Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tiles


Weather: Temperatures started rising into the 90s on Wednesday, and the shrubs that were planted this spring had to be given additional water. The seeds and bedding plants all have stopped growing, and some are shrinking in size. The area corn is no more than 2' high. I think the flourishing squashes must have been transplanted, rather than grown from seed. Most of them are in the shade.

Local evergreens continuing to turn brown. Apparently, the water from the winter and spring hasn’t penetrated to their root levels. This is even the case with one man who floods his yard.

Last useful rain: 7/13. Week’s low: 42 degrees F. Week’s high: 97 degrees F in the shade. Smoke came mainly from the Naranjo Fire near Cuba.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, lilies, daylily, red-tipped and Arizona yuccas, fernbush, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, blue flax, hollyhocks, datura, bouncing Bess, squash, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers, white cone flowers, cultivated sunflowers; ripe apricots falling on ground

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, velvetweed, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, gumweed, toothed spurge, golden hairy asters, wild lettuce, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, catmints, lady bells, calamintha, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, coral bells, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Saint John’s wort, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, purple coneflower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia much shrunken, nicotiana, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Leaves on ragweed and native sunflowers becoming visible

Tasks: One man cut his hay. I cut the alfalfa near the crab apples with the string trimmer for the second time this season. I thought about clearing the dead stems from the walk, but realized the leaves dry and blow into the nearby grasses.

Failing hoses had to be replaced. I think the problems were caused by the heat, but I’m not sure exactly what happens. The plastic gets brittle, rather than flexible. I suspect it also expands, so the water holes get smaller. Thus, when the same amount of water goes through that flowed when it was cooler, it puts more stress on the holes. The ones that fail are always near the inlet fittings. I suspect that area gets damaged during manufacturing, and so is the weakest spot when the heat rises. It still means, when the hoses are most necessary, they are least reliable.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos seem larger this year, sulphur, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble bees, dragonfly, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants


Weekly update: The heat melts my resolve to work outside everyday. My body keeps aging and no longer responds when I think about going out to work at daybreak. When my muscles are willing, the air is too warm. Thus, only critical tasks gets done.

This week I looked for work in the shade. The forsythia was ignored for years because the black locust got so near, the thorns kept me away. Then, when it crowded the olive family shrub, I let the forsythia alone so it could muster its resources in its own way.

The locust is gone, and the Forsythia intermedia is recovering. I spent one morning sitting under it clipping dead wood. That kind of work is hard on the wrist, and so I can’t do it again for a week. In the meantime, the shrub can continue to grow.

The only other shady place is on the northwest side of the house where I need to cut more peaches that are weighing down the tree. However, that uses the same tools and same muscles, so I have to alternate working on the Prunus persica with the forsythia.

The peach is near the house, where the some tiles I placed near the foundation blocks to carry away water have been disintegrating. Saltillo tile is not made for the outdoors. When I bought it, I was told to buy a particular type of sealer and apply several coats. I put it on both sides, but I’m not sure if every tiles got the same treatment. I’m never as systematic as I should be.


Anyway, all that was more twenty-five years ago. There’s a place where the porch connects to the house that has no eave trough. I could never find anyone competent willing to do the work. So, water comes down in winter, then freezes and melts. The tile tops became pock marked, and some cracked.

I’ve been saying I needed to replace the broken tiles, but I also said that’s winter work. It can be done anytime, and work hours in the summer are few.

Well, this week, I changed my mantra, and began replacing tiles.

When I removed tiles, I discovered they had delaminated on the underside. I realize that’s not technically true, since I don’t think tile is created in layers. But, the effect was the same. Pieces broke off horizontally.

I used the chisel to pry up the pieces that then had buried themselves in the dirt. Next, I used the drywall trowel to relevel the ground. Water that seeped through the cracks had eroded the nearby dirt, leaving humps in the center.


