April 12, 2011
Wicked plants at the SF conservatory!
My 9-year-old son loves the book "Wicked Plants", by Amy Stewart. I'll bet he's read it five or six times now.
Now there is a show of such plants at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers! Billed as "mayhem under glass", the show includes a who's who of botanical rogues and assassins, such as the castor bean and the strychnine tree. It should be a ball. Check it out between now and October 30.
April 08, 2011
Robert Krulwich has a post up about the Hyperion tree, the tallest tree in the world (not news to readers of this blog!). The post includes a fantastic composite photograph of the Stratosphere Giant. It is a must-see!
Krulwich's post also reminds me of one of the charming things that I learned from Richard Preston's book, The Wild Trees: the height of Hyperion was confirmed by dropping a tape measure from the top of it! How wonderfully simple. I would probably have spent a few months using cameras and computers to come to a similar, less tangible answer.
March 31, 2011
Sudden oak death
Sudden oak death is every bit as bad as it sounds, having killed tens of thousands of trees in California and Oregon forests. The disease has now been found near the Presidio in San Francisco and was probably transmitted from an ornamental plant. It is a shame that we don't more fully appreciate the splendor of our native plants, and feel the need to import so-called "ornaments".
It is less well known that sudden oak death also affects Douglas-fir, grand fir, coast redwood, and many other tree and shrub species common in Oregon and Washington forests. Therefore, this disease threatens all your forests, wherever you may love them! Please spend a little time today learning about decorative native plants.
March 22, 2011
Black maple syrupI'm originally from Florida, but my parents are from Connecticut and I went to high school and college in New England. In those days, I wasn't so interested in trees, so I never tapped a maple for syrup. I wish I had! I loved this story about a landscaper who keeps an eye out for appropriate maples while he is on the job. Turns out that you don't need a sugar maple; in fact, a boxelder will do:
I want to do this! Are there any readers out there who do this routinely and might be able to guide me? Any suggestions as to how-to books?
He's not looking for just any trees - sugar, black, red and silver maples are on the top of his list. Those are the best for tapping and produce the sweetest syrup.
"The boxelder works, too, but the syrup is a little on the bitter side," says Erdmann of Harrisburg.
June 15, 2008
Planting sequoias with a trowel
I planted a new giant sequoia in Tahoe this weekend. This brings my count up to...let's see...six living trees. The giant sequoias are difficult in Tahoe. Seedlings do well if the are watered very frequently--but otherwise the long, dry summer means certain death. (I'm talking about planted seedlings, not real seedlings that grow in situ from seeds.) Older trees do well if they come from fairly deep pots, and are watered regularly, but many die over the winter.
A little detail on this planting. I used a trowel, which is quickly becoming my tool of choice in Tahoe! A shovel is just too big and you can never figure out how to get the rocks out, which leaves you out there making a tremendous racket and occasionally showering sparks all over the place. Using a trowel, though, you sit on the ground and settle in for a haul. When you find a rock, dig around it until you can lift it out. Stop when the hole is big enough. The process is mostly silent and gets your hands in the dirt. In the early spring, it is a pleasure to hit moist earth maybe eight inches below the surface. Gives one some idea how the plants are surviving out there.
The tree I planted is probably 3-4 years old and two feet high. It looks cute as a button right now. We'll see if it still looks that way after a Tahoe summer!
January 15, 2008
For the most part, I'm an outdoor gardener. We have a few succulents indoors but that's about it.
Now, though, I'm looking at houses and thinking about architecture. I'm wondering if anybody out there has experience with rooms that surround a specimen tree. Is it reasonable to design a house around a specimen tree that doesn't exist yet (i.e, that needs to be planted)? Or does the hoped-for specimen tend not to pan out, as with so many of my outdoor trees? Are there architects or builders that specialize in rooms like this? What are the implications for tree growth and access to water? Does the room need to be built on a platform that protects the soil? Are these rooms troublesome to maintain?
I'd also be interested to hear examples of famous houses that surround beautiful trees.
A little bit of searching turned up a couple of interesting links. Mitchell Joachim explains his vision for a house constructed from living ficus trees here. Freshome has a great roundup of cool treehouse designs here. But, in truth, these are much more ambitious ideas than those I'm asking about above. I don't want a house that is made out of a tree, I just want a house that incorporates a tree.
February 02, 2007
My carbon emissions
I visited the Climate Trust and found out that my family and I spew 26.46 tons of carbon dioxide into the environment each year:
And look where it's all coming from: air travel! I've been hearing that air travel is a major contributor to global warming, but I'm still surprised by how much it dominates these numbers. Now for the painful part: how much will it cost me to mitigate all these tons of carbon:
$26 each month?! Pshaw! Yes, this is a significant amount of money but, no, it isn't as much as I spend on hosting costs for this web site. And it isn't nearly as much as I spend on various wasteful personal luxuries, from $2 scones to $9.99 albums at iTunes to $5 packages of seeds to...
