Hot Gardens Newsletter – August 2004
Congratulations, Caesalpinia pulcherrima! This plant, commonly known as the red Mexican Bird of Paradise, has recently achieved “Highway Plant” status.
The California Department of Transportation has planted it along Interstate 15 near Barstow in the Mojave Desert. That means CDOT thinks the Mexican Bird of Paradise will survive exhaust fumes, dust storms, unrelenting winds, little water and utter neglect! In the kinder, gentler conditions of your desert garden it may quickly grow to a height of as much as 12 feet. In summer this large, lacy-leaf shrub is covered with red and orange blooms for months on end.
Take the Screwdriver Test. Not certain if you are watering your lawn too much or too little? Well, here is an easy test. Take an 8 inch screwdriver and push it into your lawn in various locations — close to and far away from sprinklers — an hour after you have watered. If it goes in all the way, you are irrigating enough and may even want to cut reduce the amount you are watering.
If you cannot push it in to that depth, you may need to increase the water your lawn is receiving. One important note — if, an hour after your lawn has been watered, it is still “squishy” you are irrigating way, way too much. (Note: since we wrote this, we are now recommending that you remove and replace your lawn altogether.)
Cool It. Do not fertilize the plants in your desert garden during the hottest summer months. Most of them are in a summer dormancy state and the last thing they want is to be awakened by a jolt of nitrogen. You may want to lightly fertilize plants in pots because daily watering washes away all the nutrients in the pots. Avoid planting anything but palms in hot months. It is better to wait until the average daily temperature reaches around 90 degrees F. before you begin Fall planting.
Fads and Fancies. Over the decades garden styles and preferred plants have changed and continue to change. Once-popular plants get torn out, new ones are planted. We became very aware of this one Spring several years ago during a visit to Santa Barbara when we saw tall purple and blue spires of the Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) blooming spectacularly in gardens which had been planted originally in the 1930s and 1940s. This perennial resembles a 5 foot tall mountain lupine, loves sunshine and will survive winter temperatures of down to about 20 to 25 degrees F. It definitely deserves a place in drought tolerant gardens.
Passion for Purple. Judging from what is in garden centers and retail nurseries these days, a new plant passion has begun. Purple, burgundy and chartreuse leaf plants seem to be the new garden stars — perhaps in reaction to the gray-leaf Mediterranean plants that have been so popular for several years now. In this garden purple-leaf Cannas have been added to a predominantly gray-green Mediterranean garden.
More News on Global Warming. The hundreds of thousands of birds who annually nest and breed in the Orkney Islands have, this year, failed to lay eggs and hatch chicks. The cause, according the a report in the British newspaper, The Independent, is starvation. The sandeels, a primary source of food for the birds, have disappeared. The sandeels are a cold-water fish species and the water around the Orkney Islands has become warmer. Once again, we thank Dr. Joan Padro for bringing this to our attention.
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