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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Attack of the Bagrada Bugs


Bagrada bugs busy mating on a Brussels sprouts leaf.

A destructive new insect, seemingly out of nowhere, is wreaking havoc on local organic growers and home gardeners.

Over the last six weeks or so, literally hundreds of thousands of Bagrada hilaris bugs have descended on a host of edibles growing in fields across Santa Barbara County and begun methodically sucking the life out of them.

“We lost all the plants in our early plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, anything in the brassica family, Brussels sprouts, all the kale,” said Mark Tollefson, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens in Goleta. “Over the course of a week, we watched the plants curl up and die.”

Other organic gardeners from Carpinteria to Santa Ynez are suffering losses as well, primarily to members of the brassica family, but also to bok choy, cilantro, peppers and even corn.

“They also are eating weeds, mustard and alyssum. They’re feeding on the plant juices,” said Brian Cabrera, an entomologist at the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. “I have heard that there’s a toxin (in their saliva) that they inject, but I don’t know if they’re actually that toxic to the leaf. I think mainly the damage is from hundreds of these bugs on a single plant, jabbing their little needle-like mouth parts and sucking it dry.”

What to Look For

Bagrada bugs at two stages of life: nymph on the top left; adult on the bottom right.

At first glance, bagrada bugs look like small, dark ladybugs, which of course are fantastic beneficial insects.

But that’s actually their nymph stage, when they’re relatively round, and a two-toned black and red. In a matter of days, they morph to their next stage, in which their bodies elongate and develop distinctive pale, orangish stripes, spots and other marks. Then they begin mating — with the female the larger of the pair — and the cycle begins anew.

In my garden, we first spotted the nymphs on our Brussels sprouts and late-season corn a week ago last Sunday. The adults began emerging a few days later and had begun mating by Friday. We haven’t seen the small, round jelly-like eggs yet, but don’t imagine that it will take long for them to appear. According to Cabrera, a single female can lay about 100 eggs during her lifetime.

Where They Come From

Maria Murrietta, a UC Cooperative Extension agricultural technician, collects Bagrada bugs that have annihilated my Brussels sprouts. The bugs will go to a UC lab for research.

Bagrada bugs are native to east and southern Africa, Egypt, Zaire and Senegal, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. They first appeared four years ago in Los Angeles County and rapidly spread through southern California and southern Arizona.

The infestation at Fairview Gardens in mid-August was quickly followed by reports to Cabrera from Solvang, the Mesa, Mission Canyon and other parts of Goleta.

“Then a couple weeks ago, we started getting calls from some of the growers, organic growers especially,” Cabrera said. “They’re getting hit pretty hard. They can’t use some of the materials that the nonorganic growers can use.”

Indeed, conventional farmers are combating — and controlling — bagrada bugs with pyrethroids and organophosphates like chlorpyrifos and malathion, according to Surendra Dara, a strawberry and vegetable crops advisor and affiliated IPM advisor for UC Cooperative Extension for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

The trouble is, the bugs are so new to scientists that they haven’t yet figured out much in the way of organic controls, Dara said.

Bagrada bugs, scooped up and ready for their trip to the lab.

“Because of the kind of bug it is and its life cycle, it can be a little tricky to develop a strategy to target its vulnerable stages,” he said. “The organic growers, the small gardeners, homeowners, they don’t have resources that farmers have. So for organic farms, you don’t have as many options.”

But that doesn’t mean growers like Tollefson are throwing in the towel. He plans to wait another week before planting another round of cool-season crops. In the meantime, he’ll work through a list of tasks, starting with mixing diatomaceous earth with water, then spraying it on the ground.

“I don’t know the exact pathology, but I do know that bugs that are in contact with it die,” he said. “Bagrada bugs dive into the ground. So sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the soil can be helpful as far as managing them.”

Tollefson also plans to interplant strong-scented garlic and onions with his brassicas, and to wait until his starter plants are 6 to 9 inches tall — instead of just a few inches — before putting them in the ground. His thinking is that the larger plants will be more robust, thereby have a better chance of withstanding the bugs.

Another tactic is to break up the soil. “When temperatures drop below 50 degrees or get very, very hot, the bugs get sluggish. At that point, they stay in the soil,” he said. “Tilling the soil grinds them up. I have a big rototiller. It’s 70 inches wide.”

Weed control is important as well, he said. He might try planting a few sacrificial or trapping crops to intentionally attract the bugs, then kill them “in a natural way.”

Also important is building soil fertility, he added. “The more healthy the plants, the more opportunity we have to beat the bug.”

In Home Gardens

Despite similar markings during their nymph stage, Bagrada bugs are NOT beneficial ladybugs.

For home gardeners whose vegetables are already infested, Cabrera suggested spraying the afflicted plants with a 1% or 2% insecticidal soap solution. In addition, he said, “Vacuuming them off is worth a try.”

