Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Wendy's Wish

It is gratifying for me to tell you about easy, long-blooming, and low-maintenance plants. Look at it this way, I grow all of the plants, so you don't have to! In my writing, I talk about the exemplary plants to grow in San Diego. If you share my love for colorful long-blooming plants that attract pollinators, I will give you my best plants. For the last two years, I have grown two Salvias from the four that make up the "Wendy" series. These are great plants as they are almost never out of bloom in my Zone 10 garden, and they are easy to take care of and maintain. Hummingbirds relish the large brightly-colored flowers, and can be found chasing each other to be the first to sip from these plants. Any one or all four of these will add bright hot tones to your garden color scheme. 

Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish'                                                                                                                         S. Reeve

 'Wendy's Wish' is the name of a chance salvia seedling found in Wendy Smith's garden in Victoria, Australia. The plant she found wasn't like the rest of her salvias, and she isn't sure what combination of salvia species produced this outstanding hybrid. The flowers on this compact plant are large and magenta, like the flowers of Salvia buchananii but on a much smaller plant. As luck would have it she was able to patent it, and arranged to have a portion of the proceeds go to Make-a-Wish Australia. 

From this original plant, three other selections were made: 'Ember's Wish' with coral-red flowers, 'Love and Wishes' with reddish-purple flowers, and 'Kisses and Wishes' with pink flowers. They all have the compact habit and large flower size of Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish.' The large tubular flowers are all rather fuzzy with dramatic calyxes as well. While the calyxes of 'Wendy's Wish' and a darker tint of magenta, the calyxes of 'Ember's Wish' are variable and range from reddish to very much greenish. 

The literature says these Salvias will reach three feet tall and wide. This could be true, but I usually cut them back at the beginning of spring for dense growth and a bunch of new flowers, so they are staying around 2' x 2'. Even though this is considered "woody" salvia, I have had no trouble with cutting back into woody stems and getting regrowth. This is sometimes a problem for woody salvias, particularly native woody salvias like Cleveland sage. 

     Salvia x 'Ember's Wish'                                                                                         S. Reeve

These salvias do like water. They will reward regular and ample water with more blooming stems. They do not necessarily die when given less water, but they will be sparse and waiting for water when it comes. Well-drained fertile soil is best. Here in East County, a little shade is a good thing in the summer. Unlike most Salvias, a little shade does not slow flowering at all and the plant looks less stressed. They are hardy to Zone 8-9. What is lovely and appreciated is the plants do not require deadheading, the flowers drop off by themselves, and maintain their color the whole time on the plant. No ugly brown flowers to deal with. The colored calyxes look a bit like flowers and prolong the bloom time. The foliage is medium glossy green with dark stems. As you can see in the photo above these salvias combine well with succulents, as well as other perennials. 

If you love to watch pollinators plant these all around your patio and in your patio pots to have a nonstop show of hummingbirds duking it out. 

Close-up of the fuzzy flowers and persistent calyxes of 'Wendy's Wish'                                                   S. Reeve

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Garden-worthy Aloes

 Aloes come in an astonishing variety of sizes and shapes. They can be trees or small groundcovers, and everything in between. There are over 600 species of Aloes and Aloe-related species (Kew) originating from Africa, Madagascar, and 14 from the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, and a few from islands in the Indian Ocean. This article will concentrate on some of the smaller, more garden-worthy Aloes for San Diego. 

Aloe striata                                                                                         Sharon Reeve

Many Aloes offset and get bigger over time. Coral Aloe or Aloe striata is a uniquely beautiful single Aloe that gets chunkier with each passing year. The spineless basal rosette is only about a foot high, but the flat-topped floral cluster reaches up another foot. Thick bluish-aqua leaves radiate from the center and have a coral-colored edge that matches the flowers. A subspecies has faint white lines running up the leaves that show in bright light. While this is an attractive sculptural plant when planted alone, it also is very attractive planted in a group or band in front of a solid-colored dark-foliaged plant to show off its sculptural qualities and flashy flowers. Front it with an even bluer Senecio for a pleasing combination. Full sun and infrequent water suit it best. This clean plant requires no maintenance, save the removal of old flowering stems. This plant will tolerate slight freezes only. Aloe striata blooms in winter for about a month.

