Becoming a Model of Irrigation Efficiency

As the summer draws to a conclusion, gardeners should consider landscape installations in anticipation of the rainy season’s onset. Right now is the best time to plan new plants. The coming rains will keep them irrigated as they develop roots and prepare to bud out in the spring. The rainy season usually begins in mid-October, so we now have time to decide on new plants, find them in a garden center or online nursery, and acquire them.

Because half of California’s urban water use is for landscape irrigation, all gardeners should be conscious of their landscape’s water need and informed about the preferred ways to meet those needs. Last winter’s rains were pretty good and supported the growth of very satisfying gardens, but the long-term potential remains for water shortages.

For these reasons, this is also the right time to update your plans for water use efficiency.

California’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) “promote(s) the values and benefits of landscaping practices that integrate and go beyond the conservation and efficient use of water” and “establish(es) a structure for planning, designing, installing, maintaining and managing water efficient landscape in new construction and rehabilitated projects…”

This ordinance applies to new landscapes of 500 square feet or more and rehabilitated landscapes of 2,500 square feet or more when either project requires a permit.

Such large-scale projects require a detailed Landscape Documentation Package that must be signed by the responsible parties and an auditor. For detailed information, browse to the website of the California Department of Water Resources and search for “MWELO.”

Most landscape renovation projects are not extensive enough to have to meet the comprehensive requirements of this ordinance, but its thorough approach is worth informal consideration on a voluntary basis.

The key component of the Package is the appended Water Efficient Landscape Worksheet, which is used to estimate evapotranspiration, i.e., the water evaporated from adjacent soil and other surfaces, and transpired by plants, and to calculate the evapotranspiration adjustment factor (ETAF). The Worksheet guides the calculation of the ETAF which considers the major influences on the amount of water required by the landscape: plant factors and irrigation efficiency.

For residential areas, the ETAF should not exceed .55. This figure is then used to determine the Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA) and the Estimated Total Water Use, which must be below the MAWA.

This explanation uses the minimum number of acronyms!

The simpler approach to efficient water use in the landscape involves two concepts. First, choose plants with lower water needs. The obvious choices are California native plants and succulent plants. Second, use drip irrigation to control the amount and location of water usage. The state provides a useful planning resource, “A Guide to Estimating Irrigation Water Needs of Landscape Plantings in California.” It’s available without cost from the California Department of Water Resources website. Search for “WUCOLS.” That one more acronym stands for “Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species.” The Guide document includes the water use needs of many garden plants, listed by both botanical and common names.

Planning for efficient irrigation helps to conserve the state’s limited water resources, and, for the gardener, minimizes the cost of water usage and supports effective plant growth.

This planning pays off!

Planning a Garden Staircase

The many pleasures of gardening include having multiple projects going at any given time. The projects typically are at different stages of development, ranging from vague interest to almost done.

The projects also differ in duration and immediacy. Some are time-sensitive, e.g., removing weed before they set seed, or installing plants before the onset of winter rains, or pruning apple trees before bud break.

Other projects can be pursued at any time, whenever the mood strikes and enough planning has been accomplished.

One such project now waiting for my attention is the replacement of a short flight of wooden steps that have begun to deteriorate. These were created some time back by the simple process of installing railroad ties on a slope. The wooden pieces we call “railroad ties” are not actual ties, which I believe are soaked in creosote and not really good for gardens. They are instead 6” x 6” lumber that is 36” or 48” long.

The slope at issue is neither long nor steep. I pulled a cord from the top of the slope, used string level to adjust the height of the cord above the bottom of the slope, and measured the drop at twenty-four inches. By the way, I used a non-stretchy cord (Mason’s twine) to minimize sagging along the length of the run.

Once the height of the stairway has been determined, the next decision concerns the rise of the steps and the depth of the treads. These measurements should relate to each other and should be consistent throughout the stairway (even a short one).

Garden steps might use basic dimensions: a rise of 5 1/2 to 7 inches and a tread of 12 to 18 inches. Or they might have a shorter rise and a longer tread to provide a slower walk up the slope. For a stairway that would be a comfortable walk for most people, the tread plus twice the height of the riser should equal 26 or 27 inches: Tread + (2 × Riser) = 26 or 27.

