Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mid-year reality check

Gardening is fun, at least most of the time. But many things are out of our control, and we simply have to accept the fact that s*#t happens. Especially in the year 2020 which seems doggedly determined to wobble from bad to worse. 

As if COVID-19 weren't enough, we just went through the most oppressive heat wave in years. And now California is burning: 300+ wildfires caused by lightning strikes combined with extreme dryness. Davis is not in any danger, but a pall of smoke has been hanging in the air for almost a week, leading to apocalyptic-looking skies and very unhealthy air.

Early evening sky from our front yard

The heat wave I mentioned—daytime highs of 105°F or above combined with hot nights—took its toll in our garden. The loss I mourn the most is this monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). I bought it as a small seedling at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden many years ago, and it was perfectly healthy until the heat came. Now it's toast, literally.


Some other crispy critters:

Grevillea petrophiloides 'Big Bird' didn't even make it into the ground. There is a slight chance it may recover. Since I really want to plant it, I'll be patient.

Patience won't fix this. These are goners. Top left: Bossiaea linophylla, a small shrub from Australia; top right: Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’; bottom: Gnidia polystachya, a rare South Africa shrub

LEFT: Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’  RIGHT: Gnidia polystachya


Many echeverias tolerate heat until they decide that enough is enough. Most of the plants you see below should recover. However, I don't want to look at ugly echeverias all summer so these will go back in nursery pots and be moved out of sight. Maybe I'll rehome them.



I've been a lot more successful with dudleyas than in the past, mainly because I know they need to be kept in the shade and on the dry side in the summer. But I wasn't vigilant enough and mealybugs did a number on this Dudleya farinosa. It may bounce back, but I'm not sure I can stomach looking at this for more longer:




Some aloes play dead in the summer but bounce back when the weather is cooler and more water is available. I'm hoping this Aloe 'Hellskloof Bells' will, too. My two other 'Hellskloof Bells' are green and healthy, but this one—not so much:



Heat damage is bad enough but OF COURSE there has to be more! Want to guess what caused this?


Here are the missing pieces, piled neatly on the ground behind the pots above:


RATS, my enemy #1!

Sometimes they eat the entire plant so it looks like it never existed. But just as often, they simply chew off leaves, as they did with the cycad seedlings above. They also mowed down all three of my renga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum), probably to the point of no return.

I was so pissed off when I saw the chewed off cycad leaves above that I finally sprang into action, getting out our old Rat Zapper and loading it with fresh D batteries. The Rat Zapper electrocutes rats and mice, and all you need to do is dump the corpse into the garbage without ever having to touch it. Fortunately, the Rat Zapper still works: I caught a big rat last night!

But there have been moments of beauty, too. I've been trialing some hardy hibiscus for Walters Gardens this year, and while they need a lot more water than most other plants we have, it's been worth it. Just look at this flower! It's from a variety called 'Holy Grail', and it really is special:

Hibiscus 'Holy Grail' from Walters Gardens' Summerific Collection



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25 comments:

  1. I'm glad you ended with a photo of that beautiful hibiscus, as the others were very sad indeed.

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    1. THat's why I called it a reality check: reality is the ugly and the beautiful :-).

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  2. I hear ya. And I can sympathize. Same thing down here near LA. I spent the morning tossing heat-ravaged plants in the trash bin to be collected tomorrow morning. I don't even want to look at them. Patience and more water won't help. And yes, I have to contend with a squirrel, just one squirrel, but it eats everything in its sight. Right now it is the Asian pears that are just ripening, so crisp and juicy.

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    1. Squirrels! Rats with tails, if you ask me! We have too many of those, but other than planting acorns in pots, they don't seem to do any damage.

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  3. Hi Gerhard,
    Thanks for your garden update! I've been reading your blog for a while now but wanted to thank you for sharing so much great stuff. I'm also in the greater Sacramento area and the heat wave was really a challenge... I ended up tossing a few plants myself that got hit by pests and the heat. And now all this smoke makes it almost impossible to get out and work with my plants!

    Just like you my greatest enemies are rodents (in my case, grey squirrels). I've given up on growing Faucarias because they just keep getting demolished, and this week they went after a a Dudleya brittonii and an Agave 'Black and Blue' I just bought at Green Acres.

    I love that hibiscus, though! What a cool cultivar and a great photo to finish with.

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    1. I'm sooo glad the heat wave is over. The smoke is still lingering, though. Is the air still bad at your place?

      Maybe some of the damage I've been blaming on rats were actually caused by squirrels???

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    2. Hi Gerhard,
      I'm replying a little late to this one... but that bad air just won't go away, will it?

      Late September is usually when I start to slow down my watering schedule for my plants, but all this ongoing nasty air is forcing my hand and making it hard to spend any time out there working on them! Guess I'm going to be starting the winter prep a little early this year.

