An Amazing Celosia, Dying Algerian Ivy

fully developed planting of Celosia spicata (wheat celosia), photo by HC McDole

Imagine an annual plant that grows with weed-like abandon, yet its multitude of flowers can last for months in dry arrangements.  Flowers are violet-purple and bloom from late spring through fall.  Leaves are lanceolate (lance-shaped) and bronzish burgundy in color.  The plant grows quickly into a six foot specimen, can serve as an informal hedge, and may be grown indoors. And if all that were not enough of a recommendation, it self-sows, too, so you will always have seedlings coming along.

The plant in question has several names, including wheat celosia (a reference to the feel of its flowers), purple celosia, and flamingo feather.  I have seen several botanical names attached to it: Celosia spicata (which means spiky celosia), Celosia caracas (also called Celosia ‘Intenz’), and Celosia argentea var. plumosa, even though the latter name would include the more common plumed celosia, seen in nurseries for years, which blooms in red, pink, yellow, and orange but is much more finicky than its purple cousin.  This fall season is the first time I have seen wheat celosia, a new introduction from Africa, in local nurseries, and it is widely available, on display everywhere from Home Depot to Armstrong Garden Centers to Trader Joe’s.  Don’t be tempted to spoil wheat celosia with an abundance of water, which will promptly kill it.  If you want to save money on your wheat celosia investment, plant it from seed, which is available through Internet vendors.
A correspondent from Georgia, HC McDole, assures me that wheat celosia flourishes in Georgia clay, which has a reputation for poor drainage.  This should be welcome news to those who struggle with clay soil, which may be found throughout the Los Angeles basin.  At one time, Los Angeles and the Valley were at the bottom of the ocean, and silty clay or just plain clay soil are a reminder of the sticky marine sediments that accumulated there.
We have a hillside that originally was covered with Algerian ivy.  Slowly it is dying.  I have noticed this happening in other yards as well.  Not that I am a fan of the ivy but am puzzled why this is occurring.  Have you any informationabout this?  We live in the hills south of Ventura Boulevard with poor soil that has been amended in the past.  Do you have anysuggestions for replacement? We have pine trees on the hill that give a lot of shade.
Barbara Starr, Encino

sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

If your slope is covered with large pines that produce mostly shade, you may want to plant ferns whose rhizomes guarantee that they spread.  There are many ferns that do this but the fastest growing species is sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata).  When this fern starts to look piqued, which it will after several years, you simply shear it to the ground and it grows back up again. One of sword fern’s features as a ground cover is that it is one of only a few plants that effectively “swallows” pine needles that fall in it from trees overhead so you are not burdened with the chore of removing pine needles that tend to smother plants growing under them .  Another possibility is asparagus fern (Asparagus sprengeri). This is an extremely aggressive plant that is actually not a fern, but a member of the asparagus family.  Asparagus fern, like ivy, is virtually impossible to get rid of once it gets a foothold — don’t say I didn’t warn you! — but it can grow in sun to partial shade and, once established, is rather drought tolerant.

If your pines are fairy close together and cast an abundance of shade on your slope, I am wondering if you need to plant anything at all.  If your slopes are not eroding, it means that the pines are keeping the soil in place.  If such is the case,  I would just get some loads of wood chips from any tree trimmer, who would be happy to deposit them on your driveway to save the expense of going to the dump.  Then have your gardener distribute the chips with a wheelbarrow over your slope.
If you do plant something, it would make sense to consider drip irrigation.  Conventional spray sprinklers waste a lot of water when utilized on slopes, whether due to run-off or wind or both.  By the same token, if gophers are frequent visitors or perhaps residents of your slope, you will need to be aware they have been known to gnaw through drip tubing so that, on occasion, you may need to repair your lines.

Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis)

Tip of the Week:  It is not surprising that Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis) is dying simultaneously on slopes throughout Barbara Starr’s neighborhood since it was a popular ground cover 50 or more years ago when the homes in that area were built and landscaped. Reduced watering, due to city ordinance, has probably taken its toll, yet even well-watered ivy eventually wears out.  Weed killer is powerless against it since chemicals cannot penetrate the waxy, hydrophobic cuticle that covers ivy leaves. The best advice for controlling ivy is to be religious about pulling up new growth as soon as it appears.

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