As I mentioned last week, cracks attract seeds. The sprouting plants push tiles farther apart, and perpetuate their problems. Thus, when I reset tiles, I also filling up the spaces.

That will be fine, until I get down to the section where the electric and telephone wires enter the house. The ground post created an area that couldn’t be tiled. The blue flax moved in. Since the Linum perenne kept dying out in the bed where I planted it, I left them. Now, when I get to that area, I’ll have to figure out how to move tiles without destroying too many of the plants.


Notes on photographs: All pictures taken 13 July 2019.

1. Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) is an annual that was included in a sample seed mix that was sent by one nursery. None of the other seeds germinated, but a couple of these floated in water to places they like and bloomed. Last year I bought a packet of the seed, and scattered the seeds with the perennial lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) and blanket flowers (Gaillardia aristata) seeds whenever I cleared a space. The winter must have been idea for it, because a number came up this year.

2-5. Saltillo tile.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Rounds of Labor


Weather: We’ve moved into summer with long periods of low humidity punctuated by moisture moving from tropical storms formed on either side of Central America. Since the solstice afternoon temperatures have been in the 90s.

This week, I noticed the knots have been blown out of the south facing vertical board fence.

Last useful rain: 7/6. Week’s low: 46 degrees F. Week’s high: 96 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area, but now it’s being supplemented by lightening caused fires in the Gila Wilderness.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, lilies, daylily, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, blue flax, hollyhocks, golden spur columbine, datura, bouncing Bess, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers; green apples visible from road

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla and prickly pear cacti, showy milkweed, white prairie evening primroses, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, golden hairy asters, wild lettuce, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, catmints, Rumanian sage, lady bells, Goodness Grows speedwell, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, California poppy, coral bells, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, bachelor buttons, purple coneflower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Perennial four o’clocks are often the last thing to emerge. Two, which had planted themselves, were visible this year on May 18. One I planted on the west side of the house, which never did well, appeared June 8. This week, the one from May under the cottonwood started to grow. On July 2, I saw six seedlings in the area. I assumed that was because I had started watering the tree more often, but no, it’s the cycle. The original parent plant, now crowded by garlic chives, made itself known yesterday.

Tasks: I was able to burn again yesterday. The brush pile had gotten much higher from the winterfat I’d cut from under the cottonwood and the skunkbush I removed that was crowding its more desirable neighbors. I had laid the debris the length of the partially burned peach limb. This time, the fire got most of that wood. It had been dried by two fires and the weather. What’s left is already buried by the next round of fuel, this time white sweet clover plants.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird on coral beard tongues, chickadees and other small dark birds, gecko, sulphur, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants.

Few of the seeds I planted June 21 have come up. Nothing has emerged where the small ants were active. On June 24, I found the cantaloup seeds had been dug up and the shells left behind. Then two weeks ago, the rabbit appeared. It hadn’t been around yet this season, but now it was lurking in the area along the drive where the other melon seeds had been planted. If anything did come up, it was eaten immediately.

Five years ago some elephant garlic appeared next to my garage. During the winter, the ground squirrel ate it. It must have dropped a piece or a seed blew away. A couple weeks ago I found one plant about four feet from the original.


Weekly update: Some experts write calendars of tasks to help the novice gardener. They assume some kind of regularity, like the cycles of the moon. In my yard, there are annual tasks, but their timing depends entirely on the unpredictable weather.

In a good year, I simply do what could be called regular maintenance. I have to weed every bed at least once a year. I always think it would be nice to actually have this completed so all I had to do was pull out new invaders. However, I’ve come to realize this would take a work force like that found on pre-Civil War plantations, one that could be deployed en masse during the lulls in the cotton growing season.

When I do seem to be caught up, I work on projects that have been neglected. Since I didn’t do anything two years ago because of the partially torn ligament in my right thumb, there has been a lot of neglected areas that needed attention. I did some last year, but spent more time cleaning overgrown beds.

