One of the beautiful gardens I'll feature during my talk.

One of the beautiful gardens I’ll feature during my talk.

On Wednesday, August 7, 2013, I’ll be the featured speaker for the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Horticultural Society.

My talk will be: “Digging the Good Life: Creating Colorful, Water-Conserving Gardens.”

I’ll describe how to create gardens in a number of different styles by using the wide range of colorful and interesting low-water plants that thrive in our mild, wonderful climate. I’ll also note which plants attract beneficial insects and sustain wildlife, and touch on integrating edibles into the landscape.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I know with kindred spirits, and encourage anyone who loves gardening to attend the meeting, which is free and open to the public.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. on August 7 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at the corner of Foothill and La Cumbre Roads, Santa Barbara.


Spotted nettle

Who needs flowers?

Try to liven up a shady spot in your garden, and your list of ever-blooming plants is likely to be woefully short.

But shift your focus to foliage plants, and you’ll enter a world of year-round color.

Along with many shades of green, you’ll find leaves in yellow, orange, red, pink, purple and white. You’ll see speckles, swirls and stripes, and even some metallics.

These wild characters tend to like warm weather, so there’s a good selection at nurseries now. They include an assortment of annuals and perennials, although due to our mild weather, those that are labeled as annuals may behave as short-lived perennials, thriving for a few years before expiring.

Watering needs range from dry to wet. Most appreciate a monthly dose of fertilizer.

The following are among the best for crazy color right along the ground, or just above it.

Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans)

Catlin’s Giant carpet bugle

The straight carpet bugle is a classic, quiet, dark-green ground cover.

But the spinach-like, puckery leaves of Catlin’s Giant are bronzy red, and Black Scallop is dark purple.

Both creep along the ground and spread 2 to 3 feet wide. Short plumes of bluish-purple flowers rise another 6 to 8 inches above.

Be sure to bait for snails and slugs, which love to munch the leaves. It’s okay to let the plants can go dry between waterings.

Rex Begonias

Rex begonia

This class of begonias bears amazing patterns on large, crinkly, pointed leaves. Colors range from green to white to gray to burgundy, with a few metallic tones thrown in.

Rex begonias tend to be collector’s plants and can command high prices.

They’re best in pots or hanging baskets where you can admire all that value up close.

Keep the soil evenly moist and avoid watering from above, as the droplets can spot the leaves and lead to botrytis, a potentially deadly fungal disease.

Variegated Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’)

Variegated ground ivy

Don’t let the dainty, variegated leaves of this perennial fool you.

Just like its bigger namesakes, ground ivy traverses the earth via trailing stems that root and re-root. It grows only a few inches tall and is useful for covering small patches of poor soil.

But keep it away from your lawn, where it can become a nuisance.

It’s easier to control — and is quite fetching — in hanging baskets. Plant in cool sun or bright shade, and water about once a week during dry spells.

Variegated Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolare ‘Licorice Splash’)

Licorice Splash licorice plant

Fuzzy, multi-hued leaves in dark green, light green, yellow and silver densely cloak this charming perennial, while the long, slightly fuzzy branches gracefully arch and weave their way through other plants.

Licorice Splash is often recommended for containers.But because it grows at least a foot tall and spreads a few feet wide, I prefer growing it in the ground, where it has room to roam.

Water about once a week until your plants are established. Then let them go dry between waterings.

Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Kassandra coral bells

Plant breeders have gone nuts with these small, clumping perennials, creating a seemingly infinite number of color combinations in green, amber, yellow, purple and silver.

Look for Kassandra, which bears frilly, maple-like leaves in orange, yellow and red; Cathedral Windows, which bears purple leaves with puckery pink splotches; and Silver Scrolls, which bears larger, slightly cupped leaves that are silver with green veins and purple edges on top, and completely purple underneath.

Regardless of their coloring, coral bells are at their best with fast-draining soil and morning sun or all-day filtered light. Full sun or late afternoon sun can scorch the leaves.

Polka-Dot Plant (Hypoestes)

Splash Red polka-dot plant

Bright, tropical pairs of leaves adorn this perennial. Splash Red is bright cherry red with splotches of olive green, while Splash Pink is hot pink with speckles of medium green.

Polka-dot plant is grown as a houseplant in most places, and it’s debatable as to whether it will overwinter on the Central Coast.

Your best bet is to grow it in a pot so you can bring indoors if temperatures drop. Water frequently, and pinch back the leaves to the nearest joint if your plant gets leggy.

New Guinea Impatiens

Painted Paradise White impatiens

Standard impatiens are grown for their nonstop, colorful flowers: their small, nondescript green leaves have zero to do with their popularity.

But the New Guinea hybrids bear large, lush, tropical leaves with strong, contrasting patterns of green, white, yellow, coral, red and bronze. The flowers seem almost an afterthought.

