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 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.

Cultivating Cannabis

The stunning results of this week’s vote include a significant change for gardeners:
removal of a long-standing ban on growing cannabis for personal recreational use by adults.

Voters approved Proposition 64, which legalizes “growing up to six marijuana plants and keeping the marijuana produced by the plants within a private home.” This column provides a brief introduction to the cultivation of marijuana; interested gardeners should read all of the proposition’s provisions related to personal uses of marijuana.

Cannabis (Marijuana), a herb with psychoactive properties, is a genus of the Cannabaceae family. Other genera in this family include Celtis (Hackberry), Humulus (Hop) and about eight other less familiar plants.

There are three species of Cannabis: C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis. There are many C. sativa x indica hybrids that combine sativa’s productivity and indica’s more compact size.

The plant grew originally in mountainous regions northwest of the Himalayas, and is now indigenous to central Asia and India; it grows well in much of California.

Cannabis is dioecious, meaning the genus has separate female and male plants. Only about 6% of flowering plants are dioecious; the great majority is monoecious, having both male and female flowers.

The flowers of well-grown female plants (called sensimilla, meaning “without seeds”) of both C. sativa and C. indica secrete an abundance of chemical compounds (cannabinoids), mostly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive constituent, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has a range of medical applications.

Growing cannabis for personal use would be well within the skills of typical gardeners: the plant grows so vigorously that it is commonly called “weed.” The reasons for growing your own marijuana include controlling expenses, avoiding synthetic chemicals, and selecting preferred cultivars (“strains”). Growing the plant for optimal production of THC involves some care, so the challenge to succeed could be satisfying in itself.

Local garden centers are unlikely to offer Cannabis seeds or seedlings in the near future. Two local garden center managers told me they would stay out of the Cannabis market at least until federal laws allow personal, recreational use of the plant.

For this reason, the best way to begin is to buy seeds online. A search of the Internet for “Cannabis seeds” will yield links to several vendors offering various strains, each with features of potency, productivity, fragrance, taste, disease resistance, etc. Generally, seeds are offered online in small packets, with prices ranging around $5 to $10 per seed. Growers claim germination rates of 90-95%, so two or more gardeners might share the cost of a seed purchase.

Cultivation of the Cannabis plant proceeds through stages:

  • Sprouting Stage. Germinate seeds in the spring by placing them in a damp paper towel. The seeds should show a small white taproot within 72 hours. Plant the seeds ¼-inch deep in planting mix with the root pointing down in a small biodegradable container, e.g., a peat pot. Keep the soil slightly damp with de-chlorinated water (leave tap water in an open container for 24 hours to release chlorine gas). Leave for 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Vegetative Growth Stage. Move the small plant (still in its biodegradable container) to a 3-to-5 gallon pot filled with planting mix plus compost. The mix should be kept slightly damp with slightly acidic (low pH) water, and the plant should receive maximum sunlight. If growing indoors, maintain 72–85°F, and provide a high level of light for 18–24 hours/day. Feed the plant with high-nitrogen fertilizer. During this stage, prune off about ¾ of the top growth tip to promote new top growth and additional buds. This is also the right stage to take cuttings for the propagation of clones.
  • Flowering Stage. Once the plant grows to18 inches or more in height, it will be ready for flowering. To stimulate flowering, provide strong light for 12 hours/day, and complete darkness for 12 hours/day. If the plants have been growing outdoors, this could require moving the plants indoors for the dark period each day. During this stage, the plants could double in size.
cannabis-plant-in-bud

Cannabis plant in bud

  • Harvesting Stage. Reaching this stage could take 5 weeks, during which the plant benefits from phosphorus (e.g., chicken or bat compost tea) more than nitrogen. As the buds develop, they will emit resinous trichomes that will change from clear to cloudy to amber in color. Using a low-power magnifier, watch for when about 50% of the trichomes become amber, indicating that the buds are ready for harvest. Cut each of the bud masses, keeping them large and intact.
cannabis-trichomes-magnified

Cannabis trichomes, magnified

  • Drying and Curing Stage. Air-drying is simplest and most popular. Suspend the bud cuttings upside down in a room with moving air for about seven days. Then, place them in airtight glass jars for at least 2 weeks. Longer is better. To release moisture, open the jars daily to during the 1st week, and every other day during the 2nd The marijuana should then be ready to smoke.

