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Archive for September, 2011


LEAD the Way With Outdoor LED Lighting

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Move over halogen bulbs, the new bulbs on the block are revolutionizing the world of outdoor lighting.   LEDs, the light emitting diodes that illuminate our car break lights, alarm clocks, and our household electrical appliance, are exploding into our gardens.

This beautiful nighttime lighting uses Kichler LED fixtures

LEDs are so energy efficient that the State of California promotes them for indoor and outdoor lighting. The State’s goal of lower energy use is intended to “reduce air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants while producing the same quality of light as traditional incandescent bulbs.”

Traditional outdoor lighting is low voltage. A cable connects a string of light fixtures to a transformer that converts household current to 12-volt direct current.  LED systems use a driver rather than a transformer to regulate the electricity.

Outdoor LED systems like the ones on this page from Kichler, offer both opportunities and challenges. Experts agrees that silica based LEDs are shatter resistant, a definite plus for outdoors.

Cool temperatures are another plus.  Incandescent bulbs generate light by heating a metal filament until it glows. Incandescent halogens can reach 500° F, according to electrical contractor and lighting design instructor Paul Bussell of Ladybug Lectric in Encinitas, California.  Extreme temperatures singe leaves, branches, and fingertips. LEDs generate almost no heat, making them safe both in the landscape and to the touch.

While burnt-out bulbs are a common complaint for traditional outdoor lights, LED lifespans are estimated at about 10 years, though, Bussell points out, they’ve not been used in outdoor lighting that long.  Only time will tell.

Bussell says that LED light quality is almost up to his standards. “Its hard to put one into an uplight and expect to dim it,” he says, “ and in a sequence of lights, they may not  all  be the same color.  Some might be more blue or more yellow.”

Joe Bell, general manager Lightbulbs Unlimited in San Diego agrees that color is “people’s number one concern.  We can get warm whites that look like (the color of) an incandescent bulb….you wouldn’t notice the difference.”

While Bell recommends a driver for new LED systems, he says that for retrofitted systems and those with both halogen and LED fixtures, simply use the existing transformer.  Lightbulbs Unlimited also carries LED bulbs that fit into traditional halogen lighting fixtures, “You can retrofit what you have already… Still, you have to match the draw to the transformer.”  And if you want to dim an LED, Bell says, use a dimmable driver.

Both men agree that reduced energy use is the biggest driver for outdoor LED lighting. Bell says, for example, that a13-watt LED lamp puts out as much light as a standard 40-watt incandescent bulb.Several tiny LED lights go into a single fixture like this one from Kichler

Cost, of course, is a factor.  At Lightbulbs Unlimited, a normal halogen uplight may cost $9, while an LED uplight might cost $25 to $45.

Despite the upfront cost, says Bussell “If you factor in usage, longevity and replacement, LED systems are a fifth the cost of halogen systems.”

“Its a huge difference,” Bussell continues, “That one factor alone is the quickest and most efficient way to cut energy use.”

The State of California maintains on-line database of products that meet state-mandated criteria for energy efficiency including LED bulbs.  When you visit the database, select the category “Lighting Products,” and the type “High Efficacy LEDs.”


Show your colors: Many-hued native bulb flowers are built to survive our hot, dry climate

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Many people are amazed to learn that there are bulbs native to California. “Bulbs” conjures images of gladioluses, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, even snowdrops — all of which are native to other parts of the world. But, bulbs native to California? Really?

Yes, really.

Nearly all the bulbs offered in nurseries are bold, fancy versions hybridized from far more modest bulbs found in nature. Our native bulbs are on that “nature” scale. While they are not “in your face” the way a fancy glad might be, that doesn’t mean they are any less beautiful. In fact, in many respects, they are even more remarkable looking.

Yellow Mariposa lily (Calochortus luteus), for example, is native to coastal, valley and foothill areas from the Mexican border, almost to Oregon. All mariposas (there are many kinds) are true lilies. Yellow Mariposa lily’s narrow, grasslike leaves stand only 4 to 8 inches tall. From late spring into summer, foot-tall stalks are topped with cup-shaped flowers of bright yellow (hence the name, “luteus”) with burgundy markings. ‘Golden Orb’ is one of the varieties most widely available to gardeners.

The cup-shaped flowers of Calochortus venustus, butterfly Mariposa lily, look very similar to yellow mariposa. Their flowers, though, can range from white to pink, yellow to purple, even reddish brown, often with reddish markings in the center. These are petite bulbs, only a foot or two tall, native to mountains and foothills from the Sierras to the San Gabriels, so they are quite cold hardy. Springtime is bloom time. Plant in full or part sun.

Early onion, Allium praecox, is an onion, but probably not an onion you’d choose to eat. It is one you might choose to grow in your garden, especially since it is one of the earliest blooming native bulbs. Flower stalks emerge from foot-tall clumps of slender, grasslike leaves starting in late winter. Through early spring, stalks are topped in clusters of tiny white to pink to purplish flowers. These bulbs do very well in dry shade.

Tube-shaped springtime flowers of Dichelostemma ida-maia, firecracker flower, are an odd combination of crimson red and chartreuse. Foot-tall flower stalks are topped with a handful of dangling blooms, best seen close up. Since these are higher-elevation bulbs from the edges of forests in north coastal California, they perform best planted in shade or part sun.

Dichelostemma capitatum, known as blue dicks, is similar to firecracker flower, but its flower clusters are upright and purply blue/lavender on taller flower stalks.

Soap bulb, Chlorogalum parviflorum is native to the dry, coastal sage scrub widely found throughout coastal San Diego County. Soap bulb’s slender green leaves grow only about 8 inches tall. In late spring and into summer, tiny, white flowers line stalks 1 to 3 feet tall. Each of the star-shaped blooms has six prominent yellow pollen sacks around a swollen, green center. The bulb part of this plant contains a chemical called saponin. If you wet your hands and rub a bulb between them, you’ll get a handful of soapy foam, hence their use by American Indians. Don’t drink the foam, though, as saponin is toxic. Plant in full sun, where bulbs can go dry in summer.

All of these bulbs live through hot, dry summers with no irrigation. As summer approaches, their foliage withers to the ground. The bulbs are dormant, then, until fall rains, when new foliage appears. They do best under conditions that emulate nature, so plant them in unirrigated areas. They are longest lived in well-draining soils.

Bulb sources

Recon Native Plants: 619.423.2284

Easy to Grow Bulbs

• Telos Rare Bulbs

Theodore Payne Foundation: 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley, CA, 91352

Tree of Life Nursery: 33201 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675