Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Prospect of El Nino. To be or not to be...

Summer flew by and now it's Fall. That was quick. Anyhoo, we're apparently under an "El Nino Watch" per the Climate Prediction Center, but we'll never know the precip outcomes until when and if the rain events actually happen. Basically, we're at the whim of mother nature. Go figure...We did not benefit much from the seasonal monsoonal thunderstorms back in August-Sept., so the landscape here is bone dry except for the areas on drip irrigation. Even some of the supposedly drought tolerant stuff (our 4-year old Shore Pine - Pinus contorta, 'Allen Chickering' and 'Deer Spring Silver' Cleveland sages, 'Vicki Romo' White Sage - 'S. apiana x S. clevelandii' and the formerly super hardy Australian Golden Wattle-Acacia latifolia) just gave up & croaked. What a bummer! Despite the parched state of affairs though, we did have a few lovely late-season blooms, fruits and berries.

8/25/12 'Aurora Gold' Sunflowers growing next to tomatoes in the veggie garden.

8/25/12 'Red Courtesan,' 'Autumn Beauty,' 'Aurora Gold,' and 'Lemon Queen' sunflowers.

8/25/12 'Red Courtesan,' 'Aurora Gold,' and 'Lemon Queen sunflowers.

9/16/12 'Tropic White' guava. These are very similar to the guavas we used to grow at home in Taiwan. Should be ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks.

9/16/12 Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora), covering part of the fence around Hana's dog run & also up around a nearby Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). The flowers have a lovely light vanilla scent.

9/16/12 Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora).

9/16/12 Ripe berries on one of our Mexican Elderberries (Sambucus mexicana). Birds will probably get to these soon.

9/16/12 Haye's Iva, aka Poverty Weed, aka San Diego Marsh Elder (Iva hayesiana). A rather nondescript native, but makes for a nice ground cover under the sycamores.

9/16/12 Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba).

9/16/12 Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens). 

9/16/12 Ashyleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum).

9/16/12 'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum).

9/29/12 'Route 66' California Fuchsia.

9/29/12 Catalina Island California Fuchsia. A hummingbird magnet.

9/29/12 'Dana Point' California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).

9/30/12 Broom Matchweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae).

8/26/12 San Diego Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus minutiflorus). 

In early August, I noticed these shrubs off of Clinton Keith Rd. between the Bear Creek Fire Station and entrance to La Cresta. At first I thought they were chamise or greasewood in bloom, but that didn't seem right. The white 'blooms' reminded me more of the feathery seed plumes of a Geum or Apache Plume. Besides, chamise are late spring, not summer bloomers. After checking a couple floras along with the Jepson manual, I concluded these were Cercocarpus minutiflorus, which are native to the chaparral of the S. Peninsular ranges/San Diego County. The flowers themselves are nondescript. but the white feathery seed plumes are extremely showy. I actually bought a 1-gallon plant a couple years ago from the Fall plant sale at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, but it's still on the small side and hasn't yet flowered. Otherwise, I might have recognized and ID'd these chaparral shrubs sooner.

8/26/12 San Diego Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus minutiflorus). Clinton Keith Rd., Murrieta.

9/23/12 Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) on a Sycamore tree in the orchard. 

8/27/12 Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin).

And, here are some cool moon, sunset and cloud shots from our back deck:

8/31/12 Moonset around 6:30am. This was on the eve of the Blue Moon.

9/8/12 Sunset.







  1. Lovely year end photos. I gave a public Discourse yesterday down at the city of Halmstad in southern Sweden. Afterwards we went on a walk and there I am explaining to native Swedes out there on the nature trail just what trees and shrubs we were looking at. One of them was the European Forest Elderberry which they call here "Fläder" and in Germany "Holunderbeere".

    I got them to taste the berry clusters and some were surprised at the wonderful flavour. I expect some type of recipes for it's usage in the coming issue of Grub-Files. *smile*

    I also love the Sunflower varieties. Don't you just hate going to work when you could be tinkering on your property every single day ? I always did, especially when things were at their peak.

