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.

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