Monday, August 29, 2016

Rain’s Slow Drips

Weather: Some solid hard rain Saturday.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, bouncing Bess, David and purple garden phlox, sweet peas, datura, Sensation cosmos, zinnia; pyracantha berries bright orange; apples falling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Scarlet bee blossom, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod, native sunflower, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisies.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, hostas, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, ants, grasshoppers.

Weekly update: Atmospheric moisture has fallen into a self-defeating cycle. Clouds appeared most days around noon, often with great rumbles of thunder. No rain fell, but the clouds kept air temperatures from rising. The lower temperatures subdues conflicts between warm and cold air, which delayed the formation of storms. They’ve been coming, when they’ve come, after dark.

Then, as more disturbances formed off the coast of México this weekend, we got several hard rains.

Wet mornings have perpetuated the cycle of weeds and ants taking advantage of my unwillingness to go out. White sweet clover seedlings are suddenly 2' high, though they aren’t blooming. Goat’s heads appeared every day, and they were blooming.

It’s taken a while for the water and cool temperatures to effect other plants. Perennials like bouncing Bess and sweet peas that had gone dormant in the heat are back in bloom. There are fewer returning roses, probably because they were able to open most of their buds in the long cool spring.

Even with the water, the leaves on catalpa trees continue to fade. If that’s a consequence of the soil drying at the base of their roots where they absorbed dissolved iron, then it means the water hasn’t seeped that far down yet.

It’s taken a while for monsoon flowers to open along the roadsides. Today was the first day I’ve seen áñil del muerto and Tahoka daisies. Native sunflowers are still scarce, but the daturas are finally blooming. Their morning glory cousins are not.

The Russian thistles, ragweeds, and pigweeds are blooming in places, but aren’t yet plentiful. The broom snakeweed has taken advantage of their retarded growth to colonize more parts of my yard that have been resculpted by drought.

Photographs: The blogging software is erratic today. Will try tomorrow to post pictures.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Two Sides of Clouds


Weather: Rain after dark most night.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, David and purple garden phlox, zinnia.

Beyond the walls and fences: Scarlet bee blossom, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, hostas, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, cutleaf coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: I tend to hibernate in summer, and nature exploits my lassitude. For years, I thought the reason was the heat, since my body has a low tolerance for high temperatures. That was a useful explanation when I was working, and could only work outside when I got home.

When I retired, I thought, now I can spend as much time as I like outside in the early morning hours before the sun becomes too high. The problem with that vision was that it was formed when I was younger. I’ve discovered I now can work outside for several hours, and then nurse sore muscles for several days, or I can limit myself to an hour and go out every day.

With new resolve, I set the timer and went out each day. Then, a couple years ago I cut my hand in July, and couldn’t do anything. Last summer, as I was cleaning some of the messes that developed, I vowed to find a way to work in the winter and not let the elms get away from me again.


All went well this year until it started to rain the end of July. I discovered it’s impossible to cut plant stems when they’re wet. If I waited until things dried a little, the sun was beating down. Since the Los Conchos fire, the rains have been carrying something from the canyons into the valley. When I go out in the morning, my nose shuts down. I begin breathing through my mouth, which diverts the toxins from the lungs into my stomach, which starts to complain.

So, just as I needed to be out, I’m finding new excuses to stay in. As I mentioned in last week’s post, this is the time when the ants multiply. So far, there hasn’t been a new crop of Russian thistles or pigweed, but the goat’s heads are back, and the weeds I hadn’t yet pulled jumped in size. I’ll have horseweed and white sweet clover and wild lettuce again next year.


It becomes a matter of setting priorities. I decided it was more important to spray and crop the elms, locusts and Russian olives that keep coming back than it was to cut the nuisance weeds. I thought it more important to cut back and weed the ditches that carry water from the house than it was to prune dead wood from the Russian sage and caryopteris. I just look at the powdery mildew on the neighboring lilac and think, maybe I’ll remember to spray it next year.

When it starts raining, I stop running water even though I have no idea how much actually lands in the night. I wondered if some trees that had yellowing leaves were getting too much water. Then, I checked the one on the back porch. Its soil was dry.


