Posts Tagged ‘California native plants’

After the Deluge

April 6, 2017

This winter we Southern Californians were told to expect a La Niña season, something that usually brings drought conditions. Given that we were in the midst of a historic drought already, we were dreading it. But no …. It rained and rained and rained. And then it rained some more. Truly, the plants thought they had died and gone to heaven!

A few scenes from the garden, to illustrate the lush growth:

My White Sage (Salvia apiana) has grown HUGE and is encroaching on the chair. I have never pruned it, but will probably do so in the fall.

This Aeonium (not sure of the species), which was one of my first plants, and which has labored long in the shadow of the Cleveland Sage and the California Fuchsia that overhung it, has responded to the rain and the absence of the sage by growing gigantic, and, from what I have been reading, this configuration means it is close to flowering, for the first time:

New Plants

When last we spoke, Argentine ants had decimated several of my plants, including my two Cleveland Sages, two Ceanothuses, and my Pitcher Sage. Here’s what the damage looked like:

I reluctantly decided that the two Cleveland Sages would probably never recover to their full glory, and I had them removed. The Pitcher Sage and one of the Ceanothuses had already been removed – when I was not yet aware that it was the ants that had done them in. Because of the gaps left with these huge plants missing, I withdrew from the California Native Plant Society garden tour, in which I had planned on participating this April. I’m hoping to join the tour next year, if the replacement plants have grown back sufficiently.

So I decided to replace the Pitcher Sage with a Lilac Verbena (Verbana lilacina), with which I have had some success. I had a hard time finding another Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans), and anyway I felt it was too big for that spot. Now, the Verbena does also get to a large size, but it grows more slowly. And I love this plant — it flowers so beautifully.

I replaced one of the Cleveland Sages with another one:

And I replaced the other one with a Pozo Blue Sage (Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’), which is a hybrid of Cleveland Sage and Purple Sage, but does not get quite as big as the Cleveland Sage (so they say!):

This is on the west side.

Some “hardware” changes: I moved the solar fountain from the west side to the east, as it was being overtaken by the Cleveland Sage (before I knew I was going to remove it!), and also because it was in the shade of the Pacific Wax Myrtles in the afternoon.

Likewise, I moved the potted succulents to the west side, because they were beginning to be overtaken by the Allen Chickering and Winifred Gilman Sages:

If there is one cautionary tale to be taken away from my garden it’s this: be more careful to space your plants carefully! I have continually underestimated the size to which many of these plants will grow, and my garden is actually more crowded than I would like. When you plant them, they are so small, and you want to fill in that space. Have patience! If the literature says they will grow to 4-5 feet, they probably will. Leave enough space!

The potted plants above are now in danger of being overtaken by the Lilac Verbena …. so I will probably have to trim it back next fall!

I also added several plants to the area near the Adirondack chair near where the fountain is now located. The first is a Bladderpod (Peritoma arborea), with small yellow flowers which appear near the end of winter, and small fruits (edible, so I hear, though I haven’t experimented yet). I am told it adds nitrogen to the soil, instead of taking it out, and that this is a good thing.

Also new is Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), behind and to the right of the fountain in the rear:

Coyote Brush will grow huge, and I will cut it back to fit the area. I wanted a green background for the new Saffron Buckwheats (Eriogonum crocatum) that I planted in front of the fountain, aiming to create a mass of them with their beautiful yellow flowers:

Finally, I replaced my Miniature Rose – which was one of the first plants a visitor would see, near the curb, but was not very attractive – with a slightly non-native sage (it’s one of those Mexican immigrants), “Hot Lips” Sage (Salvia gregii ‘Hot Lips’):

When this comes into full bloom, it will be gorgeous!

What’s in Bloom

Coral Bells (Heuchera):

The Bladderpod and some of my Elegant Clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata):

The Clarkias have been late in blooming this spring – perhaps because of the rain? I don’t have many this year for some reason – possibly because I refreshed my mulch, and perhaps buried some seeds too deep.

The Hot Lips sage has a few blossoms:

The Lupines (Lupinus succulentus) are at their peak:

My Monkeyflowers (Diplacus), planted last fall to partially replace my diseased Asters, are big show-offs:

The Apricot Mallows (Sphaeralcea ambigua) are blooming (they never seem to stop!):

My wildly proliferating Evening Primroses (Oenothera californica) are showing a few blossoms (only in the late afternoon, of course – by morning they are withering away):

My Royal Penstemons (Penstemon spectabilis) and Farewell to Spring Clarkias (Clarkia amoena) are starting to blossom:

A few blossoms have appeared on my Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana):

And, of course, the ubiquitous and delightful California poppy (Evening primroses in front):

Shortly: Changes and growth in the back yard, and some focus on succulents — which have really loved the rain!