I'm supposed to get a certificate in the mail, which I will post here proudly. You, too, can do this. It isn't expensive and it isn't difficult. Get started at CarbonCounter.org, which is a web site for individuals run by the Climate Trust. The difficult part is the larger battle: using less energy. I'll work on that one tomorrow.
October 11, 2006
Environment gaining ground?
I was just over at the New York Times and I noticed this list of the most e-mailed articles:
The top three e-mailed articles are about the environment (basically)! Are people waking up out there?
The other articles on this list are about travel, religion, and sex. I have to admit that one of these three topics interests even me more than the environment.
October 04, 2006
Planting my morning glories
After we lost our sunflowers to some "mean guys" (as they are now known to our five-year-old!) my mother went out and bought about fifty different kinds of seeds. October isn't necessarily the best time to start growing flowers--but the purchase did help to calm down our son.
We started the lupins first (a poor choice, considering that they take six months to bloom), then zinnias and alyssums (only two months!), and then finally morning glories.
I am delighted with the morning glories. After growing so many trees, which might grow a couple of inches per month, it is a joy to watch the morning glories rocket skyward. I could swear that they're growing about an inch a day.
Anyhoo, the time has come to transplant them, and I realized that I don't know much about supports for vines. I found a site that suggested fishing line looped around nails, which sounds nice and unobtrusive, so I guess I'll try that. The site also says that once you start the vine on its support, it will continue to climb without further encouragement. This will be a welcome change from our bougainvillea, which needs to be tied up again after every fresh spurt of growth.
September 26, 2006
Spruce recently quoted this moving poem:
by William Wordsworth
There is a Yew-tree, pride of Lorton Vale,
Which to this day stands single, in the midst
Of its own darkness, as it stood of yore:
Not loathe to furnish weapons for the Bands
Of Umfraville or Percy ere they marched
To Scotland's heaths; or those that crossed the sea
And drew their sounding bows at Azincour,
Perhaps at earlier Crecy, or Poictiers.
Of vast circumference and gloom profound
This solitary Tree! -a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect too magnificent
To be destroyed. But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! -and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveteratley convolved, -
Nor uninformed with Fantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane; -a pillared shade,
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue,
By sheddings from the pining umbrage tinged
Perennially -beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose decked
With unrejoicing berries -ghostly Shapes
May meet at noontide: Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight, Death the Skeleton
And Time the Shadow; there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered o'er
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship; or in mute repose
To lie, and listen to the mountain flood
Murmuring from Glaramara's inmost caves.
September 05, 2006
Labor Day update
I almost called this post "Fall update". We aren't quite there yet, but in Tahoe it is getting into the 30s some nights, and occasional aspens, especially the small ones, are turning yellow. During the day, though, temps are still in the 80s.
I transplanted two incense cedars that I had grown from seed into the environment. These are the first trees that I've personally grown from seed and then moved into the ground. It is going to be very painful if they die. They are good-looking trees and I'll miss having them on my porch. My baby giant sequoias, as I called them in my last post, are still under 15 inches, so I decided to hold off on planting them until next year.
My numerous other plantings are doing well. The white fir that served as our Christmas tree and was transplanted in spring is alive and well with bright green new growth. It has no growth from its old leader, though--those buds never broke. So we may have to wait a few years for a new leader to develop. The subalpine larch that I planted in spring appear to have survived the summer, although they've looked pretty awful since the day I planted them. Hopefully they'll survive the winter and come back with a vengeance.
I think I'm ready for the snow now. Bring it on!
July 07, 2006
Potted up my baby giants
I broke down today and moved three giant sequoia seedlings to larger pots.
These guys were born last year and are pictured in my TreeDazzled gallery. They've done fine, despite the endless fog and cold in San Francisco, but recently started to turn brown, particularly near the bottom of the tree at the trunk. I decided that this might be (I hope it is) due to the trees having reached the limits allowed by their rather small, shallow pots.
When I transplanted them, I found that each tree had a large coil of rather large roots at the bottom of the pot. Seems to me that this root mass could be prone to drying out easily in terra cotta. So I'm optimistic that the change will help.
April 28, 2006
It is getting hot in San Francisco (finally), so I asked my mother to
water my fuchsias. She came back with a bunch of complaints about my
plants! Informed me that they are infested with critters. I pretended
to know all about it already.
I found a bunch of tiny green bugs, looking about like lice, crawling on
the underside of the leaves. The tops of the leaves were covered in
that disgusting honeydew.
So, I spent a few minutes on the web finding out that the critters were
probably aphids, went to the store, and bought some malathion. I am
/scared/ of malathion, which I understand is really dangerous stuff.
For the sake of my fuchsias, though, I overcame my fears and sprayed
the plants. This should take care of those aphids.
I also have a few spittle bugs, I guess, from the occasional white blobs
of foam. I understand that these aren't harmful, but I bet that the
malathion will kill them, and I'll be sorry to see them go.