So I ran a sprinkler on those plants that aren’t getting enough, but don’t water others areas. I hope they like alkalinity. When I looked at a pool of water this morning by the house, it had that telltale white scum that water company I hired can’t explain.

Life is a paradox. All summer I fretted about lack of water, and now that the monsoons have arrived I complain.


Photographs: All pictures taken the morning of 22 August 2016.

1. Russian sage. Last winter when I lined the eroding path with bricks, I cut the stems that lay outside. I cut them again a month ago. Some are back.

2. Caryopteris. I haven’t trimmed the dead wood on this or other shrubs in more than three years. The last time was before I cut my hand.

3. Ditch that takes water away from the house. I’ve cleaned it twice this year, and started again this week.

4. Wild lettuce buds towering above the garlic chives.


5. Yellow leaves on the weeping cherry where the hummingbirds nested. They left last weekend, but I had gotten out of the habit of watering it every day.

6. Water just out of my hose. I assume what looks like soap scum is something alkaline. Every year after there’s been a lot of rain, my well pulls this up from the aquifer.

7. Powdery mildew on lilac leaves nibbled by grasshoppers.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ants


Weather: We’ve gotten some rain this week, but have had more winds, thunder and lightening that led to nothing; last rain 8/13.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, David and purple garden phlox, zinnia, Sensation cosmos. Apples began showing color.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod. Quack grass was up everywhere; goat’s heads and Russian thistles were beginning to emerge.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, perennial four o’clock, hollyhocks, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple and cutleaf coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants. Grasshoppers continued to denude apple trees and more tent nests appeared in trees of all types in the village. Crickets have been loud at night.


Weekly update: I have a problem with ants. During the summer I have up to six hills of large black ones who deliberately bite. I also see them stealing the grass seeds needed to maintain a prairie ecosystem already struggling with drought and high heat. In addition I have more than a hundred hills in my driveway gravel inhabited by smaller ants who leave me alone, but who turn my hoses, block paths, and brick borders into highways.

Generally, I’ve ignored the one to try to eliminate the other. The first time I was bitten, the swelling and itch didn’t go away for several days. It’s not the kind of problem you can take to urgent care, so I tried the various itch and bite ointments in the house. None worked. For some other reason, I took an aspirin, and the pain disappeared within half an hour. I happen to have a very low tolerance for aspirin, and keep it only for serious emergencies. Ant bites should not be that emergency that may trigger serious stomach problems.


The answer isn’t buying the magic potion, which probably does not exist, but eliminating the underlying problem. Controlling the ants.

I’ve tried whatever was available in the local stores. A few years ago some powders containing permethrin stopped their activity for about three weeks. That product no longer is available, and the replacements don’t even shut down hills for a couple days. Often when I’m in the store someone in the line will ask if what I’m buying works. I tell them no, it’s only temporary. They say they haven’t found anything either.

Efficacy seems a simple enough requirement for a commercial product controlled by the EPA, especially when the poisons pose potential dangers to me and the environment. But no, all that’s offered is risk and cost.


In frustration, I went on-line. Bayer told me there were many types of ants, and each behaved differently. It said, if I wanted to control my insects, I first needed to identify them. I paged through their pamphlet and found the little ones were pavement ants. The larger ones were not included.

I finally learned the big ones were harvester ants. They come in several colors and species, and seem to be primarily limited to the southwest. Too regional to interest a big international corporation like Bayer, whose financial experts are dedicated to maximizing their resources.

Armed with that information I looked more carefully at the available pesticides. They target fire ants, carpenter ants, Argentinian ants. Not the common pavement ants and not the vicious harvester ants. Even though they can denude grazing lands, they are not a serious enough economic hazard to justify the costs of research to develop new pesticides.

Deterrence isn’t the same thing as eradication. For that, the experts say I need to destroy the queen.

Does that mean I have more than a hundred queens in my drive, and that I have to take serious action against each one? Or, are the hills like crack motels, with several outlets for a single source?