For a chart of several suitable combinations of tread and riser, visit www.gardengatemagazine.com/64stepchart/

My stairway project needs to elevate walkers just two feet over a distance of roughly ten feet, so I could use 4” risers with 18” treads. This would require six steps and risers, extending over a nine feet horizontal distance. I would level the lower part of the path beyond the nine-foot distance.

There would be a slight curve to this stairway, so I will keep the centerline of the treads to a consistent 18 inches.

The next phase of this project is to select the material for the steps. There are countless options, including cut stone, natural stone, cast concrete, salvaged concrete (“urbanite”), wood, and perhaps others. For design ideas and exemplary uses of various materials, visit www.pinterest.com and search for “garden steps.”

California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) lasts well when planted in soil, and is a good choice for garden steps. (Other rot-resistant woods include black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), teak (Tectona grandis), ipe (Tabebuia spp), and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), but these are more expensive materials for steps.)

Stone steps would be nice but might require more cost and more labor.

Mosses in the Garden

Learning about flowering plants (angiosperms) can be a lifelong study for a gardener. One report states that they include 416 families, approximately 13,164 known genera and about 295,383 known species. Angiosperms are within the group called vascular land plants, i.e., plants that have specialized tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant, and for conducting the products of photosynthesis.

Other kinds of vascular land plants include clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, and gymnosperms (e.g., conifers). Seaweeds and other plants that grow in water (aquatics) are in a different group.

The scientific term for vascular land plants is Tracheophytes, a name with the same root as our own windpipes (trachea). The suffix “–phytes” means “plants.”

The complement to vascular land plants could be non–vascular land plants, which do not have the specialized tissues of vascular plants, and that have very different ways to grow and propagate. For example, instead of roots they have rhizoids, which are similar to the root hairs of vascular plants.

Non-vascular land plants, called Bryophytes (“moss plants”), have three divisions: mosses, liverworts and hornworts. There are some 18,400 species among the Bryophytes, including about 13,000 mosses, 5,200 liverworts and just 200 hornworts. This group is clearly much smaller in number than the Tracheophytes. The plants also are typically much smaller in size, even in some cases microscopic.

The current issue of Fremontia, the journal of the California Native Plant Society, includes an absorbing article on Bryophytes, and suggests that we should care about them because of their aesthetic charm, contributions to biodiversity, and ecological functions, which include hydrological buffering and nutrient cycling.

Because of such qualities, about two years ago interested persons formed the Bryophyte Chapter of the California Plant Society, to “increase understanding and appreciation of California’s mosses, liverworts, and hornworts—and to protect them where they grow.” For information on this CNPS chapter, visit its website.

The aesthetic aspect of Bryophytes, particularly for mosses, might be interesting to gardeners and landscapers. Moss gardening can be a fascinating pursuit for the adventurous gardener with sufficient time and patience.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 11.56.17 AM

There are moss varieties for many different situations, including both sunny and shady settings as well as a wide range of soil types (except sand). Growing mosses for an unusual garden bed or between stepping stones or pavers can take a year or two and consistent irrigation. For information on such projects, search the Internet for “moss gardens” or visit the website of Moss & Stone Gardens.com for the useful paper, “How to Grow Moss.”

Bryophytes and especially mosses are an under-appreciated and fascinating part of the plant kingdom, and mosses could be a welcome addition to the home garden.

Plant Bulbs Now for Spring Bloom

One of the pleasures of gardening is the spring display of blossoms from hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other bulbous plants. These plants are unique and delightful harbingers of the end of winter, the imminent arrival of the warmer days of spring, the bursting buds of many plants, and many other aspects of life’s cycle.

With careful observation, we can also witness the offspring of birds, insects and—depending on where you live and where you wander— the beasts of the field and the forest.

We can set our digital calendars or timepieces to ensure that we enjoy the magical gift that we receive each spring, but a gardening strategy for marking the occasion is equally reliable, more natural and definitely more satisfying.

This gardening strategy imposes certain obligations on the gardener, mostly involving timely action. In particular, this means planting spring bulbs in the early fall, and that requires planning just about now.