    I'd start weaning the plants off drip and into deep pipe irrigation setups. I'm actually writing today about this. Drip for me is a means of establishment. It's a matter of understanding and knowing root system dynamics of specific plants and your own property's geology. Some things most likely will always need drip to look good they way it is now.

    Deep Irrigation Methods for Training Deeper Rooting networks


    1. Kevin, I haven't yet tried our native elderberries, mostly because the birds usually get to them before I do. The first time I ever tried elderberries of any sort was when I was about 10 years old visiting my grandmother (my dad's mum) in Finleyville, Pennsylvania. There were a bunch growing wild along the creek (or 'crick,' as they pronounced it)in the woods next to the house, and my sis and I went with our cousins to pick some for Grandma, who made an incredibly delicious elderberry jam to go with the most amazing home made bread you can imagine! Hope I can harvest enough berries from our tree next season to make jam or perhaps elderberry wine?

      The deep pipe irrigation setup sounds like a great idea. Should really think about transitioning some of our plantings to that system.

  2. Sorry to hear of the loss of some plants. The heat--combined with gophers--got a few of mine too. Still you've got some great picks doing interesting things in your garden and environs. I thought I was the only one growing Gutierrezia (mine is G. californica), but I'm glad to see you with what looks like a happy plant. For a plant that thrives in the worst part of the year, I think it's an undiscovered resource. I had a mountain mahogany that never bloomed after 20 years, so I hope yours is more willing to flower. In all fairness mine was the more common betuloides, and probably didn't care for life nearer the coast. You should have the perfect climate for the species you have.

    Enjoy! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that El Nino!

    1. James, the Gutierrezia is a real gem in the garden - easy to grow and a beautiful mass of gold in the late summer-fall. I've rarely seen it offered at native plant sales, but snatched this one up at last fall's annual plant sale at the UCR Botanic Garden. Keeping all my fingers crossed for a strong El Nino this winter!

  3. I was just rummaging around the NOAA site this afternoon looking for the latest El Niño prediction. Last I'd seen, we were expected to have a moderate to strong El Niño this winter, but I was very disappointed to read how much it's weakened in recent weeks. We really need the rain too. I don't want to get washed off the mountain, but last winter was so dry, that if that happens again...I can't imagine.

    I'm sorry you lost some plants. I've started keeping 'emergency' salvias in the greenhouse. I usually break at least a few branches over the season, but they root so easily, I just pot up the disasters, and before I know it I have a whole new plant! ;)

    I really love your buckwheats. I started a lot of Eriogonum fasciculatum from seed this last spring, and I'm waiting for the rain to transplant them outside. I really like the compact nature of 'Dana Point' though, it looks lovely. I expect the straight species might get a bit gangly, but I know the bees will love it anyway.

    I was also happy to see your Allen's hummingbird. I saw a female nesting here this spring, but I've only seen Anna's recently.

    1. Clare, I am equally disappointed with the lessening prospects of a moderate to strong El Nino! Except for a couple good storms, our winter rainfall last year was well below normal - that, coupled with our marathon of searing triple digit heat days in August-September, has led to the demise of some of our most drought tolerant plantings. I'm soooo tired of hand watering everything!! I really like your idea of propagating emergency salvias - I grow a lot of monkeyflowers and verbenas from cuttings, but have never tried this with salvias. Do you use rooting hormone to give them a kick start?

  4. My yard has never looked so sad. The few days of rain helped some of the plants eek out a living, and my hose and myself have coddled a few others. But much has died. When I look at the pictures from a couple of years ago, there's really no comparison. I don't know; I think I'll do decomposed granite in the backyard with potted citrus and forget the vegetables in the raised beds.

    1. Karin, it's been a really tough year for even the most drought tolerant stuff in my garden. In addition to some of the sages, a couple of my larger ceanothus plants have just croaked - I'm so bummed! Decomposed granite should work well - we have absolutely no grass or lawn here on the property, and that has saved us a ton of $ on the water bill over the years.