Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Stuff Starting to Bloom

We've had some warm weather the past several days and the result has been a number of plants deciding to bloom now. This seems really early to me, but maybe it's normal. So first we have Del Mar Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia). This is a rare manzanita that occurs only near the coast in eroded sandstone soils between the Torrey Pines area and Carlsbad.

Next is Eriophyllum millefolium or Common Yarrow. The nursery had it labeled as ssp. lanulosum, but Calflora and JM2 do not seem to recognize any subspecies. I planted this one about a year ago, and it has turned out to be a nicely spreading ground cover with lacy, ferny foliage. I have it in part sun/part shade and it seems quite happy there. It appears fairly drought tolerant but definitely looks better with regular watering. It mixes well with Blue-eyed grass and Cinquefoil.

I've had a Cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandii, for many years. It is easy to grow, a very reliable bloomer and super fragrant. It thrives on neglect. The only thing it needs is cutting back every year or two so that it doesn't take over the whole yard.

Another early bloomer is Santa Cruz Island Gooseberry (Ribes thacherianum). It is drought deciduous and goes dormant in summer. With the first rains of fall it leaps back to life and puts out flowers almost immediately. They are small but delicate and beautiful. I also have several other Gooseberries. I mentioned that my R. indecorum is also blooming now. Others that have not bloomed yet are speciosum, malvaceum, sanguineum and viburnifolium.

The next couple of photos are of a completely different Kingdom, the Fungi. I used to view mushrooms in my garden as a sign that something was wrong. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi that are living in the soil, and I thought that any fungus in the soil was bad. More recently I have learned that plants in undisturbed areas and in an established ecological relationship with each other are connected together by a beneficial fungal network in the soil.

The soil fungus and plants have a symbiotic relationship that is called mychorrizal. The minute hyphae (root-like structures) of the fungus are more efficient at infiltrating the soil and taking up water than the roots of green plants. In a mychorrizal relationship, the fungal hyphae connect with the roots of green plants and the fungus shares its water with these plants. In return, the green plants share some of their carbohydrates with the fungus, which the fungus cannot produce on its own because it has no chlorophyll. Studies have shown that over 90% of green plant families are mychorrhizal if conditions are right to allow soil fungi to thrive.

The gardener who wants to maintain an ecologically healthy garden will want to create the right conditions for mychorrizal fungi. What conditions are those? From a gardening perspective, the two things that are most important are to minimize soil toxins, particularly those that are fungicidal, and to minimize soil disturbance. The latter point means don't dig up the soil unnecessarily because doing so can sever the connection between soil fungi and your plants. It doesn't mean that you have to avoid digging entirely. Just don't get out the rototiller and turn over the soil every year, as recommended by some gardening "authorities." Having primarily plants native to your area should also help because the local fungi and local plants should already be acquainted with each other and should link up more readily. I also advocate leaving the leaf litter from your plants on the ground, and leave any mushrooms alone. They are actually a good sign that the mychorrizal network is starting to function.

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