Autumn Sage

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Salvia greggii is a modest sage.

Perhaps in the wild, it blooms in autumn. Where it gets watered in home gardens, even if watered only occasionally, autumn sage, Salvia greggii, blooms all through summer as well. If pruned back severely over winter, it starts to bloom even sooner in spring. The tiny flowers are red, rose, pink, peach, very pale yellow, lavender or white. Some poplar cultivars have bi-colored flowers.

Compact autumn sage that does not get much more than a foot tall is uncommon. Larger cultivars get four feet tall and broad, with more open growth. Most get about three feet high and a bit wider. Without severe winter pruning, stems can eventually get twiggy, with sparse foliage on the exterior. The tiny aromatic leaves are less than an inch long, and visually resemble oregano.

Even though it is not native to California, autumn sage is popular for native landscaping because it does not need much water. Just like native sages, it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Lemon Bottlebrush

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Hummingbirds enjoy red lemon bottlebrush bloom.

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.

Gardening For The Birds

40924thumbSome of the most convenient bird feeders in the garden are some of the many plants we grow. Since so many plants exploit the birds as much as they get exploited by the birds, they naturally produce something that the birds want, when they want it. Right now, meaty seeds cater to migratory birds that need to plump up to travel, hoping that some of the seeds get dropped elsewhere or buried for later (hence ‘sown’ if forgotten, as they often are).

Since the climate is so mild, there is always something blooming to provide nectar for both migrating and overwintering hummingbirds, which inadvertently pollinate the flowers that feed them. Later in the winter, colorful berries feed hungry overwintering birds, in exchange for the dispersion of the small seeds within. (Digestion of the seeds does not harm them, and promotes germination.) Robins do not seem to do much for the garden, but certainly do enjoy digging for worms in unraked leaf litter.

Those who enjoy birds often intentionally plant pyracantha or cotoneaster to provide berries for birds in winter. Various salvias that bloom at various times likewise make nectar for hummingbirds. Fading sunflowers can be left out this time of year until birds that eat the seeds are finished with them. Alternatively, bird feeders can actually provide more food, and extend the seasons through which such food is available. Suet feeders provide something that plants can not provide.

The problem with plants or bird feeders that attract birds is that they can also attract less desirable guests. Squirrels and rats are the worst. Some bird feeders can be protected with exclusion devices. Cats have no interest in the plants or bird feeders, but can be a serious problem for the birds, and are not so easy to dissuade. Fortunately, hawks are rarely a threat in urban gardens, especially where there are trees to inhibit their hunting from above.

Contrary to popular belief, providing food to migratory birds does not interfere with natural migration. Cooling weather and shorter days are enough to convince birds to leave. The extra food actually helps them on their way once they get going. It also helps those that naturally stay here through winter. Some birds actually migrate to here from colder regions to the north. With winters so mild, there is no need to go any further.

Mr. McNugget

P90914KWildlife is a topic that is notably lacking from my articles. I mention only that which must be ‘escorted’ out of the landscapes, like Halston Junior. Gophers, racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, mice, opossums, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, turkeys, geese, woodpeckers, jays, crows, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and feral boars can potentially be problematic.

There are probably at least a few more. This list does not even include bad neighbors or domestic animals. Nor does it include foxes, just because they eat mice, rats and snails, and do not seem to cause any problems. Butterflies and most birds, except those listed, are quite tolerable. Insects and mites that damage plants deserve their own list. I don’t know where ticks fit in.

Most unwelcome wildlife at least tries to stay out of my way. Others seem to make sport of antagonizing me. Skunks try to be friendly; but I must pass on that. Turkeys are . . . just turkeys.

This strangely calm black-chinned hummingbird who watches me from the same spot in a flowering cherry tree is either unaware of my disdain for wildlife, or is merely unconcerned about it. He just sits there . . . silently . . . observing . . . as if plotting or scheming or . . . something. He seems to be harmless; but I really don’t know. He could have sharp talons or another weapon!

I named him Mr. McNugget.

His species is apparently rare. I had nothing to do with that. Even if I believed that he tastes like chicken, I couldn’t catch him anyway. His kind fly at supersonic speed! He might use one of those ‘transporters’ like on Star Trek. Besides, I really don’t want to mess with that. A feral boar would be easier.

‘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.