For folks who are getting ready to sow their cool-season vegetables from seed, Cabrera recommended turning the soil first, to destroy any eggs, then installing row covers immediately. His advice holds for planting seedlings, too.

“If you determine that your plants are bug-free and egg-free, then put up row covers,” he said. “Make sure that the covers aren’t lying on the plants because the bugs can eat through that. Raise up the covers through hoops or pipes, then bury the edges because (otherwise) the bugs can crawl under.”

As for what lies ahead, Cabrera said, “I don’t know how long they’ll be around. If the weather cools off, the activity will drop off because they don’t seem to be active on cooler days. It remains to be seen within the next few weeks what’s going to happen.”

As far as scientific research into organic controls: Dara is launching a study this week, thanks to scores of bagrada bugs that Maria Murrietta, a UC Cooperative Extension agricultural technician, collected from my ailing Brussels sprouts and corn plants on Friday.

Bye, bye, bagradas. Too bad I couldn’t donate every last one that’s decimating my garden to science!

It was a happy day, to donate so many destructive bugs to science.

Over the new few weeks, Dara will subject those bugs to a mix of products, with the aim of determining whether any organic methods have the potential to successfully control and/or kill the bugs.

In the meantime, Tollefson is philosophical about the challenge.

“So yeah, it’s a big deal to lose these crops,” he said. “But the reality is, it’s one more thing to deal with. It’s significant enough that we can’t ignore it. (But) we’re farmers. We’ll adapt to this bug.”

This article also appears at

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Planting Bulbs for Summer Blooms


Pink tuberous begonia

With fall-planted bulbs — daffodils, anemones, hyacinths and the like — just beginning to pop up, it may seem too soon to think about planting bulbs again.

But plant an entirely different set of bulbs in the garden this month or next, and you’ll have another round of blooming bulbs from summer through fall.

This set includes tuberous begonias, caladiums and dahlias, all of which come from fleshy tubers; gladiolus, which sprout from dry, papery corms; and calla lilies, which rise from rhizomes.

Tuberous Begonias

Red tuberous begonia

It’s amazing that such unimpressive brown disks can produce such magnificent flowers within months of planting.

Unless you have terrific drainage and are willing to roust snails daily, plant your tuberous begonias in hanging baskets or pots.

Fill the container with loose potting soil or a mix of leaf mold, coarse sand, finely ground bark and peat moss. Place the dusty brown tuber on top, dimpled side up. Cover the tuber with a thin layer of potting soil. Water thoroughly.

Then keep the soil moist through the rest of the growing season. Tuberous begonias grow best with lots of water, high humidity and filtered sunlight.

In addition, apply a mild dose of a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer twice a month until May, to encourage the crinkled, succulent leaves to grow. Then switch to a low-nitrogen fertilizer to boost blossoming and blooming.

In the fall, after the stems fall off, lift out your tubers, dust off the dirt, and store them in a cool, dry location until the following spring.


How's that for tropical?

These flashy foliage plants provide a dose of the tropics, with large, heart-shaped leaves in crazy combinations of red, green and cream. Give them bright light, but keep them out of direct sun, which can burn their paper-thin leaves.

Caladiums are happiest in pots, where you can control the drainage and snails.

Start the tubers in a loose, fertile potting mix similar to what you’d use for tuberous begonias. Place the tubers bumpy side up. Cover them with 2 inches of soil, then water well.

Once your caladiums are up and growing, water them at ground level. Over-head water can spoil their leaves. When the leaves begin to fade in the fall, taper off watering. After they shrivel up, dig out the tubers, trim the dead stems, brush off the dirt and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.

Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia)

Graceful, upright swirls are the hallmark of calla lilies.

The erect, swirling white flowers of this rhizome are long-time favorites for both weddings and funerals.

They’re also among the most flexible of the summer-blooming bulbs, thriving in sun and shade, and in soils ranging from loose and well drained, to heavy clay.

Give your callas lots of water and they’ll bloom frequently. Let them go dry, and they’ll cycle in and out of bloom and dormancy.

Pant the common white calla rhizomes 6 inches deep and a foot or two apart. The dainty, dwarf hybrids, which bear pastel, speckled flowers in shades of pink, peach, yellow and red, go about 2 inches deep.

Don’t worry about digging up the rhizomes at the end of the season. Calla lilies easily naturalize on the Central Coast, forming ever-broadening clumps.


Mystic Dreamer dahlia

Dahlias are fussy to get started, but their show-stopping flowers are great payback.

Dig a hole about 1 foot deep and wide. Mix the excavated soil with loose potting soil, compost or other medium-textured organic material. Put 4 inches of the mix back in the hole, then place the tuber on top, with its eye up. Cover the tuber with another few inches, then water thoroughly.

As the tuber sprouts, gradually add more of the loose material until you fill the hole.

If you’re growing large, show-quality plants, put a 4 to 6-foot tall redwood stake or rebar in the hole at planting time. Pound in a stake later, and you may pierce the tuber and kill the plant.

