What is Blooming Now

If today’s walk through your garden yields satisfaction, congratulations!

If it tilts toward disappointment, a good time for seasonal planting would be now.

Many plants need a dormant period to prepare for the spring, but many other plants will bloom while most are dormant. We can’t turn winter into spring, but with a bit of planning we can enjoy color in the garden at any time of the year.

The moderate climate of the Monterey Bay area supports year-round color possibilities that are elusive or non-existent in many other areas.

Here are examples from my garden.

Salvias originate from several parts of the world, and some species from Mexico are in bloom now.

S. wagneriana (Wagner Sage) stands as one of my favorite blossoms, with pink corolla and white calyx. This large shrub does best in partial shade, and tends to sprawl in full shade.

S. karwinskii (Karwinski’s Sage), another large plant, displays pink-coral and green blooms from fall to spring.

S. holwayi (Holway’s Sage), our third example, grows only about three feet high, but spreads to cover an increasingly large area. Its small blooms are red and purple, and prolific.

Aloe arborescens (Torch Aloe) produces numerous vibrant red-orange inflorescences (called racemes) about eight-to-ten inches long. The plant grows easily and can rise to nine feet tall. In South Africa, where it is endemic, it is called called Krantz Aloe. The Afrikaner word ‘krantz’ means a “rocky ridge” or “cliff,” indicating its natural habitat, but it thrives in deep fertile soil.

Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) comes from the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It grows in sun or shade and produces many seedlings that germinate readily. (I have many plants in a growing swath.) It grows to four feet tall and wide, and produces many pale green flowers from late December to March. After flowering, it can be cut to the ground to stimulate a new cycle of growth.

Daphne odora “Aureo-marginata” (Winter Daphne), which comes from China and Japan, is  appreciated for its evergreen, gold-edged foliage, and prized for its beautiful rosy-pink flower buds that open to white, sweetly fragrant flowers in winter and early spring. The flowers grow on the stems, so they are not useful in arrangements, but can be brought indoors to float in water.

Edgeworthia chrysantha (Chinese Paper Bush) is a relative of the Daphne odora (both from the family Thymelaeaceae) and another sweetly fragrant winter bloomer. To be quite honest, both the Daphne and the Edgeworthia in my garden are in bud at the moment, but they will be in flower in January through March.

It is always a pleasure to have flowers in winter. Still, many conifers and succulents provide foliage with much visual appeal.

Enjoy your winter garden.


Several garden writers have listed plants that bloom in each season of the year. One of the better books is The Perennial Garden: Color Harmonies through the Seasons, by Jeff Cox and Marilyn Cox (Rodale Books, 1992).

A book that I refer to often for various purposes is The California Gardener’s Book of Lists, by Catherine Yronwode, with Eileen Smith (Taylor Publishing, 1998). Among its other treasures are lists of “Perennials that Bloom in Winter” and “Shrubs That Provide Winter Interest.”




Gardening for the Future

During a period of cold and rainy days, and holiday season attractions (and distractions), it may be difficult to focus on gardening priorities and attend to necessary tasks. On the other hand, this could be a very good time to plan future directions.

In this column, we consider resolutions for the coming year.

Our resolutions often address immediate needs, e.g., weeding in a more timely and consistent manner, upgrading the landscape design, removing a tree or shrub that has evolved from asset to liability, or installing a long-overdue drip irrigation system.

Each avid gardener could develop his or her own list of resolutions that are certainly worthy and not to be dismissed. Today’s goal is not to discourage productive actions but to suggest the importance of the long view.

This column is inspired by a recent report that chemical pesticides are used more extensively in the United States now than ever before. See below for a link to “Pesticides: Now More Than Ever,” by Mark Bittman, New York Times, December 11, 2012. The author cites research evidence of the link between pesticide exposure and certain cancers and other health problems and negative impacts on the environment, and states that genetically engineered crops are leading to dramatic increases in the use of pesticides.

