After centuries of breeding, there are more than two thousand cultivars of Camellia japonica! Additionally, there are more than a thousand cultivars of both Camellia sasanqua, with smaller but more profuse flowers, and comparably rare Camellia reticulata, with fewer but garishly big flowers. This does not even include the more than a hundred other specie of camellia found in the wild throughout East Asia.
It is obviously difficult to generalize about so many different personalities. Actually though, the glossy and slightly serrate leaves of almost all Camellia japonica are surprisingly similar. Also, most grow into rounded shrubs that are happy to stay below first floor eaves. Only a few grow into small trees, and only after many years. All prefer rich soil and regular watering.
The flowers that bloom late in winter are the most distinguishing characteristics of the many cultivars. The largest can get more than four inches wide. Flower form is remarkably variable (and can be described as single, semi-double, double, formal double, paeony, anemone or rose). Many have prominent yellow stamens. Color ranges from pure white to red, with every shade of pink in between. Picoteed, striped and blotched flowers are not uncommon.
With indiscriminate pruning, glossy abelia, Abelia X grandiflora, will never develop its natural form, with elegantly long and thin stems that arch gracefully outward. Sadly, almost all get shorn into tight shrubbery or hedges that rarely bloom. If only old stems get selectively pruned out as they get replaced by fresh new stems, mature shrubs can get eight feet tall and twelve feet wide.
Against their bronzy green foliage, the tiny pale pink flowers that bloom all summer have a rustic appeal. In abundance, they can be slightly fragrant. The tiny leaves are not much more than an inch long. Vigorous young canes that shoot nearly straight out from the roots slowly bend from the weight of their bloom and foliage as they mature.
Partial shade is not a problem for glossy abelia, but will inhibit bloom somewhat. Young plants want to be watered regularly. Old plants are not nearly so demanding, and can survive with notably less water. If alternating canes is too much work to restore old and neglected plants, all stems can be cut back to the ground at the end of winter. New growth develops quickly.
As its compact cultivars gained popularity over the years, the formerly common lemon bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus, became passe. Most are mature specimens in old fashioned landscapes. It is unfortunate. Only lemon bottlebrush and weeping bottlebrush can grow as small trees. (However, lemon bottlebrush is now classified as Melaleuca citrina. Most Melaleuca get notably larger.)
If competing for sunlight, mature specimens of lemon bottlebrush can almost reach upstairs eaves. Well exposed specimens may not get much more than half as tall, with mounding form of about equal width. Removal of low growth to expose sculptural trunks and handsomely shaggy bark promotes higher growth above. Shearing of hedges should not be too frequent to allow some bloom.
Bright red bloom is sporadic through the year, and gets more abundant as summer becomes autumn. The small and staminate flowers are densely set in cylindrical ‘bottlebrush’ formation. These blooms are about two or three inches long, almost as wide, and popular with hummingbirds. Dense evergreen foliage is aromatic. Individual leaves are narrow and about two or three inches long.
Cliche is barely avoidable regarding smokebush, Cotinus coggygria. It provides rich foliar color from spring until autumn, with uniquely billowy bloom through summer. Then, it provides exquisite fall color until winter. Then, it provides sculptural form of bare stems until spring. Smokebush ‘has it all’. . . almost. All the spectacle distracts from a lack of floral fragrance. Will anyone ever notice?
Foliage is rich purplish bronze, bright greenish yellow or olive green through spring and summer. Formerly common old fashioned cultivars with olive green foliage are now rare. Nowadays, most are rich purplish bronze. Fall color is fiery yellow, orange and red. The round leaves are about one to three inches long. Purplish to pale pinkish plumes of smoke-like bloom are a striking contrast.
The largest of smokebush grow at a moderate rate to more than fifteen feet high and wide. Most cultivars are more compact. They get wobbly in the ground if they grow too vigorously. Aggressive pruning during winter improves stability and enhances foliar color for the next season. However, minimal pruning of stable plants promotes bloom. Smoke tree wants full sun, but is not demanding.
The first bloom is the best. At least it is purported to be. Many of us who are familiar with any cultivar of rockrose, Cistus, might disagree. Bloom begins in spring and continues through summer. The most profuse bloom can be anytime within that range. Some cultivars bloom sporadically but continually. Others bloom in more distinct phases. Cultivars that start later can bloom into autumn.
Bloom is white, pale pink, rich pink or purplish pink. Individual flowers have five petals and fuzzy centers. Flowers of some of the older cultivars have a prominent rusty red spot at the base of each petal. Smaller flowers are more profuse than larger flowers. The small evergreen leaves of most rockrose are somewhat grayish, with a matte finish. Foliage is aromatic when disturbed or warm.
Most rockrose are appreciated for their low and mounding form. If arranged in a row, they can grow into an artificial berm. Most get at least three times broader than tall. Few get taller than three feet. They all appreciate warm exposure. Once established they do not need much watering. Unfortunately, most rockrose do not live much longer than five years. Few survive more than ten years.
Here on the West Coast of California, Indian hawthorn, Raphiolepis indica, was formerly popular as a foundation plant. The compact hollies that were used as such in the East never became very popular here. Back when rain gutters were prohibitively expensive, foundation plants diffused water as it fell from roofs. This limited erosion, and also inhibited splattering onto lower parts of walls.
Modern Indian hawthorn cultivars are now appreciated elsewhere in landscapes for profuse pink bloom in late winter or early spring. Sporadic bloom might continue through summer, with a minor secondary bloom phase in autumn. The most compact cultivars display slightly richer pink bloom, followed by mildly bronzed new foliage. At least one cultivar exhibits barely blushed white bloom.