If your dahlias decline at the end of summer, whack them to the ground and keep watering. The plants should send up new branches and resume blooming in October and November.

Some folks dig up their tubers for winter. I grow mine in raised beds and leave them alone.


These sweetly fragrant flowers from South Africa are most commonly planted in fall. But you can put them in the ground in late winter, too, for summertime blooms.

Plant the marble-sized corms at least 2 inches deep, with their tips up, in a sunny spot. Freesias need good drainage, but not much water. Irrigate them while they’re up and growing and flowering. After they fade, you can ignore them until the following year.

Freesias also do well in pots. But be patient: the corms may take four months to bloom.


Plump flowers open upward on each stalk of this Oberbayern gladiolus.

These regal, flowering swords have been staples of the cut-flower industry for years. Plant them now, and you have a good chance of avoiding thrips. The persistent, tiny pests disfigure the flowers and foliage during warmer weather.

Choose smallish corms that are about as tall as they are wide. Bigger, flatter ones may be past their prime. Plant the corms several inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in rich, loamy soil in full sun. I grow mine along the edges of raised vegetable beds. I will have harvested the flowers by the time my summer veggies need the space.

Water once a week, and apply a mild liquid fertilizer after five leaves have appeared, then again after the flower buds begin to swell.

Harvest each spike, just above the bottom three or four leaves, as the first flower opens. The remaining buds will open indoors.

After the plants stop blooming and the bottom leaves turn yellow, chop the stalks to the ground. Dig up the corms every few years and cut them apart to create new plants.

Glory Lily or Climbing Lily (Gloriosa rothschildiana)

The dancing flames of glory lily.

The upward-flaring flowers of this tropical vine are an incredible combination of scarlet red and banana yellow. Unusual tendrils that help the vine advance emerge from the tips of long, triangular leaves.

Glory lily thrives in sun or filtered shade. It can clamber up a 6 to 10-foot trellis or pole in a single summer, and is fine in a large container.

Place the tuber on its side in the same kind of loose mix that tuberous begonias and caladiums adore, and cover with 4 inches of soil.

After the tuber sprouts, water it regularly and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every three weeks. In late summer as the vine finishes blooming, scale back the water. Stop completely after the foliage dies.

If your glory lily is in the ground, dig up the tuber and store it indoors. If it has been growing in a pot, store it, pot and all, in a dry, sheltered place.

Mexican Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

Fragrant spikes of white flowers rise a couple of feet above clumps of grassy leaves on this native of Mexico.

Select the largest tubers possible. Plant them 2 inches deep in the ground or in a container. Water well, then let the top inch of soil dry out between waterings until the tubers sprout. Once you see green, start watering once a week.

Dig up and divide the clumps during dormancy every three to four years. The youngest, smallest bulbs may take several years to gain enough size to bloom.

When to Plant

Yet another luscious tuberous begonia, this one in yellow.

Buy your summer-blooming bulbs at local nurseries and mail-order catalogs now. But make sure your ground has dried out before you plant them, as they may perish in cold, wet soil. Instead, they like it warm, loose, and with excellent drainage.

If you don’t want to wait, pot up your bulbs.

Some, such as tuberous begonias and caladiums, will be content to live out their lives in containers. But plan to transplant others, including dahlias, gladiolus and calla lilies, which do best in the ground and may even naturalize there.

Seeds of Wisdom

Most summer-flowering bulbs require watering once or twice a week, so plant them within reach of a hose or faucet.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Planting Bare-Root Fruit Trees


May Pride peach blossoms.

Bare-root season is not just for roses.

Deciduous fruit trees go dormant, too, and are equally accepting of being dug up, having the soil removed from their roots and then being transported to nurseries where they’re available now.

Remarkably, within a few years these stick-like plants will grow rapidly, bud out and produce delicious, tree-ripened fruit. Your choices include apple, apricot, cherry, fig, mulberry, nectarine, nectaplum, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pluot and pomegranate trees as well as almond, pistachio and walnut trees.

But first, as with roses, you’ll find nondescript, tan or gray bundles of trunks, branches and twigs stuck in bins filled with moist sand or sawdust to protect their dormant, stringy roots. As with roses, you’ll likely see enticing photos posted above each. And as with roses, it’s critical to read the descriptions to make sure that whatever you take home can be expected to thrive in your garden.

Consider the Chill

May Pride peaches only require 150 to 200 chill hours to set fruit properly.

Your most important factor at the nursery is how much cold a particular tree needs to properly set fruit. Cold is calculated by measuring chill hours, which are the number of hours the temperature drops below 45 degrees between November 1 and February 28.

That number is key because many pome and stone fruit trees require more chill hours than certain Central Coast neighborhoods offer.

For example, some apples, cherries and pears require 1,100 to 1,500 chill hours, yet our mildest, coastal areas rarely get more than 300 chill hours. You have far more options if you live in the Santa Ynez Valley, which accumulates at least 1,000 chill hours most years.

