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It's glory time for ceanothus.

Spectacular in flower and capable of surviving on limited rainfall alone, ceanothus are increasingly recognized as dependable landscape plants. Many gardeners discovered them during California's 1976-77 drought. Now, with increasing pressures on limited water supplies, the virtues of these California native plants are becoming ever more apparent, and plants are more widely available. The chart on page 70 lists 14 of the best.

BLUE ON BLUE

Though several ceanothus have white flowers, the dominant flower color, blue, is rare in shrubs. This fact alone is reason enough to plant. The blue is usually a truer blue than the common name, wild lilac, would suggest. Colors can range from deep sky blues to soft powder blues. Some, like |Julia Phelps' (pictured at right), are nearly iridescent.

Flower clusters are mostly at branch tips. In some kinds, these are large, pointed spikes; in others, they,re tiny but more numerous. The evergreen leaves are similarly variable: from tiny and rough-textured, to 2 or more inches long and glossy.

NOW IS TIME TO PLANT

The best time to plant ceanothus is in autumn, to get them established with winter rainfall. But you can also plant them in March, before weather warms up.

Where ceanothus live in nature indicates conditions they need to grow well. They never grow wild in rich bottomlands (such as the Central Valley), preferring tough environments like dry and rocky slopes (virtually all the hillsides of California).

WATER AT THE RIGHT TIME

Though ceanothus grow wild from Mexico to the Northwest, most kinds grow only in California, preferring its rainy winters and dry summers. When you grow ceanothus in your garden, try to give these same conditions; in moist, warm soil, they can succumb to root rot caused by water mold (Phytophthora), which exists in all soils. Ceanothus roots have little or no resistance to it.

Though different kinds show different susceptibility to disease (the ceanothus listed in the chart at left are the most resistant), plants in heavy, rich, and moist soils do not usually live very long. It's the same reason that dry, rocky soils are preferable to moisture-holding heavy clay soils.

Watsonville, California, nurseryman Michael Nevin Smith sums it up "Most ceanothus grow luxuriantly for a time in heavy soils. However, abundant watering and fertilizing usually lead to rapid decline and death as the plants are overtaken by root-rotting fungi. The more closely you can approach their natural setting of lean, well-drained soils and summer drought (assuming that the plants are established through at least one rainy season), the more successful you are likely to be."

Exactly how much water beyond rainfall ceanothus need depends upon factors such as your microclimate and soil type. If you live on or near the coast, water young, fall-planted ceanothus twice a month or so from May to October, then don,t water at all after that. If you live in a drier, hotter inland region, young plants might require weekly irrigation their first summer, and twice monthly after that.

Spring-planted ones will probably need more water to become established. Inland, ceanothus benefit from some afternoon shade.

Plant ceanothus with the crown slightly raised above ground level. Never let the area around the crown stay wet, and don,t let other plants crowd its base.

Drip irrigation is best because it allows you to direct the water exactly. Keep emitters some distance from the plant's crown, but close enough for the water to be available to the roots.

Root rots are more common when ceanothus get watered in the afternoon of a hot day. Water thoroughly during the coolest time of day (preferably early morning), then allow soil to dry completely (check with an auger) before watering again.

To minimize the number of irrigations and to moderate soil temperatures, apply a 2 to 3-inch-thick mulch.

Some ceanothus, especially fast growers like |Yankee Point,' may need occasional paring down. When you prune, keep these points in mind: Accomplish structural pruning, such as shaping into a tree, while the plant is young. Don,t attempt to re-shape a mature shrub. Make most cuts into fresh, young stems, not mature, barked-over wood. Best time to prune is in fall; avoid all pruning during the winter months, when rain is capable of spreading fungus into pruning cuts.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Outdoor Living; Gardening; California native plants
Author:MacCaskey, Michael
Publication:Sunset
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:712
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