Weeding Ideas, Early Blooms

Gardening friends are pulling weeds that sprouted during our recent warm days and wishing for effective treatments. There are no quick and easy solutions to weed problems, but the longer view dictates “weeding before seeding.”

Ever optimistic, I am testing an organic pre-emergent herbicide that is based on corn gluten, a natural material that discourages the formation of roots. It’s neither cheap or 100% effective, but might be worth a try. For more information on a pelletized product, visit eartheasy.com and search for “corn gluten.” For a liquid version, go to amazon.com and search for “Green It.”

Another organic approach is the application of vinegar, which can kill really young weeds. Household vinegar (5% acidity) has some effect but horticultural vinegar (20-30% acidity) works better but dangerous to the user.

Other organic weed killers are based on clove oil will kill at least the top growth of mature weeds.

Still, the best, cheapest and most reliable way to kill weeds is pulling or digging them out by their roots.

Take a break from weeding to anticipate the coming spring and enjoy plants that are in bloom now in your garden. As I look around, I am pleased to see these early bloomers:

Wagner’s Sage (Salvia wagneriana), a large sub-shrub from Mexico and Central America has gorgeous hot pink or pink and white bracts that are greatly appreciated by hummingbirds as well as gardeners.

Wagner’s Sage

Salvia blossom - scarlet

Big Mexican Scarlet Sage

Big Mexican Scarlet Sage (Salvia gesneriiflora ‘Tequila’), another treasure from Mexico and Central America, produces brilliant red flowers with a striking black calyx and grows about ten feet high in California gardens. My neighbor has a stand of this plant that has grown fifty feet wide and well over fifteen feet high with support from adjacent shrubs.

 

 

 

 

Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana), from Australia, is a vigorous, woody vine that climbs with support from a tree or large shrub, or a trellis of some kind. Its popular varieties have differently colored blossoms: ‘Snowbells’ (white), ‘Ruby Belle’ (pinkish), ‘Ruby Heart’ (cream with ruby blotch), and ‘Golden Showers’ (yellow). My specimen grows on 2” x 2” rail attached to a fence and produces white racemes. The plant usually flowers in spring; we’re still in winter, so this is an early bloom.

Other plants now in bloom include

  • Beach Sage (Salvia africana-lutea), interesting wrinkly, golden brown flowers, from South Africa.
  • Winter Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), delicate blossoms, fine fragrance;
  • Common Hyacinth (H. orientalis), one of the earliest bloomers
  • Trumpet Daffodil (Narcissus ‘King Alfred’ probably), a cheerful yellow blossom
  • Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii ‘Santa Cruz’), a large, frequent blooming evergreen shrub

A plant to watch is the Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla striata), which is now preparing for early blossoming. This hardy orchid, native to China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, is delightfully easy to grow. It is a terrestrial orchid that requires no extraordinary care and produces rose-mauve blossoms that resemble a miniature Cattleya orchid flower. An established clump will produce dozens of flower spikes. I recently moved several plants from too-shady spots into large shallow containers, anticipating the development of clumps in a couple years. They are not particularly frost-tender, but recent frost warnings encourage moving the pots under shelter.

As always, gardening involves the exercise of patience.

Wild Geraniums in the Landscape

Recently, I’ve dug a lot of geraniums of my garden because they had grown exuberantly in the wrong place. I will describe these interlopers later in this column.

Plants that grow where they are not wanted have been called “weeds,” but that’s not an appropriate name for these plants because they are garden-worthy in all respects. A better description would be “prolific,” which is a desirable trait for garden plants.

My project to manage geraniums in my garden prompts a brief overview of the Geranium family (Geraniaceae),

Let’s first review the confusion over genus names in this family. Today, we understand that the Geraniaceae includes three principal genera: geranium, pelargonium, and erodium. During the 1750s and 1750s, when Carl Linnaeus was naming plants, he included all three of these genera as geranium. In 1789, another botanist concluded that geranium and pelargonium were, in fact, different genera. Others later decided that erodium was also a separate genus. Despite this long-standing agreement on these names, many gardeners still call pelargoniums “geraniums,” although they are quite different, each with desirable characteristics.

