Friday, December 3, 2021

Tree Pruning: Before & After

Our annual tree pruning exercise was scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving this year, starting at 8am.  The company's president and arborist always arrives about a half hour earlier to review what's to be done with his crew's lead and to get any final input from me.  As a result I was up very early and was able to watch the sunrise.


I always freak out a bit before my trees are trimmed.  In addition to the almost inevitable collateral damage to surrounding plants, I worry about cutting back the trees too much, leaving them looking awkward for months or longer.  Given our increasingly hot summers, I'm also wary of diminishing the shade the trees provide so I emphasized that I wanted all but three trees on this year's list "lightly" trimmed.

The three trees that received the most extreme haircuts were all peppermint willows (Agonis flexuosa).  We have six of these trees and I usually have one or two of them trimmed each year but I'd ignored the two facing the street and the largest one, located in the southeast corner of our back garden, for a few years.  My husband and I'd attempted some minor pruning of one of the street-facing trees several months ago, resulting in him tumbling from the ladder on uneven ground as I tried to break his fall.  Neither of us broke any bones but we did get a scare and some nasty bruises so we'll be leaving that job to professionals in the future.

This is the tallest willow on the southeast end of the garden, before (left) and after (right).  The tree is surrounded on all sides by Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' and a mass of succulents stand nearby but, I haven't found post-trim damage to any of these plants.

The two street-facing willows screened much of the front garden from view and shielded us from the sun but some of the plants behind that screen will benefit from the increased sunlight

This is a view of the same street-facing willows from a different angle

In addition to the three peppermint willows, four strawberry trees (Arbutus 'Marina') were trimmed.  I have these trees trimmed every year to ensure air flow within their canopies, preventing the sooty mold that can otherwise develop.  Their before and after photos look a lot alike but that's because most of the trimming is done to the interior areas.

This is the largest of the two strawberry trees in the back garden

This is the smaller strawberry tree in the back garden.  It was heavily laden with flowers prior to trimming, most of which were lost in the process of trimming; however, the recently planted succulent bed in front of the tree (partially visible in the right foreground in the after photo) was mostly unscathed.

This is a photo of the interior of the canopy of the larger of these two trees

Before and after shots of the large strawberry tree on the south side of the front garden

Before and after shots of the strawberry tree on the north side of the front garden

View of the interior canopy of the large strawberry tree in the front.  This tree sits at the top of a moderate slope, which is planted with a copious number of succulents.  These were also mostly undamaged.

Three other trees and one cherry laurel hedge (Prunus caroliniana, not photographed) also got trimmed.

The Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia x blakeana) gets very twiggy and growing branches tend to scrape the roof, which is both unsafe in the event of fire and very noisy during our frequent bouts with Santa Ana winds.  It got a simple cleanup.

In prior years, I felt the Magnolia grandiflora got scalped but this year I felt the trimming was just right

The ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana) showed signs of fire blight, a disease that causes branches to die back, a couple of years ago but the tree crew managed to cut out the problem back then and this year all it needed was shaping

The best news is that there was less collateral damage than usual this year and the crew was in and out in just over five hours.  Job done until next year, when I may add some of our citrus trees to the mix - pruning them myself has gotten harder as those trees have gotten taller.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A Week of Flowers 2021, Day Two

Last year, Cathy of Words and Herbs launched a celebration of flowers to brighten the gray days that characterize December for many gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere.  She invites garden bloggers to post one or two photos each day, or as opportunities arise, over the course of a week.  I missed Day 1 on December 1st but I'm joining in today and will do so at least once more between now and December 7th.  You can find Cathy's description of A Week of Flowers here.

I must start by admitting that winter is not all that bleak where I live in coastal Southern California.  Still, flowers are far less plentiful even here at this time of year and it's nice to remember that spring is just around the corner. 

My Anemone bulbs have already sprouted foliage and I'm already looking forward to their early spring show.   Here's a sample of what they looked like back in February of this year.

Anemone coronaria 'Lord Lieutenant'


African daisies, including Arctotis, Gazanias, and Osteospermums, rebound during our cool season.

