Easter Flowers

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Evergreen candytuft is a hardy perennial with bright white flowers set against dark green foliage. They bloom now and make a fine border plant.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.

Look What’s Blooming for Easter!

The cold, wet weather has certainly slowed down gardening activities, but many of the early bloomers in the garden are doing their best to remind us that spring is not far away.

Daffodils are real troopers in this weather. Day after day, they hold their flowers up high against the weather beckoning the sunshine. A drift I saw at the base of a clump of white birch trees was especially cheerful. Grape hyacinths make a carpet of blue in my garden where they are impervious to the weather.

Forsythia branches covered with bright golden flowers standout in the garden, and so do the leaves of variegated Euonymus, which look particularly bright yellow at this time of year. Purple wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, now adds its bright mauve flowers to the springtime palette. And the slender, green stems of Kerria japonica are about to burst forth with their double yellow “Japanese rose” flowers. Is it any wonder that purple and yellow are “Easter colors”?

The Tulip Trees or saucer magnolias are coming into their glory. Their pink or purplish red blooms are 4-inches across or more, and they cover the branches of this beautiful small tree.  For the month that is in bloom it is extraordinary. 

Viburnum ‘Spring Bouquet’ is living up to its name, and is so beautiful right now, that you want to stop and see what that glorious plant is. This hardy, evergreen shrub should have a place in every garden. One of its close relatives, Viburnum burkwoodii, has fragrant white flowers that appear in early spring from dense clusters of 4″ pink buds. The upright, multi-stemmed shrub has an open habit that is very lovely in the shade garden.

Some varieties of Rosemary are now in full bloom. Their bright blue flowers are very attractive set against the dark green, aromatic leaves. Given good drainage, they are one of our toughest and most versatile plants.

Camellias are an old-fashioned shrub that has stood the test of time. Some older specimens, which were probably planted when the houses were built, are as tall as the eaves. Their perfectly formed red, pink or white flowers cover the plants in April and are an invitation to come enjoy their singular beauty.

Dainty azaleas are just beginning to bloom. These profuse flowering shrubs can be used as a low hedge, in borders or in massed planting for an impressive color display. The flowers come in pink, red, white, purple and lavender and cover the evergreen leaves while they are in bloom. It’s best to plant hardy varieties in our climate.

Eastre, the Teutonic Goddess of Fertility, is rich with promise and potential life. At this time of new beginnings, we look forward with hope to a bountiful growing season ahead.

Camellias: A Gift from Asia

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Flowering dogwoods and tulip magnolias can be planted now during the dormant season from balled & burlapped specimens.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper sulfate wettable powder for the best results.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Primroses, in their rainbow of colors, will light up your flower beds and boxes this winter and spring.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines are still available. The best selection is available now.

Camellias: A Gift from Asia

A gift from the Orient to temperate gardens of the world, camellias have long held a position of esteem in their native lands. In China, Japan and Korea the camellia motif is a familiar decoration on everything from architecture to textiles.

It is known that one species, Camellia sinensis, has been grown for at least 3,000 years — not for its flowers but for its leaves, which are used to make tea. The first camellia arrived in Europe in the 1500s, but not until the 19th century were they imported for public use. Soon after, European nurseries started raising new varieties from seed, offering hundreds of named varieties by the end of the century. There are now over 3,000 named varieties.

The most commonly grown Camellias in California are varieties of Camellia japonica. Their perfectly shaped blooms stand out against their dark, glossy green leaves. Thousands of double camellia hybrids offer a large palette of colors from snowy white and bicolors to the deepest scarlet-red. They bloom over a long spring season.

Camellia sasanqua is an earlier blooming species with smaller, less double flowers. But they are just as showy, producing more flowers than the japonicas. They begin blooming in the fall and continue through the winter. Plants grow in a variety of shapes and sizes and they will tolerate full sun once established.

Camellias grow naturally in forest settings, where the forest floor is a thick, soft carpet of decaying leaves and twigs and the soil is loose and crumbly. Since California is much drier than eastern Asia, we need to modify our natural conditions to grow camellias well.

Fortunately, camellias are quite adaptable. Given a rich, humusy soil to live in, their care consists mainly of watering and fertilizing. They need protection from hot sun and strong winds, and do best with morning sun and afternoon shade. The roots should stay moist, but not soggy, at all times. A natural mulch kept around the plants will keep moisture in and improve the soil. Use bark, wood chips or oak leaves.

The first year, plants need only be watered and mulched. After that, you can fertilize with a commercial fertilizer formulated for camellias, or with cottonseed meal. Be sure the soil is moist when you apply any fertilizer. When in doubt use less, as camellias can be damaged or killed by too much fertilizer.

Unlike other flowering shrubs, camellias need no annual pruning to stay healthy and attractive. You can maintain their shape by taking two or three leaves with the bloom when cutting flowers. If a plant is not as bushy as you would like it to be, cut out last year’s growth in late spring and several branches will start below the cut.

Clean-up is important for healthy camellias. Remove faded flowers before they fall, especially any that have brown petals, an indication of petal blight.

Treat your camellias well and they will give you beautiful blooms each spring, and grow to be beautiful, large landscape plants.

Living Holiday Gifts

Saturday, December 19th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Living Christmas trees make a fine tradition. Slow-growing Colorado spruce trees can be used for 3 to 5 years before they need to be planted. Water them every other day while indoors.
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kids’ gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after a week or ten days.
    •Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.

Living Gifts

Head to the nursery this month for plants that can be enjoyed long after the holidays. Evergreen shrubs like Daphne, Camellias and Rhododendrons are lovely gifts that will be enjoyed even more when they come into bloom in the spring.

The sweet fragrance of Daphne is one of the pleasures of springtime. The small, evergreen shrubs have handsome foliage and a profusion of pinkish-white flowers that bloom in February. One stem will scent an entire room.

The beautifully shaped flowers of Camellias cover the glossy, evergreen leaves throughout a long season. The early flowering ones begin blooming now with dainty, single flowers and those that bloom in April and May have perfectly formed double flowers. They are lovely in a partially shaded area and do well in containers on the patio or deck.

Rhododendrons also have spectacular flowers in large clusters in the spring. They are generally deer-resistant, like partial shade, and will grow for many years in a large container.

Roses are available this month at the best prices of the year. For best selection, look for bare-root roses this month. If you want roses for cutting, choose hybrid teas, like ‘Fragrant Plum’. For small spaces or containers, choose varieties that stay compact, such as ‘Sunsprite’, and to add a focal point to any landscape, choose a tree rose, like ‘Betty Boop’.

The interior landscape will welcome a fresh, new houseplant. From hanging ferns and spider plants to tall palms and dracaenas, there’s a plant for every situation. They add life and color to the area and clean the air at the same time. Or create a dish garden with a combination of small plants in an attractive container, for a unique gift.

Bonsai plants and succulents also make nice gifts, and a bag full of Daffodil bulbs will be happily received by almost any gardener.

Trees of all kinds will grow into beautiful specimens that will outlive us all. From fruit trees to dogwoods, Japanese maples, and flowering magnolias, trees become an important part of any piece of property. Beauty, shade, fruit, and a greener planet are all good reasons to plant a tree this season.

Give a gift that will continue to grow and remind them of your thoughtfulness for a long time to come.