Tag Archives: flowering shrubs

The Mountain Gardener’s Hot Plant Picks for 2011

It’s not just another garden show, it’s the world renowned San Francisco Flower & Garden show and it was the perfect start to spring. Sure the show gardens are part theater and part reality but you can’t help but come away with inspiration, ideas and spring fever. One of my favorite parts is the display of new plant introductions from Western Horticultural Society. These are great plants destined to become favorites in the garden.  Well, I have my own Top 10 Hot Plants for 2011. These selections do not include California natives because Native Plant Week is coming up soon and I’ll focus on our valuable natives in an upcoming column.

I’m often asked for plant recommendations for our unique set of gardening conditions-extreme weather, heavy clay or sandy soil and limited water resources in the summer months. The following plants are easy to grow, have few or no problems with pests of diseases and posses valuable qualities such as color, fragrance, winter interest or support wildlife and beneficial insects. Try something new this year in your garden.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. This low spreading shrub grows 1 ft tall by 4-5 feet across and blooms year round with pink and white spidery flower clusters. Great for attracting nectar feeding birds and gophers don’t like their taste. Full sun, evergreen and drought tolerant -this is a great groundcover.

Kaleidescope abelia
This evergreen shrub is a kaleidescope of color as it’s name implies. Variegated foliage is bright yellow and green in spring, changing to golden yellow with bright oranges and fiery reds in fall. Its grown habit is densely compact and rounded. The beautiful foliage doesn’t scorch in the sun either.  It’s a beauty 2-3 ft tall and 3-4 feet wide. What more can you ask for?

Loropetalum Pipa’s Red
Also known as Fringe flower this shrub sports rich burgundy foliage in a fountain shape with tiered branches. Raspberry flower clusters are heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape-looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy color can add color to a woodland garden and it even does well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer. 

Karl Foerster feather reed grass adds a vertical element to your summer and fall garden. It provides wonderful contrast among low shrubs and perennials. Named after the famous landscape architect and photographer with a love for all aspects of perennial plants, Karl Foerster  lived in Germany from 1874 to 1970. This grass won the 2001 Perennial Plant of the Year and although it’s not new on the market it’s an  easy to grow ornamental grass that won’t overpower your space.

Cordyline Electric Pink
This show stopper lives up to its high-voltage name. It surpasses other grass-like plants with boldly striped leaves of maroon and shocking pink. This well-behaved cordyline is clump-forming and reaches only 2-4 feet in height and width. Place in large mixed container or flower borders to instantly add an exciting look.

Pennisetum Fireworks
With arching leaves striped with white, green, burgundy and hot pink this grass is beautiful in the garden. Purple tassels rise above the foliage in late summer. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the purple flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container for protection but it’s worth the extra effort.
 

Leaucadendron Safari sunset
Fiery red bracts on densely covered tall stems are sure to draw oohs and aahs. This is one of the most popular Leaucadendron available. It’s a vigorous, erect grower to over 8 feet tall and tough enough to handle frost and clay soils. The flower is actually an insignificant cone surrounded by large colorful bracts which are excellent for cut foliage harvesting.

Belinda’s Find red hook sedge
This red sedge is a two-tone delight of bright cherry red leaves with a green stripe running down the center.  Its loosely tufted, upright form grows 12" tall by 15" wide in part sun. Tiny bulrush-like flowers, from June to August,are elevated above the tidy, low growing evergreen clump. Use in the front of the border, in masses or mixed containers.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost blooms continuously with clouds of white flowers that float above finely textured apple-green foliage. This delicate looking perennial may be small in stature, reaching 12-18 " tall and wide, but is easy to grow and surprisingly tolerant of drought and heat. Combine this airy plant with bright colors for a dazzling border.

Phormium Jester is a New Zealand flax cultivar that grows to 3 feet making it a better fit in the garden than some of the larger phormiums. It can tolerate fairly dry conditions but looks best with occasional to regular irrigation. This strong color combination of green and pink doesn’t revert to the parent plants coloring. It’s hardy to 15-20 degrees. You might find this plant also listed as Jubilee.

 

Time to Prune Roses, Fruit trees and Flowering Shrubs

I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to bundle yourself up to go out and work in the garden on a cold winter day. Bright sunshine sure helps but still it’s not t-shirt weather yet. It helps to think how good that fresh air will feel, not to mention that working in the garden relieves stress. And think about all that great exercise you get without getting on the boring treadmill.

Depending on your weight and how vigorous you work, one hour of gardening can burn up about 272 calories. Transplant a shrub, and the number of calories burned could jump to an incredible 340 calories per hour. Just think of that extra helping of potatoes-au-gratin you had over the holidays.

There’s plenty to do this time of year. Neaten things up by removing rotting perennials and sweep the leaves and debris off the driveway and your roof. 