Arctotis 'Pink Sugar' in February of this year


For other Week in Flowers posts, visit Cathy at Words & Herbs.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wednesday Vignette: Right place, right time, right lens

Certain hummingbirds are year-round residents in coastal Southern California, most notably the Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds.  They're a constant presence in my garden.  Flowers that appeal to them include those of the Arbutus, Callistemons, Cupheas, and Grevilleas.  They adore the large-flowered ever-blooming Grevilleas 'Peaches & Cream' and 'Superb' and, fierce as they can be, they will wage war for territorial control over those plants.  As I rounded the corner of the house yesterday, I discovered two of the tiny birds locked in battle over the largest Grevillea 'Superb'.

This is the plant in question

I ducked back into the house to get my camera fitted with its telephoto lens and returned to start shooting.  As common as the birds are here, I have a terrible time getting good photos of them.  Maybe I just don't have the patience to follow their rapid movements.  And then I don't usually have a telephoto lens in hand either.  These are the best photos I managed to take.  I believe all are the same bird, as he managed to keep his competitor at bay.

My skills in bird identification are severely limited but, after checking The Cornell Lab's identification pages, I'm fairly certain this is an Allen's hummingbird (Selaphorus sasin)

Allen's hummingbirds bear some similarities to Rufous hummingbirds (Selaphorus rufus) but Rufous have orange backs and they generally pass through California between mid-February and mid-May so the timing doesn't fit yesterday's sighting

The flashing red-orange color on the bird's throat clearly identified him as a male

Once he'd pushed off his competitor, he gave up surveillance and returned to feeding



I tried to get more photos a little later after checking the quality of those I first shot but the hummer didn't cooperate.  I could hear him chirping away but, as stealthily as I tried to move, I failed to get any more photos.  It's all a matter of timing - and luck.

For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


Monday, November 29, 2021

In a Vase on Monday: Flowers are in short supply

My flower supply is greatly diminished but I resisted falling back on my Grevilleas this week.  The Camellias are still plentiful but they shatter easily, especially when the air is as dry as it's been of late.  As I wandered my garden, I focused on foliage plants and looked for the odd flowers that might serve as accents.  One arrangement turned out better than I'd expected but the second was so disappointing I was tempted to throw the whole thing in the trash.

The first arrangement started with Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset', which has colorful bracts that look almost like flowers.

Although the Leucadendron stems were my starting point, I think the single orchid stem placed in front did a lot to pull the whole arrangement together.  That Phalaenopsis has been blooming in my lath (shade) house for about 2 months now.

Back view: The coleus (now classified as Plectranthus scutellarioides) also pulled colors together

Top view:  The chartreuse color of the coleus led to the selection of the flowering bloom spikes produced by Mangave 'Bloodspot'

Clockwise from the upper left: Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset', Mangave 'Bloodspot' bloom spikes, Phalaenopsis 'Balden's Kaleidoscope', Plectranthus scutellarioides 'Pineapple', and Prunus caroliniana

While I like each of the individual components of the second arrangement, they just didn't come together well.

Clockwise from the upper left are flowers of Bauhinia x blakeana (aka Hong Kong orchid tree), Pelargonium peltatum 'Dark Burgundy', Cyclamen 'Djix', and Gomphrena decumbens 'Itsy Bitsy', shown with foliage of Centaurea 'Silver Feather'

Front view: The Centaurea foliage I've been in the process of cutting back was the starting point but I think it's better paired with larger flowers.  Even after I'd thinned the foliage and cut it down in size, it overwhelmed these flowers.

Back view: I should have picked longer stems of the Bauhinia and scrapped the short-stemmed Pelargonium and Cyclamen flowers

Sometimes the overhead view looks better than the other views of my arrangements but this wasn't one of those times

The Anemones in my cutting garden have sprouted foliage and the Ranunculus are just beginning to follow suit.  I planted plugs of foxgloves and snapdragons a month ago too.  However, nothing is anywhere near bloom stage yet.   In the void, succulents may make an appearance in my December IAVOM posts - or perhaps my arrangements will shrink to tiny dimensions for a time.  We'll see.