Most of the hybrids grow 1 to 2 feet tall, and slightly wider. Their colors are brought out by bright, indirect light or not-too-intense morning sun. Keep the soil evenly moist.

Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)

Chillin’ Limeade sweet potato vine

Who would have thought that the lowly edible tuber could be enticed into producing such decorative top growth?

Lush, heart-shaped leaves glow in opposing — yet complementary — shades of lime-green and purple.

The plants don’t actually vine — they have a trailing habit, and are better on the ground as a quick-growing cover, or in a container where they’ll spill over the side.

They grow fast during warm weather, and easily reach 3 feet wide by summer’s end. But in late fall, they collapse. And while they’re technically a perennial, I’ve not been able to resurrect mine for another go-round the following year.

Dead Nettle or Spotted Nettle (Lamium maculatum)

Emeralds n’ Gold spotted nettle with variegated plectranthus.

What a hideous name for such an appealing and versatile shade plant.

Trailing stems bear heart-shaped leaves that sport all sorts of patterns in green, yellow and silver.

Emeralds n’ Gold is green with a bright yellow edging and a silver stripe down the middle, while Pink Pewter is ghostly white with just a hint of green on the edges.

Dead nettles spread fast, but are easy to keep within bounds. They grow well in part to full shade, and appreciate evenly moist soil.

Coleus (Solenostemon or Coleus x hybridus)

Kong Red coleus

These tropical plants can be fussy to get right.

But wow!

Few other plants match the intensity of the foliage, which can include yellow, hot pink and fire-engine red on the same leaf.

Most coleus grow about 2 feet tall and wide, and are at their finest when out of the wind and in filtered light.

Too much sun and their colors may bleach out. Water once or twice a week and apply a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer twice a month.

Watering Your Foliage Plants

Among the best: a fancy-leaf Rex begonia and silvery dichondra on the left, black mondo grass on the right and splashes of red impatiens and polka-dot plant throughout.

How your foliage plants spread will determine the best way to water them.

Conventional drip irrigation emitters are fine for plants that grow from a central stem.

But for those that re-root, use overhead sprayers or weave soaker tube through the planting bed to evenly water the area.

Early on, you may have to play with the frequency. Many shade plants require more water than sun lovers. But because they’re in the shade, the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly.

Watch closely to catch the plants just before they wilt significantly. Note the number of days that has elapsed, and then water a day or two earlier than that. As the plants gain size, try backing off on the frequency.

Seeds of Wisdom

Hose off your foliage plants occasionally, to keep their colorful leaves looking fresh. Do so early in the day, so that the leaves have time to dry before cooler nighttime temperatures set in.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor — unfortunately — do I have any control over its content.

Casa del Herrero

Got spring fever? Itchy feet? How about playing hooky and getting out to visit a community garden?

This Friday, May 11, is National Public Gardens Day.

The fourth annual event, each year set for the Friday before Mother’s Day, is a “national day of celebration that invites communities to explore the beauty of their local green spaces while raising awareness of the important role public gardens play in promoting conservation, education and environmental preservation,” according to organizers.

But cut to the chase. Locally, a host of public and nonprofit gardens that ordinarily charge admission are throwing open their doors to visitors or reducing their rates.

Where to Go

Dwarf coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) spills over a trail at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

In Santa Barbara, you can visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for free on Friday by clicking on this link http://www.bhg.com/gardening/celebrate-national-public-gardens-day/ and printing the coupon. The botanic garden is one of the nation’s oldest, and focuses exclusively on native plants.

Casa del Herrero is discounting its docent-led tours in May and June by 20%. Call 805/565-5653 for reservations. The 1925 Montecito estate, designed by George Washington Smith, is a National Historic Landmark. The garden is a rare, remaining example of the elaborate estate gardens that were designed during what historians call the Golden Age of American Gardens, 1895 – 1940.

Pacific Coast iris at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Lotusland is offering a 20% discount on tours on May 16 and 17. Call 805 969-9990 for reservations. The 37-acre botanical estate garden showcases Madam Ganna Walska’s extravagant ideas of outdoor beauty, lavishly illustrated by subtropical and tropical plants from around the world.

The Huerta Garden at the Old Mission Santa Barbara is cutting its admission price on May 12 and May 19. Call 805 682-4713, x 166 for reservations. As part of the California mission system, the garden has a strong historical bent. It features plants introduced to California during the Mission Era, 1769 – 1836, along with many California native plants.

Completely Free

Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), sage (Salvia) and California lilac (Ceanothus) at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Master Gardeners of Santa Barbara County are leading free tours at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the following locations: Mission Historical Park and the A.C. Postel Rose Garden, Los Olivos and Laguna Streets; Alice Keck Memorial Gardens, 1500 Santa Barbara Street; and Chase Palm Park, 323 E. Cabrillo Street. You can also pick up tickets for free rides on the 1917 Allan Herschell Carousel at Chase Palm Park at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo Street.

