Fertilizing – What, How and When

I have to chuckle when I see someone admiring a basket of blooming fuchsias. "How do they get them to bloom so much?", they say. I tell them you have to fertilize regularly like the growers do. "Oh, you have to fertilize?"
Yes, plant are living things with basic requirements just like us. Here are a few tips that can make it easy to have those lush, bountiful blooms you see in all the magazines.

There are lots of ways to fertilize and many kinds to choose from. Some plants, like established trees and shrubs, need little help from us as long as they exhibit normal leaf size, color and desired growth. Young plants and fruit and nut trees, especially those growing in infertile soil, may grow more quickly, however, after fertilization. is usually the only nutrient to which woody plants respond. Slow release fertilizers are better because a fertilizer that releases nutrients quickly can injure plant growth if applied too heavily or incorporated into the planting hole.

A common way to destroy the microbiology of the soil is to add salts ( non-organic fertilizers ). The salts kill the good bacteria and fungi by dehydrating them. Then the plant can’t feed itself and becomes dependent on its fertilizer fix.  Without the good bacteria and fungi in the soil other parts of the food chain start dying off as well. Rapid growth from excess fertilizer can cause bark to crack allowing entry of fungi. Too much fertilizer also promotes excessive succulent foliage which can increase pest populations that prefer tender new growth.

As a general rule, California natives thrive in nutrient-poor soils. You probably will not need to fertilize on a regular basis, even with organic fertilizer, unless your soil is severely depleted or if the plant you are trying to grow only occurs naturally in soils with much higher fertility.

If you decide to add nutrients to the soil around natives or established trees and shrubs, the best time is when the plants are actively growing. For natives this is late fall to spring. for other plants late winter to late spring is best. Choose from organic fertilizers such as compost, chicken manure, bat guano, blood meal, cottonseed, kelp, feather or fish meal. Organic fertilizer is also available in bags or liquid and usually contain humic acid and beneficial soil microbes. Most organic forms of nitrogen must decompose before being absorbed by plants and are therefore slow acting, remaining in the soil longer where they are stored until needed by the plant.

What about those fuchsia baskets- what is the best way to fertilize them? Containers that are watered regularly will need to have nutrients replenished as they leach out with each watering. Nitrogen especially washes out of the soil. A nutrient-deprived plant can’t produce flowers which is its whole purpose in life. The more flowers, the better chance to reproduce.

Fast acting inorganic liquid or granule fertilizers are like candy bars for a plant. Their nutrients are immediately available and this capability can be useful if a plant is stressed due to pest infestation or has lost leaves and vigor. Slow release fertilizers, like Osmocote, although inorganic are available to the plant over a much longer time. Their nutrients are released depending on soil temperature so as our days warm, the soil does, too, right when your plants are vigorously growing.

Perennials fall somewhere in the middle in their nutrient requirements. Drought tolerant perennials don’t require heavy feeding. A fresh layer of compost and a light application of organic fertilizer in the spring are all that they need. Other perennials will benefit from another application or two of fertilizer in addition to fresh compost. As the plant absorbs nutrients through its roots, it can’t ell the difference between an organic and an inorganic fertilizer. However organic fertilizers are less likely to burn plants, especially when it’s hot. They feed the soil and its microscopic organisms not just the plant and won’t contaminate the ground water.

Remember you can kill a plant with kindness so follow the directions on the label whatever type you choose.


Roses for the Santa Cruz Mountains

The weather this year has agreed with my roses. It may seem like we’re living in England lately, but the roses have appreciated the cool, moist spring- all the better to set lots of buds without a sudden heat wave to ruin the show. Every rose lover I’ve talked to is raving about the quality, quantity and extended bloom time for their roses.

Roses are available in so many shapes, sizes, colors and fragrances that almost every garden has a place for at least one. They provide structure and proportion to the landscape and are among the most showy and hardworking of all garden plants. The rose was selected as our National flower in 1986. England may have a few years on us in this department as it’s been their national emblem since the Wars of the Roses in 1455.