The name “geranium” refers to the crane, while the name “pelargonium’ refers to the stork, but I actually do not find that helpful.

The true geraniums are often called “wild,” although many popular varieties are hybrids, or “hardy,” even though some geranium species don’t do well in winter. (Pelargoniums are not winter-hardy.)

The genus Geranium includes 422 species of annual, biennial and perennial plants. Most geraniums are native to the eastern part of the Mediterranean region, but they are found throughout the temperate regions of the world and the mountains of the tropics.

An excellent guide to this family of plants is the website Geraniaceae, which is maintained by Robin Parer, a very knowledgeable person in Marin County.

The site describes plants within the three principal genera of the Geraniaceae. It lists many species of Geraniums in the following groups (with numbers of species): Annuals (6); Borders & Bedding (169); Ground Covers (86); Rock Gardens & Containers (39); Scramblers & Crawlers (23); and Shade (83).

Ground cover geranium

Geranium cantabrigiense

The geranium I dug out of my garden is G. x cantabrigiense. The species name is based on the Latin name for Cambridge, England, where the hybrid was developed. My plant is the cultivar ‘Biokovo’, which is a natural hybrid discovered in Croatia’s Biokovo Mountains. The Perennial Plant Association named this plant 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year. It is an excellent ground cover that grows up to a foot high and displays white blossoms with a pink throat and prominent pink stamens. The blossoms generally open in late spring and continue into the fall, but have appeared early this year.

This plant had spread in several parts of my garden. I had yards and yards of it! I removed a 3’ x 30’ bed that amounted to perhaps 25 percent of the total so plenty continues to grace the landscape and will need future control. I removed these plants because they were growing in an area I had designated for natives of California and Mexico; I have planted this area with seeds of two varieties of the Four O-Clock (Mirabilis jalapa), which is a Mexican native and another vigorous grower.

Geranium leaves

Geranium canescens

Another geranium in my garden is G. canescens, which is a larger, relatively rare South African species that has been growing in my garden for only seven months. The species name means “to become grey, to become old,” but the plant, which is luscious green and doesn’t appear to deserve that name. It has large, deeply lobed leaves, and will display pink flowers later in the spring.

To explore the garden possibilities for the geranium, visit Geranaiceae.com or talk to Robin Parer in person at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, which returns to the San Francisco’s Cow Palace, April 4–8, (www.sfgardenshow.com/).

Hardy geraniums can be fine additions to the garden landscape.

Selecting Cannabis Seeds

After happening upon a month-by-month checklist for growing cannabis, beginning about now, my curiosity took over and I searched for seeds for my first legal marijuana grow.

This column is intended for gardeners who have interest in personal (non-commercial) cultivation of marijuana, and lack experience in this area.

Seeds are easy to find on the Internet: just search for “marijuana seeds.” They are more expensive than the seeds of familiar garden plants because they are still new on the gardening scene. Weed seeds are all too easy to come by, but several cannabis cultivars have been brought to the market, each with a combination of desired characteristics, so the marketplace is thriving.

While exploring the options, the basics of seed selection and marijuana cultivation gradually came into focus.

An important option relates to the fact that cannabis is normally dioecious, meaning that it produces separate male and female plants. Occasionally, however, some plants can be monoecious, having male and female flowers on the same plant. Unfertilized female flowers produce the best buds, so some growers will either grow only female plants or identify and remove male flowers before they can produce pollen. With a little care, one could pollinate female flowers selectively to produce seeds for a subsequent generation of plants.

