It’s a little pricey but quite striking.

Sempervivum 'Gold Nugget'

Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’

 

 

 

 

 

The gardener might enjoy bringing new introductions to the landscape but could also stay with familiar and reliable options. Either way, enjoy your garden!

Sanctuary for Hummingbirds

If you are a hummingbird, the University of California’s Arboretum provides an excellent home territory. During tomorrow’s Hummingbird Day at the Arb, you can see the hummers enjoying this local sanctuary.

Anna's HB - Female at Grevillea 300 pixels

Anna’s Hummingbird (female) at a Grevillea

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider the threats to the hummingbird’s life and limb (make that “life and wing”).

Habitat Loss

All of nature’s flora and fauna depend on the surroundings of their native environment. They have evolved to consume familiar food sources and enjoy safe places for shelters and nurseries for their young. Too often, human encroachments have converted such environments through urbanization, agriculture, and logging, leaving the denizens of the wild to retreat into smaller and smaller areas.

The hummingbirds’ challenge in finding an appropriate place to live resembles that of people looking for affordable housing in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.

Long ago, hummingbirds discovered the Arboretum as a fine place to find nourishment and safety, and to raise baby hummingbirds.

They found one significant complication to the sanctuary they discovered: the Arboretum has lots of California native plants that the hummers know best, but this place also grows many plants that thrive in Monterey Bay area’s climate and the Arb’s soil, but are California exotics. The native plants of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa contribute to the Arboretum’s unique collection, which fascinates its many human visitors, but puzzle the hummingbirds.

Happily, hungry hummers have adapted to this special situation: they have grown to love many of the Arboretum’s plants. They show great appreciation for the Australian collection, and have made particular favorites of the Grevilleas and Banksias.

Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' 300 pixels

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ – a hummingbird favorite

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pesticide Poisoning

Pesticides provide another important threat to the hummingbirds. Pesticides include synthetic chemicals that kill plants, animals and insects that damage both crops and ornamental plants. Too often, these chemicals unintentionally kill desirable and beneficial flora and fauna, as well. For example, bee colonies have been damaged greatly by exposure to such chemicals.

Hummingbirds, too, are susceptible to chemical poisoning. Their small size and rapid metabolism makes them vulnerable to even small direct exposures to toxic materials.

Pesticides also have indirect impacts on the wellbeing of hummingbirds by killing insects that are an essential source of protein. Hummingbirds are carnivorous, eating insects that they snatch out of the air, pluck from foliage, or glean from spider webs. Hummers could not live on sweet nectar alone.

The Arboretum’s historic avoidance of synthetic pesticides adds substantially to its quality as a hummingbird sanctuary. The Arb’s insects, plants and indeed the soil are naturally clean and safe for hummingbirds.

Predators

Feral cats represent a third threat to hummingbirds, as well as to other birds and small mammals. Cats are favored companions for many people, and friendly in their aloof way, but in their wild selves they are fierce predators, with birds as their preferred prey. Unlike other birds, hummers occasionally hover close to a nectar-filled flower cluster. If that cluster is fairly close to the ground, the bird becomes an easy victim of a crouching feline, which could kill a tiny hummer with one swipe.

The Arboretum asks its human visitors to not bring pets with them to view the collections. This ban focuses on dogs and certainly includes cats, although few people take their cats with them for outings. The Arboretum, being a natural environment at heart, is visited occasionally by mountain lions, but those noble creatures are unlikely to feed on hummers, and more likely to discourage visits by feral cats.

Hummingbird Day

Two genera of hummingbirds visit the Arboretum; both are members of the family Trochilidae, which includes a large number of hummingbird genera from the Americas.

The Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are permanent residents of the Pacific Coast, and the Allen’s Hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) spend most of the winter months in the mountain forests of Mexico and migrates to northern California during breeding season, from January through March.

Allen's - male HB at rest 72 pixels

Allen’s Hummingbird (male), at rest

 

Anna's - male HB - at rest 72 pixels

Anna’s Hummingbird (male) at rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arboretum schedules its annual Humming Day to coincide with the combination of breeding season and the arrival of the Allen’s Hummingbird. This is prime viewing time for hummingbird watchers, who can enjoy two eye-catching activities.