It’s time to prune fruit trees and smother overwintering eggs and insects by spraying with horticultural oil. Combine your spray with lime-sulfur ( except on apricot trees ) to kill fungal disease spores like the ones that cause peach-leaf curl.  has also been shown to supress fungal diseases.You’ll want to do this again when the buds swell but before they open ( about Valentine’s Day )

Control large vines like overgrown honeysuckle, pink jasmine,  morning glory, passion vine, potato vine and trumpet creeper by radically thinning or even cutting back low to the ground if they are a big, tangled mess. Wait until after flowering to heavily prune spring-blooming vines such as wisteria.

Pruning Roses
When buds along rose canes begin to swell, prune repeat flowering roses by removing spindly or diseased shoots and dead wood. Do this before they start leafing out which wastes plant energy. Cut back the remaining stems by about a third, cutting canes at a 45-degree angle just above an outward facing bud. Don’t worry whether your pruning job is perfect. Roses are super forgiving and you can trim them up again later. You want to produce lots of roses not just a few of exhibition size. Aim for a vase-shaped  bush with an open center.

Prune old garden roses that bloom once in the spring after flowering.
Climbing roses require little pruning. Cut out extra stems if there are too many and also cut back long established canes to about the place where they are slightly thicker than a pencil. Then cut each side stem down to several inches. This will cause the cane to flower along its complete length for a beautiful spring display.

If any old leaves still cling to the plant, remove them. Rake up any debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores. It’s a good idea to spray both the bare plant and the surrounding soil with a combination organic horticultural oil to smother overwintering insect eggs and a dormant spray like lime-sulfur to kill fungus spores. If you usually have a problem only with black spot you can use a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda with a few drops of light oil in 1 quart water and spraying every 7 to 10 days.  Thoroughly coat the trunk, branches and twigs.

Other tasks to do in the garden in January:

Cut back hydrangeas if you haven’t already done so. Apply soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate or other acidifier if you want to encourage blue flowers.

Cut back summer flowering deciduous shrubs and vines.  Don’t prune spring flowering varieties like lilac, flowering cherry, plum and crabapple, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela and spirea until after flowering or you can cut some during flowering to bring in cuttings for bouquets.
 

What Works in your Garden?

I’m vacationing next week in southern Mexico traveling east from the state of Chiapas to the Yucatan peninsula.  In addition to exploring ruins, waterfalls, cenotes and flamingo breeding grounds  I’ll be especially interested in the local plants which vary from  hardwood forests of mahogany and cedar to tropical.  I always study how people landscape around their own homes whenever I travel.  You can get some great ideas this way.  I’ll be sharing all that I discover in next week’s column. 

Around here this is a good time to pull plants that have been struggling now that we’ve had some rain to soften the soil a bit. Pay careful attention to and which aren’t. Be realistic about plants that don’t suit the conditions you have to offer. Replace them with plants that have proven themselves adaptable and well suited to your own garden. Thoughtful editing and repetition are the key to a successful garden.  Such self-sufficient plants require far less work, water, fertilizer and pruning.

Your own personal palette of good plants for your yard are the ones that look most at home planted right where they are. They do best in the soil, sun, wind and weather your garden offers and the maintenance is a snap. These plants don’t have to be the kind of dull and monotonous shrubs that you see around some freeway ramps. They might be the shade-loving native Western swordfern for year round interest.  Planted in masses these ferns aren’t water hogs and look like nature planted them.  Or how about the easy-peasy bergenia cordifolia which will be blooming soon planted as groundcover under the trees? Large, heart shaped leaves grow to 12 across and turn beautiful bronze color in the fall. Pink to rose-red flowers on red stalks appear in late winter.

Camellia sasanqua, with glossy evergeen leaves and showy flowers in fall and winter, can be grown as a shrub or espaliered against a wall. Camellias are easy to grow and an established shrub requires only a deep watering every 10 days or so in the growing season.

Elfin thyme is the perfect groundcover between cracks in pavers paths or other areas that get light foot traffic. And if you want any planting to look better, just pop in a black mondo grass and you’ll have instant sophistication.  Not all "go-to" plants are quite so glamorous, though. Modest, fuzzy little lamb’s ears are high on my list because they grow happily in sun or shade and any kind of soil. Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ grows only 12" tall, blooms with purple flowers and spreads to make a beautiful edging or low border

The key to preserving both our backs and the earth’s resources is to choose the right plant for the right place. Keep the plants that are thriving and replace the unhappy plants with a smaller palette of plants that have proven themselves successful in your own garden. Whether these are California natives or plants from other regions that perform well, you’ll be happy you got rid of the malingerers.