This year, I’ve had a little more time to dead with problems. One was caused by June grass that lodged itself between the concrete blocks in front of the entrance to the house. Herbicides didn’t touch it, probably because they depend on a plant’s metabolism to be effective and many grasses have a different feeding cycle.

I bought a battery powered string trimmer this year, and, at least, was able to cut it down. But, of course, that won’t remove it or kill it.


This past week I started digging it out. Actually, digging isn’t quite the word, since I was using a chisel to get into the cracks and remove the roots. Since it is a bunch grass, that means it produces new clusters every year. Each has to be treated separately.

Once I got them removed, I discovered the area underneath was covered by at least an inch of dirt. I used to wonder when I saw plants on the prairie that were higher than their neighbors, if they held the soil while the wind took the nearby dirt away, or if they captured the dirt from the wind. The plants in the blocks answered that question: they provide their own soil.


While I was feeling good about finally getting to clear a nuisance, disaster loomed elsewhere. I went from working on my own schedule to running from the devil as the wild lettuce started to bud. I had let the plants grow, knowing I could wait until they bloomed to do anything. Since they’re biannuals, I assumed I was safe so long as I kept them from going to seed. I spent a couple mornings with loppers cutting them down.

Then, just as I thought I had that problem under control, the white sweet clover started to bloom. I was out this morning again with the loppers trying to get them before they went to seed.


Notes on photographs:
1. Pansies (Viola wittrockiana) blooming in the shade of the peach tree, 7 July 2019. The Queen Anne’s lace is growing wild in the runoff trough for a culvert. The pansies were advertised as Delta True Blue and there was no sign of a yellow one in the pack.

2. Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), 6 July 2018.

3. June grass (Koeleria cristata) that’s been cropped by the string trimmer, 7 July 2019.

4. June grass that remains after part of the clump was removed, 7 July 2019. It’s surrounded by its captive soil.

5. What’s left of the peach limb (Prunus persica), 6 June 2019.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bullies in the Hood


Weather: The solstice was the first day with low humidity in Los Alamos and Santa Fé. That it coincided with that solar marker may be chance.

Last useful rain: 6/17. Week’s low: 43 degrees F. Week’s high: 92 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area; sometimes it was replaced with smoke from Arizona.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, desert willow, silver lace vine, Japanese honeysuckle, red-tipped yucca, lilies, daylily, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, purple salvia, blue flax, larkspur, snow-in-summer, hollyhocks, golden spur columbine, datura, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla cactus, showy milkweed, white tufted evening primrose, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, wild licorice, nits and lice, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, strap leaf and golden hairy asters, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, rugosa and miniature roses, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, smooth, foxglove, coral and purple beard tongues, bouncing Bess, Maltese cross, California poppy, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, Queen Anne’s lace, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Friday I put in more seeds, because so few had come up. Ant hills have been multiplying, and the sidewalk ones were patrolling the beds. I tried sprinkling an insecticide over the beds when I was done to slow the depredations.

Tasks: One man finally planted his vegetable plot this week. Another, waited to last week to put out plants he protected with plastic cylinders. He probably has a problem with rabbits.

Two people erected small canopies to sell produce on roads in town. One listed cherries, onions, and sugar peas.

I continued to pick peaches from low limbs, either to protect the branch or my forehead. So far the unripe fruit hasn’t started to smell or attract insects to their trash bags. Apparently, the chemicals that cause rotting haven’t developed yet.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, red and brown dragonflies, heard crickets, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants

Now that the sweet cherries are gone, so too are the birds. I managed to get four sour cherries this week, my entire harvest for the year.


Weekly update: We all know the bullies, the plants that naturalize and crowd out their neighbors. Most are prolific seed producers, and many have deep roots that penetrate under the plants with radiation fibrous ones.

Golden spur columbine has been one of my problems. The two I planted in 1997 have taken over a fifty-foot bed. Every time I clear a space to plants seeds for some other perennial, the seeds it already deposited wake up and take over.

