I have a neighbor that I see almost every morning. He’s a fitness buff and spends most of his time in a sunny spot in plain view.
Not only is he a body builder, he’s a showoff, pumping his chest and doing pushups anytime someone walks by.
But he’s cold-blooded. And he’s wary; always watching me. When I pass too close he quickly disappears, not wanting to socialize at all. He’s unusual in another way too – he’s got a tail.
Among my most favorite and popular garden companions are lizards. My fascination can be traced to my earliest outdoor memories; watching lizards in my Inglewood backyard. I was probably two or three at the time, but I still remember their antics.
During the warm months of the year lizards are conspicuous members of a healthy thriving and well-balanced garden. Right now, Western Fence Lizards are seen frequently in gardens, sitting on rocks, fences and boards, sunning themselves and doing "pushups" with their front legs. They’re fun and useful garden companions.
All lizards are carnivores, feeding primarily on insects, spiders, worms, grubs and other arthropods. In our gardens they help us out by consuming many of the insects we prefer not to deal with. Without a doubt lizards fit any definition of the word beneficial and they are completely harmless.
Lizards are hunters, but are also hunted; a part of a natural food web. Unfortunately, this lizard’s love of high, open places makes it easy prey for certain birds and small mammals. House cats seem to make a sport of hunting these little fellows, but mine at prefers to play with them rather than do them any real harm.
It's unfortunate that so much misinformation circulates through social media. One recent myth involved Western Fence Lizards. As the story went, the tail is toxic, and if pets such as cats or dogs were to eat the tail it could cause the pet to go into convulsions that could be fatal. Of course, doctors and other experts know that this is nonsense, so it pays to question what you hear.
All lizards are reptiles, along with animals like snakes and turtles, and as reptiles they are cold-blooded. Since they cannot regulate their body temperature, the way mammals can, they rely instead on sunning themselves or resting on warm surfaces. In a process called thermoregulation, they adjust their body temperature by moving in and out of the sun, depending on whether they are too cold or too hot. Lizards are seldom seen during the cool winter months, but I’m happy to find several in my garden on during the sunny, warm months. Growth is accomplished by periodic shedding of their outer skin, sometimes three or four times each year, with the skin coming off in large sections. Reproduction starts with eggs laid by the female, usually in July in our area and the tiny little two inch juveniles are sometimes seen during mid summer.
The aptly named Western Fence Lizard enjoys sitting on prominent exposed points, like fence posts, where it can sun itself, watch for food, and keep an eye on predators . . . and gardeners. Like many species, these lizards are able to change their general color to match their background, darkening on dark surfaces and becoming paler on a light surface. Interestingly, some lizards remain dark when placed on a light background, mimicking a shadow or an imperfection in the rock surface. Like many lizards, Western Fence Lizards are often very dark in color when they first become active in the morning and grow lighter as they warm up.
Little fellows, always showing off; sunbathing, body-building and doing push-ups for all the passing girls. I’m jealous, but I’m still glad to them as a neighbors.
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar.
Questions from Readers July 9.
I know vinegar kills weeds. Will the vinegar acidify the soil and kill the host plants?
Elizabeth, Newport Beach
I recall a column where I mentioned vinegar as a weed control. Yes, it will work – in the right circumstances (warm day, young weed, etc.). You’re correct that vinegar has a very low pH (acid) and that in simple terms it might appear to cause problems with the soil pH. Fortunately, you are using such a small amount of vinegar when you spray it onto weeds that it would have almost no impact on soil chemistry. In addition, vinegar is extremely water soluble and the next irrigation would carry it out of the soil anyway. In fact, this is why vinegar will not work as a soil acidifier around azaleas, camellias, blueberries, etc. Vinegar essentially has no residual.
Vinegar’s mode of control is by burning and exploding the cells of the leafy, green parts of a plant. Other products, good and bad, operate in much the same manner, such as herbicidal soaps, alcohol; gasoline, Windex, even flames. All of these will work in certain conditions, but not work under other conditions. Unlike Roundup and other synthetic herbicides, none of these work systemically in the weed – they are contact only.
Much like scraping the top off the top of a weed at the soil level with a hoe; if the weed is a young, soft, annual weed it will probably kill it. But if it is a tougher perennial weed, it will probably return. If you continue to regularly scrape off the top of the same weed, eventually the roots will be depleted of energy and the weed will die. How long that will take is quite a variable answer.
In my opinion, the best weed strategy is a comprehensive approach that includes mulching, proper irrigation, non-disturbance of the soil surface, minimal exposed soil surfaces, elimination of the weed seedbank, hand and mechanical control, and herbicides (organic or synthetic) when needed. No one method is right in every situation.