Green Foliage & Flowers Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Wearing something green on St. Patrick’s Day has been a tradition since emigrants, particularly in the United States, transformed the holiday into a largely secular event celebrating all things Irish. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants staged parades going back to 1737 in Boston and in New York City since 1762. Although blue was the color traditionally associated with St. Patrick, green is now commonly connected to this holiday with shamrocks high on the list of things to wear on this day.

There are many green flowers that you can grow in the garden. Green foliage, too, is relaxing and there are many of shades of green to choose from.

Diamond Heights Ceanothus

One of my favorite groundcovers for sunny areas that looks beautiful as it fills in between other low water use plants is Diamond Heights ceanothus. Carpet an area with this dense, low mat of golden yellow and lime-green variegated foliage. It looks great year round. The pretty light blue spring flowers take second place to the leaves.

This is one of those versatile plants, performing just as well in dry soils and tough situations as it does in sheltered gardens with partial shade and rich soils. If you want a spectacular effect, plant it as a group. Each plant covers 3-5 ft. Because the foliage makes a cover that weeds seldom manage to penetrate, it’s a real maintenance saver. Use it on difficult sites such as banks as well as in garden beds and raised beds. It’s also a stunner as a container plant, the foliage spreading wide on all sides.

With striking foliage Safari Goldstrike Conebush is a good addition to the drought and deer tolerant garden.

Another great greenish flowering shrub to try is Safari Goldstrike Conebush. This leucadendron is a vigorous compact grower to 6 feet tall and blooms during the winter and spring. It’s bracts are excellent as a cut flower and foliage harvesting. They grow in full sun and have low water needs.

If you’re looking for a heat, drought and deer tolerant plant that attracts birds, butterflies and hummingbirds you should grow some Golden Leaf salvia. The fragrant foliage is good to flavor sausage, soup, dressings, cheese dishes and stuffing. The young leaves can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked in an omelet or with all types of beans, cabbage and garlic.

Heuchera ‘Citronelle’

Over the years some of my favorite plants have had green flowers or shades of green foliage. There are green hydrangeas, green hellebores, lime green coral bells, Lady’s mantle, Sum & Substance hosta, green gladiolas, Mediterranean spurge and Bell of Ireland, of course.

So besides all that clover that is flourishing with these spring rains, enjoy everything green in your garden. The Irish have observed this day for over 1,000 years and so can you.

Gardening Trends for 2023

DIY gazebo

Will spring ever get here? Usually at this time of year we are enjoying mild weather and have spring fever big time. This year it seems the rain and cold weather will never end. That’s all good for the trees and shrubs, not so good for starting new perennials or changing the garden layout.

This year’s gardening trends will be right up your alley if you approach your landscaping in a way that’s natural. Think unfussy wildflowers, romantic arbors, meandering gravel paths, edibles, mixing styles and you’re there. What could be easier as we wait for the rains to lessen up?

A fellow designer I know built a gazebo for her garden from downed branches. Maybe shorter branches can be fashioned into a rustic fence. This year there’s no shortage of branches so start collecting now. If carpentry isn’t your thing you can put together a raised vegetable bed from 2×6 inch lumber and stacked planter wall blocks available at most building supply stores. Be sure to use gopher wire at the bottom of your new raised beds if you have these critters.

Most of us garden with a backdrop of mountains. Nature is all around us even if you live in a neighborhood with curbs. Some of the new trends will appeal to those who grow edibles while some will appeal to the gardener who loves their garden but doesn’t have time to do a lot of maintenance. What’s new this year is a return to some old fashioned ideas.

Embrace the smaller garden. You can create an instant meditation garden that encourages you to stop and sit for a couple minutes by placing a small bench where you can view something interesting in your garden. Small gardens are not only compact they are easier to care for. Containers on the patio or deck allow you to grow plants for food as well as for the birds and the bees. There are more new dwarf vegetable, herb and flower varieties being introduced every year.

Combine ornamental plants with edibles. Your veggies don’t have to be in a special raised bed or plot but can be planted throughout the garden. Think tomatoes, pole beans and other vining veggies trained on a metal obelisk within a perennial bed. Or compact versions of beans, eggplant, chard, hot peppers, tomatoes or edible flowers like nasturtiums planted among your other plants or along path borders.