Aloe x 'Moon Glow'                                                                                                                          Sharon Reeve

This garden Aloe is the product of a breeding effort by Leo Thamm. The parentage of Aloe x 'Moonglow' is unknown, but the combination of bluish foliage and abundant soft yellow flowers with orange centers is stunningly beautiful and very satisfying. After, many years the plant will offset to a medium-large size of 3-4 feet high and 4 feet wide. You can control the size by pruning after bloom. When it does bloom, it is the star of the garden and an obvious focal point. The soft-colored flowers coordinate well with pastels and white, grey, and silver-foliaged plants, like Kalanchoe bracteata or Dasilyrion wheeleri. Hummingbirds love Aloes, and this is no exception. Once again, full sun and infrequent water are what this plant wants. This is also a long winter bloomer. This is a tough plant that insists on well-draining soil and temperatures above freezing.  

Aloe cameronii                                                                                                                                 Sharon Reeve

Aloe cameronii is much better behaved than the similar, but larger, Aloe arborescens. In the photo above, the plant is 7-8 years old and has expanded to four feet wide and three feet high. This is considered a slow-growing Aloe. Cherry-red flowers are numerous and in proportion with the smaller-scale foliage. In cooler months, the foliage turns a deep forest green, but heat and drought can turn the foliage bronzy orange. Regular water will keep the foliage green. Combine it with Aeonium 'Kiwi' to bring out the red of the flowers. This deep green foliage works well with all kinds of smaller colorful succulents. Rosettes of foliage cut from the base propagate easily. This is one of my favorite plants for creating gardens. Colorful winter blooms can repeat during the year. Even when not in bloom the neat dense basal foliage is refreshing and healthy. This plant needs well-drained soil and full sun. Aloe cameronii can withstand slight freezes. While this plant does not have spines, the leaves are edged with teeth that might lead you to be a little careful.

Aloe 'Blue Elf'                                                                                                                                   Sharon Reeve

If spreading Aloe is more to your liking, this hybrid Aloe 'Blue Elf' may work for you. The narrow upright bluish-green foliage, with hints of orange and red, forms a dense ground cover that is around a foot tall. Plant this on 8-inch centers and in a couple of years you will have a continuous patch of Aloe 'Blue Elf'. In the middle of winter, it sends up one-foot-high slim red-orange spires of flowers.  Hummingbirds regularly come by and sample them all in a systematic fashion. This plant likes well-drained soil and is tolerant of regular water, but can get by on less. In the photo above this vigorous plant is filling a pot. The flowers open from long bloom stalks and open from the bottom up, and bloom for several weeks. The spent flower pedicels give a polka-dot effect to the stalk. This plant is tolerant of hot open exposures but intolerant of salt spray at ocean locations. Remove spent flower stalks after blooming. This plant combines well with low grasses and other succulents. Upright narrow foliage provides a different texture to almost any plant. Be sure to not crowd this plant and allow it to shine alone or in combination.

Aloe x 'Safari Rose'                                                                                                                 Sharon Reeve

Aloe x 'Safari Rose' is another breeding win for garden-worthy Aloes. This small-statured offsetting Aloe comes to us from Alan Wet's breeding program in South Africa. The foliage of this plant reminds me of Aloe x 'Blue Elf' with bigger soft rose flowers grading into white ends. The clump is a foot tall but spreads slowly and increases in height as the plant offsets. Even though it offsets it stays small. The flowers are large in proportion to the foliage. It blooms heavily in the winter and repeats bloom throughout the year. Combine this with a silver-foliaged herb like Teucrium marum or a low-blooming plant like Kalanchoe manginii. The cherry bells and burgundy foliage of this Kalanchoe go well with this Aloe. Blue Senecio serpens, coppery Sedum adolphi, red-rimmed Crassula arborescens, and tri-colored Aeonium 'Sunburst" all look good next to this plant. With these soft rose flowers, there are so many possibilities! Infrequent water and well-draining soil are needed to grow this well. This Aloe is part of the Safari series from Ball Horticulture includes a bi-colored orange and pink-flowered Aloe called 'Safari Sunrise'. There are also 'Safari Sunrise' and 'Safari Orange'.  All excellent garden Aloes.

I love these garden Aloes for their low maintenance, drought tolerance, effortless attractiveness, and months of flowers. They don't need fertilization, but a layer of mulch is always helpful. Hummingbirds appreciate the frequent and abundant flowers. Try them in your garden and you will love them too. 