Cannabis breeders have developed “feminized” plants, i.e., without male chromosomes, which are available as an easy option for growing buds of desirable quality. These plants can only produce unfertilized female flowers. A gardener could either propagate cuttings from a feminized plant to produce another generation of plants or buy seeds of the same or different cultivar, choosing from wide and growing range of possibilities.

Another important option in seed selection involves the recently modified growth cycle. Natural (“wild”) marijuana plants are photosensitive and dependent on the onset of longer nights to trigger the development of the desired buds. Growers have had to simulate this transition from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage by providing high light levels during the vegetative stage followed by periods of darkness to prompt the flowering stage. Cannabis breeders have made this process easier by developing “auto-flowering” plants that progress to the flowering stage after the passage of a certain amount of time, rather than in response to light changes. Auto-flowering plants still grow during their vegetative stage best under high light levels, but such plants can be grown at any time of the year and without burdensome manipulations of light and darkness.

A third option concerns the mature size of the plant. Using wild plants again as our reference, the most popular species, Cannabis sativa, when grown outdoors without controls can reach or even exceed twelve feet in height. California law limits personal cultivation of marijuana to indoor sites, e.g., a greenhouse, where plants are less likely to grow to an unmanageable size and be trained to be smaller, bushier and more productive of buds. Still, breeders have developed so-called compact plants that will remain under four feet tall at maturity.

There are additional variables to consider in seed selection: the plant’s relative strength of psychoactive THC versus medicinal CBD; a given strain’s balance of C. indica and C. sativa; and the character of the plants’ effect on a user, which the individual user surely would moderate.

The curious gardener might wish to explore this horticultural byway. Those that do should comply with state law and local regulations regarding personal cultivation of marijuana.The Cannifornian website is a great source of information on regulations in California’s cities and counties.

Regard gardening as adventure!

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Pruning Roses

The gardening subject with the most advice and the greatest anxiety is pruning roses. January is the right time of the year for this task (with some inevitable exceptions, which we’ll get to), so let’s review.

Close-up of Yellow Rose

Rose ‘Graham Thomas’

Gardeners have good reasons for being uncertainty about pruning roses.

The need for pruning arises from the gardener’s priorities, not the plant’s requirements. This is evident from the existence of wild roses and so-called “cemetery roses” that thrive for generations without the care of any gardener. Pruning and other forms of rose cultivation are intended to produce more blossoms, larger blossoms, more desirable plant forms, and healthier plants.

If all roses were the same, pruning would be a simple matter, but the genus Rosa includes over 360 species, some of which are in cultivation since at least 500 B.C. This botanical diversity complicates the task: several of these species respond better to some pruning practices than to others.

Several species have been hybridized extensively, and thousands of cultivars have been available. The cultivar, however, does not determine the preferred pruning practice; more important determinants include the species and the form.

Roses are generally described in three major classifications: wild (or species) roses, old garden roses, and modern garden roses.

Old garden roses typically bloom once on old growth each season and are cold hardy. They require only minimal pruning, which is done after blooming primarily to manage the overall size and shape of the plants.

For this column, we’ll focus on modern roses, which by most accounts began in 1967.

Modern garden roses are typically hybrids derived from the very old China roses. They are most popular in today’s gardens and characterized as blooming on new growth, and ever-blooming, i.e., they continue blooming throughout the growing season. They are not cold hardy and a hard freeze can kill branches or entire plants. In the Monterey Bay area, cold weather is not a significant threat to these plants.

Pruning these plants begins with removing dead wood, and any branches that are diseased, broken or crossing other branches. These “clean up” actions prepare for cultivation pruning.

Modern garden roses generally benefit from a hard pruning to stimulate the new growth that will produce blooms. This is done during dormancy before new growth begins. In the Monterey Bay area, the best time to prune these plants is in during January and February, so right now is a good time to begin your rose year.

“Hard pruning” has various definitions, with most ranging between one-third to one-half of the canes. One approach calls for removing one-third of the canes entirely, then cutting the remaining canes by one-half.