If you are a past mail-order customer of spring bulbs, you should find a catalog or two in your mail soon. You might have already received such timely prompts. Take the time to look through the pages to imagine those blossoms in your garden in the spring, make your choices and order the bulbs right away, while you most likely to secure the selections you prefer.

If you are already a regular cultivator of spring bulbs you will have many ideas to consider. If you would like inspiration, the American Gardening Association has listed “The Top 50 Most Popular Spring Blooming Bulbs.” Find this list at the NGA website, garden.org.

If you particularly like tulips, which are available in a mind-boggling range of colors and forms. Plan to order your selected bulbs early enough to chill them for eight-to-ten weeks in vented paper bags in a refrigerator. Do not store fruit in the refrigerator at the same time, because ripening fruits (especially apples) releases ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs. In November or early December, move them directly from the refrigerator to a sunny planting site.

Alternatively, look for a supplier that offers pre-chilled bulbs and well send them to you at planting time. This is a convenient option but generally is available only with a limited selection of bulbs. You still need to order early.

There are a few wild tulips that are readily available and do not require chilling. They typically their blossoms are not as large and showy as those of the hybrid varieties, but they are nevertheless quite charming additions to the garden. Look for Tulip bakeri (native to Crete), T. clusiana (Middle East), T. saxatillis (Crete), T. sylvestris (Europe, Asia Minor), and T. tarda (Central Asia). One mail-order source of wild tulips is McClure & Zimmerman.

Many other spring-blooming bulbs do not require such chilling. The most popular of these are the daffodils, which include a wonderful range of hybrid colors and forms. Daffodils are fine choices for the Monterey Bar area because they will propagate easily with minimal care, and provide a growing annual display in your garden.

Plant your spring-blooming bulbs in a sunny location, with the top about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb.

Spring-blooming bulbs are not expensive, so consider the purchase of enough bulbs to provide a dramatic display in the spring. Plant them in informal clusters either among other garden plants or in an open area.

The tried-and-true bulbs are always a good choice, but also consider bringing some of the less familiar plants to your garden. As you gain experience with spring-blooming bulbs, you can plant varieties that bloom in the early, middle or late season for a longer display, or color groupings that delight the eye, or container plantings that can be placed prominently when at their prime and moved later out of the way as they fade.

Start now to plan your display of spring-blooming bulbs!

The Healthy Soils Initiative for Home Gardens

A recent On Gardening column draw attention to California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, which is part of “California’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing carbon sequestration in and on natural and working lands. “ The Initiative is part of the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs, which include coordinated work on efficient water usage, conservation of farmlands, capture of methane emissions, and alternative practices for manure management.

California funds Climate Smart Agriculture and other Climate Change Strategies through its cap-and-trade program, a market-based regulation designed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) from multiple sources. Cap-and-trade sets a firm limit or cap on GHGs and minimizes the compliance costs of achieving the state’s goals for reducing GFGs. The legislature and Governor Brown are working toward extending this program beyond 2020.

The Climate Change Strategies target large-scale operations in several industrial fields, but all could be implemented on an individual level. The Healthy Soils Initiative has particular relevance for individuals. It doesn’t offer public funding for home gardeners, but it aligns completely with the best practices for sustainable and more successful gardening.

The payoffs include improving plant health and yields, increasing water infiltration and retention, sequestering and reducing greenhouse gases, reducing sediment erosion and dust, improving water and air quality, and improving biological diversity and wildlife habitat.

Here is an overview of recommendations to develop healthy soils:

Protect the natural structure of the soil. This is easy because means avoiding or at least minimizing tilling of the soil. Some gardeners have adopted the practice of turning over the soil regularly, using a mechanical device or a shovel or garden fork. “Breaking up the soil” has been equated with improving it by mixing in amendments and facilitating the spread of plant roots. While these seem like desirable outcomes, tilling actually pulverizes soil aggregates which are groups of soil particles that bind to each other more strongly than to adjacent particles. Spaces between the aggregates provide pores for retention and exchange of air and water. Tilling, therefore, adds excess oxygen to the soil and increases respiration and carbon dioxide emission. It also disrupts fungal communities.