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Bonus Blooms for Fall

 It is always a relief for me when the cooler temperatures of fall come bringing the promise of rain. Fall is also the season that some plants really shine with peak bloom. Here are several fall bloomers that I enjoy in my garden. 

      Senna splendida 'Golden Wonder' tree form


    Close-up of the large flowers of Senna splendida 'Golden Wonder'

Senna splendida 'Golden Wonder' is a lovely small tree. If it isn't pruned, it is a large shrub. The flowers of this plant are showy, large, and long-lasting. They are easily 3 inches across and a nice rich buttery yellow. While its main bloom period is in the fall, it puts out blooms intermittently all year. All sennas are host plants for Sulphur Butterflies. The caterpillars are green and yellow and blend in with the foliage and are hard to find. There are never enough of them to do any noticeable damage to the foliage. This plant was tough to get established but now it is tough and drought tolerant. It can tolerate a light freeze. Full sun and well-draining soil are requirements for good growth.

                  Hypoestes aristata or Ribbon Bush

Do you remember the polka dot plant so popular in terrariums when we were kids? This lovely plant is in the same genus. I barely notice the glossy light green leaves the rest of the year, but in the fall it is engulfed in lavender ribbon-like flowers. Cut back Hypoestes aristata after bloom to keep it densely growing. I keep this one around three feet tall and wide. I water this about once a week-to ten days in the summer and not at all in the winter. This South African native is an easy plant to grow in full sun/light shade and well-drained soil. It will tolerate light frosts and is evergreen. It is popular with hummingbirds and bees. Like the Poinsettia, the colorful flowers are actually fused bracts instead of petals. 

     Flowers of Odontonema strictum or Fire Spike

If you only have shade and want to attract hummingbirds, don't despair! This is a shade growing hummingbird plant. It will bloom in pretty dense shade. Of course, there will be more blooms if you give it more sun, but it blooms surprisingly well in shade. Odontonema strictum grows to about six feet tall and is a strongly upright plant. In the fall, large spikes of the most incredible red form in the leaf axils and ends of branches. The flowers do not bloom all at once and will open from the bottom up over a long period of time. Even after the flowers drop off the spike. the structure left behind is bright red and showy. This plant looks so tropica with its large glossy foliage, but it is surprisingly drought tolerant and easy to grow. Cut it back after bloom for more branches and more flowers. It is light frost tolerant. They say that hummingbirds can see red a mile away and I do not doubt it with this plant!

       Dombeya burgessiae 'Seminole'

Why this plant isn't grown more in San Diego is a mystery to me. It is one of the easiest, most rewarding plants in my garden! It is a robust grower that blooms from an early age. In the fall, it is smothered in pink bouquets of flowers. This plant wants to be eight feet tall and wide, so I chop it to the ground after it blooms, to keep it around five feet. While other plants languish and droop in the summer heat, this one stays healthy and strong with very little water. It takes full sun to part shade. I think it benefits from a little shade. It can be propagated by layering low-growing branches. The leaves are large, slightly fuzzy and a grey-green color, and typical for members of the Malvaceae. It will tolerate a light frost. 

In San Diego, fall can be a rewarding and bloom-filled occasion if we take the time to find autumn-flowering plants. There are a surprising number of plants that bloom in the fall. My goal is to have plants in bloom all year round, and we can in Zone 10. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Succulents as Low Maintenance Shrubs

When you picture a succulent garden you might be like me and see in your mind's eye many colorful tiny plants in a precious arrangement, but have you ever thought of succulents as shrubs in a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant garden? Many succulents have a neat and tidy domed habit that suits a low-water garden well. These mid-size succulents can perform the role of shrubs with much less water and maintenance. Be sure to have well-drained soil and full sun for these plants. Some of them can tolerate some shade but the colors will not be as intense.

Unlike shrubs, these neatly growing plants rarely are boring green, and come in many interesting colors and shapes. One of the basic tenets of good garden design is a variety of textures, sizes, and colors. Succulents don't rely on flowers to provide interest, they do that all year long with their foliage. You don't ever have to apologize to garden visitors that, "they should have been there last week because the plants were blooming" because the interest is the year-long texture and color of the foliage. With these plants, you can have a beautiful garden 12 months a year.

Additionally, they are easy to prune should they get larger than you want. Cuttings quickly and easily make new plants somewhere else in your garden. For example, cut the head off an Aeonium and stick it in the soil, and soon you will have another shrub- succulent. Here are a few of my favorites.

