Unlikely Symbiosis: House Sparrows and Gophers

My city has a problem with gophers. “That’s why we can’t have nice things” in most of our personal gardens. While I’ve noticed that a few small, shallow divots in the back yard were created by house sparrows (to take dirt baths), the majority of deeper divots in my back yard are the result of many failed attempts by gophers to dig new holes/create new entry ways into their elaborate tunnel systems. I could attempt to fill in the divots, but my efforts would likely be undone by these same gophers, so it’s a useless effort. But one person’s trash is another’s treasure. The only birds that I’ve witnessed taking dirt baths in ground divots are house sparrows (and perhaps other sparrows or other small birds that I’m not yet aware of). Check out these sparrows enjoying their dirt baths in my back yard, video minutes ago. This is a regular occurrence.

I’m very careful with where and how I step in my back yard, but seeing the value that these birds derive from these divots, I am learning to live with them, at least for now. Who knew that there would be an unknown and unlikely symbiosis between house sparrows and gophers?


Butterfly: Gulf Fritillary

This butterfly may have visited my garden all along, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it and, luckily, photographed it, minutes ago. The gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae incarnata) momentarily opened up and revealed its bright orange upper-side of its wings, but stayed in this closed position for a while. Check out the bold and beautiful markings of the underside – wow! It enjoyed hanging out on my pink breath of heaven plant (as have other butterflies), where I hope it will visit again, or anywhere else in my garden it sees fit!

More information on this very lovely butterfly, with more photos, can be found here: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Agraulis-vanillae

Accidental Rose Propagation

Not the first time I’ve stumbled upon something (very probably) great because of inaction! Because of my unresolved gopher problem, I grow my roses in containers above ground. Most of my rose plants are in their original 5-gallon plastic containers from when I bought them. I see that some of them need to be re-potted because they are thriving. How will I do it? Very carefully! That is a project I will tackle soon. I recently had to move one of the containers because I had a project in the back yard and needed to move it to create easier back yard access. That container has a Mary Rose (David Austin rose). One of its roots had grown through one of the drainage holes, through the landscape fabric, and into the bare soil underneath it, and bound the plant/container tight to the ground. No movement. With great trepidation, I freed the container from the root (by rotating the container a few times), hoping that the plant in the container would live. It does!

I didn’t think too much of this situation after I finished my project. A few weeks later, however, I discovered that there appeared to be a rogue Mary Rose plant that has developed from the root that continued to live. Wow! Check it out in the photo. On the left is the parent Mary Rose plant and notice that it already has a cane shooting out from one of the container’s drainage holes. The new plant on the right came from this rather robust parent plant. I water this new plant along with my other plants every week. It’s too early to tell if this accidentally propagated rose will survive and flower, but it’s sure nice to think about!

How To: I had tried unsuccessfully to propagate other types of roses in the past with rooting hormone, but this is quite an unexpected, inadvertent way: grow it in a container until roots grow through the container’s drainage holes. Let the plant stay this way for apparently a least a few months. Then, free the container (with plant still in it) and water the area where the rogue root bore through also. Now, I didn’t know that the root was still alive and following its destiny to grow into a new plant, so I did not water that area immediately after freeing the parent plant from its bound condition.  Once the new rose plant showed up (and clearly was not a weed), I watered it and here it is. I’m hoping for really good things from this new plant. Though its future is unknown, this new plant was successfully borne from the parent. Excitement!




Nectarine Trees in the Spring

Spring is nearing its end in my tiny speck of the globe but my two identical dwarf nectarine trees are awakening from their winter slumber at different times. They were planted on the same afternoon, several feet apart, but just one has revealed new green leaves. Hopefully, it means that my nectarine season will be longer than expected!

Mister Lincoln Rose

I’m very pleased that one of my Mister Lincoln roses is in flower, especially on this Memorial Day. The other is in bud, so more of these beautiful hybrid tea roses will be coming in this end of spring and hopefully into the summer. The fragrance is strong and luscious. Because of the permanent gopher population in my city (roots of roses are favored by gophers), this and most of my other roses thrive in containers. It’s heartening that this glorious beauty endures in the face of an environment that is not ideal, a true testament to the strength of this wonderful rose!

