Amaryllis Problem

Q. The leaves of my Amaryllis is becoming curled and spotted I found some mealy bugs could this be my problem I took alcohol and cotton swabsto it but several weeks ago but the leaves are limp and spotted.

Succulant%20003Any suggestions?

Thank you as you have helped me in the past

May 2014

A. The photo you provided suggests that the plant does not have an insect pest problem, but the mosaic virus, which is not curable.

“When amaryllis contracts the mosaic virus, its leaves take on a blotchy look with yellow to red streaking. Over time, the virus will reduce the vigor and growth of the plant, and the leaves may die. Once the amaryllis has the virus, there is really no cure for it, although symptoms may worsen or improve depending on the season. To prevent the spread to other susceptible plants, remove and destroy infected plants right away.”

The above information is from an article, Growing the Delightful Amaryllis, by horticulturist Ronald C. Smith. The full article is available online from the North Dakota State University.

I’m sorry to report bad news, but it looks like time to get another amaryllis bulb.

Reply. Not the news I wanted to here but as you said get rid of them and their was 13 big red and pink. Hope it didn’t get into these last 5.

Thank you again as I wouldn’t want to lose anymore especially the Aztec Lily that has been around for over 50 years. It belonged to my Mother.

Again many thanks.

Sap on Orchids

Q. My indoor orchids all of a sudden have developed some sticky sap on the underside of the leaves and flower stalks.  Is this bad?  And if yes, then what can I do to eliminate this problem.  I wrote to Sunset magazine twice, but haven’t received an answer. August 2014

I love your articles in the Monterey Herald.  They are always so informative.

A. It’s most likely that the sap is produced by very small pests that suck the plant’s juices. These might be aphids, mealy bugs (cottony blobs) or scale (bumps that slide off). Use a bright light to spot them, looking closely at the new leaves in particular. Eliminate the pests by wiping them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or Q-tip.

If t you can’t see any pests, the sap might be produced naturally by some orchids to attract pollinators. If that’s the case, it’s not a problem, but some growers will wipe off the sap with a damp paper towel.

Best wishes.

Worms in Apples

Q. My apple tree has some kind of bug  that has infected the fruit and as a result it has worms in the apples.  What can I use to get rid of these unwelcome visitors? August 2014

A.

The worms are probably the larvae of the codling moth.

Here is an article from Planet Natural (www.planetnatural.com) on non-toxic control of this pest. It’s not quick or easy, but with persistence should be effective.

Unknown Plant (Echeveria)

Q. I was given this plant for Christmas without a name or how to care for, can you help me?the lady who sold it to my daughter-in-law didn’t even know the name.

Xmas%20Succulant%20001

Thank you in advance.
January 2015

A.

Your plant is Echeveria gibbiflora var. carunculata, a member of the Crassulaceae family, from Mexico.

It develops stems up to 50 cm high, topped with rosettes up to 30 cm wide, each with 15-20 gray green leaves 15-30 cm long, flushed with blue to pink hues. It also has inflorescences (lower heads) to 1m tall, with pink flowers.

Each leaf develops a group of bumps, “carunculae”, on upper surface of leaves. As the plant grows the carunculae will grow large and add more beauty to this rare and unusual plant.

Likes fresh air with bright light or full sun. Drench thoroughly, then allow to become moderately dry between watering.

Here’s a picture of this plant, from the Internet.

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Hellebores for Winter Color

One of my favorite plants for this time of the year is the hellebore, which decorates the garden with fascinating blossoms just when the spring bloomers are dormant.

The hellebore thrives and blossoms in partial shade, making it a welcome complement to ferns and other plants that we value only for their foliage.

The genus Helleborus includes about twenty species, the great majority of which are native to the Balkan Peninsula (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia) or the Mediterranean region. The generic name comes from Greek words for “to injure” and “food,” indicating that ll parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. It also has medicinal uses.

Hellebores typically have dark, shiny evergreen leaves with finely serrated edges. The blossoms have been compared to roses, and some popular names for the plant include “rose,” but the hellebore is not related to the rose.

