Sunday, May 26, 2013

Perennial Four O’Clocks

Weather: Bluster on Monday, probably the back side trail of the weather that produced Oklahoma’s tornadoes; last rain 4/09/13; 14:56 hours of daylight today.

The transition from iris to roses marks the change from the spring of high winds on cloudy days to the summer of high winds on sunny, hot days with no rain possible now til the monsoons.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper, Persian yellow, Dr. Huey, old pink and hybrid roses, pyracantha, purple locust, snowball, silver lace vine, broad-leaved yuccas, peonies, oriental poppies, Jupiter’s beard, purple salvia, blue flax, yellow yarrow, alfalfa.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, black locust, tamarix, alfilerillo, yellow sweet clover, scurf and bush peas, tumble mustard, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, nits and lice, fern-leaved globemallow, greenleaf five-eyes, tufted white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, blue trumpets, common dandelion, goat’s beard, cream tips, June, needle, rice and cheat grasses. Bush morning glories emerging.

Can smell Russian olives just before sunset.

In my yard, looking east: Small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, Bath pinks, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow. Seedlings emerging for sweet alyssum. Pods forming on Siberian peas.

Looking south: Rugosa roses, beauty bush, oxalis.

Looking west: Chives, Siberian catmint, baptisia, vinca. Buds on Rumanian sage, Shasta daisy.

Looking north: Spirea, golden spur columbine, coreopsis, chocolate flowers.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch clover, white yarrow. Buds on catalpa. Seedlings emerging for Shirley poppies. New leaves developing on number of trees and shrubs.

Bedding plants: French marigolds, nicotiana, wax begonias, periwinkle, sweet alyssum.

Known unknowns: Pink bud peaked, rosemary leaves, native dandelion, fleabane.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunias.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, bumblebee, smaller bees in Apache plume, ladybugs on goat’s beards, hornets, cricket, grasshoppers, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: Perennial four o’clocks are native to the southwest, but not ubiquitous. I’ve only seen them in the wild twice. Once was on the road by the Garden of the Gods south of Santa Fé. There were growing near the boundary fence in dense shade.

The other time was beside a road near Tierra Amarilla, again in the shade.

When one thinks of drought tolerant natives, one does not think of shade or woodland soils. I planted mine on the west side of the garage in 1995.

The Mirabilis multiflora did well enough, emerging every year in late May and beginning to bloom in late June. By 2000, it’s stems spread more than a foot in every direction.

By 2003, it seemed larger than before. In 2006, it was more than 5' across. The variable size didn’t matter. I saw it when I was near the garage, but rarely walked by it.

Then the weather started changing. It only bloomed a week in 2007. It did well the following year, and produced viable seed that blew along the garage then east to land in grass near a block walk. When the seedlings emerged the next year, they were in an area shaded by the black locust part of the day, and by the house for hours. There was no water supply, and with only the spring rains and summer monsoons they didn’t grow much.

The main plant recovered until the drought of 2011, when it simply did not emerge. A seedling appeared a little closer to the drive, but nothing from the parent. The end of June, I supplemented its usual water with the sprinkler. A week or so later, around July 7, leaves emerged.

Late in the summer, I discovered another seedling near a winterfat shrub in the shade of the cottonwood when I was cutting down the winterfat that had invaded the apples. It was growing downhill from the drive on the other side of the fence.

Last year we had a wet winter and spring, before the drought set it. The seedlings near the locust were up the end of April. The plant near the cottonwood broke ground the first of May after the first rains. It even bloomed in July.

One of my projects last summer was building a walk to the apples. When I went by the garage in early summer, I placed the blocks arms length from the drip line where the tulips grew. I thought I skirted everything large, and perhaps I did. However, concrete captures water and by the end of the summer, the skunkbush at the south end grew into my path. To the north, the four o’clock got even larger. 

By July, I had to leave the walk to avoid it. By winter I had no such qualms.

