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Plants Archives «

‘Plants’

The Beautiful Natives of Salt Point SP

Nestled into the Northern end of the Sonoma Coast, Salt Point State Park is showcase of unique geology and stunning native plants. On a winding trail above bluffs of Franciscan melange and wind and salt pocked rock outcrops, are beautiful showcases of Buckwheats, native Plantains, and icy colored silver-blue California Poppies. Each bend in the trail reveals a new treat, from plains of false Dandelion to Dudleyas clinging to the jutting boulders in host of vertical gardens. While the coastal walk is the main draw this time of year, there a multiple areas to be explored, with the Pigmy Forrest, open grassland and Rhododendron  Preserve offering nice hikes on the other side of highway.

Pick an early weekend morning to head-up the coast and beat the traffic on Hwy 1 and you won’t be disappointed. See more photos in our Facebook gallery of our recent trip.

 

 

Pruning Ornamental Grasses

We use a lot of ornamental grasses in our landscapes. They fit very well in a number of design styles and are  fairly low maintenance and low water use. We typically prefer evergreen grasses for their year round appeal, but even those grasses that don’t go deciduous can benefit from a pruning (haircut) every year or two. This article from the Sonoma County Master Gardeners gives a good overview on pruning some common grasses.

Some of our Favorite Grasses

Evergreen: Blue Fescue, Deer Grass, Evergreen Miscanthus, Autumn Moor Grass, Berkeley Sedge
Deciduous: Purple Fountain Grass, Little Bunny Fountain Grass, Miscanthus
Grass-like: New Zealand Flax: Yellow Wave, Jack Spratt, and Tom Thumb among other more compact grass like varieties

Bad News on Sudden Oak Death

The Chronicle had an article today about the continued virulence of Sudden Oak Death in the Bay Area’s Oak Woodlands. In Marin, 53% of samples taken tested positive for the pathogen, a spike attributed to high rainfall the past couple years that helps SOD spread.

“We found that the number of positives were double and in some cases triple what they were last year,” said Matteo Garbelotto, the UC Berkeley forest pathologist who organizes the annual surveys. “We were surprised. That was a big jump.”

The findings are part of a major effort over the past four years to involve citizens in the battle against the mysterious pathogen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of oak trees from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

There are dire predictions of mass die offs of Coast and Black Oaks around the state. The Chronicle article suggests the following prevention measures:

– Remove bay trees near oaks; this increases the survival rate of oaks tenfold.

– Use phosphonate spray, which has proved to be effective against the disease.

– Avoid doing large-scale projects such as grading, soil removal or tree pruning in infected areas during the rainy season.

Another good preventative measure is to not plant host plants, such as Rhodys and Camellias in and around sensitive Oak areas.

Cold Weather Preparation

As temperatures are going to get cold this week, there are a couple of easy steps you can take to help protect young or frost tender plants. If plants show frost damage you can spray Cloudcover, a polymer that provides 3-5 degrees of additional frost protection by forming a barrier on the leaves to help protect plants. Another good technique to help protect plants like citrus is to cover with sheets, or a frost blanket like this one from DuPont.

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Image from Dupont Website

The Apple- Tracing a Plant’s Origin

There was an interesting book review in the Financial Times today about a common plant and iconic fruit, the apple.  The Story of the Apple, by a pair of botanists, Oxford’s Barrie Juniper and the University of Washington’s David Mabberley, chronicles their search through cultural, historical, and DNA evidence to trace the apple’s origins. Their best evidence points to the forests of Kazakhstan. This is removed from the biblical areas of the middle east and fertile crescent, where temperatures do not get cold enough to help apples properly germinate. It is fascinating to ponder the rich past of such a commonly cultivated plant and leads to curiosity about the sources of other plants we take for granted.

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Thinking Out Tree Placement

As with any planting, location can be a key factor to the plant’s success. As I was walking by an office building today, I noticed a stand of Redwoods planted within feet of an office building’s foundation. The trees themselves looked great, and helped to screen the building, but functionally it was clear the trees were misplaced. Half of the tree had to be pruned against the building, leaving them misshapen. Large scale trees may work well in confined spaces when young, but as they grow taller and as their root systems grow more pronounced they can cause significant problems. We have seen this time and again on projects where tree roots are disturbing foundations, and sewer or utility lines.

