Magazine article Sunset

December in Your Garden

Magazine article Sunset

December in Your Garden

Article excerpt

DURING THE HOLIDAY WHIRLWIND, GARDENING IS OFTEN relegated to the back burner. Fortunately, chores are less demanding now, and finding time to do them between festive rounds can sustian your garden until you can pick up your tools again.

While you're thinking about gift-giving, don't forget that nurseries and garden centers are full of wonderful ideas. Some choices might include blooming indoor plants, seeds of gourmet vegetables, handsome decorative containers, or a study shovel or digging fork.

Red berries for

the holidays

One of the most attractive combinations of red berries and green foliage is a California native that shows off best this time of year. Toyon or Christmas berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia), shown on page 43, grows as a dense, evergreen shrub 6 to 10 feet tall or a multitrunked small tree 15 to 25 feet tall; with pruning, it can be trained to a single trunk. Glossy, leathery leaves are 2 to 4 inches long with toothed edges.

In June and July, flattish clusters of small white flowers appear. Berries form in fall and hang on through late winter if birds don't eat them (they're a favorite of robins and cedar waxwings).

Although toyon is drought tolerant, it thrives with extra summer water if soil is well drained (but too much water causes rank growth). Plant in sun or part shade. For best berry production, clip branch tips slightly after berries finish, but before buds form.

Old-fashioned rose for

color and fragrance

A climbing version of a hybrid perpetual developed in 1875 by Ulysses S. Grant's gardener, 'Climbing American Beauty' is a showpiece in spring. Look for bare-root plants this month or next.

The large plant grows 12 to 14 feet tall and blooms profusely in spring and intermittently through the season. A second flush, not quite as large as the first, occurs in September or October.

The one above, climbing on a fence in Santa Rosa, California, is five years old. A heavy mulch keeps roots cool and conserves moisture, so even in summer it needs only weekly watering; a drip system runs overnight to soak it deeply. During flowering, the plant is fertilized once a month with 15-15-15. Prune] canes back by a third in winter to keep in bounds.

Plants are available from Roses of Yesterday and Today, 802 Brown's Valley Rd., Watsonville, Calif. 95076; (408) 724-2755; catalog $5.

New controls

for mistletoe

A parasitic shrub, mistletoe lives on many trees commonly grown in the West, including alder, ash, honey locust, oak, and walnut. It saps water and nutrients from the tree and can kill branches; trees also stressed by drought and insects may eventually die.

Recently, the Department of Environmental Horticulture at UC Davis tested three new controls--black tree paint, a growth regulator (ethephon), and the systemic herbicide glyphosate--and compared them to current recommended controls.

Current controls include pruning off tree branches at least 12 inches below the infected site and pruning off the mistletoe flush with the branch, then wrapping the infected area with black plastic, tar paper, or aluminum foil to exclude light.

The researchers found these methods effective but time-consuming and expensive when used on a large scale. Pruning can also be very destructive to the tree.

In the test, compared to just pruning off the mistletoe (20 to 100 percent regrowth, depending on tree and mistletoe species) and wrapping with black plastic (no regrowth, but potentially damaging insects accumulated under the plastic; is also unattractive), spraying black tree paint on mistletoe after pruning to 2-inch stubs gave no regrowth and no tree damage. …

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