In addition, courthouse docents will lead tours of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Gardens, Anapamu and Anacapa Streets. And the Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Ninos Drive, will be offering a Horticultural Highlights Tour, free with paid zoo admission.

Further Afield

Another look at Casa del Herrero.

A dozen other public gardens in California, including the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, are participating in Friday’s events.

Across the nation, more than 150 botanical gardens, arboretums and preserves are offering freebies. Visit nationalpublicgardensday.org for more information.

So call in sick with a case of spring fever, and enjoy!

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor do I have any control over its content.

Orange miniature petunia (Calibrachoa 'Aloha Tiki Orange')

They’re here.

Springtime launches the debut of a new crop of brightly blooming perennials.

Visit any nursery now, and you’ll find row upon row of fresh, colorful beauties in 4-inch round or square pots.

Less expensive than a one-gallon plant and bearing a larger root mass than a seedling plucked from a pony pack, these 4-inchers are a perfect size to plant during the first days of spring.

In the garden, they’ll fill in quickly. Depending on what you choose, they’ll also bloom nonstop for as long as 12 to 24 months. However, it’s worth noting that while technically these prolific bloomers are perennials, because they expend so much energy to produce all those flowers, they may eventually collapse and never recover.

So at the end of however long their flowering might be, I give mine a good pruning. If they don’t respond within a few weeks, I yank them and start anew.

That said, the following short-lived perennials are among my favorites for quick, continuous color.

Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia)

Angelface Blue summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia 'Angelface Blue')

Picture a snapdragon for flower shape; a blue, pink, purple or white delphinium for flower color, and any kind of penstemon for slender, pointed leaves.

Combine those traits and you’ll have an Angelonia, which bears those plump flowers on upright spikes that grow 18 to 24 inches tall.

Angelonia blooms most heavily in heat, and prefers full sun and moderate to regular watering.

The plants are said to be deer resistant, although I haven’t tested them. The flowers are self-cleaning, meaning they’ll fall off neatly. Or harvest the spikes early and bring them indoors for a long-lasting bouquet.

Dresden Blue bears medium blue flowers and is among the most popular. Darker blues and darker purples are excellent as well.


Goldie bidens (Bidens 'Goldie')

Bidens may look delicate, with its lush, ferny foliage and bright yellow daisy flowers. But this native of Mexico, Guatemala and the southern United States is surprisingly tough, blooming everywhere from cultivated gardens to more difficult conditions.

But provide full sun. My plants thrive in dry, clay soil and are nice, self-cleaning companions to lavender and Mexican sage.

Also check the plant tag for the growth habit. Some Bidens, such as Goldilocks Rocks, form neat mounds about a foot tall and wide, while others, such as Goldie, have a looser habit and trail 2 feet or more.

Swan River Daisy (Brachyscome)

Blue Zephyr Swan River daisy (Brachyscome 'Blue Zephyr')

This fluffy perennial bears petite, daisy-like flowers in pastel shades of purple, pink, yellow or white, all with greenish-yellow centers.

Swan River daisy is a good filler between other plants, although it can be fussy about drainage, living longer in sandy soil than clay. I have grown mine next to a lawn, where its flexible stems and thready flowers have tolerated overspray from the sprinklers.

Provide full sun and regular water. Shear back the flowers occasionally to encourage more blooming.

Miniature Petunia or Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

Yellow miniature petunia (Calibrachoa 'Spring Fling Lemon')

Is there a color this native of Brazil does not bloom in?

Perhaps because it’s such a popular and dependably prolific bloomer, hybridizers have spent much time on this spreading perennial, creating flowers in both pastel and bright shades of pink, rose, red, violet, orange, yellow and white.

The quarter-sized flowers look like small petunias. But the flowers drop off on their own, and the stems and leaves are not sticky. Some varieties grow flat, reaching only 6 inches tall, while others form clumpy mounds. Check to see which type you’re buying.

Provide full sun to light shade, good drainage and let the top inch of soil dry out between waterings.

Twinspur (Diascia)

Twinspur (Diascia hybrid)

This offering from South Africa bears scores of pink, salmon, lavender or white flowers that open one after the next, up twisty, twirly stems. On the backsides of each flower are two curved “spurs” that are said to bear oil that attracts pollinating bees.

Trailing varieties of twinspur are good filler plants and spread at least 2 feet wide. Clumping types grow only a foot or so wide, and grouped together make nice masses of color. The plants are self-cleaning, so once again, no dead-heading is necessary.

Provide full sun to partial shade and moderate water. In the hottest inland areas, blooming may slow down or stop if night-time temperatures hover in the upper 70s or above. Go ahead and trim your plants if that happens. Doing so will encourage branching, which will produce even more flowers once the temps cool down.


