Monthly Archives: December 2014

Nature makes us humble and it should.

A Place in History

Yesterdays windstorm will go down in history for several reasons. First, the power of the wind  gusts was not only surprising it was (at PDX) the strongest-67mph- since the great windstorm of December 12, 1995 and that was one of the top three most powerful storms historically in our region. As far as power outages are concerned, however, (100,000 in PDX metro) was far lower than other storms that  actually had lower gusts.

Its not one point, its an average of all the points.

The reason for this is still up for debate but I’m pretty sure that the windstorm we had on October 25 bears some of the responsibility. That windstorm (49mph at PDX) hit when trees- caused by the warmest October in history- were still largely in leaf. That sent them sailing. Also, I suspect that there were stronger gusts that were not registered at reporting stations. (Therein is a topic for endless discussion.) The most important way to view a windstorm is not to focus on one point but to see the reporting stations as a grid. Then you average them all together and come up with more reasonable number- this also explains when damage is widespread, even though the gusts were lower.  In that regard this was the most important windstorm locally since December 2006. That clocked in at PDX at 53mph and knocked 200,000 people off the grid. The strong wind was more uniform and widespread. Still this will be a memorable one.

Damn that was loud! And strong!

Either way the wind freaking howled where I was during the storm. First south of town and then when I returned home. I had to go home because Miles was frightened to death of the wind, poor little guy was shaking and shaking. At our wholesale nursery site it was as impressive of a storm as I’ve seen in our 15 years at that location. Luckily it was just short of what could have been a damaging disaster. (Whew!) Just after I got home my partner and I stood in the backyard and we had several gusts that must have been near 70mph- it was loud and raucous and definitely the strongest I’ve witnessed since 1995. Impressive.

Look for damage now to avoid a surprise in spring.

This is a great time for gardeners to go out and take a good look at their gardens. The wild and twisting winds can cause damage that doesn’t show up for months and maybe even years. Pay special attention to the crotch in trees where two branches originate. This is a typical point for damage  and be aware of any cracks that may not be immediately noticeable.  The majority of tree damage occurs there and it can open up the tree to heart rot- water can get in there and dead tissue inside can kind of grow like an infection. Depending on the size of the tree you may call a tree person who can tell you what to do. Often this kind of damage shows up as a whole section of the tree that has yellow/green leaves not as lustrous as the rest of the tree. I’ve had this happen before and the whole tree eventually died and had to be removed. It was heart breaking. It was in the 2006 windstorm and the tree didn’t totally die for at least 4 months after the event.

Listing this way and that.

Check trees and shrubs carefully. Another damaging aspect is wind rock. Our saturated soils paired with gusting winds can cause the whole thing to rock. Anything that is listing to one side will have to be staked up. Do this sooner than later because there will be more wind. In extreme cases the rocking can tear the roots and cause real damage down the line. Conifers are famous for this. Check them carefully by wiggling the plant to see if there is any give to it. Then look at the base of the tree and be mindful if there is a “well ” around the trunk. The easiest way to deal with this is to right the plant and then stomp the soil around the trunk compacting it. Seriously- its not technical but it has worked for me in the past. Some genus’ that are notorious for this are any Cupressus and taller Arctostaphylos. When I stake plants I ‘ve had excellent results with rebar for larger applications as well as 1″x 1″ wood stakes. Pound these into the ground with a hammer.  A wimpy little piece of bamboo just won’t do. Adhere the plant tightly (by its trunk)  to the stake and use garden velcro- its magic stuff. Garden Fever always carries this and I use it for anything from big trees to floppy perennials. You can easily increase this and re-adhere it as plants grow. Its amazingly strong stuff and lasts for years. I never throw it away but I have a collection in a box in the garage because it is so useful.

It was bound to happen- Weather and the law of averages.

If you want to understand how the weather will be in the future you must look at the past. It has puzzled forecasters the lack of windstorms that we have had in the last 10 years. If you compare it and the velocity to storms in the 50’s and 60’s we had storms this strong nearly every two years and some of them much, much stronger. The October 12, 1962 Columbus Day Storm was the whopper and let everyone just hope this doesn’t happen again. That was 116mph on the Morrison Bridge and 104mph  at PDX before the anemometer simply blew away. Its been speculated that this was a 100 year event and possibly much longer. One reason for the lack of storms may be hiding in the poorly understood North Pacific Oscillation. In its negative phase windstorms proliferate in its positive mode they are less likely. I’ll let weather professionals debate this but it is intriguing. We are in a negative phase at the moment apparently as of 2007. Either way windstorms are part of gardening in the PNW.  They are just as likely as large freezes or heatwaves. It pays to be prepared.


I hope you find your garden un-mangled by the wind and that everything weathered the storm. From all of us at Xera have a great Holiday Season. There are no impending cold spells on the horizon, so relax.

Thanks, Paul

Plants and MADNESS! Its plant MADNESS.

Winter is really a fun time at Xera Plants. We are busily propagating and sowing seed and scouring what seems like the whole world for new plants.  And of course you know that there are thousands of  new, new, new and improved plants waiting to adorn nursery shelves.

We don’t grow a whole lot of patented plants. Not at all because we dislike them and admittedly they are a huge cash outlay. But we are very careful now having been burned on a number of occasions from new plants that failed to perform or were (very) difficult to grow . Imagine a flat of 72 plugs at $4.oo a piece, nearly $300 including shipping and all but a few squeak through winter. To abuse a much bandied term: its unsustainable.

Most of all we are careful because if you run out of a patented plant and you can’t get any more for the season this tends to piss people off. The consumer doesn’t understand and it is infuriating as a supplier.  We really like plants that we can quickly make more of if the demand is there.  And it is not a bureaucratic mess.

We just want to grow good plants.

I really think there should be more species being grown. They are tough, and can be as spectacular as any shrunken deep orange blob with white flowers that you shell out big $$ only to have it become a root weevil festival.  There is fantastic charm in wild species- I was first convinced of this when a friend who grew Rhododendrons years ago showed me the way.  He introduced me to the fantastic range of this genus that was already beautiful without the artificial  intervention of man. They were tougher plants and beautiful in form. The flowers are somewhat subtle, And unless you want your Rhododendron to have buds that fly open and reveal a clown, a magic bunny, in pornographic colors you may be disappointed but I think the charms of the species are wonderful.

Not that we grow them and considering some awful bugs and diseases they are afflicted with I glad we don’t. Doesn’t mean the gardener should shun them.

We have a bunch of new plants to thrill gardeners this spring. Greg and I tend to go for the sturdiest all around garden plants, and we don’t care for fussy, fussy new plants which can be a crap shoot. We want to sell good, solid plants accompanied by the most information we can muster. Fads come and go, but when all of the new plants have been shaken though the system perhaps we will find some amazing, classic, winner. This does happen. See: Geranium x ‘Rozanne’ as as an example.

As for the weather, the next three weeks are looking very mild and wet. As we have seen in CA over the last week, El Nino can bring prodigious moisture there so it looks like a classic scenario. Already systems off our coast are splitting and weakening. One calling card effect of El Nino. So rain in CA and bland and mild here has me seriously wondering if the 23ºF we dropped to on December 2, is our low for the year. In the past cold Novembers that has usually been the extent of the whole winter. It was that way in 1955 and 1985. So we shall see.

Lets hope for milder rather than wilder. We deserve it.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season from all of us at Xera Plants.