Practically it makes sense to think about what the tree is being planted to do (screen, provide shade, visual presence etc.) and to take into account its mature size and the needed buffer distance to help prevent problems. Selecting the wrong tree for a particular application can be just as bad. Just ask those with high rooted Birch trees planted in lawns or Liquid Ambar trees planted along sidewalks.

Here Come the Weeds

 

I posted an entry a while back about a restoration planting that we had done for a personal project in the Sacramento Valley. On a recent site visit it is interesting to see how the native plants are progressing. Surprisingly, most are doing quite well, and continued survival rates are good so far. One major impact has been the grasses and weeds that have grown in the last month. This combined with lower than normal rainfall has taken its toll.

One interesting specimine was a California Black Walnut sapling that was dead above ground. When pulled up, there was still living material at the top of the tap root, which had grown a few inches in the past few months.

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Pictured: Foxtail, Rye Grass and Other Grasses and Weeds Compete for Moisture and Often Crowd Out Native Plantings.

It’s a Bloom Year

There has been quite a show this spring as fruit trees and other blooming trees are really blooming this year. This may have something to do with a fairly mild winter and not a lot of late winter rain. On a trip up I-5 the almonds and other fruit trees where ablaze with blooms.

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A Beautiful Saucer Magnolia in Bloom

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Taken in Larkspur, which seems to have great magnolias

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A spectacular tree just leafing out


The Transformational Power of Sod

We are finishing up on a project in Sonoma and putting in a large sod lawn. No matter how many projects we do, it is always amazing the impact of a sod lawn. Clients almost always react once the sod is installed- this turf is a dwarf tall fescue, bluegrass blend.

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During Grading

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After installation

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After installation


Native Plants That Are Tough

Currently we are working on a personal project to upgrade vegetation for stream corridors and create hedgerows for wildlife on a site in the Sacramento Valley. The installation consisted of Cottonwood, Buckeye, and Black Walnut trees, with Toyon and Creeping Rye grass planted as well. Taking a look at the site again recently after the cold winter weather, most of the plants are doing quite well. Retention on plantings of this type is typically pretty poor- most of the plants are not irrigated, and they are being planted from liner containers (just sprouted from cuttings).

While it is nice to see that the plantings have done well, with a 80-90% retention rate, the real test will be when the summer comes and the plants are exposed to 100+ degree temperatures without water. Fortunately, the plants were all chosen because they are native to the area and have adapted to such extremes of heat and cold. All the deciduous trees fared better than the Toyon, which was quite small and in some cases was frozen back in areas where it had less protection.

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A California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) just leafing out

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A dead Buckeye with Brown stem

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A live Buckeye with green layer under bark. The scratch test is a simple way to test the condition of most plants.


Losing Plants to the Cold

We are spoiled here in the Bay Area with a great climate that allows us to plant a wide range of plantings. These range from sub-tropicals, to more temperate plants and even bulbs. Occasionally however, temperatures will drop down below freezing, killing borderline plants. Frequent casualties are Bougainvillea, Lantana, Heathers and soft stem perennials. When it gets down into the low 20′s other plants such as Eucalyptus can also be in danger. This is just a part of dealing with climate changes from season to season. On plantings that grow quickly the best solution is just to replant after a freeze. For other specialized plants or plants that aren’t must haves, better to replant with something more hardy. Sunset garden book is the best resources for finding your plant zone in California. Keep in mind that micro-climates such as cold sinks and other phenomenon can make certain areas colder or warmer.


Planting Natives in Winter

There was an interesting article in the latest Sierra Club Yodeler newsletter for Marin on planting native plants in winter time. Planting in late fall or early winter helps plants get established and ready for spring growth. New plants can also take advantage of winter rains.

Native Plant Nursery Listings:
Marin Chapter California Native Plant Society
Yerba Buena Chapter Nursery/Plant Listing

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Unique Fall Color- Ginkgo

Ginkgo’s are in full show this time of year- changing from their hearty green foliage to the golden coat of autumn. These trees are unique botanically among showy fall trees, being among the most ancient know tree specimens and belonging to their own division classification with no direct relatives. Other unique qualities include insect and disease resistance, and a specially veined leaf, which does not display the typical palmate and pinnate veination of most other broad-leaf trees. There are a number of interesting cultivars available- with the most commonly used variety in Northern California being ‘Autumn Gold.’