One intriguing approach to pruning modern garden roses is to simply cut the plant down to eighteen inches in height. Shearing a rose in this way has been claimed to yield the most foliage and blossoms.

The so-called classical approach to rose pruning involves cutting canes to one-third or one-half, cutting at 45-degree angle to an outward-facing bud, opening the center of the plant for optimal light exposure, and removing branches that are thinner than a pencil. This approach yields larger stems, longer stems, and larger blossoms.

Whether you use the classical or shearing approach to hard-pruning your modern garden roses, the important message is to prune them at this time of the year. They will respond beautifully in the spring.

Resolve to Become Fire-safe

California has a history of wildfires, and this year’s fires have been particularly fierce and damaging. Governor Brown has identified climate change as producer of fire dangers and described a future of more wildfires in the state.

Currently, Monterey Bay area residents are sympathizing with—and perhaps assisting—people in California’s northern and southern regions that are suffering significant losses from wildfires. They should also guard against the potential for wildfires in their own communities.

Good advice is available for protecting your home from external fire dangers.

Pre-fire management, which is the current jargon, includes reducing vulnerability to flying embers with tile roofs or roof sprinklers. Hardening your home in these and other steps is good practice when building, possible when renovating, and always less costly than having your home reduced to ashes.

Still, defensive landscaping is particularly important and cost-effective, and most relevant in this column on gardening. I have listed selected online publications at the end of this column. They describe more good ideas that could be summarized here, but here’s an overview of three basic concepts.

Provide Defensible Space

Landscaping that is close to the home should not support the movement of the fire. This includes spacing trees at least ten feet part when on level ground, and farther apart when the home is on elevated land.

Diagram of Defensible Space

Defensible Space Zones 1 and 2

The second level of defensive space extends to 100 feet around the residence. California’s Public Resources Code, Section 4291 requires these firebreak provisions for all properties that are near “any land which is covered with flammable material,” i.e., land covered by forest, brush or grass.

Current wildfires have demonstrated, however, that wind-driven embers can fly up to one mile during a wildland fire, so the practical need for defensible space applies to any residence within a mile of a wildfire.

Use Fire-resistant Plants

Within a home landscape’s defensible space, using fire-resistant plants adds to protection from fire. CalFire describes these characteristics of fire-resistant plants

  • Store water in leaves or stems
  • Produce very little dead or fine material
  • Possess extensive, deep root systems for controlling erosion
  • Maintain high moisture content with limited watering
  • Grow slowly and need little maintenance
  • Are low-growing in their form
  • Contain low levels of volatile oils or resins
  • Have an open, loose branching habit with a low volume of total vegetation

Succulent plants that several of these characteristics and can effectively slow or stop the spread of fire. Succulent plant specialist Debra Lee Baldwin recently described how succulents protected a southern California home that a wildfire threatened, as adjacent homes burned to the ground. Click here for her YouTube presentation.

There are many plants that resist fires to some degree. Large succulents are most effective. Baldwin recommends Paddle Cactus (Opuntia), Aloes, Aeoniums, Crassulas, and Sticks on Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli).

Avoid Flammable Plants

As the corollary to using fire-resistant plants, avoid flammable plants. These are plants that

  • retain large amounts of dead material within the plant,
  • produce a large volume of litter, or
  • contain volatile substances such as oils, resins, wax, or pitch.

The most common trees that have highly flammable content are Eucalyptus, conifers, and all brooms (which often invade open areas). These plants can grow close together, making them even more prone to burst into flame. Keep them at least 100 feet from your home.

If you have been searching for a timely and constructive resolution to pursue during the coming year, a good choice would be to make your landscape both beautiful and fire-safe.

On-line Resources

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire): Ready for Wildfire (2017)

Pacific Northwest Extension: Fire Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes (2006)

UC Cooperative Extension: Safe Landscapes (2009)

The University of California, Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources: Home Landscaping for Fire

Adding Roses to Your Garden

Rose season is upon us! New plants have arrived at most garden centers, and this is the right time to decide if your garden would benefit from the addition of a rose.

