Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Incense Cedar [ Calocedrus decurrens ]

 A Landscape Tree for Southern California Cities
Not much to say of course about this tree other than it should be very familiar to most folks in Southern California. Although most likely most folks would never consider it a hot interior valley landscaping choice. I just thought I would take some shots of this and some other around my Mum's neighbourhood to illustrate just how successful these trees can be in the landscape. 

This tree is located on the next street over from my Mum's house in El Cajon CA. It is right on Rattlesnake Mountain itself at the very top of that street. It is exactly 74 years old. It has always done rather well and has always been easily maintained. The view here of the tree is facing east towards the street.


This view is looking the Curb Appeal view which faces west. Many years ago back in the 1980s, my friend's mum was worried that the interior of the tree was dying as there were several small dead branches and twigs within it's interior. But this is common even in the mountain forests of So-Cal and the rest of the western  coast where it is native. It simply self-prunes itself.

Even as a kid I always loved the multi-trunk twisted interior of this tree. It gives and interesting view  of what one generally finds in a forested mountain environment where trees grow straight and tall and look almost like the California Redwoods. The difference in shape and form are related to what I wrote about some time back about "Phenotypic Plasticity"  where lifeforms will respond differently to various environmental cues.

This is the view from the above property looking south towards El Cajon from Rattlesnake Mountain. The pyramid shaped small hill with the straw coloured invasive non-native grasses is the same hill I wrote about in my blank canvas landscape challenge to all Eco-Activists to bring back ruined landscapes as well as saving what's been damaged by human idiocy & ignorance.

Note to All Eco-Activists: Why not challenge yourself to restore the Land that was Lost ?

photo: Mine
This photo here is from the street to the east of my Mum's place, actually a couple blocks over. I did stop and knock on their door to ask permission for the shot. But it shows the lushness of both of these trees which show no signs of struggling in this very often hot interior climate. 

This is a length angle view of both these trees along the property line between the two house. They are absolutely beautiful and such trees could actually be incorporated within an already existing woodland landscape which would allow the tree to put it's growth energy into reaching for the sky as opposed to filling out with lower branches. This would give the interior appearance of a Redwood type of forest setting which would be a cool hideaway for a hot interior backyard. I'm still amazed however of how well these trees do at a lower elevations where normally hot dry temperature and climate are a hindrance as opposed to facilitator of forest success. Other natures trees from the same mountains do not do so well in such locations like El Cajon California. They do very well in Hemet and Riverside to the north and these areas are smoggier and hotter. 

Credit: Vladimir Steblina

Incense Cedar Coarsegold , California
Notice the clean giant redwood furrow barked truck which resembles Giant Sequoia ? In a landscape setting you could incorporate low growing Manzanita to mimic the plants in the foreground in this photo. Always be  observant and creative when planning your landscape from things observed in the wild. Keep in mind that any  maintenance you may have to do is merely mimicking what the Natural world does through animals, birds, weather/climate etc.

Google Maps
At least in Southern California, if you want to view Incense Cedar in a beautiful Pristine setting, there is a campground in the San Jacinto mountains north of Idyllwild California off Hwy 243 called Dark Canyon. There are several wonderful Incense Cedar groves there along the North Fork of the San Jacinto River which look like a miniature Redwood Grove. Most of the biggest trees are along the River bottom. although this website, http://www.campsitephotos.com/campground/Dark-Canyon/photos/Dark-Canyon-001  does show what the campground itself looks like. There are a combination of Incense Cedar and Ponderosa Pines in this campground. Such areas are going to become more and more rare if you don't visit them soon. In San Diego Co, the 2003 Cedar Fire destroyed most of the old growth forest rich in Incense Cedar. Still, it is a remarkable survivor in the harsher hotter landscape of the interior valleys below it's range. Mycorrhizal inoculation would be a great insurance, but the trees I've referenced here above were given no such treatments.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Canyon Sparkle" Manzanita (Arctostaphylos insularis)

Thanks Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery
Arctostaphylos insularis 'canyon sparkles'