These data are particularly troublesome, given the recent defeat of a state proposition to label genetically modified organisms (fruits, vegetables and meats). This proposition lost 47% to 53%, when multinational food corporations spent $46 million in a campaign that claimed falsely that the proposition was “flawed” and would be costly to consumers. The Organic Consumers Association, an advocate of that proposition, points to several similar initiatives in other states, begins preparing for another vote in California, and insists it is only a matter of time before GMO labeling becomes law.

Residential gardeners can resolve to support reduced uses of chemical pesticides by applying only organic methods in their own gardens, buying organically grown groceries and supporting the labeling of GMOs, when another vote is scheduled.

So-called “conventional” gardening, which relies upon chemical fertilizers and pesticides, was introduced in the early 1940s, during World War II. Americans are only beginning to recognize its threats to human health and the environment.

Organic gardening methods originated hundreds or even thousands of years ago. These methods are attuned with nature, inexpensive to apply, and proven to be effective.

For more satisfying gardening in the short term, a good resolution is to bring new-to-you plants into your garden regularly. Countless options are available in garden centers, catalogs and websites. New horticultural treasures can add learning opportunities and rewarding experiences to your gardening activities.


If you think that pesticides are simply a good thing in the garden or the agricultural field, read “Pesticides: Now More Than Ever,” by Mark Bittman, New York Times, December 11, 2012.

For a good introduction to organic gardening methods, read Organic Gardening magazine which is available from magazine stands or the Organic Gardening website. This publication has been a leading advocate of this natural approach to gardening for decades. It offers its magazine, online information and several authoritative books from various publishers. Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is a classic in the field.

Guidance in purchasing organically grown foods is available from The Daily Green, which lists “The Dirty Dozen” (foods with the highest pesticide residue), beginning with apples. When these foods are grown with so-called “conventional” methods, they will have relatively high concentrations of pesticides. If you want to eat these foods, buy only  produce that has been certified as organically grown. Federal regulations require that foods that are labeled as “organic are grown without the use of pesticides.

Consumer demands to label genetically modified organisms are sure to continue on a state-by-state basis, until such initiatives force federal requirements for such labeling.To follow the political battle, visit the website of the non-profit Organic Consumers Association. This is one of several organizations that are pressing this issue, with determination to succeed in the long run.

The Organic Consumers Association seeks to persuade the Natural Products Association to stop calling GMOs “natural.” The term “natural” when applied to foods has no federal definition or standard and should not be mistaken for “organic” foods.

Late-season New Growth on Roses

At this time of the year, ordinarily, roses have entered dormancy. This status, characterized by stopped growth above ground, protects the rose from winter freezes and provides a rest period that supports the plant’s longevity and productivity. Hothouse roses subject to year-round harvesting of blossoms have shorter lives and fewer blossoms, compared to the typical garden rose.

During dormancy, the rose reduces its metabolism, holds its fluids and nutrients away from the stems and stores them the core of the plant. This is the rose’s defensive position, designed to avoid a possible freeze of liquids in the stems.

The plant continues to develop below ground: root growth continues during the winter months and is important for newly planted roses.

Gardeners in the world’s colder regions worry that an unusual warm spell in the late winter or early spring might cause their roses to “break dormancy.” The plants could produce new growth that would be killed by a late freeze.

In more temperate climates, such as the Monterey Bay area, roses could show new growth of leaves and buds in the early winter for the same reason: an unusual warm spell. The National Weather Service, reports that the Monterey Bay area is having such a warm spell this year: November’s average high temperature was about five degrees above the historical level. When the NWS reports December’s data, we might well see the same pattern.

In such cases, gardeners need to either let their roses develop such new growth, or proceed with seasonal pruning. Here are three issues.

First, the new growth might not survive the winter cold. If that happens, the plant will have wasted energy producing the new growth, but suffered no lasting harm. A rose has two inactive dormant buds at the base of each leaf that can activate to grow new canes or leaves.