The array of available varieties can be overwhelming, so preparation can streamline the selection process and increase your post-purchase comfort.

As you assess your landscape’s need for a rose, decide whether you want a shrub, climbing, rambling, miniature, or standard (tree) rose. This choice could narrow your search dramatically, but if you focus on a shrub rose, you will find the largest number of choices.

Another classification system identifies wild roses, old garden roses, and modern garden roses. The online resource Wikipedia provides a very welcoming and orderly overview of the seemingly countless kinds of roses.

Hybrid tea roses are among the most popular kinds of the modern garden roses. Hybrid teas, which are widely available in garden centers, provide gorgeous blossoms in a wide and growing range of forms and colors and almost always a beguiling fragrance. Selection relies upon the individual gardener’s priorities, which might involve complementing the colors of the garden’s existing collection of roses.

Local Master Rosarian Joe Truskot particularly appreciates the hybrid tea rose ‘Maria Callas’, which is also sold as “Miss All-American Beauty.’ Truskot is the author and publisher of the Central Coast Rose Manual, a valuable and unique resource for growing roses in the Monterey Bay area. This book can be found at Alladin Nursery (Watsonville), Bokay Nursery (Salinas), River House Books (Carmel), and Bookshop Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz).

The adventuresome gardener might wish to explore the extensive world of species roses, which are plants that occur in nature, without help from humans. Depending on who is counting there are 100 species or more than 360 species. These are the true wildflowers of the rose genus, always with five petals in white, pink or red blossoms. They occur in diverse scents, foliage, hips, and autumn colors. They are valued in naturalistic planting schemes and for the minimal pruning requirements. They bloom on new wood, so they can be cut back after flowering.

The species rose most likely found in a garden center is Rosa rugosa, also known as the Japanese Rose. (“rugosa” means “wrinkled,” referring to the plant’s corrugated leaves). Rosa rugosas are also available in various cultivars and hybridized with other species.

My garden includes two species roses:

Rosa californica is a fine addition in several ways to my native California bed, but it tends to spread through underground runners and develop a thicket.

Rosa mulligani, a rambler that grows vigorously and produces twenty-foot branches and spectacular one-time summer displays of white flowers.

Rosa Mulligani

Rosa Mulligani

To explore the world of roses, visit these websites:

Wikipedia/Roses

Weeks Roses

American Meadows

Heirloom Roses

David Austin

Joe Truskot

Roses of Yesterday and Today 

The months of January and February are the best time to prune roses, according to Joe Truskot. Now is a good time to refresh your knowledge of this annual task, inventory your roses, sharpen your tools, and schedule your pruning session. You might also attend Monterey Bay Rose Society’s hands-on Pruning Clinic at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 10:00 to 12:00 on January 13th and 14th, 2018. Local rose experts will volunteer their practical experience with best practices in this process, which can add significantly to bloom production during the coming season.

Spiny Plants in the Garden

Some attractive succulent plants can be dangerous!

Agaves, in particular, are often armed with spines that challenge both creatures that threaten to eat the plant and gardeners with the best of intentions.

Agave 'Blue Glow'

A popular hybrid Agave ‘Blue Glow’

The spines of many agaves generally occur as wickedly sharp points at the ends of leaves. These are called terminal spines, or more technically spinose apical processes. Spines that occur on the edges of leaves are marginal spines or spinose teeth.

By either name, they amount to the plant’s formidable defenses as well as to its aesthetic qualities.

