Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oklahoma Winters

All of those who garden watch the weather with keen interest and Sunday we experienced the temperature change which makes our state infamous. In the morning the sun shone and the temperature climbed to a semi-balmy sixty plus degrees so we hurried outside to plant the remaining tulip bulbs before bad weather arrived. Early afternoon rushing dark clouds appeared to the north; within them the swirling wind howled furiously. The entire sky became black and the temperature fell thirty degrees in just over an hour. In the garden, we watched in awe before scuttling to the house for hot coffee… the remaining tulips will have to wait.

As the days become shorter the season for interior decorations begins in earnest so plan to wander outside and shop for Nature’s ornaments. Shears in hand, look at the amazing plethora just outside the back door and begin collecting everything from brightly colored leaves to the wide assortment of interesting seeds and grasses.

For a wreath consider Euronymous whose seed is a shell-shaped mini four leaf clover which encases a plump red berry. Bittersweet has tendrils with darling berries prancing along the stems, many varieties of dried grasses have a wispy texture, and lengths of twisted bark will add interest. Using a simple grape vine wreath and florist wire, layer what you have collected and watch as magic ensues. To finish, spray with inexpensive hair spray to ‘set’ the wispies and prevent allergens from flying about.

For the holiday table or breakfront exotic Pyracantha is beyond compare with ripened berries sending hundreds of tiny baby ‘pumpkins‘ dancing along their branches. Allow their branches to creep along and include amber and scarlet leaves, oak casings, candle-lit hollowed mini pumpkins and a sprinkling of battery operated twinkle lights peeking from beneath it all, sparkling here and there.

The most favored Pyracantha is the lovely Firethorn who continues to present a show when most of the garden guests have retired. Tiny white bouquets of flowers appear in early summer and are beloved by the bees. The flowers fade and form the berries which stay green until the evenings begin to cool and their color change begins. Their final gift is the precious bright orange pumpkin-like seeds. The Firethorn holds true to her name, with a bush-like spread and fierce thorns which provide an ideal place for bunnies to scurry and hide for safety. If memory serves me, I believe it was the Pyracantha that thus saved Brer Rabbit from the fox. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall Foliage... the parting gift

The Caddo Maples are the last to begin foliage change their process usually foretells the first freeze will occur within a week. They are unusual in that all of their leaves do not freeze-fall; much of their glorious foliage, although crisp, remains tree-bound until Spring. Just as their color change predicts a coming freeze, these last leaves foretell the arrival of Spring as they are literally tossed from the tree when it is expected to arrive. As the Maples had predicted last week, our first deep freeze roared in early Wednesday morning and suddenly Winter is upon us… in a most vengeful manner.

Trees lose their leaves to give additional sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months and Nature has provided us with a stunning visual as a parting gift. Although the following explanation will be a vast over simplification, it may provide insight into the foliage change. During the spring and summer the trees use their leaves to collect air and water to turn it into food. The process, called photosynthesis means ‘putting together with light’ so as the days shorten and daylight diminishes, the gathering process ends. The leaf is no longer necessary to the tree and begins its transformation providing breathtaking color for a brief moment in time.

The chemicals chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the leaf cells throughout the growing season with chlorophyll making leaves the bright green color. As daylight decreases in autumn, chlorophyll production stops and the chlorophyll disappears. With the loss of chlorophyll the carotids, which have been there all along, become visible and display lovely yellow leaf color. Lastly the anthocyanins arrive and take center stage, ushering in the vibrant reds we associate with Autumn.

Anthocyanins, which are glucose, are singularly responsible for the brilliant hues of purple, crimson, and scarlet. They are a fickle lot, insisting on warm sunny days and crisp evenings to slow the closing of the leaf veins and trap excess sugar produced at this time… if the weather does not comply to their demand, lackluster reds are produced.

Shade and the foliage show are not all the leaves have to offer… their parting gift is perhaps the most important. As the leaves drift from the trees and collect below they continue to work by slowly decomposing. Over time this process adds nutrients to create a dark rich soil which nourishes the fledgling the saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents. Nature is always at work, regardless of the season.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gophers... Again

This subject has been broached before, however it bears repeating since almost overnight the gophers have become incredibly active. Since they are a problem of fairly vast proportion, a brief description of their physical appearance and habits might be helpful. They are rodents and require strong measures to eliminate and exterminate them.

Gophers live in long, complex tunnels below the ground, digging with their powerful front feet and their sharp teeth. Most of their lives are spent digging and patrolling their tunnels to protect their territory from other gophers. Their tails are hairless and tactile; it is an organ of touch which can “feel” as the gopher backs up in his hole; his home is recognized by the large mound of earth above it. It is said their nest is usually about a foot below ground and lined with leaves, although digging like a mad woman has never revealed anything of the like. Their food choices include favorites such as vegetables, buds, grass, nuts, roots and bulbs; they can totally decimate a lovely garden in very few days. In fact once I watched once as a stalk of Asparagus was slowly pulled cartoon-like below ground, one jerk at a time until it disappeared.

With an understanding of the gopher, methods for extermination must be examined. For the gardener, dropping bits of poison into gopher mounds is ineffective as it seems to be the equivalent of giving them a vitamin tonic… often they will push it to out of their home like an old couch left curb side. The old wives tale about dropping Juicy Fruit gum into a mound to destroy their digestive system is totally false. The ‘bomb’ one may purchase to send carbon monoxide from a lawn mower into holes (in spite of being extremely fun to use) is ineffective as well. Flooding gopher mounds with a hose makes an unsightly mess and often the water will completely destroy a flower bed by imploding the underground burrows, leaving deep crevices in its wake. Waiting for the emerging gopher with a rifle in hand is ultimately a waste of time for it seems they ‘sense’ danger and never appear.

Trapping easiest way to eliminate these pests, however there is a level of training required to properly set it. For the fainthearted, leaving a small battery operated radio near their home works. They find the noise objectionable and will often vacate the premises… set the station to Rap.

*Adding insult to injury… this mound is heart shaped like a macabre Valentine sent to me.