Increase soil fertility. For vegetable gardeners, this involves growing cover crops during periods after harvesting one crop and planting another, digging in the cover crop to add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. The same practice is recommended when ornamental gardens are being renovated. Other methods for increasing soil fertility include adding compost and animal manures to restore the plant/soil microbiome. A three- or four-inch layer of such amendments will contribute nutrients without digging it in. This practice includes avoiding uses of synthetic fertilizers, which distort soil microbial communities, in addition to consuming energy for production and distribution, migrating into water resources and the atmosphere, and accelerating the decomposition of organic matter.

Build biological ecosystem diversity. For farmers, this practice includes rotating crops, avoiding mono-cropping, and planting borders to accommodate bees and other beneficial insects. For the home gardener, the parallel actions include losing the lawn (which is mono-cropping), providing foods, water and habitats for birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects and small animals. A helpful related resource is the National Wildlife Federation.

Manage grazing for soil regeneration. The parallel practice in this area for home gardeners applies only to those who grow chickens, ducks or rabbits, or perhaps other smaller creatures. The basic idea is to move them around the property for their own health and the production of healthy soil. For growers of commercial livestock, it’s a significant part of soil regeneration.

You can read more about these ideas on the websites of the California Department of Food and Agriculture or Regeneration International.

Mosses & Bryophytes

Learning about flowering plants (angiosperms) can be a lifelong study for a gardener. One report states that they include 416 families, approximately 13,164 known genera and about 295,383 known species. Angiosperms are within the group called vascular land plants, i.e., plants that have specialized tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant, and for conducting the products of photosynthesis.

Other kinds of vascular land plants include clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, and gymnosperms (e.g., conifers). Seaweeds and other plants that grow in water (aquatics) are in a different group.

The scientific term for vascular land plants is Tracheophytes, a name with the same root as our own windpipes (trachea). The suffix “–phytes” means “plants.”

The complement to vascular land plants could be non–vascular land plants, which do not have the specialized tissues of vascular plants, and that have very different ways to grow and propagate. For example, instead of roots they have rhizoids, which are similar to the root hairs of vascular plants.

Non-vascular land plants, called Bryophytes (“moss plants”), have three divisions: mosses, liverworts and hornworts. There are some 18,400 species among the Bryophytes, including about 13,000 mosses, 5,200 liverworts and just 200 hornworts. This group is clearly much smaller in number than the Tracheophytes. The plants also are typically much smaller in size, even in some cases microscopic.

The current issue of Fremontia, the journal of the California Native Plant Society, includes an absorbing article on Bryophytes, and suggests that we should care about them because of their aesthetic charm, contributions to biodiversity, and ecological functions, which include hydrological buffering and nutrient cycling.

Because of such qualities, about two years ago interested persons formed the Bryophyte Chapter of the California Plant Society, to “increase understanding and appreciation of California’s mosses, liverworts, and hornworts—and to protect them where they grow.” For information on this group, visit the website <bryophyte.cnps.org>.

The aesthetic aspect of Bryophytes, moss in particular, might be interesting to gardeners and landscapers.

Moss Garden

Moss Garden, from Moss & Stone Gardens.com

Moss gardening can be a fascinating pursuit for the adventurous gardener with sufficient time and patience. There are moss varieties for many different situations, including both sunny and shady settings as well as a wide range of soil types (except sand). Growing moss for an unusual garden bed or between stepping stones or pavers can take a year or two and consistent irrigation. For information on such projects, search the Internet for “moss gardens” or visit Moss & Stone Gardens.com for the useful paper, “How to Grow Moss.”

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Achieving Resilience in the Garden

I have written enthusiastically about the book Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

To review my two recent columns about this book, visit “Designing Naturalistic Landscapes” and “Resilient Plant Communities.”

Regular readers will recall the “essential messages” of this book, as boldly summarized in this column:

  1. Good planting design results from harmonious relationships of plants to place, plants to people, and plants to other plants.
  2. Combine plants in interlocking layers, as they occur in natural plant communities:
  • structural/framework plants (10-15% of the total)
  • seasonal theme plants (25-40%)
  • ground cover plants (50%)
  • filler plants (5-10%)

I wanted to overhaul my own garden right away along the lines recommended by the authors.