I wanted a simple answer to that questions, but all I found on-line were rehashes of what I learned in elementary school, when I first heard about ant farms. You could recite it yourself: there’s a caste system with female workers who farm aphids. The writers never specify which type of ant they’re talking about. Apparently the farms are Texas red harvester ants.


I didn’t want to burrow through scientific articles, in a new field, but had little choice. I did finally learn from Noa Pinter-Wollman’s team that black harvester ant colonies in California can have up to six unique sites, and moved eight times in six months. Which one houses the queen?

I also learned the generic fertile ants fly from their nests to set up new colonies. Somehow that piece of information makes eradication an impossibility, since my neighbors have either given up controlling them or never tried.

I settled again on shutting down hills temporarily. When I started in the spring, the pavement ants had recognizable low mounds made of red sand. Within days, new holes appeared a few inches away. They apparently moved their entrance just beyond the treated area. The second hills were often less conspicuous. By the third treatment, they were often nothing more than holes in rocks, sometimes camouflaged by whatever weed was growing nearby.


The harvester ants began with the characteristic large crater of coarse gravel. Since then, they have settled for holes in the gravel, often two or three in one area.

Since hills disappear in winter, I assumed their life cycle was like plants. Nothing in those generic descriptions connects the life cycle to the calendar. I was forced to observe something that only interested me for negative reasons.

The pavement ants were back in mid-March this year, and the first harvester hill appeared in mid-May. Then they seemed to multiply in summer. I saw a bunch of new red sand-topped hills August 4, the day after our heaviest rain. A red harvester ant hill appeared August 6.

When I reread some of the Wikipedia articles I discovered those first hills were last year’s colonies, and the mid-summer ones are from new queens who don’t emerge until the summer rains. They’re more like biennials than annuals.

There’s no point in treating anything right now. Rain washes away or congeals powders, just as the ants are multiplying. But soon, I’ll go out again, with whatever I can buy, and renew the Sisyphean task unaided by any of the experts who are paid to help. Their corporate employers are secure in the knowledge their monopolies give me no choice but to buy their marginally useful products, or get bitten.


Notes:
Pinter-Wollman, Noa, Deborah M. Gordon, and Susan Holmes. "Nest Site and Weather Affect the Personality of Harvester Ant Colonies," Behavioral Ecology 23:1022-1029:2012.

Wikipedia entries on "Ant" and "Harvester Ant."

Photographs:
1. Mönch asters with sun through their petals after yesterday’s brief rain, 13 August 2016.

2. Treated ant hills in drive area with few hills, 31 July 2016.

3. Black harvester ant and its hole in the gravel, 6 August 2016.

4. Ant powder congealed in the rain; pavement ants crawl over it unharmed, 26 July 2016. This is the product being sold this year.

5. Red ant hill opened after the rains began, 6 August 2016.

6. Pavement ant hole hidden by stones, sticks and Siberian pea pods, 26 July 2016.

7. Raised ant hill in area of #1 after the rains began, 6 August 2016; they look like pavement ants despite the different architecture of the hills.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Rain Water and Cool Temperatures


Weather: Rain every day for the last five days; water has seeped down more than the six inches my water meter can measure.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia, Sensation cosmos.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, velvet weed, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, leadplant, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, calamintha, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple and cutleaf coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Baby rabbits, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, butterflies, small bees on garlic chives, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: All week we had rain in the late afternoon or after dark. The sun was slow to break through each day, and temperatures remained in the 80s. The water was allowed to seep in.

The first things to exploit the weather were ants. With water forecast every day, it was useless to try to dust their areas. They multiplied.

The rains probably washed away the residual pesticide on the wild grasses and alfalfa. Grasshoppers were noticeably worse by mid-week. Not only were leaves disappearing from hollyhocks, but seed capsules were gone from the Rumanian sage and attacked on the baptisia.


Surprisingly, the first seeds to respond to the moisture have not been pigweed or Russian thistle, at least not yet in my yard. When I heard rain was forecast last Sunday, I planted the leftover morning glory seeds. Few had germinated in June, and they had stopped growing the first of July. They had only grown an inch in the past week, but this morning the new seeds were emerging in masses.


