Tag Archives: flowering shrubs

Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Every spring while driving Hwy 280 on the way to the S.F. Flower & Garden Show, I enjoy the beautiful combination of Western redbuds blooming vivid fuchsia alongside electric blue flower clusters. It’s a sight that always excites me. In early spring there are many other plants that bloom at the same time creating  colorful vignettes. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve used.

Shady gardens come to life when Valley Valentine Lily-of-the-Valley shrub ( Pieris japonica ) is planted in the same area as Bleeding Hearts, Geranium Biokova and Red-leaf Japanese maple. If you’ve never seen this shrub covered with hundreds of rose colored, tiny urn-shaped bells you’ve missed a spectacular sight. The flower buds form in fall and are colorful all winter then open slowly over many months. This plant sails through winter weather, hardy to 0 degrees and is scorned by deer. Even the bark is beautiful on this 5-7 ft evergreen shrub. Add a Red-leaf maple underplanted with pink and white Bleeding Hearts and pale pink Biokova geraniums and your woodland scene is complete.

A beautiful combination for a sunny garden in spring is Spanish lavender Dedication blooming near a Pink Breath of Heaven. Add the strappy leaves of a apricot striped Sundowner New Zealand flax and you’ve created a beautiful addition to your garden.

Sundowner is one of the larger phormiums reaching 6 ft when happy so allow it room and make this your focal point. Lavender Dedication is a stocky 2×3 ft plant that blooms all spring into summer and often repeats if sheared. Short, fat 2" flower spikes have 4 flag-like bracts resembling rabbit ears. Pink Breath of Heaven bears tiny flowers that cover the plant winter and spring and can continue scattered bloom at any other time. The delicate slender leaves are fragrant when brushed or bruised and would be nice along a path where you can enjoy the foliage fragrance. All three of these plants are drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Another nice combo for the sun is Bush Morning Glory planted with Erysimum Orange Zwerg and Echeveria imbricata (Hens and Chicks). If you’ve been wanting to add just a touch of orange to your garden, the dainty 18" tall Orange Zwerg erysimum cooled off with the silky smooth, silvery leaves of Bush Morning Glory is just the ticket. This small mounding erysimum is actually a golden orange and contrasts nicely with the fast growing 2-4 ft Bush Morning Glory. Hens and Chicks in the foreground with their blue green succulent rosettes and loose clusters of bell-shaped orang-red flowers complete the picture. All these are also low water use plants.

When planning, re-arranging or adding to the garden it’s smart to keep plants together that have similar water requirements. That way you won’t overwater and waste water. You still have time to move any plants or shrubs that are in the wrong place. The weather is still cool and they can settle in before the hot weather arrives.  If you have just one plant that needs regular watering among low water use plants you’ll be watering everything more to keep that one alive.  Transplant it to another spot and your water bill will reflect this savings come this summer.

Rhododendrons for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Spring officially kicks off March 20th and if you’re like me every tree, shrub and perennial that starts to flower is an event. The subtle colors of winter are behind us. Bring on the colors of the rainbow.

Rhododendrons are one of spring’s show stoppers. Huge, rounded clusters of stunning blossoms in lavender, red, purple, white, pink and even yellow and gold clothe these shrubs with color. You can have flowers from February to late May by choosing different varieties. And rhododendrons are easy to grow if you give them what they need.

Because rhododendrons like air in the root zone, amend your soil liberally with organic matter.  50-60% is not too much. If you garden in clay, just plant them in raised beds or berms 1-2 ft above the original soil level. Rhododendrons like moist soil so top dress around your plants with several inches of mulch over the root zone, making sure the stem is not get buried. Pine needles, oak leaves or wood chips are good choices. around the plants as this would injure the surface roots. Finally, most rhodies thrive in partial shade or morning sun. The hot afternoon sun that we get during the summer would burn even those varieties that tolerate some sun. Since their leaves remain on the plant for several years you’d have to live with burnt leaf centers and edges for a long time if they got too much sun.

There are thousands of rhododendron varieties. By planting early, mid-season and late blooming types you can enjoy those huge, gorgeous flowers for months.