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For More:
Article from Wikipedia
List of Cultivars (.pdf)


Watering Roses in Shady Areas

We received this question regarding watering roses in more shady areas from a client recently:

Q: We have several varieties of Rose Bushes in our garden. The sun is indirect there and there are trees doing their best to take over. We have been watering these roses every day … in what seems like hours the water has been running.

What would be your recommendation. The soil is rather sandy and tight, but moist.
A: Here is some advice from Berkeley Horticultural Nursery on ‘Growing Roses in the Bay Area:’ “Watering – in the ground: Water established plants deeply at least once a week) more often in hot or windy weather, less often during cool foggy spells). Soaker hoses snaked between the plants will make watering less of a chore and they can be hidden with mulch. Adding 2 in. or more of mulch around roses will reduce the need for water by preventing evaporation.”

Or, Sunset Garden Book recommends basin flooding if you don’t have drip irrigation and are watering by hand — in other words, creating a thick walled basin via a soil berm around the rose bush, about 3 – 4 ft. in diameter, then adding water by the hose to fill the basin. The idea is to deep water with enough water to wet the entire root zone of the rose. In hot weather, you might be filling the basin every other day. In general, by any method of watering, the object is not to get water on the leaves of the rose because it can contribute to mildew.

Beautiful White Viburnum in Bloom

I was fooled last week by a deciduous Viburnum that has leaves and foliage similar to a Dogwood. These Viburnum make a nice accent. Other beautiful Viburnum this time of year is Snowball, with their large clusters of flowers

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White Viburnum plicatum from a project installed in Larkspur after a couple years of growth

A Guide to Container Sizes- Tree Sizes for Instant Impact

Box trees are a great way to create an instant effect for landscape projects. While their long term benefit is gradually lost over time (typically trees growing from small containers catch up in the long run) the impact in the first 3-5 years is dramatic, giving an immediate presence and maturity to a newly installed landscape.

Here is a breakdown of common tree sizes:

5 Gallon: Most trees are installed in larger sizes, some small trees (including multi-stem trees) and specimen trees like Japanese Maple are often found in this size. Height is typically 2-5′.

15 Gallon: One of the most common tree sizes installed, this size balances the desire for a tree that may be 6-12′ in height, depending on species, with budget considerations (box trees because they have spent anywhere from 1-5 additional years in the nursery are much more expensive). Callipers (diameter of the tree
trunk) on 15 gallons are typically .5″ to 1.0″ depending on variety.

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15 Gallon Arbutus marina (Strawberry Tree) surrounded by 1 Gallon shrubs

24″ Box: Smallest common box size (the box size represents a 2′ x 2′ x 2′ box), the 24″ box is more mature than 15 gallons with heights of 8-15′ and callipers of 1″-2.5″ depending on species.

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24″ Chinese Pistache with flowering fruit trees in the background

36″ Box: This tends to be more mature than the smaller sizes. Heights vary 10-20′.
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36″ Box Arbutus marina, Strawberry Tree, compare to the 15 gallon or 48″ box size below

48″ Box: Typically fairly mature trees with 3-7 years of growth at the nursery. Heights vary 10-30′, costs for these trees can be up to several thousand dollars.

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48″ Box Arbutus marina, these trees make a significant visual impact

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A beautiful 48″ box green Japanese Maple

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48″ Box Chinese Elms

Large Boxes 60″ and up: These are for almost full grown specimens of smaller trees, and very well established specimens of larger trees. Of course trees can be used that are larger than standard container sizes. Full size mature trees (full grown Oaks and others) are moved with giant hydraulic spades, cranes, and trucks by specialty tree moving companies.
One of the largest wholesale tree and shrub nurseries we use frequently for tree orders is Boething Treeland Farms, with nurseries in Northern and Southern California (Box tree photos from their Portola Valley Nursery).
For More:
Senna Tree- Specimen Tree Movers
Valley Crest Tree Company: Valley Crest’s tree nursery division with specialty moving services.
Plantsearch.com guide to wholesale nurseries for California

A Good Deer Repellent

We got a recommendation for an organic deer repellent for plants from a client recently. Plantskydd, developed in Sweden, is a non-toxic blend of blood meal and vegetable oils. Supposedly the material last 4-6 months after application, although we have not tried it on a project yet. The spray deters deer, rabbits, and elk from eating garden plants or vegetables.

