Oregon

P90310KIf California is the most excellent state in the entire Unites States of America and surrounding Universe, and Oklahoma is the second most excellent, then Oregon might be number . . . hmmm . . . fourteen or fifteen . . . or maybe like twenty or something. However, in MY (very important) opinion, Oregon is like the third most excellent state, and almost ties with Oklahoma! That makes it even slightly more excellent than Pennsylvania, Vermont and Arizona! Yes, it is THAT excellent!
Even the state tree of Oregon is excellent. It is the Douglas fir, pseudotsuga menziesii. That is like the second most excellent of the state trees, right after the coastal redwood of California. If California did not claim the coastal redwood as the state tree, Oregon is the only other state that can claim it as a native, since the native range of coastal redwood extends ever so slightly into the very southwest corner of Oregon.
There was a time when redwood was the main timber tree here, but that was only because it was the most readily available. As the supply was depleted, it was reserved for fences, decks, structural lumber that is in contact with concrete foundations, or any other situation in which its innate resistance to decay was important. Douglas fir became the most common lumber, and is still what homes are built from now.
Besides all that, Douglas fir is one of the grandest of trees in North America.
Then there is the state flower of Oregon. Well, it is not so much to brag about, although it is still better than the state flower of Oklahoma, which happens to be mistletoe. (Okay, that is another subject for later.)
Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, blooms late in winter with these bright golden yellow, but otherwise unimpressive flowers. The few small black berries that develop over summer are mostly taken by birds before anyone notices. The glossy and prickly dark green foliage is quite appealing, and happens to do well in partial shade, but this is the state flower, not the state foliage.

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Pruning Late Might Be Justified

90313thumbThere may not be exceptions to every rule, but there are a few exceptions to the rule that winter is the best time for pruning. It is generally true that most plants are the most dormant through the coolest part of winter. It is also true that while they are the most dormant, most plants are less sensitive to pruning, as well as other horticultural techniques that interfere with their normal function.

However, certain ‘special’ plants get pruned later, either because it is healthier for them, or just because they are allowed to do what they do best in spring before getting deprived of some of what they need to do it with. Some get pruned rather soon after coming out of winter dormancy. Some should probably wait for their new spring growth to mature a bit. It is not as confusing as it sounds.

Evergreen plants that drop much of their older foliage through winter should probably be pruned late in winter or early in spring, essentially at the last minute, just before new foliage develops. If shorn early and deprived of outer foliage that should survive through winter, photinia looks scraggly as it continues to lose much of what had been inner foliage until new foliage develops in spring.

Red twig dogwood and some types of willows that are coppiced or pollarded to maximize production of their colorful twigs should be allowed to show off their colorful bark for as long as possible. Like photinia, they too can be pruned at the last minute, just before vascular activity resumes. However, red twig Japanese maple really should be pruned in winter so it does not bleed afterward.

Flowering cherry, plum, peach, crabapple and quince are grown for prolific but sterile bloom which is diminished by winter pruning. If they need it, they can instead be pruned after bloom, but before too much foliage develops, or after such foliage matures in late spring or early summer. They do not need to be pruned nearly as aggressively as fruiting trees that would otherwise produce too much burdensome fruit. Some may only need to have dead stems pruned out.

Coast Rosemary

51223Just like real rosemary, the coast rosemary can either be a low ground cover or a dense shrub. Lower cultivars can get nearly five feet wide without getting much more than a foot high. Shrubby types can get nearly six feet tall without getting much wider. Shrubby types are more popular than ground cover types, and are often pruned so that they do not get too broad.

The tiny leaves of coast rosemary are silvery or grayish green, and can be variegated. Small white or very pale lavender flowers bloom sporadically throughout the year, and can be profuse in spring. Established plants do not need much water, but are probably happiest if watered somewhat regularly through summer. Shade subdues silvery foliar color and inhibits bloom.

Shrubby coast rosemary makes a delightful low hedge. It can be shorn like any other formal hedge, but is best where it has space to develop naturally. If space is limited, but not ‘too’ limited, a coast rosemary hedge can be aggressively shorn once annually at the end of winter, and then allowed to grow wild for the rest of the year.

‘Little John’ Bottlebrush

P81214Where it has space to grow, classic lemon bottlebrush that was so popular in the 1960’s is still a practical and resilient large shrub, and is happy to bloom with bright scarlet flowers as long as the weather is warm. It is resistant to most diseases and pests, and once established, survives on annual rainfall. Its main problem is that it simply gets too big for many situations.

Dwarf bottlebrush, Callistemon ‘Little John’, is more often a better fit, although it has a very different personality. It is short and dense, and spreads more laterally than upright. Mature plants are only about three or four feet tall, and maybe twice as wide. The smaller leaves are somewhat grayish. The distinctive bottlebrush flowers are a slightly darker shade of purplish red.

Even though established plants do not need much water at all, regular (but not necessarily generous) watering promotes bloom and growth. However, excessive watering can be lethal. Full sun exposure is best. A bit of light shade should be no problem. Dwarf bottlebrush makes a nice low informal (unshorn) hedge. Flowers attract bees and hummingbirds.

Cape Honeysuckle

51118It may not bloom profusely, but cape honeysuckle, Tecoma capensis, blooms sporadically at random times throughout the year, and often while not much else is blooming. The bright reddish orange flowers contrast nicely against glossy evergreen foliage. Some blooms are slightly more reddish, while others are slightly more orangeish. A somewhat more compact cultivar blooms with light yellow flowers.

The long and limber stems of cape honeysuckle can not decide if they want to grow as vines or as shrubbery. They can be tied back and espaliered against a fence or trellis, or pruned and left to stand on their own. Large plants can get higher than the eaves. Overgrown thickets of stems can be cut down to the ground at the end of winter. They can regenerate and resume blooming before summer.

The narrow tubular flowers are about two inches long. They develop in terminal trusses, but only a few within a truss bloom at the same time. Shade inhibits bloom. Fertilizer seems to inhibit bloom by promoting vigorous vegetative growth. Fortunately, these vigorous shoots eventually bloom as vigorously as the grew. The four or five inch long leaves are pinnately compound, with five to seven small serrate leaflets.

Carpet Rose

51028They compare to more traditional roses like instant coffee compares to real coffee. They are too easy and cheesy. However, even instant coffee can be rather good as long it is not expected to taste like the real thing. Likewise, carpet roses do not produce big and fancy flowers on long stems for cutting, but they have other attributes that are advantageous in the landscape.

The small but ridiculously abundant roses that started blooming late last spring are only now finishing. Bloom can be white, pink, red, coral, scarlet, gold (orangish yellow), yellow or white. The rich green foliage is remarkably resistant to disease, and lasts until frost. The arching stems can spread a few feet without getting much more than three feet tall. Most cultivars stay shorter. Some get quite wide.

Like other roses, carpet roses will need to be pruned back severely while dormant in late winter. Yet, they do not need to be pruned nearly as carefully. Because they grow as thickets of canes, they do not need to be thinned to only a few canes when pruned. Even if old canes do not get pruned out, they will get overwhelmed and replaced by newer canes naturally.

Mexican Bush Sage

51014In the first year, Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, does not get very big. Then it gets cut back to the ground at the end of winter. It gets about twice as big in the second year, only to get cut back again as winter ends. By the third or fourth year, healthy maturing plants can grow to five feet tall and seven feet wide each season. While cut back, big clumps can be divided to propagate.

Strikingly purplish blue floral spikes bloom from summer or early autumn until frost. The odd white ‘tags’ that protrude from the fuzzy bracts are the true flowers. The lanceolate leaves are grayish sage green and somewhat fuzzy. Plants are well rounded like tumble weeds, and should not be shorn. Mexican bush sage is very popular among hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

Mexican bush sage wants full sun exposure, and unlike most other sages, it prefers relatively rich soil. Fertilizer can compensate for inferior or dense soil, and improves foliar density, but too much can delay bloom. New plants like to be watered regularly, especially if they grow well. As they mature and disperse their roots, they become less reliant on regular watering.

Fringe Flower

51007Since modern cultivars became trendy several years ago, the old fashioned ‘common’ fringe flower, Loropetalum chinense, has become even more uncommon than it already was. It does not grow fast enough to function as large scale shrubbery, but slowly gets too big to work as small shrubbery. Without pruning, old plants take many years to get to fifteen feet tall.

The gracefully arching stems are outfitted with light green evergreen foliage. The simple leaves are about an inch or two long. The small white blooms have very narrow petals that hang downward like limp bits of ramen. Each bloom is actually a tuft of a few individual flowers. Bloom is most abundant in spring, and then continues sporadically through most of the year.

Modern cultivars of fringe flower are more compact, so rarely get more than five feet tall. Flowers can be white, pink, red or rosy pink. The most popular cultivars have purplish bronze foliage. Fringe flower does well as an understory plant, in the partial shade of trees. It should not be shorn, so should instead be pruned selectively to maintain its natural form.

Hydrangea

80711There are so many more of the fancier cultivars of hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, than there were as recently as the 1990s. Many of the pink and blue hydrangeas were interchangeable years ago. They would bloom blue if the soil was acidic. They would bloom pink if the soil was alkaline. Their color changed accordingly when planted from potting media into soil of another pH.

Most of the modern cultivars nowadays are better at one color or the other. Those that want to be rich pink or almost red might turn lavender or purple in acidic soil. Those that want to be rich blue might do the same in alkaline soil. That makes for many hues of pink, blue, lavender and purple. Most of those that bloom white always bloom white, and their foliage might be a little lighter green.

There is also much more variety in floral form than ever before, although all bloom in summer or autumn with big rounded or nearly spherical trusses of many small flowers. The deciduous leaves are about six inches long, and pleasantly lush and glossy. Modern compact cultivars stay low and dense. Larger cultivars get about six feet high and wide, with somewhat open branch structure.

Western Azalea

70607We think of rhododendrons and azaleas as being from cooler and moister climates. After all, that is where they do best. Yet, there does happen to be a native western azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, that lives in the Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges from San Diego County to just southwest of Portland, Oregon. (Azalea and Rhododendron are varied specie of the same genus.)

Bloom is mostly white, with pink, pale yellow or golden orange. Some of the fancier garden varieties bloom clear white, or with more vibrant color. The lightly fragrant, two inch wide flowers bloom in groups of two or three on open conical trusses. Each truss produces as many as a dozen flowers in sequence, so a new flower replaces a fading flower for a bit more than a week each spring.

Western azaleas plants are unfortunately not much to look at after bloom. They grow somewhat slowly and irregularly to about three to five feet tall. The two or three inch long deciduous leaves that can turn yellow and orange where autumn is cooler are more likely to turn an unimpressive grayish brown here. Foliage can fade prematurely if the weather gets too hot and arid through summer.