The most highly regarded and poplar species are Corsican Hellebore (H. argutifolius), Stinking Hellebore (H. foetidus), Christmas Rose (H. niger), Livid Lenten Rose (H. lividus), and the original Lenten Rose (H. orientalis).

A large and growing number of hybrids offer many pleasing blossom colors, color combinations and forms. The hybrid forms in the H. x sternii ‘Blackthorn Group’, which combines H. argutifolius and H. lividus, are particularly valued.

Local nurseries often offer at least a few different hellebores at this time of the year, when they are in bloom. Gardeners looking for particular blossom colors are well advised to buy plants in bloom, as some hybrids will produce unexpected colors.

Hellebores typically have downward-facing blossoms, which encourage some gardeners to plant hellebores in an elevated situation, so the viewer can peer into the blossom. In response to gardeners desire to see the blossom’s interior, hybridizers have developed cultivars with more upward-facing blossoms. Ernie and Marietta O’Bryne, of Northwest Garden Nursery, have developed highly regarded hybrid hellebores, including the Winter Jewels series. Their work was featured in the November/December issue of The American Gardener.

A good retail source of these hybrid hellebores is Plant Delights Nursery, in North Carolina. Browse to www.plantdelights.com and search for “Helleborus.” Other mail order sources for these plants include Gossler Farms Nursery and Joy Creek Nursery, both in Oregon.

Most hellebores grow to about fifteen inches high and wide. A few are in the nine-to-twelve inch high category. My garden includes a large swath of the Corsican Hellebore, the largest species, growing to four feet tall and wide. It is just coming into bloom now, with greenish blossoms.

Corsican Hellebore buds

Corsican Hellebore (click to enlarge)

The Corsican Hellebore is one of just four caulescent species of Helleborus, meaning plants that have leaves on flowering stems. The acaulescent species develop basal leaves, and flower stalks without leaves.

In the late winter or early spring, the Corsican Hellebore’s long-lasting flowers fade and the stems lean to the ground to drop their seeds away from the base of the plant. (I get a lot of seedlings each year!) The gardener’s task at that time is to cut the flowering stems to the ground, to make room for the new growth, which has already begun.

I have been adding additional hellebore cultivars to my garden, and enjoying the smaller varieties and the range of blossom colors they provide.

If you have a partially shaded area in your garden, perhaps under a large tree, and would appreciate seeing interesting blossoms during the late fall and early winter, try a few hellebores.

Gardening with Succulents

The continuing popularity of succulent plants is based on several kinds of appeal, beginning with drought tolerance and including interesting shapes and an amazing range of colors.

This diversity occurs because plants in many genera have developed the capacity to store water in their roots, stems or leaves. Their common characteristic is that they live in areas where drought conditions happen often enough to make water storage essential to survival.

Succulent plants have a reputation for being easy to cultivate, relative to other perennial plants. In addition to needing water only occasionally and in small amounts, these plants are have few problems from pests and diseases.

The native environment of a succulent plant can be important to its cultivation. Most gardeners know that succulents need fast-draining soil to avoid root rot, and grow well, if slowly, in nutrient-poor soil. These plants have evolved under such conditions, and now depend upon them.

Another consideration is the elevation of the plant’s native environment. Succulent plants that have evolved on mountains are accustomed to those environmental conditions, and could have unique leaf anatomy and photosynthetic characteristics.

Good gardening practice often involves matching—or approximating—the plant’s native environment, but changing the elevation of one’s garden is not among the options. Happily, most succulent plants from high elevations can grow well at lower elevations.

Succulent plants grow in many areas of the world, and an important issue of native environment is the hemisphere in which the plant evolved. This determines the plant’s dormancy, which influences the gardener’s cultivation practices.

Succulent plants that have adapted to the northern hemisphere  are Winter Dormant:
they rest from November through February and grow from March through October.
Many plants also will rest for a few weeks of hot weather in the summer, and grow
again in September and October. Popular succulent genera that are Winter Dormant include Agave, Echeveria, Euphorbia, Lithops and Pachypodium.

Succulent plants that have adapted to the southern hemisphere are Summer Dormant, which also means that they are winter growers. Their rest period continues from May through August; they grow slowly during the winter months, and then grow actively during autumn and spring. Examples of Summer Dormant succulent plants include these popular genera: Aeonium, Aloe, Cotyledon, Crassula, Dudleya, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Haworthia, Kalanchoe, Pelargonium, Sanseveria, Sedum and Senecio.