Rustic fence from downed branches.

To create a sense of privacy, peace and quiet, enclose your garden. When a fence isn’t possible or preferred, plant a deep bed of mixed low water, low maintenance shrubs as a screen. Vines, like clematis, grown on a trellis provide nearly instant privacy and enclosure. If the front of your house faces the street, a few well-placed shrubs can block the view into your home.

Many of us are removing overgrown shrubs and replacing them with water smart, easy-to-care-for plants that will stay the right size in smaller spaces. There are new compact and dwarf versions of old plants that have been garden favorites for a very long time. The reason they have endured is because they are reliable. Good reason to look again at some old favorites.

Even if you’re not redoing your whole garden you can plant a small section or vignette using a more toned down palette. Whether it’s shades of pink or white or blue this look will give your garden a calm feeling. Add a place to sit and you’ll want to relax there with a book or beverage.

While experimental gardening in popular right now, some of the biggest landscaping styles in 2023 include focusing on the environment, natural wildlife gardens and kitchen gardens which are all sustainable. And that’s a good thing.

California Arbor Week

Plant an ornamental tree for yourself and for the future.

My little garden bounced back pretty quickly after our recent snow. Other than the calla lilies that are none too happy now but will recover the rest of the plants seem just fine. The native and ornamental flowering trees are coming on like nothing even happened. Nature is resilient.

California’s Arbor Day is actually a whole week. A State resolution in 2011 proclaimed March 7-14 as our Arbor Week. Arbor Day is a celebration in honor of famed horticulturist Luther Burbank’s birthday. The day is celebrated on different dates around the world because one of the features of Arbor Day is the planting of trees which is best done at certain times of the year. The simple goal of this day is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

We are fortunate to live in a temperate rain forest with lots of trees. Our redwoods are especially important in our biodiverse watershed as is all flora and fauna in the forest. Redwoods and many native trees keep our environment moist. Let’s make it a priority to protect them and pass the baton of stewardship to our children who will inherit this place.

So whether you’ve been thinking about planting a redwood, heritage oak or other native tree, a fruit tree to feed the family, a shade tree to save on summer cooling, a flowering tree to attract pollinators, or a tree to hang the hammock on, this is a good time to plant as well as nurture and celebrate all trees..

Trees are remarkable in how they grow and adapt to their environment. Some trees, like redwood, ponderosa pine, sycamore and madrone have especially beautiful bark. This is the tree’s protection from the outside world. Continually renewed from within, it helps keep out moisture in rain and prevents the tree from losing moisture when the air is dry. Bark insulates against cold and heat and wards off insect enemies.

The inner bark, or phloem, is the pipeline through which food is passed to the rest of the tree, It lives for only a short time, then dies and turns to cork to become part of the protective outer bark.

The next layer in is the cambium cell layer which is the growing part of the trunk. It annually produces new bark and new wood in response to hormones that pass down through the phloem with food from the leaves. These hormones are called auxins and stimulate growth in the cells. They are produced by leaf buds at the ends of branches as they start growing in spring.

Inside the cambium layer is the sapwood or xylem which moves water from the roots to the leaves. Sapwood is new wood. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner rings lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.

Finally, the central supporting pillar of the tree is called heartwood. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel.

Leaves make food for the tree. Their shapes help them reduce wind resistance, shed rain that could decay the leaf if left standing and produce chlorophyll. The narrow needles of a Douglas fir, for instance, exposes as much as three acres of surface to the sun.

Be kind to all trees. They are a valuable asset to your home and our environment. Earth Day is next month on April 22nd. Let’s continue to celebrate the natural beauty of our planet and learn what we can do to keep it healthy.

Phenology in the Garden

When daffodils begin to bloom sow sweet peas.

The daffodils are blooming. Will spring be early this year? When will I no longer need to worry about the danger of frost? How much is climate change affecting our natural world? We can all remember years when there is little rain in January and February and it feels like the Bahamas around here. Then there’s this year. Well, I don’t need to tell you about our weather this winter. But what are the plants around here doing? Leafing out early? How about those invasive plants around your yard?
Look to phenology indicators to give you some insight.