UC Davis compiles the numbers, and this season has proved chilly so far. As of February 2, Santa Maria reported 593 chill hours; Lompoc, 832; Santa Ynez, 1,035; Nipomo, 630; and Santa Barbara, 312.

Selecting Stock

After narrowing your choices, gently tug a tree out of its bin and check for the following:

The roots should be plump, hairy and evenly spaced, not shriveled or lopsided.

The bud union, where the root stock is grafted to the bearing wood, should appear smooth and strong.

The trunk should measure 1/2 to 5/8ths of an inch in diameter. Smaller than that may result in poor growth; any larger, and it may not be in balance with the roots.

Any limbs should flex easily. If they snap, they’re probably dead.

The branching structure — unless it’s entirely out of whack — is not as important. You’ll be trimming the top and side shoots after planting.

Selecting the Site

Anna apples require 200 chill hours.

Sunlight, good drainage, wind protection and the coldest spot in your garden are all key.

Fruit trees need at least six hours of direct sunlight to stimulate buds and develop mature fruit. That direct light is most important during the growing season. It’s not a problem if the sun swings low in the dead of winter.

However, good drainage is important year-round. If water puddles where you plan to plant, shape a mound at least a foot tall or build a raised bed.

Fruit trees don’t like wind, especially when they’re budding out in late winter and early spring, and again when the fruit is beginning to mature. Fierce winds can literally blow off buds and rip off ripening fruit.

As for that all-important chill: avoid planting your bare-root fruit trees up against your house, driveway or patio, as all three can radiate considerable warmth. Instead, seek a low spot where cold collects.

Planting Time

Anna apple trees bear heavy crops, especially when cross-pollinated by Dorsett Golden or Einshemer apples.

Dig a hole as deep as your tree’s roots and at least three times as wide.

It’s fine to work in compost over the general planting area. But don’t worry about amending the hole. Instead, just break up any clods, line the hole with quarter-inch aviary wire if gophers are a problem, then form a dirt cone on the bottom of the hole to support the roots.

Pack down the cone and set the tree on top. Orient the bud union so that the flat notch faces the north or northeast, to prevent sun damage. Start filling the hole.

If you’re not sure how deep to plant the tree, lay a shovel across the hole. Look for the faint soil line on the trunk, then hold the tree over the hole to see how that soil line matches with the existing soil.

Plant your tree an inch or two high, to allow for settling. Ideally, the bud union will end up sitting 3 to 5 inches above the soil line, while the uppermost of the largest, thickest roots will be buried several inches below.

Shape a watering basin about a foot away from the trunk. Apply an inch or two of mulch, avoiding direct contact with the trunk. Then soak the tree.

Don’t fertilize. The tree possesses sufficient energy in its tissues to break dormancy, and any salt in the fertilizer may burn emerging roots.

Shape Up Your Tree

May Pride peaches are early bearing and produce sweet, smooth-textured, medium-size fruit. They're easy to peel and have freestone pits inside. Yum!

Once your tree is in the ground, it’s time to prune.

Most likely, your tree is composed of a whip and possibly a few side branches. Despite its paltry size, you still need to trim it in order to initiate good branching. Cut off the top about a quarter inch above a bud that’s 30 to 36 inches above the ground.

Then trim any side branches to 3-inch stubs bearing two or three buds.

In no time, it should start sending out whips and shoots in every direction. Toward the end of summer, prune your developing tree with an eye toward its future framework. Cut back new growth by up to a half in order to encourage evenly spaced, strong, balanced branches and to maintain plenty of air flow through the tree.

Some folks advocate keeping fruit trees compact and bush-like so that they’re easier to care for and harvest. If you’d like to adopt that technique, often referred to as Backyard Orchard Culture, trim your tree to 18 to 24 inches at planting time, to force lower, bushier branching. Then cut it back twice — by half in late spring, and by half again in late summer.

Watering Your Fruit Trees

While you should keep the soil moist if winter rains don’t oblige, new, bare-root fruit trees don’t require a lot of supplemental water until temperatures warm up and new growth takes off.

According to UC Cooperative Extension, a healthy, first-year fruit tree that’s not mulched needs 5 to 10 gallons of water a week during the summer, and much less water if it is mulched.

Obviously the amount of water that a new fruit tree in your own garden needs depends greatly on your soil type, air temperature, sun exposure and overall conditions.

It’s okay to let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings. But the soil further down in the root zone should stay moist. Use a soil moisture probe or dig down 4 to 6 inches with a screwdriver or hand weeder occasionally to check.

When you do irrigate, use drip irrigation, attach a bubbler to your hose or set your faucet to a trickle so that the water flows out slowly and gives your tree a deep soak, rather than a quick blast solely to the surface.

Seeds of Wisdom

If recent rains have made your soil too wet to dig, put your bare-root tree in a bucket filled with moist sand, sawdust or even shredded newspapers. Set the tree in a shady spot out of the wind and keep the temporary mix damp but not soggy.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

The Kindest Cuts: Pruning During the Dormant Season


A ladder makes pruning this peach tree a lot easier.