The gardener should avoid disturbing succulent plants during their dormant periods. So, repotting, pruning, or taking cuttings should be done in March for Winter Dormant plants and in August for Summer Dormant plants.

Watering succulent plants is another practice that is dormancy-related. When plants are dormant, they stop growing but continue to transpire, and therefore need replacement moisture. Not watering succulent plants while they dormant is the most common cause for failure.

The amount of moisture needed during dormancy depends on the dryness of the particular environment. Winter Dormant plants might need watering once or twice per week. Summer Dormian plants, which rest during the hottest time of the year, could need more frequent watering.

Also, remember to group plants with similar water needs. Such grouping can be important when combining succulent plants in containers: keeping Summer Dormant or Winter Dormant plants together will enable more convenient and more appropriate irrigation.

Mixed Succulents in Pot

Mixed Succulents in Container
(click to enlarge)

These guidelines could need adjustment for individual species; as always with the plant world, general rules are subject to variation.

Lose the Lawn

One the best gardening strategies to prepare for future droughts—and achieve additional benefits—is to replace your lawn with any of several landscape designs.

Lawns, and especially front yard lawns, began as a mark of affluence, because mowing a lawn was once a labor-intensive (and therefore costly) session with a scythe. A skilled scythe-wielding worker can be impressively efficient, but for most workers, including the homeowner with an up-to-date lawnmower, mowing a lawn is a tedious and repetitious task. The homeowner’s reward for a well-maintained lawn can include pride of ownership.

A lawn does more than display the homeowner’s wealth. It also serves as the base for widely accepted front-yard designs, the principal one of which has been called the Contractor’s Landscape. This consists of a shallow bed of reliable small shrubs next to the house, followed by turf grass to the curb. This design is quick and cheap to install, and inoffensive.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the lawn provides a resting place for the eye as the viewer focuses on individual trees, shrubs and blossoms. The lawn is a neutral swatch of greenery, contrasting carpet-like with the relatively busy landscape.

But consider the negative aspects of the lawn.

  • Maintaining a good-looking lawn requires much more effort, water, chemical fertilizers and herbicides than alternative landscapes.
  • Two-cycle lawnmowers pollute the air about ten times as much as a car, and add noise pollution as well. Electric mowers are better, but they also impact the environment. Push mowers are best for the environment, the lawn and the homeowner.
  • Lawns are the homeowner’s version of monoculture, growing just one crop over an area. This practice might seem efficient, but to the wildlife, it’s a wasteland with very little food or water and no shelter at all.
  • Lawns might be valued for recreation, but in reality often have minimal use (except for maintenance). Other landscape designs could be more inviting and supportive of outdoor activities.

If these factors encourage you to consider losing your lawn, it’s time to look into the many possible alternatives. Begin with Sunset magazine’s “21 Inspiring Lawn-free Yards” <www.sunset.com/garden/earth-friendly/lose-the-lawn-low-water-landscaping>. This webpage offers a slideshow of attractive options to contemplate.

For more in-depth information, visit Evelyn J. Hadden’s extensive website, “Less Lawn, More Life,” or look for her book, “Beautiful No-Mow Lawns: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives’ (Timber Press, 2012).

Another fine resource on this topic is book by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien: Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices andDesigns (

Another helpful resource is the Lawn Reform Coalition, which is “all about reducing or replacing lawn, water-wise lawn species and eco-friendly care for all lawns.” Visit the Coalition’s website for information on all aspects of lawn alternatives.

“Lose the lawn” emphasizes the loss of a familiar element of the landscape. “Lawn alternatives” suggests a more appealing idea, one that opens our thinking about creative approaches to the landscape and new resources in the home environment.

Think of the possibilities!

Rain at Last

As an impressionistic meteorologist, I’m very pleased with our recent rains and even more so with the promise of more rain in the near future. Some areas of northern and central California could actually reach normal levels of annual precipitation. The Santa Cruz area is during fairly well, but this happy future might not extend throughout the area: portions of Monterey County are receiving lighter precipitation.