Aeonium 'Jack Catlin' with Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold'          David Feix

Several Aeoniums make great succulent shrubs. The rosettes don't collapse in the summer heat like Aeonium arboreum and quickly make an organized dome of heads. In this case, Aeonium 'Jack Caitlin' is a small succulent shrub around two feet tall and wide with gorgeous wine and spring green rosettes. It is a hybrid of A. arboreum 'Zwartkopf' and A. tabuliforme made by John Catlin at Huntington Gardens. This succulent does best in full sun where the colors intensify. Repeat this succulent shrub in several places in your border to create continuity in your color scheme. This is a tough plant that will get by on very little water, even in full sun. Plant with chartreuse plants to pick up the fresh green center. One good pairing is with Sedum x adolphii. This is a low-growing yellow succulent, that varies from chartreuse to golden with orange tips. A. 'Jack Caitlin can tolerate light frosts.

Aeonium 'Sunburst'                                                                                             David Feix

One of my favorite plants, this plant has easy care and color in spades. You would think looking at it that it is a delicate fussy plant, but it is a robust fast grower just looking for an excuse to show off in your garden. Once again, full sun and well-drained soil are required for best results. Skirt this succulent shrub with Senecio serpens for a pleasing combination. The blue of the Senecio serpens picks up the bluish green of the Aeonium. The coral pink stripe of the rosette is more evident in full sun and heat. Interplant with Echeveria 'Mauna Loa' to echo the coral edge of the Aeonium's rosettes. Any coppery succulent will work. You can also use shorter dark red Phormium cookianum. These rosettes are bigger and can get close to a foot across. The rosettes root easily. Even when not watered they will hang out until there is some water to start growing. Aeoniums have a drawback in that stems will die back after bloom, but there are always plenty of rosettes to replace the plant stem that died. 

Crassula arborescens                                                                                         

Many of the Crassula arborescens selections are great succulent shrubs. This one is Crassula 'Bluebird'. The foliage is a nice medium green paddle with a bluish cast and a red edge leaf edge. It quickly makes a rounded shrub, and like the shrubby Aeoniums, starts easily from pieces of branches. The foliage is chunkier than the well-known jade plant. Other forms of Crassula arborescens have silver foliage, or undulating smaller foliage. Any forms are easy plants for drought tolerant shrub forms in a succulent garden. They are slightly frost tolerant. This plant reaches 2-3 feet tall and wider. To keep it smaller trim off slightly smaller than desired and it will fill back in. 

    Aloe camperi                                                                                  Geoff Stein

There are so many forms of Aloe from groundcovers up to trees. There is a small group of shrub-sized Aloes that offer different textures and foliage colors in the garden border, plus blooms that last a month or more. The Aloe pictured is a species called Aloe camperi. This plant blooms in spring and grows about one foot high and three feet wide. If orange Aloe foliage is desired, plant Aloe dorotheae or Aloe cameronii. These shrubby Aloes have foliage that turns red with heat and drought. This is good to know in Zone 23 Sunset where summers can be challenging for landscape plants. These mid-size Aloes are great as you can have one blooming almost all year with careful selection. They clump and spread to create a small mass that is weed-free and lovely. Another good dense spring bloomer is Aloe 'Moon Glow' with yellow-tipped blooms and bluish foliage. Match this up with blue Senecio serpens and Crassula 'Sunset' to echo the colors.

Kalanchoe bracteata    

If you are nuts about white, silver, and blue foliage, like I am, you can find these colors in so many succulents. Kalanchoe bracteata has blazingly white fuzzy foliage. It is absolutely one of the easiest plants to grow. Succulents often have fuzzy white or silver foliage to deal with heat and drought. Fuzzy white leaves keep the full intensity of the sun from reaching the leaves and cool the leaf surface, plus they slow dehydration. Kalanchoe bracteata grows to about two feet tall and wide.  It blooms in muted red and the blooms are visited by hummingbirds. White foliage matches everything and can be happily sited in full sun next to almost any plant. I like to group white or silver foliage together. This plant looks good with another drought tolerant plant called Teucrium marum with silver foliage and purple flowers. Both are easy and drought tolerant. Teucrium marum is a long-blooming plant favored by bees.
Hopefully, this article got you thinking about using succulents as shrubs in the garden. Succulents are better than thirsty shrubs because they are drought tolerant and grow densely to choke out weeds. Using medium size succulents this way adds interest to the garden with color and texture, and is a smart choice to reduce maintenance and watering. With a little planning, you can easily make a satisfying garden composition and you can stand by while compliments come your way. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Party in a plant