Phenology – not to be confused with phrenology which claims that bumps on the head predict mental traits – is the study of key seasonal changes in flowering times, emergence of insects and migration of birds from year to year. When do they occur each year? Phenology is a real science that has many applications. In farming and gardening, phenology is used chiefly for planting times and pest control. Predictions for fire season are based on factors pertaining to weather as well as plant growth. Certain plants give a cue, by blooming or leafing out, that it’s time for certain activities, such as sowing particular crops or insect emergence and pest control. Often the common denominator is the temperature.

Websites like USA National Phenology Network at offer lots of information on the subject. The US Global Change and Research Program released the first 14 indicators of climate change. Among these is the Start of Spring indicator on this website which reflects the accumulation of heat sufficient to initiate leafing and flowering in temperature sensitive plants. Your own observations via Nature’s Notebook will help contribute to this research.

Indicator plants are often used to look for a particular pest and manage it in its most vulnerable stages. They can also be used to time the planting of vegetables, apply fertilizer or prune. Here are some common garden plants and what they indicate:

When dandelions bloom, plant spinach, beets and carrots.

When daffodils begin to bloom, sow peas.
When dandelions bloom, plant spinach, beets and carrots.
When lilac leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, sow peas, lettuce and other cool-weather crops.
When lilacs are in full bloom, plant beans.
Once lilacs have faded, plants squash and cucumbers.
When apple trees shed their petals, sow corn.
When dogwoods are in full bloom, plant tomatoes, peppers and early corn.
When bearded iris are in bloom, plant peppers and eggplants.
When locust and spirea bloom, plant zinnia and marigolds.

When forsythia and crocus bloom, crabgrass is germinating. When this happens the soil temperature at a depth of 4 inches is 55 degrees. Treat with an organic pre-emergent.
When crocus bloom, prune roses and feed your lawn.
Mexican bean beetle larvae appear when foxglove flowers open.

Record your own observations. Another great site is National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at Sites like these can also help you design orchards for pollination and ripening sequence, design for bee forage plantings, design perennial flower beds and wildflower plantings as well as plantings to attract beneficial insects and enhance natural biological control. How cool is that?

Gardening Tips for the Allergy Sufferer

Several of my friends suffer from allergies nearly year round starting in January. Most of us don’t notice the amount of pollen in the air even when it’s cold but my friends sure do.

Acacias get a bad rap by allergy sufferers.

Everybody blames the Acacia tree for their allergies but they are not the real culprits for the allergy sufferer. Redwood pollen is dispersed at this time of year. Strong winds can cause the yellow redwood “flowers”, which are actually the flowers of the male cone, but boy can they put out the pollen. And because redwoods live in such a narrow band of coast line, there is no allergy shot for those highly affected by them. But back to what you can do in your yard if you suffer from allergies.

Yes, the acacia trees are in full bloom. Being one of the first flowering trees we see they get our attention. Blooming acacias are often blamed as the cause of allergic reactions at this time of year but acacias are largely pollinated by insects and their heavy pollen doesn’t tend to become airborne. It’s the non-showy, quiet plants you have to watch out for. If you’re an allergy sufferer some plants are worse than others for you.

Redwoods are a major source of pollen.

According to historical records for our area the pollen count is mostly moderate in February. Depending on the weather, and show medium high counts only for a few days this month. If you’re an allergy sufferer you don’t need a website to tell you what the count is. Our native red alder is in bloom now and it, along juniper and birch, are the main culprits at this time. Grasses, ragweed and other weeds and most trees bloom and shed pollen in March, April and May. Then comes summer, then fall and with it other problems for the allergy sufferer. To further complicate and make matters worse for the allergy sufferer, climate change is making pollen season longer and more intense. You can’t control what’s growing outside your own yard but here are some tips for what to plant and not plant in your garden.

About 25-30 popular landscape plants are responsible for the majority of plant-related allergies in California. During the height of the pollen season- from late February to June- there are often thousands of pollen grains in every cubic meter of air. One can breathe hundreds of them with every breath. Though pollens can travel many miles, the majority tend to stay in the general area of their origin.