Every year, I get lured into some new experiment. This year it was melon seeds. The cantaloup and honey dew came up in a week. Their second leaves appeared, then nothing more. Like the morning glories, their development was arrested. Just before the rains started, I noticed the small plants were putting out their first flowers.

The watermelons were less successful. They got less water, and only six emerged. They never put out their second leaves. Three died in mid-July and the others were shrinking two weeks later. The first rain fell July 31, and the next day afternoon temperatures rose no higher than 86. The next rain was in the wee hours of August 3. When I went out in the afternoon, I found those seedlings not only had revived, but had resumed growth.


Today I discovered whole groups of dormant seeds had germinated.


Elderberries were my other experiment this year. The bare roots I planted last year were eaten immediately. This year, I opted for potted plants. I hadn’t bargained on the only ones in the market in mid-May being large, and therefore expensive. I kept them in their pots for two weeks until I found some tree protectors. I finally planted them when rain was forecast.

They did fine for two weeks. Then I saw a large mound between two. The leaves on one were brown the next week; the leaves were dead on the other a few days later. I replaced hoses that had been damaged by the ground squirrel, and ran more water. No response. Then, either the rain or the cooler temperatures prevailed. This morning there was new growth at the base of one,


and new leaves opening on the other. Of course, the grasshoppers were eating what they could.


Many other plants had browned out in July. The poppies always die back, and sometimes the golden spur columbine do. This year, the daylily leaves were turning yellow and the hostas were bleaching out. Last week when I photographed the fleabane I noticed all the ring muhly had died.


This is a native and the only grass that grows on the sloping hill. When it disappears, the winterfat and Russian thistles take over. This morning I discovered it too had recovered.


Photographs:
1. Self-seeded garlic chives, 3 August 2016. This morning they were covered with bees.

2. Hollyhock leaves eaten by grasshoppers, 3 August, 2016.

3. Baptisia seed pods, 3 August 2016. Last year the flowers were eaten before seeds could develop.

4. Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds, 7 August 2016. They were planted 7 July 2016 when rain was forecast, but hadn’t yet materialized.

5. Watermelon seedlings, planted in June, finally out their second leaves after a few days rain; 3 August 2016.

6. More watermelon seeds germinated after more rain, 7 August 2016.

7. American elderberry leaves coming up from the base, 7 August 2016. All signs of life disappeared in mid-July.

8. Red elderberry leaves coming back, 7 August 2016. They had turned brown in mid-July; the older leaves are being eaten by grasshoppers.

9. Ring muhly grass, 25 July 2016.

10. Ring muhly grass today, 7 July 2016, after five days of rain.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Roadside Survival


Weather: I keep track of the high and low temperatures in the shaded part of my porch. I never consider my notes accurate in the scientific sense. However, since they are read from the same thermometer in the same location, I consider them relatively valid - that is, valid within themselves, if not calibrated to NOAA.

I just compared the first 30 days of this July to last. The average temperature this year was 91.3. Last year it was 84.4. Nearly 6 degrees warmer this year. If I excluded the first two days of the month, which were cooler this year, the difference was 7.7 degrees.

This year we had something that could be called rain on five days. The most recent was July 23. Last year, we had it nine times: four were real rain, and five were scatters like this year. The number of named storms in the Pacific off the coast of México was the same - seven - but their tracks have been different. Last year some came north. This year they’ve all gone west or west-north-west.

There were signs of change this week in what the weather bureau today described as an "unbelievably persistent high pressure system over the sw U.S." A couple times enough moisture made its way north so clouds formed behind the Jémez. They produced no rain, but prevented temperatures from continuing to rise. Eventually, the temperature has to drop as the Earth moves through its summer orbit.

The trees that are suffering the most are the ones where the original owners have died or moved, and their homes are now rented by their children or on the market. No irrigation is being done. A tall evergreen at a different house showed brown boughs this week, while the aspens at another have dropped many of their leaves.


What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia. Leaves on the smaller catalpas were bleaching out because there wasn’t enough water to dissolve the iron needed by their roots.