There is much to learn. Several “how-to” articles and short books are freely available online, revealing perhaps what generous marijuana cultivators do while their plants grow. To find and download these resources, search the Internet for “how to grow marijuana,” or visit selected websites listred below.

Growing your own marijuana is like making your own wine: it’s possible but not for every gardener. Let us know of your experience!

Online Resources

the-marijuana-grow-bible

marijuana-the-ultimate-organic-guide

marijuana-cultivation

I Love Growing Marijuana — An experienced cultivator of marijuana, Robert Bergman, maintains this website which offers many free or low-cost resources for cultivating Cannabis. The site also offers a variety of Cannabis seeds, with brief descriptions of their properties.

Seed Supreme — Another source of Cannabis seeds.

Biochar: Ancient Soil Amendment

As we continue to learn about gardening, we are often reminded of nature’s essential role in the process, and, by extension, the wisdom demonstrated by historical gardeners as they worked in concert with nature.

We have countless examples of the benefits of “gardening with nature,” and ample evidence of the short-sightedness of technology-based agribusiness.

”Technology” as used here encompasses monocropping, animal feedlots and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as more constructive activities such as the use of drone aircraft to monitor crops.

One fascinating historical instance of natural gardening is biochar. The briefest definition of biochar is organic matter that has been heated to high temperatures with limited oxygen to produce charcoal. This process (pyrolysis) also produces gasses that can be burned to produce electricity.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 12.08.40 PM

Biochar is very similar to charcoal, which is made principally from wood, and used in backyard barbecues and a variety of industrial processes. Biochar, by contrast, is made from all kinds of organic waste, particularly garden or agricultural waste, and is used as a soil amendment, adding carbon to the soil.

 

Note: The biochar photo is from a good article by Jeff Cox in Rodale’s Organic Life.

Biochar apparently has been produced and used for thousands of years by early gardeners in Brazil’s Amazon River Basin to improve their rather poor soils. In 1870, an American geologist and explorer discovered and reported areas of dark and highly fertile soil. Researchers puzzled over the origin of this unusual soil, called “terra preta” but recognized that it has strong benefits for agriculture.

During the past twenty years or so, scientists have attributed several valuable properties to biochar, beyond improving crop yields. The additional benefits include increasing water-holding capacity of soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, reducing natural emissions of greenhouse gasses (nitrous oxide and methane) from agricultural soils, increasing soil microbial life, resulting in carbon sequestration, avoiding the natural decomposition of agricultural and forestry waste and thereby decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

These benefits are stimulating great enthusiasm for uses of biochar in both gardening and agriculture. For example, scientist James Lovelock, author of The Gaia Theory, has written, “There is an outside chance that one procedure could really turn back the clock on Global warming and that is burying carbon. All you have to do is get every farmer everywhere to make a profit by turning all his agricultural waste into char and burying it.”

This success story has only an outside chance because it assumes universal participation by the world’s farmers, but does reflect the genuine value of biochar.

Still, individual gardeners could help to reverse global warming by using biochar. This material is available commercially, but it’s costly. A quick survey of sources on the Internet shows a typical price around $30 per cubic foot, enough to amend a garden bed of twenty-four square feet.

A gardener could produce biochar with little or no expense. Here are brief directions from Barbara Pleasant, Mother Earth News (2009): “Pile up woody debris in a shallow pit in a garden bed; burn the brush until the smoke thins; damp down the fire with a one-inch soil covering; let the brush smolder until it is charred; put the fire out.”

For more on this topic, visit the International Biochar Initiative.

Biochar could increase dramatically the fertility of your soil, and help you to rival the successes of ancient gardeners of the Amazon Basin.

More

A reader’s query and my reply.