Second, if the new growth survives, the rose will miss its opportunity to rejuvenate. This could have long-term negative effects on the rose’s life and blossom production.

Finally, a break from dormancy means that the plant is sending fluids into the stems, making it vulnerable to a freeze that would expand the fluids and cause splits and tissue damage.

The preferred response to a broken or delayed dormancy, then, is to help the rose to enter dormancy. The gardener can do this by removing all leaves from the plant. This action will halt photosynthesis and encourage dormancy.

Once the plant becomes dormant, the gardener could accomplish seasonal pruning during the dormant period, which will continue to the early spring, after the last date when frost is expected.

Scientists are virtually unanimous in agreement that human-produced carbon dioxide emissions are causing global climate warming. This change is having countless effects, and including new issues for gardeners.

Fortunately, roses are tougher than they appear.


As part of my research into rose dormancy, I visited the website of the American Rose Society, which has great information on many aspects of rose growing. I didn’t see discussion of the late-season new growth growth issue, so I clicked on the link, “Ask a Question About Growing Roses,” and asked my questions.

I received a quick response from AIS Master Rosarian Karl Bapst, a self-described “Rosenut.” His own website http://www.rosenut.com/ has a wealth of rose-growing information that I expect to visit often in the future.

I even quoted Karl (without attribution!) for the closing line of my column.

Rather than trying to summarize his detailed information, I am including our e-mail dialog below, with minor editing.


Roses in this area (USDA Zone 9a) should be dormant now (mid-December). Some people have started winter pruning, only to discover that their roses have new leaves, due to an unusual warm spell (possibly global warming) in November. This new growth probably won’t survive the colder weather in January, but what harm might be done to the plant by pruning when new growth is showing? Also, what harm might cold weather cause to a rose with spring-like new growth in December?


In your area, I doubt your winter temps will drop down far enough to damage any new growth. New growth has lots of sugar that acts as natural antifreeze. In my area, zone 5a, mid-spring temps can drop to the mid to low 20s and new spring growth is seldom affected. If it is affected, new growth occurs to replace it.  Keep in mind there are two inactive dormant buds at the base of each leaf. If that new leaf should die, one or both of the buds activate growing new canes or leaves. So, should any new growth be damaged by temps below the mid 20s, it’ll soon be replaced.

We often have new growth before we prune in spring. The rose bushes do just fine. I’ve pruned as late as late April and early May (due to inclement weather or illness) after the bushes are leafed out with no bad results. The roses even bloom at their normal times.

Roses are tougher than they appear.


I have sent in my column today with recommendations based on your advice, but I have a follow-up question. Last night, a Consulting Rosarian recommended responding to this new growth by defoliating the plant to encourage dormancy and completing seasonal pruning. (Most people around here prune between mid-December and mid-January.)



In warmer growing zones where there may not be natural dormancy, removing the leaves will promote a period of dormancy when the daylight shortens and temperatures moderate as we approach the winter solstice. Roses don’t naturally go dormant and will grow all year if conditions are right.

Modern roses bloom best on new wood, pruning promotes new wood so one gets more and bigger blooms. In my zone 5, winter’s cold and gloomy overcast skies, freeze and kill the leaves. Most stay on the bush until new growth or pruning removes them. The frozen soil and canes causes all growth to stop until conditions improve in late winter or early spring. Summer cutting of roses is pruning. You’ve noticed that cutting a bloom in summer causes a new cane to develop, usually from the base of the leaf under the cut. This occurs after your December/January pruning but on a larger scale.

Should you fail to prune or cut back then, any blooms produced on the un-pruned bush will normally be smaller and fewer on shorter canes. You’ll notice, though, any blooms will come from those short new growth canes. Even blooms that grow from the old cane tips will be on new growth.