March 27, 2006
A walking tour of Cole Valley
My wife and I loaded up the kids in a double stroller and took a walking tour from Mike Sullivan's book The Trees of San Francisco yesterday. The sun was shining in San Francisco for the first time in a while and we had a blast. I am a tree-lover and longtime resident of Cole Valley, yet this book showed me sights I'd never seen, including the cork oak on 17th Street, Reiter's secret garden, the delightful spot at the top of Stanyan Street, and more. If you live in San Francisco, then this book is a must-have.
February 22, 2006
Ordered from Forest Farm
I put in my Forest Farm order for the year: three Larix lyallii (subalpine larch) and one Pinus longaeva (Great Basin bristlecone pine). The total inlcuding shipping was under $100, so I think I can congratulate myself for showing restraint.
Of course, it remains to be seen if this is really my order "for the year". It is only February!
January 20, 2006
Third batch of Sierra Juniper seeds
For those of you who don't remember, I've had my share of trouble with Sierra Juniper seeds.
I never give up, though. I'm on my third harvest of seeds, and I finally broke down and followed the over-the-top advice from Young and Palmquist in Forest Science: stratification for 14 weeks in cold water with constantly bubbling compressed air.
I'm at the end of the 14 weeks, so last night I removed the seeds from their bubbling chamber and laid them on coffee filters for germination. Surprisingly, nothing grew in the water during the past 14 weeks and the seeds seemed intact. The seeds seemed cleaner than they usually do. Perhaps the important effect of bubbling air is to completely remove the pulp from the seeds.
We shold know if this worked in a few weeks. I'm prepared to keep trying for the next seven years, if need be. My next step would be to harvest the seeds later in the year, perhaps in October or even November.
January 16, 2006
Sugar pine seed update
I posted some time ago about scarification of sugar pine seeds,
reporting that scarification clearly speeded up germination.
Although this is true, virtually all my sugar pine seeds eventually
germinated, whether scarified or no. So the biggest factor in my first
failure was probably poor seed from an unreputable supplier. The new
seeds were from F.W. Schumacher, and they worked perfectly.
I grew 20-25 seedlings in cell packs, and then transferred 10 seedlings
to pots. Since then, I've lost three seedlings to disease. One more
seedling is affected by disease but has been treated with chamomile tea
and is surviving for the moment. I'd be happy with six healthy plants,
though, if this is all I get.
December 26, 2005
Christmas present roundup
It's that time of year again! Time to count the loot.
My family bought a live Christmas tree this year. We've never done that before, and I warned them: you can't bring the tree inside and leave it inside like a cut tree. But they were committed to the live tree, and I think this was at least partly a gesture to me, which I appreciate.
The tree is a white fir, native to the Tahoe area where we spent Christmas and due to be planted in the same location. As a Christmas tree, well...it wasn't the most impressive tree ever. Maybe four feet tall, and almost as wide as high. Frankly the tree provoked a few chuckles, and one family member called it a "Christmas Bush". After we got it decorated, though, it looked pretty good. Now to keep it alive until spring.
An old-fashioned glass bell for rooting cuttings. I was touched that my family thought I could do any gardening task in such a simple way! I root cuttings that require four months under mist, and even then only 5% root. The bell should be useful for rooting fuchsia, though.
A tree calendar. Yes, there is such a thing! Many lovely photos of trees. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find a link.
It's also time for the Grinchly accounting of what I didn't get. I didn't get a gift certificate to ForestFarm so that I could buy some subalpine larch, Larix lyallii. My wife will pay for this ommission, though...had she given me a gift certificate, I might have trimmed my spending to accomodate her expectations. No longer!
October 16, 2005
Scarification of sugar pine seeds
I posted some time ago on my efforts to grow sugar pine from seed. The outcome of that first effort wasn't good: only one seed germinated, and it later died of damping off! But I vowed to try again...
I asked about my problems over at GardenWeb and was advised to buy new seed from a reputable supplier, in which case I might expect about 70% germination after 10 weeks stratification.
So I purchased new seed, but couldn't resist experimentation. I divided the seeds into three groups, to be treated as follows:
- Soak overnight, then stratify 10 weeks at 4C, then plant in soil
- Soak overnight, then stratify 10 weeks at 4C, then germinate in a baggy, and
- Scarify in 50% sulfuric acid for five minutes, then stratify 10 weeks at 4C, then (my plan was to) germinate in a baggy
Today the ten weeks of stratification finally came to an end! Ten weeks is just a ridiculous amount of time. Anyway, I took the unscarified seeds out and split them, half to soil and half to the baggy, as planned. But when I took out the scarified seeds, I found that 8 of 12 had germinated in the refrigerator! So I put them in soil instead of the baggy.
We'll see how this turns out. I'll continue the experiment and let you know. But, at first blush it would appear that scarification of sugar pine seeds worked out very well. At least I've been spared a week or two of waiting for germination.
Nice to have something work!
October 07, 2005
Sunflowers are tasty. Not the seeds, the leaves...
...if you happen to be a snail, a common garden snail, Helix aspersa, my nemesis.