For a look at what other IAVOM contributors have come up with this week, visit our host, Cathy in Rambling in the Garden.



All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Friday, November 26, 2021

Small garden projects

I've stayed close to home for the past week, taking advantage of comfortable temperatures to tackle several small garden projects.  The project with the biggest impact involved harvesting a large agave "pup" from one section of my garden to fill a vacancy in another.  It remains very dry here and the prospects for rain in Southern California aren't especially favorable.  Although one expert says he remains "optimistic" that it won't be quite as dry as last year, it's not likely we'll see normal* rainfall either.  Given that scenario, it seems reasonable to introduce more succulents.

The mid-section of my backyard border is still fairly bare since I removed several dead and dying shrubs.  I planted a Grevillea 'Pink Midget' I purchased at a Santa Barbara garden center in early October in one spot, only to watch it die in record time.  The spot in question is particularly dry so I decided an agave might be a better choice.  I didn't want a puny specimen that would take years to make a statement and, as good-sized plants generally come with hefty price tags, I decided to shop my own garden.  Agave 'Blue Flame' is a prolific pupper and needs regular pruning to remain manageable so it was an obvious choice.

This "before" shot taken in late September shows the area from which I took the 'Blue Flame' cutting

Here's the transplanted "pup" in the back garden border.  It's approximately 21 inches tall and 2 feet wide at present.  Once it takes hold, it'll start producing its own pups.

Here's the south side area after the "pup" was removed.  I'm not sure most people would know anything had changed.

This is a closer look at the spot formerly occupied by the Agave 'Blue Flame" I removed.  I planted cuttings of Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans, which in time should spread to fill the space.


In addition to taking out one large (and very heavy) 'Blue Flame' pup, I removed a clump of Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' that was encroaching on the largest Agave 'Blue Glow' plus a small Aloe dorotheae 'Sunset' that had been half-buried under the 'Blue Flame'.

The Aloe pulled apart into 3 distinct pieces, all of which I replanted closer to the bed's edge to give them a better chance to grow and shine


I also replanted a small area next to the dining room window.

The sad photo on the left is the only "before" shot I could find.  Plectranthus ciliatus 'Zulu Wonder', brought here as a cutting from my former garden, once dominated the far end of the bed, producing lovely lavender flowers in early fall.  It'd been declining for years and had been swamped by Campanula portenschlagiana.  I took cuttings of the Plectranthus, thinned the Campanula, and removed a couple of straggly ivy geraniums.  I planted a small Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' and a large Tradescantia spathacea 'Sitara's Gold'.


The Salvia discolor I picked up a couple of weeks ago also found a home.

I popped the Salvia in a spot formerly occupied by a couple of sad dwarf Verbena bonariensis.  The Salvia is already showing a a few of its signature dark purple blooms.


When I noticed that I'd let the Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) get out of control in the border fronting the back hedge, I tackled that too.

There are a dozen clumps of this grass dotted along the back of the border.  I don't have a "before" shot so you'll have to take my word they were a thick matted mess.


In between these various tasks, I planted two flats of creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin') to fill in along the flagstone path that bisects the back garden and collected leaves from the deciduous persimmon, ornamental pear, Japanese maple, and Ginkgo trees, running them through my old Black & Decker Leaf Hog to shred them before dumping them in the compost bin.

This was a time-consuming but otherwise satisfying task


This morning, our tree service will arrive to trim ten trees and one cherry laurel hedge.  They're always careful but there's inevitably some collateral damage so cleaning that up will be my focus this weekend before I shift my attention to the holidays.  Can you believe it's almost December?  I can't!


*"Normal" (average) annual rainfall for Los Angeles County is 16 inches, most if not all of which falls during the fall and winter months.  Rain in our location of SoCal totaled only 4.12 inches in the October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021 "water year." 