Yet another weapon in the fight to protect plants against deer.


Alternatives to Lawns

The lawn is archetypal to the American landscape, it is one of the elements central to the planning of most residential gardens and commercial landscapes. According to the Sierra Club, Americans spend 8.4 billion a year on their lawns. This reflects how the lawn is one of the most maintenance intensive portions of any landscape- with mowing, watering, fertilization, weed control, aeration and dethatching required to keep a lawn looking its best.

Yet, despite all the maintenance and cost we still love our lawns. Typically lawns are desired for two reasons. Principally, lawns create a wonderful aesthetic. The lush green manicured appearance fits well with a number of design styles. The lawn’s low uniform appearance also creates an illusion of space. And, despite the maintenance requirements, lawn maintenance is a sector of gardening much catered to, with mowers, fertilizers and training (kids mowing lawns on Saturdays growing up). The lawn if properly cared for is often easier to keep look pristine than some lawn alternatives.

Some designers and environmentalists espouse removing the lawn from landscapes, replacing it either with groundcovers that grow in a similar habit to a lawn, general groundcover plants, or with a meadow of taller grasses.

There are a couple of ways of considering alternative lawns. From an environmental standpoint, while using lawn alternatives on a residential scale would have some beneficial effect on water use and fertilizer and pesticide runoff, especially if aggregated on a large scale. However, a residential project here and there is not going to have a large effect. The commercial sector is where lawn alternatives make the most sense. Typically large tracts of lawn in apartment complexes, office parks and other commercial settings serve little functional purpose other than providing a familiar aesthetic. These landscapes also typically incorporate thousands of square feet of lawn, compared to the typical residential lawn of 500-1500 square feet.

So should a homeowner consider lawn alternatives for their residential project? It depends on what the lawn is used for and its place in the design and the environment where the lawn is installed. If the kids play football in the backyard a lawn is hard to beat. But if the lawn is just filling space of a traditional design aesthetic, there are alternatives worth considering. In arid areas, alternatives start to make more sense. The new Wynn Casino in Las Vegas for example, installed synthetic turf instead of traditional lawn.

For more on these alternatives visit the following sites that outline other types of plantings that can take the place of the lawn:

Sierra Club- Alternative Lawns
Clover Alternatives to Lawn Grass
Eartheasy Lawn Alternatives- Includes many groundcovers
Lesslawn.com- The name says it
Organic Lawn Management- From Wikipedia
Alternatives from Oregon State University
Wildflower Alternatives
SynLawn- Synthetic Lawn Alternatives

Shrub Roses Equal Easier Roses

Sunset had a good article in this months edition on floribunda roses, otherwise referred to as shrub or bush roses.

The article underscored an important point, traditional hybrid tea roses (those with the large long canes and traditional flowers) can be a challenge to grow if afflicted with a number of ailments (aphids, black spot, mildew, rust, deer and others). Shrub roses give the same quality of roses without the work of traditional roses. One of our favorites is Coral Seas, which seems to bloom all year with beautiful and dense blooms.

For more on Rose care visit Ehow.com’s informative articles.
Black Spot
Rust
Aphids

This is a great time for bare root planting, visit Petaluma Rose Company for a great selection of roses

Great Books on California Native Plants and Ceanothus

Continuing on a book theme from yesterday I wanted to highly recommend a pair of books on Native California plants for horticultural use. Both are co-written by David Fross of Native Sons Nursery out of Arroyo Grande on the Central Coast. I have had the great opportunity to take classes from Dave, who has a passion and expertise for native flora that is unmatched in the state. In addition, he runs a great wholesale nursery operation, and you can find Native Sons plants in many retail garden centers.

The first title, California Native Plants for the Garden (which you can buy direct from Native Sons), features,
“more than 500 plants and illustrated with 450 color photos, California Native Plants for the Garden is a comprehensive resource that will appeal to every gardener who has an interest in California’s unique flora.”
Fross co-authored the book along with a second being released for 2006, Ceanothus, which promises to be the authoritative title on a wonderfully varied native shrub and groundcover.