In my area, we have no choice. When removing winter die-back or damaged canes, we force new cane growth. Often, especially on hybrid teas, which are naturally very winter-tender, removing die-back requires pruning almost to the ground. These bushes will bloom in late May/early June and will have grown to full size by July.

Understand, Old Garden Roses (OGRs, once-a-year blooming roses) bloom on old wood and buds are set the previous fall. Pruning on OGRs is done after they bloom or these buds would be removed when pruning. Should you get any questions from people asking why their roses don’t bloom it’s usually due to them pruning too early on Old Garden Roses.


I read a variety of online material in preparing this column, and found various pieces of relevant information.

For example, here’s an interesting point for the eHow.com website:

“Most rose plants that are capable of dormancy will not naturally initiate this process in response to cold weather. Most rose plants which are domestically grown in North America are hybrids with breeds of plants that evolved in Asia (most roses are Asian and are crossbred for their desirable characteristics, such as smell and appearance). Asian winters are not as harsh and, thus, dormancy in Asian roses is an evolved response to a lack of light. This can create problems for such roses in North America, where a cold winter can still supply enough sunlight to encourage the plant to keep growing.”

Such subtleties can be challenging for a garden writer with a deadline, and impossible to explore in a single column. I made no effort to explain the role of winter light in promoting or discouraging dormancy.

More Gifts for the Gardener

Last week, we explored the “Upscale” category of gifts for the gardener and planned to explore three more categories: Kitsch, Junktique, and Living.

To some, Kitsch gifts might be seen as tasteless, aesthetically deficient, and excessively sentimental; the flipside of this category is “cute” or perhaps “charming,” depending on individual tastes. This is the category found in many garden centers and garden catalogs, with few exceptions. We mind find cartoon-like pottery figures of animals, gnomes and pixies, whirligigs, clever signs and labels (“So many weeds, so little Thyme”) and the like. Visit ongardening.com for current kitsch-links.

Kitsch-y items typically lack the enduring appeal of fine art. That quality might be seen as a shortcoming, but by encouraging turnover it serves the popular thirst for new experience.

The Junktique category includes recycled items, primarily. This is where we find items like bowling balls and wine bottles as garden decorations; discarded boots, children’s wagons, sinks and toilet bowls as plant containers; bicycles and ladders as focal points.

The best-known junktique in the garden is the bottle tree, created by mounting bottles (wine, usually) on a branched apparatus of some kind. The practice of displaying empty bottles in the garden originated centuries ago, when some believed glass bottles would trap the night’s hostile spirits, which would be destroyed by the morning light. Reportedly, African slaves brought the practice to North American.

We are still searching for the dramatic histories of other garden junktique.

Finally, the Living category focuses on plants and personal services. When gifting plants, consider these guidelines:

  1. Avoid the commonplace (garden centers display ornamental kale in the fall, but there are other options, really);
  2. Respect the recipient’s priorities (it’s helpful when gardeners mention their horticultural cravings);
  3. Offer to install larger plants (even a bare-root fruit tree will thrive under a friend’s helping hand).

For some gardeners, an offer of timely assistance will be the ultimate gift. Here are suggested guidelines.

  1. Offer services that you are qualified to perform (all aspects of gardening require knowledge and skill, and the garden owner rules in setting standards)
  2. Offer services that the gardener wants. (Hauling will be welcomed; plant selection probably not; weeding is great if the giver recognizes weeds)
  3. Deliver the promised services on time.

Visit ongardening.com for more about gifts for gardeners, and additional categories, e.g., useful tools, books for reference or inspiration, and artworks to enhance—or compete with—the natural environment.

People reveal themselves through their gardens, which will show if the owner values great craftsmanship, short-lived “stuff,” frugality, exceptional plants or meticulous care. Let such revelations guide the gift-giver.

Their gardens also will reveal if they are not gardeners, in which case the gift-giver might consider other categories of gifts.