Other spinose structures on plants include thorns and prickles. Here’s a primer for keeping them straight:

  • Spines are modified leaves or parts of leaves and are found on most cacti and some succulents.
  • Thorns are modified branches or stems and are found on some trees (citrus, hawthorn, honey locust, natal plum, etc.) and shrubs (pyracantha or“firethorn”, bougainvillea, Silverthorn, etc.)
  • Prickles are derived from the epidermis, which is the single layer of cells that covers the leaves, flowers, roots, and stems of plants. An informal definition of a prickle is “any pointed, sharp plant part that isn’t where a branch or leaf would be.” The rose provides the most similar example of prickles, which are often incorrectly called thorns of the rose. Other examples are the pink silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) and the less common white silk floss tree (Ceiba insignis).

Gardeners who practice the Chinese art of feng shui probably should avoid spiny plants entirely, especially near the entrance to the home. These plants are thought to stop the flow of chi, the central life force.

Still, many gardeners regard agaves as attractive, despite or because of the spines that many agaves develop. There are a few strategies that allow gardeners to cultivate spinose agaves or cacti without becoming harmed.

Some gardeners will snip the plant’s terminal spines. This approach might be appropriate for plants that are very near walkways or readily accessible to small children, but gardeners so concerned about spiny plants should avoid them in favor of softer varieties.

The most basic defense strategy involves simply being careful and alert to the potential harm.

Some uncommon gripping and cutting tools can be helpful in removing dead leaves or weeding around such plants. One online source is http://cactuspruner.com. Amazon also offers German-made 17.7-inch cactus tweezers that are angled for convenient use.

When planting or transplanting dangerous plants, leather gauntlet gloves and a long-sleeved sturdy shirt provide good protection.

An inexpensive and functional tool for such tasks is a bath towel, which can be used to wrap the plant for safe lifting and transport.

For an interesting brief video on using a winch to transplant a large cactus safely, browse to youtube.com and search for “Repotting a Giant Golden Barrel Cactus.”

With preparation and appropriate tools, gardeners can handle spiny agave plants without acquiring scratches or puncture wounds, and with the enjoyment of their dramatic beauty and a great variety of colors and forms.

Gifting Garden Books

As we enter the season of giving, you might puzzle over finding gifts for gardening friends, or for that matter advising well-intentioned but stumped gift-givers what you might enjoy finding under your holiday evergreen.

Gardeners can always use another special plant or a great tool that works without a cord or spark plug, but a gardening book can be an excellent choice.

In selecting a gardening book as a gift, first considerations include quality of content and the recipient’s interests.

Gardeners I have met are typically fascinated by what other gardeners have done with their patch of soil, so books about —and tours of—other people’s gardens are perennial favorites. A new addition to this popular genre is Private Gardens of the Bay Area, by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, with photographs by Marion Brenner (The Monacelli Press, 2017).

The book’s title, of course, refers to gardens around the San Francisco Bay. There are many “bay areas,” but SF somehow has assumed ownership of that term. That’s not objectionable in this case because the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay areas have similar growing conditions. (Gardeners in the Chesapeake Bay area might feel differently.)

This book resonates with local gardening priorities because of its consistent and light-handed interest in sustainability, especially through lawn alternatives and drought-tolerant plants. The garden presentations convey these important messages subtly through multiple examples and without preaching.

The book takes the reader on an imaginary tour of thirty-nine gardens, which the book groups in four regions surrounding SF Bay. The gardens range in size from very small to very large, the gardeners range from dedicated amateurs to experienced designers, and the product compiles a wealth of ideas to inspire all gardeners.

The garden descriptions, averaging about six pages, understandably focus on each site’s exceptional vignettes, which are the most readily adaptable features for one’s own garden. Time is needed to add impressive mature plants to the garden but effective designs can be replicated with creativity and commitment.

Authors Lowry and Berner have written other books on private gardens; their communication skills are evident in each garden description. They introduce the gardeners, provide a bit of the garden’s history, characterize its design successes, and often highlight individual plants that contribute to the garden’s uniqueness. Their prose is non-technical and readable, and they also include botanical names of plants for those who wish to search for more information.