Q: I read your article in Friday’s Sentinel about biochar. I am wondering if I can put used, regular, charcoal from the grill in the garden. There is always some left over. Can I break it up and put it in my garden?

It seems like I read somewhere years ago I could, but I can’t remember.

A: By “used charcoal” do you mean ashes?

I have attached a short article that is about Colorado’s soil, but California soil also tends to be alkaline, so the article has relevance in our area as well.

Charcoal is Not a Good Soil Amendment in Colorado

The bottom line is that charcoal ash, which is alkaline, would have some value when added to very acidic soil, i.e., low pH, but doesn’t add any fertility to the soil.

On the other hand, unburned, or partially burned charcoal briquettes (made from wood) could be useful as a soil amendment, although they have less nutrient value than biochar, which is made from a range of vegetative materials.

Charcoal briquettes usually contain cornstarch as a binder, and might include coal, lime and other ingredients, none of which would be harmful in the garden. Soften them in water to break them down, then dry the result to mix into fertilizers or directly into the soil.

I hope this is helpful

Another reader’s comment: 

Dylan Gillis

Fine article, though it sort of glosses over the fact that biochar itself is 99% carbon that stays in the soil for hundreds if not thousands of years. While compost only costs $3 or more per cubic foot (depending on quality, volume you buy and packaging/marketing variables) it needs to be replaced every year, forever, to result in similar levels of carbon sequestration and fertility. Of course the best is to add biochar, once to satisfactory levels, and then amend with compost for the nutrients and energy feeding the soil life, every year. In this approach you would use less compost to get the same or better results and your carbon sequestration would be more or less permanent!

Historic Issues in the Garden

The growing community of organic gardeners—which hopefully includes you—represents the “good guys” in several current struggles between public and private interests in gardening and commercial agriculture. Gardeners and farmers are quite different in many respects, but both are engaged in growing plants.

Mother Nature also grows plants, and has been doing so successfully since the dawn of time.

For about 10,000 years, gardeners and farmers have cooperated with Mother Nature to grow and harvest plants to eat, treat illnesses, dye fabrics, and enjoy their beauty and fragrance. They gradually developed ways to increase yields, reduce the work of growing and improve the qualities of their plants. For the most part, these changes have been compatible with natural processes.

Eventually, people adopted various technologies to improve gardening and especially farming. Beginning 4,500 years ago, various inorganic materials and organic substances derived from natural sources were used as pesticides. Major agricultural technologies include the mechanical reaper (1831) by Cyrus McCormick, and the tractor (1868), both of which brought new efficiencies.

In the 1940s, agribusiness began using synthetic chemical pesticides and great quantities of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. In both cases, there was little or no knowledge of the impacts of these chemicals on human health or the environment.

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1962) raised awareness of the conflict between public and private interests related to agrichemicals.

In the 1970’s, research began to development Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, which rely upon natural processes and do not use synthetic chemicals. IPM became widely used beginning in the late 1970s.

During more recent decades, continuing research and development produced more selective products, including glyphosate, which soon became most widely used herbicide, worldwide.

The ancient methods of organic gardening continued throughout this history, but the seeming cost-effectiveness of uses of agrichemicals dominated commercial agriculture.

Today, we are discovering the consequences of attempts to fool Mother Nature. Insects are developing resistance to synthetic insecticides, weeds are developing resistance to synthetic herbicides, and we are discovering that at least some of these materials threaten our health.

The State of California already has listed 800 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm, and early this month issued a notice of intent to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.This classification is based on the findings of the World Health Organization. See: CSG Prop 65 Heirloom EXPO FLYER Glyphosate 9-7-15.

In addition, speakers at recent conferences have called for uses of regenerative agriculture, which is a form of organic farming designed to build soil health or regenerate unhealthy soils. This practice could counteract “conventional” agriculture’s destructive practices, which include uses of synthetic chemicals. Many of those chemicals weaken or kill the soil microbiota, and thereby disrupt the natural carbon cycle and contribute substantially to global warming.

By any measure, we are now in a historic period of change, to reject shortsighted agricultural technology and return to more natural processes. Our health and the health of the environment depend on the success of this transition.