New Plants for 2011

I know this gardening season isn’t over yet, but I’m already . Some are already being grown on a limited basis by the wholesale growers while others won’t become available until 2011. Recently I had the opportunity to view up-close and personal some of these new unique perennials, shrubs and grasses. It’s exciting to envision these in our own gardens.

It’s no secret our weather is just about perfect here. That’s why so many of the wholesale nurseries have operations in this county. They know the growing conditions are excellent here for annuals, perennials, grasses and woody ornamentals.

Many of the plants we buy start life as small plugs and liners. Some of these are produced in tissue culture labs located in places such as India, China, Guatemala and Holland. These are then grown on to sellable size by other wholesale growers before they eventually arrive at your local nursery. If you have a Black Mondo or carex grass or a cordyline, hellebore or heuchera it may have been started from a tissue culture somewhere on another continent and has more frequent flyer miles than you do.

Plant tissue culture consists of taking a piece of a plant, such as a stem tip, and placing it in a sterile ( usually gel-based ) nutrient medium where it multiplies, It’s similar to taking a cutting of your favorite houseplant and growing it to share with a friend. The production of plants in sterile containers allows the propagator to reduce the chance of transmitting diseases, pests and pathogens.

One of the new plants that I saw that really caught my eye is the grass,  Pennisetum Fireworks. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the pink flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container but it’s worth babying this one, it’s so beautiful.

You may have bought a bright orange Begonia Bonfire this year and were impressed with the hundreds of flowers that it easily produced over the season. Well, next year you’ll be seeing the Sparkle series begonia which is similar. This tuberous begonia is nothing like the classic you are familiar with.  One plant will grow to about 24" in the ground or a container and depending on which color you choose, will be covered with scarlet, white blush, rose or apricot flowers.

And don’t even get me started on all the new mimulus colors that are going to be available next year. The Jellybean series comes in classic orange and gold but also red, purple, pink, light pink, lemon and terra cotta. Remember these are deer resistant, too.

Also there are new hummingbird favorite agastache flavors out now.  Picture in your garden, flower spikes in colors that look like fruit- grapefruit, apricot, grape and orange nectar.

I haven’t even touched on new introductions like Green Jewel echinacea or dwarf butterfly bushes in magenta, violet or pink. How about a bush form of the vine, HardenbergiaMeena will grow 36" tall and have purple flowers in winter.

Look for one of these new perennials next year. It’s going to be a colorful year in the garden.
 

Resilient Plants for Santa Cruz Gardeners

We all approach the new gardening season with enthusiasm and optimism. Then the rain come down hard and pelts your new plants into the ground, the nights turn cold again and some of the plants in your garden aren’t so happy anymore. That’s when you need some tried and true plants to star in your landscape no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

I’m often asked to give suggestions for resilient plants for a problem spot. These plants may have beautiful foliage, bark and texture, too, and serve two purposes in the garden. They may have flowers for some of the year to provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds or berries to feed wildlife. Most of all they are easy to care for and trouble free.

Snowberry gets an A+ for all of these qualities. A California native of shaded, mixed evergreen and oak woodlands, this 3-6 ft shrub thrives in a variety of locations including the dry shade under large trees like oaks. It tolerates poor soil and neglect and will grow well in full shade but blooms better and produces more berries if it gets some sun. Clusters of pure white berries appear in late summer and early fall and last through much of the winter. In late spring or early summer, its pretty blue-green leaves provide a nice contrast to the tiny pink flowers which hummingbirds love. Bees produce a white honey from their nectar rich pollen.

They can be pruned as a nice hedge providing twiggy, dense shelter for wildlife.Because of their vigorous root system, they are useful to stabilize banks and slopes. Maintenance is easy- simply prune away some of the suckers every few years to keep it in check. If it gets too tall,  shear it back in late winter to keep compact. The berries are not the first choice for most birds but thrushes will eat them if there isn’t anything else available. Other wildlife will eat the berries, too.

Lewis and Clark collected this plant and brought it back to Thomas Jefferson. It was sent to England in 1817 and became a popular garden novelty among plant collectors there.

If showy flowers are what you’re looking for in a specific spot, the perennial Phygelius would make a nice addition to your garden. This large 3-4 ft plant blooms from early spring into fall and you can grow them in full sun or light shade. Related to snapdragons and penstemon, the flowers also suggest fuchsias which is where they get their common name, Cape Fuchsia. Coral Princess is one of my favorites with lots of tubular, soft salmon and yellow flowers which attract hummingbirds.

In the same bed you might plant a few to fill and and add a nice contrast at the base of the Cape Fuchsias. This bright bluish-pink true geranium groundcover grows 8" tall and spreads slowly but widely. Easy to care for true geraniums are hardy in the winter, need just average watering and can be sheared each fall for fresh spring flowers.
 

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.