Happy gardening!

 

Apocalypse

December 9, 2016

Is that too strong a word? It doesn’t feel like it.

In May, here’s what my Cleveland Sage and Apricot Mallow looked like:

may2016_clevelandsage

As of a couple of days ago, here’s what that part of the yard looked like:

dec2016_clevelandsage1

Now, the Apricot Mallow has been pruned back, and that’s not the problem. But I have lost half of my Cleveland Sage. Here’s another view:

dec2016_clevelandsage

And another:

nov2016_northeast

Note also that the Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) that was next to the birdbath is also gone — died. Here’s what it used to look like, only a few months ago (it’s the tall plant to the right of the birdbath):

Mar2016_PitcherSage

And on the west side, here’s what we had in May:

may2016_sagewest

may2016_westside

And here’s what we have now:

dec2016_westside

The Fuchsia in front has been coppiced, so that’s not the problem. But half the Cleveland Sage is gone, having died and been cut away.

And here is the culprit:

argentineant

This is an Argentine Ant, an invasive species that causes havoc with native California plants (and probably others as well). This ant cultivates scale insects and aphids, and milks them for their honeydew secretions. It also protects these pests from their natural enemies, ensuring that they continue to live on and do the maximum damage to their hosts. These sucking insects attach themselves to stems and roots and gradually kill the host plant if not eradicated.

This is exactly what happened to my Cleveland Sages, and also to my Pitcher Sage, and to a Ceanothus that died a couple of months ago, and which I removed, mistakenly believing that it had died of a fungus. It had been a fine specimen near my mound for several years. Here’s what it looked like just a few months ago (it’s in the middle foreground):

Feb2015_TowardWest

Now there is a blank spot there, which I filled in by extending the dry stream bed.

In retrospect, I realize now that it died from scale infestation. I have not seen aphids on my plants, but I have seen scale. Here is the evidence of scale infestation on my sages, and also on my Yankee Point Ceanothus, which is still alive, but which had several dead branches that I had to remove:

nov2016_sagewestscale

Sage

nov2016_scaleonsage

Sage

dec2016_ceanothusscale2

Ceanothus branches

dec2016_ceanothusscale1

More Ceanothus branches

The white spots and areas are scale insects — these  are insects which have lost their legs, even though they look like a fungus or something from the plant family. And they will kill your plants if you are not aware of them!

Here’s the hole in the Yankee Point Ceanothus where those removed branches used to be:

dec2016_ceanothus

Other changes have taken place that are probably not related to the ants (though I can’t be sure!). I had to remove my California Asters from the mound. Here they were in June:

jun2016_asters

But over the next couple of months they developed what looked like mildew on the leaves, and then the leaves gradually turned brown and died:

jun2016_asters1

Though the plants continued to survive and bloom, they looked so ugly that I cut them down to the ground in August. This is something I usually do in November or December, and by the spring they have come back with fresh shoots. The shoots did start to grow back with fresh-looking leaves, and I thought all was going to be well. But then the new leaves developed the same mildew and turned brown. So I finally made the decision to remove the asters from the mound. I am still not sure what did them in, but I would not be surprised to discover it had something to do with the ants!

I have replaced the asters with the following completely different plants:

dec2016_mound

(1) Three Monkeyflowers of varying colors (Diplacus), (2) two Coyote Mints (Monardella villosa), which will have lovely lavendar flowers in the spring (I hope!), and (3) four additional Seaside Daisies (Erigeron glaucus). Needless to say, the look of this area has changed profoundly. I trust it will fill in nicely and look perhaps even better than it did before!

Additionally, I finally gave up on growing milkweeds and raising Monarch butterflies. This I did with the heaviest of hearts, and only because I was losing almost all of the caterpillars to the dreaded Tachinid flies, which have apparently taken up refuge in my garden and persist from year to year. My garden did produce five or six butterflies that made it to adulthood, but many more, more than a dozen, perished either as caterpillars or chrysalises, showing the dreaded brown spots and white strings characteristic of an attack by these parasitoid insects. I felt I was doing the species a disservice by growing milkweeds when these dangers abounded. As such, I have replaced the milkweeds with a strip of succulents:

dec2016_succulents

(This picture also shows that my potted Woolly Blue Curls has, alas, reached the end of its days! Such a result is not surprising for this very hard-to-grow species.)