This year has been dry again. The scion near the cottonwood emerged around May 5, but no sign of the main colony. Having learned something in 2011, I ran the sprinkler around it May 14. This week it has begun to break dormancy.

Drought tolerance is a nurseryman’s term that simply means a plant won’t die in the heat of summer. It has no real meaning to nature. This member of the Nyctaginaceae has a large taproot. The current catalog from Plants of the Southwest shows a man holding a forked one several feet long. One might conclude, after several bouts of drought, mine has learned to ignore early signs of rain, to wait until it is enticed to emerge.

More likely, the extended drought has dried the soil down where that root penetrates, and my usual watering with a soaker hose only replenishes the surface where the neighboring perennials live. Running the sprinkler adds a concentrated dose that filters down. Yesterday, I toyed with the path of the hose to send more water its way.

If the root isn’t happy, it always has that other way of perpetuating itself, its seeds. Hummingbird moths already are active.

Notes: Perennial four o’clocks also were discussed in the 10 August 2008 entry.

1. Perennial four o’clock spread over my new path, 3 July 2012.

2. Back view of flower, 4 July 2008.

3. Plant near the Garden of the Gods, 15 October 2011.

4. Plant near Tierra Amarilla, 17 September 2011.

5. Perennial four o’clock, 20 June 2000, before it began to expand.

6. Seedling by a block walk near a black locust, 30 July 2011.

7. Seedling blooming near winterfat in the shade of a cottonwood, 14 September 2012.

8. Plant beginning to invade the new walk, 20 June 2012. The top picture shows it a month later.

9. Debris of plant this spring, after it has been walked on, 19 May 2013.  To give an idea of scale, blocks are 8" x 16". The colony covered five blocks, or more than 4'. It was longer along the garage. Its length was close to 3'.

10. Main plant emerging, 22 May 2013.  White is winterfat debris from a shrub that grows to the southwest.

11. One of its near seedlings yesterday, 25 May 2013. It also didn’t emerge until I ran the sprinkler.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Apple Suckers

Weather: More sun, more winds, last rain 4/09/13; 14:05 hours of daylight today.

People getting irrigation water once a week.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and Persian yellow roses, pyracantha, purple locust, snowball, silver lace vine, iris, broad-leaved yuccas, peonies, oriental poppies, Jupiter’s beard, purple salvia, blue flax.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, Russian olive, black locust, tamarix, alfilerillo, hoary cress, tumble mustard, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, blue gilia, fern-leaved globemallow, greenleaf five-eyes, tufted white evening primrose, scurf pea, common dandelion, goat’s beard, June, needle, rice and cheat grasses. Buds on bush pea. Prostrate knotweed sprouting.

In my yard: Spirea, beauty bush, Baby Blue iris, Dutch clover, oxalis, vinca, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, Bath pinks, golden spur columbine, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow. Buds on chives, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, Shasta daisy. Zinnia seedlings emerging.

Bedding plants: French marigolds, nicotiana, wax begonias, periwinkle, moss roses.

Known unknowns: Pink bud, native dandelion, fleabane.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunias.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, hummingbird moth on Dutch clover, bees crawling in iris and columbine flowers, hornets, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: Drought is one of those events that frays the social contract. When available resources fall below critical levels for survival, individuals no longer accept the consequences of sharing. Perceptions of individual worth become exaggerated.

Apple trees suffer one of man’s most ingenious forms of cooperation. When trees are grafted, vigorous specimen’s are beheaded, and given tops from other trees which produce better fruit. To work, the graft joint must allow water and its minerals to flow up to the scion, and the products of its photosynthesis to return to the roots.

When times are bad, the biochemical signals apparently don’t work. Last summer, when the heat came and the rains did not, my ungrafted raspberry roots sent messages upward, and fruit production stopped. The half-formed berries shriveled, but the roots are back this year.

I’m not sure how those drought survival messages work when they travel between two individuals. Last summer’s trees continued to produce larger than usual crops with decreased water.