What have we learned?

My first reaction to the overdue rain is that we can now anticipate fresh new stems and leaves and a great floral display in the spring. Our plants are responding to the moisture by extending their roots and drawing in nutrients, preparing for a new season of growth.

Then, I flashed on the idea that the drought is over for good, and we’re back to the Monterey Bay area’s historical weather pattern, with a dry summer and the onset of the rainy season around mid-October. This thought didn’t last long. Realistically, our climate is changing in ways that will change our gardening—and our lives—in significant ways.

This change is happening at a fast rate, not with the very slow arrival of the Ice Age (approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago or the Little Ice Age (1550 to 1850), which developed relatively more quickly, over a period of about 200 years.

Politicians are debating a range of responses to today’s emerging problem. Clearly this is a global issue that requires global action, but as individuals, we can respond in small ways. The most constructive action for individuals is to elect those who accept the reality of climate change and support long-term solutions.

As gardeners, we can pursue three basic strategies:

First, retire plants that require summer irrigation and that suffer under drought conditions. The single most widespread plant in this category is lawn grass, which achieves it aesthetic potential only with frequent irrigation, applications of nitrogen fertilizers and broadleaf herbicides, and regular cultivation, including mowing, aeration and pest control.

In a future column, I will describe alternatives to traditional turf grasses.

Tropical-climate plants compirse another category to avoid for drought-tolerant gardens. Examples include the hibiscus (H. syriacus is the most popular ornamental species) and the banana (Musa acuminata, M. balbisiana and others). In general, avoid plants with large glossy dark leaves, which tend to absorb more heat, require a lot of water and transpire a lot of water.

For the water needs of specific plants, Sunset’s Western Garden Book provides useful guidelines, with briefly descriptive terms from “ample water” to “little to moderate water.”

The second basic strategy is to favor plants that will survive in your garden under drought conditions. Generally, as often mentioned in the column, these are plants that are native to coastal California and other Mediterranean (or “summer-dry”) climates. These plants will do better with a little moisture during a prolonged drought, but they have evolved to withstand dry periods, using such methods as growing small leaves, that minimize water loss.

Succulents are another category of drought-tolerant plants, which have developed structures for storing water in their leaves, stems or roots.

The third strategy for drought-tolerant gardening is to use water wisely, through drip irrigation and regular mulching. These water-conservation methods complement the two preceding strategies for plant selection, and help the gardener to cope with water restrictions.

Use the next clear days to assess your garden for drought-tolerance. However much we enjoy the current rains, preparing for future droughts requires long-term planning..

Top Ten Tasks for Fall

Our gardens have had some rain—and a promise for more this season—so we can now pursue “regular” gardening and think other good thoughts!

There are no exciting new developments or flights of imagination in this week’s column. Instead, here’s a review of steps to take in the fall to ensure gardening success in the spring.