Dealing with the Ants

So back to the ants. How did this situation come about, after so many years of lush growth and no problems? After all, I have had ants for years in my garden — I often noticed them, and occasionally they would come into the house and cause havoc. But as long as they stayed outside, I was not the least concerned about them. There are always ants in a garden, right? The biggest problem they caused, as far as I could tell, was that they made it difficult for me to sit unmolested in my Adirondack chair. (I had to purchase a footrest to make it more difficult for the ants to crawl onto my feet.)

I have no idea why it took them this long to cause severe problems with my plants. Perhaps they have been colonizing scale for several years, and their efforts just finally reached a tipping point this summer. Or it could be that I had native ants for quite a while, and they were only recently displaced by these invasive Argentine ants.

It wasn’t until I hired a native plant specialist to prune my sages and other plants this fall that I realized what was happening. He pointed out the large amount of scale on several of my plants, and the many ants crawling on the stems and branches, including the dead Pitcher Sage.

I vaguely remembered reading warnings about invasive ants, but I had dismissed them, never believing that the ubiquitous ant could be truly dangerous. After my maintenance specialist pointed out the damage, these warnings came back to me in full force.

So what to do? I did some research and found some sources of information — the work of San Diego expert Greg Rubin was especially helpful. I immediately purchased some Advion Ant Baits from Amazon — one of the treatments recommended by Greg. As of this writing, the ants are very much under control — these baits are very good. However, I notice that there are still a few ants here and there in my front and back yards, and I think this effort will be an ongoing one for some time to come.

In the meantime, I have yet to decide what to do about the damaged Cleveland Sages and a replacement for the Pitcher Sage. I’m thinking of removing the sages entirely and planting new ones. Stay tuned.

And if you have a native California garden, please take this warning to heart: If you notice ants in your yard, check your plants very carefully!

 

 

Mid-Late Spring 2016

May 12, 2016

Late March/Early April Florescence

My new primroses started blooming this month:

Beach Evening Primrose (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia)

Beach Evening Primrose (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia)

California Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica)

California Evening Primrose (Oenothera californica)

Overall view:

Mar2016_Primroses

The last of the wildflowers were hanging around:

Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor)

Bird’s Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor)

Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa)

Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa)

And the Penstemons were in their glory:

Royal Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

Royal Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)

Mar2016_RoyalPenst1

Beloved by bees!

Beloved by bees!

Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Mar2016_PenstCloseup

There is color everywhere at this time of year!

The Allen Chickering Sage blooms in the foreground

The Allen Chickering Sage blooms in the foreground

Apr2016_NorthWest1

Mar2016_Mallow

Mar2016_WestSide2

Mar2016_NorthEast

Apr2016_NorthEast1

Blooming Cactus!  (Opuntia mocrodasys)

Blooming Cactus! (Opuntia mocrodasys)

Apr2016_Cactus

Late April-Early May

I bought a Woolly Blue Curls plant (Trichostema lanatum) from Home Depot, of all places … a notoriously difficult plant to grow. (I can’t imagine it will prove too long-lived among the “water every day” crowd that frequents Home Depot, as it is highly averse to overwatering.) I placed it in a pot because it is very picky about soil, preferring more easily drained soil than my yard can supply. This picture is from a couple of weeks ago and it’s not looking quite as healthy now, alas.  It’s a gorgeous plant if you can grow it. So far it’s hanging in there — we’ll see.

Apr2016_WoolyBlueCurls

Apr2016_EastSide

My enormous Cleveland Sage has come into full bloom:

Apr2016_CleveSage

And the incomparable Winifred Gilman sages are in bloom — just as the Allen Chickering sage declines:

May2016_WinGilWest

Apr2016_WinGil2

The Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum) is blooming:

Apr2016_SafronBuck

And one of the new buckwheats I planted, Shasta Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum) has sprung a few blossoms. This plant is near the adirondack chair, along with three others I planted, none of which has produced blossoms yet:

Apr2016_Buckwheat

By the way, take a look at this “Little Sur” Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica ‘Little Sur’) on the West Side (on the left near the gate):

Apr2016_WestSide

This is a variety of coffeeberry that’s supposed to be smaller and tidier than the normal variety — it’s not supposed to get bigger than 3-4 feet high and wide. This one, though, is taller than I am and is approaching 6 feet! (Also note that the tall Pacific Wax Myrtles are finally getting big enough to almost screen out the boat and RV next door!)