The tops were determined to reproduce seeds after the previous year’s frost had destroyed the buds.

This year suckers are appearing at the bases of trees, as roots are determined to ensure they receive the full benefits of photosynthesis they need.


Most of the local trees are classed as semi-dwarfs, and probably are grafted onto Doucin Reinette. This particular variety has been used since the late 1600's because it survives cold winters and wet soils. Unfortunately, it "suckers profusely," even in good years.

My trees never got the water they needed. My water pressure didn’t deliver in the night, but I didn’t realize the problem because I always saw leaves from a distance. When I began to wonder why I never saw flowers, I discovered the roots had replaced the desired tops on half, and threatened the other ones.

Men who are smarter about their trees don’t let this happen. They inspect their trees in winter when they prune. But this year, even they have suckers appearing. The resources of most are limited to the water provided by the ditch association, which in turn is constricted by the fact it is only one of several acequias using the Santa Cruz dam. The state doesn’t approve using groundwater for irrigation when it issues well permits. The city has its own methods, including rates to limit the flow of a critical resource in what is the third consecutive dry summer.

Notes: Ian A. Merwin, "Apple Tree Rootstocks," Cornell Ecogardening Factsheet #21, summer 1999.

1. Apple with suckers in local orchard, 14 May 2013.

2. Flowers on my Rome, 17 April 2013.

3. Overburdened tree in local orchard last summer, 18 August 2012.

4. Volunteer apples blooming in local yard last spring, 14 April 2012.

5. Tree #3 with suckers this week, 19 May 2013.

6. One of my trees, 17 May 2013.

7. After the tree was overburdened last summer (see #8), the man cut it back severely. This year, it has no suckers and all its branches are pointed upward. 10 May 2013.

8. Overburdened tree #7 last summer, 17 August 2013.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Survival Strategies

Weather: Last rain 4/09/13; 14:31 hours of daylight today.

The weather forecast for the past few days for Los Alamos and Santa Fé included a chance for thundershowers. What that meant was dry monsoons. Clouds appeared in the afternoon, along with winds. Temperatures dropped instead of increased. A few sprinkles fell, if anything that lasted less than a minute could be called that.

I took advantage of those predicted cooler afternoons to put out bedding plants and new perennials. Seeds can come later, but I put some in, if they happened to go in the area where I was planting. They have to deal with the winds, but if I wait until the winds die down, I suspect summer temperatures will come and nothing can be transplanted safely. A week ago I was still dodging frosts.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow roses, iris, first oriental poppy.

While some have decent lilacs, most aren’t blooming. Since they like cold weather, I assume either the warm afternoons or the high winds arrested their development.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, alfilerillo, hoary cress, tumble mustard, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, blue gilia, fern-leaved globemallow, greenleaf five-eyes, tufted white evening primrose, scurf pea, common dandelion, June and cheat grasses. Buds on bush pea.

Last year I dug up a something that looked like a wild onion to see if it had a bulb. Brought it home and stuck in the ground. Found it blooming Tuesday.

In my yard: Siberian pea tree, spirea, grape hyacinth, Baby Blue iris, Dutch clover, oxalis, blue flax, vinca, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer. Buds on snowball, beauty bush, Bath pinks, golden spur columbine.

Bedding plants: Marigolds, nicotiana.

Known unknowns: Pink bud, native dandelion, fleabane.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunias.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, geckos, harvester and smaller ants. Hearing hummingbirds fly by.

Weekly update: When people talk about a loss of biodiversity from the increase of greenhouse gases, they forget nature adapts. For everything lost, something new is created.

Apache plumes are native to the southwest. Colorado State University Master Gardeners tell you the semi-evergreen shrubs aren’t "particular about soil types." While they are thinking of your well-conditioned garden dirt, they add Fallugia paradoxa "will perform best in sandy soil or clay loam."

