Q. Could you give me a list of your favorite long-blooming plants for the Valley? They should require a minimum of water and a minimum of pruning or other maintenance.
-Oscar Montanez, Canoga Park
A. The following plants produce flowers on and off throughout the year and may suddenly burst into full bloom in any season. Not only do they flower continuously, but their foliage has special features as well.
Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). This robust perennial, which reaches a height and girth of three to four feet, will persist in the garden for up to a decade. Flowers are wooly purple wands, nicely complemented by gray-green foliage that has a delightfully honeyed fragrance.
Give Mexican sage full to partial sun. You can propagate it in cool weather, such as at this time of year, by detaching four to six inch shoot terminals, referred to as shoot tip cuttings, just below a node (where leaves meet stem), removing bottom leaves, and then inserting cuttings into the soil. By next spring, they will already have begun to send out roots and new leaf growth will be visible soon after. Even in the hottest weather, Mexican sage should require no more than a single soaking per week. When Mexican sage starts to look shabby, as it will on an annual basis, cut it back to a height of eight inches.
‘White Iceberg’ rose. The greatest problem with this plant is its widespread use which, for serious gardeners and plant watchers, makes it almost boring. I say “almost boring” because its virtues compensate for its ubiquity. Not only do Icebergs bloom in all seasons, but they do not require deadheading or removal of spent flowers, during a bloom cycle, to achieve their maximum flowering potential. When a bloom cycle is finally over, you cut away dried flowers and may cut back the plants by as much as one-half, but only as a prelude to the next bloom cycle. You may also want to plant ‘Pink Iceberg,’ although it does not seem to bloom with the reckless abandon of ‘White Iceberg.’ Either variety makes an elegant companion to Mexican sage. ‘Iceberg’ foliage, being of the ‘Floribunda’ type, is consistently fresher and shinier than the foliage of other hybrid teas, as well as being seemingly immune to black spot fungus and rust.
‘Iceberg’ may be grown in full or partial sun. Occasionally, if given too much shade, it may be touched with powdery mildew fungus. Propagate Icebergs by taking four to six inch shoot tip cuttings. Dip cutting bases in root hormone (available at nurseries) and stick them into fast draining soil in four inch pots. Place each cutting with its pot under a cover of Saran wrap, supported by popsicle sticks or arches of baling wire, to hold in moisture until roots begin to grow. ‘Icebergs’ make fine subjects for vase arrangements and they do have a mild fragrance.
Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria species). This is the most delightful plant available for partial sun locations in the Valley and, to take full advantage of its charms, plant all three sizes: tall orange or tomato red varieties (whether Alstroemeria aurantiaca or ‘Third Harmonic’ hybrid) grow to more than four feet in height; medium sized pink, red, white, salmon, yellow, red, and purple hybrids, which grow two to three feet tall; dwarf hybrids, seen mostly in purple, tomato red, or salmon but occasionally in other colors as well, growing no more than one foot tall. As they are graced with tuberous roots, Peruvian lilies will last forever in your garden. To keep them flowering, pull out spent flower stems from their base. Never cut them with a pruning shears. However, even if you should cut a whole clump of them to the ground, their attractive lime green foliage, followed by a fresh bouquet of flowers, will appear soon enough. Flowers are continually munched by thrips but this is a reasonable price to pay for the constant color they add to the garden. Peruvian lilies will grow in all soil types. They may be propagated by division of the clumps. Some of the wild species, as opposed to the hybrids, will self-sow. Surround with cedar mulch to keep watering frequency at no more than twice a week.
Cigar or firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea). This is a very long-lasting bushy perennial with one-inch long, red-orange tubular flowers tipped in yellow, hence its common names. Cigar plant flowers so heavily that shoots have been known to bend over under the weight of their blooms. Hummingbirds flock to it. You can water it frequently or pretty much forget about it, let its soil go dry, and it will continue to flower profusely. Leaves are dark green and diamond shaped and it prefers full to partial sun exposure.
Propagation is by shoot tip cuttings and is easily accomplished in fall or spring. Mature height and girth is three to four feet.
Variegated society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Variegata’). This is a plant whose white and green striped foliage provides a perfect contrast to bronze leaf New Zealand flax, to gray leaf sages, and to other dark-leafed drought tolerant plants and California natives of every description. It bears mauve flowers in all seasons but its main selling point is the dense, shallot like, striped foliage that imparts a refreshing, seersucker elegance to any garden.
Water requirement of society garlic is minimal and the plant may easily be propagated by division. Periodically, the society garlic will lose its elegance due to an accumulation of brown flower stems, dried up leaves, or both. Instead of picking away at these spent, unsightly appendages, cut the plants down to ground level so that a clump of fresh and vivid new shoots can emerge.
Tip of the week
The most efficient and healthiest way to address irrigation of the above plants is through installation of laser drilled drip tubing. Drip tubing, in addition to minimizing the amount of water applied to your plants, ensures that no water will be wasted on sidewalks or end up running down the street into storm drains. To extend watering intervals, you can cover soil and drip tubing with a few inches of cedar mulch or with wood chips from a tree trimmer’s truck. Tree trimmers will be more than happy to dump a load of chips on your driveway since you will save them the considerable expense of having to dispose of them at a landfill or recycling yard.