Sunday, January 18, 2009

Problems in the Garden

We've had an odd year. It was warm well into November and then, suddenly, turned quite cold with tule fog or frost almost every day. Then last week the weather, again suddenly, warmed. But it was still cold at night, so temperatures were rising from the mid-30s to the mid-60s every day. This has confused the plants mightily. Deciduous trees held their leaves. Summer bloomers continued to flower, albeit weakly, until Thanksgiving.

So this year the dormant period for my Japanese maples was about two weeks. In fact, a couple of them are already budding, even though they haven't shed all of last year's leaves. Japanese maples don't like having their roots disturbed, so I only re-pot them during their dormant period. So this year I have to move fast.

But the frequent frost was the biggest problem. I think I've mentioned the dead begonias, but I lost, or may have lost, ten or twelve plants, plus a few that are in "rehab" in the hope that the warmer weather will revive them. The worst, though, would be to have another week or so of warm weather and then more frost. By then the plants would have put out new growth, only to have their new tips turned to black sludge.

In addition to continuing my clean-up of the still-falling oak leaves, we now have the mess left by the cedar waxwings who attend our privet tree for its berries. Now no sensible person plants a privet tree. The Sunset Western Garden Book says of it:

Before planting this tree, carefully consider its disadvantages. Eventual fruit crop is immense; never plant where fruit will fall on cars, walks or other paved areas (it stains). Fallen seeds (and those dropped by birds) sprout profusely in ground covers and will need pulling.

But the tree is planted in a perfect location. It protects our back patio from the sun during the hottest part of summer days. So we learn to love pulling privet sprouts and keep our chairs well away from the "fruit drop." It's worst in January when the birds take up residence in the trees and pelt us with the fruit.

I've been thinking about new planting and have been made seriously depressed by the increases in plant prices. I've warned my local nursery that I'll be doing a lot more shopping at Home Depot, as the nursery now charges $18 for gallon plants. (Last year they were $13.) I can't imagine that there's any justification for price increases like this, and suspect that the nursery bean counters figure that only serious plant fanatics will be buying in the current economic crisis, so we'll be willing to forgo regular meals for Camellia sasanqua Chasonette at $18. Well, it's possible that we would, but our spouses won't.

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