OK, I should have expected a snail attack from the moment I planted the seeds. I've been focused on conifers for so long that I've almost forgotten how snails like to eat tasty young seedlings. Somehow I convinced myself that it was going to be OK, then forgot about the sunflowers for a while. Now I have a bunch of half-eaten sunflowers, covered in bits of black snail poop. A few are flowering, which seems to be reward enough for my son.
To add insult to injury, though, it turns out that my young son loves the snails. He has collected them in an old yogurt container and is feeding them lettuce (not iceberg, mind you, but romaine). We were at the garden center the other day and he asked me to buy some "snail food"--a box with a picture of snails and slugs on the front of it. I gently explained that it wasn't really snail food. I should have gone ahead and bought it.
That's OK. The sunflowers are semi-ruined for this year anyway. Next year I'll put down snail poison as soon as I see the seedlings start to come up.
September 08, 2005
Shoot gets a picture
We had a nice long weekend in Lake Tahoe, working on the trees. I planted a mountain hemlock, about one foot high; a giant sequoia, about 18 inches; and an incense cedar, about three feet. Sorry to say I didn't get any photos. Next year I'll get them--if the trees survive the winter.
Anyway, while I was outside planting a forest of tiny trees, my son was inside the house, painting a picture for me. He drew a forest of tall trees with black trunks and expansive canopies. It is a nice little picture. Most impressively, though, it is very thoughtful subject--he drew a bunch of trees because he knows I like trees. Those of you who aren't parents may not appreciate this, but it is a real turning point when a child starts to be able to put himself in another person's shoes.
Overall, a great weekend.
August 24, 2005
Received my pinus longaeva seeds today
Today I received my Pinus longaeva seeds in the mail from Sheffield's. This was a huge relief because I don't have any seeds germinating right now. The situation makes me feel off-kilter.
Resin suggested that I go to the White Mountains and gather seed, but I finally admitted to myself that it wasn't going to happen. The mountains are four hours away and I've got two kids, which leaves me with about 10 minutes to myself every day.
Sheffield's claims that the seeds don't need stratification, which surprised me since the trees grow in the mountains. I soaked 12 seeds for a few hours and transferred to coffee filters. I'll keep you posted on the results.
August 15, 2005
Shoot gets a poster
I was touched to receive a beautiful poster from my family recently. Titled "Northwest Native Conifers," it features all my favorite trees. What a breat of fresh air for the study! I was amazed that they had run across the poster at all, and really touched that they had known immediately how much I would like it.
I've linked to the conifers poster below at Good Nature Publishing, but they have other nice posters as well.
August 01, 2005
California seedling resources
After reading about the longevity of bristlecone pines, I decided to go looking for a seed source. I didn't find one, but did find a couple of interesting sources for seeds or young trees.
I found an academic article stating that bristlecone pine seeds had been obtained from the USDA Forest Service Placerville Nursery. I now know that the nursery is charged with providing seedlings to a wide range of national forest service lands in various areas. The nursery takes orders, collect seeds, and grows them into seedlings to be delivered almost two years after receipt of the initial order. Occasionally, though, the nursery grows too many seedlings, or the original order is no longer required, or, for whatever reason--they have a surplus of seedlings. In this case, the seedlings can be sold to the public for an incredibly cheap price. The downside is that only large lots are available (100 minimum). The nursery does not usually make seeds or cones available but may soon start to do so.
The benefit of getting seeds or plants from a nursery like this is specificity. The Placerville Nursery knows the precise location where its seeds were gathered, including elevation to within 500 feet.
To have a shot at these seedlings, you have to get on their mailing list. You'll receive a letter in December outlining availability, and can respond at that time for delivery between January and April. That's your one and only shot for the year. To get on the mailing list, write to the nursery at: 2375 Fruitridge Road, Camino, CA 95709.
The manager of the USDA Forest Service Placerville Nursery was kind enough to point me toward another potential supplier: the California Department of Forestry Magalia Reforestation Center. These folks also offer seedlings in minimum lots of 100, with orders taken in November and delivered starting December 1. Unlike the USDA nursery, which sells only surplus seedlings only when available, the Magalia Reforestation Center seems to expect to provide seedlings to the public and does so yearly.
Good luck to those of you with enough space to accomodate 100 seedlings!
July 18, 2005
Abigail makes the ID!
I am sad to say that I made a mistaken (read: wrong) identification.
I originally identified this tree as araucaria araucana based on its general appearance, as well as its shape. Some months later, my wife said to me slyly, "You know, I think that large tree on MLK Drive might be a bunya-bunya, not a monkey puzzle." She walks by the tree several times a week while out exercising, so she has the advantage of me. Seems she'd been storing up this bombshell for a while. After I checked it out and acknowledged my mistake, she had the guts to ask if I would be upfront about this issue on TreeDazzled!
Apparently this tree richly deserves its other name: False Monkey Puzzle.
