Propagating Dudleyas

Say the words “California native plants” to a fellow gardener and sometimes the response is, “No, thanks. I’m not into the cactus look.” Many people are unaware that here in Northern California, there are no native cacti!

What we have instead are two genera of lovely native succulents: Dudleya (liveforever) and Sedum (stonecrop). Dudleyas are called liveforevers because they can live a long time even under adverse conditions due to the moisture they store in their fleshy leaves and succulent stems. In the wild, dudleyas grow on well-draining soils of coastal bluffs and in the cracks of boulders, usually facing sideways or at an angle.

At home, they do best in mounding rock gardens or pots. I find pots easier to manage and control. Part shade or north facing exposures or morning sun are best. Be vigilant against snails and slugs who love to munch on dudleyas. Enjoy the flowers in spring and be delighted by the hummingbirds drawn to the nectar. Expect some drying up in summer, but as soon as the rains return, the dudleyas puff up again.

After a few years, each plant develops an elongated, branched stem. The succulent foliage is at the top of each stem, but below it are dried up leaves of seasons past. The plant is now ready for rejuvenation, repotting, and vegetative propagation.

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If your dudleya looks like this after a few years, it is ready for repotting.

With a clean pruner, just snip the stem at the base of the plant, like this:

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Now you have the entire plant, stems and all, like this:

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Separate the stems from each other using the pruner, like this:

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Now comes the fun part. Gently rub off the dry leaves using your thumb and forefinger, like this. If the leaves are truly dry, they will crumble as they come off. In some species of dudleya, the dry leaves are tenacious, and may have to be gently torn/teased off the stem. Take care not to damage the succulent leaves at the top of the stem.

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Do this for all stems. When you are done, you should have several cuttings, each topped by fleshy foliage, with a smooth, bare stem below, like this:

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To start repotting, you will need a potting mix. Store bought cactus mix works well, but you can save mucho $ by making your own. Paul Heiple, the chapter’s dudleya propagation guru, uses the following recipe for dudleyas:

4 parts coarse/sharp sand (“120-sieved”)
2 parts compost or potting soil (avoid peat moss!)
1 part 1/4″ chips of decomposed granite

Mix it all in a bucket and keep it ready. Moisten it with some water just before use. Now you are ready to repot.

Half-fill the pot with the potting mix, set a large stone off-center, arrange the dudleya stems around it, and fill in the pot. Shake the pot gently from side to side to allow the mix to settle and fill in any air pockets. Water gently but thoroughly.

Water weekly through the dry months. Enjoy!

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If you have extra stems, plant in 4″ pots and share with neighbors and friends.

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That’s all there is to it. Place in bright shade, and enjoy the plants for another 4-5 years. Bon jardinage!

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Stinkwort Removal

Stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens) is an oily, sticky, intensely fragrant plant from southern Europe that has invaded California in recent times (since the mid-1980s). It is an annual plant that grows during the long dry summer. It is now rapidly expanding in open riparian or grazing areas of the state.

Stinkwort has found its way into Lake Cunningham Park, including areas adjacent to the native garden. Today a team of volunteers got to work removing this plant from areas next to the bike track and the peninsula opposite the picnic area.

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Stinkwort is easily removed by pulling when young when it uproots easily. A mature plant has a tenacious taproot, and calls for a sharp weeding tool capable of severing the root just below the ground level. Once it flowers, it must be bagged and disposed off properly so as not to produce more seed and invade other areas.

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Shade Trees Coming Soon

If you have been to Lake Cunningham Park at the peak of summer, you know that the sunnier portions of the park can get quite hot. Walking along the Inner Lake Path in 90°F+ heat can be particularly trying.

There is good news around the corner. Parks & Rec staff has just approved a proposal to plant 29 shade giving trees on both sides of the Inner Lake Path. The distance covered is 1,500′, from the Native Garden to the Fishing Pier.

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The selected trees are all locally native or near-locally native trees. This means they establish more easily and quickly than non-native trees, require less water and maintenance, and provide habitat to local birds and other fauna. Within 10 years, the trees will be tall enough to provide shade to walkers and joggers and bicyclists on the Inner Lake Path. Three out of five chosen species will turn a brilliant yellow before dropping their leaves in fall, and the path will continue to receive full sun during winter.

For a tree list and planting plan, see the project summary here: Shade Tree Project Summary

We seek volunteers to help with installing irrigation and planting the saplings. Three workdays are planned:

  1. Saturday, Nov 11, 9am-1pm: Irrigation installation Session 1
  2. Saturday, Nov 18, 9am-1pm: Irrigation installation Session 2
  3. Saturday, Dec 2, 9am-1pm: Planting 29 trees

We welcome your help at any or all of these workdays. To volunteer, click on any of the sessions above.

Directions and Forms are available from links at the top of this page.

Wear garden-appropriate clothing; dress in layers suitable for the weather. A hat, sunblock, and garden-worthy shoes are recommended. Gloves and tools will be provided.

