Plants Are Like People

Plants, no less than people, have distinct personalities. Some, such as columbine and love-in-a-mist, are forever merry and bright and it is always a delight to be in their presence. Others, such as azalea and gardenia, need special treatment, but as long as they have their regular dose of fertilizer seem perfectly fine. Still others, such as annual vinca and mandevilla vine, may struggle no matter what you do for them, but then one day, not because of anything you have done, take on a life of their own and simply thrive.
Let’s stop for a moment to consider columbine. What does this plant demand? “Take my seeds and throw them on the ground in partial sun,” it says. “Sprinkle some compost or Nitrohumus or any sort of soil amendment over them. Attach any sort of nozzle to your hose, as long as it softens the jet of water. Keep my seeds moist by spraying water every morning on the compost that covers them until they start to emerge. Water as needed after that.”
I promise that you will enjoy this process since some of the seeds in the package always germinate. You may not see flowers until next spring but, in the meantime, you will enjoy the sight of the developing seedlings. Foliage is blue-green and leaves are whimsically scalloped.
Annual vinca, you may one day learn to your astonishment, is actually a perennial when quickly draining sandy soil, a partially shaded exposure and a cactuslike watering regime are, completely by chance, combined. Your supposedly annual vinca turns into a woody bush that lives for three years and grows 3 feet tall, dropping seeds that germinate in place.
Also known as Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), this plant shares its habitat with mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria laurentii), the most drought-tolerant indoor plant available.
To keep your vinca healthy, use drip emitters or carefully soak the soil with a slow trickle from a hose. Damp vinca leaves or constantly moist vinca soil are open invitations to the lethal phytophthora fungus. If you desire truly hefty vinca specimens, you may have to grow them from seed.
A gardening revolution, based on economics, may slowly transform gardeners into seed germinators. A packet of seeds costs a couple of dollars and yields five or 10 or 20 times that amount in the value of the mature flowering annuals, perennials, vegetables or herbs that are produced. But it is not just the money saved that drives the planter of seeds. It is the opportunity to be a partner in creation that is so compelling and satisfying.
It has been said that if most people spent a portion of every day planting seeds and following the progress of the seedlings that emerged from them, there would be much less depression, anxiety and anger in the world. Is life getting you down? Plant seeds.
Another argument for planting seeds is the vigor and toughness of the plants that grow from them. A moment’s thought will reveal why this is so. When you purchase plants at a nursery, they have typically been grown in a more mild climate than the Valley’s, in a place like Fallbrook or Oxnard. They will need to adjust to a new, more severe climate and may go into shock when confronted with unfamiliar surroundings and hotter weather than what they knew in the nursery.
Even more challenging than climate adjustment is instant adaptation to imperfect soil. The roots of nursery-grown plants luxuriate in an ideal, designer soil mix until the moment of truth, when they are planted in the garden.
Garden soil drains less perfectly than nursery soil mix and this can interrupt the flow of water both into and away from roots, leading to desiccation on the one hand and standing water on the other. Alternatively, when seeds are planted directly into your garden, the roots that grow out will immediately adapt to the soil that is there.
Speaking of growing from seeds, every gardener should germinate a mango or two. After removal of the pit, you will want to let it dry out for a few days. You can either place the entire pit horizontally into a container and cover the pit with an inch of soil or peel away the seed covering and plant the seed alone. Be patient. It may take three weeks for shoots to start poking through. Carefully monitor soil moisture. Mango (Mangifera indica) seeds do not like to sit in overly moist soil but they should not be allowed to dry out either.
Seedling mango trees are highly diverse and there is no way of knowing if the tree you are growing will be more or less productive than its mother tree. I have seen mango trees growing in Granada Hills where they were planted in sunny garden spots that, by proximity to block walls or other structures, were afforded some cold protection. This is vital since mango’s tropical origins prohibit its exposure to freezing temperatures.
Jacarandas, also known as blue haze trees due to the clouds of violet-blue flowers that cover them this time of year, are native to semidry, subtropical regions of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Because of its moderately dry habitat, jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) blooms most heavily after a winter with a minimum of rain and grows best in well-drained soil. In frost-free zones across the globe, jacaranda is the most popular ornamental tree.
In our heavily irrigated landscapes, jacaranda roots do not grow deep. As a result, they have been known to push up sidewalks and other paved surfaces, although not as consistently or predictably as ficus roots. There is nothing you can do about their sticky blooms, the price you must pay for bringing their distinctive violet-blue beauty into your life.
Once jacarandas bloom, you know that warm weather is on its way since, in Los Angeles, they flower during a span of approximately eight weeks from late spring through early summer.
When a jacaranda is young, encourage development of a strong central leader or main trunk by pinching off most side growth. Mature jacarandas, given sufficient room to grow, do not require pruning, except for removal of dead branches.
Tip of the week
If you are fond of dry flower arrangements, plant bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis). Their name is misleading since their habitat is the droughty Mediterranean woodlands of Syria and Turkey. This unusual annual plant sports tightly arrayed green bells that take on a tawny color as spring gives way to summer. Seeds are produced at the bottom of every bell so that, if you leave the plants in place, they will self-sow and give you more of the same the following year.

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