Monday, February 16, 2009

An afternoon Adventure in my own backyard hillside

Today it finally cleared up ( and dried out a bit) enough for me to put on my hiking boots and take a stroll (hike) thru my new 'backyard' a.k.a the rest of the hillside of this property no one pays any attention to EVER. I felt adventurous so armed with my camara, my cell phone ( in case I stupidly tripped in a gopher hole and hurt myself) and a pair of pruning shears I set off to hike the wilds of our hillside.

Hiking thru that iceplant is a royal pain in the ass, it does a great job holding the slope in place and preventing erosion but years of overgrowth mean your walking in this stuff halfway up to your knees and can't see where the actual ground is, and the top layer of iceplant seems far more of a gentle slope then it really is. The photos don't do a very good job showing how steep it is in a few places, but then again I'm the only one crazy enough to bother caring whats growing around here.

To the south theres some citrus trees my father in law planted years ago and installed a sprinkler for each then promptly ignored for 4 years. The hard freeze we got last winter did kill a couple of them, or maybe it was the 120 degree summers, but there are about 10 or so hardy trees still alive along the bottom of the hill on the SE side of the property

I saw a moro blood orange, a few valencia orange trees, a washington navel, a couple of unknown orange trees, 2 mandarins, and an unknown with teeny tiny fruit I first thought was a kumkwat, but after eating the only one ripe on the tree realized it was a very tiny tangerine. They all need a bit of pruning to remove some dead branches and open the form up a bit, and all were yellowing, I need to put some fertilizer spikes and blood meal around each one. It was a wonderful surprise tho, from my bedroom doors I could see what I thought were random shrubbery at the bottom of the hill, I had no idea it was citrus. I had been trying to figure out where to sneak in and plant a few fruit trees, so it was awesome to find some already established. They all have flower buds forming, so I'm hoping to take better care of them this year and hope they produce better.

Up the hill some directly below my 'balcony' outside the bedroom theres an apple tree that every year gives a great display of blossoms but no fruit. I have no idea what the variety is but I'm guessing it needs a cross pollinator of some sort or something else is amiss. I noticed that the iceplant has grown rampant up and over the tree, which isn't looking too hot this year, so I went to investigate. Heres the tree after pulling the front of the iceplant off to show just how much iceplant was burying it:

It was bad. So after cutting and swearing and having a fun ole time ripping plants away I found out why the tree wasn't looking too good.

Look at the bottom along the soil line, theres some sort of mildew/fungus eating away at the bark. Apparently the iceplant was holding way too much moisture against the tree itself and the resulting fungus was literally eating away at the bark and girdling the tree.

And THIS kiddos, is why you are NEVER supposed to put too much mulch/compost/dense plantings right up against the tree trunk itself. Between the moisture and I'm sure some insect damage it just left that bark vulnerable to this type of damage. Judging by the sorta healed over edges this has been going on for quite some time now. One whole limb has been completely girdled and is totally dead, I'll need to get a saw to remove that limb. The other 2 limbs have about 50% and 20% bark left form what I can see. I cleared as much soil from around is as I could, hopefully some sun and fresh air will help give the tree a fighting chance. Makes me sad tho, that this tree that has braved years on this hill before my family ever bought the house to be felled by petty landscape negligence and some overzealous iceplant. tsk, tsk.

Then I stumbled my way across to the SE side of the hill, to where my father had some Hass avocados planted 2 years ago. This part of the hill is a bit more 'native' in that there isnt any iceplant but plenty of invasive castor bean plants, Cucamonga manroot vine ( its a wild luffa), tumbleweeds, Tonyon and some other tall plant I haven't been able to identify yet. I even found some wild strawberries sending off runners, so I excitedly collected a handful to plant elsewhere and observe. I am such a nerd.

