Friday, July 31, 2009

Delicate Flowering Crape Myrtle Lagerstroemia for Hot Weather Gardens and Friday Floral

Here in Los Angeles, the Crape Myrtle Trees begin blooming around April and are still in bloom now in July, despite the 100 degree heat wave. These perennials are known for their beautiful clusters of flowers that look like crinkles of crepe paper. Colors come in bright white, dusty pinks, neon reds onto pink and purple shades, plus everything in-between.

They do well in hot weather and seem able to withstand some drought once established. I love their smooth, tan bark that can peel off in sheets.
These plants can be left as shrubs for a border or screen, or trained into standards or multi-trunked trees.
Crape myrtles have a tidy look about them and they look very stately along a driveway or flanking doors. I've seen them planted on either side of a meandering path and they look enchanting when flowering.
Their latin name is Lagerstroemia and the most common kinds sold here are l. indica or a hybrid of l. indica and l. fauriei (Japanese Crape Myrtle). They are also called Crepe Myrtle, or Crapemyrtle, or…
After flowering they develop small dark berries. Don't plant them in areas where you are concerned about litter.
Lagerstroemia indica is native to China. They can grow up to 25 feet tall and in the fall their leaves change color into dramatic deep oranges and reds. They do well in Sunset Zone 7-10, 12-14, 18-21 or USDA Zones 7 and above.
Here is a neat row of crape myrtles along a street. They have mixed hot pinks and purples together. I think if I was planting a group of them together I'd need to see them blooming together first.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Three Quick, Easy Shade Ideas to Keep Plants From Burning in Hot Summer Gardens

During the heat of summer even plants who like full sun may need a little break. It has been in the 100's for a few days here in Southern California and the plants are starting to show the stress.

Your first impulse may be to water them more. Sometimes that helps if the plant was dry to begin with. But turning your garden into a bog could make things worse. Instead, try a little temporary shade.

Here are a few cheap, do-it-yourself ideas for shade in the garden:

Staple some shade cloth to the back of a small fence: This is a little piece of fencing left over from a project. I used a staple gun to attach a small piece of shade cloth to the back. The cloth is fastened at the top and down the sides.

The ends of the fence are longer, so I can push them into the soil. Voila! My rose is protected from burnt canes.

You can also build a small square frame and staple on the shade cloth. Either attach a foot to the frame or lean it over your plant (if it is strong enough).

Use up extra tomato cages: This pretty spring umbrella fits into the top of the cage for a quick patch of deeper shade.

You need to attach the handle of the umbrella to the cage so it doesn't fly away.

You could also weave shade cloth around a tomato cage. Or get creative and slip an old t-shirt over the cage.

If the plant is too big to fit under the cage, just place the cage between your plant and the late afternoon sun.

Cover your existing fencing: This is a small wire fence covered with a plastic tablecloth from the dollar store.

You can cut it to fit without guilt. Have some fun and use colors or patterns that fit with the theme of your garden. The cloth needs to be attached to the fence. Poke a hole in the tablecloth to tie it to the fencing with zip-ties, wire, string or use clothespins.

If you don't have shade cloth use fabric, old sheets or an old shirt. Garden flags or fun lawn signs can come in handy for shade too.

You need shade too. Don't forget to put on some sunscreen while you're out there in the sun. Good luck and happy gardening!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Growing Kalanchoe for Drought Tolerant Gardens or as House Plants for Friday Floral

You may not think of kalanchoes as succulent plants, but they are. Kalanchoes are another member of the Crassulaceae or Stonecrop family. They are reliable dry garden bloomers known for their bright flowers. Most varieties are perennial and evergreen, making them perfect candidates for my hot, dry landscape.

Their flowers bloom in small bouquets of upright clusters from 2 to 3 inches across, which are made up of small daisy-like flowers of 5 petals. Flower colors come in an amazing range; from white, yellow, orange, red, pink and everything in between. Flowers can also be creamy pastels or have flowers with more than one color on the petals.

One of the more popular varieties are kalanchoe blossfeldiana. A grouping of these drought tolerant plants make a bold statement in the garden. Bloom is heaviest in spring, but they can bloom all year with a little feeding of fertilizer after the first bloom.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana have large, leathery leaves about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. The leaf edges are usually lightly scalloped and may have a slight tint of red. They grow up to 2 feet tall and as wide. Some hybrid plants can have smooth edged leaves or different colors combinations.

Like most succulent plants, water requirements for kalanchoe are low. They can take average garden water, but will also grow well with much less. Mine are seldom watered and do fine on my average 7 inches of rainfall a year.

Kalanchoe plants are great in containers. You can pair them with other flowers or use them to fill in blank spots in the garden. They make nice patio table centerpieces too. Since they can handle drought, they are a bit more forgiving than other plants if you forget to water them!

Care of kalanchoe plants outdoors is easy in my mild-winter garden. They are hardy to USDA Zone 10b, or 35 degrees, (Sunset Zone: 17, 21-24), Outdoors, their sun requirements are from full sun to part shade. If it gets over 100 degrees for more than a few days your plants may develop brown spots which is a sign of sunburn. Either move the pots, or give them a little shade during the hottest part of the day with a temporary screen. Indoors they prefer a bright windowsill with lots of light.

Kalanchoes are popular gifts during the winter months and also make nice housewarming presents. If you are lucky enough to receive one, the first thing you might want to do is check if the soil is dry. If so, give your plant some water and let it drain in the sink for about an hour.

Seeds saved from any hybrid kalanchoe plants will not grow out to look the same as the parent plants. It is much easier to propagate your kalanchoe with leaf or stem cuttings. Take a small cutting about 2 or 3 inches long. Bury about half of the stem in damp soil and keep it slightly moist for the first two weeks. After that, let the soil dry out between waterings. This is a great, free way to expand your plant collection, or use them as gifts for your friends. Good luck and happy gardening!


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