Aeonium 'Sunburst'                                                                                                                       S. Reeve

Looking to add year-round color to your garden? Aeonium decorum 'Sunburst' is your plant! This green and white variegated succulent glows with strawberry-red tips in full sun. Individual rosette pinwheels of pointed fish scale-shaped fleshy leaves are edged in cream with a light green stripe up the center. In newer foliage the cream is more of a butter yellow. The variegation can vary, and some rosettes will have more green than cream or show up entirely cream. Likewise, the amount of red can vary as well. I prefer a good amount of red to provide color interest. The leaves radiate around a tight center arrangement of leaves and several concentric rows of scale-like leaves make each rosette up to 8-10  inches across. This colorful succulent plant does best in full sun, or light shade in hotter locations. It is hardy to frost-free zones 9a-10b. Most of the 35 species of Aeonium come from the Canary Islands, while the straight species of Aeonium decorum is from the islands of Gomera and Tenerife. There is also a crested form Aeonium decorum "Sunburst" forma cristata, which is wild-looking.

Crested form of Aeonium decorum 'Sunburst'                                                              Photo from Cactuspedia

As with all Aeoniums, the plants go dormant in the summer. When it is hot and dry the rosettes can naturally curl up into a ball to decrease surface area and to conserve water. I find compared to other Aeoniums this plant balls up less than others, especially if not allowed to dry out. 

Aeonium 'Sunburst'                                                                                                                                S. Reeve

One thing I really love about this plant is how from one rosette it can grow into a "shrub-form" in a year. The 2-foot rounded multi-branched form is very tidy and dense and is a nice substantial presence in the garden. It combines wonderfully with so many plants. I like this next to the orange-foliaged clumping Aloe cameronii or the orange rimmed single Aloe striata. Another good companion is Cordyline 'Cha Cha' sometimes called "festival grass" as it has colors of strawberry apricot in the foliage. Below is another possibility with Echeveria 'Mauna Loa'. 

Echeveria 'Mauna Loa' with Cotyledon 'Mint Truffle'                                                                                S. Reeve

If you live where it freezes you can grow this in a pot. Again, take advantage of the three colors present in the plant while choosing a pot for it. Try to match the pink-coral-to-reddish highlight on the rosette edge or go for the blue complementary color for drama. Cobalt blue or turquoise would be fun. Use a well-draining mix of succulent soil (I like E. B. Stone's Cactus Mix) mixed with perlite for best results. Remember to just put planting mix in the pot with no gravel on the bottom as that messes up the drainage. 

Aeonium 'Sunburst'                                                                                                                       S. Reeve

One nice thing about aeoniums is you can easily make more plants. To do so cut off a rosette with a little handle of the stem and plant it in the ground. Many books say to heal the cut end over before planting but I haven't found that necessary. My soil does drain well though, so that may be why. Also, if the stems touch the ground they will often root. I have noticed rosettes of other Aeoniums that break off and roll away only to root so I guess this is a propagation strategy to increase the population. I noticed the other day that inside one of the rosettes my plant is growing additional leaves. I have no idea why this is happening. Here is a photo.

Aeonium 'Sunburst'                                                                                                                                 S. Reeve

In a couple of years, one of the rosettes will elongate and send up a bloom stalk and die shortly after. This is normal for this monocarpic plant. Usually, there are other stems of rosettes that just fill in so the blank space doesn't last very long. The long wands of white flowers are attractive to bees. Water a new plant well and fairly often (weekly) until it gets a good root system. After that this plant is fairly drought tolerant and only needs water in hot dry times. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings or the roots can rot. This is one of my favorite plants as it is consistently colorful and maintains a neat rounded shape that mixes well with other plants. How fun to combine this plant in new combinations that create pleasing accents in the garden.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Erythrina x bidwillii-- One of my very favorite plants!