Cheer is one of the showy early bloomers. Large, pink flower trusses cover the 5×5 ft plant. It can take some sun and would be a good candidate if you have one of those gardens that receives and hour or so of afternoon sun.

For April blooms consider Edith Bosley. Similar to Purple Splendor it grows upright to 6 ft.tall but only 4 ft wide. Perfect for narrow spaces. Other mid-season bloomers that would make a splash in the garden include Golden Gate, a 3 ft compact orange hybrid and easy-to-grow, red-flowering Jean Marie de Montegue.

To extend your season add some late season varieties like Lee’s Dark Purple. Growing with a spreading habit to 4 x 5 ft wide, you’ll love its blue-purple trusses. Anah Kruschke also blooms late in spring with lavender pink flowers on a dense 5 x 5 ft shrub. A tough undemanding larger variety is English Roseum. This one grows 6 ft tall with lavender pink flower trusses and blooms in May.

Rhododendrons really contribute to the woodland or shade garden. They are long-lived and deer resistant. I’ve only heard two gardeners tell me that deer ate some of their flower buds last fall for the moisture content. Most likely those deer couldn’t read well enough to read the deer resistant list!

Last chance for Bare Root in Santa Cruz Mtns

It’s not too late to plant bare root. Except plums which emerge from dormancy early, most fruit and shade trees as well as shrubs  are still available bare root. Good choices include Angel pomegranate and Texas scarlet flowering quince. Lavender Lady lilac would bring delicious fragrance to the garden.  How about adding an accent tree like a Echtermeyer weeping crabapple with purple-red blooms? The birds love the wine red fruit that hand on the tree during the winter. Forest Pansy redbud also look terrific in the garden.  Their burgundy heart shaped leaves turn orange in the fall are an added bonus after bright magenta spring flowers.

If you like unusual additions to your flower arrangements, consider planting French Pink pussy willow. Long silvery catkins covered with a showy pink cap are very colorful in winter before the plant leafs out.

Saturn flowering and fruiting peach continues to be one of the most popular peaches. You can’t beat the excellent quality fruit and the massive large, double pink blossoms are breathtaking.

A small cherry that is easily protected from the birds is . You can have large, dark red, sweet cherries when the tree is still quite young and it’s a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries.

So whether it’s something edible or an ornamental tree or shrub you’re interested in, plant one now while they are still bare root and so affordable.
 

Indian Summer in the Santa Cruz Mountains

We tend to think of September and October as ‘Indian Summer‘  because the weather is balmy,  even on the foggy coast.  The actual definition from the American Meteorological Society describes  ‘a time interval, in mid or late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights.’
Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost or freeze.  And while we may expect wintery weather to arrive in November or December, here in this part of the world we consider this time of year our Indian summer.

The term ‘Indian Summer’ dates back to the 18th century.  A Frenchman named John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1778 about  ‘an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, it’s characteristics… a tranquil atmosphere.’   No one know if is has anything to do with Indians, either.  It has been speculated that cargo ships in the 1700”s did much of their sailing over the Indian Ocean during the fair weather season in ‘Indian Summer’.  No one theory has been proven and since it’s been centuries since the term first appeared, it will probably rest with it’s originators. 

One thing we do know, fall is the best planting season of the year.  The soil is still warm encouraging root growth, the nights are cooler and days shorter which helps to conserve water, too.  This is a good time if you’re looking to add a new tree to shade the south side of your home, or perhaps start a hedge to screen the road.  If you want to add perennials to a border or start cool season annuals this is the time.

There are lots of deciduous trees to choose from that provide shade in the summer while letting the sun warm the house in the winter.  At this time of year trees with fall color come to mind. 

Maples like October Glory, Autumn Fantasy, Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze have gorgeous crimson red, magenta pink, or scarlet fall foliage,  Growing fairly fast to a mature height of 40-50 ft, they are large enough to provide that much needed summer shade.    Provide them with occasional deep watering and periodic feed to help keep roots deep. 

