South Africa Brings Winter Color

salmon pink gazania

salmon pink gazania

Despite the overcast skies of January, winter landscapes in the Valley need not be drab and gray. Through judicious plant selection for your garden, you will witness a variety of flowers adorning your ground covers, shrubs and vines this time of year.
A brief ecology lesson is key to understanding which plants bloom in this part of the world at this time of the year. Plants native to dry, Mediterranean climates such as our own are winter bloomers since they must flower and set seed before the heat arrives, an event that may occur as early as April. Thus, plant selection for winter bloomers will include species native to South America, the Mediterranean basin, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Southern California. Add to this list certain tropicals and subtropicals that bloom in response to the short days of the winter season and certain other plants that bloom on and off throughout the year, regardless of the weather.
Where perennial ground covers and bedding plants are concerned, South Africa is the leader in providing winter color. Gazania, geranium and ice plant grow wild in sandy soil along the coast of that country. Bird-of- Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) and kaffir lily (Clivia miniata) are also from South Africa; both have orange flowers that open during the winter.
Rosemary, derived from the Latin “ros” meaning near and “marina” meaning sea, is native to Spain and Portugal’s rocky slopes that overlook the Mediterranean Sea. Be aware that there are both bush and trailing rosemary varieties.
The other day I saw a flower bed newly planted with a beautiful combination of pink ivy geraniums and purple heliotrope. Other bloomers at this time of year in the pink to purple spectrum include: trailing mauve lantana, which looks that much fresher planted alternately with trailing white lantana; winter-blooming bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia) with magenta flowers and gigantic cabbage leaves; purple-flowered and fragrant-leafed Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha); violets, an excellent low-maintenance – if somewhat invasive – perennial ground cover for shady areas with violet flowers and heart-shaped leaves.
Two winter vines will bring winter drama to your arbors, fence lines and exterior walls. The chalice cup vine (Solandra maxima) has enormous vaselike golden orange flowers that will give your back yard a truly tropical feeling. Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda) has fragrant white blooms. The roots of both vines should be kept mulched, or at least sun-protected, to ensure abundant flowering.
The hills and canyons in and around the Valley are already in bloom due to the white and blue flowers of California lilac (Ceanothus), the most prolific winter bloomer among our local natives. Within the next few weeks, visit the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley to get an idea of the many Ceanothus varieties available.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Several January rituals involve roses. Now is the proper time to prune them. Rose canes (main stems) can be cut down to 18 inches in size or left as high as 3 feet. The farther you cut them down, the smaller the number of flowers you will have in the spring; however, fewer flowers will mean they will be bigger than those on rose bushes that, due to being taller, bloom more heavily.
When pruning, always cut to a bud pointing out, as opposed to pointing toward the center of the bush; the direction the bud points is the direction new growth will take and you definitely want growth to be outward.
Ideally, you have three canes to each bush. Bushes should be 3 to 4 feet apart and vase-shaped. To induce complete dormancy, all leaves should be removed at this time.
In January, it is standard practice to spread a cup of Epsom salts around the base of each rose bush and to pile several pounds of manure onto the soil surrounding each rose.

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