Category Archives: Practice

Why Bad Things Happen to Good Plants?: On Root Problems, Root Washing, Nursery Practices and Customers

“To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?”  Hamlet.

Is the question we face as gardeners as simple as, To ‘root wash’ or not to ‘root wash’, before planting?  To some today it has become ‘heretical’ to suggest that it might not be just a necessary corrective, but an unmitigated good…and not doing so dooms a plant to failure.  The practice of ‘root washing’ in its present form, is relatively new to gardeners.  Horticulture, which is a system of techniques, traditions and science, that goes back to our own species’ first intentional involvement growing and selecting plants, has not always included it.  Practices develop over wide spans of time.  Many are retained, others pass away. Root washing has been around as a method to assess damage to root systems, to ease and make more efficient division, to study root growth or cleanse them of particular infestations.  ‘Bare-rooting’, during a plant’s winter dormancy in temperate regions, has historically been done in the field when harvesting or transplanting many deciduous trees and woody plants for shipping and ease of transport.  In some circles today root washing has become an almost literal flash point, pitting proponent against opponent, ‘science’ against ‘tradition’…yet another fracture line to divide society. The road of the absolutist, as with many other human practices, tends to create conflict as evidence of correctness is lobbed back and forth.  My own view is that, like so many other things today, the subject is somewhat ‘grayer’. Science can be on both ‘sides’, or neither, and reality is rarely so simplistic. Continue reading

Controlling English Ivy and Clematis vitalba in the Landscape

I wrote the piece that follows while still a horticulturist working for Portland Parks about 20 years ago. It remains largely in its original form with a few additions, corrections and updates.  Both plants are still under addressed in the landscape today.  While employed I maintained my license as a public applicator of pesticides, a job requirement.  I no longer have one, nor do I have a consultant’s license.  In many cases herbicides can be an essential part of an effective strategy for the control of an established population of invasive plants.  Invasive plants, like these, which are listed on your State’s Noxious Weed List,  are there because of the the threat they pose to the environment and their capacity to infect and dominate a landscape, any landscape, across our region.  In more than a few cases manual and mechanical methods of control alone are insufficient to ‘control’ the invasion and sole reliance on them will assure the failure of the establishment of a desirable landscape on a site.  Herbicide use is thus justified.  Large scale restoration projects are often dependent upon it.  On a smaller residential property, with commitment and persistence, a homeowner may be successful, but even then they need to understand that there will be a continuing and significant threat of reinfection from surrounding properties, via birds carrying the fruit of Ivies and wind blown seed from Clematis.  For some species, especially when the scale of the invasion and property are larger, its use may be essential.  For many weeds this herbicide ‘threshold’ is very low before its use is a requirement.  In this way scale works for homeowners as their properties and problems are smaller.  Too often though properties are neglected and then the buyer inherits a serious problem.  Using any herbicide will always have potential adverse effects on the environment, so if you choose to use it make sure you do so effectively. If you choose to use any of my herbicide suggestions, you are on your own.  Do your research, understand your problem, to assure that your actions are effective, safe and responsible.

Getting Down to it: Your Viney Culprit is Probably Hedera hibernica, Irish Ivy, or More Rarely H. colchicum

English Ivy, a friend and co-worker announced early on in a then still continuing series of work meetings concerned with various issues of invasive plants, has been a kind of “anti-poster child” for those working in the regional conservation and restoration field.  Its spread and control has been the subject of innumerable meetings, proposals and actions both fruitful and not.  Eradication is no longer considered a realistic goal by many.  The focus, rather, is on limiting its spread and control.  Like other exotic invaders and introduced guests now run amok, from diseases to various shellfish and weeds, once a particularly well adapted species establishes a viable population base, it becomes a part of the disturbed novel landscape…it’s here and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it.  This has always been the way of the world.  The difference today is the rapidity with which these changes have been introduced through trade, the peripatetic travels of man (Man in the generic sense) and our never ending appetite for the consumption and disruption of land.

Continue reading

On Our Expulsion From the Garden: How Our Ideas of the Garden Shape What We Do

There are those who argue that life is short and violent, that we have nothing to look forward to other than our deaths…so we might as well grab for whatever we can now!….that is the path of the nihilist and the greedy, it serves as an excuse, a rationale for their choices, following an ethic of ‘why the hell not!’  This is consistent with the ‘beliefs’ of those who feel the weak get what they deserve, that anything that opposes their idea of dominance, is weakness and failure and they pursue it with the righteousness of a ‘true believer’.  “Only the strong survive”.  If our gardens can teach us anything it is instead that, ‘He/She who has the graciousness to take only what they need and gives back whatever they are able to, live on through the love and lives of those and that which they’ve nurtured, helped, befriended and mentored along the way and in this way have helped build a richer, more complex and diverse world.’  Our true legacy will be best expressed in the richness and health of the world we leave behind, of those that we’ve loved and taught.  As competitive as the world is, it is this positive, cooperative, supportive aspect of life that makes it all possible.  While the world is divided into heterotrophs and autotrophs, those that must consume to live and those able to grow and metabolize that which they need from the world around them, it requires them both, working in a balance to sustain them all.  We humans, ultimately, cannot be any different if the world is to continue on. Continue reading

