Shrubs for Afternoon Sun

manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) with smooth, cinnamon bark

manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) with smooth, cinnamon bark

My garden and front yard are west-facing and thus they are receiving direct sun in the afternoon. We have tried some perennials that can take San Fernando Valley heat, like purple fountain
grass and daylilies.
They looked nice in the summer, but the fountain grass collapsed after it rained and the daylilies have died back. We’re thinking of replacing them with shrubs or something that won’t die back in the winter.
What plants are good for our situation? I am thinking about hibiscus, but I’m afraid it won’t survive or its growth would be hindered by frost. Our hibiscus keeps going through a grow-and-die-back cycle and it never reaches more than 3 feet in our back yard. It looks terrible right now (burnt leaves). I would love to hear planting suggestions for morning shade/afternoon sun exposure.
Remi Shih, Winnetka
According to our local gardening bible, known as “Sunset Western Garden Book,” the common tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) should not be planted in Zone 18, which includes most of the San Fernando Valley. Hibiscus is damaged when the temperature drops below 30 degrees, which it has done on several occasions this winter. Hibiscus also suffers from the Valley’s bone-dry summer heat. In short, your inability to grow hibiscus has more to do with your climate than with you.
My favorite shrub is manzanita and, as long as your soil drains well, you might want to consider it for your back yard. Manzanita, which is flowering now, has urn-shaped pinkish-white flowers, leathery foliage that is glaucous blue-gray to blue-green to emerald-green in color, depending on variety, and exfoliating cinnamon bark.
There are several reasons manzanita (Arctostaphylos) is not widely planted. First of all, it is difficult to propagate. Second, it grows slowly. Third, it is not widely available and is seldom, if ever, on display in garden centers or nurseries. If you want to find it, you will have to visit a native plant nursery such as the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley.
Manzanita, in the manner of California natives generally, requires close attention to its water needs during its first summer in the garden. After that, watering can taper off considerably. Manzanita is sometimes attacked by gall aphids that pucker its leaves. This is somewhat unsightly but not a threat to the plant’s overall health and there is nothing, other than ignoring the aphids, that you need to do. As for pruning, you want to be careful to avoid cutting into stems haphazardly since no new growth emerges from these cuts.
Instead, pinch back new shoots to control direction of growth or, if you do prune existing stems or branches, cut them all the way back to where they intersect with one of the shrub’s main branches.
California lilac (Ceanothus) is another excellent native plant for morning shade and afternoon sun exposure.
It is faster-growing than manzanita and its flowers are wands of blue. Among manzanita and California lilac species, you find not only shrubs of every size, from compact to arboreal types, but ground cover species as well.
Outside of these two California natives, ‘Majestic Beauty’ is my shrub of choice. It grows well in either full or half-day sun and will even accept a bit of shade. ‘Majestic Beauty’ is a hybrid between India hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis) and ornamental loquat (Eriobotrya). Its outstanding attribute is its foliage, which is glossier than that of either of its parents. ‘Majestic Beauty’ is frost- and heat-tolerant and will grow well in the Santa Clarita Valley. This is a large, shapely shrub that reaches 10 feet in height or more with nearly the same girth, so give it plenty of room. ‘Majestic Beauty’ has large inflorescences of pale pink flowers that fade to white.
Tip of the week
If you are looking for a 4-foot-tall evergreen shrub whose flowers are visible nearly every day of the year, consider the South African cape flats heather (Erica verticillata). Although it has an amorphous growth habit, what cape flats heather lacks in geometrical form it more than makes up for with its pokers of silky mauve-pink flowers. When the flowers fade, they turn an attractive burnt-orange and remain on the plant for many months.

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