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

22 comments:

  1. When you said you transferred a pup, I figured a baby agave... not the hefty 2' tall and wide, almost as big as it's mama, blue flame adolescent :-D Job well done.
    Tradescantia spathacea 'Sitara's Gold' is lovely; its a good choice for outside the dining room window.

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    1. Even though I knew the "pup" would be heavy, I was surprised at just how heavy it was! Part of its stem had already sent roots into the ground too. But I persevered and didn't call in the cavalry to help this time ;)

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  2. How satisfying to grow your own agaves, your 'pup' is a beauty. I would love to be able to plant succulents and leave them out in the garden.

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    1. There are some cold hardy agaves you might try, Liz. I don't know how cold your winters get but some of those grown in the ground in the Pacific Northwest include Agave ovatifolia (hardy to 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit or -17 to -12 Celsius) and Agave parryi (hardy to 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit or -12 to -9 Celsius). It could be worth the experiment, provided you can find the plant.

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  3. You've been working double-time, Kris! I don't know how you managed to wrangle that Agave all by yourself, I expect it was a bit of a struggle. All the new plantings look great. I love Salvia discolor with its sage green calyxes and purple blossoms. I bet they thrive in your heat.
    I certainly hope the weather patterns improve and favor you with more rain than last year. 25% of normal must be so stressful to your garden.
    I'm making wreaths/swags this weekend. I can't believe Christmas is in only 4 weeks, it'll be here in the blink of an eye. Tempus fugit!

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    1. My biggest concern with the lack of rain is the strain it's already putting on California's water supply. At this point, we've been asked to ratchet down our water use below last year's levels and the significant increase in the cost of water makes noncompliance painful but things could get worse. I reduced my water use in 2015 and have attempted to hold to that level but 4 inches of rain just doesn't go far, even with 3 collection tanks and a rudimentary gray water system. Ugh!

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  4. You have been very busy but I like how you were able to use something you already had. Did that a lot this summer in my own garden. Love that Salvia discolor. Have tried it here but we just don't stay warm enough at night for it to thrive. Will enjoy yours instead.

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    1. I had a Salvia discolor for years but I wasn't careful and ended up digging it up in pieces during my removal of the rampaging aster. It had held on despite competition with the aster but it never got very big. I'm hoping the new one will do well in its spot - and I hope I can keep the aster from regenerating. It's certainly trying to do so!

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  5. I hope you had on full protective gear to move that Agave!I moved a good sized A. parryi a couple weeks ago and that was tricky!

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    1. I wore gloves but that was it in terms of protective gear. 'Blue Flame' isn't all that spiky, just heavy.

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  6. Nice moves! As always, of course.

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    1. Thanks Barbara. The way my 'Blue Flames' are multiplying, I suspect I could start selling them soon.

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  7. Deciduous leaves make wonderful compost.

    Impressive work getting that 'Blue Flame' moved-they are amazingly heavy--all the stored water.

    That Campanula was extremely aggressive here. The original Landscape designer planted it 20 years ago. In your rockier soil no doubt less of a pest. There's still a clump or two coming up. The flowers are beautiful, but it was a bear to get rid of, even more persistent than the Wisteria.

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    1. That Campanula hasn't proven to be a problem yet, although it did spread in that small area as the Plectranthus began to decline. The whole area alongside the window is on a dripline and, absent rain, nothing there gets much water. I think that's why the Plectranthus declined so precipitously over the last 2 years.

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  8. Wow, I am impressed with your agave move and how little damage occurred. The ones I've seen seem to favor the Agave attenuata parent with leaves that are very easily damaged. Also, thanks for the reminder that I've got a couple Salvia discolor out there that I need to take cuttings of before it gets too cold here. Maybe I should forgo that and dig one of them up. Oh how I wish it was reliably hardy here.

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    1. When I realized that I'd screwed up in failing to remove the Salvia discolor before I began pulling out the rambunctious aster, I took several cuttings. They promptly died, possibly due the sudden onset of a heatwave. Your conditions are very different but digging the plant up may be a safer strategy.

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  9. Oh glad to read that you have some comfortable weather to get on with garden projects Kris. I think that will not be a possibility for me now for some time. Do you mix those leaves with other garden waste for general compost or do you make leaf mould? I'm not sure of our exact annual rainfall but it must be about double your average. I must check the statistics.

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    1. Winter is but an illusion here, Anna (but summer temperatures in November are a major source of annoyance). I mix the shredded leaves with other garden and kitchen waste, although I'm pretty selective about what goes into the bin. If I had room for bigger compost piles that would heat up more, I'd probably dump a lot more garden waste there instead of handing it off to the city for our weekly green waste pickups.

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  10. Gosh, so sorry about the lack of rain. In all other categories, I'd much rather be in SoCal than Wisconsin right now. We are gray and dormant and boring. Not terribly cold yet, but not warm, and not colorful at all. Thanks for sharing images of your beautiful plants.

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    1. California would be paradise if it got rain on a regular basis, Beth! I hope you get some sunny days among the gloomy ones.

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  11. Wow, that 'Blue Flame' pup is all grown up!! You have quite the 'Blue Flame' factory going!

    I got rid of my Salvia discolor a few years ago because it was tangly mess. Now I miss it. Will try to find another one and keep it trimmed better!

    I hope you'll get some precipitation soon. We had that one miraculous "atmospheric river" event with 7", but nothing since then.

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    1. Weather West dot com anticipates that NorCal could have something close to normal precipitation over the course of the winter rainy season but it doesn't sound like SoCal will be nearly as lucky. My garden may be mostly succulents as the years go on - or I may convince my husband to move to the PNW ;)

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