Seeing hummingbirds in my garden is one of my greatest thrills! Because of this, I have planted many hummingbird-attracting plants. Good thing I love the color red! One of favorite plants is also a hummingbird favorite, Erythrina x bidwillii. There are many Erythrina species to love and they are pantropical in distribution-- including both Old World and New World species. I found a very helpful web page describing this written by Wayne Armstrong of Palomar College. Old World species tend to have sturdy open flowers with amino acid-rich flowers for perching birds while many New World species target hummingbirds with more delicate slender flowers and sucrose-rich nectar especially suited to their high energy needs. This is very interesting to me since I have several New World species and selections in my garden. I had assumed that all New World Erythrinas fed hummingbirds, but I was wrong. I waited in anticipation for my Erythrina crista-galli to bloom, predicting increased hummingbird activity, only to find it is not their favorite tree. It turns out 55 of the 70 New World species are hummingbird pollinated. Erythrina crista-galli is mainly pollinated by passerines, and secondarily, by hummingbirds and bees. Unlike other strictly passerine-pollinated Erythrinas, this one has lower amino acid levels so appeals to a wider array of pollinators. Orioles and managers frequent passerine-oriented Erythrinas.
Erythrina crista-galli flowers                                                                                          S. Reeve                      

Erythrina x bidwillii flowers                                                                                          S. Reeve 

Notice how the flowers of the Erythrina crista-galli have the banner petal oriented like a dish so perching birds can grab the rim and sip nectar. The banner is also stout and sturdy and can support the weight of a small bird. The Erythrina x bidwillii has a long banner petal that is folded in the middle to form a tube and oriented downward because hummingbirds do not need any structure to support them as they feed. Fascinating, right?

Compared to my Erythrina crista-galli, Erythrina x bidwillii is crazy with pugnacious hummingbirds when it blooms. The rich red of the flowers is particularly satisfying to me. Flower wands as long as 3 feet cover this plant when it blooms. it is long-blooming starting in May and sending out more blooms throughout the summer. 

Erythrina x bidwillii                                                                  S. Reeve

                             Erythrina x bidwillii                                                                  S. Reeve

The blooms are not always so beautiful. Last year, after a particularly wet winter (for here anyway, lol) my tree had borers that destroyed most of the blooms. The culprit was most likely the Erythrina stem borer (Terastia meticulosalis). The ESB is a small, well-camouflaged brown moth that originated in Florida and has been seen in Southern California since 2015, In California, the ESB has been observed on E. × bidwillii, E. chiapasana, E. coralloides, E. crista-galli, and E. falcata--all New World species.

Before moving here I had the good fortune to grow E. x bidwillii in Athens, GA. This was a dieback shrub that would grow back in the heat of the summer, and get nipped back by frost in the fall. It is always a welcome addition to my garden. The plant is root hardy to USDA Zone 7b and is soil-type tolerant, as long as it is well-drained. I say this because I had acidic thick clay soil pH 5.3 in Athens and have neutral-to-slightly alkaline soil here in Calfornia, and it grows just fine in either place. It does best in full sun and looks best with regular water. I have seen it, though, blooming just fine with no summer water in San Diego. 

     Anna's Hummingbird standing guard                                                                                        S. Reeve

California native Anna's Hummingbirds, and Allen's Hummingbirds fight over this plant here in La Mesa, CA but in Athen's GA, we had the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. One of the main reasons I moved here was for year-around hummingbirds! Between the many native hummingbird plants planted here and all of the other hummingbird plants I have planted, I see hummingbirds all of the time. I prefer to use plant flowers to feed them and it makes me happy to see them all over my garden!

You may have wondered about the "x" in the middle of the Erythrina x bidwillii? The letter signifies a cross between two species of Erythrina. In this case, the cross was made in between Erythrina herbacea a spring-blooming North American shrub that dies back in colder climates, and Erythrina crista-galli, a summer-blooming South American tree. They both possess the distinctive leaf arrangement of three leaves with the terminal leaf being largest. Erythrina crista-galli has spiny leaves and Erythrina herbacea has curving thorns on the stems. Erythrina bidwillii also has curving thorns, but they are not numerous. I prune the plant while wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with no bodily damage.

            Maturing wand of flowers showing lengthening petals out of the calyx                           S. Reeve

As much as I love this plant one thing frustrates me about it, it has a rangy habit and does not attain the aesthetic ideal of how a small tree should look. Unlike, in zones lower than Zone 9 this plant is not a dieback shrub, but a small tree that does not dieback, and it maintains a woody trunk. In the spring this plant throws up abundant stems ending in long arching wands of flowers while blooming stems from last year are dead and show up distinctly as white curving skeleton bones the following year. To neaten the plant, these must be cut out. I normally do that in the spring, but I will try to cut them out in the fall this year. The wood of the plant is very light like balsa wood, and would easily float. Knowing what I know now about this plant in Zone 10b, I think it is worth the time and expense to buy a plant specifically trained as a tree, so there is an attractive structure to prune back to each year. Most Erythrina crista-galli are trained this way. 

