The solar system in the vicinity of Earth is transiting through a once-yearly moment of symmetry. Earth just lined up to view the moon at its greatest illumination—full moon. What also happened this week was that Earth’s inhabitants on this hemisphere—photosynthetic, warm-blooded, and otherwise—began to experience an increase in sunlight. This happy conjunction lit the night with the ultimate silver luminescence and the days with more and more golden glow (winter storms excepted). What a wonderful cycle to celebrate along with all the other social and cultural reasons to rejoice.
While meteorologists will talk about the beginning of winter being the solstice point that has just been crossed, the fact is that from now forward, each day the sun rises a little earlier and sets a little later. Imperceptible as it is, the extension of daylight adds up to more heat and more energy. Plants will begin to respond with increased growth and animals (humans included) will also stretch and preen. Spring is not far off, especially in the felicitous latitudes that include the South Coast of California.
There are myriad signs of this in the garden. Unfortunately, many weeds have already been cued onstage by the soaking first rains, and tiny seedlings of pesty plants are poking up their tiny cotyledons (those are the first leaves that emerge from the seed). They are pretty fragile at this point, and that can create an advantage for the gardener. These tiny plants are easily foiled by light hoeing, gentle cultivation, or solarization. If they emerge in an area like a gravel path or terrace where mechanical removal is difficult, this last technique, which entails a fairly brief stint under some black plastic, can be enough to kill them wholesale. If it hasn’t rained recently, a brief shower from the hose prior to spreading the tarp will help. The heat from sunny days (even overcast days can generate plenty of solar energy) will raise the temperature of the plant tissues, essentially slow-cooking them. It can also heat the moisture below the soil surface enough to kill at least some of the unsprouted seeds that are sure to be there.
The example of these early starters can be an inspiration, actually. Not only will the unwelcome weedy species seek out the waxing sunlight; the plants and seeds that were planted with purpose will also soon flourish in the garden. Fall-sown wildflowers and fall-planted bulbs will begin to push their first shoots, as well. Well-pruned roses, fruit trees, and other deciduous plants will follow in just a couple of months, or even weeks, with fresh new growth and emerging blossoms.
Time seems to fly in personal matters, but watching the seasons, from moon and sun cycles to growth and maturity of the natural world around, may help to slow down that sometimes uncomfortable sensation. Look to the garden and wider landscape for a hint and promise of the brightening days to come. Other inspirations from the landscape include the golden foliage on pomegranate trees (there may even be a late fruit or two), valiant rose bushes still pushing buds and flowers, and the slanting light that, unlike during any other season, illuminates spiny cactuses with a magical glow.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.