July 05, 2005
Sunflowers in the Sunset
This weekend I unearthed an old wooden frame in the backyard and decided to try to plant something in it. The frame had been overgrown with grass, was contaminated with paint, and was cluttered with junk. I decided to try planting sunflower seeds from the store, something I'd always wanted to try (poppy seeds are next).
I picked up a bag of raw, shelled sunflower seeds from Trader Joe's for $2. The bag was filled with dry seeds, many of which were cracked. Not very promising.
I picked the junk out of my old frame, mowed the grass, and removed the roots with a hoe and some hard work. Raked the old, contaminated sand smooth. Then I got my four-year-old son, and told him that we were going to plant a LOT of seeds. We scattered them on thickly, leaving a seed probably every 1 square centimeter, on average. We put some potting soil on top, watered, and waited.
By yesterday, two days after planting, the seeds had started to put out roots already! Now I'm worried that I planted too many, since I understand that the ideal spacing is one sunflower every 6-12 inches. I usually have a burst of overconfidence at the start of every new project, though. We'll see how it goes.
I recommend this exercise highly, though. Taking these seeds from the store and watching them put out roots really drives home the fact that they are...seeds. I guess it says so right on the package, but somehow I didn't expect them to grow.
July 03, 2005
Rescuing my plants
I made a big mistake, though thankfully not as big as it could have been. I went on vacation without arranging for anybody to water my plants.
Thing is, I was only going to be gone for 8 days. And I don't know anyone who I trust with my plants anyway. So I decided to water them well, put many of the more sensitive plants in the shade, and hope for the best.
But it turned out that I was gone for 14 days, not 8. And the weather was hot while I was away.
Here's a report:
-conifer seedlings all did well, even though many were potted in a sandy mixture designed not to retain too much water. I guess that conifers are designed to take the heat.
-potted orange tree, potted blueberry bush, bouganvillea, and azalea all did well
-the grass was brown in patches, though I presume it will recover
-the fuchsias look uniformly terrible, but only one looks truly awful, as though it might not ever fully recover
The moral of the story? There are two: first, conifers are the bomb. You should grow conifers to the exclusion of all other plants. Second, for Pete's sake, get a friend to water your plants if you are planning to be gone for more than a week.
May 20, 2005
I'm not crazy
Check out this abstract in the Academics section. I quote:
The most effective method of breaking dormancy was to remove the seed coat totally
So my little adventure with the sugar pine seeds wasn't insane, only silly...as it appears that sugar pine is not so very hard to grow. I'm trying again with a longer (2 month) stratification.
I took some heat for this over at GardenWeb, and now I feel vindicated.
May 19, 2005
Shoot's plant hospital
I seem to be collecting dead or dying plants from my friends. I recommend that you avoid this if you can.
First I received a tangled mass of dead sticks in a pot, which was described to me as a "bougainvillea." How could one know that, I asked...and was told that the plant looked like a bougainvillea when it was first purchased from Home Depot, in an absurdly small pot. After transplant, though, and removal of half its rotting rootmass, it looked increasingly like a tangled mass of dead sticks. Now it has a few red buds on it. Should be in good shape in a few years.
Then I received a half-dead ivy, after a new friend found out I was interested in gardening. "You are?," she said, "then I've got a plant for you that needs some love." What kind? "I don't know," she said, "you're the gardener!" Well, sure...but IVY? Everybody over the age of six knows what an ivy looks like. Perhaps she didn't want to mention it for fear that I'd turn it down. But...sigh...no...I took it.
There are others, but you get the gist. I've established a special clinic in the backyard, under the porch, hidden from view, where these twisted, downtrodden twigs can recuperate. One major problem is that non-gardeners tend to buy (and kill) such pedestrian plants. They are hardly worth saving.
The recent hilarious Onion headline here seems relevant!
May 11, 2005
Sugar pine seedling died
I report this news with a heavy heart indeed: my sole sugar pine seedling died, of damping-off disease. The seedling looked great for a while, but then just seemed to stall. The true leaves took forever to appear, and then stayed at <1 mm in length.
Surprisingly, I have little experience with damping off. Perhaps conifer seeds are relatively resistant? The symptoms are disturbing because they seem fixable. It seems like the plant would survive if you could just prop it up.
The good news is that this little seedling awakened me to the beauty of sugar pines. I am nothing if not persistent. I'll have more sugar pine seedlings soon enough.
May 06, 2005
Propagating fuchsia from cuttings
In a previous post, I bragged that propagating fuchsia from cuttings is easy. The response to that post has been impressive. I suspect that lots of people have beautiful fuchsias and would like to have more of them.
Here's how to do it, in detail. There's absolutely nothing to it, unless you've never taken a cutting in your life...sadly, though, there are lots of people like that!
First, take as many cuttings as you want plants. 95% should root, so you don't need more than 1-2 extra cuttings. The cuttings should be about four inches long and include 4-5 "nodes". These are the points on a stem where a leaf is attached. Make your cut a few millimeters below a node.
