Category Archives: Horticulture

PLANET SCD 2014 – Fort Collins, Colorado

This past week the 38th annual Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) Student Career Days (SCD) event took place in Fort Collins, Colorado. It happened to coincide with final exam week here at Cal Poly SLO.  I am a coach for the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo team, so this quarter I’ve been arranging travel details and preparing for the event. Things went relatively smoothly.

On the flight to Colorado I really enjoyed the view of the Rocky Mountains.

The Rocky Mountains viewed from above.

The Rocky Mountains viewed from above.

We arrived in Denver and drove to Fort Collins. The weather was warm and sunny, but the air was brisk (which felt wonderful to me). During our preparation days things were sunny and clear. On Saturday, the day in which most of the competition took place, we awoke to falling snow. Some of the team had never seen snow fall before. It made for a memorable day. It felt fitting to me, since I think of light snow when I think of Colorado in March.

Irrigation assembly in the snow.

Irrigation assembly in the snow.

Landscape maintenance operations in the snow.

Landscape maintenance operations in the snow.

Arboriculture techniques above the snow.

Arboriculture techniques above the snow.

Compact track loader operation (don't spill the water!).

Compact track loader operation (don’t spill the water!).

A team photo in front of a Colorado blue spruce.

A team photo in front of a Colorado blue spruce.

We had a great time in Colorado. I was happy that we got there, competed, and returned safely. Another year of PLANET is in the books.

Link to a flickr set with more pictures from the event

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The Summer Nursery Tours Have Begun

One of my objectives for this summer is to tour nurseries in California. Today I ventured south to see two operations. The first one was ValleyCrest in Fillmore. ValleyCrest grows trees, large trees. They have several locations in California.

One of the things about California plant production that is still a novelty to me is tree production in boxes. You will not find balled and burlapped trees here. Trees are sold in containers or boxes. And the boxes might be very large (more on that later).

Trees in boxes.

Trees in boxes.

A newcomer navigating the ValleyCrest facility will require a map. I still managed to get lost a few times. The place is huge. Neighboring mountain ridges help a little with direction.

A small piece of the nursery.

A small piece of the nursery.

A nursery panorama.

A nursery panorama.

I saw plants in all stages of production. The propagation facility had tiny seedlings and small containers. The main growing grounds were filled with large containers and boxes. The picture below shows some plants that were situated near the main office.

Some trees awaiting sale.

Some trees awaiting sale.

You might be struggling to determine the scale. Just how big are those plants? Well, I decided to pose in the next shot to make the scale more obvious.

Yup, that's a big tree.

Yup, that’s a big tree.

Trees of this size are not impulse buys. You don’t toss one in the car and plant it on a Saturday morning.

I enjoyed seeing the ValleyCrest operation and hearing how they do things.

My next stop was San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara. San Marcos Growers focuses on herbaceous perennial plants, shrubs, and some trees. Most of their plants they sell in containers, though some are in boxes.

Herbaceous perennial plants in production.

Herbaceous perennial plants in production.

Some plants were both in and on pots. Can you guess why?

Plants in and on pots.

Plants in and on pots.

These were the plants most susceptible to rabbit-inflicted damage. Only the Manute Bol of rabbits is going to eat these ferns.

I enjoyed seeing these two nurseries, and I’m grateful to my gracious hosts for their time. I learned a lot about nursery production in California today, and I’m excited about all that is still to come this summer. Maybe by the fall a tree in a box will look normal to me.

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Grafted Plants: Rootstock Rebellion

I have not done much plant grafting. During my undergraduate studies I grafted pink geranium shoots onto a white geranium, resulting in a rather ugly specimen. Most of my experience with grafted plants has come in the role of caring for plants that have been grafted in nursery and landscape settings. When plants are grafted there are two parts: a rootstock and a scion. The rootstock, which may also be called an understory, that is the part of the plant that has the original root system. Many times the rootstock is selected for disease resistance or strong growth. The scion is the shoot that is grafted onto the rootstock; it is usually selected for ornamental value. Since grafting is labor intensive and requires special skills it is only done in the commercial market when it makes economic sense. There are many reasons grafting is conducted, but the dominant reason is to asexually propagate a plant with desirable characteristics. This is particularly true in the case of hybrids and genetic oddities, when sexual reproduction is not possible or would result in loss of desired characteristics.

After a graft has healed and the vascular tissue has been joined, the primary task in plant management is to keep an eye on the rootstock. Many exceptional ornamental plants are produced by grafting a scion from a hybrid onto a rootstock from one of the parent species. A rootstock might produce shoots that compete with the scion, and if left unsupervised, might overtake the scion. Here is an example from a looming problem on a hybrid witch hazel I saw today:

An uprising begins.

The little shoot rising from the rootstock must be terminated. It will have inferior ornamental attributes compared to the scion and will likely be more vigorous. Right now the uprising can be quelled in a few seconds, one quick cut with a pruners. I posted a picture of a leaf from this particular hybrid witch hazel earlier this fall. The scion has dramatic colors, while the rootstock shoot will be a weak yellow.

A vibrant hybrid witchazel (Hamamelis x ‘Diane’).

As a horticulturist I notice grafted plants in landscapes that have reverted to, or are in the process of reverting to, the rootstock. What appears to the untrained eye as a peaceful looking plant might in fact be two strong-willed, competitive individuals functioning as one organism.

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Coast to Coast

October has been crazy. Crazy in a mostly good kind of way. I’ve been very busy.

I spent part of last week on the central coast of California for a job interview. After a few days by the Pacific Ocean I flew east, arriving in Avalon, NJ to spend a long weekend at a beach house with family. It has been a weekend full of great conversations, food, and fun. Here are a few pictures I took recently by the sand dunes and buffer forest beside the ocean.

Grasses on the sand dunes.

Sassafras celebrating the fall.

Euonymus americanus capsules, mixing pink and orange.

Beautiful poison ivy.

More poison ivy, looking exceptional.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The Jersey Shore is wonderful in the fall.

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Every Day is a Winding Road

I’m still in a season of waiting. I think active waiting is far more bearable than passive waiting, so I’m staying busy. Right now I’m working part time at Behmerwald Nursery, writing and editing manuscripts, preparing for interviews, and compiling job application documents. Yes, every day is a winding road.

I’ve been savoring this autumn. Today after work I photographed a few of the plants at the nursery in all their fall glory.

A Northern red oak (Quercus rubra).

A hirsute oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

A vibrant hybrid witchazel (Hamamelis x ‘Diane’).

A dapper Dart’s Duke viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Interduke’).

A Quickfire panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bulk’).

A very red shasta doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Shasta’).

And I took a low resolution self portrait with a Japanese stewartia. The stewartia will look amazing in a few weeks; it is one of my favorite fall plants.

Green stewartia leaves–soon to be red and orange.

 

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