Both these titles will no doubt make great additions to any gardener’s library.

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Image Courtesy of Amazon

For More:
Article on Fross from San Diego Union-Tribune
A True Blue Californian – LA Times Article on Ceanothus and the upcoming book

Japanese Maples- Great Fall Color

Of all the plants we use in our landscapes, Japanese Maples (Acer japonica) are one of the most recognized and loved by our clients. From avid gardeners, to those with no horticultural bent, Japanese Maples are typically one of the first requested plantings when drawing up the planting design. The beautiful fall foliage is one of their main attractions. In addition they feature beautiful bark, foliage and branch form. Also, because of such a great number of cultivars, Japanese Maples come in a great variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Sunset has a great overview in this months issue of some of the best cultivars available.

One thing to keep in mind, Japanese Maples are specialty plants which command a specialty price, especially for hard to find varieties. We typically use them as accent pieces in gardens to offset other plantings. They can be used in Asian themed gardens (as found in traditional Japanese Gardens), but they also integrate well with almost any garden style.

Suppliers mentioned in the Sunset Article:

Mendocino Maples
Mountain Maples
Whitney Gardens
Wildwood Farm


Native Plants on the Pacific Slopes of Mt. Tam

With its extensive open space Marin is a great place to view native plants. On a hike this weekend on the pacific facing slopes of Mt. Tam, which fall down to the pacific and Stinson Beach, I had a chance to see striking examples of native vegetation. Fir, Madrone, Bay, and Live Oak trees cover the slopes, in sections creating dense woods. Driving at sunset back through the reservoirs of the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD), dense stands of Redwoods, with an occasional turning Big Leaf Maple, cast a deep shade. In sections along the roadway and trails, the thin inflorescence of native grass can be seen. Seeps and shady grottoes provide refuge for Juncus reeds and ferns. What makes it all more remarkable is to look to the south and see the densely packed buildings of San Francisco, and realize the great accomplishment of preservation Mt. Tamalpais State park and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area represent.

For More:
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Stinson Hike from Bay Area Hiker
Marin Trails
Marin County Open Space District
MMWD Recreation Areas
Article on Mt. Tam Grasslands

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Under the Oaks

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Madrone Bark

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Mediterranean Climates- The Mediterranean Basin

The final part in our series on mediterranean climates:

This is largest mediterranean climate region in the world, as indicated by the climate’s name. It stretches almost around the entirety of the Mediterranean sea and inland a good deal in places. It includes almost all of Italy and Spain and covers parts of western Asia. The basin has unique areas for developement of plants due to its large and varied geography.

Native Genera:

Cistus- Is an evergreen shrub commonly found in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco although it is also found in other parts of the world as well. It has dark green foliage and its flower colora typically white, purple, or pink. Flowers are saucer-shaped and rather simple in character. Most are five-petaled and bloom for most of the year. They do best in warm areas. Growth is often best on rather dry soils. Some are frost hearty, and all are extremely drought tolerant.

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Narcissus- Over 50 species are native to the Mediterranean, they are part of the Amarylidaceae family and grow from bulbs. Narcissus are native to the eastern Mediterranean Basin area and found in hills, mountains, and valleys favoring a northern exposure. They often grow in large collective meadows. Narcissus multiply freely by bulbs and bloom yearly. They require cold weather to bloom well. Spring blooming is typical with fragrant flowers ranging from white to yellow in color. They are also quite frost hearty; down to -30°F.

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Olea- This genus of 20 species is native to Europe, and parts of Asia. It is a prototypical mediterranean plant found throughout the mediterranean region. It has stiff leathery gray green leaves. Flowers are small and off-white in color, and fruits are a major economic crop throughout Europe and in the United States as well. Uses of the fruits are mainly for olive oil and for the olives themselves. These plants like a mild climate and winter sufficiently cool to induce flowering. They are tough and highly tolerant plants.