Lavender and white Nemesia

This South African native is fragrant, with a scent reminiscent of cloves. Upright spikes of flowers appear in purple, pink, blue, white and yellow.

Blue Bird is among the most widely planted, while varieties in the new Angelart series bloom in even more shades, with fruit names like pear, mango and raspberry.

Nemesia is best with full sun in the morning, then shade in the afternoon.

It also likes good drainage and regular water.

Like twinspur, it may stop blooming if night-time temperatures stay in the high 70s.

Again, snip back the foliage to promote more prolific blooming once the night-time temps drop.

Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa columbaria)

Giant Blue pincushion flower (SCabiosa 'Giant Blue')

This short-lived perennial attracts butterflies with its pretty pink, lavender or blue flowers that look a little like flattened pompoms atop wiry stems. Individual stamens rise above the flowers, like straight pins stuck into sewing pincushions.

Provide full sun and moderate to regular water. In clay soil, pincushion flower may decline after a year or two; in sandy soil or loam, it should live longer.

This is one of the few 4-inchers that you’ll have to dead head. But doing so will encourage more ample flowering.

Fairy Fan Flower (Scaevola)

Mauve Clusters fairy fan flower (Scaevola 'Mauve Clusters')

This native of Australia is longer lived than most, and forms a dense ground cover of unusual flowers that look only half formed, with nearly rectangular petals arranged like a fan.

Mauve Clusters is the flattest variety, growing only a few inches tall while trailing 3 feet wide. The Whirlwind and Top Pot series, in lavender, pink and white, bear larger flowers and grow up to 1 foot tall while spreading 3 feet wide.

Provide full sun and moderate to regular water. The flowers are self-cleaning.

Bacopa (Sutera)

Nano White bacopa (Sutera 'Nano White')

This popular perennial is widely planted in containers, with its tiny green leaves and bright white flowers spilling gracefully over the edges.

But bacopa does just as well in the ground, provided it receives full morning sun, afternoon shade and consistent, frequent watering. It is one of the thirstiest short-lived perennials. If yours starts dropping buds — even though the leaves are not wilting — it’s time to water.

Also provide enough room, as bacopa tends to roam far and wide. For instance, Giant Snowflake can spread 3 to 4 feet by the end of its first summer, while remaining only 6 to 8 inches tall.

The traditional white-on-green is my favorite. Newer varieties bloom in pink or lavender, and there’s even one called Gold ‘n Pearls, which bears variegated lime and green leaves.

Garden Verbena (Verbena x hybrida)

Lavender verbena (Verbena 'Superbena Royale Chambray')

Rounded clusters of tiny flowers in purple, pink, red, white and nearly blue bloom on top of foot-tall plants that spread up to 3 feet wide. The little flower clusters make great landing pads for swallowtail butterflies to then sup the nectar.

Garden verbena is self-cleaning, tough and tolerates heat and marginal soils. It’s fine with moderate to regular water. But do not use overhead sprayers, which can cause mildew on the leaves and flowers.

Planting Tips

Pink verbena (Verbena 'Superbena Pink Parfait')

Your 4-inch perennials may be blooming heavily before their toes touch the ground.

In the garden, you’ll need to provide tip-top soil for most, to sustain the show.

Work in lots of well-rotted compost or other fine, organic material into the bed before planting. While the soil does not have to be as rich and loamy as for vegetables, it should still be fertile, loose and drain well.

For maximum impact, follow the spacing recommendations on the labels. For some short-lived perennials, that may be only a foot apart.

Some of these flashy bloomers tolerate overhead watering. But most will topple beneath the weight of waterlogged flowers or even mildew.

For best results, use soaker hose, drip irrigation or rim the area with a basin, then flood it whenever the top half inch to inch of soil dries out. A thick layer of mulch will stretch the time between watering.

Seeds of Wisdom

Many showy, short-lived perennials bear dainty flowers that are best appreciated up close, planted as edgings along paths or patios, in masses or at the front of a border.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor do I have any control over its content.

Pink tuberous begonia

With fall-planted bulbs — daffodils, anemones, hyacinths and the like — just beginning to pop up, it may seem too soon to think about planting bulbs again.

But plant an entirely different set of bulbs in the garden this month or next, and you’ll have another round of blooming bulbs from summer through fall.

This set includes tuberous begonias, caladiums and dahlias, all of which come from fleshy tubers; gladiolus, which sprout from dry, papery corms; and calla lilies, which rise from rhizomes.

Tuberous Begonias

Red tuberous begonia

It’s amazing that such unimpressive brown disks can produce such magnificent flowers within months of planting.

Unless you have terrific drainage and are willing to roust snails daily, plant your tuberous begonias in hanging baskets or pots.