Sharpen those pruners. It’s time to start cutting in the garden.

Despite a run of warm days, this is the season when many landscape plants are dormant — or as dormant as they’re going to be in our temperate climate.

Making corrective cuts now will boost their health and encourage more buds, flowers and fruit.

First up are roses and deciduous fruit trees.

But other dormant plants will benefit from a shape-up now, too. It’s a lot easier to prune when your shrubs and trees are bare. You can see what you’re doing without contending with a canopy of leaves, and pests and diseases are not likely to be active.


It may seem crazy to cut back roses now. If yours are like mine, they’re still covered in leaves, buds and fresh flowers. But a closer look reveals that they’re tattered around the edges. If you don’t prune, the upcoming growth is destined to become a tangled, thorny mess by summer.

Start by chopping off the top in order to reduce the bush to about 3 feet tall.

Don’t worry about where you make the cuts. This is just the first round. Snip off any remaining flowers. Then strip the leaves and any suckers at the base by hand, using a downward tug. Watch out for thorns. Heavy, elbow-length gauntlet gloves provide good protection.

Use hand pruners to cut smaller branches, such as these rose canes.

Next, stand back and evaluate the framework. Cut out dead or shriveled canes all the way to the base of the bush; old canes that are thicker than your thumb; and new canes that are distorted or smaller in diameter than a pencil.

Roses — like so many other plants — benefit from plenty of air flow through their centers. They also need sunlight to penetrate their crowns to initiate new bud growth, which results in better flowering.

So next, cut out any canes that cross over the middle.

Then shape what’s left. On shrub roses, keep pruning until five to seven canes remain. Trim the canes to 18 to 24 inches tall, varying the heights so that the bush will bloom with a more natural look. On hybrid tea roses, keep at least three to five canes. Depending on who’s providing advice, those canes can be trimmed 18 to 36 inches tall.

Finally, nip back any side branches that cross or rub against other branches or canes.
Make all your cuts just above an outward-facing bud. This encourages new growth to flare out, rather than tilt back toward the center of the bush.

Deciduous Fruit Trees

For all deciduous fruit trees, start by pruning any dead or diseased wood. Then remove rubbing or crossing branches.

Use loppers to cut branches 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

Be sure to make clean cuts next to lower, heavier branches. Fruit trees are prone to diseases that can get their start in stubs that are left long enough to die back, while cuts close to larger branches protect and heal by producing new bark and wood.

Next, know how your particular fruit trees produce fruit.

Apple and pear trees, for instance, bear fruit on fuzzy, nubby spurs that emerge on branches at least a year old. Those spurs flower and fruit every year, so should be kept from one year to the next.

The only winter pruning of an apple tree — other than a light shaping for aesthetics — should be to remove dead or diseased wood, rubbing or crossing branches, and any remaining limbs that interfere with sunlight reaching the center of the tree. Sucker growth should be removed whenever it appears, at any time of year.

Pear trees require a heavier hand, as they produce tall, upright whips that should be headed back during dormancy. Thin the whips so that air and sunlight can penetrate the canopy. Then cut back the remaining whips by two thirds, to maximize the size of the fruit and to keep it in the lower arms of the tree.

Plum trees bear on long-lived spurs that take several years to form. In the meantime, just as with pear trees, thin each year’s new, upright whips so that they’re spaced about one foot apart. Then cut back those remaining whips by two thirds.

Peach trees bear on year-old wood. They also require the heaviest pruning of all because each branch bears fruit only once. As such, the trees should be cut back by more than one half each year.

Start by removing dead, diseased and rubbing branches. Then cut out any branches that have produced peaches.

Next, thin the branches so that all of the new, twiggy growth from last year ends up being spaced about a foot apart and the silhouette of the tree looks like an upside-down umbrella. Then head back the twiggy growth by another third.

This last step is necessary to pump the tree’s energy into the remaining fruit buds, which optimizes the size of the fruit. Otherwise, those full-length, new whips will bear more fruit, but of much smaller size.

Nectarine trees are related to peaches and bear fruit on year-old twiggy branches as well. Follow the same steps, except the twiggy branches can be left closer together, spaced about 8 inches apart.

Groom Grasses and Other Plants

By now, your big, billowy ornamental grasses are likely to be ragged visions of their former selves. If you haven’t already, cut them all the way to the ground. Use a weed whacker, machete or even kitchen scissors. There’s no point in leaving more than an inch or two of the past year’s foliage above ground, as new stalks will sprout from the crowns, not the stems.

Small, cool-season grasses, including the various blue fescues, may still be actively growing, so wield a lighter hand. Use a stiff rake to comb out the desiccated stems, or trim taller blades with a brush mower with the blade set on high.

Use a hand saw to cut branches 2 to 3 inches in diameter or larger.