Enjoy this season for garden rejuvenation and development, and for gift giving.


Your favorite gardener will appreciate and value a gift of your time and horticultural talents. Such gifts respond to the spirit of the season, uniquely supportive of personal relationships, and good for the garden as well.

Still, there are many other gifts that most gardeners will desire and welcome. If your gardening friend is making do with worn-out tools or without the right tools for the task, a well-chosen, well-made tool might be exactly “on target.” Visit your local garden center or shop on line to find tools that meet the recipient’s needs and fall within the giver’s budget.

Many excellent gardening books also are available. Again, this is a gift category that succeeds best when it aligns well with the recipient’s informational needs and reading preferences. A good strategy for selecting a gift book is to visit the website of the American Horticultural Society to review its recommendations. The AHS itself has published several very good books, recognizes the best books of each year, and lists  the 75 Great American Garden Books.

In the Kitsch category, visit the Blue Fox Farm website, which presents a list of “Funny Quotes for Rustic Garden Signs.”  These sayings are not available as garden signs, but the website includes information on how to make your own signs with the saying of your choice (scroll to the bottom of the page).


Gifts for Gardeners

This is the season to make your favorite gardener happy.

We will explore gifts for a gardener in these four categories: Upscale, Kitsch, Junktique, and Living.

Upscale depends on what the recipient would find enduring in appeal and impressiveness. This is not the same as “expensive,” but alas upscale items tend to be costly.

The Kitsch category is often defined with negative terms, e.g., tasteless, aesthetically deficient, and excessively sentimental. Never mind! One person’s “kitsch” is another’s “cute.” This is hazardous territory for the gift-giver, unless his or her taste reflects that of the recipient.

Items that may be considered Junktique are often old, but the essential concept is that they are recycled: their use is the garden is not the same as their original purpose. (A friend collects antique gardening and farming tools, but those belong in a category of their own.) This is where you find a discarded bed frame with a new life as a “garden bed.”

Finally, we have the Living category, the principal members of which are plants and personal services. This category might also include certain fauna (a nice koi for a friend’s pond, for example) but does not include feral mammals or herbivorous insects. That would be whimsy gone overboard.

Watch for next week’s column for an exploration of the Kitsch, Junktique and Living categories. For today, here are examples of the Upscale category. (I have no financial interest in any of these items, but am available for field-testing!)

  • Bronze garden tools are stunning in appearance, quite durable in use, and suggestive of the Bronze Age (late to arrive in the Americas). Find them at www.implementations.co.uk.
  • Hand-made, heirloom-quality garden tools are American made and exceptionally rugged. One source is www.fisherblacksmithing.com.
  • How about a high-grade shovel, engraved with the gardener’s name? Find it at the Best @ Dianne B: www.diannebbest.com/shovel.php.
  • Nicely designed, and well-made garden pots, statues or decorative art pieces will be welcomed, especially if they echo the style of the recipient’s garden. A Gothic urn wouldn’t belong in a contemporary garden, for example, unless one could call it eclectic. Many choices are available at www.haddonstone.com (click on “Garden Ornaments”).
  • Decorative corners for raised beds, available from www.outdooressentialproducts.com, combine an attractive appearance with a necessary function. A gift set of four corners could be complemented with the lumber for a sizable raised bed, a desirable asset in most gardens.

The Upscale items listed above can be ordered online; early decision-making would provide time for timely delivery.

In all cases, evaluate a gift you are considering by asking if you would be an appreciative recipient. That works best when you are a gardener yourself!


This essay lists the website of the British maker of bronze garden tools, but these tools are in fact available closer to home. Harley Farms Goat Dairy, in Pescadero, California, contacted us to report that they can supply the full range of these tools, “along with goat cheese and other high quality hand made products.” In fact, I saw these impressive tools at the Harley Farms booth at the 2012 San Francisco Garden Fair, but then misplaced their contact information! The website has photos of the tools.