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  4. All I lost was a couple of Haworthias, which I should have moved to shade. One does fantasize about moving to the coast. The rat thing ! I have never had rats that I know of , but I didn't realize that they like plants. Today was our worst day of smoke-kind of ironic since the fire is right up in our hills. The wind has picked up a little and blown the smoke away(probably to your house) but wind is no bueno for the firefighters. And UC Santa Cruz evacuated- hope that garden makes it through. The dudleyas are such a damn fail point. But we keep trying !

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    1. Haworthias a tender little things anyway so no surprise they couldn't take the heat. Yes, the coast--I've been fantasizing about the coast!

      Thank goodness UC Santa Cruz is safe, incl. Arboretum.

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  5. How many rats can you get on one set of batteries? I have a Rat Eliminator, caught one, but no more. I hear them at night on the roof of my back porch.

    They love my vegetables and fruit (I didn't get to eat one grape) and wholly ignore my bromeliads, cymbidium, Aloe and huge Agave. I am in Los Angeles and love your blog.

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    1. From what I read, you can catch 40+ rats on one set of batteries. So far I've caught 5...

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  6. Thank you for NOT sharing a photo of the zapped rat. You have my sympathy for the toasted plants, and that sky. I remember how oppressive that feels. I swear my sinuses have never been the same after the Gorge fire that had our skies looking like that and ash snowing down on us.

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    1. LOL, you know me very well, don't you? I *was* tempted to post a photo but then thought better of it. That's age and wisdom for you!

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  7. Ugh. I'm sorry, Gerhard. Both your heat and your smoke is worse than ours but, as even the levels we've endured have been frustrating, I sympathize. I expect rats to go after things like tomatoes but I was surprised to learn they'd have a go at something like a cycad. I believe someone in my area is poisoning rats, as I've found two, one dying and one dead in my garden - your zapper sounds much better as it doesn't pose the risk of moving the poison up the food chain. The Hibiscus is gorgeous and I hope it's name is an omen signifying a shift in your garden's circumstances for the balance of the summer.

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    1. As much I dislike rats, I'd never resort to poisoning. I've heard stories about rat poison killing raptors that eat the dead rats.

      Rat Zapper is working great! And no gore either, they simply get put to sleep in an instant.

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  8. I feel your pain! The summer heat is proving to be deadly to many plants I thought would be immune. Lost aloes, even cacti and perennials too. Trying to find the balance for watering properly, when it will help plants to survive and when it will cause them to rot. Our ongoing heat (112+ for a week at a time) is exhausting.

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    1. I've found damage on aloe leaves, too. Some people say NOT to water plants with really succulent leaves in a heat wave, otherwise the tissue can get damaged. There seems to be something to it...

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  9. COVID, Fires and oppressive heat, and now rats too? It's awful! It is sad to see the demise of plants in the garden.
    A monkey puzzle came to me as tiny seedling from a co-worker. Still in a pot (because I know how big the grow!), it's about 20" now. If you are ever in Seattle, I'll be very happy to give you! I think you can give it more love than I ever will.

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    1. What is next, that's what I want to know?!?

      I'd be thrilled to take you up on your offer the next time I'm in Seattle. No idea when that will be, but...

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    2. Yay. I believe the blogger's fling of 2022 is in the PNW if you can't come up sooner. I'll wait.

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  10. That smokey air is h-ll, and the heat on top of it must be miserable. So sorry, it was bad here but obviously much worse for you. And then some very special plants lost. Sorry to see that. It does happen to all of us.

    The rats use the plants they bite and carry off as nesting material (rats nests really are rats nests), so you may have caught a rat planning to be a mama--good you got it. My rodent problem here has eased (not gone away, but lessened) since I got rid of the beautiful Italian Cypresses--a big favorite of mine but also rats.

    Here we had some humidity along with the heat. Very uncomfortable, but keeps the plants from toasting so much.

    Speaking of Walters Gardens trialing, the Crape Myrtle 'Cherry Mocha' you gave me from them is gorgeous, healthy, thriving, and 33" tall.

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    1. We found a rat's nest in the garage once--it was mostly chewed up plastic shopping bags! They're very resourceful, aren't they?

      Where are the neighborhood cats, that's what I want to know?

      I have one of those 'Cherry Mocha' crepe myrtles, too, but mine's in too much shade and isn't doing anything. I'll move it in the fall. Glad yours is doing so well!

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  11. I understand your pain on the heat! I am in Phoenix where it has been 110º PLUS and 90º nights for almost a month. Lost a lot of plants also. Makes one very sad and frustrated because nothing can be done. We don't have the smoke, thank goodness. BUT I DO have rats! I have been trying a humane cage, but my little dog keeps eating the stuff I use to attract the rat. The dog does chase the rat out of our garden though!

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    1. Your temps have been BRUTAL. How many days of 100+ now? I bet air-conditioning repair people make a forture in Phoenix!

      Try a Rat Zapper-type trap. Your dog won't be able to get to the bait.

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