‘Majestic Beauty’ is a cultivar that might be a hybrid with loquat. It can grow as a small tree more than ten feet high and wide. Other cultivars do not get half as big. Most get less than four feet high. They work nicely as low and plump hedges, but should be shorn after bloom. Full sun exposure and occasional irrigation should be sufficient. They are popular, because they are so undemanding.
Bloom may not wait until spring. Breath of Heaven, Coleonema pulchellum, can start to bloom late in winter if it chooses to. After another more prolific bloom phase sometime in spring, sporadic bloom can continue until autumn. The delightfully pale lavender pink flowers are tiny, but abundant during bloom phases. A few are likely to linger after the main phases, until another phase begins.
The straight species is not as popular as it formerly was. It gets to be approximately five feet tall and broad, or a bit bigger if crowded. Nowadays, most breath of Heaven are ‘Compactum’, which do not get much taller than three feet, with delightfully wispy light green foliage. ‘Sunset Gold’ has bright greenish gold foliage that stays lower than two feet. All have impressively aromatic foliage.
Breath of Heaven is best where it does not need much pruning for confinement. Frequent shearing compromises foliar texture and inhibits bloom. Partial shade likewise inhibits bloom, although it can also promote an appealingly sparser and wispier foliar texture. Unfortunately, breath of Heaven does not live for very long. Even the healthiest and oldest specimens may not last twenty years.
While winter weather is still cool and damp, winter daphne, Daphne odora, provides an alluringly fresh fragrance of spring. It is easy to dismiss the abundant but rather small domed trusses of tiny pastel pink flowers as the source of their formidable fragrance. Like so many fragrant blooms, daphne bloom is visually demure. Nevertheless, blooming stems are delightful with other cut flowers.
‘Aureomarginata’ is the most popular cultivar of daphne, and is the only cultivar available in many regions. The handsomely glossy evergreen foliage is variegated with yellowy white or light yellow margins. Mature plants get about two feet tall and about twice as wide, with a delightfully tame hemispherical form. They may get slightly taller with slightly less refined form where partially shaded.
Daphne prefers rich and loose soil, and with sufficient organic matter, will tolerate rather sandy soil. Partial shade might inhibit bloom somewhat, but is otherwise not a problem. Proper placement is important. Established daphne recover slowly from transplant. It is also important to be aware that even the healthiest of plants may live for only five years, and rarely live for more than ten years.
Camellias have been blooming for a while now. I typically get rather good pictures of them. The pictures are nothing too artistic, of course, and are intended to merely exhibit the floral color and form. A bit of the glossy foliage in the background is nice.
The picture above is not so useful for exhibiting much of the floral characteristics. Even the pink color is muted by the sloppy background and gray sky above. Zooming in would not have corrected the positioning of the flowers. I simply could not get close enough to do any better.
That eave in the lower right corner of the picture is above a two story building. That is where all the blooms of this particular camellia shrub are located. With so much of the lower growth shaded out and gone, this shrub is more like a small tree. The bloom is too high up to be appreciated. The picture below demonstrates what it all looks like without zooming in.
If there were windows facing this big camellia shrub or tree, I would likely prune it only a bit lower, just to keep it below the eave and within view of the windows. Without windows, I know that I really should prune the tall trunks back to what little lower growth remains, in order to promote more growth and bloom closer to ground level where it can be appreciated.
The difficulty I have with pruning it back is that this big camellia shrub or tree is so impressively big and sculptural, and all the glossy foliage looks so good in the foreground of the rich dark brown wall. I do not know what is more important here, the sculptural limbs and rich green foliage that lasts throughout the year, or the colorful but seasonal bloom.
Seasonal pruning is just as the terminology implies, seasonal. It might seem as if it all happens in winter. Most of it begins after cooling autumn weather initiates dormancy. Most of it is completed before warming spring weather stimulates vascular activity and resumption of growth. That is why most seasonal pruning is referred to simply as winter pruning. Winter really is best for most of it.
However, most is not all. Plants that are damaged by frost should not be pruned immediately. Because pruning removes insulating vegetation, and stimulates new growth that is more sensitive to frost, such pruning is delayed until after the threat of subsequent frost. Birches and perhaps maples are popularly pruned in late summer or autumn because they bleed so much if pruned in winter.
Flowering cherry, plum, peach, crabapple and quince do not need the same sort of pruning that their fruiting counterparts rely on. Their exquisite bloom is the priority, rather than fruit. Pruning prior to bloom could diminish their potential. They can instead be pruned immediately after bloom, as new growth is emerging, or later in summer after soft new growth has become a bit more resilient.
Lilac and forsythia should likewise be pruned after spring bloom, but more aggressively than the flowering fruitless ‘fruit’ trees. If not pruned enough, they will produce fewer canes through summer to bloom the following spring. Older and gnarlier canes should be cut to the ground to favor younger and less branched canes. Old Oregon grape and Heavenly bamboo canes can be culled too.
Redtwig dogwood and cultivars of willow that are pollarded or coppiced for their colorful twigs can be pruned later too. There is no need to deprive them of their primary assets prematurely. They should be pruned as winter ends though, before their buds start to pop. Pussy willow is an exception that gets harvested after buds have fuzzily popped, but before new growth begins to develop.
Evergreen plants can be pruned late in winter, just before new growth develops to replace what gets pruned away.