In this area, they don’t grow on the Miocene-based prairies, but on Pleistocene canyon fill. They can be found on the western flood plains of the far arroyo and along the tops of the first tier of banks, where the land is built from layers of sandy loam and pebbles. Yesterday, the ones in the arroyo had leaves that were still bright, but beginning to darken.

The ones on the shrub on the bank downhill from the road cut hadn’t shed last year’s brown yet.

The ones growing on a cultivated, purchased shrub in my yard were dark green.

The difference is water. The shrub on the bank may have been part of a copse that was divided when the road was cut. There’s a plant on the opposite bank that’s a bit greener, because it’s on the wetter, upland side of the road.

The downhill shrub is retreating from the eroding bank. Each year, it puts out new plants, and more of the existing plant dies. The corpses line the bank. I don’t know if the young are suckers or seedlings, but I know I don’t see them around Apache plumes in the arroyo. You will, however, find a copse developing around a shrub on the opposite bank of the arroyo on the downhill side of the road cut.

A different type of migration is practiced by plants whose seeds can spread farther. Yesterday, as I continued walking along the rim of the lower bank, I noticed the only tawny cryptanthas blooming were some that had settled in the gravels of a gully from the bank down to the arroyo. Their normal hill side is dry and barren.


In the next gully, I found blue gilia blooming with them. The normally bloom on the bank opposite the cryptanthas in another gully leading to the arroyo.

In the third gully I found some fleabane. This peripatetic flower usually appears in people’s irrigated fields. Here only the flowering stems were green. The rest had browned.

They were all that was blooming on the prairie, and all had come up in gravelly land that holds more water than sandy loam. When I moved inland toward their usual home, I found some sweet sand verbenas. They normally grow on a rise, but this year nothing is there but dead grass. These came up in the path downhill where there was a bit more water in winter. But with the dry spring, they’d abandoned blooming and were turning brown.

If you lived on one of the hills where these plants normally bloom, your spring would have been one of drought-induced depravation like those feared by people concerned with climate change. If you happen to reside in one of the gravel wastelands, this bad year has been the floristic boon expected by the deniers.

Notes: Colorado State University. CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener. "Apache Plume," 2010.

Photographs: All taken yesterday, 11 May 2013.

1. Blue gilia growing in gully.

2. Apache plume in my yard.

3. Apache plume leaves on shrub in far arroyo.

4. Apache plume leaves on shrub on arroyo bank.

5. Apache plume leaves on purchased shrub in my yard,

6. Apache plume copse divided by road cut; wet, uphill side in foreground.

7. Young Apache plume on arroyo band.

8. Tawny cryptantha growing in gully; most of the flowers have bloomed and left their remains.

9. Blue gilia growing in gully.

10. Fleabane growing in gully, with brown stems.

11. Sweet sand verbena growing on bank in place where it did not get enough water.

12. Apache plume growing on the bank on the other side of the arroyo on the downhill side of the road cut.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Upper Road

Weather: High winds and very warm afternoons; last rain 4/09/13; 13:47 hours of daylight today.

We’ve had the apricot frost, the apple frost, and this week the one that threatened the grapes, catalpas, black locusts, and roses of Sharon.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper rose, lilacs, iris. Catalpas, grapes leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, hoary cress, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, greenleaf five-eyes, common dandelion, cheat grass.

In my yard: Siberian pea tree, spirea, tulips, grape hyacinth, Baby Blue iris, Dutch clover, oxalis, vinca, small-leaf soapwort. Buds on snowball. Chocolate flowers emerging. Black locust leafing.

Known unknowns: Pink bud, native dandelion.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, gecko, ladybugs on peach, gray butterfly on Dutch clover, harvester and smaller ants.

Keep seeing or scaring up grasshoppers. Not a lot, but they are around.

Weekly update: People say time stands still in New Mexico. Where I live, the surface rocks were laid down during the Miocene, 12 to 15 million years ago, from pieces eroding from the Sangre de Cristo near Picuris. Grasses were evolving, and still dominate.

