Q. I purchased two five-gallon camellia plants on May 30 along with the correct soil and planted them in my 16-inch pots. They are on a covered patio with indirect sunlight.
On July 30, one of the plants got dark centers on the leaves and then dropped all of the leaves. I asked the nurseryman about the problem. He said over-fertilizing or sunburn was the problem. He also said to flush the plant with water to eliminate the fertilizer.
Now it’s Sept. 20 and the second plant has the same symptoms. Is there anything I can do? Do you think it may be lack of sunlight?
– Marlene de Valera
A. I would check your soil frequently to monitor its moisture level. Sometimes when a plant struggles, we pour on the water to bring it back. Too much water, however, is not good for a struggling plant as it can rot the roots. The spots on the leaves suggest sunburn but could also have been caused by excess water around the roots.
“Water-soaked leaves” is the name of this condition, used most frequently in reference to indoor plants, such as Dracaena, that are overwatered. The leaves are discolored and appear as though they have been soaked in water when, in reality, it’s their roots that are drowning.
Once a plant has defoliated, you should water very infrequently, only enough to keep the soil slightly moist until regrowth occurs. The more you garden, the more you will learn this essential truth: Watering frequency depends as much on the moisture level of the soil as it does on the look of the plant. It is also critical to examine the soil at a two-inch depth. During hot weather, the soil surface dries out quickly even while soil below may remain moist. Mulch, which may be applied to the soil of container plants, reduces watering frequency.
Q. I was excited when I saw your column about plants that can win a battle against ivy. I have a hillside facing Southeast that gets little water. Algerian ivy is the only thing that has survived there. It does very well in parts where there is some shade but burns brown otherwise in summer. We want to get rid of it because of rats’ nests as well as the burned brown areas. The hillside soil is a slightly softened sandstone. Any ideas?
– Nick Kurek
A. Most drought-tolerant plants appreciate sandy soil, so you have many candidates from which to choose. Acacia redolens is a shrub that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and is used by CalTrans on highway embankments. It has tiny golden puffball flowers in late winter or early spring and requires a minimum of water, no more than a single soaking every week or two.
Another plant to consider is red lantana. It is the tallest of the lantanas and gives a continuously fiery display. You could plant other lantanas as well, whether shrubby types such as orange, ‘Confetti’ (yellow, pink and purple combination), compact yellow or ground-hugging lavender or white.
For a layered look, plant the taller lantana types toward the top of your slope and the shorter types toward the bottom. You could do the same with California lilac (Ceanothus), since arboreal, shrub and ground-cover species are all available in all shades of blue.
Q. I am currently getting ready to redo my container garden and have recently purchased a Pennisetum ‘Foxtrot.’ It is currently in a 6-inch (1 gallon) container waiting for transplanting. I notice that the soil drains very, very rapidly. Is regular potting mix OK or will I have to create one so it has a happy home?
On another matter, I currently have a dwarf fig tree that has outgrown its 24-inch-diameter plastic container. Can you suggest some places in the Valley where I might get a significantly larger container or should I root prune it and keep it in its present container?
– Mary Lee Craft
A. As for your Pennisetum ‘Foxtrot,’ so named for its furry, foxtail flower spikes, you might want to mix packaged potting soil with washed sand or perlite. Store-bought potting soil is a bit more water retentive than that preferred by dry climate ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum.
As for your fig tree, you might go to Boething TreeLand (in west Woodland Hills adjacent to Hidden Hills) and ask if they would sell you a 24- or 36-inch beveled wood container, sometimes called a tree box, since they grow most of their trees in those container types. If you opt for keeping your tree in its present container, you can do so by root pruning. This is the best season for doing so since roots grow most vigorously and rapidly during the fall.
Remove up to 30 percent of the root ball, from sides and bottom, put in fresh soil and repot. Pottery Etc., a plant container store located on Canoga Avenue between Sherman Way and Saticoy Street in Canoga Park, is an excellent source for large plant containers of all types. If you have a certain container in mind that they do not have in stock, they can usually order it for you.
Tip of the Week
In lieu of plants, Nick Kurek of Granada Hills wants to create patterns of crushed gravel in his back yard, having seen this use of yard space in Arizona and Nevada. Colored crushed gravel, crushed brick or small, colored stones can be pricey, pound for pound, unless they are purchased in large quantities. Many different colors and mixes are available. Possible sources include: Masonry Club and Jacobi Building Materials, both in Canoga Park; and Balboa Brick in Sepulveda.