First, the Allen’s Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial, so their arrival leads to aerial battles with the resident Anna’s Hummingbirds, who have been simply minding their own business.

Then, for the hummers’ breeding season, the males display unique courtship antics, with amazing steep dives toward a targeted female, culminating in sound effects: male Anna’s make an explosive popping sound; and male Allen’s produce a metallic whine. Later in the season, while the females are feeding their young, there is a good deal of swooping about to collect insects to bring to their nestlings.

As a result of these two activities, during which the hummers ignore their human observers (while staying safe), Hummingbird Day is a great opportunity to see the aerial stunts of these exceptional flyers.

The event, which is each year’s most popular occasion to visit the Arboretum, happens on Saturday, March 4th, and includes guided tours, talks on hummingbird gardening and photography, and special craft activities for children.

Young visitor with a hummingbird toy

Young visitor with a hummingbird toy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Day is one of the Monterey Bay area’s most unusual and most enjoyable encounters with wildlife. Be sure also to browse the plant collections during your visit.

IF YOU GO

What: The annual celebration of hummingbirds. Walking tours, talks, and children’s activities with a hummingbird theme.

When: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday, March 4th

Where: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, on Arboretum Road, west of Western Drive

Cost: $10 for public; $5 for members of the Arboretum; free for UCSC students and children under 12

Parking: Free

Information: Visit the Arboretum’s website.

The Bold Dry Garden

Book Cover

It’s not often that we see a new book about a garden that’s both famous and near enough for a one-day visit. We now have The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden (Timber Press, 2016), written by Johanna Silver, with historic photographs and excellent new photographs,

This is a three-acre garden in a residential neighborhood, packed with over 2,000 cacti, succulents, trees and shrubs. Visiting is not a sprawling and overwhelming experience, with too much to take in without camping out, or an extended visit. Instead, it offers a relatively compact display of a wide variety of succulent plants.

The book begins with the garden’s history. Ruth Bancroft developed this garden at her home in Walnut Creek, beginning in the 1950s. Like all personal gardens, it began tentatively, with the purchase of few small plants, and grew slowly as the owner’s interest deepened and her vision broadened.

By the early 1970’s, Ruth was ready to map out her future garden. She brought in garden designer Lester Hawkins, to draw the setting for a dry garden, and to recommend plants to add to her growing collection. The initial planting was accomplished formally in 1972, although Ruth had already collected a significant number of plants.

The plants grew in number and size, and the collection grew in sophistication and beauty. It deeply impressed, Frank Cabot, a nationally prominent gardener from the Quebec area, who became concerned about preserving the garden into the future. In 1989, he founded the Garden Conservancy with the goal to preserve exceptional private gardens, with preservation of the Ruth Bancroft Garden as its first objective. By 1994, the Garden’s site was officially transferred to a non-profit corporation, Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc., dedicated to maintaining and improving the garden, and to make it available to the public.

Today, Ruth Bancroft is recognized as a dry gardening pioneer and innovator. She has reached the age of 107 and she maintains her love of her collection.

The longest chapter of The Bold Dry Garden, “Signature Plants of the Dry Garden,” describes and pictures garden’s diversity, organized in sections: The Smallest Players, Aeonium, Crassula, Echeveria, Haworthia, Sedum, Sempervivum, the Importance of Rock, Architectural Elements, Agave, Cactus, Yucca and Other Swords, Flowers and Foliage, Aloe, Euphorbia, Gasteria, Protea, Terrestrial Bromeliads, The Softer Side, California Natives, and Trees. Whew!

Reading this fine book can be a pleasant introduction to the world of succulent plants. Visiting this extraordinary garden is an opportunity to see many different forms of these plants, and to become inspired to develop your own collection…and to come again to the garden.

For more about this garden, and everything you need to prepare for a tour, visit the garden’s website.

The Garden Conservancy is both a preserver of private gardens and guide to seeing them through its Open Days program. Browse to the Conservancy’s website for more information.

The long-time curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Brian Kimble, is scheduled to speak at the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society on Sunday, March 19th. See the Society’s website for details.

The Bold Dry Garden is a good read for any gardener, excellent preparation for a visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and a fine addition to any library of garden books.