Fill the container with loose potting soil or a mix of leaf mold, coarse sand, finely ground bark and peat moss. Place the dusty brown tuber on top, dimpled side up. Cover the tuber with a thin layer of potting soil. Water thoroughly.

Then keep the soil moist through the rest of the growing season. Tuberous begonias grow best with lots of water, high humidity and filtered sunlight.

In addition, apply a mild dose of a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer twice a month until May, to encourage the crinkled, succulent leaves to grow. Then switch to a low-nitrogen fertilizer to boost blossoming and blooming.

In the fall, after the stems fall off, lift out your tubers, dust off the dirt, and store them in a cool, dry location until the following spring.


How's that for tropical?

These flashy foliage plants provide a dose of the tropics, with large, heart-shaped leaves in crazy combinations of red, green and cream. Give them bright light, but keep them out of direct sun, which can burn their paper-thin leaves.

Caladiums are happiest in pots, where you can control the drainage and snails.

Start the tubers in a loose, fertile potting mix similar to what you’d use for tuberous begonias. Place the tubers bumpy side up. Cover them with 2 inches of soil, then water well.

Once your caladiums are up and growing, water them at ground level. Over-head water can spoil their leaves. When the leaves begin to fade in the fall, taper off watering. After they shrivel up, dig out the tubers, trim the dead stems, brush off the dirt and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.

Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia)

Graceful, upright swirls are the hallmark of calla lilies.

The erect, swirling white flowers of this rhizome are long-time favorites for both weddings and funerals.

They’re also among the most flexible of the summer-blooming bulbs, thriving in sun and shade, and in soils ranging from loose and well drained, to heavy clay.

Give your callas lots of water and they’ll bloom frequently. Let them go dry, and they’ll cycle in and out of bloom and dormancy.

Pant the common white calla rhizomes 6 inches deep and a foot or two apart. The dainty, dwarf hybrids, which bear pastel, speckled flowers in shades of pink, peach, yellow and red, go about 2 inches deep.

Don’t worry about digging up the rhizomes at the end of the season. Calla lilies easily naturalize on the Central Coast, forming ever-broadening clumps.


Mystic Dreamer dahlia

Dahlias are fussy to get started, but their show-stopping flowers are great payback.

Dig a hole about 1 foot deep and wide. Mix the excavated soil with loose potting soil, compost or other medium-textured organic material. Put 4 inches of the mix back in the hole, then place the tuber on top, with its eye up. Cover the tuber with another few inches, then water thoroughly.

As the tuber sprouts, gradually add more of the loose material until you fill the hole.

If you’re growing large, show-quality plants, put a 4 to 6-foot tall redwood stake or rebar in the hole at planting time. Pound in a stake later, and you may pierce the tuber and kill the plant.

If your dahlias decline at the end of summer, whack them to the ground and keep watering. The plants should send up new branches and resume blooming in October and November.

Some folks dig up their tubers for winter. I grow mine in raised beds and leave them alone.


These sweetly fragrant flowers from South Africa are most commonly planted in fall. But you can put them in the ground in late winter, too, for summertime blooms.

Plant the marble-sized corms at least 2 inches deep, with their tips up, in a sunny spot. Freesias need good drainage, but not much water. Irrigate them while they’re up and growing and flowering. After they fade, you can ignore them until the following year.

Freesias also do well in pots. But be patient: the corms may take four months to bloom.


Plump flowers open upward on each stalk of this Oberbayern gladiolus.

These regal, flowering swords have been staples of the cut-flower industry for years. Plant them now, and you have a good chance of avoiding thrips. The persistent, tiny pests disfigure the flowers and foliage during warmer weather.

Choose smallish corms that are about as tall as they are wide. Bigger, flatter ones may be past their prime. Plant the corms several inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in rich, loamy soil in full sun. I grow mine along the edges of raised vegetable beds. I will have harvested the flowers by the time my summer veggies need the space.

Water once a week, and apply a mild liquid fertilizer after five leaves have appeared, then again after the flower buds begin to swell.

Harvest each spike, just above the bottom three or four leaves, as the first flower opens. The remaining buds will open indoors.

After the plants stop blooming and the bottom leaves turn yellow, chop the stalks to the ground. Dig up the corms every few years and cut them apart to create new plants.

Glory Lily or Climbing Lily (Gloriosa rothschildiana)

The dancing flames of glory lily.

The upward-flaring flowers of this tropical vine are an incredible combination of scarlet red and banana yellow. Unusual tendrils that help the vine advance emerge from the tips of long, triangular leaves.

Glory lily thrives in sun or filtered shade. It can clamber up a 6 to 10-foot trellis or pole in a single summer, and is fine in a large container.

Place the tuber on its side in the same kind of loose mix that tuberous begonias and caladiums adore, and cover with 4 inches of soil.

After the tuber sprouts, water it regularly and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every three weeks. In late summer as the vine finishes blooming, scale back the water. Stop completely after the foliage dies.

