What to Do about Invasive Plants


bull_thistleWe can't control those pesky weed seeds that blow into our gardens and take hold. There are ways to keep them from taking over, however. But what about those invasive plants that are already in our gardens like ivy and vinca major? What's the best way to deal with them? Then there are plants we buy ourselves that can invade natural areas. Are there better plants to use that are just as attractive and useful? Here are some solutions to make your garden happy.

One invasive thug that can take over is bull thistle, a relative of the edible artichoke. The seeds of this vigorous exotic take hold in disturbed areas including your beautiful garden soil and if not controlled can become a solid mass of impenetrable thistles in just a few seasons. Bull thistle only reproduces by seed so removal of the flowering stalks at this time of year will prevent them from spreading. The flowering heads must be discarded in a plastic bag and destroyed to keep them from forming viable seed. Because this weed is biennial you also need to dig out the first year plants that have not formed stalks. You can also mow thistles close to the ground a couple of times before they form stalks to reduce the population over time.

As a landscape designer and consultant I'm often called upon for advice for an area covered with vinca major or ivy. Both of these invasive species are too successful for their own good, smothering native plants and harboring pests such as rats and snails. Vinca major also serves as a host to the bacteria that causes Pierce's disease in grapevines. For your information, vinca minor has not been found to be invasive in California so far

You can choose organic methods to control vinca and ivy rather than chemical herbicides. Hand vinca_majorremoval is labor intensive but the results are good if all the root nodes and stolons are removed. Work inward from the perimeter of the patch and pull the plants back. You will need to do this every 3 months during the first year to remove resprouts but native plants may recolonize the area and reduce the chance that other weeds will move into the area following the disturbance caused by the removal activities.

Replanting with another more desirable groundcover is another solution. For shady areas, try planting wild ginger  (Asarum caudatum), Catalina perfume ( Ribes viburnifolium), creeping snowberry ( Symphoricarpos mollis), yerba buena ( Satureja douglasii ), bear's foot hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), winter saxifrage (Bergenia cordifolia), pachysandra, Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) or Asian jasmine.

Good substitutes for vinca or ivy in sunnier spots include groundcover types of manzanita and ceanothus. Also attractive are Taiwan raspberry (Rubus pentalobus), California fuchsia (Zauschneria), or beach strawberry (Fragraria chiloensis ).

Some plants even though purchased from a nursery can cause problems. You wouldn't buy a Scotch or French broom knowing how invasive they can be. Forsythia, Japanese kerria, golden currant and Jerusalem sage all provide that beautiful spring butter yellow color in the garden.

The licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) gained popularity for its deer resistance and foliage color many years ago. Unfortunately, it self sows wildly and the spreading branches will root at any point of contact with the ground. Try instead better behaved plants like California natives salvia leucophylla or eriogonum giganteum. Teucrium germander or Powis Castle artemisia also work well in the same area.

Another good plant gone wrong is cotonester  lacteus (parneyi).  The red fall berries are spread by cotoneaster_lacteus_Parneyibirds and with their rapid growth and competitive roots they can overtake the garden and wild areas. Fortunately there are many other plants to use instead that provide food for birds and are beautiful, too. Try planting toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) a California native with delicate white flowers and large clusters of brilliant red berries. Pineapple guava is another good substitute as is strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

These are just some of the suggested alternatives for invasive garden plants for this area. Don't give an invasive an inch, it can take over your garden, the neighbors and our wildlands.
 



Shade plants with Color


We wait all winter for the weather to warm up. At last it finally arrives and all we want to do is sit in the shady spot in the garden where it's cool. What plants can thrive in the shade? What plants can survive a location that is very dark during the winter and then gets only slightly brighter shade during the growing season? These are tough conditions for most plants but I have my favorites that have endured over the years and still bounce back each spring to bring color to my garden.

The sound of rustling leaves is soothing to our ears. But many of the ornamental grasses that sway in the breeze don't survive in shady locations. One that does is Japanese Forest Grass. There are several varieties of hakonechloa that can brighten a dark spot by your favorite lounging chair. Aureola has the classic bright gold and lime green striped leaves. Last year a friend gave me an All Gold variety that is equally beautiful. I love the way each graceful leaf tumbles toward the light reminding me of flowing water.