Of course, some things happened since then. The rift valley already had formed, but the Rio Grande didn’t become a flowing river until 3 or 4 million years ago. The Jémez caldera formed a million years ago. Man arrived.

Clovis is now estimated to have existed 13,500 to 13,000 years ago. Ranchers staked land in the late nineteenth century. I don’t know when they built the road that goes by my house, but someone maintains it, probably with a blade.

The land slopes toward the river. It drops eight feet from the top of the eastern hill to the road. The road is a flattened area that disrupts the flow of water to the down hill side. Just beyond where the road passes my house, the blade pushed dirt to the sides, creating berms that amplified its impact.

The land up hill is undisturbed. The land toward the river is steppe land dominated by winterfat.

I don’t know what dictated the location of the road, if it marked property lines or followed some natural contour it destroyed by its levelness. The land downhill has a gentler slope than the land to the east. The western side of the road is also flatter, while the uphill side has a shallow valley that separates a ridge-like hill from the main slope.

Directly across from the valley a line of cholla cactus grow. Like the grasses, they haven’t recovered from the dry summer of 2011.

The vegetation changes at that line of cholla. There’s little winterfat. If the ground is wet, four-winged salt bushes grow. If the land is dry, there may be a prickly pear.

It’s easy to blame the road. With the ridge, the road begins to cut though the slope on the uphill side, diverting water down the road, rather than across. But, it isn’t simply a matter of different water patterns. Cactus also can be found uphill.

The land is changing. A bit farther down the road, the land drops severely, and the soils are younger, laid down since the retreat of the glaciers.

Drive anywhere in this part of the state, and one of these plants is visible. Cholla grow on the east side of the road on the flat land before La Bajada Hill outside Santa Fé and on the east side going north of Española through San Juan land.

Prickly pear is harder to see because it lies low. Much of the winterfat probably was destroyed by grazing animals. The water loving chamisa, found here in the arroyo, and salt bushes that hug the water courses are found along the shoulders on the road south to Albuquerque where water collects from the pavement.

The vegetation says there’s more to the soil than sandy loam, for these common plants aren’t as promiscuous as they seem.

Notes: Koning, Daniel J. "Preliminary Geologic Map of the Española Quadrangle, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties, New Mexico," May 2002.

Photographs: Unless noted otherwise, pictures taken 3 May 2013.

1. Four-wing salt bush along the road, grass and cholla cactus in back. San Domingo near La Majada, 17 April 2013.

2. Butterfly on Dutch clover, 4 May 2013.

3. Prairie hill looking toward the far arroyo with the triangular bank formation. The change in color marks the two hills, with the low area between. The diagonal tan line toward the right is the ranch roach. The tan stalks are grass that grew last year among the clumps that didn’t survive the previous summer.

4. Ranch road, looking north with the eastern hill to the right. In this area, grasses grow along the eastern berm and Russian thistles grew in the crown last summer. The Siberian elm hasn’t leafed yet this year.

5. Eastern hill with the berm along the road. Winterfat grows along the berm, but not on the hill. Junipers are widely scattered.

6. Across the road, winterfat dominates beyond the road’s berm. No grasses grow between them.

7. Eastern ridge sloping down to a low valley. The winterfat is limited to the berm.

8. Cholla line on western side of road, marking the change between winterfat in back and grasses in front.

9. Prickly pear and four-winged saltbushes, with scattered Russian thistles blown in. Neither the grasses nor the cactus have revived yet this spring.

10. Prickly pear growing among the grasses on the Cholla ridge on the east side of the road. Here the grasses are reviving. Stickleafs grew along the berm last summer.

11. End of the Miocene lands. Beyond the end of the bank, the land is Holocene alluvium.

12. Cholla cactus growing on the Juana Lopez land grant before La Bajada hill near Santa Fé, 15 April 2013.

13. Winterfat growing on Santa Clara land in flood plain in front of bad lands, 6 April 2013. Juniper is growing at the base where stones and water collect.