If your glory lily is in the ground, dig up the tuber and store it indoors. If it has been growing in a pot, store it, pot and all, in a dry, sheltered place.

Mexican Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

Fragrant spikes of white flowers rise a couple of feet above clumps of grassy leaves on this native of Mexico.

Select the largest tubers possible. Plant them 2 inches deep in the ground or in a container. Water well, then let the top inch of soil dry out between waterings until the tubers sprout. Once you see green, start watering once a week.

Dig up and divide the clumps during dormancy every three to four years. The youngest, smallest bulbs may take several years to gain enough size to bloom.

When to Plant

Yet another luscious tuberous begonia, this one in yellow.

Buy your summer-blooming bulbs at local nurseries and mail-order catalogs now. But make sure your ground has dried out before you plant them, as they may perish in cold, wet soil. Instead, they like it warm, loose, and with excellent drainage.

If you don’t want to wait, pot up your bulbs.

Some, such as tuberous begonias and caladiums, will be content to live out their lives in containers. But plan to transplant others, including dahlias, gladiolus and calla lilies, which do best in the ground and may even naturalize there.

Seeds of Wisdom

Most summer-flowering bulbs require watering once or twice a week, so plant them within reach of a hose or faucet.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor do I have any control over its content.

A ladder makes pruning this peach tree a lot easier.

Sharpen those pruners. It’s time to start cutting in the garden.

Despite a run of warm days, this is the season when many landscape plants are dormant — or as dormant as they’re going to be in our temperate climate.

Making corrective cuts now will boost their health and encourage more buds, flowers and fruit.

First up are roses and deciduous fruit trees.

But other dormant plants will benefit from a shape-up now, too. It’s a lot easier to prune when your shrubs and trees are bare. You can see what you’re doing without contending with a canopy of leaves, and pests and diseases are not likely to be active.


It may seem crazy to cut back roses now. If yours are like mine, they’re still covered in leaves, buds and fresh flowers. But a closer look reveals that they’re tattered around the edges. If you don’t prune, the upcoming growth is destined to become a tangled, thorny mess by summer.

Start by chopping off the top in order to reduce the bush to about 3 feet tall.

Don’t worry about where you make the cuts. This is just the first round. Snip off any remaining flowers. Then strip the leaves and any suckers at the base by hand, using a downward tug. Watch out for thorns. Heavy, elbow-length gauntlet gloves provide good protection.

Use hand pruners to cut smaller branches, such as these rose canes.

Next, stand back and evaluate the framework. Cut out dead or shriveled canes all the way to the base of the bush; old canes that are thicker than your thumb; and new canes that are distorted or smaller in diameter than a pencil.

Roses — like so many other plants — benefit from plenty of air flow through their centers. They also need sunlight to penetrate their crowns to initiate new bud growth, which results in better flowering.

So next, cut out any canes that cross over the middle.

Then shape what’s left. On shrub roses, keep pruning until five to seven canes remain. Trim the canes to 18 to 24 inches tall, varying the heights so that the bush will bloom with a more natural look. On hybrid tea roses, keep at least three to five canes. Depending on who’s providing advice, those canes can be trimmed 18 to 36 inches tall.

Finally, nip back any side branches that cross or rub against other branches or canes.
Make all your cuts just above an outward-facing bud. This encourages new growth to flare out, rather than tilt back toward the center of the bush.

Deciduous Fruit Trees

For all deciduous fruit trees, start by pruning any dead or diseased wood. Then remove rubbing or crossing branches.

Use loppers to cut branches 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

Be sure to make clean cuts next to lower, heavier branches. Fruit trees are prone to diseases that can get their start in stubs that are left long enough to die back, while cuts close to larger branches protect and heal by producing new bark and wood.

Next, know how your particular fruit trees produce fruit.

Apple and pear trees, for instance, bear fruit on fuzzy, nubby spurs that emerge on branches at least a year old. Those spurs flower and fruit every year, so should be kept from one year to the next.

The only winter pruning of an apple tree — other than a light shaping for aesthetics — should be to remove dead or diseased wood, rubbing or crossing branches, and any remaining limbs that interfere with sunlight reaching the center of the tree. Sucker growth should be removed whenever it appears, at any time of year.

Pear trees require a heavier hand, as they produce tall, upright whips that should be headed back during dormancy. Thin the whips so that air and sunlight can penetrate the canopy. Then cut back the remaining whips by two thirds, to maximize the size of the fruit and to keep it in the lower arms of the tree.

Plum trees bear on long-lived spurs that take several years to form. In the meantime, just as with pear trees, thin each year’s new, upright whips so that they’re spaced about one foot apart. Then cut back those remaining whips by two thirds.

Peach trees bear on year-old wood. They also require the heaviest pruning of all because each branch bears fruit only once. As such, the trees should be cut back by more than one half each year.