Produce stands opened along Riverside for the first time in several years. One place down the road was picking apricots. The orchard is perhaps 8' below the grade of the road. I assume the high bank trapped heat and protected the blossoms when temperatures killed those on most trees this past spring. The man who didn’t plant seeds until June 3 has squash that’s blooming and corn that’s tasseling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod. Little has come back since the mowing crews went through a couple weeks ago.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine even though leaves are turning brown, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, Sensation cosmos, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.


Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds, goldfinches and other small birds, red and brown snake, geckoes, sulphur, cabbage and other butterflies, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers. Ground squirrel bit into two more hoses I can’t replace.

Grasshoppers continue to ravage. I saw the beginnings of color on some apples, and saw some more trees that were completely denuded. I can’t believe it’s good for those trees to be ripening fruit with no leaves to do photosynthesis.

The tent forming insects appeared this week. I had a nest for the first time last year that was so high in my cottonwood I couldn’t get to. I tried spraying it with a hose, but it was beyond the water’s reach. What water got there caused it to collapse on itself, but not to fall.

This week one appeared low in the tree, and I cut it down. It was about a foot long and attached to three different branches. I’ve since seen them in apple trees on three different roads. Two were in yards or orchards where people take care of their plants. Those also happened to be roads where the insects don’t normally nest.


Weekly update: Roadside plants might better be called feral than wild to distinguish them from the wildflowers that grow in areas controlled by nature. The feral include natives and naturalized exotics that live on water channeled by man’s engineering.

Paved roads send rain water to their edges, where golden hairy asters and leather leaf globemallows grow a few inches from the drop points. Those perennials regrow after the mowing crews take down their taller competition. This year, only a few are blooming.

After the mowing crews and after the first monsoon rains, the ragweed, Russian thistles and pigweeds germinate in spaces not already reserved by the asters. So far this year, no rain, and few future tumbleweeds.


In my yard the yellow asters have established themselves on the downside of my gravel drive. The Mexican hats control the upside. Each has slightly different water requirements.

My drive follows a downhill slope. The asters are at the low end that gets the most water. Winterfats established themselves along the upper edges of the gravel. When the man used his backhoe to remove them while he was rebuilding my drive a few years ago, they came back along the block walk I installed about 10 feet down slope from the drive. Fewer of them survive along the state roads. I’m not sure if its because they can’t regenerate as easily from constant mowing, or their water requirements aren’t met.


Four-winged salt bushes only grow along the fence of one place that must put out just enough water to support them. Near my house they grow in the low washouts that are perpendicular to the road. In my yard, they grow over the septic tank, which traps water at a level they can use. Since I planted some trees along the rebuilt drive, they’ve come up on the far side that gets some, but not much water through underground seepage.


Irrigation ditches tend to be kept clear in the growing season, so not much grows in them besides sweet peas and goldenrod. This past month the utility company tree-cutting crews have been hacking down the Siberian elms and trees of heaven that sprang up along their banks.

Irrigation water dumps seeds of all kinds, both in the ditches and in the fields and yards. Fleabane has been particularly common this year.

I’m uphill from the local acequia and don’t have access to its waters. However, I have one small patch of fleabane that comes up some years. It appears at the boundary between the taller and the shorter grasses growing in water that seeps from the drive and from the bed I water next to it. This year it started to flower last Monday. That was two days after the last of those sprinklings.


Notes: NOAA. National Weather Service Forecast for Albuquerque, issued 31 July 2016 at 3:46 am.

Photographs:
1. Flea bane, 25 July 2016.

2. Same flea bane from a distance, growing with needle grass.

3. Golden hairy asters, 31 July 2016.

4. Insect tent in the cottonwood, 26 July 2016.

5. Gravel drive at the base of the slope with Mexican hats on the uphill side (left) and golden hairy asters on the other (right), 31 July 2016. White patches are attempt to kill ants.

6. Winterfat growing on the unwatered (right) side of the block path. Sandcherries are watered to the left. 31 July 2016.

7. Watered bed is in front right corner. June grass grows on the other side of the brick delimiter. It has the tall brown stalks. Behind it to the left is the gray four-winged saltbush. Behind it is the chartreuse broom snakeweed, and beyond it the lighter gray winterfat. They almost always appear in that order from a water source. 31 July 2016.