Japanese Forest Grass are not invasive. They are easily divided to increase your collection or share with fellow gardeners.  At season's end these grasses turn pinkish for about a month before taking on winter's tawny color. In January cut off last years growth and within a very few months new growth emerges fresh and bright.
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A plant that makes a fine background or small accent tree for a partial shady spot is Double-File Viburnum. Related to the popular snowball plant, the Mariesii viburnum blooms in the spring. Creamy, white lacecap flowers form in a double file along each horizontal branch and is how this showy shrub got its name.

The white flowers look great in a moon garden and are attractive to butterflies during the day. After blooming bright red berries form providing food for many birds.  Truly a plant for all seasons, in the fall the foliage turns red or purplish.

For dry shade try growing Kaffir liy ( clivia miniata ).  I've got a bright orange blooming Belgian Hybrid and an intense, deep red-orange Flame variety. Actually, I have many clivia as they divide so easily and bloom in fairly  dark shade. Beautiful, robust green strappy leaves are handsome year round but the dozens of flowers clusters, some containing as many as 60 flowers each, brighten up any area. Drought tolerant once established they make a gorgeous accent, border or container specimen.
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Chinese Ground Orchid ( Bletilla striata ) is another of my favorites plants for shade. A natural companion for ferns and wildflowers, this plant is tougher than it looks. Vivid, magenta blooms resembling small cattleya orchids emerge on long stalks for about 6 weeks in the spring. They like moist conditions and do well in pots.

Every spring I look forward to the unique flowers of my Queen's Tears billbergia. This pineapple relative makes a vigorous, deer resistant groundcover under trees without becoming invasive. Exotic looking rosy-red spikes are topped with drooping pink, blue and green flowers that look like dangling earrings. Insects never bother them. Give them a little water now and then and forget them. They're that easy to grow.

I use all of these tough plants in designs for shady gardens because I know they will thrive, look beautiful and provide color. If you have a garden that gets little winter light these are the plants for you.



Gift Plants for your Christmas List


I've barely finished eating leftover turkey a dozen different ways and already I find myself thinking of all things Christmas. I know I should relish Thanksgiving longer and not rush it but I can't help myself. I'm basically just a big kid at heart and there are so many fun gifts that come from the garden. Most of the people on my Christmas list live far from from here so I'm not giving anything away by sharing some of my gift ideas.

My Aunt Ruth is quite the gardener. I enjoy flowers of every kind whenever I visit her. There is always something in bloom.  She loves her neighbors who stop, talk and admire her landscape as she prunes or weeds. I'm going to give her a winter flowering camellia to spice things up at this time of year. Chansonette camellia hiemalis, a variety often classified with sasanquas will get heads turning. This easy to grow shrub is one of the most popular camellias for good reason. Rich pink, double flowers standout against the dark green foliage.  Spreading 6' tall and 8' wide this vigorous shrub is perfect to espalier on a trellis against a wall. They actually prefer winter sun and can tolerate more sun year round than other types of camellias. The beautiful flowers last a long time and will make my Aunt Ruth's garden the talk of the neighborhood.

My Aunt Rosemary lives in Concord in the Bay Area where it gets hot in the summer. The border around her patio would be perfect for a tea tree as it blooms for a long time and requires little or no water when established. They are called tea tree because Capt. Cook brewed a tea from the leaves and gave it to his crew to prevent scurvy. Just in case deer jump her fence they won't devour its needlelike leaves leaving her to enjoy the small showy flowers from winter until very late spring. I especially like the double white flowers on the variety Snow White as they really pop when combined with stronger colors.

My Aunt Alba especially likes fragrant flowers. In her garden she grows roses, gardenias, lilacs, sweet peas and pinks to name just a few. Fragrant Star erysimum would make the perfect addition to her perennial border. It blooms from spring until early fall with bright lemon yellow highly scented flowers. Radiant, variegated green and yellow foliage will stand out among her other flowers. As a bonus they are butterfly magnets. I've seen swallowtails visit this plants again and again on a sunny afternoon.

