So much hyperbole surrounds certain plants that you simply have to have them.
Sometimes this hyperbole is visual.
You see a plant covered with blooms at the nursery and take it home, assuming it will keep flowering for some time. If it is a perennial, you expect a repetition of this eye-popping floriferous performance at least once a year.
But then you plant the embodiment of your botanical dreams and reap nothing but disappointment. If the plant is an annual, its flowers quickly fade or, if perennial, it may live in your garden for several more years but show few, if any, flowers.
More often than not, the reason for disappointing plant performance is insufficient or inappropriate fertilizer, combined with inadequately prepared or poorly drained soil and too much water.
Before planting an unfamiliar species, you should always ask about its fertilizer and soil needs. It is also a good idea to consult with the “Sunset Western Garden Book” or do an Internet search of the plant in question to get a complete picture of its cultural requirements.
One plant frequently associated with disappointment is kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos), as illustrated in the following letter:
“I love kangaroo paws (Anigozanthus) and planted dwarf varieties in front of our house. The first year their bloom lasted for many months and eventually I had to cut down their old flowers. The problem now is that they are not blooming in the fall and that is the time they were in bloom when I had bought them at the nursery. Some plants receive a few hours of morning sun and others receive a few hours of afternoon sun. Any ideas why they are not blooming?”
Anne Marie Darrach, Valencia
Kangaroo paw, a name that points to its habitat, is an arresting herbaceous perennial with fuzzy flower appendages resembling animal feet. Climatically, it is well-suited to our area. Its geographical orientation, in the southwestern corner of Australia, is a mirror image of our own. Southwestern Australia is the same distance south of the equator as Los Angeles is north of it.
Kangaroo paw has a number of cultural requirements that, if met, might extend its flowering season, which can stretch from spring through fall. The first and probably most important practice associated with kangaroo paw care is to immediately remove spent flower stems all the way to the ground. As plants age, cutting back surrounding foliage also will stimulate more flower development.
It also is important to situate the plants in good sun and in well-drained soil mixed with compost. Provide a liquid fertilizer, preferably low in phosphorus, on a monthly basis from March through September and keep mulch a few inches from its iris-like foliage or it could rot.
You might try to give your plants a bit more sun than they receive at present and see if that increases their flowering. Kangaroo paw clumps are easily dug up, divided, and transplanted.
Keep in mind that your dwarf varieties tend to flower more in the spring and summer and that taller varieties bloom more heavily in summer and fall.
The pampered care your plants received in their production nursery, designer potting soil and the constant and precisely measured fertilizer feed associated with such facilities, explains why they bloomed this late in the year.
Water should be withheld from kangaroo paws during the winter, which is its dormancy period. During the growing season, however, water should be regularly applied, preferably through drip irrigation. As is the case with many Mediterranean climate (wet winter, dry summer) plants, kangaroo paw is susceptible to foliar fungus when watered with conventional, overhead spray or rotary sprinklers during warm weather.
Kangaroo paws are suitable as far north as Valencia and the adjacent communities, but would freeze in the Antelope Valley. Even under the best of circumstances, kangaroo paws will begin to lose their flowering capacity within three to five years of planting.
Wisteria requires patience
Another plant known for its disappointing performance is wisteria, a vine with large hanging clusters of lilac-colored flowers.
“I have had a wisteria now for about six years. It grows beautiful foliage, but never any flowers. What does it need?”
Joy Shank, Lancaster
Wisterias may take years to start blooming and often do so after six or seven years in the ground, so you should not be dismayed by the lack of flowers on your plant.
Wisteria is a legume, in the pea family, and makes its own nitrogen fertilizer. For this reason, you should not fertilize wisteria and doing so will prevent flowering.
Do not be afraid to prune this plant. In fact, you should prune it heavily in winter, during dormancy, and throughout the growing season.
In January, cut back all of this year’s growth except for the three lowest buds on each stem. Then, during the growing season, anytime you see a shoot growing out of control or wrapping itself around older growth, snip it off. The regular rules of pruning do not apply to wisteria, which may be the most rampant grower of any ornamental plant.
Incidentally, the largest blooming plant in the world, according to “Guinness World Records,” is a wisteria vine growing in Sierra Madre, in the San Gabriel Valley. Planted from a one-gallon container in 1894, it is now more than one acre in size. Each spring, the town hosts a wisteria festival where thousands of people line up to see the gargantuan vine in bloom.
Tip of the week
Another long bloomer that really thrives on drip irrigation is Gaura (rhymes with Laura) lindheimeri.
At the entrance to Ariel, a town in Samaria about one hour from Jerusalem, I recently saw a magnificent drip irrigated island parkway planter filled with Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink.’ It had formed a massive cloud of rosy pink above the surrounding asphalt. Extend the bloom period of this plant by removing faded flowers. Alternatively, allow flowers to turn into seed pods. When the seeds drop to the soil, they will germinate.