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Plant Man Column

“Most turkeys taste better the day after; my sister’s tasted better the day before.” –with apologies to Rita Rudner

From my personal perspective, the Thanksgiving holiday has always meant a “rest” from work and gardening and a time for being with family and friends; this year of the pandemic is different. Catharine, Buster, and I are hoping that by postponing our holiday plans that we will help keep our family, friends, and strangers well. I am grateful that we are able to celebrate Thanksgiving safely.

SoCal gardeners usually associate the resting period of plants with the arrival of autumn – cooler temperatures and the slight possibility of rain. In temperate climates like Laguna, these periods of quiescence also coincide with shortened and decreased intensity of daylight hours.

Most plants require a break, just as we require sleep and an occasional vacation. This is necessary to prepare a plant for its mission: namely, to grow, flower, and produce fruit. Under natural conditions, a plant may remain at rest for a period of weeks or even months.

Plants are said to be resting when they simply quit growing (not to be confused with an annual completing its life cycle). No matter how much we fertilize or water, Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass will not grow or turn green during their dormant period. 

Letter Kawaratani 1

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Liquidambar nearing winter nudity

Likewise, once a deciduous tree loses its leaves, it will not re-leaf until its environmental conditions are favorable for re-growth. Quiescence is an internal mechanism of a plant, affected by external temperature, quantity and quality of light, and available moisture. In other words, a plant “knows” when it is time to start growing again.    

Letter Kawaratani 2

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Desertscape somewhere in Baja California Sur

Many plants have adapted to their climes: they grow during the rainy season, and rest during the dry season. Plants as diverse as cacti of the deserts, orchids of the tropics, and California natives of the chaparral are all examples of this adaptation. Resting prepares the plants for blossoming and prevents them from weak and puny growth, a possibility if nature attempted to keep them in a period of activity throughout the year.

It was only after my second helping of turkey that I considered that I might be reenacting the Battle of the Bulge. However, with no guests at Casa Norte this Thanksgiving, that momentary thought was lost in the midst of the third serving. So much for quiescence; on second thought, I may have to putter and potter in the garden just a bit this weekend, just to work things off. Be well and see you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for 69 years. He can be reached at (949) 494.5141 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach

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