8. Fleabane’s white flowers mark the boundary between the tall needle grass to the upper right and the shorter grasses to the lower left. Winterfat is trying to invade, and if it succeeds will kill all the grasses by overshadowing them and stopping them from getting water. It’s all that can survive dry summers like this, and invasive as it is, it’s better than Russian thistles. 25 July 2016.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Heat Barrens


Weather: Some rain fell last night and a little fell earlier in the week. Yesterday the bare ground near the chollas crumbled when I walked on it. Today, when I watered, the water didn’t sink in. I can’t believe we had that much rain last night. There must be a dry layer below the surface that is slowing absorption, even in areas that get watered every other day.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia.

Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, brome grass.

In my yard: Garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, butterflies, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: We’ve now had nearly three weeks of afternoon temperatures in the 90s. Before the solstice, humidity levels in Santa Fé fell below 5%, and morning temperatures fell to the low 60s. Since the Fourth the humidity has stayed above 10%. Morning lows this past week were in the mid-60s.

Molasses may run better when it’s warm, but I slow down. It’s harder to sleep. I wake wondering how soon I can take a nap. Only, I can’t because I have to run water. I can’t both sleep in the few cool hours of the day, and water plants in them. It’s too hot even then to do any more useful work. Whatever is trapped in the air makes my eyelids itch and me sneeze. I get the nap, but it begins just as the air is warming. I stumble from fatigue. Everything’s a typo.

I become a slave to my hobby. I have a friend in Santa Fé who says he waters half the yard every day with a hose every morning and can’t keep up. He’s given up on doing anything more than keeping things alive for next year.

The weeds of summer take advantage. Wild lettuce, horse weed and white sweet clover produce seeds to perpetuate themselves.


Other plants continue to retreat. Purple garden phlox that came into bloom last week at one house down the road was going out of bloom this week. It normally produces flowers all summer. Likewise, bouncing Bess, which normally produces pale florets all summer, was closing production.

This year I started noticing apples on trees at the end of June at places where they’re left to their own devices. Around July 5 I saw fruit in the well-tended orchards. I thought at the time that that was early, but I told myself we have had so little fruit the past few years I may have forgotten when it becomes visible. Today, I checked my notes. Last year I noted fruit for the first time on this date, July 24. Then it was beginning to show some color.

The reason I read my notes is I saw something strange Thursday: trees covered with apples and few leaves.


I had noticed some of my own shrubs seemed more barren. I already was wondering was it grasshoppers or leaf dropping or were the leaves just smaller? I went out to my crab apples where I suspect I had been breeding the insects. Leaves on two of the trees were damaged or gone. Only empty stems remained.


I checked two of my sandcherries. The fruit on one was still buried in leaves,


but was exposed on the other.


I’m assuming the leaves were eaten, but the deformation of some suggests other insects had attacked. On the roses of Sharon, which are one of the last shrubs to leaf, I suspect I see so much of the infrastructure because the leaves stopped developing.


Photographs:
1. Wild lettuce, Lactuca sativa, in the afternoon, after the flowers are gone, 24 July 2016.

2. Horseweed, Conyza candensis, in the afternoon, after the flowers are gone, 24 July 2016.

3. White sweet clover, Melilotus alba, along the fence, 24 July 2016.

4. Apples on tree with few leaves, Santa Cruz, 21 July 2016.

5. Crab apple with bare stems and nibbled leaves, 22 July 2016. White flowers are Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carpta.

6. Sandcherry, Prunus besseyi, with leaves shielding fruit, 22 July 2016.

7. Sandcherry with exposed fruit, nibbled or deformed leaves, 22 July 2016.

8. Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, stems visible through the leaves, 22 July 2016.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Naturalization


Weather: Last rain 7/2; temperatures have been over 90 almost every day since 7/5. Humidity levels have often fallen between 5 and 10% in Santa Fé.

Plants are retreating. Oriental poppy leaves always turn brown in summer, but this past week daylily and golden spur columbine leaves have been turning yellow. Flowers on many shrubs toward the village are small and the leaves seem sparse, although they may also only be smaller than usual.