  1. Feed your soil. As plants grow, they consume the soil’s nutrients, so the gardener should restore the soil by adding partially decomposed organic material. For an inactive bed, dig in a three-to-four inch layer of compost; for an active bed, provide the same layer as a top dressing.
  2. Mulch your beds. Cover any bare soil in the garden with organic or inorganic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth. For large areas, call your local tree service for a load of coarse wood chips, which break down slowly and are typically free.
  3. Plant spring flowering bulbs. There’s still time to create a delightful display. Online sources and garden centers are running low, but look for bargains. Even second-choice bulbs produce fine spring flowers.
  4. Wait to do clean up until spring. Leave faded perennials and grasses in place for now to decorate the garden and provide habitats for beneficial insects. Cut them back when you see signs of new growth in the spring.
  5. Plant perennials. Continue adding plants to the garden any time before frost. To avoid compacting the soil, let any rain soak in well before working or walking on the soil .
  6. Sow wildflower seeds. If you have enough garden space for even a patch of wildflowers, sow a small packet of mixed wildflower seeds. If you have a larger space, sow more seeds! This project is easy, inexpensive and very satisfying for the gardener, and great for the wildlife.
  7. Make notes on planting for fall color next spring. A little planning during the quiet days of the fall could support next spring’s installation of plants that will provide fall color and seed heads for the birds. A beautiful garden in the late summer and early fall requires a bit of study to identify and locate plants that will fit well into the landscape and put on a pleasing show.
  8. Control slugs and snails. The fall presents time for defensive action against the brown snail (Cantareus asperses), a significant pest in many gardens. Snails can reproduce on a year-round schedule, so the fall is a good opportunity for control only because other tasks are less pressing, and we want to give the new spring growth a chance to flourish. A reliable approach is picking snails by hand and dropping them into water with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Other methods: lure them into shallow pools of cheap beer, or send your pet duck after them.
  9. Compost your tree leaves. Leaves that fall from your trees are not trash, but “gardener’s gold,” an excellent and free source of pre-compost. You might feel the need to rake your leaves into a pile (not everyone does), so the next steps will define your gardening priorities. One option is to wrestle them into trash bags, which is not a simple step on the way to the landfill. The preferred option is to shred the leaves to speed decomposition and add them to your compost pile. To shred the leaves, use a bagging lawn mower or a purchased or rented leaf shredder.
  10. Collect seeds. Watch for seed heads to form on your favored plants, cut the flowering stems at the base, drop them into a paper grocery sack that you have carefully saved, and let them dry for a week. They are then ready to sow in the garden, with or without the stems. If desired, separate the seeds from the chaff for storage or sharing.

You might know additional tasks that would ready your garden for winter, but these ten steps would be good preparation for a glorious spring season. Gardening is about the future.

Propagating Plants

Plant and cutting exchanges, which are popular in the Monterey Bay area, invite gardeners to bring plants or cuttings from their garden to swap for plants or cuttings offered by another gardener. These exchanges work because plants propagate naturally on their own: the gardener does not incur a significant cost, and still reaps the satisfaction of giving something of value to another gardener.

Cheap thrills!

Propagating plants for sharing require a significant investment of time: growing plants from seeds or cuttings and then giving them away could amount to a generous gift of the gardener’s time. However, opportunities exist for sharing plants with little effort.

For example, if your daffodils or irises need dividing, you could very well end up with a surplus of bulbs or rhizomes that you could share.

Another example: plants might self-propagate in your garden to the point that you have more than you want, and would prefer to reclaim the space for other plants.

Plants have many ways to reproduce, and gardeners can support those natural processes successfully, and with both botanical creativity and economic efficiency in developing the garden and sharing with friends.

For an introduction to this topic, visit Wikipedia website <en.wikipedia.org/wiki> and search for“Plant propagation.” This site provides very brief descriptions of sexual propagation, which involves growing plants from seeds, and asexual propagation, which encompasses several methods:

11-21-14 Cotoneaster berries CU

Cotoneaster lacteus

Cotoneasters produce seeds copiously, perhaps as an adaptation to the many birds that find them tasty. This specimen is C. lacteus, called Pareny’s Cotoneaster or Red Clusterberry. The name for the genus, native to China, is derived from ‘cotone’, an old Latin name for the quince plant, plus ‘aster,’ which means “resembling” indicating that this plant looks like a quince.

 

10-21-14 Anemone blossoms - fading

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica,

Japanese Anemone blossoms are fading about now. These plants are best propagated from root cuttings taken in the late fall or early winter. When we lifted them, we saw vigorous new white shoots on the roots, and knew that they would re-root quickly in a new environment. This plant produces beautiful pink or white blossoms, and grows so readily that it’s almost invasive.

 

 

Another approach can be found on the website Plant Propagation, which offers both brief definitions and basic “how-to” information for these methods:

  • Budding
  • Bulbs
  • Corms
  • Cuttings
  • Division
  • Grafting
  • Layering
  • Offsets
  • Rhizomes
  • Runners
  • Seeds
  • Plant Tissue Culture

Another excellent resource is the North Carolina State University website (search for plant propagation). When drawing upon information from distant places, consider climate differences. This website has more detailed Articles and bulletins on propagation techniques.

If you learn best from practical demonstrations, YouTube offers several short video recordings (often simply produced) on aspects of his craft. Browse to the site and search for “plant propagation video.”

The fall season is a fine time to try propagating your favorite plants.