Of all the tender perennials, polka dot plant, Hypoestes phyllostachya, is one of the lesser likely to survive winter outside, even if sheltered from the cold. Yet, it is actually becoming more popular as a warm season folliage plant for pots of small mixed perennials. It is a delightful small houseplant, either alone or as an understory plant to larger houseplants like ficus. As an understory plant, It is easier to work with if grown separately in small pots that can get nestled into moss on top of the soil of the larger plants. If it has a problem, it can easily be replaced or removed.
The foliage typically has so many pink spots that less than half of the foliar surface area is green. Some have white or darker reddish pink spots. The bloom is not as interesting as the foliage, and is not often seen. Roots like rich and evenly moist potting soil. The biggest plants are not much more than a foot high. Most stay less than half as tall. New plants are easy to propagate from cuttings. When things get warmer in spring, plants that have more stems than foliage can be cut back to regenerate.
Ancestral species of modern pears grow wild from western Europe and northern Africa to eastern Asia. Long before they were domesticated and developed in China about three thousand years ago, their fruit was eaten by indigenous people. Farther west, dozens of cultivars were developed and popularized in ancient Roman societies. There are now more than three thousand cultivars.
Most pears that are popular in America are descendants of European pear, Pyrus communis. Asian pears, which are mostly descendants of Pyrus X bretschneideri and Pyrus pyrifolia, became a fad in the 1980s, and are still somewhat popular, particularly in California. Asian pears are generally rounder and firmer than the familiar ‘pear shaped’ European pears that soften as they ripen.
There are too many cultivars of pear for all to conform to similar characteristics. All that are grown for fruit are deciduous, and almost all have potential to exhibit remarkable foliar color in autumn. Abundant clusters of small white flowers bloom in spring. Floral fragrance of some cultivars might be unappealing. Semi-dwarf trees can get more than fifteen feet tall, so should be pruned lower.
Pears can be shades of yellow, green, red or brown, and might be blushed or russeted. They can be canned, dried, juiced, or eaten fresh.
Good old fashioned jade plant has a few interesting cultivars (cultivated varieties) that exhibit variations of color, texture and form. Hobbit’s pipe, Crassula ovata ‘Hobbit’, is similar to classic jade plant in form and color. It is only slightly lighter green, and only a bit shorter. The succulent stems are just as plump and gray. The small and round-topped clusters of pale pink or white flowers that bloom sporadically are just as unimpressive. What is unique about hobbit’s pipe is the weirdly tubular foliage. Each leaf is rolled into a cylinder, with a hollow tip.
Mature plants do not often get much more than two feet tall and broad, although they have the potential to get twice as large. Because they are more sensitive to frost than other jade plants, hobbit’s pipe should be grown in sheltered spots, or pots that can be moved to sheltered spots through the coldest part of winter. Foliage that is too exposed during the warmest weather of summer can get roasted. Hobbit’s pipe can tolerate a slight bit of shade, so can be happy as a houseplant.
Does anyone remember when champagne produced in California was formally classified as ‘sparkling wine’? ‘Champagne’ is a technical classification for that which originates from the region of France for which it is named. That makes sense. The technical classifications of prune and plum formerly made sense also, even if not universally understood. Reclassification in 2001 ruined that.
Prune, Prunus domestica, is primarily a European freestone fruit. (The pits of freestone fruits separate from the ripening flesh.) They have firmer flesh than plum, so are more practical for canning and drying. They also have higher sugar content, so might be dried without sulfuring (which prevents molding). Darkly purple and rather oblong fresh prunes are less popular than dried prunes are.
Plum is primarily a Japanese cling fruit. (The pits of cling fruits remain firmly adhered to ripening flesh.) They are softer and juicier than prune, and contain less sugar, so are not as efficiently pitted and dried without sulfuring, or canned. Larger, rounder, more colorful and more richly flavored plums are instead best fresh. They might be bluish purple, purple, red, ruddy orange, yellow or green.
Nowadays, all prunes and plums are known collectively as plums. Dried prunes are just dried plums.
Even without the bright yellow staminate flowers (fuzzy with prominent stamens) that bloom in late summer or autumn, the grayish foliage of knife-leaf wattle, Acacia cultriformis, is still striking. It contrasts nicely with dark green foliage of pines, redwood and ivy. What seems to be small triangular leaves are actually ‘phyllodes’, which are modified petioles (leaf stalks) of vestigial leaves. They are about half an inch to an inch long, and neatly arranged on stiff stems.
Mature trees do not get much more than ten feet tall, and grow slowly enough to be kept even shorter. They can tolerate a bit of shade from larger trees. However, they bloom more profusely with better exposure. If the pollen is not a problem, the flowers are nice for cutting. So is the foliage, which is complimentary to many other cut flowers. Like almost all acacias, knife-leaf acacia does not require much water once established.
This may seem to be three months early, or an entire season out of season; but this is when bare root forsythia, Forsythia X intermedia, gets planted. Even so, the smaller of new bare root plants will bloom with only a few flowers early in their first spring, so will not produce their famously profuse and garishly bright yellow bloom for another year and three months. They will be worth the wait.
Flowers are small but very abundant. They bloom as winter turns to spring, before there is any new foliage to interfere with their splendor. Foliage develops as bloom finishes, and if the weather is right, it might get somewhat colorful in autumn. The simple paired leaves are about two or perhaps three inches long. Big plants should stay less than ten feet tall, but can get taller if lightly shaded.
Pruning should be done after bloom rather than before, and from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Dormant pruning, although more horticulturally correct, eliminates some of the canes that would otherwise bloom in spring. After bloom, older overgrown canes that are beginning to deteriorate should be pruned to the ground to promote development of new canes to replace them.
The simple pink and white of ‘good & plenty’ candy is what fairy primrose, Primula malacoides, is known for. Pastel purple is also popular. Rosy reddish pink and deeper pinkish purple are somewhat rare. The small flowers are arranged in circular trusses that stand as tall as one foot, just above the softly mounding light green foliage. The rounded leaves are slightly fuzzy. All parts of fairy primrose are toxic, and to those who happen to be allergic to it, can be as severely irritating to the skin as poison oak!
Because they take quite a while to mature and bloom if grown from seed, fairy primrose are typically purchased as cool season bedding plants that are already blooming. Bloom continues through winter and into early spring. If not replaced by warm season annuals, some of the healthier plants can survive through summer to bloom again the following winter as short term perennials. When they do not get enough water from rain, they want to be watered regularly. Fairy primrose can tolerate significant shade.
It has been naturalized in Southern California long enough to seem to be native. California pepper, Schinus molle, is actually endemic to Peru and adjacent arid regions of South America as far south as Central Argentina. Furthermore, although its small pink fruits with hard black seeds are sometimes used for culinary purposes, it is actually not related to black pepper, and is mildly toxic.
California pepper is as at home here as the name implies. Established and naturalized trees can survive on annual rainfall. They are better foliated if watered a few times through summer, and do not mind average landscape irrigation if their soil does not stay too damp. When they are not dropping a few leaves, they are dropping floral frass or dried berries, so their mess is considerable.
Old trees can eventually get forty feet wide, and almost as tall. Young trees grow rather aggressively. Growth slows with maturity. The distended and irregularly structured trunks and main limbs are picturesquely gnarly, with handsomely flaky tan bark. Foliage and outer stems are delightfully pendulous. The pinnately compound leaves are finely textured, and about three to six inches in length.
Climate is why the European larch, Larix decidua, is so rare here. It prefers cooler weather in both winter and summer, and more humidity. Foliage can roast if too exposed through summer. Small trees that are partly sheltered or partly shaded by larger trees have the best color and foliar density. Larch are innately reliant on somewhat regular watering, so are not drought tolerant. The mildly cool weather of autumn is enough to brown the formerly bluish foliage, which falls shortly afterward.
In the wild, larch trees can get as tall as other big coniferous trees. However, the many different garden varieties stay much smaller. Some are very pendulous. A few have contorted stems. Of the few that can sometimes be seen locally, most are compact dwarfs that grow more like low and dense shrubbery than trees. Some get only two or three feet tall and broad, and grow very slowly. These can stay in containers or planters for many years.
For a tree that is native to the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains, blue spruce, Picea pungens, does surprisingly well here. It only wants to be watered a bit through summer to compensate for the lack of rain and humidity in chaparral climates. It does not seem to miss a more pronounced chill through winter. Disease and insect infestation are uncommonly noticeable or damaging.
Garden varieties are impressively variable. Some are like big shrubbery that stays below downstairs eaves. The biggest do not get much taller than thirty feet, and take many years to get so tall. Most but not all are stoutly conical. Color is variable as well, ranging from grayish green to silvery bluish green. The evergreen foliage is very dense. Individual needles are only about an inch long.
Blue spruce demands patience, planning and room to grow. Pruning for containment compromises their naturally appealing conical form. Therefore, even compact cultivars that do not need much space will need enough to mature completely. However, because they grow somewhat slowly, blue spruce may take a few years to actually occupy much of their space, and function as intended.