After a very brief period of planning the next steps, I realized that putting these ideas in place would involve a good deal of thought and study. I had already written, resilient plant communities “require planning and knowledge of specific plants to put into practice.”

I was not alone in this assessment. The others who have read the book also praised its ideas and observed that they would not be easy to apply. In fact, several reviewers concluded that Rainer and West were not writing for home gardeners but for professional landscapers, especially those with exceptional knowledge of plants.

Thomas Rainer replied: “The book clearly acknowledges the complexity of creating plantings that function more like a naturally occurring community. But it doesn’t look at this complexity with despair, but instead, attempts to systematically describe how to do this in practical steps.”

He does recommend planting the four layers in four steps and provides practical advice about site preparation, but the missing pieces are lists of plants for each of the layers for each of the archetypical landscapes, along with knowledge of how plants look and grow together.

These are not small matters for home gardeners, for landscapers, and almost all garden designers.

Emulating Nature, it turns out, is not a simple matter. But one should not be discouraged.

The aspiring creator of a resilient plant community has access to very useful books. I previously recommended Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Garden, by Glen Keator and Alrie Middlebrook, and Thomas Rainer recommends Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change, by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, 2016).

Garden Revolution

For the next step, we have Rainer’s tip: “Real design happens in the field. Take time there to get the layout right. Arrange all plants first, then go back and adjust location and spacing.”

I will report overviews of my progress from time to time, without, as they say, “getting into the weeds.”

Resilient Plant Communities

In a recent column, I referred to a book by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. Rainer and West present landscape design ideas that are worth applying in home gardens, and indeed in all kinds of gardens. Their ideas are intended to result in gardens that are “more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious, with less maintenance.”

To review that recent column, visit ongardening.com, click on “Essays 2017” and then “Designing Naturalistic Landscapes.”

The ideas presented in this book ring true to nature and good sense, and require planning and knowledge of specific plants to put into practice.

This column cannot replace reading the authors’ thoughtful review of familiar landscaping practices and groundbreaking recommendations, but w can consider their essential messages.

Rainer and West indicate that good planting design results from harmonious relationships of plants to place, plants to people, and plants to other plants.

The first of these relationships recalls the “right plant in the right place” axiom, which often refers to locating the plant where it will have the soil, exposure, and moisture that it needs to thrive. To these aspects of place the authors recommend locating plants in the grassland, woodland/shrubland, or forest environment that is their natural home. A garden, as a built environment, should look and function like a “distilled version” of one of those archetypical landscapes.

Consideration of the relationship of plants to people addresses the visual appeal of the landscape. The authors state that plant communities need not be limited to a naturalistic style and can exist within any other style. There are too many garden styles to list, but the basic idea is that the gardener can develop any preferred style and still maintain the plant’s relationships to place and other plants.

Rainer and West feature the relationship of plants to other plants and write about the “levels of sociability” of plants. In nature, some plants grow as individuals, or in groups of various sizes, or in large areas. For example, plants that tend to grow separately from other plants would be candidates for containers, and some plants propagate across vast numbers in large fields (see photographs of this year’s superbloom of wildflowers).

The authors recommend combining plants in interlocking layers, as they occur in natural plant communities. This approach allows plants to support each other, form a diverse and lush garden (as distinct from swaths of a single variety), and provide natural mulch that retains moisture and blocks entry of weeds and invasive plants. They categorize plants in four layers:

  • structural/framework plants — trees, shrubs, upright grasses and large leafed perennials that form the visual structure of the planting (10-15% of the total)
  • seasonal theme plants — mid-height plants that dominate the scene when in bloom, and provide supporting companions to the structural plants when not in bloom (25-40%)
  • ground cover plants — low, shade-tolerant plants that cover the soil, control erosion and provide nectar (50%)
  • filler plants — short-lived species, e.g., annuals, that fill gaps and add short seasonal displays (5-10%)

The authors describe this plant community approach collectively as resilient gardening. The benefits include growing healthy plants, minimizing maintenance (always a popular objective), and providing a systematic approach to developing an attractive, full grouping of plants.