If you love hummingbirds this is a great plant for your garden.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet' - great container plant for attracting Hummingbirds

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet'                                                             S. Reeve

To say, "I am a big fan of hummingbirds" would be an understatement. If a plant has in its description, "attracts hummingbirds" chances are that plant is already in my cart. Automatic response with lightning-quick speed! I love hummingbirds and own many of the plants that they love to feed on. For hummingbirds, this plant is great since it blooms almost year-round. It does not freeze here so nothing limits this plant's ability to form flowers. It is on my deck and has been for a couple of years. It is probably three feet wide and four feet tall. 

Blooms of Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet'                                                                                   S. Reeve

This plant has a very intriguing selection name of 'Dropmore Scarlet' so I did some investigating. This plant was bred by Dr. Skinner from Dropmore, Manitoba Canada. He was a well-known plant breeder in the area and produced many garden-worthy prairie plants. Because this lonicera was developed in such a harsh winter cold area, I was surprised at how well it does in Zone 10b. It is bothersome to me that so many gardening books take care to list the lower zones a plant can grow in, but whether a plant will grow in a higher zone is not really addressed. Usually, the will say something like, for example, Zones 3-8 or 3-9, so I have no idea if it will grow in Zone 10b. A gardening limitation here is whether a plant will do well without winter cold. Many plants will not do well without an accumulation of chill hours. Fortunately, this plant does well. 

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet' is a cross between two American species, Lonicera sempervirens, from the South, and Lonicera hirsuta, from the upper Midwest. I can certainly see the Lonicera sempervirens influence in 'Dropmore Scarlet' as it has red tubular flowers like L. sempervirens.

Lonicera hirsuta                                                                                            Photo by Peter M. Dziuk

Well known problems with Lonicera are powdery mildew and aphids. So far, I have had neither problem with my Lonicera. There are many species of mildew and they are typically specific to their host plant. Lonicera can be infected by powdery mildew fungus, in the genus, Erysiphe. Unlike other species of mildew, the genus Erysiphe has over 300 different host plants. To reduce the incidence of powdery mildew either buy plant selections that are resistant, or keep conditions around the plant discouraging for the fungus. Powdery mildew is encouraged by temperatures from 60-80 degrees and dry weather. To reduce conditions favoring its growth, plant in full sun with good airflow, and water regularly. Chemical control is not an option in my garden since I am doing everything I can to have a healthy vibrant place that welcomes all organisms. There are some selections of Lonicera that are resistant to powdery mildew, and in places where it is a problem, they would be worth seeking out. Of course, if you see an aphid infestation a hardy spray of water will knock them off, while providing a meal to ground-dwellers below. 

Anna's hummingbird on Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'                      Wilson Brothers Gardens

I plant plants because I want to see hummingbirds and other pollinators. I feel better using plants rather than a sugar water mixture in a plastic feeder. Plant nectar contains sugar, sure, but it also contains amino acids, vitamins and other trace compounds that promote hummingbird health. 

Erroneously, I had assumed hummingbirds sucked nectar through a straw-shaped tongue. Recent studies by Dr. Rico Guevara, and colleagues, from the University of Connecticut,  show the mechanism is the forceful action of a brush-shaped tongue end with two grooves flattening against the plant and releasing. This acts as a mini-pump and the mechanical force draws nectar up to the feeding hummingbird--about 15-20 times a second! For many years it was thought that capillary action wicked nectar up to the mouth of the hummingbird, but this is a slow process that did not adequately explain how much nectar was obtained. Fascinating!

Drawing of a Hummingbird tongue by Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara

I love the bluish color of the Lonicera foliage. The flowers are often followed by red fruit desired by birds. Unlike some highly fragrant Lonicera species, this plant is not fragrant at all. Keep the soil moist but not wet and the plant needs full-to-partial sun. The vines twine so just provide something for them to climb on and they will do the work themselves. To encourage more flowers, prune after flowering. The books say Hardiness Zones 3a-8b, but we all know that is not true as I grow this in 10b. This long-blooming vine is perfect for the hummingbird garden as it puts out nearly continuous flowers all year long.