Also take a look around your garden with a critical eye toward dead flowers and leggy growth. Pinch, nip and tuck wherever necessary to rejuvenate the plants and to pull them away from walls, windows and eaves.

Wait until March or April to cut back tropical and subtropical plants, such as bougainvillea, cannas, citrus trees and palm trees. Leave them alone until all danger of frost has passed and spring temperatures have begun to warm up.

In addition, assign pruning of taller trees to a certified arborist, who will use proper pruning equipment and climbing techniques, and know just where to make cuts to ensure the overall health and beauty of your trees.

Guides to Pruning Fruit Trees

For information about how to prune specific fruit trees, turn to: “The Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees,” by Chuck A. Ingels, Pamela M. Geisel and Maxwell V. Norton, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3485; or “How to Prune Fruit Trees” by R. Sanford Martin, Martin Bio-Products, which is often carried in nurseries.

Seeds of Wisdom

A dead-looking branch may be quite alive underneath. Flex the branch or scrape the bark with your fingernail or a pocket knife. If the branch has give, or if there’s green beneath the bark, it still possesses life.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

New Roses for 2012


Stormy Weather - climbing

If your idea of the perfect rose is a long-stemmed beauty with stately, overlapping petals, then this year’s introductions may come as a surprise.

Of the 15 new roses that are sure to be the most widely available in 2012, there’s only one classic hybrid tea rose. Instead, most are shrub roses in one form or another, designed to be planted throughout the landscape, rather than isolated in a formal rose garden.

As for the ever-important flowers — rather than formal and elegant, these newcomers trend toward clusters of loose, frilly petals, with some of the concoctions scarcely looking like roses. Two specimens making their debut are the first-ever of their kind. Several others combine crazy colors, including one called Ketchup & Mustard. Thankfully there are a handful of demure pastels as well.

Regardless of the style, breeders continue to emphasize disease resistance. Indeed, the 2012 All-America Rose Selections winner, Sunshine Daydream, is the first garden rose to receive top honors under a new “no spray” requirement.

Hybrid Tea

Sugar Moon - hybrid tea

These traditional roses bear long-stemmed flowers and grow upright, typically reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide.

The lone hybrid tea rose making its debut this year is a vigorous rebloomer called Sugar Moon. Its white, long-stemmed flowers produce a strong, sweet, citrus and rose scent.

Pointed buds open to reveal 5-inch full, classic flowers composed of 35 petals apiece. Disease resistance is ranked as very good, and the dark, glossy green leaves are a nice contrast to the bright white of the flowers.


These shrub roses bear clusters of flowers above lush, full leaves, and generally grow 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

Two new floribundas, bearing distinctive red eyes, represent an entirely new look. While most modern roses are offspring of China roses (Rosa chinensis), these new shrubs are hybrids of Hulthemia persica, which is a thorny, sprawling bush that blooms once a year and is native to dry, windswept lands in Iran and Afghanistan.

Eyeconic Lemonade - Hulthemia hybrid

Eyeconic Pink Lemonade - Hulthemia hybrid

What has captivated rose breeders is the red blotch at the base of each petal, which, surrounding the center of the flower, gives the look of a red eye. Breeders have spent decades attempting to conquer the rambling habit of the species, introduce repeat blooming and produce a consistent, visible eye.

This year’s two Eyeconic hybrids are the first hulthemias to become commercially available.

Eyeconic Lemonade bears 4-inch flowers that are bright yellow with a medium-red inner ring. Each flower is composed of 10 to 12 petals, and there are three to five flowers per stem. The bushes are dark green and grow 4 1/2 feet tall and wide.

Eyeconic Pink Lemonade bears 3 1/2-inch flowers that open in a pale shade of melon orange with a red ring, then mature to shell pink with a purple ring. The flowers are composed of 8 to 10 petals, with five flowers per stem. It grows only 3 feet tall and wide.

Both Eyeconics are said to bloom continuously, rather than in waves. They are self-cleaning, so don’t require dead-heading. It will be interesting to learn, given their geographic origin, whether they are drought-tolerant as well.

Ketchup & Mustard - floribunda

Equally distinctive, but in an entirely different way, is Ketchup & Mustard. Its two-toned petals are yellow on their back sides and red within.

It’s love-it or hate-it combination when the pointed buds open and the petals curl back, revealing that bright red and deep yellow reverse. The 3 1/2-inch formal, spiraled flowers bear about 25 petals. They bloom above apple-green leaves.

The shrub is round, bushy and offers good disease resistance.

Koko Loko is a classic-looking rose in terms of its fully double flowers, which are composed of 30 to 35 petals apiece.

But its coloring is most unusual, with light chocolate flowers aging to a pinkish lavender. It forms a full, bushy shrub with deep green leaves and has above-average disease resistance.

Orchid Romance - floribunda

Orchid Romance bears pretty, frilly, old-rose flowers that open pink, then fade to a lighter shade with a hint of lavender. Each fragrant, cuplike flower bears an amazing 75 petals, with three to five flowers per stem. The bushes are upright, growing 4 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and are very resistant to black spot, powdery mildew and rust.