Redwoods, oaks, alders, ashes and other wind pollinated trees like olives, birch, box elder, cypress, elm, juniper, maple, fruitless mulberry, pine, walnut, willow and privet are the major source of spring pollen. Most native plants are good in the sneezeless landscape but if you have bad allergies or asthma it best to avoid wind-pollinated ceanothus, elderberry and coffeeberry.

You may not be able to avoid those culprits growing on other properties but you can get the most out of your own backyard by creating a sneezeless landscape. Replacing existing plants may be impractical but planning future plantings with these things in mind will save you a lot of headaches down the road and let you enjoy the sunshine outside in your garden.

Flower type is a good way to judge plants. The best looking flowers usually cause allergy sufferers the fewest problems. Plants with bright, showy flowers are usually pollinated by insects, rather than by the wind. These flowers produce less pollen and their pollen is larger and heavier, sticking to the insect rather than becoming airborne and lead to sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes.

Some trees that are good for anti-allergy gardens are apple, cherry, dogwood, magnolia, pear and plum. Shrubs like azaleas, boxwood, lilac, rose-of-Sharon, hydrangea and viburnum are also not likely to cause problems. Good flower choices include alyssum, begonia, clematis, columbine, bulbs like crocus, daffodil, hyacinth. Also good are dahlia, daisy, geranium, hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, petunia, phlox, roses, salvia, snapdragon, sunflower, verbena and zinnia. Lawns of perennial rye grass, blue grass and tall fescue blends are usually OK as they will not flower unless allowed to grow to 12 inches or higher. Bermuda grass, on the other hand, can pollinate when the lawn is very short, sometimes as quickly as a few days after mowing.

We don’t know what’s going to happen rain-wise for us this spring. Symptoms can become worse for the allergy sufferer if the body reacts to the disappearance of the pollen following its initial appearance only to have to have more of it later in the spring. According to Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, “You become sensitized to it, so when you’re…re-exposed, you can get an even more violent allergic reaction.”

Here’s to a sneeze-less spring for you allergy sufferers

The February Garden

Wait to prune Flowering Currant until after flowering.

Hopefully these cold mornings will be a thing of the past by the time you read this. My plants were much happier right after the rainsI when nights were mild. ’m waiting patiently for the buds on my pink flowering currant to start showing color. I saw some recently in Felton that were already opening. Mine are still pretty small at this stage but I’ve assured my hummingbird population that they’re on their way. When I was out pruning last week I didn’t touch this plant otherwise I’d have cut off all those potential flower clusters loaded with nectar. Here are some February tasks that I am doing.

To stimulate new growth trim woody evergreen shrubs like abelia and loropetalum soon. Cut Mexican bush sage and artemisia to within a few inches of the ground. I don’t use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune those after blooming later in the season and don’t cut back to bare wood inside the plant.

Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’

Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim. A plant is wasting energy on new growth if trimmed later. Let your plants dictate when the time is right. Every garden is different and in microclimates in your own garden temps can vary widely.

My previous hydrangea garden.

Cut back hydrangea stems that bloomed last year and apply a soil acidifier if you want blue flowers. Although aluminum sulfate is the traditional favorite for quickly acidifying soil it’s not as kind to beneficial soil microorganisms. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are better for your soil.

Don’t prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, weigela, spirea, flowering currants or flowering trees such as cherry, plum and crabapple now. These and evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias should be pruned after they flower. You can cut some branches while they are blooming to bring into the house for bouquets.

Even if you have pruned your roses be sure to remove old leaves still clinging to the plant even if the leaves look okay now. They will most likely develop fungal spots and diseases later if you don’t. Rake up any debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores

Wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late hard frost. Same goes for shrubs that might have gotten hit by frost. That damaged foliage can protect the plant from further frost damage. Mid-March is the estimated date of hard frost in our area or at least it used to be. We gardeners are always betting Mother Nature will go our way and our efforts will not have gone in vain.

Prune fruit, nut, shade trees and deciduous vines like clematis now.

Cut back ornamental grasses if you live where you rarely get frost. When I grew California fuchsia, salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’ and hummingbird sage I’d prune now to encourage new, compact growth.

And remember to enjoy your time in the garden. It’s only work if you think of it that way.

The Mountain Gardener's Weblog

%d bloggers like this: