Winter Bloomers, Limes, and Chinese Tallow Trees

jade (Crassula ovata) hedge

As winter settles in and flowers mostly disappear from the garden, it would seem to be the proper time to contemplate garden concerns and interests other than colorful floral displays.

Yet, living in a Mediterranean climate, it so happens that many of the plants that grow best here wait until winter to flower.  It’s the only safe season to do so since, at any other time, withering heat could quickly cause flowers of these dry climate plants to fade and prevent seed development.  Thus, certain Mediterranean climate plants that you may have forgotten about for months suddenly burst into bloom in January and February.
Common jade plant (Crassula argentea), native to South Africa, is one of the most pleasant surprises of the winter garden.  At this time of year, it is completely covered in pinkish white flowers, despite requiring minimal water throughout the year.  Jade makes an excellent hedge, growing up to eight feet tall but generally kept under four feet, when grown as a hedge, since it tends to lose its bushiness above this height.  Jade plant is easy to propagate as even stout branches may be detached and stuck in pots or fast draining soil where they will push out roots in due course.
Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) is another useful selection for a hedge, with a variety of cultivars available.  Mature height varies from 10 feet down to 4 feet, depending on the cultivar you select.  Coffeeberry fruit – turning from red to brown to black — resembles that seen on coffee plants, although no stimulating concoction is produced from its beans or seeds.  After it is in the ground for a few years, coffeeberry requires no water other than that provided by winter rain.
As long as we are on the subject, exercise caution before you plant Leyland cypress (Cupressus x cuprocyparis) as a hedge.  Its shapely pyramidal growth habit and lush evergreen look put it among the elite of hedge plants, and it does wonderfully in that capacity in cold climates.   However, in Southern California, it begins to die after reaching around 30 feet in height, invariably attacked by a lethal, canker causing fungus.
In our world of instant gratification and ever decreasing attention spans, gardens maybe the last remaining place to learn about the virtue of patience.  Compost piles made of grass clippings, fallen leaves, and hedge prunings eventually turn into dark, sweet smelling, soft soil amendment, but the process will take several months, at least.  Although they might be bearing flowers or fruit when we take them home from the nursery, certain perennials and fruit trees, once planted in our gardens, may need to grow several more years before they bloom or give fruit again.  Acclimation to our garden conditions, which may be drastically different from coastally influenced growing grounds, does not happen overnight.  The following experience is familiar to anyone who has planted fruit trees.
I have a lime tree that is about 4 years old and has never had any blooms or fruit. It’s about 4 feet tall and planted in front of a wall. My flowers do great in that sunny, if less than full day sun, location. Is there anything that I should to do help it bloom or just discard it?
Lois Motley, La Puente
Besides having the patience to wait until they flower (and fruit), coaxing fruit from lime trees in the Los Angeles area, under the best of circumstances, will always be a challenge.  On the one hand, limes require a solid eight hours of daily sun, yet their soil needs to be kept moist.  One way of approaching this dilemma is to maintain several inches of mulch around the tree, making sure mulch does not touch the trunk, at all times.  This will keep soil moisture level constant without having to water excessively.
Keep in mind that there are two principle types of lime that are commonly grown.  Bearss or Persian lime (Citrus x latifolia), which produces seedless fruit, is most suitable for growing in Los Angeles since it is somewhat cold tolerant.  Mexican or Key lime, the one used by bartenders to flavor drinks, was naturalized in tropical Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Key lime is cold sensitive and might not ever flower or fruit in La Puente.
Assuming that your tree is the somewhat more cold tolerant Bearss lime, you might want to remove the plants adjacent to it or, alternatively, carefully transplant your lime to another location where its roots will not have to compete with adjacent vegetation for water and minerals.   Lime trees, in the manner of other citrus types, respond well to fertilization and you should regularly apply a fertilizer, during the growing season, that is specially formulated for citrus.  Such fertilizers are widely available at nurseries and home improvement centers.
Two weeks ago, I extolled Chinese tallow treee (Sapium sebiferum) for its fall color.  As the following correspondent points out, however, I overlooked a distinct disadvantage to growing this tree.

Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum)

A few years ago we had a huge magnolia tree that was in front of our house removed, because the roots were about to lift the sidewalk.  In its place, the City of Glendale planted a Sapium sebiferum, also known as a popcorn tree on account of its seeds.  In the beginning, we were delighted by its fall color.  However, our delight turned to extreme dismay.  It produces small, hard, spherical white seeds that make an incredible mess and are very dangerous to walk on.  At 78 and 72, respectively, my husband and I are not inclined to be out there constantly cleaning these things up.  Perhaps at some point the city is going to be slapped with a lawsuit because of them.  We hate that tree.  And so should the city.

Lorraine Behr, Rossmoyne District, North Glendale
Tip of the Week:  There are at least 10 species of hummingbirds that live in California and attracting them to your garden is a worthwhile winter project.  Certain hummingbirds that covet native winter flowers, that are just now beginning to bloom, are already visible.  Hummingbirds are useful both as pollinators and as consumers of insect pests.  They are also simply fun to watch.  If they are happy in your garden they will nest there, too, between skinny, close set twigs in almost any shrub or tree.  In addition to hummingbird feeders, native monkey flowers (Mimulus spp.) and sage plants (Salvia spp.) are particularly attractive to hummingbirds, as are blue elderberry (Sambucus spp.), California lilac (Ceanothus spp.) and manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) flowers. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.