 

Carbon Farming

Climate change has been described as the consequence of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced extensive burning of fossil fuels. This practice disrupts the natural balance of carbon in the soil, the atmosphere and the ocean. Plans to slow or reduce the process of climate often emphasize reducing uses of fossil fuels.

Recently, and all too briefly, we explored the relationship between gardening and climate change. We have learned that common agricultural practices generate about one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere, making commercial farming a substantial part of the climate change problem.

Prior to the development of modern agriculture, we had organic farming, which is generally compatible with natural processes. The practices we now call “conventional” farming include driving a tractor, tilling the soil, over-grazing, and using fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Similarly, farm animals once were raised in pastures, where they grazed on grasses and other plants. Today, cows, pigs and chickens are raised in tight quarters, provided grains and other feed that they work hard to digest, and must be dosed with antibiotics to maintain basic health.

These contemporary, presumably efficient methods are depleting the carbon stores in the soil, and reducing the soil’s natural ability to support plant growth and store moisture.

Soil scientists and environmentalists have been discovering land management strategies that can reduce the rate of loss of soil carbon, and even improve the rate at which agriculture can convert atmospheric CO2 into plant material and soil organic matter. When thoughtfully applied, carbon methods can add significantly to the rate of soil carbon sequestration, and actually reverse the climate change process.

Dozens of specific practices are included in carbon farming; all look like historical organic farming and common sense. The principal methods are composting, grazing by hoofed animals (ungulates), maintaining high percentages of organic matter in the soil (to feed the microbiota), supporting biodiversity, rotating crops and discontinuing uses of synthetic chemicals. The most effective practices orchestrate multiple methods in plans designed for specific circumstances.

Carbon farming, also called regenerative agriculture, should be part of the global response to the threat of climate change, but reduced burning of fossil fuels will still be important.

These promising methods for the management of agricultural lands can have substantial impacts when applied on a large scale, but they also have value when applied in residential gardens. In this column, we have advocated organic methods as beneficial to our flora and fauna. We find now that these methods also have long-term benefits to the health of the soil and the natural balance of carbon in our environment.

For more about this important topic, read Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us (2014), (which a reader recommended to me), and search the web for “carbon farming” and “regenerative agriculture.”

If you are growing plants and raising animals on hundreds of acres, try carbon farming. If not, by all means, garden organically!

Interactive Gardening

Our interactions with other persons or things can be among our most absorbing, challenging, satisfying—and occasionally most frustrating—activities. Examples include raising a child, working with colleagues, living with a spouse, cooking, and, yes, gardening.

Early uses of the term, “interaction,” dating from 1832, emphasize reciprocal action, i.e., the action or influence of persons or things on each other.

In this digital age, “interaction” often refers to the responses of computer software to a human operator’s inputs, e.g., keyboard entries, voice commands, or other forms of messaging. True human–computer interactions include the human’s responses to the computer’s output.

In this column, we are focused on gardening.

Interactive gardening means a gardener’s actions on a plant, the plant’s responses to those actions, and the influence of the plant’s responses on the gardener’s future actions.

Some gardener’s believe they can influence plant growth by talking to, or playing music to, the plant, but plant scientists tell us that while plants are very sensitive to their environment, they are unaware of their gardeners or sounds.

For a scientist’s analysis of the ways in which plants experience the world, read What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, by Daniel Chamovitz (Scientific American, 2012). The author reviews the research into what plants see, smell, feel, hear and remember, and how they know where they are.

Chamovitz shows that plants are aware—in highly evolved and surprising ways—of “external pressures that increase or decrease a plant’s chances for survival and reproductive success.”

For this reason, interactive gardening involves the gardener managing the plant’s environment, the plant responding to the environmental conditions, and the gardener noting the plant’s response and modifying his or her actions to achieve an intended response by the plant.

The gardener can affect all aspects of the plant’s environment, including the amount of light, heat, wind and moisture; the structure of the soil; the availability of natural or synthetic nutrients; and the presence of pests and diseases. Planting a seed involves modifying its environment.

