Category Archives: flowering shrubs

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.

Sudden Oak Death Syndrome ( SOD )

InDay Lilypreparing for a consultation for another site under native oak trees at risk for SOD I found the latest host list published by the Sudden Oak DeathTask Force . The new list updated March 2008 also lists plants naturally infected and lots of information re. spreading the fungus as well as tips on sanitation. The latest information on prevention and keeping the immune system of your trees up if also available. I did find that a few of the plants that I was going to recommend for homeowners with oaks on their property have now been listed as vectors. They are coffeeberry, toyon, berberis aquifolium, manzanita and some varieties of ceanothus. This is important information for all of us to know.

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.