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Mediterranean Climates- South Africa

Part of 5 our series on mediterranean climates:

The mediterranean portion of South Africa is a very small piece of coastal lands on the southwest extreme of the continent. It is bounded by a number of mountains inland, including the Hottentots Holland, Langeberg, Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains. This is the smallest of the world’s mediterranean climates accounting for only three percent of the total area of these climates, yet is home to over eighty percent of the world’s mediterranean plants. This dense proliferation of flora makes South Africa an important mediterranean region.

Native Genera:
Protea- Consisting of a 115 species this genus is not exclusive to mediterranean South Africa; it is found in various regions of the sub-Saharan parts of the continent. Evergreen shrubs and small trees make up the genus, which are revered for their showy flower heads, and used frequently as a cut flower. Leaves are typically leathery and often have hairy margins. Cultivation of this plant can be difficult, Proteas need well drained, acidic soil. In South Africa itself, 82 species can be found with 69 of these being concentrated heavily on the coastal portion of the Western Cape. Seeds are often released as a result of fire.

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Image from Wikipedia

Erica- Of the over 740 species of this genus, 650 are native to South Africa. Of these 650, 625 are found in the southern most portion of the Cape. They are most likely to be found near the coast, on southern facing slopes where rainfall is high. They range from small to large evergreen shrubs, with characteristic small foliage. Those from South Africa often have long tubular showy flowers clustered in groups and short narrow needle like leaves. Stomata on these leaves are adaptive and lie on the underside of the leaf to reduce moisture loss. Ericas are found in other portions of the world as well, including the Mediterranean basin.

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Image from Wikipedia
Agapanthus- These herbaceous perennials are native to Southern Africa exclusively. They are characterized by long fleshy green leaves and showy flowers, borne on large erect stems. Flowers come in a range of various shades of blue, with pinkish and white flowers available in some cultivars. These plants are popular because of their ability to grow with little maintenance or care. They range in size from dwarf varieties that may only be a foot tall, to larger more robust plants 3-5 feet in size. Unlike many mediterranean natives they require water in the spring and summer, and are fairly sensitive to frost.

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Image from Wikipedia


Mediterranean Climates- Chile

Part 4 of our series on mediterranean climate regions-

The mediterranean region of Chile is a small narrow strip of the central section of the country. It is very similar to California in character but with a few key differences. Although possessing a similar layout of coastal range central valley and bounding mountains, Chile is a good deal narrower than California. The result is a smaller growing area. In addition the Andes mountains to the east are 50 percent higher than those of California. The surrounding topography and geography of Chile make it somewhat of an island in character, isolated from outside influences. As a result, many of the plants found in this portion of Chile are native.

Native Genera Examples:

Puya- Native to south America this genus consists of 170 species. These plants are bromeliads and require little to no water. They have course textured leaves and are used commonly in gardens as shrubs. They possess a well developed root system. Many varieties may grow as a large evergreen clump up to 10 feet across with narrow leaves up to 2 feet long. They may reach as tall as 6 feet in the spring blooming season. Flowers are wide with bell shaped blossoms in metallic blue, green, and turquoise. Commonly these are used in large rock gardens, on banks, are good with cacti, and can tolerate poor soil conditions.

Maytenus- This species includes 225 trees and shrubs native to South America and the Caribbean. They have variable shaped leaves, and small star shaped flowers. Some species have red or yellow decorative seed pods in fall. They grow best in locations with long hot summers, and are very sensitive to frost. They do best in fertile well drained soil and can be grown best in full sun or slight shade

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Ugni- This is a small genus of evergreen shrubs closely related to Myrtus. It is indigenous to areas of South and Central America and parts of Mexico. It has glossy attractive foliage and fruits, which is a main reason why it is grown. They do best in well drained moist soils. They prefer partial shade to full sun. They are best pruned back in winter months and propagated in summer.


Mediterranean Climates- Australia

Part 3 of our series on mediterranean climate regions-

The mediterranean section of Australia consists of two bands on the southern portion of the continent. Specifically these are the southwestern part of the state of Western Australia and the southernmost part of the state of Southern Australia. Of these two areas the western section of mediterranean climate has more diversity. The influence of mountains in these areas is minimal, making Australia unique in this regard among mediterranean climates.