The gardener also can interact directly with a plant, but only by touching or cutting the plant by pruning, dividing or transplanting.

For example, the Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica) responds to even a light touch by causing its leaves to fold or droop. This unusual response could be a defense against herbivores or insects that might be startled by the plant’s sudden movement.

As an aside, landscaping and flower arranging do not qualify as interactive gardening because the landscaper or arranger seeks to encourage responses from other humans, not from the plants.

When we consider gardening as an interaction between the gardener and the plant, we realize that the gardener’s success grows with his or her understanding of the plant’s responses to environmental conditions.

This encompasses simple responses, e.g., drooping from lack of moisture, less obvious responses, e.g., slow growth from lack of soil nutrients, and more complex responses, e.g., failure to set fruit from lack of seasonal chill.

Mastering the responses of plants to numerous environmental variables, and differences between plants from various native habitats, can be a lifelong study. Still, every gardener doesn’t need to study all plant’s cultivation preferences, or complete advanced studies of plant science. The gardener who wants to succeed and enjoy the experience should, however, learn about the needs of each plant in his or her garden.

More Interesting Than Dirt

Gardeners should refer correctly to the essence of our gardens, which is soil, and avoid calling it “dirt.”

Most soils consist of three groups of particles: sand (the largest in size), (clay (the smallest in size) and silt. The percentages of sand, clay and silt determine the texture of the soil. The best soil for gardening, called loam, has nearly equal parts of sand, silt and clay. Soil with this texture has good balance between retaining and draining moisture.

St another level, garden soil is a living environment, an ecological system, with microorganisms, decaying organic matter, earthworms and other insects. Each of these components contributes to the soil’s habitat for flora and fauna. Living soil involves a vast number of interdependent activities, which combine to create a complex and dynamic environment. These functions are enough to keep soil scientists studying for their lifetimes and motivate gardeners to at least appreciate what is going on under the surface of their gardens.

By comparison, dirt might contain a good mix of sand, silt and clay, but lacks any of the organic components of good garden soil. Dirt can be regarded as raw material for conversion to garden soil by adding organic matter (compost); this process will provide food for beneficial microorganisms and support the eventual development of the ecological system.

Dirt with a less than ideal mix of sand, silt and clay often can be improved by adding compost. Adding sand to a clayey soil, or clay to a sandy soil, might seem like a good idea, but it very difficult to create a good mix and usually results in something like concrete. Just add compost.

When we think of things that we cannot live without, many people will list sunlight, air and water, but not include soil, which is the essential fourth contributor to life on earth.

With this in mind, soil scientists from around the world have joined to name 2015 as the International Year of Soils, with the goals to educate the public about the importance of healthy soils. The Global Soils Partnership, which includes the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization <http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/>, The Soil Science Society of America <www.soils.org/iys>, and many other groups, is spearheading these efforts. We are pleased to support this educational initiative.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 2.44.53 PM

The Partnership has identified a theme for the educational activities of each month during 2015. The theme for April is “Soils Clean and Capture Water,” which is timely during California’s current severe drought conditions. As a group, the monthly themes provide an overview of the many ways in which soils support the quality of life on Plant Earth.

  • January – Soils Sustain Life
  • July – Soils are Living
  • February – Soils Support Urban Life
  • August – Soils Support Health
  • March – Soils Support Agriculture
  • September – Soils Protect the Natural Environment
  • April – Soils Clean and Capture Water
  • October – Soils and the Products We Use
  • May – Soils Support Buildings/Infrastructure
  • November – Soils and Climate
  • June – Soils Support Recreation
  • December – Soils, Culture, and People

Each gardener can support the International Year of Soils, in these ways:

All plants respond to good soil!

Flat Fruit Trees

One of the oldest advanced techniques of gardening—and one of my favorites—is espaliering, which involves shaping woody plants into two-dimensional shapes. Now, in bare root season, it’s timely to consider this tree training technique.

Espaliering has been traced back to the walled gardens of Persia, as long ago as 4,000 B.C. It was practiced during the Roman Empire and developed further during the Middle Ages.