What about a hedge that screens the neighbor while also producing fruit?  Strawberry guavas can be grown as a 20 ft. single trunk tree, or a 10-15 ft multi-trunked tree , but are more often seen as a shrub 8-10 ft high.  Their 1 1/2" fruit is dark red or nearly black when ripe, with whiteRose of Sharon Red Heart flesh that is sweet but tart.  It can be harvested green and ripened at room temperature and is good eaten fresh or used in jellies, purees and juice drinks.  Even the bark of this evergreen shrub is a beautiful reddish to golden brown.  If you’re looking to add more edibles to your garden this is a good candidate.

Another shrub that would make a good addition to your garden is Rose of Sharon.  This hardy member of the hibiscus family blooms from mid summer until frost.  When dry summers have taken a toll on the rest of your border let this tough plant provide you with spectacular flowers.

There are dozes of varieties from double flowering forms to those with a contrasting eye.  Some reach 10 ft tall but can be pruned to shape.  One smaller one that I particularly like is called‘Red Heart‘.  It blooms with large white flowers with a burgundy eye, grows only 3 ft tall and looks beautiful when combined with the wine red flowers of chocolate cosmos.  Another favorite is ‘Blue Bird’ , a rich lavender blue variety with a deep red eye.  This one grows 3-5 ft tall and fits into the smaller garden, too.  Hibiscus syriacus are easy to grow.  They prefer full sun and tolerate some drought.  They are hardy to -10 degrees so our winters are a picnic for them.

Take advantage of Indian Summer to plant something new.

Hedges

bottlebrush

In writing one of my weekly columns for www.pressbanner.com/, I researched problems that occur with hedges and thought it would be interesting to share this info here:

To care for your hedge. Hedge plants should be pruned back by about a third when they are first set out. The second year, trim the hedge lightly to keep it dense as it grows. Don’t try to achieve the hedge height you want too quickly. Keep shearing lightly to keep the hedge thick without gaps as it grows to the desired height.

Once the hedge is as tall as you want it, your pruning technique should change.

Small leafed hedges should be sheared lightly whenever they look ragged. You can, if you want, simply allow the shrub to retain its natural shape. If you do shear, cut out farther than you cut last time to avoid bare spots and clusters of cut branches.

Large leafed hedges should be pruned one branch at a time with hand shears. Make your cuts inside the layer of foliage so that they will be hidden, leaving only fresh, uncut leaves on the surface. To avoid hedges with bare leafless bottoms shape your hedge so that the top is narrower than the bottom, letting light to the whole side. Leaves that do not get enough light will drop. Lack of water and nutrients can also cause this. This is especially important on the northern side or on any portion of the hedge that is in the shade of a tree. If your hedge has become bare at the bottom you can cut it back heavily in the spring to stimulate new growth at the bottom, then shape it properly as it regrows. Some shrubs,. however can be killed buy cutting them back too far. If you don’t know how a shrub will respond to a radical pruning, head one branch back to a leafless stub to see how it responds. If the stub sprouts new growth, the shrub can probably be safely cut back.

Hedges that have grown too tall and floppy have usually been allowed to grow too fast. Regular pruning encourages a sturdy structure and will strengthen a mass of wispy stems. Bare spots in a hedge are caused by old age and repeated shearing without allowing the hedge to grow. The problem can be alleviated by cutting away dead twigs, branch by branch and then shearing outside the last cut next time you prune.


Coast Redwood region

Mimulus in Henry Cowell state park

This May I hiked the trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, Ca. I usually hike the trails from the San Lorenzo river side of the park off Hwy 9 but this time I entered from the chaparral side on Graham Hill. I was in search of the Western azalea that I heard grew along the trail.  I am planning to use the photos in my upcoming book : ‘The Mountain Gardener: 21 Tips for Successful Gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  During the first half of the day I didn’t come across any azaleas. After taking a break at the river and painting a watercolor, my friend Evan and I started back. It was on the return hike up the trail that I started to see the bright green leaves of hundreds of azalea plants. Only a few in the sun were flowering which is how I missed them on the way down. Now that I know where they are you can be sure I’ll be at that spot next spring to see the display. Hopefully, it will be a wetter winter and more of them will be flowering.