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Revisiting Southern California’s coast redwoods and a drought-tolerant perennial

I recently wrote about redwood and sequoia trees and received the following email from Sandy Weinrich, of the Del Norte Garden Club: “I was surprised your article on redwood trees did not include our local redwood grove. It is located on three acres owned by the Army Corps of Engineers between the edge of Carbon Canyon Regional Park and Yorba Linda. The 241 trees were planted in 1975 by rangers to celebrate the opening of the park. The seedlings were donated by a bank at the end of a PR promotion. Many of the trees are now more than 100 feet tall.”  

Upon investigation, I learned that these trees are coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the same species with large stands along the northern California coast, and that they comprise the largest redwood grove in Southern California. An article in the Orange County Register from seven years ago lamented the reduction in irrigation allotment for the trees due to drought. Initially, the rangers had to reduce watering from 20 minutes to ten minutes daily and then had to implement a further reduction that allowed watering for 15 minutes twice a week. It’s good to hear that the trees are still there. A grove of redwoods in Glendale at that time suffered a number of losses due to watering restrictions.

From Long Beach, James Lehenbauer emailed as follows: “Looking out my front door, I see a 70-foot tall redwood growing across the street. My son attends Mudd Scripps College in Claremont where they have at least a dozen or more redwoods growing on campus that I would guestimate to be at least 50 years old.”

Esperanza Tecoma stans. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Love lies bleeding Amaranthus caudatus. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

Jadeplant Crassula argentea with purple heart Setcreasea pallida. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)

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Then there is this story from Stuart Lease, a reader from Menifee:

“On a road trip when I was eight years old, my father pulled some suckers from the base of the General Sherman Tree when we visited Sequoia National Park. (Note: By volume, this is the largest tree in the world, with a trunk diameter of 36 feet and a height of 275 feet.) At that time, you could walk around and touch the tree to your heart’s content. My father wrapped the suckers in moist paper towels and aluminum foil and placed them in our ice box. He tended them carefully until we returned home to Inglewood. The suckers eventually rooted and one was planted in our yard. I was in college when my father built an apartment building around the maturing tree so all of the tenants could look their windows and see the tree. I went by the building three years ago and the tree looked fabulous.  It is now around 65 years old and about 40 feet tall.”  Who knew that a clone of the General Sherman Tree would flourish in Inglewood? (When rooted, a sucker from a tree, just like any of the tree’s shoots, will grow into an identical copy of the tree from which it is taken. It is easier to root a sucker from a trunk’s base than a shoot higher up, however, because hormones that promote rooting are more concentrated the closer you get to the roots.)

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“Our house backs up to a wilderness area and I think the drought has brought a million rats. They eat many flowers. Especially Lobelia. They ate all the flowers off my fruit trees, so we have no fruit this year. I had a wall of black-eyed Susan but it’s only green now, with all flowers gone. I know they don’t like catmint, but what other  plants can I plant that won’t get eaten?”

You are correct in assuming that the rats are attracted to your garden because of the moisture-laden food your plants provide. There are lists of plants on the Internet that rats supposedly find unappetizing. Although I have no personal experience in this area, those plants that appear most prominently on these lists include: common garden or culinary sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary, lavender, oregano, basil, mint (especially peppermint and orange bergamot mint), catnip and catmint, marigolds, daffodils, onions, and garlic. Apparently, the scents of a variety of herbs keep rats away. Garlic is easily planted from supermarket cloves, ideally after refrigeration for a month to get fatter bulbs, but you can plant garlic cloves without refrigeration if you wish. Where soil drains wells, plant the cloves, pointed end up, one inch below the soil surface, three to six inches apart, in rows that are fifteen inches apart.

Having mentioned some widely acclaimed rat-repellent plants, I must say that planting them may not keep rats out of your garden. The same holds for lists of plants that supposedly repel gophers, rabbits, or deer. Seasoned gardeners are generally agreed that the only reliable means of keeping damaging critters out of the garden, short of trapping them, is by exclusion. In the case of deer, for instance, it means the installation of a seven-and-a-half-foot fence around your property. To keep rats out of your garden, and rabbits too, it means surrounding the area with 1/4 inch steel hardware cloth (heavy wire mesh), sunk one foot deep into the soil while protruding six inches above it. (With gophers, you will need to sink the hardware cloth two feet deep, but don’t have to worry about an above-ground extension).  You might also consider adopting a pet cat since they have a reputation for deterring rodents of all kinds. Finally, you could install an owl nesting box. Hungry barn owls (the ones with the “Phantom of the Opera” white faces) are known to prey on rats. They are found throughout North America although they are seldom seen because they are active only at night, just as rats are strictly nocturnal creatures.

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Master Gardener: Your plant and gardening questions answered

Plants in parkways, between sidewalk and street, that absorb heat radiating up from surrounding concrete and asphalt in addition to withstanding hundred-degree plus air temperatures are the horticultural heroes of the urban landscape. On Ventura Boulevard between Hazeltine Boulevard and Calhoun Avenue, love lies bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is flowering generously despite no sprinklers of any kind in evidence, although I imagine it is watered when the adjoining sidewalk, which fronts a restaurant, is washed down. On the corner of Beverly Glen Boulevard and Moorpark Street, the orange variety of esperanza (Tecoma stans) is completely covered with blaring trumpet blooms. And if you travel on Riverside Boulevard just east of Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, you will find an apartment building with a parkway strip populated by jade plants (Crassula argentea) encircled by purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) ground covers, a most pleasing contrast in color, texture, and form. If you have parkway plants in your neighborhood that have thrived this summer, please let me know what they are and, if possible, send along a photo you have the rights to, taken with horizontal orientation at least one megabyte in size, for possible publication purposes.

California native of the week

Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa). While it grows well in full sun along the coast, it benefits from some afternoon shade when grown inland. Western columbine is extremely hardy with a habitat that stretches from Baja California to Alaska, where it endures subarctic conditions. Its fragrant flowers were made into a perfume by Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia and it has been used medicinally as well, especially its roots, a decoction of which is curative of stomach disorders. The delicate appearance of western columbine masks its toughness as a garden perennial as it exhibits a high degree of drought tolerance. Its leaves are blue-green and softly lobed, not at all by accident, since beautiful foliage — striking in color, shape, and texture — is a characteristic shared by all members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), to which columbine belongs. It blooms most heavily from mid-spring to early summer but may continue blooming sporadically into the fall before entering winter dormancy. Western columbine is a birdwatcher’s delight as it attracts hummingbirds, song sparrows, and finches. Bees and butterflies visit the flowers, too. Its lifespan is three or four years but it will self-sow where soil is to its liking and now is the perfect time for broadcasting its seeds. 

Send questions, comments, and photos to joshua@perfectplants.com

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