Marion Brenner’s photographs are beautifully done. Most of her images present aspects of the landscapes of interest while some show satisfying details of specific plants. The authors also credit Brenner as their guide to SF Bay Area gardens, drawing on her decades of experience in local garden photography.

Private Gardens of the Bay Area would be a fine gift to an avid gardener living in this part of California, or to others who would like to experience this horticultural paradise vicariously.

Happily, you can also choose from many excellent gardening books on a wide range of topics, assuming you what inspires your giftee’s gardening pursuits. The American Horticultural Society annually recognizes exceptional gardening literature through the AHS Book Awards. The winners for 2017 include the following:

  • All the President’s Gardens by Marla McDowell (Timber Press) —the White House gardens;
  • The Bee-Friendly Garden, by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn (Ten Speed Press) —plants for bees;
  • Garden Revolution, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (Timber Press) —ecological gardening;
  • Plant, by the editors at Phaidon Press (Phaidon Press) — fascinating botanical art; and
  • Rock Gardening, by Joseph Tychonievich (Timber Press) — photos and detailed info on this gardening style.

For more info, browse to the AHS Book Awards for 2017  and then click in turn through Gardening Programs, National Awards, and Book Awards. There are outstanding books for many gardening specialties, easing your efforts to cultivate just the right gift.

You have another opportunity to find selected gardening books as well as plants and other gifts at Norrie’s Gift & Garden Shop at the UCSC Arboretum. Norrie’s Holiday Open House will be open from 10:00 to 4:00 tomorrow, December 2nd.

Identify Your Mystery Plants

When adding a plant to your garden, best practice includes knowing about the plant’s growing needs and mature size. Retail sources of plants should and usually do provide such basic facts on a label or catalog entry. The gardener could make do with that information or could dig a little deeper in a reference book like Sunset’s Western Garden Book, or through the growing riches of online resources

To learn more about a given plant, begin with the botanical name, which is the plant’s unique identifier. Common names might be helpful in finding a plant’s botanical name: some garden books will cross-reference common and botanical names, and a web search for a common name might turn up the botanical name. Another strategy, especially when acquiring a plant from another gardener, is to ask the donor or members of a local garden society that specializes in the plant of interest. The most dedicated gardeners often will come up with the correct name, but for those who will only hazard a guess, check the name with a reliable source.

On occasion when an unfamiliar plant lacks a name, there’s no one to ask, and your curiosity reigns, the Internet will save the day.

The Internet offers various online plant identification resources, but they are mostly automated operations and not very accurate. To be less than polite, some are outrageously bad and a waste of time.

One online plant identifier that works quite well and with impressive speed is the National Gardening Association’s Plant ID Forum. Its accuracy and efficiency are derived from the participation of actual living gardeners, rather than the current generation of computers. (A future machine might outperform all horticulturists in plant ID tasks, but it’s not here yet.)

I frequently need the name of unlabeled plants that I see in a private or public garden, or that I acquire at a garden exchange. A recent column (ongardening.com/?p=2925) included a photo of a mystery plant seen at a garden tour.

Firecracker Plant

Firecracker Plant

The Plant ID Forum quickly identified it as a Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis ), an impressive Mexican shrub with a specific name that compares it to the horsetail rush. My next step is to find a source for this plant.

At a local garden exchange, I acquired two small plants that were mysteries to me, so I sent photos to the Plant ID Forum.

Creeping Fucshia

Creeping Fucshia

I soon learned that one is a Creeping Fuchsia (Fuchsia procumbens) that is a New Zealand native, thought to be the world’s smallest fuchsia, and categorized as an endangered species due to habitat loss. Quite a discovery!

 

 

 

 

Young Peperomia Plant

Coin Leaf Peperomia

My other mystery plant from the garden exchange is a Coin Leaf Peperomia or Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia polybotrya ‘Variegata’), which is native to the Andes Mountains of Peru. I learned that it’s primarily for its foliage, and thrives as a houseplant in indirect light.