Start by removing dead, diseased and rubbing branches. Then cut out any branches that have produced peaches.

Next, thin the branches so that all of the new, twiggy growth from last year ends up being spaced about a foot apart and the silhouette of the tree looks like an upside-down umbrella. Then head back the twiggy growth by another third.

This last step is necessary to pump the tree’s energy into the remaining fruit buds, which optimizes the size of the fruit. Otherwise, those full-length, new whips will bear more fruit, but of much smaller size.

Nectarine trees are related to peaches and bear fruit on year-old twiggy branches as well. Follow the same steps, except the twiggy branches can be left closer together, spaced about 8 inches apart.

Groom Grasses and Other Plants

By now, your big, billowy ornamental grasses are likely to be ragged visions of their former selves. If you haven’t already, cut them all the way to the ground. Use a weed whacker, machete or even kitchen scissors. There’s no point in leaving more than an inch or two of the past year’s foliage above ground, as new stalks will sprout from the crowns, not the stems.

Small, cool-season grasses, including the various blue fescues, may still be actively growing, so wield a lighter hand. Use a stiff rake to comb out the desiccated stems, or trim taller blades with a brush mower with the blade set on high.

Use a hand saw to cut branches 2 to 3 inches in diameter or larger.

Also take a look around your garden with a critical eye toward dead flowers and leggy growth. Pinch, nip and tuck wherever necessary to rejuvenate the plants and to pull them away from walls, windows and eaves.

Wait until March or April to cut back tropical and subtropical plants, such as bougainvillea, cannas, citrus trees and palm trees. Leave them alone until all danger of frost has passed and spring temperatures have begun to warm up.

In addition, assign pruning of taller trees to a certified arborist, who will use proper pruning equipment and climbing techniques, and know just where to make cuts to ensure the overall health and beauty of your trees.

Guides to Pruning Fruit Trees

For information about how to prune specific fruit trees, turn to: “The Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees,” by Chuck A. Ingels, Pamela M. Geisel and Maxwell V. Norton, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3485; or “How to Prune Fruit Trees” by R. Sanford Martin, Martin Bio-Products, which is often carried in nurseries.

Seeds of Wisdom

A dead-looking branch may be quite alive underneath. Flex the branch or scrape the bark with your fingernail or a pocket knife. If the branch has give, or if there’s green beneath the bark, it still possesses life.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

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American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Fall has a way of sneaking up on our Central Coast gardens. It doesn’t arrive in one fell swoop like so many places. There’s not a single cold snap or deep freeze to announce that the seasons have changed.

Instead, we get a mish-mash of conditions for a month or two, with temperatures bouncing around from the 40s and 50s at night to the low 60s to the low 80s during the day.

But the trend is still toward shorter days and crisper nights. And then suddenly — indeed, sometimes it seems overnight — our deciduous trees erupt into glorious fall color.

Granted, you’re not likely to see the postcard-perfect images that you’ll find in New England, where vast stands display impossible shades of brilliance.

Hachiya persimmon (Diospyros kaki 'Hachiya')

Much of that is because we have a greater diversity of trees, with many different tropicals, subtropicals and evergreens mixed in with our deciduous trees.

We also have a slower progression of color. Rather than busting loose all at once, followed by a quick fade, our leaves typically take their sweet time to shift color, then drop.

As a result, we may see the first hints of color in September, with Japanese maples starting to turn, followed by persimmons and maidenhair trees. Others, such as birches and sycamores, often come late to the party, not fully coloring up until November or even early December.

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how fast our trees turn, or whether they’re planted in masses or as single specimens. They’re all beautiful this time of year, especially at sunup and sundown, with the low rays of sunlight shimmering through their tissue-thin leaves of red, yellow, purple and orange.

The following are among the best.

American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

American sweet gum, up close.

This robust tree bears maple-shaped leaves that turn gold, red and burgundy in fall. It has a nice, upright shape, and grows moderately fast to 60 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet wide. Although American sweet gum is a popular street tree in older neighborhoods, its beefy surface roots can lift pavement. So plant yours at least 10 to 15 feet away from sidewalks, patios, driveways and the foundation of your home. That will also help you to avoid having to constantly sweep the golfball-sized sticker balls that drop much of the year.

But all is forgiven when those leaves turn color and light up the neighborhood.

California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)

California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)

This statuesque native produces giant, leathery, maple-like leave that turn the richest orangey-gold in the coldest spots on the Central Coast.

Just south of Buellton, California sycamores that line the stream corridor along the east side of Highway 101 yield brilliant hues every year.

In milder areas, you’ll generally see a mix of rustic brown and gold, and even a few pale green leaves that never really turn.

After the leaves drop, the solid trunks reveal zig-zagging branches and beautiful, mottled, peeling bark in shades of white, tan, cinnamon and dark brown.