Tangerine Streams also bears cup-shaped flowers, but in a sunny combination of orange, yellow and apricot. Each 3-inch flower is composed of 25 petals, with one to five flowers per stem. The shrubs resist mildew and rust, and grow 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall.

Tequila Supreme is multi-colored as well, but in darker copper and bronze tones. The cuplike flowers are similar in shape, size and petal count to Tangerine Streams. But the flowers are one to three per stem and the shrubs grow taller, reaching 4 to 4 1/2 feet.

Thrive! presents a wild rose look, with only 7 to 8 petals on each 3-inch, fire engine-red flower. Five to 10 flowers bloom on each stem, all at about the same height. The vigorous, bushy shrubs grow 4 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and have very good disease resistance to black spot, and excellent resistance to rust and mildew.


Basically floribundas on steroids, these shrub roses can reach 5 to 10 feet tall. They bloom prolifically and produce clusters of flowers on short or long stems, depending on the hybrid.

Sunshine Daydream - grandiflora

The new Sunshine Daydream bears rounded, cup-shaped, pastel yellow flowers above dark-green, glossy foliage. The 2012 All-America Rose Selections winner was tested in 21 gardens across the country under the group’s “no spray” rule and offers excellent disease resistance.

A vigorous bloomer, it bears 25 petals on each 3 1/2-inch flower, produces one to eight flowers per stem and grows 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall and 4 feet wide.


David Austin English shrub roses combine the shapes and fragrances of old roses with the colors and repeat blooming of modern roses. Both newbies for 2012 are smaller than many older David Austins, and are good choices for the fronts of planting beds or even containers.

Skylark - English

Princess Anne - English

Princess Anne bears dark pink, ruffly flowers that stand up much like a water lily. The clusters of plump, double flowers mature to purple-lilac, providing a multi-colored effect over a compact, bushy shrub that reaches only 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Skylark bears semi-double, apple and clove-scented flowers that open deep pink, then relax to reveal a small, white center while aging to lilac-pink. Skylark grows 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide as well. But its habit is lighter and the flowers feel somewhat airy, perched on taller stems.


These petite versions of full-sized roses feature diminutive flowers and foliage.

All a' Twitter - miniature

All a’Twitter bears pure orange flowers above clean, green foliage. The small, 1 1/2-inch double flowers bear a light fragrance, are composed of 15 to 20 petals apiece and retain their sparkling color as they age. I tested one in a pot on my patio last year and it was the perfect foreground plant to a Satsuma tangerine underplanted with white sweet alyssum.

Itty Bitty Pink bears scads of tiny, 3/4-inch bubblegum pink flowers on bushy plants that reach only 1 1/2 feet tall and wide. The cuplike flowers retain their coloring as well. Itty Bitty Pink offers very good disease resistance and is a great, long-blooming edging plant along a walkway or patio.


Stormy Weather - climbing

These roses produce lateral branches to train on a fence, trellis or arbor.

The new Stormy Weather looks a lot like a wild, rambling rose, bearing clusters of smoky purple, open-faced flowers with yellow centers. The 4-inch flowers are composed of 15 to 20 petals apiece and carry a moderate spice scent. It is a mid-sized climber, producing canes that grow 6 to 8 feet long.

Seeds of Wisdom

The new year kicks off bare-root season. Roses are dormant, which makes them easy to transport without soil attached to their roots. They’re also easy to plant. In January and February, you’ll find the biggest selection and the best prices.

Yes, these are both Koko Loko floribundas.

Tangerine Streams - floribunda

Tequila Supreme - floribunda

Thrive! - floribunda

Itty Bitty Pink - miniature

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Holiday Houseplants: The After Care


Charmeur amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Charmeur')

Holiday houseplants are typically in postcard-perfect form when they come into our homes.

Poinsettias are plumped out in traditional red. Amaryllis bear giant, striped trumpets that blare “Look at me!” And Christmas cactus and cyclamen flash impossibly iridescent flowers in shades of red, pink and white.

But after New Year’s, those beauties start becoming bedraggled. Eventually we’re faced with whether to keep them or toss them.

Before you make that decision, it’s useful to know what kind of effort is required to sustain the plants.

It’s also important to realize that despite your most valiant attempts, some holiday houseplants simply will not return to their former stunning selves unless you replicate the extraordinary steps that commercial growers take, which include the use of greenhouses, grow lights, shade cloth and tight control over temperatures at various times during the plants’ life cycles.

That said, here’s what to expect.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Between 35 and 40 million of these vibrant shrubs are sold in the United States during the holidays, and the lion’s share are sure to be discarded after Christmas.

For most of the country, that’s probably the right call, since poinsettias are native to southern Mexico and detest cold weather.