More information about this rose: http://www.helpmefind.com/rose/l.php?l=2.2104

Gardening: Safety First

It’s frequently overlooked, but safety is very important to plan for even in the seemingly “safer” world of gardening. If you use power gardening tools, for instance, it is important to read the user manuals that come with these tools, especially if you’re unfamiliar with them. But these are some recommendations that I have (not an exhaustive list), based on personal experience, with an emphasis on prevention:

  1. Safety goggles. Often, tool manufacturers may recommend the use of safety goggles if an errant bit of wood cutting or airborne pebble comes rapidly towards your face. It takes mere moments for a piece of debris to strike and cause a possible serious or permanent eye injury.
  2. Ear plugs. They are very, very helpful if you use gas-powered lawn equipment. I’ve mowed the lawn with and without the ear plugs: the plugs make a huge difference, and your ears will thank you many years later.
  3. Face mask. How many of us have unexpectedly inhaled an insect during the course of gardening? Too many for me to count! But in addition to blocking out insects, a face mask blocks out soil that may become airborne in the course of gardening. Again, I’ve experienced the differences. Tiny particulates of soil can travel quickly up your nose and, at minimum, can make for some uncomfortable moments.
  4. Sunscreen and sunglasses. Even on a cloudy day, if you’ll be gardening outdoors, it’s good to garden with long sleeves, sunglasses, and sunscreen to reduce the risk of various cancers and preventable eye conditions.
  5. Gardening gloves. Especially if you’re handling mulch or manure, you want to keep your hands from direct contact with these products. These products can easily get underneath your fingernails and if you’re not scrupulously clean and handle food products, that could lead to an unintended food contamination and illness for you or others.
  6. Water and rest. I take frequent breaks to drink plenty of water and minutes of rest so that I do not get exhausted, because gardening and garden maintenance can be really intensive work. Trying to push through your chores while exhausted and operating power tools like a chainsaw is a recipe for disaster. Imagine being atop a ladder when exhaustion sets in. Take your break(s) – the chores can wait. Safety first.

Nectarine Water Sprouts

Proof of life! Although I will be removing them, these water sprouts appears on one of my Southern Belle dwarf nectarine trees. Following instructions attached to the tree, I did not water these trees during the winter time. This is the trees’ first winter in my garden. With spring around the corner, I will feel comfortable to remove them in a few days. Leaving them intact, these water sprouts will only divert energy from the productive parts of the tree. Very eager for the first true leaves (and eventually fruits)!

Blood Oranges in Season

Very encouraging to see near-mature Sanguinelli blood orange fruits alongside several flower buds. In a few weeks time, I will, at long last, be picking and enjoying these wonderful fruit. Two of my trees are healthy and laden with fruit while a third appears to be struggling a bit, due in large part to gophers choosing to tunnel next to it. It is a bit small, but still showing new leaves, and it is my hope that this third tree can survive this rather unwelcoming stressor.

Everything’s Coming Up Weeds?

Roll out the green carpet! It’s not too dreadful this season. But after any rain, my backyard garden becomes blanketed with broadleaf weeds. They’re in the seedling stage now, which means they are just large enough for my string trimmer to reach and remove. I’m sure they are the perfect soft and cool step for critters who visit my garden, but left unchecked, weeds can easily overtake a garden and transform it into a jungle! From experience, it’s significantly easier to remove weeds at this stage than when you have to remove them by hand, one by one with shears, when they are quite tall and mature, taking up barrels of bin space. Thankfully, this is a small project for this coming weekend, no more than 20 minutes maximum. Weeds, your time is up soon!

Blood Oranges Blushing

Some of my blood oranges are beginning to blush. Slow as the process is, it’s a nice symbol of the transition from an old year to a new one. Though these trees are still relatively young and petite, they are surprisingly productive and their fruit produce delicious juice and totally worth the effort. I can only imagine how productive they will be in years to come, when I’ll be awash with fruit! Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and abundant 2018!

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