Native Genera of Note:

Grevillea– This genus consists of over 250 species of evergreen shrubs and trees, as part of the protea family. They are as a group variable in habit of growth, with all species being native to Australia, or the south pacific area. They usually have small flowers grouped into larger flower heads, with distinctive long styles, that give the flowers an interesting look to them. They are as a group adaptable and easy to grow, characteristic of their mediterranean origins. Leaves may be divided or ornamental as well, with some types being used for cut foliage. There are several hybrids available, which have been bred to be more floriferous.

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Hardenbergia- This small genus consists of 4 species of legume climbers. They typically have leaves divided into three leaflets, that are densely veined. They have clusters of small purple or pink flowers and do best in similar climatic areas with mild winters. They prefer rich well drained soil, and grow in full sun or partial shade.

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Acacia
- This is a huge genus of over 1,200 species of which 700 are native to Australia. They range from low growing shrubs to trees in character, and have generally bipinnate leaves, or flatten stalks that have replaced the leaf’s role and undergo photosynthesis. They have small flowers appearing in either groups or spikes and are often fragrant. Some species need fire to germinate. In horticultural cultivation many species maybe short lived, living only 10-15 years.


Mediterranean Climates- California

In our continuing series about plants and the mediterranean climate we profile our local California climate.

California:

As a state California has an extremely diverse natural landscape. Its mediterranean climate extends inland from the Pacific Ocean to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is these two influences that have the largest effect on California’s climate as whole. It should be noted that some people classify the extent of the mediterranean region of the west coast to extend through Oregon and Western Washington. These areas while receiving differing rainfall patterns also have predominantly dry summers, and it is feasible to group them into this mediterranean region.

Native Plant Genera of Note:

Quercus- This species of over 600 plants is native not only to the mediterranean regions of California, but also to a variety of other climates, including the Mediterranean itself. Plants consist of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs. They can range in height anywhere from 3 feet to 120 feet depending on species and conditions. Leaves tend to be well adapted to mediterranean climates and are often tough and leathery. In California many species are intolerant of summer watering, and make up a considerable portion of woodland habitats. They have deep spreading roots and generally have large spreading canopies. Flowers are insignificant, although acorns provide food for wildlife and were traditionally used in California as a source of food.

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Arctostaphylos: this genus consists of over 50 species, of evergreen shrubs including two rather rare small trees. These are tough plants with adaptive woody stems, leathery leaves and small clusters of white or pink, bell shaped flowers. The round leaves are oriented vertically to avoid sun drying and sunlight. Small reddish fruits appear in summer. They do best in full or partial shade and are fairly drought tolerant. Manzanita attributes for a considerable portion of California chaparral communities and is not exclusively native to mediterranean climates.

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Eschscholzia- A relative of the poppy, the most commonly found California poppy is the state flower of California. It has large petaled flowers and intense orange or yellow blooms. A variety of other colors are available as a result of hybridization. Foliage tends to be fine and carrot like. Generally plants are small and grow up to a foot high and slightly narrower in spread. They are highly drought tolerant and adaptive to California’s mediterranean climate. They also naturalize readily under proper conditions, and have a somewhat wild, rustic character to their habit of growth.

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Introduction to the Mediterranean Climate

In a series of posts this week we will highlight the mediterranean climate that characterizes California and 4 other regions of the world.

Mediterranean climates are unique from any other throughout the world. They are loved by gardeners for their relatively moderate temperate temperatures with more or less mild extremes in the winter or summer. As a growing environment for plants they provide a good place to grow many differing types of plants from a variety of different climates and locations throughout the world. The mediterranean climate is characterized mainly by its unique rainfall patterns, receiving little or no rain in the summer, abruptly contrasted by wet winters.

Specifically these climates occur exclusively between 30 and 45 degrees in latitude throughout the globe, and tend to predominate on the western edges of these areas. The mediterranean climate plays host to some of the most interesting and uniquely adapted plants in the world. The five areas considered mediterranean climates are southwest and southern Australia, coastal and central California, central Chile, the majority of the Mediterranean basin bordering the Mediterranean itself, and the southwestern tip of South Africa. A diverse and interesting host of plants grow in these climates, even though the total area of the mediterranean climates throughout the world is only approximately two percent.