A couple years ago I noticed the red hot pokers that had self-seeded from another area were able to hold their own. Even when the Aquilegia chrysantha seeds came up directly under their leaves, the Kniphofia uvaria cultivars managed to survive.


That led me to think maybe plants with bulbous roots would be able to withstand the siege on their space. I bought a variety of hybrid daylilies in colors that contrasted with the columbine’s butter yellow. The Hemerocallis cultivars survived, and bloomed, but every year the columbine grow so close the daylily leaves are lost to view. And, of course, the flower colors weren’t exactly what was described.


Last fall I ordered some bearded iris to see if they could work. Unlike the daylilies, which send up several shoots from the crown the iris leaves are closely united near the ground. That makes it hard for the columbine seedlings to germinate within the plant’s domain. The Iris germamica bloomed in spring, and so far are holding their own.

I also got enticed by a catalog that offered Asiatic lilies for naturalizing. The price was much lower than the specimens sold by the local big boxes. They too made it through the winter, no small achievement for bulbs. Many fail that first test.

Now the Lilium are blooming. It will take another year to know if they will succeed. Bulbs usually bloom the first year, because they spent the summer in ideal conditions. It’s the second year that matters.


Notes on photographs:
1. Unidentified daylily cultivar and golden spur columbine, 1 June 2019.
2. Golden spur columbine seedlings, 22 June 2019.
3. Red hot pokers and golden spur columbine, 22 June 2019.
4. Daylily cultivar surrounded by golden spur columbine foliage, 22 June 2019.
5. Asiatic lilies, so far free of golden spur columbine plants, 22 June 2019.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Magpies


Weather: We went from mornings that were cool with hot afternoons, to nights that didn’t cool and hotter days, to cold mornings again. The little rain we got last night was enough to relieve the stress of plants that couldn’t cope with the heat.

Last useful rain: 6/15. Week’s low: 42 degrees F. Week’s high: 94 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, silver lace vine, Japanese honeysuckle, red-tipped yucca, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, purple salvia, blue flax, larkspur, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, yellow yarrow, coreopsis

The catalpas have been blooming from the bottom up. The smaller trees and branches nearer the warm ground bloomed first. Toward the end of the week, with warming night temperatures, the taller trees and higher branches started flowering. They have bloomed toward the end of May in the past.

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, showy milkweed, white tufted evening primrose, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, datura, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, wild licorice, fleabane, plains paper flowers, strap leaf aster, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; rice, three awn, and brome grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, rugosa and miniature roses, Asiatic lilies, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, smooth, foxglove, coral and purple beardtongues, Maltese cross, California poppy, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis; pansy and Rocket snapdragon that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons

What’s reviving/coming up: The warm nights encouraged a few seeds to germinate, but so far nothing more than one of a kind came up before the mornings cooled again.

Tasks: I spent more time cutting winterfat and raking excess leaves from under the cottonwood. The rain Saturday evening did not penetrate the leaves and reach the ground under the tree. The ones near the river, before humans, must indeed have gotten their water from the rise in the river when it rained, rather than from the rain directly.

I cut more unripe peaches from the twenty-year-old tree to relieve the stress of so many fruits on the ends of branches. There often were clumps of four to six. As I cut them, I could see the branches lifting.

The hoses that spray started to fail this week with the afternoon heat. That meant trying to make them lie flatter so the water went into the bed and not into the weeds. It also mean experimenting with partially opening valves to see if lower pressures would force more water into the beds. It’s still trial and error with hoses that are questionable, but all that’s available.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, one sulfur and many cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, heard crickets, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants


Weekly update: Thursday and Friday afternoons a flock of magpies descended. The members of the crow family are noisy and leave large droppings. They also do not scare away easily. I felt like the abandoned stage characters who cry "Alas, why me?"