There are good reasons for training trees or shrubs into relatively flat shapes. The primary reason in many situations is to garden productively within a limited space. Adding one fruit tree might be possible in a smaller garden, but even trees growing on dwarf rootstock can require a ten by ten area, plus some walking-around space, for cultivation. A gardener could use this tree training technique to grow several different trees in the same 1oo square feet.

Espaliers - Les Quatre Vents

These espaliered apple trees were growing at Les Quatre Vents, a notable private garden near Quebec, Canada. I took this photo in August, 2013

Espaliering is especially useful in narrow spaces along a driveway or sidewalk, or between the house and the property boundary. With an appropriate training plan, the gardener can maintain a row of fruit trees at a height of three or four feet, in a low profile that is both accessible and attractive.

Espaliered Apple Tree

Reader Bob Lippe of Seaside photographed this apple tree near a chateau in the Loire Valley, in France. The tree was being maintained at a height of only two feet.

If you have a space for which you might like to grow an espalier, check first to determine whether sun exposure is sufficient for the plant(s) you would like to install in the space. The most popular plants for espaliers are fruit trees, particularly apples, apricots, cherries and pears. In addition to fruit trees, other plants also can be grown in flat panels, including berries and climbing plants.

All the popular fruit trees—and most fruiting or flowering bushes or vines—require six or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Specific fruit tree varieties will perform better than others in the Monterey Bay area, so it would be prudent to do a bit of research before buying a tree for this purpose, or any other garden use.

Local garden centers usually offer only varieties that are appropriate for the immediate area. One could also seek the advice o the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers < http://www.crfg.org/>.

In addition to making good use of limited space, espaliering has at least two additional benefits. One is to increase a fruit tree’s productivity. Training a tree to a two-dimensional form emphasizes horizontal branching, which maximizes the development of fruiting spurs. In addition, the flat form exposes more of the branches to sunlight and air, which promotes fruiting.

The second additional benefit is the opportunity for creative expression. Over the years, gardeners have developed many patterns for shaping the branches of trees and shrubs: fans, candelabras, and multi-tiered shapes are simplest to manage and most popular.

A special form of espalier, the cordon, is a single-trunked tree that develops spur clusters along its length. In this approach, branching is avoided and the trunk is trained to forty=-five degrees to the horizontal. A variation, the step-over design, brings the trunk to the horizontal, forming a low border.

For advice on growing fruit trees, attend a fruit tree workshop, such as those offered by the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden: call (831) 459-3240, email casfs@ucsc.edu, or visit the Brown Paper Tickets website at http://tinyurl.com/workshops2015.

For specific information on espaliering, visit a bookstore, public library or Amazon.com for Allen Gilbert’s “Espalier: Beautiful Productive Garden Walls and Fences” (Hyland House, 2009). Any of several other more general books on pruning also would be helpful.

Visit your local garden center now for an early selection of bare root fruit trees.

Watering Roses in Summer

Q. Dear Mr. Karwin: I can’t find any guidance in my various gardening books on how much water one should give roses after they have stopped blooming (most of mine have), especially between now the beginning of the rainy season. Any suggestions? Many thanks.

August 2013

A. Roses should be watered even after blooming to keep them healthy and growing. This is important during hot summer weather, when the plants could be heat-stressed. Be sure to let them dry out between watering sessions, particularly for roses in containers.

Here is independent advice (unfortunately I lost track of the source):

Summer Watering Tips

Roses like infrequent, deep watering as opposed to watering a little bit every day. They prefer a good deep soak and then like to be dried out before receiving another deep watering.

How do you know if your roses need water in the first place? The leaves may droop and lack the suppleness they normally have.  (Don’t confuse this with the drooping that often occurs when temperatures exceed 90 degrees).

How will you know if you’ve watered too much? The foliage may feel spongy and may turn yellow. If watering from overhead, do so early enough in the day so the foliage has time to dry out before nightfall.  Spraying the leaves with water will often wash away any disease causing spores before they have an opportunity to take hold. So don’t hesitate to do this on a hot, dry day. Your roses will thank you for it!

Best wishes,