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Plants for our dry future? They're cistus.

The time has come for rockroses," a nurseryman recently told us. "They may well be the plant group of the future." While old favorites are being rediscovered, new kinds of rockroses (Cistus) are appearing on the market in greater numbers. And with good reason. They're showy: in late spring, these attractive evergreen shrubs bear crepe-papery white to rose blooms-some jauntily spotted with crimson. Even better, these Mediterranean natives thrive in some of the West's most inhospitable places-along dusty freeways; on steep, never-watered slopes in the San Bernardino foothills; beside beaches where they must withstand gusty winds and salt spray.

Most rockroses are quite hardy. They're at their best in coastal climates but can also take some heat inland. They'll tolerate short bouts of freezing temperatures (as low as 10"), and even plants in nursery cans endured California's prolonged cold snap last December with little or no damage. Low-growing, nonresinous kinds such as sageleaf rockrose are also somewhat slow to burn, a bonus where wildfires are common.

On the down side, rockroses can be temperamental. Overwatering and overfertilizing make them leggy; without excellent drainage, they are susceptible to root rot. Heavy pruning can inhibit flowering, so choose them by the size you want at maturity, then keep them shapely by pinching tips or clipping lightly once a year after bloom. Rockroses don't take well to transplanting: give them the driest, sunniest spot you can, and keep them there. But once their basic needs are met, they'll hold their own with little care. Plant now-if you plant carefully It's best to plant rockroses in fall, after the first rains-especially in hotter, drier areas. But if you have water to spare, you can plant them this month before hot weather comes. Take care not to disturb the roots, and position plants an inch or two higher than surrounding soil. Water with drip emitters until roots get established, at least through the first year. Five widely available old favorites Look for these at nurseries this month in gallon cans (about $6). White rockrose (C hybridus, also sold as C corbariensis) grows to 5 feet, with equal spread. In late spring, white flowers with fuzzy yellow centers rise above the graygreen leaves.

Crimson-spot rockrose (C ladanifer) is a 4-foot rounded shrub with equal spread. In June and July, it bears showy white flowers, with a dark red spot at each petal's base. Orchid rockrose (C purpureus) grows 4 to 5 feet tall and as wide. Its flowers above) are like single roses. Rough-textured, deep green leaves are somewhat sticky to touch. C. skanbergii is a sprawler that grows to 3 feet inland, taller near coast. Pale pink, 1inch phlox-like flowers appear in profusion in late spring above gray-green leaves. Sageleaf rockrose (C salviifolius 'Prostr;tus') forms a low mound I to 2 feet tall and can spread 6 feet across; it has small white flowers and fuzzy leaves. And some new hybrid selections Introduced in recent years, these may be harder to find; look for them in nurseries that specialize in water-conserving plants. 'Descanso'-also called wrinkle-leaf rockrose-grows to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide with small wavy-edged leaves. Santa Cruz' is an erect, compact shrub to about 3 feet with 2-inch purple-rose blossoms and bright gray scalloped leaves. Sunset' grows to 3 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. Bright magnolia blooms appear over a long period spring into summer. Peggy Sammons'grows to 3 feet, bears pink flowers. Blanche' reaches 8 feet, has white flowers.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1991
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