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A Fine Summer Morning

Today, we were joined by a father-daughter duo, Patrick and Jane, who drove across the valley to help with summer maintenance tasks in the native garden. On a hot day like this, the shade of trees and shrubs was most welcome while working on tasks like weeding and pruning as well as during the break.

The first order of business was hand weeding the Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens) from the Fremontodendron bed. This invasive perennial comes up even through thick mulch. We pull as much of the root out as possible.

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Before: Russian knapweed in a mulched bed

During break, we observed honey bees and skippers on the California buckwheat, Anna’s hummingbirds over the California fuchsia, and bush tits on the elderberry and toyon. Later, a jackrabbit made its way over the hill into the shade of the pines.

After the mid-morning break, we changed gears and worked on pruning the blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra caerulea). This plant is by nature a large shrub. In a garden setting it can be trained as a small multi-trunked tree, making it easier for humans to approach its base for planting, weeding, or simply enjoying the shade. Using loppers and pruning saws, we removed the lowest branches and the occasional dead branches. When we finished, the tree had a fountain or umbrella shape, narrow at ground level, gradually flaring out above 6′ to form a shade-giving canopy. The pruning also improved visibility through the garden.

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Jane & Patrick enjoying the shade of the newly pruned blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra caerulea), standing a weed-free mulched bed

This native garden exists because of volunteers. The volunteers are drawn by the scenic location, fresh air, and wildlife viewing opportunities. The wildlife inhabits this garden because of the food and shelter provided by the native plants. The native plants are here because volunteers put them there and nurtured them during the early years. It is all connected in the nicest way possible. The universe nods in appreciation.

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Weed Warriors

With the abundant rainfall this season, native plants have thrived but so have invasive annuals and perennials. The native garden is regrettably teeming with Russian knapweed, perennial pepperweed, and drying stands of invasive annuals like slender oats, red brome, and ripgut brome.

Our amazing volunteers are tackling the weeds by pulling them where the weed load is light, and thickly mulching where the weed load is high.

On May 6, Silicon Valley Volunteers helped us weed and water the long deergrass bed next to Park Road. Thanks to Magesh for posting photos.

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Click here for more photos.

On May 20, a crew from Milpitas High Leadership Team weeded near the picnic area, transforming a knapweed-choked bed into a beautifully mulched bed landscaped with ceanothus, purple sage, zauschneria, and coyote brush.

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A Day for Fine Weeding

California has seen many cloudy and wet days this winter. Some weekends the rain came down so hard, we had to cancel the volunteer workday. But not today. Wispy clouds dotted the azure sky, and sunshine moved across the landscape. Songbirds were everywhere, chirping, tweeting, feeding. A day like this was meant for being outdoors, for enjoying fresh air and the beautiful landscape.

In the native garden, volunteers from KIPP High School Interact Club and Lynbrook High CSF Club showed up to help with garden maintenance. The agenda: fine weeding.

Months prior we had mulched the bed in question (bounded by Park Road, the accessible path, and the parking lot). Intentionally, the space immediately below a shrub or tree was lightly mulched; this area was now filled with fast growing invasive annual grasses like slender oats (Avena barbata) and ripgut grass (Bromus diandrus). Left on their own, the oat grasses will grow 4-6′ tall, shade out the native plants, and produce prodigious amount of seed for next year. Here is a picture of a young coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) smothered by invasive grasses.

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Fine weeding means pulling the weeds out by hand, one by one, getting them out by the roots, taking great care not to damage the native plants nearby.

After a brief orientation and training, the volunteers split into teams of two, and received their assignments: to eliminate the weeds around a selected native plant. They soon got down on their knees and haunches, pulling out the annual grasses with their gloved hands one by one, shaking them hard to dislodge any soil, and collecting them in buckets. No high technology, no mechanization here, just good old elbow grease.

It is always good to have a weeding companion to chat with and to learn from. As you work close to the ground, close to plants, you may discover new things, like this towhee nest, a bowl built from grass stalks. This is what habitat means: the bird lives here, eats here, finds shelter and safety here, and reproduces here.

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The volunteers were extremely efficient and productive. By the end of the 3-hour session, each native plant appeared in total command of its immediate environs.

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The entire garden bed itself looked transformed, nicely mulched, studded with native plants at suitably spaced intervals, not a weed in sight.

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At the start of the session, we saw a black-tailed jackrabbit explore the native garden, cross Park Road, and disappear over the boundary berm. During the break, we observed a yellow-rumped warbler feeding on the wing, and majestic turkey vultures soaring high above.

Our thanks to the volunteers for their effort and to park staff for the tools and woodchips. The birds kept a watchful eye on the goings on and returned to the garden as soon as the pesky humans left.

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The branches of Fremont cottonwood are striking even when leafless

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Bees’ Bliss sage is beginning its spring bloom with slender spike of lavender flowers

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Panorama of the garden, the path, and the lake

 

 

 

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Aesthetic Pruning Day Nov 19

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