Who grew the first rose? Fossilized plants over 30 million years old can be linked to modern rose species. The Chinese were probably the first to cultivate roses, however. Five hundred years BC, Confucius wrote of roses in the Imperial Gardens. Roses have been under cultivation in China before they were introduced to the European market in the late 18th century. The ancient Greeks cultivated roses extensively. The Romans imported roses from Egypt. They also established a thriving rose-growing industry south of Rome forcing them into bloom during the winter in greenhouses and irrigating with warm water.

In the genus Rosa there are over 150 species or styles of roses that have specific characteristics. These species roses are plants that grow in the wild and from which all other roses are descended. Hybridization happens in nature by bees and other insects but man has taken the process to an intricate art and hybrid roses now account for over 1000 different kinds. From old garden roses like Damask and Bourbon to modern roses like hybrid tea, floribunda and grandiflora to tree roses, climbing roses, miniatures, the choices are endless.

Which types grow well here? From my own experience and that of other designers and rose aficionados, my
all-time favorite is the popular Sally Holmes. It’s disease resistant, everblooming, handles our summer heat and winter cold with ease and has few thorns. Large, long lasting clusters of single peachy-white blooms cover this 10 ft spreading shrub that acts more like a climber. Because the flower is simple in form and doesn’t contain many petals it can handle foggy, cool conditions and resist fungal diseases.

English roses, like Golden Celebration, need warmth to perform well. With 5" blooms of 50+ petals, they are reliable if you get lots of heat. Same goes for the rich, golden-yellow Graham Thomas rose. Both are fragrant.

Roses that I have found to bloom in shady conditions are Ballerina, a wonderfully fragrant, small, pink hybrid musk rose. Dense, hardy and vigorous it’s easy to grow. I also grow the magenta climber, Zepherine Drouhin, in the shade. It grows to 8-12 ft tall and has a strong raspberry scent. Iceberg performs well in part shade, too, with large, double, pure white blooms that scent the air with a rich, honey perfume. I like that it’s thornless, too. I’ve been told that the miniature, Gourmet Popcorn, also tolerates shade.

Deer love to eat roses. Even roses with terrible thorns have susceptible new growth before the thorns have had time to harden.  The new growth also has an increased amount of nutrients. I’ve heard that Rugosa roses are fairly deer resistant and well as The Fairy. Hope springs eternal.

This column is not long enough to go into the best way to plant and grow roses. But if you have a choice, it’s best to plant them where they receive at least morning sun as this allows the foliage to dry before fungus spores take hold.

Every garden or patio has a place for at least one wonderfully fragrant rose.

Color your Garden-Every Month of the Year

I don’t know about your plans for the summer, but I’ll be sticking close to home. What with the price of gas and groceries, I’m planning a couple of camping trips in our great state. I guess you could say I’m going to be enjoying a "staycation".

With my attention directed more to the home front, I want to focus especially on making sure I have color in my garden every month of the year. I love my so I want to fine tune my containers and plantings so they attract as many of these small wonders as I can.

While making an entry in my journal recently, noting the progress of my pet trees, shrubs and perennials, I was struck by the realization that I don’t have enough color in my garden in the month of May. You’d think "April showers bring May flowers" would have done the trick but our cool weather has slowed things down a bit. I love my white calla lilies, Doublefile viburnum and bleeding hearts but all that white is a little too quiet for my tastes. I was sorry to see my vivid late red tulips finally drop their petals in the rain. Their absence leaves a void I plan to fill right away. I want a few hot samba colors to punch up my landscape.

I like many color combinations.  I could go with pale orange with white. They look great together. If I choose a variegated salmon Abutilon ( Flowering maple ) as a focal pint, I might pair it with orange calibrachoa, a rust colored coleus, bonfire begonia, Gartenmeister fuchsia and a Catlin’s Giant ajuga to tie it together. They’ll bloom all summer and the fuchsia attracts hummingbirds, too.  If you garden in the sun, you could use an orange geranium, Terra Cotta yarrow, orange coneflower, agastache or a wallflower with Evening Glow coprosma instead of the begonia and fuchsia.