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wednesday Vignette: Time to feed the birds

Early this year, when word of a salmonella outbreak among song birds spread, I stopped filling my bird feeders.  After the risk dropped, I held off on filling the feeders as I hosted periodic gatherings with friends in my back garden  - fewer birds in the vicinity reduced the frequency with which I had to scrub my outdoor furniture.  Even as my friends and I got vaccinated against COVID-19 and returned to a semi-normal schedule of meeting at local restaurants, I held off refilling the feeders.  But I've felt guilty every time I looked out my home office window and saw a bird land on the empty feeders.  As Thanksgiving loomed, I decided there was no better time to scrub the feeders and get back to feeding the birds.  It only took a day before they were back.

Most of the avian visitors thus far have been lesser gold finches

Scrub jays show up periodically, scattering the smaller birds, but the weight of the larger birds causes the seed portals to close and the jays haven't figured out how to get around that

Of course the finches and jays the weren't the only creatures to return.

Full feeders or not, the birds have remained in the garden but the squirrels largely disappeared when the feeders were empty.  This fellow showed up at the feeders almost as soon as the birds did.

It took him numerous tries to figure out how to get up the pole but he's yet to master the fine art of feeding from these "squirrel buster" feeders without his weight closing the seed portals

He keeps working at it, though, and I'm sure he'll figure out how to feed upside down one day soon, just like his predecessors

I have three feeders in the front garden too but they've barely been touched thus far. 

These feeders contain a different seed mix but I suspect their closeness to neighborhood street traffic is what's put off both birds and squirrels

Meanwhile, as I pondered when I should cut back the Senna bicapsularis on the north side of the garden, I spotted caterpillars of the cloudless sulphur butterflies (Phoebe sennae) munching away for the first time this year.  Pruning will be delayed for at least a couple of months. 

These caterpillars can be either yellow or green depending on whether they're consuming the flowers or the foliage of the host plant.  The ones I found were feeding on the few flowers remaining on the Senna.  Heat and dry winds have already eliminated most of the flowers on the shrub. 

These three were easy to spot because they were yellow and feeding at eye level.  The Senna grows several feet above my head (where no flowers remain) so I imagine there are probably more I can't see.  According to one source, these caterpillars molt 4 times before forming a leaf-like chrysalis.  Once they form a chrysalis, it takes several weeks for them to transform into butterflies.

Hopefully, offering the birds plenty of seed will discourage them from eating caterpillars!

For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

Monday, November 22, 2021

In a Vase On Monday: Warm & Cool

The title of this post could reflect our weather, which continues to flip-flop between warm and cool temperatures, but instead it refers to the colors of the two arrangements I have to offer this week. The warm arrangement befits the upcoming US Thanksgiving holiday.

The coral flowers of my ever-blooming Grevillea 'Superb' provided the jumping off point for this arrangement

Orange Cuphea 'Vermillionaire' and berries of a self-planted Cotoneaster fill out the back of the vase.  Unfamiliar with Cotoneaster and uncertain which species this one is, I'd no idea how big this plant would get and I've developed some apprehension about letting it take off.

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Agonis flexuosa 'Nana', noID Cotoneaster, Cuphea 'Vermillionaire, Gaillardia 'Spintop Copper Sun', Grevillea 'Superb', Tagetes lemonnii, and Xerochrysum bracteatum

The bush violets are still going strong so cool blues are making an appearance once again this week.  The arrangement could have used more white flowers but those are sparse at the moment and I couldn't bring myself to cut all I had.

The purple-leafed foliage is Vitex trifolia (aka Arabian lilac).  The upper surfaces of the leaves are olive green but the plant is prone drooping, especially after being cut, revealing its purple undersides.

Back view: The bush violets will drop flowers during the course of the week but buds continue to open, often resulting in a bushier arrangement than the one I started out with

Top view

Clockwise from the upper left: Angelonia 'Archangel White', Hebe 'Purple Shamrock', noID Ceanothus, Argyranthemum frutescens 'Pure White Butterfly', Barleria obtusa (bush violet), Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs', and Vitex trifolia 'Purpurea'

For more IAVOM creations, visit our host, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden.  Best wishes to all of you in the US celebrating Thanksgiving this week.  Enjoy the day!  




All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party