Back Yard

A number of changes have been made in my back yard. For one, the Italian Cypresses on both sides of the yard have been removed, and the wooden fence on the west side has been replaced by a block wall:

Apr2016_BackYard1

And I am finally getting some plants to grow on the hill! I have been experimenting with plants that are native to our specific area here in Southern California:

(1) St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) (2) Joyce Coulter Ceanothus (3) Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri)  (4) Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) (5) California Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia calycina) (6) Island Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)

(1) St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) (2) Joyce Coulter Ceanothus (3) Indian Mallow (Abutilon palmeri) (4) Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) (5) California Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia calycina) (6) Island Snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa)

(1) LemonadeBerry (Rhus integrifolia) (2) Bee's Bliss Salvia (Salvia 'Bee's Bliss') (3) Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica)

(1) LemonadeBerry (Rhus integrifolia) (2) Bee’s Bliss Salvia (Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’) (3) Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica)

The back yard is scheduled for some sprucing up now that the cursed Italian Cypresses are gone … stay tuned!

Next time: more Monarchs!

Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Spring 2016

March 24, 2016

Home Improvements

I have upgraded my house in several ways since I last posted. The most noticeable improvement is a new garage door:

Mar2016_Garage

(One of the side panels next to the door has already been repainted in a lighter color — the entire wood siding in the front will eventually be this color!)

Note how much the huge Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) has grown — it’s almost too big and sprawly, and next fall I will prune it nearly to the ground so it will come back more neatly. But I love the color this plant adds in the front before the sages start blooming. In fact, it continues blooming throughout the summer.

I’ve also added a new vinyl gate, low vinyl fence and block wall on the west side:

Mar2016_GateFence

Note the fuchsias growing in front of the Cleveland sage on the right — the sage having been pruned back quite a bit and looking much tidier! I love the color contrast.

Early March Wildflowers

The first wildflowers started blooming in late February/early March. First to appear were the Lupines (Lupinus succulentus):

Mar2016_FirstLupines1

Mar2016_FirstLupines

Then in short order came the Poppies:

Mar2016_FirstPoppies

Mar2016_FirstWildflowers

And on the west side as well:

Mar2016_WestSide

Note how the Lilac Verbana (Verbena lilacina) has grown. It looked a bit spent last year, with brown stems showing, and I thought I might have to take it out. But for some reason it rebounded and now looks better than it ever has!

Mar2016_LaterWildflowers

Late March:

More wildflowers, such as these Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa):

Mar2016_TidyTips

And Bird’s-Eye Galia (Gilia tricolor):

Mar2016_BirdsEyeGilia

And more Elegant Clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata) along with the Lupines and Poppies:

Mar2016_Wildflowers

I’ve made a real effort to limit the number of wildflowers this year. The “forest” effect that I had last year did not sit well with me. Limiting them meant pulling many of them — especially Lupines — before they went to seed. The wildflowers are more “scattered” this year, and yet the garden is still full of color.

Here’s a shot that shows just how much my front yard is filling in:

Mar2016_Buddha

The small Buddha is surrounded by Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) right behind it, with Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) behind that and Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) to its left. On the right of the Buddha is Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum), and further right is the Apricot Mallow. On its left in front of the birdbath is Canyon Gray Artemisia (Artemisia californica ‘Canyon Gray’).

A few days ago the Douglas Iris bloomed briefly:

Mar2016_BuddhaIrises

Mar2016_DouglasIris

Usually we have sequential blooms for several weeks, but I don’t know if we will have any more this year — I don’t see any more buds.

A new plant in front of the Buddha, Beach Evening Primrose (Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia) is already blooming, even though I only planted it a few weeks ago:

Mar2016_Primrose

My Fragrant Pitcher Sage has grown enormous as I cut back the Cleveland Sage to its right — some of the sage’s branches had lost their leaves. It’s a gorgeous specimen, already in bloom:

Mar2016_PitcherSage

My Royal Penstemons (Penstemon spectabilis) — on the right — are starting to bloom; much more to come though. Behind them is a mature White Sage (Salvia apiana), and in front some Elegant Clarkias:

Mar2016_Penstemons1

My Coral Bells (Heuchera) are starting to bloom:

Mar2016_ByHouse

Note how the Evergreen Currant (Ribes viburnifolium) on the right has nicely filled in that area!

