Friday, July 13, 2012

You've got to Know the Rules Before You can Break Them

If you spend any time reading gardening blogs you’ve probably noticed that many of us are writing about how hot the weather has been and what that has done to our gardens.  Hot summers are not unusual for Sacramento, California at all.  If it’s July and it’s 95 degrees outside it’s barely worth mentioning.  But when it hits 105, like it has the past couple days, everyone starts talking about the weather again – not just gardeners.

My garden has not come through unscathed.  Hit hardest have been the calla lilies I planted in the wettest spot in my garden and my two newest "planted" Japanese maples. (I put most of them in pots in protected areas.)

That the calla lilies have suffered was a surprise to me as they were purposely placed in the one spot in my yard that is consistently wet and nothing else I have would grow there because of it.  So it must be hot and dry if the lowest, wettest part of my yard that typically gets standing puddles after watering is bone dry.

I already cut out the brownest of the foliage.
I chose two Japanese maple cultivars that are said to be the most sun-tolerant to plant in a sunny bed at the far end of my back yard.  The thing about Japanese maples though, is that sun tolerance is relative.  The local gardening guru, Farmer Fred, is fond of saying “all gardening is local.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

Japanese maples are better suited for other climates like that of . . . Japan, for one.  And places like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.  Places that don't get too hot or too cold, that get a fair amount of rain but maybe not constant rain like we tend to imagine Seattle gets.  (I have friends that live in Seattle and although they admit that it might rain every day, it’s not rare for it to rain for half an hour and then be sunny and beautiful for a couple hours afterward.  At least in the summer time.) 

My 'Orangeola' back in April.  Still redish orange and still free of leaf burn.

Here in Sacramento you can certainly grow a Japanese maple but the near-universal advice newbies get on planting them is doubly true here: plant them where they can get morning sun and afternoon shade.  The morning sun helps the tree achieve or maintain the color or variegation it is known for.  Without the sun, even the reddest of maples can turn green in the summer. 

The afternoon shade is necessary to protect the tree from the hottest part of the day and that helps prevent leaf burn which can be harmful to the trees and it's really unsightly. 

That said, I knowingly planted the two victimized maples in a spot that gets morning shade and afternoon sun.  You’ve got to know the rules before you break them, right?  Well, I’m paying for my rebelliousness now and the currency is ugly leaves. Take a look:

'Orangeola' leaves today - fried to a crisp.

Fireglow leaves look as if they were too close an actual fire's glow.  

So why did I do it?  I did it because I know that every year that these trees are in the ground their root systems should develop more and, as a result, protect the tree better in these times of extreme heat.  I also did it because I have to trust that the crepe myrtle I planted in 2010 and the Arbutus Marina (Strawberry tree) I planted last year will, some year soon, be big enough to provide that all-important afternoon shade. 

And I just realized today that if I proceed with cutting down my peach tree it will provide just enough morning sun for the Japanese maples to be in the perfect spot. 
P.S. After writing this blog post I went to check on these trees and they struck me as looking even more stressed than I thought they should. I turned on the sprinklers and, sure enough, they needed adjustment.  In addition to the extreme heat these poor trees were suffering from a lack of water.  Mea culpa!


  1. Absolutely breath taking quality in the photos! 'Fried to a crisp' was one of my favorites... I don't mean that offensively! I used to have a japanese maple in my front yard as a kid, except it was literally humongous. Whoever the home owner was kept really good care of it, as did my mom at the time. God bless, and good luck gardening!

    -Carlos Hernandez

    1. Thank you, Carlos. I've always found Japanese maples incredibly hard to photograph so your compliment means a lot to me.

      I'm looking forward to the time when some of my Japanese maples will reach the size and grandeur of the one you described in your front yard growing up.

  2. My experience as well--after a few years the Maples will be a lot happier and look a lot better. Mine looked pretty dreadful the first few years, but now withstand heat with aplomb. Though it is not as hot here--but then again, you get more rain up's all about local, indeed!

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    1. (Oops! Tried to get that heart off my name. )
      Keep your chin up... and keep watering. After a week of 100's we are having a delightful reprieve... since Saturday it's been in the 70's... Hallelujah! The cooler temps came with just a bit of rain but I could hear the plants whispering through their dry hoarse voices... thank you, thank you.