 

 

 

Your plants need not be mysteries! Sign up for the Plant ID Forum, a free service of the National Gardening Association.  Once you have established this connection, explore the website’s several forums and other features. If you have gardening questions other than finding the name of a mystery plant, try the Ask a Question Forum, which is a fairly new feature of this site. It welcomes the full range of inquiries, from “there are no stupid questions” to “stump the experts.” It can be quite useful in broadening your gardening knowledge

Marijuana Comes Out of the Haze

Recent projections of the retail cost of marijuana are encouraging for aspiring cannabis gardeners.

The short story: the cumulative costs of state and local taxes and fees will make recreational marijuana quite expensive: a single roll-your-own marijuana joint could cost $10.

Observers expect that these costs could burden legal providers of marijuana and encourage their black market competitors.

As that drama plays out, these costs also could greatly increase the cost-effectiveness of personal cultivation of cannabis.

Cannabis Leaf

Cannabis Leaf

This image is from Robert Bergman’s online publication: “Growing Marijuana in California” (http://www.ilovegrowingmarijuana.com/growing-marijuana-california/

Background

A year ago, California voters enacted Proposition 64, the Control Regulation and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (the “AUMA”). Along with its other purposes, this proposition authorized personal cultivation of nonmedical (i.e., recreational) cannabis by persons 21 years of age or older, subject to locally adopted regulations.

The County of Santa Cruz has adopted such regulations; they took effect on May 31, 2017. Reportedly, Santa Cruz County was California’s first county to take this action. The County of Monterey anticipates adopting regulations for adult use/recreational cannabis businesses “in the near future” (probably by January 1, 2018).

Personal Cultivation

When California voters approved the AUMA, many people considered trying this previously forbidden recreation. For the record, this column neither recommends nor discourages recreational use of marijuana. That is a personal decision.

A good number of people were—and continue to be—decidedly not interested in marijuana. Still, some other people are interested in growing up to six marijuana plants, which is the maximum number allowed for personal grows. Avid gardeners might have a particular interest in cultivating this unfamiliar new plant, whether or not they wish to explore its psychoactive properties.

Growing your own cannabis and making your own marijuana cigarettes might be compared to growing your own grapes and making your own wine. In both examples, the hobbyist compares the enjoyment of the hobby’s time and cost with the time and cost of simply buying the commercial product.

The projected retail cost of marijuana adds significantly to the appeal of personal cultivation. This column is for gardeners who are interested in exploring that hobby.

When the AUMA was approved, we outlined the stages of cannabis cultivation: sprouting, vegetative growth, flowering, harvesting, and drying & curing. We also provided links to free online resources that offer more detailed information. To review that column, go to http://ongardening.com/?p=2641.

Cannabis information sources are evolving rapidly, so for up-to-date rates, growing advice, etc., search the Internet for “cannabis seeds” and “cannabis cultivation.”

Local Regulations

Also important: adherence to state and local regulations. Santa Cruz County residents should read the local regulations. For easy access, here is a link to “Santa Cruz County Code Chapter 7.134.” Monterey County residents should watch and wait for the adoption of their own county’s regulations.

All parts of these regulations are important, but prospective cannabis growers will need a way to meet the requirement to conduct all stages of cultivation on their own residence grounds inside a locked and secured structure such as a shed or greenhouse, and not visible from a public place. Cannabis can, but may not be, grown outdoors.

Next Steps

The cost of growing cannabis begins with the seeds, which are available from mail-order sources for $10 to $15 per seed, depending on the strain. Choosing which seed to buy and plant involves research or an arbitrary decision. Planting should be scheduled for early spring, so there is time to order seeds, select or create a legal structure for cultivation, and gain at least basic familiarity with the process. Because this plant has the common name “weed,” growing it will not be difficult for capable gardeners. However, as with all plants, very good cultivation produces very good results, so growing cannabis well could challenge even experienced gardeners.