I have been vaguely dissatisfied with a garden that separates plants from other plants by mulch. Developing layered plant communities will require reviewing plants already in place, searching for new plants for the needed layers, and allowing time for growth. The authors have not provided tidy “recipes” for plant communities because there are too many possible variations, including personal preferences, to put in a book. Instead, they have left the design process to each interested gardener.

Enjoy your garden, and consider learning about—and developing—resilient plant communities for your garden.

The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days

The garden tour is a favorite activity of many garden societies, gardeners, and some garden owners.

Garden societies use tours to advance their goals to promote gardening and gardeners use them to gain practical ideas and inspiration. Garden owners want to share their success in the joint pursuits of horticulture and landscape design, and perhaps also their accomplishments in garden art and furnishings.

Volunteers are needed to support smooth and effective logistics, and garden tourists pay a small fee for the opportunity to explore the gardens. Such fees raise funds for the sponsoring group and cover expenses, e.g., publicity signage, plant lists, and refreshments.

These events generally are instances of homegrown Americana, but one group, the national non-profit Garden Conservancy, has significantly advanced the art of garden touring. The Conservancy is an organization that shares over 300 outstanding gardens each year through the annual Open Days program, which it describes as America’s only national garden-visiting program. It offers “a wide variety of gardens… representing the incredible range and definition of what a garden can be: expansive estates and small backyard oases, manicured hedges and wild country gardens, plant collections and outdoor art, edible gardens and gardens that support wildlife.“

The Conservancy’s annual directory demonstrates the national scope of the Open Days program. The book lists gardens by date and location—in most continental U.S. states plus Alaska and Hawaii. The directory is an efficient way to invite visits to one’s local gardens

For a given date and location, the directory lists one-day garden visits for a single garden or, as available, two, three or more nearby gardens.

Conservancy Olson-front door

Recently, I volunteered for Open Days, serving as greeter and ticket-taker for a well designed and maintained garden at a Palo Alto residence. The garden was designed about thirty years ago in Colonial Williamsburg style, and currently has an interpretation of the classic white garden theme, that Vita Sackville-West originated in the 1930s at the Sissinghurst Castle Garden, in the Weald of Kent, England. While the formal style of this garden is not my taste, I genuinely enjoyed seeing it and appreciated the gardener’s skill and dedication. Numerous visitors also indicated their pleasure with examining the garden and photographed highlights.

Conservancy Olson - dining

 

This garden was one of a cluster of five gardens on the day’s Open Days tour for the Palo Alto–Atherton area.

 

 

 

The Open Days program has an opportunity in September to broaden your garden visions by visiting a cluster of gardens in the San Jose area. Here are brief descriptions (excerpted from the Directory) of these gardens:

  • Garden of Cevan Forristt: reflects “his sense of the mysterious and playful” and demonstrates his skill in combining diverse symbolic objects—stone urns and animal troughs, deities and chains, giant ceramic vessels and delicate woodcarvings.”
  • Holden Garden: featured in Sunset Magazine (2003), “in the center of this garden a small waterfall cascades into a six-sided koi pond…each area of the garden is filled with interesting details that invite lingering looks.”
  • Woodford Semitropical Garden: “a twenty-year-old garden specializing in rare and unusual tropical and semitropical plants [featuring] rare palms (135 species) and cycads (twenty-five species), bromeliads, cactus and succulents and other companion plants.”

Visiting one or all three of these fascinating gardens could be a very nice day trip from the Monterey Bay area. (It’s really not far away!)

For more information about these gardens, browse to the Conservancy’s Open Days website, click on Open Days Schedule, and then search for “San Jose.”

I addition to sharing outstanding gardens through the Open Days program, The Garden Conservancy’s Preservation Program “assists outstanding gardens with the expertise they need to survive and thrive.” Its inspiration and first preservation project is the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California. Today, that garden continues under the management of a non-profit corporation, providing and flourishing as a tribute to its founder as a resource for gardeners with interest in cactus and succulent plants.

The Conservancy welcomes contributions and memberships.

Gardeners can grow, too! Plan your Open Days visit.

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!