Strip the leaves from the bottom two nodes, leaving the upper 2-3 nodes with leaves intact. Just grasp the leaves firmly and pull sharply downward along the stem. This injury exposes critical cells, usually found near the nodes, that can proliferate and become roots.
If any remaining leaves are particularly large or ungainly, remove half of the leaf surface by cutting across the leaf with a pair of scissors. Removing this extra surface area reduces the surface area available for water loss by transpiration. However, the reamining leaf surface is critical to allow photosynthesis, which will provide the growing roots with energy.
Prepare a light, sterile medium in cel-packs or small pots. For fuchsias, I often use potting soil, since they root so easily. Soak the soil well so that it is damp throughout; however, be sure that the cel-paks or pots are draining adequately. The soil should be wet, not boggy. Make holes in the soil to accomodate your cuttings, using a pencil or chopstick. Poke the cutting into the soil so that all the injured (denuded) nodes are buried, while the nodes with leaves are above the soil. Very lightly tamp down the soil.
Place the cuttings inside a greenhouse of some sort. This structure can be as simple as a chicken-wire cage covered in a transparent plastic bag, which I often use. For individual cuttings in pots, you can place a transparent plastic cup over the cutting. Note that your greenhouse must allow transmission of light, which the plant needs in order to grow new roots. Place the greenhouse in a well-lighted space but out of direct light. Since the cuttings have no roots, they won't survive the heat stress caused by direct light shining into a greenhouse.
Keep the cuttings in their humid environment, in bright but indirect light, for 1-2 weeks. Use a spray bottle to mist as often as necessary to keep the plants moist, usually daily or every other day.
You will know that the cuttings have rooted when they begin to grow, which should happen within two weeks. At this point, you can take the cuttings out of the greenhouse and begin gradually exposing them to direct light, starting with a short period each day. If you rooted the cuttings in a seed starter mix, you should start to feed them with a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle Grow. After another 2-3 weeks, the cuttings should be ready for transplant to their final home. However, fuchsias root so readily that you can usually avoid the need for transplant: start a window-box or hanging basket by just filling with soil, sticking in a few cuttings, covering with plastic cups, and waiting.
Let me know how this works!
May 01, 2005
Growing giant sequoias in pots
The most common query I receive from visitors to this site is: how can I grow giant sequoias from seed? There seems to be lots of interest in growing these beautiful trees, which is wonderful. This post is a simple how-to guide.
Growing sequoias from seed turns out to be easy, if you know what to expect. Unfortunately, depending on your climate, keeping the trees alive can be difficult.
First, procure a decent number of seeds (perhaps 50) from a reputable dealer. I use J. L. Hudson. You need more than a few seeds because only 30% germinate, and in difficult climates up to 75% of seedlings will succumb to disease in the first year alone.
I recommend the "baggie method" for both optional stratification (cold incubation) and for germination. Germinating the seeds in a bag allows you to plant only those seeds that will germinate, and not the 70% that won't. Soak the seeds overnight in a cup of water. The next day, spread the seeds onto one quarter of a circular, unbleached, wet coffee filter. Fold the filter in half, then in half again, so that the seeds have three layers of filter on one side and one layer on the other. Place the filter and seeds into a zip-lock bag. Blow into the bag gently while closing it, so that the bag is slightly inflated and the seeds have access to air.
One month of stratification will boost your germination rate somewhat. To stratify, place the zip-lock bag into the refrigerator (4C). Open the bag weekly to mist if necessary to keep the filter moist. Blow gently while closing so that the seeds have access to air.
After stratification, or immediately if you've decided not to stratify, place the bag in a dark spot at a constant temperature of around 70F. Check the bag weekly. Hold the bag up to the light and check whether any seeds have started to grow a white root (the tree's first root, or radicle). If some seeds have germinated, prepare a small plastic pot or cel-pack by filling with wet seed starter mix. Note that it can be difficult to wet seed starter after it has dried completely, so don't be bashful with the water. The seed starter mix must be wet. Make a hole about as deep as the radicle is long by poking a chopstick into the seed starter. Gently plant the germinated seed into the hole, radicle first, holding only the seed itself and not the root. Cover the seed with a very small amount of seed starter (about 1/16").
While removing germinated seeds from the filter, be careful not to let the filter dry out, as this will prevent germination of other seeds. Fold the filter again, put into the ziplock bag, and continue to incubate in the dark at 70F. Seeds will continue to gradually germinate over the course of about two months.
After transferring germinated seeds to a cel-pack, place the cel-pack into a simple greenhouse that is shaded all day, but that receives indirect light. Any corner of a well-lit room will do, so long as it does not recieve direct sun. For a greenhouse, I use a chicken wire "cage" covered by an enclosed, transparent plastic bag, but any makeshift arrangement will do, as long as it retains moisture and transmits light.
Mist the cel-pack weekly until the seeds have lifted themselves out of the soil. Soon afterward, you can remove the seedlings from the greenhouse. Keep the seedlings moist with a mister until the seed leaves have emerged. Giant sequoias have four seed-leaves, which form a beautiful green "cage" that is topped by the seed coat, which will gradually be pushed off the top of the seedling.