Mar2016_CoralBells

On the side of the house, my Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) has become a dense patch the way I was hoping:

Mar2016_SideYard

(Behind it is my orange tree, the source of many juicy snacks during the summer!)

A final spring view:

Mar2016_LateMarchSouth

There are also some big changes in the back yard. Next time!

Happy gardening!

 

Early Summer 2015

June 26, 2015

Now the inflorescence of spring has largely died down — though not completely — and we start to head into the hot, dormant days of summer. There’s every indication this summer will be worse than most, as we’ve already hit 90+ degree weather even though we’re only two days into official summer. But I guess that’s to be expected when we’re experiencing global warming.

There’ll always be something worth looking at in my garden, though — such as the simultaneous flowering of the fuchsias (Epilobium septentrionalis ‘Select Mattole’) and the Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens):

Jun2015_BuckwheatFuchsia

Jun2015_NorthEast

And a new Red Buckwheat on the west side is flowering for the first time as well:

Jun2015_RedBuckwheat

One of the things I’ve had to do is move the fountain a few feet toward the road, as it was being overgrown by the Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), which has come into full bloom. (I always forget how huge the Cleveland Sage gets!)

Jun2015_Fountain1

Jun2015_CleveSage

 

Jun2015_Fountain2

 

Jun2015_Lantern

 

 

The Winifred Gilman Sage is gradually losing its blossoms, but still looks beautiful:

Jun2015_WinGil

 

My Seaside Daisies (Erigeron glaucus) finally produced a few blossoms, as well as the Asters behind them (Aster chilensis):

Jun2015_SeasideDaisies

I’m not sure what’s happening with the Seaside Daisies just to the right of the blooming ones — they have not bloomed since I planted them a couple of years ago, even though they are supposed to be the same variety. For some reason, they are taking their time; it’s very odd.

The saga with the Monarch caterpillars and the Tachinid flies continues … I keep losing caterpillars and/or chrysalises to these dreaded predators — every one has died since my last post. I can’t seem to find any reliable information on how to combat them. Meanwhile, as the weather heats up, more and more butterflies visit my milkweeds and lay their eggs. I’m hopeful that sheer numbers will make it difficult for the flies to infest every caterpillar, and a few may yet survive. Such a disturbing trend!

Tachinid Flies

June 10, 2015

Last month I found a caterpillar hanging in the “J” position from the wall on the side of my house — I thought “Oh good, my first butterfly is coming!”.

A couple of days later this is what I found:

Jun2015_Tachinid5

 

I could not imagine what had happened to it — especially since a few days earlier I had discovered another caterpillar in similar condition hanging from one of my succulents. What was going on?

The key, it turns out, is the little white string coming out of the bottom of the caterpillar. This is the tell-tale sign that the caterpillar has been infected by the dreaded Tachinid Fly.

Tachinid flies are parasitoid insects, meaning they lay their eggs in other insects. For this reason, they are generally considered “beneficial” insects, in that they can destroy pests without the need for pesticides. Unless, that is, you don’t consider Monarch caterpillars to be pests. These flies deposit their eggs in the growing caterpillars. They don’t kill the caterpillar immediately — usually the fatal blow comes after it has attached itself in order to pupate, or sometimes even after it has formed a chrysalis. Then the eggs hatch and the pupae exit the creature by means of the aforementioned string. Unfortunately, I haven’t been around to see the actual exit, so I have been unable to destroy the pupae. That means they have likely developed into even more flies.

From what I have read, 17% of Monarch caterpillars are destroyed by Tachinid flies. I guess I’ve been lucky up to this point … I haven’t had any until this year.

Here are some of the other victims of this insidious creature I’ve found around my yard:

Jun2015_Tachinid4

Jun2015_Tachinid1

Jun2015_Tachinid2

 

Altogether I’ve lost at least seven caterpillars so far. I don’t know what to do about it, except to ride it out. There is precious little literature about how to get rid of this pest, seeing as it is considered a beneficial predator by most gardeners!

I have had two butterflies so far this year, one on the top of my garage door:

Jun2015_ButterflyGarage

The other one emerged just this morning from a chrysalis on my neighbor’s gate, and flew off before I had a chance to immortalize her on film.

I can only hope that these flies disappear at some point!