I love this Manzanita "Canyon Sparkles" I picked up at Las Pilitas Nursery north of Escondido CA almost 7+ years ago. The very first year I planted it in the Fall of 2005, I watered the shrub once a week for two months, then twice a month for two months, then once a month until the following rainy season. It should be also noted however that I also heavily inoculated it with an excellent mix from Mycorrhizal Applications Inc of Grant Pass Oregon. After that first year - 'NOTHING' was done. Other than a nice layer of fresh mulch applied once a year which helps retain any moisture and keep plant roots cool, this plant got no artificial watering after that first year. Well, other than El Cajon California's seasonal rainfall which has been low like the rest of Southern California. One big advantage in training this shrub has been the extremely deep layer of sandy loam soil from a once ancient existing Bajada or Alluvial Fan which is nothing more than a Canyon mouth geological feature. Deep roots most likely now penetrate the deeper into the subsoil layers where moisture is abundant in these alluvial soils. 

I also noticed this year for the first time why this s called "Canyon Sparkles". The newer foliage or leaves are glossy dark green and shiny in the sunlight. This has been the first one I've ever planted, so it was a bit of an experiment. But what a success. I also noticed that when it started to bud out with newer leaf stems and flower bud clusters, there are now countless numbers of winged insects attracted to some scent this shrub is giving off prior to full mature bud development and flower opening. This was the same phenomena I experienced up in Anza with my California Coffeeberry bushes in Springtime. Thus far there have been all manner of differing flies species and many many Ladybugs. Honey Bees and Wasps are also visiting. Weeds have also never been a problem around these shrubs.

Arctostaphylos insularis 'Canyon Sparkles'

This is the view angle from the street and neighbour's driveway. In fact my mum's neighbour actually dislikes this plant and has directed her gardener to chop some of the branches on my mum's side of the iron fence to prevent the foliage from poking through to her side. This is the same folk who got my mum to remove the Laurel Sumac in the backyard because some of the top branch canopy was hanging over the chainlink fence and the guy also insisted the trunk of the Laurel Sumac was going to destroy his concrete wall. My mother was so intimidated that she hired a gardener to take down the Laurel Sumac, but only after I had moved away to Sweden. Whatever! 

Arctostaphylos insularis 'Canyon Sparkles' 
This view is direct from the street and curb view of my mum's driveway. At the very lower right of the photo is some very long and lush growth coming from the ground. I believe some branch has now rooted on the ground and re-sprouted. This is actually very common with many Manzanita   and they may be cut and transplanted elsewhere as a new plant, but I thought this would be damaging to the little tree as the growth is young and rather succulent. Too delicate to chance a move, so maybe next winter if I'm around here again.

This is simply a close up shot of the vigorous foliage growth coming from the ground under the main plant. I'd love to put one on the opposite side of the driveway across from this one, but once again I feel it's a timing issue and feel it's much too late and temps are very hot now. Works for me, but the plant is another story. The water rates are outrageous here and the sewer fees are also ridiculous because they are based on how much water you use, irrespective of if you are watering the landscape as opposed to it all going down the drain. Drive around most El Cajon and Santee Ca neighbourhoods and you'll see countless yards which look like a wreck. This mostly has to do with insane water bills. In the old days everything was lawns with trees in them. Things have changed radically. People is these southern California areas need to plant and work with more So-Cal natives. Of course that takes education and understanding of just how the natives actually work and what their requirements are. Not all are rangy looking as evidenced from above. But you truly do need to understand all the differing requirements and needs of each and every one of them you will choose. Doing so will allow you to develop and design any  specific plant community theme if you choose those with similar needs.  

One of the other things for which I appreciated about this particular plant is that it is considered a central coastal Manzanita and you'd think it would only do well along the coastal areas. Not so as the seven plus years of heat and drought of San Diego County's interior valleys have proved otherwise. Being that it is my first experience with this plant, I have no idea how well it would do at higher colder elevations of Southern California mountain ranges.