I managed to find 1 avocado on the ground under a tree but it was pretty buggy so I went tree to tree trying to find avocados to pick. No such luck. I did however noticed what seemed to be some sort of a disease (blight?) on the trees that warranted further investigation:

My first thought was fireblight, but I thought fireblight only affected temperate fruit trees, not tropicals. Breaking off some of the dying/damaged branches gave more clues but no answers that came to mind. The bark starts to darken and the leaves shrivel, die, but cling onto the plant. What was even odder was the innermost part of the stem (xylem) was dark brown and looked very watery, almost syrupy. This discoloration was noticeable in branches cut a few inches past the blackened bark, so whatever this infection is its spreading to the rest of the tree. I have no idea if it can ultimately kill the entire tree or not. I've been doing Internet searches on avocado diseases and not seeing anything like this. I am tempted to go out there with a bucket of bleach water and prune out all the infected branches like it was fireblight and make sure to disinfect the pruners after each cut.

I also got to spy on the neighbors property just a bit, the land right below us has a lovely little lantern studded brick path winding thru some well maintained citrus trees and I even spied a small fenced in area with red winter tomatoes. Impressive!

Theres an area of trees there that makes a beautifully covered shady area filled with a bunch of native plants I need to dig out my guidebook and identify. I think one was horehound, it was very fuzzy and had a strong mint scent, and some other bushes with tiny red berries. Funny how less then a 10 minute walk from the house and I was a whole nother world, away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, it was a little piece of REAL California- at least to me. After following the southern most edge of the fence around I realized it comes right up to the side of the battling cage/basketball court my father in law put in years ago. At least getting back up the hill afterwards was easily then getting down!

Last but not least I visited my future piece of paradise and realized that flat area is AWESOME. the dirt there is very friable and loose and no stubborn weeds like bermuda grass, that soft fuffy velvetgrass rips right out in large tufts roots and all! And theres EARTHWORMS in the soil! Eureka! This soil isnt as craptastic as I thought! I was standing there almost orgasmic ripping out tufts of grass and giggling to myself. I think anyone else watching me must have thought I lost whats left of my mind. But after 2 years of dealing with having to pull out bermuda grass, spurge and common mallow by hand you bet I was THRILLED to see the only stuff I was pulling out was that 'nice' clumpy grass you can rips lots of out and leaves the soil neat and clean looking.

I'm almost tempted to just rip all this stuff out by hand where I want to plant, it pulls out super easy, too hard to mow, we'd need to take a weed eater to it. But now I got to thinking, this this stuff isnt nearly as annoying as most grasses are, maybe I can just rototill it into the soil like a cover crop, as it rots it adds some organic value, and then double dig the beds and amend the beds only with some horse manure and coconut coir to help 'lighten' the soil ( its almost as dense as clay but its not clay its diatomaceous earth). I have about 6 weeks till I NEED to plant outdoors here, I could also put plastic over it and solarize, or just lay out alot of cardboard ( I have alot of empty moving boxes) in this weeks heavy rains and let that smother the grass out a bit. Decisions, Decisions.

So yup, that was my fun afternoon of playing outside in the dirt while hubby watched the kids. woot!


Sinfonian said...

OMG, how much space does your father-in-law have there?!? I realize most of it is undevelopableish, but WOW. You even found a long-forgotten basketball court! Insane. And a fruit orchard that just got reclaimed by the land. You're just the person to restore it if possible.

I must say, you are incredibly smart. I had no idea what you were saying, but boy do you have me by a mile. Bravo!

Glad to hear you can rip out the grass. For that I like the flat end of my pick axe. It gets under roots and slices them off no problem. Then I simply turn it over and let it compost in place. Maybe a rototiller would work fine. Of course you could also use a broad tined pitchfork as well.

Good luck getting all that area clear, I'm so happy that it'll be easier than bermuda grass. Oh, and good luck restoring those trees and bushes.

Color me impressed! Thanks for sharing your new paradise!

Not Hannah said...

Whoa! What is a tidy little groundcover here is evil, scary apple-tree-killing there. That's just NUTS!

I bet you felt a little like Mary in The Secret Garden, didn't you? (I'm a wee jealous!)

Hope you have lots of fun romping around.