For those on my Christmas list that love California natives a Common Snowberry would make a great addition to their woodland garden or in the dry shade under oak trees. Seldom troubled by pests this small shrub can be used to control erosion and is deer resistant. Beautiful ornamental white fruits cover the plant at this time of year and are valued by varied thrush, robins and quail.

Creeping snowberry is similar and makes an excellent groundcover. Few shrubs work as well as creeping snowberry when situated under the dense canopy of a coast live oak. When combined with Hummingbird sage, Fuchsia Flowering gooseberry and coffeeberry they create  a woodland garden that provides nesting cover for birds as well as protective shelter for other wildlife.

I'm also working on some garden and nature inspired crafts but if I tell you I'd have to…well, you know.



Colorful Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mtns


Fall is the perfect time of year for many things- long drives, walks in the forest, beautiful sunsets. It's also a great time of year to transplant those plants in your garden that aren't in quite the right place and to create new exciting combinations of foliage, color and texture that are just perfect.

I"m always newly inspired when I see common plants combined in ways I hadn't thought of. Some vignettes are simple repetitions of just two plants while others might include 3-4 plants with different characteristics. A recent meeting of APLD ( Association of Professional Landscape Designers ) of which I am a member, showcased fabulous ideas for plant combinations. In addition to these plants looking great together visually they share the same cultural requirements which is a must. No sense planting a water-loving partial shade plant next to a low water use plant that requires full sun.

Here are some of the awesome plant combinations from gardens I have designed and from fellow designers that I think are particularly appropriate for our area.

In a sunny garden colorful flowers surrounded by soothing green foliage creates a space to linger. The hummingbirds and butterflies attracted to the nectar of the flowers are an added bonus. The plants that create this beautiful scene combine strong, linear leaves from phormium 'Amazing Red'  with the golden foliage of abelia 'Kaleidescope'. Bright red and white flowers of the hummingbird-magnet salvia 'Hot Lips' combined with the soft green needles of grevillea lanigera 'Mt.Tamboritha' and the salmon pink flower spikes of phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) invite you to sit awhile in this garden.

Plant combinations that echo each other in color work well together. Think of the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in England. Phormium 'Cream Delight' looks great with so many plants the combinations are nearly endless. Consider growing it with Elijah Blue fescue grass and surrounding the group with a hardy groundcover like the succulent semperviven ( Hens and Chicks ).

Silver or grey foliage always looks smart when paired with pink shades.  Again that go-to plant that adds architectural interest, Phormium 'Evening Glow', provides the pink element with bronze edged leaves with red centers as does the dusty rose color of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flower clusters.  Add the silver foliage of euphorbia wulfenii ' Glacier Blue' and Russian sage to complete the look.

Another group of plants that combine well have flowers of similar color. Hardy geranium 'Rozanne' with violet blue flowers pairs well with the soft blue ground morning glory, lavender-blue flowering catmint and penstemon 'Blue Bedder'. These perennials all grow in full sun but can tolerate some shade and like moderate watering.

Other combinations that might look great in your own garden include natives mimulus, juncus patens and deer grass with Pacific wax myrtle.  Or try growing Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' alongside the blue tones of festuca californica. Under native oaks, heuchera maxima along with iris douglasonii won't require much summer water which will make the oaks happy too.

At this time of year I'm always drawn to combinations with warm, rusty tones. Purple smoke bush fall foliage pops when combined with gold flowering rudbeckia Goldsturm and purple coneflowers. Or how about Apricot Sunrise agastache growing with Spanish lavender and Big Ears lamb's ears?  Then again you might like the gold flowers of Harmony kangaroo paw blooming for months alongside Carex testacea (Orange Sedge).

Shady spots needing some pizazz could look to the huge leaves of bergenia 'Bressingham Ruby' with their brilliant magenta late winter flower spikes and combine it with golden yellow sweet flag (Acorus 'Ogon'). Another combination I like for the shade is asparagus spregeri and blue flowering Dalmation Bellflower groundcover.

Whether you're transplanting existing plants in new exciting combinations or creating new ones, fall is a great time to spend time in the garden.
 

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