The seedlings can remain in the shade, with indirect light, until true leaves have started to grow from the center of the four seed-leaves. At this point, you can start to gradually expose the seedlings to some direct light, starting with only a short period each day. You may consider feedling the seedlings once weekly with 1/4- or 1/2-strength Miracle Grow, as the seed starter contains very little nutrition.
There is no single correct time to transplant the seedlings into pots. I usually transplant the seedlings after they have two sets of true leaves. By this time, the radicle has reached the bottom of the small amount of soil in the cel-pack, and the seed starter is usually cohesive enough for transplant.
Sequoia seedlings require good drainage. With wet feet, they become susceptible to disease. Therefore, to avoid heartbreak, use only clay pots, not plastic, and well-drained soil. I use an 8:1:1 mixture of potting soil, sand, and gravel. Fill the bottom 1/2" of the pot with large gravel, then add a layer of your potting mixture. Place the individual sequoia seedling in its pot (cut from the cel-pack with a razor blade, if need be) on top of the potting mixture, then fill in around the sides with more mix. Soak the mixture with water, and then add more potting mix so that the seqouia in its pot is effectively "planted" in its new home. Then remove the seedling and pot. I use a razor blade to cut away one wall of the pot, then tip the soil and seedling out onto my hand. You should see the white radicle emerging from the bottom of the seed starter plug. Transfer the whole plug to the site you prepared, then water well.
After transplant, expose the seedling to sun gradually over the course of a month. Water the seedling only weekly, to avoid disease.
Raising the seedling into a tree from this point can be tricky or remarkably easy, depending primarily on your climate and the prevalence of various diseases. Young trees are susceptible to botrytis and cercospora infections. An overly hot, humid climate makes this problem worse, particularly on the East Coast. In addition, the trees probably require zone 6b or higher to survive the winter. Greyneedle has compiled a remarkable collection of information about growing sequoias on the East Coast, including a helpful map showing where you are most likely to be successful.
I've posted pictures of my seedlings, and will continue to post new pictures as they grow.
Growing these trees is lots of fun, and I highly recommend it to everyone. In my opinion, giant sequoia seedlings are almost as cute as a human baby, and they grow faster, so they are more rewarding in that sense. They talk less, though.
Bought a Fuchsia "Campo Glaziou" at Strybing
We visited the Strybing plant sale yesterday and had a blast. I was very impressed with the "Plants for Rock Gardens" section, which included many miniature conifers, as well as the infinite variety of succulents.
To be honest, though, I was a bit disappointed with the trees. I briefly considered an Oregon Ash, before realizing I had nowhere to put it. There were a few sequoia sempervirens, deodar cedars, many false cypress, and many plants labeled simply "juniperus sp." Not very helpful.
I ended up with a fuschia marked "Fuchsia Campo Glaziou." Beautiful, small pink flowers, fairly upright habit. I'll post a picture soon. I think it will go well with my other fuschias. I've tried to find information about this variety, without success. Does anybody have any information, or pointers?
April 25, 2005
Tahoe check: hints of spring
We spent the weekend in Tahoe, getting in some late skiing and checking on my darlings.
The distribution of snow was interesting. There were 2-3 feet of hard, packed, icy stuff in the backyard but adjacent bare spots under the trees. Daffodils were starting to sprout in the bare spots.
A two-year-old incense cedar, two-year-old jeffrey pine, and one-year-old giant sequoia were still buried, and may not be heard from for some time.
All the trees that I found were doubled over, their stems bent almost 180 degrees, with only the tip of their stakes sticking up through the snow. I took a hose and ran water around them until I could free the stems, then straightened them out as much as possible, propping them up with sticks wedged against the remaining snow. My larger giant sequoia, purchase from a nursery last year, seems alive but has many lower branches broken off. The western juniper--I suspect it isn't a true Sierra Juniper--looks like a champion, even if it is slightly bent. Finally, my lone sierra juniper looks bad, but no worse that it did after last summer. Almost like it's been in deep freeze.
Time will tell! I'll take pictures on the next trip.
April 19, 2005
The great sugar pine seed operation
I thought I was sooo smart.
I've had a lot of trouble with sugar pine seeds. I got my seeds from seedlings.com after a long search. They were sent to me in a packet that was mis-labeled "Queen Anne's Lace" but 15 minutes on the phone straightened this out. They'd sent the correct seeds with the wrong label. Then, my germination rate was rather poor: only two seeds germinated out of about 30 (one without stratification, the other after about four months stratification). In addition, the seeds have a remarkable propensity to grow mold, lots and lots of it, I don't know why. This seems to happen even after a dip in 50% bleach, almost as though the seeds have mold impregnated in them by nature's design.