"Canyon Sparkles" Manzanita foliage close up shot

'Canyon Sparkles' Manzanita berries 

Pozo Blue Sage
This hybrid Cleveland Sage, 'Pozo Blue' (hybrid between (Salvia clevelandii) & (Salvia leucophylla),  is planted next to the Manzanita. Both have similar requirements and like the Manzanita, this plant does not receive summer watering. Only main care for Cleveland Sage is to cut it back in Winter for full lush growth following year after rainy season. As always, inoculate with Mycorrhizal mix. This not only keeps it further drought tolerant and allows for better nutritional uptake, but it will also make those important interconnections with it's neighbour plantings allowing both to share the chemicals the others manufacture.

photo: Mine
Cleveland Sage bud whorls along flowering stalk  about ready to explode in colour. Hopefully all  manner of insects and Hummingbirds show up. For the moment this plant has been giving off the most wonderful aroma reminiscent of hiking the backcountry of San Diego County. Believe it or  not, I actually use the leaves of this plant for  cooking Pinto Beans. I also use it as an air  freshener for the Automobile. This plant was also  purchased at Las Pilitas Nursery (Escondido) Below here in the final photo is an image of "Canyon Sparkles" Manzanita showing other uses for which you may find it attractive to utilize in. This picture is from Pete Veilleux on January 10, 2010. Clearly there are some creative alternatives in using native plants. Even in these pots, don't forget the Mycorrhizal mix and careful on those chemical fertilizers. I love the small cobblestone mulch utilized here. 

Photo Credit: Pete Veilleux

Arctostaphylos insularis - Island Manzanita 'Canyon Sparkles'
Update September 2015
In 2014 I planted one other Island Manzanita further down the side of the wall from the larger Manzanita which was the subject of the article here. Below is the photo from 2014 of the one gallon Arctostaphylos insularis I again purchased from Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery location just north of Escondido. At time of planting, the temperatures were 100+ degrees, which according to most conventional science-based Landscaper & Gardening experts is a big green thumb no no. I've debunked all this several times over by choosing the correct time of day to plant and providing a heavy thorough mycorrhizal application of inoculum as the key. 
See my post from 2014: 
Is it safe to plant & water California Natives Plants in Summer ?
Image: Mine (July 2014)

The key to the success was planting all the new plants just after sunset which allows the plant a measure of some recovery. Also basically leaving the one gallon plant's root zone undisturbed by loosening or breaking it up a bit. I have a practice of never purchasing and planting no bigger container plants greater than one gallon. In some rare cases where specific hard to get plants are not to be found in most Nurseries, I will purchase and plant from five gallon plants and on extreme rare occasions like Blue Mexican Fan Palm (Brahea armata) which I recently purchased on this trip in 2015, I had no choice but fifteen gallon specimens. More on them late in another posts as they are a sensitive plant to establish and hence I used a more robust MycoApply from them called "Soluble Maxx" with far more species of robust mycorrhizas. But getting back to the Island Manzanita which is NOT recommended for hot interior valleys of Southern California because they are a Channel Islands chaparral native plant, I also inoculated them with a mycorrhizal mix from Mycorrhizal Applications Inc from Grant Pass, Oregon called MycoApply. The "All Purpose Soluble" is what I purchased from one of their distributor 'Horizon Distributor's Inc' (Commercial Landscape Irrigation Equipment Supplier) on Engineer Road in San Diego. Below is the almost exactly a year later result.

Image: Mine (September 2015)

There you have it one year later. A very health happy Island Manzanita and there are some other reasons for this. First credit goes to the MycoApply because Manzanita like some other similar plants like those of Arbutus have no real fine root hairs like those of other plants, hence they require nature's performance enhancer Mycorrhizal fungi. Secondly, this location is a very fortunate one since on the down slope side of a sloping concrete driveway which channels rainwater runoff towards this side yard. In effect it is  concentrating the rainfall into one small location making the actual rainfall of an inch more like two or three inches of rain. This is the same effect a boulder strewn rocky landscape has in the wild. Take not next time of how much more luxurient the chaparral shrubs are in between a rocky landscape in the wild. The driveway here is artificially creating a higher than normal rainfall average in the same sense. Little things like this are good to know when designing a landscape layout in the beginning. However, Southern California has been under extreme drought the past 4+ years and rainfall amounts and the far apart spaced out storms have dropped very little as compared to what is normal. Still the sloping drive has been a plus. Little if any supplemental water has been provide with the exception of watering done by my brother there for a few months after we planted and left in July. Mostly once a week the first month (July) and thereafter once a month in August and September & October until winter rains came. Nothing after that with the exception of a wonderful long days tropical rainstorm August 14/14 2015 while we visited. You can see the results of newer light green growth triggered by the Thunderstorm.