However, here on the Central Coast, they will grow outdoors if you provide them with sun and moist, fast-draining soil, and protect them from wind and freezing temperatures. Just don’t expect yours to bloom at Christmas. Longer nights trigger the coloring, and commercial growers manipulate the light in greenhouses. Left to nature, yours may not show color until January. Planted within the glow of a porch light or street light, it might not color up much at all.

In addition, your compact indoor plant is likely to become leggy outdoors, easily reaching 6 to 10 feet tall.

If you are determined to keep your poinsettia compact and force it to rebloom in December, don’t plant it in the ground.

Instead, keep it in a pot and place it outdoors in a sunny spot. After the leaves drop, cut back the stems to 6 inches tall, leaving at least two joints on each stem. Water when the top few inches of soil dry out, and pinch back new growth every few weeks to encourage fullness.

The special light regimen begins in mid September to early October. Every night for eight to 10 weeks, move the pot into a dark closet for 14 hours, say from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Every morning, move it into sunlight for the day. That daily cycle of 14 hours of darkness, followed by 10 hours of sunshine, should produce the most vivid holiday color.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

Clown amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Clown') bears a full circle of flowers.

These impressive, giant bulbs, bearing large, showy trumpets, are an increasingly popular Christmas item. But once again, growers have manipulated their bloom time.

In the garden, amaryllis bloom in the spring, right before or just as their broad, strappy leaves emerge. Having just bloomed over the holidays, yours is not likely to replay the show this spring. Instead, you’ll have to wait about 15 months for the next round of spectacular, candy cane-striped flowers.

After the new year, set your amaryllis outside in the sun and water it occasionally. Make sure the container has drain holes. If not, make some, or transplant the bulb to a porous clay pot filled with fast-draining cactus mix. The pot should be on the small side, with just an inch or two of space between the side of the pot and the rough, papery edges of the amaryllis bulb. Plant the bulb high, with up to half of its top exposed.

With filtered sunlight and occasional water, agapanthus-like leaves should emerge in spring. When the leaves begin to yellow, stop watering and let the bulb and foliage dry out over summer. Flower buds form, deep within, during this rest period. New, succulent flower stalks should then rise and bloom the following spring.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)

These sparkly plants share poinsettias’ need for controlled light. But they take only six to eight weeks of going dark for 12 to 14 hours, rather than eight to 10 weeks for a solid 14 hours. Again, that includes blocking any exterior, night-time lighting.

Fortunately, the shorter time frame means that even without any help, your Christmas cactus should bloom during the holidays. But if you still insist on controlling the light to ensure flowers at a particular time, it’s best to leave the plants outdoors and cover them with paper bags each night. Otherwise, they might balk at the twice daily moves and shed their buds in protest.

Whatever you choose to do, after Christmas, move your Christmas cactus outdoors to rest in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight. Mine is packed into a hanging basket. I hang it on a lower branch of a purple-leaf plum tree. The tree is bare over winter, when sun protection isn’t all that important. Then it leafs out to provide filtered shade during spring, summer and fall.

Christmas cactus truly are members of the cactus family, and are at their best in containers with extremely fast-draining soil. Hanging baskets are especially effective, because as the cactus gains size, its jointed arms can gracefully cascade over the sides.

Water yours occasionally, letting the top inch of soil go dry between waterings. Don’t let the fleshy leaves shrivel up.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)

SilverHeart cyclamen

These perky little clumping plants, with heart-shaped leaves and flower petals shaped like flames, are being increasingly marketed as holiday houseplants.

However, they prefer temperatures much cooler than we usually keep our houses, and are at their best indoors next to the draftiest, coolest window possible.

After the holidays, move your cyclamen outdoors to a spot that offers the same filtered shade that Christmas cactus appreciate. But rather than transplanting your cyclamen to hanging baskets, leave the plants in their small pots or put them in the ground, provided you have excellent drainage.

Cyclamen grow from tubers, the tops of which should sit slightly higher than the surrounding soil. They are native to the eastern Mediterranean region, which shares our climate of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The tubers go dormant over summer and need dry soil during their rest. New leaves will begin to appear in fall, followed by flower buds that will bloom in winter and spring.

Indoor Care

Most holiday houseplants prefer bright, indirect light indoors, and cool temperatures. Keep them away from south-facing windows and heater vents.

Watering can be tricky. In cooler rooms out of direct sunlight, the soil may stay damp for a week. But in a bright spot or within range of a heater, they may need water almost daily.

Also, because holiday houseplants tend to spill over the edges of their containers, it can be difficult to poke the soil to see if it’s dry. Instead, use the lift test — water your plant thoroughly, then lift it to see how heavy it feels when the soil is saturated. Check it every few days, and when it feels considerably lighter, it’s time to water again.

When you do water, stop when you see water beginning to trickle into the pot saucer. Empty the saucer so that the bottom of the plant doesn’t sit in water.

Seeds of Wisdom

If you’re still hunting for a quick gift, consider a poinsettia, amaryllis, Christmas cactus or cyclamen. Given the proper conditions and care, all should live long after the holidays, out in the garden.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

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