Finally, though, I found this great article on germination of sugar pine seeds in the American Journal of Botany (65:804). This article seemed to explain it all: "Complete removal of the seed coats yielded prompt germination without stratification." I just had to remove the seed coats completely! It was a little strange though, this author saw 50% germination after a month's stratification (to my 10%); he saw 90% germination, in short order, after 5 months' stratification (to my 10%). But I decided to forge ahead with the great sugar pine seed operation:
Here I'm making a cut in the outer coat, to create a space I can use to pry the seed apart.
After making the cut, you can see the partially hollow inside of the seed. I'll use this space to pry the seed open.
Open! Note that the seed has an inner coating, as well. The article claims that this must also be removed for easy germination.
Removing the inner coat reveals the seed itself.
Ta-daa! As my wife remarked, it looks like a pine nut, which I guess is what it is.
The finished product on coffee filters, ready for incubation in our warm bathroom
I had visions of sugar plums. But this didn't work!!! I denuded seven seeds, stuck them on coffee filters in plastic bags, and have seen no germination (whereas the author of the Am J Botany article saw 100% in a few days). My question is: why? Is the American Journal of Botany article wrong? Has anybody ever heard of removing the seed coat for this or other species, and does it work? Are my seeds bad? Does anybody know of a good source for sugar pine seeds?
April 10, 2005
Transplanted my giant sequoia seedlings
I transplanted four giant sequoia seedlings from cell-packs into 8" pots today. Last year I did the same thing and they all died. I'm not sure what happened, but they turned brown from the top down, one after another, during a time that it was very hot in San Jose but I was frequently misting and watering them. My list of possibilities includes over-watering, too much sun, or botrytis.
This year I transplanted them to soil amended with both sand and gravel, for improved drainage. I'm doing this earlier in the year, in San Francisco rather than San Jose, so they shouldn't get burned. But I can't do anything about the botrytis, if that was the cause of death last year.
Greyneedle says that I should expect only 25% survival. I'm not sure if this is true all over the country, or only on the east coast. Why should 75% die here in CA, under optimum conditions?
February 22, 2005
I'm calling it Spring
OK, that's it, I'm calling it Spring here in San Francisco. Why?
1. The cherry blossoms have come and gone.
2. I don't have any plants in my backyard--none--that are still dormant. Well, I guess that my red fir and mountain hemlock seedlings haven't shown much movement yet. But they are just little guys.
3. It seems that the rest of the city agrees with me. Everybody else is blooming, too, unless you count the heavily pruned trees in front of SF General. These trees are incredibly common and it is embarrassing that I can't ID them. I'll post a picture later.
4. The wunderground says that we are over the hump. If you look at seasonal weather averages, our normal high temps are now above 60F, while rainfall will decline from now until June.
Amazing to think it is spring here, since it won't really be spring in Lake Tahoe (where the rest of my plants are) for THREE MONTHS. Yes, one-quarter of the year.
February 16, 2005
...are amazing. I got a fuchsia for my wife last Mother's Day, and it has been growing on a hook in our backyard ever since. I recently pruned it slightly, as it came through our so-called "winter" with some unsightly tendrils, and placed the cuttings in soil one week ago. Enclosed everything in a plastic bag, and kept moist. I noticed yesterday that one of the cuttings has roots already! (You can see a couple of them above the soil.) That is just ridiculous. Maybe I should fill up the back yard with fuchsia.
This stands in STARK contrast to my problems with cuttings of Sierra Juniper. I've tried dozens of cuttings, with bottom heat, mist, you name it, for months and months and months...with zero success. Let's hope that the seeds work out better.
Update: I've added a new post describing how to propagate fuchsia.
February 15, 2005
Intermittent Mist System
The Plant Propagation Forum at GardenWeb has a nice thread today on do-it-yourself misting systems. A mist system is absolutely critical for a high success rate, but very expensive to buy.
February 14, 2005
Sierra Juniper seeds
I have a long history of failure with Sierra Juniper seeds.
I first tried to throw some seeds in pots, stratify outdoors, and wait. Nothing. Nothing. I had been planning to wait another year, after hearing that repeated stratification can help, but finally decided I couldn't take those seeds along during my recent move.
I then tried to stratify for about 8 weeks after subjecting to various treatments: scarification, boiling water, acid, etc. Nothing. So I put those seeds back in the refrigerator (using the baggie method) and I'll try again this year.
Finally, though, I found what must be the ultimate authority on germination of Juniper seeds, in Forest Science. These guys studied germination of western and Utah juniper for a solid TEN YEARS. They tell me that I just need to stratify longer; also they recommended a blender for harvesting juniper seed. The harvesting went famously. As for the stratification, we'll see. I put 192 seeds in the refrigerator yesterday, for a projected 14 weeks.
Their best conditions, though, were--get this--14 weeks in water at 5C, with constantly bubbling compressed air. I tried to convince my wife that it would be fine. I was going to get a little fish-tank air pump, snake the tube into our refrigerator, and go for it. I was ready, but she couldn't be convinced. Perhaps I'll be revisiting the issue in 22 weeks or so. I am determined to grow these plants from seed.