Burgundy and gold are energetic opposites that never fail to catch the eye. When two colors are complimentary it means they bring out the best in each other. Their hues bring a sense of majesty to any garden. Plants that can be considered gold lie in a narrow band of color, ranging from pure yellow to chartreuse. It brightens shady spots and creates a great background for the burgundy. Did you know that the color yellow sit right in the middle of the light spectrum visible to the human eye. It reflects more light that any of the other colors? That must be why I have so much of this shade in my shady garden. It really livens up the place.

Here are some successful vignettes demonstrating eye-catching possibilities for any garden.
The smokebush is looking especially vibrant this year in the cool weather. It would pair well with a spirea Goldmound or Limemound. Add a phormium Jester, Roseglow Japanese barberry and a Sapphire blue oat grass to cool things down and you’ve got a winning combination.

Or how about a Bloodgood Japanese maple surrounded by All Gold Japanese forest grass, Festival grass cordyline or a Yellow wave New Zealand flax? Bearded iris come in every color of the rainbow and a purple and gold one would fit it perfectly. You could also add a Diamond Heights ceanothus and a pale yellow or red mumulus for the hummingbirds.

Whatever colors you choose kick it up a notch and make sure you have blooms and hummingbirds all year in your garden.


Stone in the Garden

One of my fondest childhood memories is the Tahoe camping trip in the rain that my Dad saved by digging a moat around our tent. So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I started off in the rain a couple weeks ago to camp at Pinnacles National Monument.

Spring rains have unleashed a bounty of wildflowers nestled among the rock outcroppings, sprouting along creeks and covering meadows with dazzling color. There are over 100 species of wildflowers that live in the park. The spectacular rock formations and lichen covered boulders catch your eye and at every turn I pictured how this stone or that would fit into my garden. Be creative in your own landscaping with plants and stone to add a touch of timelessness and permanence.

Stone makes a garden look like it’s been there a very long time. Think of it as durable art – guiding you up a slope, channeling water away from your door, holding back a hillside or marking a path as it changes direction. Flat stones are good for sitting and resting as you wander through the garden.

You don’t have to design a massive project that requires heavy equipment and thousands of dollars to enjoy the magic of working with stone. With a little imagination you can create a place of enduring beauty with stone that you can move yourself or with just a little help.

Every gardener probably has a collection of special stones found while visiting different places. Are rocks different than stone? Technically, stone is a rock that has been exposed to the elements and smoothed, shaped, etched or altered by wind, water, ice and sun. Free stone can be found at construction sties, rocky hillsides and empty fields. Don’t gather stone from public parks and check first with the Forest Service before gathering in a national forest or other public lands. If you want larger quantities or sizes of stone you can find them at local rockeries.

Wherever you find one stone in nature, you usually find many more. Small stones are formed by the breakup of larger ones, so nearby stones are related. In your garden you can re-create these relationships by placing stone features of varying sizes in positions that make them appear to have always existed exactly as they are. Then add carefully chosen plants to tie the stone family together.

When you use stone to pave a walkway or to build a low wall, it defines the lines of your landscape. Lines can lead to the front door or a flower bed or water garden. In the backyard, curved paths lined with stone feel more relaxed. Slopes can be tames with curved retaining walls built with stone.

What plants pair well with different types of stone? Rounded weathered stone always appears more settled and relaxed than jagged broken pieces. That’s why ferns and woodland plants typically found near streams combine well with rounded stone. Douglas iris, bleeding hearts, armeria, blue-eyed grass and carex grass make good companion plants, too.

Jagged stone that looks like the craggy peaks of distant mountains looks more at home with conifers, Japanese maples, mahonia, creeping thyme, bush poppy, phormiums and coffeeberry to name just a few.

You can move small to medium sized stones once you have collected them or had them delivered to your yard by dragging them atop an old tire or putting them in a flat bottomed bin. Be sure to protect the stone with a covering to preserve that precious lichen and weathering. You can also use a mechanics dolly, garbage can, garden cart or wheelbarrow. Pry bars and planks can also be used to roll stones around like the ancient Egyptians. Ropes, chains, winches, and straps are useful, too. Should you find that the task you have undertaken is beyond your strength or abilities, get help. 

Get the WOW factor by adding stone to your garden.