Why now isn’t any easier to answer. This is the southern end of the range of black-billed magpies. They evolved three to four million years ago in the Pliocine, [1] and spread when temperatures cooled in the Ice Age. [2] Today they are associated with riparian parts of cold-weather steppe vegetation. [3]

Pica hudsonia are not migratory, although they may move to lower elevations in winter. [4] They also "may erratically wander" after the young are self-sufficient. [5] In Santa Fé on 9 July 2014, Anne Schmauss said she had heard "more than the usual number of magpie reports right in town in the last week or two" but the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited could provide no explanation. [6]

Thomas Hall said congregations often are found around food sources. In the past that was bison and cattle herds. They fed off the insects in their hide hairs. Today it more likely is road-kill or "ripening fruit and nut orchards." [7]

Cherries have been ripening this past week. However, I don’t think there are any orchards in the immediate area, and the scattered large trees are at least a mile away. The quail got all my ripe ones, and left the unripe and half-eaten on both my sweet and sour trees.

The other possibility is some disturbance in their home range. The only local fire is about five acres in El Rito, which is 55 miles north. It has been burning slowly since started by lightening 7 June. [8]

There might be some construction project somewhere. People continue to move into empty land, especially west of the Río Grande.

The magpies landed in the trees around my house, and in the grasses in the back yard. When I chased them off, they didn’t fly toward the open land of the prairie, but circled looking for another place to roost.

They were most attractive when they were leaving. That’s when one could see the black, white, and blue stripes that turned into Vs when the wings were spread.


Notes on photographs: All taken 16 June 2019.
1. Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa); the low horizontal branch has more flowers than the upper one.

2. Clusters of unripe peaches (Prunus persica).

3. Smooth beardtongue (Penstemon laevigatu) that naturalized.

End notes:
1. Wikipedia. Black-billed Magpie."

2. Gang Song, Ruiying Zhang, Per Alström, Martin Irestedt, Tianlong Cai, Yanhua Qu, Per G. P. Ericson, Jon Fjeldså, and Fumin Lei. "Complete Taxon Sampling of the Avian Genus Pica (Magpies) Reveals Ancient Relictual Populations and Synchronous Late-pleistocene Demographic Expansion Across the Northern Hemisphere." Journal of Avian Biology. February 2018.

3. Charles H. Trost. "Black-billed Magpie." Cornell University website. 1 January 1999.

4. Thomas C. Hall. "Magpies." Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. Edited by Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm and Gary E. Larson. Lincoln: Great Plains Agricultural Council. 1994.

5. Wikipedia.

6. Anne Schmauss. "Reports of the Fascinating Magpie Abound in Santa Fe." The [Santa Fé] New Mexican. 9 July 2014.

7. Hall.

8. cnfpio. "Carson National Forest Preparing for Firing Operations on Gurule Fire." New Mexico Fire Information website. 15 June 2019.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Cottonwood Maintenance


Weather: A week ago morning temperatures sometimes were down to the mid-30s. This week, they’ve been in the high 40s and afternoon temperatures have reached the high 80s. Still no seeds have germinated.

Last useful rain: 6/1. Week’s low: 45 degrees F. Week’s high: 95 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, wild pink and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, silver lace vine, Japanese honeysuckle, Arizona yucca, red hot poker, purple locust shrub, Spanish broom, sweet peas, purple salvia, peonies, blue flax, larkspur, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, oriental poppy, yellow yarrow, coreopsis

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, Russian olive, tamarix, narrow leaf yucca, showy milkweed, white tufted evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, tumble mustard, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, fern leaf globe mallow, goat’s heads, alfalfa, fleabane, plains paper flowers, strap leaf aster, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; needle, rice, three awn, and brome grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, rugosa and miniature roses, raspberry, beauty bush, privet, Asiatic lilies, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, smooth and purple beardtongues, Bath pinks, Maltese cross, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, white yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons

What’s reviving/coming up: Corn is up about 6" in one market garden field; yellow mullein leaves recognizable along one drive

Tasks: Most of the hay fields were cut this week

I made one of my Sisyphean attempts to kill ant hills, especially those of the harvester ants. It’ll last a while, then some queen eggs will hatch somewhere and the small ones will be back. Still I’ve made some progress. Last year I was dealing with more than a hundred hills in my gravel drive. This year, I only treated about fifty.

Animal sightings: Neighbor’s cat, chickadees, gecko, cabbage, sulfur and monarch butterflies, small bees, heard crickets, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants


Weekly update: I planted a cottonless cottonwood in 2004 in the path of a culvert that was fed water from the roof of my neighbor’s house. I hoped that would provide enough moisture.

But trees have a way of creating demands. They respond to water by getting larger, and thus need to have an increased water supply. When a branch broke off the tree in 2013, I assumed it was lack of water, and started running a sprinkler every couple weeks. I wanted to keep it alive, not encourage profligate growth.

Last year leaves turned yellow early on a number of low branches. It had been a hot summer, and I already had increased the watering times. Some of those branches have not come back this year, although most have lots of leaves at their junctures with the trunk.

In February I had man come cut the dead wood. When he was inspecting the tree, he noticed the cut off limb and wondered if I had borers. Cottonwood borers (Plectrodera scalator) are related to locust borers, but a different species of longhorn beetle.

Since he didn’t see any sawdust, he thought I was safe. But doubt was planted. I was told a systemic insecticide was the only thing that handled borers. Since I refuse to mix chemicals, I looked for a dry one that could be sprinkled around the base of the tree.

The insecticide I bought contained imidacloprid. It’s supposed to act like nicotine as a poison. The label said borers, but its inside instructions only mentioned aphids. When I went on-line, I saw the base chemical was good for caterpillars (which are related to butterflies and moths, not beetles). The only borers mentioned were for ashes and elms (of which the less the better). Still, it was the only option.

Rain was forecast for Wednesday, so Tuesday morning I raked all the leaves out from around the cottonwood and sprinkled the insecticide. I ran the sprinkler for about 10 minutes, just in case it didn’t rain. And, of course, the rains never appeared. I ran the sprinkler an hour on Thursday.

Now my problem was how many leaves should I rake back over the bare ground. I had never done much maintenance on the tree. Since the vertical board fence on two sides, a thick layer of leaves had accumulated.


It’s impossible to see the ideal natural environment of these members of the willow family. The various dams built to control flooding and flow have reduced the moisture in bosques. Cottonwoods, which no longer could reproduce, have been replaced by tamarix. Trees that sprouted along irrigation ditches, now have paved roads to channel water toward them. Heavy traffic blows the leaves away.

The cottonwoods that sprouted in an unregulated arroyo have nothing around them but bare sand. They don’t need anything to trap or hold water because water flows through the area whenever it rains.


As near as I can tell, the cottonwoods near the Río Grande grow in grasses that get about a foot high.


In a few places, where dead branches have fallen, leaves have collected. This resembles the condition under my tree where dead winterfat branches have created weirs.


Yesterday, I began cutting out the winterfat, and raking out the leaves, but leaving a thin layer. One thing I know is more leaves will fall in the autumn and the supply will be replenished.


Notes on photographs:
1. Cottonwood (Populus deltoides wislizeni) growing in bosque before Arroyo Seco enters the Río Grande, 23 December 2010. The bosque has responded to the reduced water flows of the river.

2. Cottonwoods growing near the Río Grande within the Española city limits, 14 February 2009. I assume the city removed any dead wood to prevent fires. Thus, the leaves blow away.

3. Leaves trapped by winterfat branches under my cottonwood, 8 June 2019.

4. Cottonwoods growing in an unregulated arroyo near my house, 25 October 2011.

5. Cottonwoods near the Río Grande in the area of Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), 13 February 2013.

6. Cottonwood branches and leaves near the Río Grande, 23 December 2010. This is the same as area as the first picture.

7. Leaves raked over the cottonwood roots, 8 June 2019. They gray is a winterfat that was not removed.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Smoke without Borders


Weather: Dry blizzard on Wednesday when we got very high winds and little moisture. Another bout of very high winds Saturday, with a little rain.

On Tuesday, things started blooming, especially area roses. The next day a gecko ventured out.

Last useful rain: 5/21. Week’s low: 32 degrees F. Week’s high: 89 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, Austrian Copper, Persian yellow, wild pink, and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, Arizona yucca, Dutch iris, peonies, blue flax, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, oriental poppy, purple salvia, yellow yarrow

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, sand bar willow, narrow leaf yucca, white tufted evening primrose, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, fern leaf globe mallow, fleabane, plains paper flowers, strap leaf aster, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; June, needle, rice, three awn, and brome grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, bourbon, rugosa and miniature roses, cliff rose, raspberry, beauty bush, privet, chives, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, baptisia, Bath pinks, Maltese cross, vinca, sweet peas, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, white yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons back in bloom

What’s reviving/coming up: Flax seedlings, áñil del muerto

Tasks: The wind broke a branch on Tuesday. I was able to find a balance point and move it to the burn area. The next day the high winds lifted it off the burn pile and dropped it 10 feet away. Yesterday, I ignited the burn pile. The branch was too long for the pile, but the thick end did get charred.

When the branches and other debris had burned, I used a long-bladed shovel to move the larger pieces together into a log fire.

The heat apparently dried the more remote branches of the green limb so I was able to break them off and feed them to the log fire. (Of course, I hadn't tried this before the fire, so I may be wrong about the effect of heat). The limb was reduced from a kite to a skeleton that shouldn't get wind borne again.

Animal sightings: Neighbor's cat, chickadees, gecko, cabbage and monarch butterflies, bees on beauty bush, crickets, hornets, mosquitos after rain, harvester and small ants


Weekly update: Last Sunday I started panting while walking along the driveway. I wondered if my lungs had really gotten that much worse. Then I thought to check the air quality forecast of the weather bureau website. As you can see from the above illustration, the area was covered with smoke coming from México. [1]

Apparently, all this moisture we 've been getting this spring is water that didn't go to México. The drought conditions along the border remained unchanged, but aridity increased to the south. [2] A Mexican website reported more than more than 4,400 fires this year. The worst were around Mexico City, but Chihuahua had 182 that burned 20,559 acres. [3]

Smoke, of course, does not stop at the border, and no wall, and no expeditionary force, is going to stop it from crossing over.

It may not actually be the smoke that causes my problems. When I was burning yesterday I took off my mask. I didn't want anything flammable near by skin. I didn't have any breathing problems, though I know inhaling smoke isn't good for me.

The smoke in my yard was a natural product: tree limbs and clipped weed stalks. The smoke from a forest fire is contaminated, first, by whatever chemicals are used to suppress the flames. Then, as it travels, I think it mixes with other pollutants like those from vehicle exhaust and whatever is emitting smoke along the way.

What was causing me problems was that environmental mix that gets trapped by clouds in the night and settles down into the valleys.


Notes on photographs:
1. Back yard with tamarix (Tamarix rubra) and purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera); branch of Dr. Huey rose in foreground. 1 June 2019.

2. Vertical smoke forecast for 1 June 2019 at 4:00 pm. Inset map from bottom of display.

3. Partially burned peach branch (Prunus persica), 3 June 2019. Dead rose wood cuttings have been placed under right end to feed the next firing.

End notes:
1. To find the Air Quality display, go to the National Weather Service forecast website and enter the town. In the right hand column, at the bottom, there's a "National Digital Forecast Database" heading. Click on the map marked "High Temperatures. At the top of the next display there's a tab for "Air Quality." Click on it, then click on the map for New Mexico. At the left, place your cursor over "1 Hr Vertical Smoke Integration." I'm not exactly sure what "vertical smoke" means except it coincides with my breathing problems.

2. National Interagency Fire Center. "North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook" for May, June and July 2019. Issued 10 May 2019.

3. "108 wildfires are burning in 17 states, most in central and southern regions." Mexico News Daily website. 14 May 2019.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cheat Grass


Weather: We got rain on Monday and Tuesday morning, but temperatures stayed above freezing: indeed, they rose slightly in the night when it was raining. But since, morning temperatures have fallen to 32 or below for a short time between 5:15 am and 6:15 am.

The shrubs I transplanted that didn’t like the heat may be happier, but bedding plants aren’t ready for severe cold. So far they’ve all survived, but the wax begonias look a bit shrunken. I’m not sure how the warm soil seeds are doing that I planted last weekend, but the ones that like cold stratification may germinate.

Winds continue to develop in late morning as soon as temperatures begin to rise: the warmer the day, the sooner they form. The soil surface is dry a few hours after I water. I suspect the clouds I’ve seen are Monday’s rain being leached back into the atmosphere.

Last useful rain: 5/21. Week’s low: 30 degrees F. Week’s high: 82 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, Austrian Copper, Persian yellow, wild pink, and hybrid roses, spirea peaked, yellow potentilla, pyracantha, snowball, silver lace vine, broad leaf yucca, Dutch iris, peonies, blue flax, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, purple salvia

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, sand willow, narrow leaf yucca, white tufted evening primrose, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, fern leaf globe mallow, fleabane, plains paper flowers, strap leaf aster, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; June, needle, feather, rice, three awn, brome, and cheat grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Wood and rugosa roses, cliff rose, beauty bush, skunk bush, chives, baptisia, Bath pinks, vinca, coral bells, pink evening primrose; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum

What’s reviving/coming up: Datura, toothed spurge, goat’s heads

Tasks: Several men cut their hay. Onions are up in one market garden field.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, cabbage and monarch butterflies, heard crickets, harvester and small ants, earthworms


Weekly update: Grasses are flourishing this year: with the increased rain the stems have gotten taller and seed heads fuller. That’s all well and good on the prairie where the needle grass shimmers in the sun, but the Gramineae are less welcome in the garden.

Smooth brome grass has been a bane ever since some seeds blew in from some farmer’s hay field. Bromus inermis roots are tied to runners an inch or more below ground, that break when the tops are jerked too strongly. I’ve been using a spade to get under them.

It’s cheat grass cousin isn’t as hard to remove: Bromus tectorum roots are shallow stars that usually can be removed by inserting a chisel under them. The problem is the seeds drop and replant themselves in the disturbed soil even as I’m removing them.

Last summer I tried again to level the main flower bed by adding soil from elsewhere. Naturally, it had been broken up before I used it, so was fine grained. If it didn’t come with seeds, it collected them from the wind.

Cheat grass invaded every place I put down soil. It didn’t just settle in the open spaces between the daylilies I’d planted, but it cousined up to them, and rose between the leaves of the Hemerocallis. Sometimes all I can do is break off the stems and leave the roots, which is OK since it is an annual.

Brome grass is a perennial, and its seeds too were stopped by the daylily leaves. One can’t dig them out without disturbing the perennial. Sometimes the chisel will get between them and the desirable plant and remove some of the root. The runners, however, sometimes go under the existing plants to come up on the other side.

I have no hopes of removing the main brome grass patch that developed on the edge of the drive. All I can do is cut the flowering stems, and chop it down like the local farmers when it gets too high. If I managed to dig it out, I would disturb the soil so much cheat and other grasses would come back with vengeance.


Notes on photographs: Taken 23 May 2019.
1. Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum).
2. Needle grass (Stipa comata).
3. June grass (Koeleria cristata).