Winter 0f ’18 -’19: Cloudy, Mild With a Chance of….On Weather, Zones & Plants

It’s 41ºF at 5:30am on Mar. 12 as I begin to write this.  We appear to have come out of the longest sustained ‘cold’ period of the winter of ’18-’19 which began on February 4 and continued through Mar. 11, a period of 36 days.  Over those days we had freezing minimum temps at PDX, the official NOAA reporting station for the Portland area, on 26 of them.  On two of those days, Feb. 6 and 7, PDX recorded the winter’s lowest temp, 23ºF, making it a zn 9a winter, mild for us historically and especially so for the temperate US as a whole, much of which was experiencing its own much colder temps.  It’s mid-March and our high temps have climbed well above what they were and our forecasts call for milder, more ‘normal’ highs and lows now locally.  It looks likely that not only are we going to be on the ‘warm side’ of normal, but that our lows have shifted into a pattern well out of the freezing range.  (State ODF meteorologist, Pete Parsons, calls for a pattern of slightly warmer and drier weather than normal over March, April and May with the highest chance of this during May.) 

While weather consists of moments, recorded data points, we attempt to make sense of it in its patterns over time…our experience of it.  In this we are much like our plants.  Plants too have their ‘expectations’ of the weather and those conditions that take them outside of them, outside their familiar patterns, the relatively quick changes and perturbations, as well as the longer sustained patterns, and extremes, are ‘noticed’ and make a difference.  How does this winter compare? Continue reading

The Fascicularia and Ochagavia Question: Two Worthy and Relatively Hardy Bromeliads

 

The inflorescence of Fascicularia bicolor with its blue flowers. The center of the foliage on a blooming rosette, turns red when the flowers appear and then, like many Bromeliad, that rosette dies replaced be previously formed offsets. My blooming plant had multiple rosettes at the time, three of which bloomed. Taken in my garden, Sept. of ’17.

If you’re not into blood and guts, consider this genus, as on my scale of one to ten as described above with ten warning of near complete evisceration if one is fool hardy or reckless, this one’s a solid 4, dangerous enough but not stupidly so.  Fascicularia pitcairniifolia.  You would think that in a genus composed of one or two species things would be pretty well settled taxonomically, guess again. Originally described as F. bicolor it was reclassified as F. pitcairnifolia and later changed back to F. bicolor.  Subspecies were proposed.  Changes retracted.  There are significant differences in the sampled populations, but were they sufficient to constitute separate species??? Adding confusion at a different level are those who say the species name indicates that it is from Pitcairn Island.  It is not.  The specific epithet simply recognizes a similarity to the foliage in genus, Pitcairnia, another Bromeliad member.  This Fascicularia is from the lower Chilean Andes, allegedly north of the other Fascicuaria species, F. bicolor which is suppose to be slightly hardier and occurs at least occasionally as an epiphyte!  Some botanists have argued that F. pitcairnifolia possesses thicker, slightly wider leaves. and some minor differences in the timing of flowering and is reputedly slightly less hardy.  The ranges of both overlap  Good luck sorting this out. Continue reading

Our Gardens as Teachers

 

Of all the things our gardens do for us, arguably the most important is their role as our teachers, even in winter when a temperate garden ‘rests’, its surface crust or top few feet, frozen, maybe sheltered beneath the cover of snow, or, as ours so often are, simply too cold for active plant growth, the soil wet, the rain too heavy to percolate fast enough down through its layers, without the active aid of either the direct heating of the sun or its effect on plants, through evapotranspiration, pumping water back into the air as the plants grow.  Gardens teach patience.  They encourage us to become more careful observers…to think and plan, to anticipate and prepare, to understand that there is more going on here than we can readily see…and they teach us about faith and trust in the natural world, that there is always more going on than we can see. Continue reading

Roldana cristobalensis (formerly Senecio cristobalensis…now, Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis)

Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis shown here looking amazing with Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartzkop’.  Its substantial leaves are some 8″ across, thick and velvety, the undersides of which are red/purple, like the stems.  The color often comes through in the veins along the top surface.  A very striking foliage plant.  Picture this with its close relative, Pseudogynoxus chenipodiodes, the Mexican Flame Vine, formerly known as Senecio confusus!