What’s blooming in the area: Desert willow, hybrid roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, sweet peas, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, daylilies, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, bouncing Bess, zinnia. Some corn has tassels and some is still germinating irregularly.

Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, brome grass.

In my yard: Betty Prior rose, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, Saint John’s wort, annual blue salvia, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, nicotiana, moss roses, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Two rabbits, small birds, geckoes, butterflies, hummingbird moths, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers. The hummingbird has returned to the nest and laid two eggs.


Weekly update: You see the pictures in catalogs and home beautification publications - drifts of daffodils, fields of wildflowers. Then, if you’re the practical sort, you get out your calculator. If there’s a hundred daffodils in one patch, those bulbs cost $50. If there’s 50 perennials that’s more like $500. Then someone had be paid to dig a hundred holes, and no one ever places things randomly enough to resemble nature.

You wonder, however did it happen.


One landscape designer told a story some years ago about a wealthy client who saw those daffodils and told her he wanted that effect when he returned to his estate the coming weekend. When she tried to explain that it would take at least a year, he repeated "next weekend."

If there’s enough money, anything can happen.

I can’t find the article now, but I think she called all the shops in the country who suppled ready-to-bloom plants, and created his mass. I’m not ever sure now if she actually transplanted them, or just buried the pots like they do for flower-show displays. After all, he may have sold the place and moved into something grander, before the next spring would have exposed the slight-of-hand.


For those with less money, the only alternative is seeds. Unfortunately, the current suppliers only produce viable seed for varieties grown for florists and bedding plant growers. You can plant all the seed you like, but very little germinates, and it’s never in masses.

The other choice is patience. Some plants naturalize. Daylilies, tansy and Saint John’s wort send out underground roots. Sidalcea, hollyhocks, and winecup mallows all produce seeds that can out-shoulder any weed.


This summer, maybe because of the long cool spring, more varieties than usual have multiplied in my yard. The Mexican hats fill a grassy area where only a few daylilies and some trees were planted. Of course, trees need water, and where there’s water there are seeds. The prairie composites were planted across the drive, and made the move themselves. I’ve been trying to get the black-eyed Susans to follow, because they have the same habit of turning dreary by the late summer. However, this year few have come up anywhere.

The only downside to a field of flowers is bees. Despite all those warm, fuzzy extrapolations of nature as some great harmonic Gaia, those masses resulted from individual species serving their own selfish needs. The bees created that meadow effect so they would have a place to eat. Forget the commercials. It is not some place you run through in late morning.


Butterflies must have hatched somewhere this past week. Friday there were a dozen sulphurs around the golden hairy asters. Those are roadside plants whose seed blow into my yard, and the ones near the drive germinate. They yellow butterflies were joined by a few white cabbage butterflies, an occasional swallowtail, and more of those small things that were on the white sweet clover last week.

Yesterday I saw the first hummingbird or hawk moth. It was on the soapwort. This morning it was on the golden spur columbine. I only planted a couple of those yellow-flowered plants, but the moths and hummingbirds have created a mass of greedy tap-roots that invade everything I plant, because, if I plant it, it gets water.


Photographs:
1. Sidalcea malvaeflora ‘Party Girl." I planted some several times. The four in 2006 are the ones that naturalized.

2. Ladybells, Adenophora latifolia. I planted them at least twice, before the two in 2000 colonized. The hose is outside the bed so the ground squirrel won’t get it.

3. Goldenspur columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha. I planted four in 1997.

4. Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare crispum. I made the mistake of planting one of these in 1996. It spread everywhere, but never bloomed. I pulled them out, and put a few in an area where nothing else would grow.

5. Daylily, Hemerocallis. I bought tubers several times, before the ones in 2008 started to reproduce. The flowers are sterile, so they only expand underground. Mexican hats in front.

6. Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera. I planted four of the yellow species in 1996, and four of the red in 1997 with two more 1998. The coral beardtongue in front also planted itself.

7. Golden hairy aster, Chrysopsis villosa. I don’t plant these.