A Heavenly Bamboo for your Garden

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Hang codling moth traps in apple trees to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Be sure to use a fresh pheromone (attractant).
    • Star jasmine is an evergreen vine that prefers some shade. The fragrant blossoms fill the June air with their sweet scent.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants, or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • Ladybugs are a big help with aphids in your greenhouse or garden. Release at dusk in problem areas.

Heavenly Bamboo

Heavenly Bamboo—Nandina domestica—has to be near the top of any list of desirably attractive, easy-to-care-for, mid-sized shrubs for the home garden. In spite of its name and appearance, they are not related to bamboo and share none of their negative traits.

The delicate foliage, with its bamboo-like appearance, is attractive in every season. In spring the new growth is pinkish, turning to a light green in the summer. Then when the chill of fall arrives, the leaves turn a bright red. They hold on the plant most of the winter with this colorful look. Considered a semi-evergreen shrub, it is never without leaves.

Large clusters of creamy or pinkish white blossoms appear in late spring, followed by showy red berries that hang on the plants into the winter, until the birds discover them and enjoy the tasty winter treat. In the meantime, they can be used for winter decorations.

There are many different varieties of Nandina, which is what makes it such an interesting and useful group of shrubs. The largest is the common variety, Nandina domestica. It grows to 8 feet tall and about 6 feet wide over time. It is mostly an upright shrub, useful for height in somewhat narrow spaces. But be sure to give it at least a 4-foot bed.

Another fine large Nandina is called ‘Moyer’s Red’. It has the same growth habit as common Nandina, but truly brilliant fall color.

Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ is similar to the parent shrub, but it only grows to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. This makes it very useful in smaller gardens, as a low hedge, or in courtyards or entryways. Slightly smaller is a variety called ‘Gulf Stream’. The new growth is scarlet, maturing to blue-green in summer and becoming intense red in the fall.

Among the dwarf varieties is ‘Firepower’. It grows to about 2 feet tall and wide and is knows for its brilliant red foliage in the fall and winter. It produces no flowers or fruit. It is an excellent plant to add color in a shaded landscape.

Heavenly bamboos are hardy shrubs that grow well in either sun or partial shade. Once established, they need only occasional watering, so they are useful in dry shade. In many landscapes they are deer resistant.

They are particularly useful in Asian-inspired gardens. Or, for a real show, grow in glazed ceramic pots beside water gardens and fountains.

Adding its unique foliage color through four seasons, natural rugged vigor and low care needs, this is an excellent landscape shrub.

Beautiful Blooms of Spring

Saturday, April 5th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Wall-O-Water” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed or plants. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Dahlias come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Plant the roots now for flowers this summer.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather last week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Bleeding hearts are charming perennials for the shade garden. Look for them now for a special accent.

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.

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.