The mediterranean climate results from a number of unique, important and complex factors. Almost all the areas of the climate occur sandwiched in between a strong maritime influence and a defining band of mountains (except Australia). Almost all these areas also have predominately western orientation, the result of which is often a high pressure accumulation that is a major contributing factor to the climate’s dry summers. In addition, this western orientation ensures exposure to the prevailing western winds of the world, which extends the effects of sea, moderating temperatures, and making temperature extremes characteristic of interior continental areas rare.

The areas also are subject to cold-water currents that help to moderate temperatures during both the warm and cool seasons. Specifically, these currents are the California current in eastern pacific, the Humboldt current in the south eastern part of the pacific, west of Chile, the Bengueh current in the Atlantic ocean off the western part of South Africa, the Canaries current in the Atlantic off of Morocco and Portugal, and the warm Leewin current in the southern Pacific ocean off the western coast of Southern Australia. It is these currents that also help moderate temperatures, and ultimately play a role in precipitation patterns.

Precipitation patterns for the various regions vary, however for the majority of locations the average rainfall is between 30 and 45 inches. Areas receiving more or less rainfall usually lie on the edge of a mediterranean region or are influenced by increased or decreased precipitation due to elevation differences. Characteristically, these areas rarely receive summer moisture. This trait is exaggerated in the interior portions of the climate. As one travels toward the ocean, the greater influence often provides moisture in the form of frequent summer fog. Plants adapted to coastal mediterranean conditions may have completely different characteristics and tolerances from those found further inland.

Mediterranean plants as a group have developed several unique adaptations that help them do well in a climate characterized by a long dry season. Plants may develop a shrubby habit of growth, with tough adaptive leaves. This helps to conserve water during the summer months. Other leaf adaptations include specialized stomata that prevent excessive transpiration, and extensive hairs or toment that help the plant deal with arid conditions. Often plants will not go deciduous because of the energy, nutrients and water needed to put on new growth every year. Plants may also develop a period of inactivity or dormancy, or may even go deciduous in the summer as a response to drought or extensively dry conditions. In addition, plants may develop deep spreading roots to help gather as much moisture as possible.

Still other plants develop an annual habit of growth that helps them to deal with changing climatic conditions. Some plants are even more highly specialized. In chaparral and other similar plant communities plants may develop specialized seeds that open only under intense heat as a response to frequent fires in these areas. Although as a group the mediterranean plants are highly adaptive this does not mean that all plants possess these traits, or even require them. Again, it is important to remember that there are fairly distinct differences between the immediate coastal areas and the inland mediterranean areas. Just because a plant is mediterranean in origin does not necessarily mean that it will survive or thrive if taken out of its particular niche.

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Image from Wikipedia

Resources

1. Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, ed. Sunset Western Garden Book. Menlo Park, CA:Sunset. 2001.

2. Dallman, Peter R. Plant Life in the Worlds Mediterranean Climates, Berkeley: University of California press. 1997.

3. Hawkins, Lester. “Gardener’s Guide to Mediterranean Climates.” Pacific Horticulture. Winter 1980-81: 21+.

4. Turner Jr., R.G. Ed. Botanica. Barnes & Noble. 3rd ed. 1999.
For more visit:
Wikipedia’s article on mediterranean climate
Mediterranean Garden Society

Many Choices in New Zealand Flaxes

I was at one of our main wholesale nursery suppliers last week leading clients on a tour for a planting design. One of the things that struck me while I was there was the amazing number of flaxes available.

For those not familiar with New Zealand Flax (Phormium sp.), they are a New Zealand native that are part of the Agave family. They grow best in the US along the coasts- throughout the Pacific Coast, Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast up to Virginia.

New Zealand Flax is a versatile plant for California gardens. It’s grassy strap like leaves help it fit well with a number of styles, especially Mediterranean compositions, and those using ornamental grasses.

Colors range from reds, purples, yellows, oranges and multicolors in sizes 18″ and below to 10′ and larger. Among those we use most are cultivars ‘Dusky Chief,’ ‘Yellow Wave,’ ‘Tom Thumb’ (Dwarf), ‘Jack Spratt’ (Dwarf) and a host of others. Cultivars are from two species Phormium cookianum and Phormium tenax.

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Dwarf Tom Thumb Flax mixed with Ornamental Blue Oat Grass

Find good links to images and more information at:
Monterey Bay Nursery Site
San Marcos Growers
Monrovia