California sycamore grows fast to 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide. It is not for the faint of heart — or for small gardens.

Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

If you plant only one tree for fall color, let it be Chinese pistache.

Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

Neat and well-mannered, with roots that stay within bounds, it nonetheless trumpets its presence in fall as a raucous fireball of orange and red. On close inspection, some leaves turn yellow and pink as well. Adding to the explosive effect are dangling leaflets that dance in the breeze.

Chinese pistache grows 30 to 60 feet tall and wide. A relative newcomer to many neighborhoods, it will be interesting to watch as the various trees take on size over the next 10 to 15 years. As with many trees, it performs best with good drainage and deep, infrequent watering.

European white birch (Betula pendula)

A European white birch swirls in the wind.

This traditional front yard tree grows narrow and tall, and is often planted in groups.

The arrowhead-shaped leaves, hanging from weeping branches, turn to liquid gold in the fall.

Those leaves offer a beautiful, stark contrast to the white and black furrowed bark.

Mature trees reach 40 feet tall, 20 feet wide and form a surprisingly broad trunk a foot wide or wider.

If you plant several, vary their initial sizes so that they don’t grow into three equally stout trees in 15 to 20 years.

Also know that greedy surface roots will crowd out any underplantings, including lawn, over time.

I’m planning to replace a swath of declining fairy fan flower (Scaevola ‘Mauve Clusters’) beneath my European white birch with an underlayment of landscape fabric topped by dark, polished pebbles, come spring.

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

Coral bark maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku')

This dainty tree produces some of the earliest and most spectacular fall color, although its delicate leaves drop relatively fast. It grows to about 20 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety.

More than a dozen Japanese maples are commonly available, ranging from Bloodgood, which bears scarlet leaves in fall, to coral bark maple, which turns an ethereal yellow.

Protect your Japanese maple from the harshest elements. It will be at its best tucked into a sheltered corner or beneath a taller, evergreen tree, where wind and heat won’t tatter its leaves and turn them crispy.

Japanese or oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki)

Fuyu persimmon (Diospyros kaki 'Fuyu')

Often overlooked until it sports fall color, this fruit tree bears round, nearly heart-shaped leaves that shift from green to yellow to deep, glowing orange. Plump, orange fruits that hang on long after the leaves have dropped are a bonus.

As a shade tree, persimmon has a nice, rounded silhouette and grows 30 feet tall and wide. As a fruit tree, it’s generally grafted to yield Fuyu, a nonastringent fruit that’s sweet when picked; or Hachiya, an astringent fruit that softens and sweetens after picking.

Maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba)

Maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba)

Year in and year out, this showstopper yields what may be the most vibrant yellow of any Central Coast tree.

It’s also among the most reliable for turning color, even with the mildest of temperatures.

The drooping, fan-shaped leaves then fall nearly all at once, gifting the earth with a golden glow.

Maidenhair tree is one of the oldest flowering plants on earth, dating back some 200 million years. Male trees bear small, inconspicuous flowers, while females produce large, fleshy seeds in late fall that smell positively hideous. Fortunately, nurseries seldom offer female trees for sale.

Maidenhair tree often starts out slow, then speeds up, eventually reaching up to 50 tall and about half as wide.

Purple-leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera)

The already dark leaves of this fruitless plum turn nearly inky black in fall.

Purple Pony purple-leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Purple Pony')

It is especially beautiful when offset by the golden tones of a European white birch or brilliant yellow gingko.

Purple-leaf plum sheds its leaves from the top down, so can look a little awkward just before the last leaves drop.

This tough tree withstands wind, poor soil and street pollution, and is found in neighborhoods everywhere. It generally grows upright, to 30 feet tall.

A dozen or so named varieties, such as Krauter Vesuvius and Purple Pony, may have slightly different forms, and be more rounded or not quite as tall.

Why Leaves Change Color

Fall color is the result of deciduous plants preparing for winter.

Yet another beautiful American sweet gum.

Before dropping their leaves, the plants convert the starch in their foliage to sugars to store in their branches, stems and trunks to sustain themselves until they leaf out the following spring.

But cold temperatures can hinder the process, preventing the sugars from reaching their destinations. That buildup of sugars often appears as red pigment.

Meanwhile, the green chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, revealing any other pigments that might have been masked, such as red, yellow, purple or orange.

The mashup of stalled sugars and pigments results in what we see as fall color.

Colder temperatures often heighten the hues, while mild temperatures can dull them. Strong, afternoon sun can intensify colors as well, sometimes to the point that the southwest side of a tree may sport more vivid color than its other sides.

Seeds of Wisdom

Fall color is not limited to trees. Deciduous shrubs, grape vines and some fruit trees, including peaches, plums and pluots, can produce dazzling foliage as well.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

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