Sometimes called Velvet Groundsel, this plant has been living and marketed under several different names.  The first name in the heading is the one Jimi Blake ascribed to it, a name I didn’t recognize for a plant I’ve grown off and on in the past…it got lost in his list paired with a particular Thalictrum and I simply missed it…until recently.  I knew it as Senecio cristobalensis and, had I recognized it, would have included it with an earlier post in which I focused on his favorite Asteraceae.  I did actually mention the plant there simply as another Senecio that I’ve grown of value.  Here I shall treat it more directly.  The genus, Roldana, was recircumscribed in 2008 to include some 54 different species.  Other authors include as few as 48 and as many as 64 in the genus, most of which used to belong to Senecio and are native to the extreme Southwestern US, Mexico and Central America.  Most of the Roldana species are somewhat ‘shrubby’ herbs with a few, like this one woody, even tree like.  Both genera are within the Asteraceae and share tribe status as well, Senecioneae.  For the curious, Roldana spp., even more finely, are included in the sub-tribe, Tussilagininae, which includes the very commonly grown genus of garden plants…Ligularia!  On closer examination the morphological similarities will begin to stand out to most of us.  Check out all of the photos on the Wikimedia Commons page for Roldana petasitis.  Roldana petasitis is the correct species name for this plant.  With all of the shuffling and consequent confusion still going on in the world of taxonomy, especially in such a mixed large genera like Senecio, we must all be allowed our mistakes of nomenclature.  It is a volatile changing world out there. Continue reading

On the Demise of my Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (Red Abyssinian Banana

And how did your Red Banana, Ensete, do?  Mine didn’t make it having left it planted outside until after Christmas. In my part of SE, December was mild, until the 26th or so, with lows just below freezing a few times. Then we were out of town a few days and it dropped into the mid- and upper 20’s. I had thought it was okay for awhile, as it pushed out a leaf while sequestered in the basement where I had belatedly moved it, but that is all that it was able to do.  It’s meristem, at the base of the plant, was damaged. I did the finger test at the top of what I had left in place of the pseudostem, about 4′ of it, and the core, through which new growth should have been pushing was mushy and smelled of rot. I cut it down with my machete in a series of cuts, illustrated here, and you can see the soft brown center surrounded by what appears to be healthy tissue. It was still able to push out a few white new roots over its winter storage. Apparently, the meristem is less cold hardy than the rest of the plant. If you could smell it you’d smell strong rot!!! After 12 + years I have found this plant’s limit! The last pic shows its dismembered carcass, reminiscent of the Tibetan Sky burial ritual, to dry away its stink before I dump it in the bin!

IMG_0519A few days later….This was the business end of my Ensete, Red Abyssinian Banana. You can clearly see that the starch storing rhizome, modified stem tissue, 12″ in diameter, is crisp, white and healthy!  I’ve split it down the center, top to bottom, through the meristem. The meristem, the site of cell division and the initiation of all top growth, is black, dead and rotting.  Each leaf begins here.  As new leaves form at the center, the older leaves ‘migrate’ outward forming the tightly packed ‘pseudo-stem’.  This plant, my plant, was unable to initiate any new leaves and with last year’s leaf blades removed, was dead on its ’feet’.  The rot would have continued to spread from the center out.  New root growth is also compromised.  It shares this growth pattern with other monocots much like bulbs.  In others, like the woody Palms, the maturing layers of tissue around their meristems, provides some buffering from cold as they caliper up.  Obviously Ensete are very limited in their ability to do this!

See my other posts on growing this plant.
Winterization
Planting out your ‘winterized’ banana
My initial winter assessment
A more in depth look at the growth of Monoctos as a group

What to do about Bamboo?

[Please note that I wrote this in 2004 as an article in the HPSO Bulletin.  A recent FB posting has prompted me to revive/revise and repost it here.]

My first significant relationship with a bamboo,15 years ago, (this was the summer of ’89 when we moved into our current home) was a fatal one.  Phyllostachys aurea, Golden Bamboo.  I had heard all of the usual stories, yards lost, asphalt heaved and cracked, good neighbors gone bad.  Our new house confronted me with several problems, that I knew would get worse if I put them off.  It was another example of a homeowner picking the wrong plant for a screen, or failing to take the precautions to contain it.  With my limited knowledge and biases I had no doubt about what I needed to do.  I got my shovel and chased every rhizome down.  I was thorough and a good hunter, none survived. Continue reading

Manzanita, Rock Roses and Friends: The Strength to Stand

Choosing the right plant is not an easy process.  We pick a design theme, make sure our plant choices are a good match for our site conditions, are compatible with their ‘bedmates’ and won’t become overly burdensome, in terms of the maintenance we are able and willing to perform.  There are a lot of variables here.  Our expectations of how a plant performs in the landscape, as individuals and as a composition, are important as we assess their performance over time and decide how we will respond to them.  Many of us are attempting to create gardens that require less of us in terms of maintenance, that fit the conditions on the ground with minimal intervention on our part.  We may chose to create a xeric garden to minimize or even eliminate supplemental irrigation.  If we do, the plant choices we make, their spacing, the size of plants we purchase, even the timing of the planting and the soil prep we do, are all important in our success or failure.  While we attempt to keep our specific site conditions and our goals in mind, we need to be prepared for the extremes of conditions, like weather, that can occur occasionally, even if only once every several years.   Continue reading