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By Liz Baessler
The Matilija poppy is also frequently called the fried egg poppy, and one look at it will tell you why. The petals are pure white and the center forms a perfect circle of vivid yellow. Learn more about how to grow Matilija poppies in this article.
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Manzanitas should not be pruned in winter because of fungus issues. Instead, prune lightly for structure in summer. (Courtesy Photo)
Groundcover salvias such as this Bee’s Bliss can be pinched, before or as growth begins, to add denseness. (Courtesy Photo)
Ceanothus (wild lilac) such as this Dark Star can be pruned after flowering, but leave some flowers to become berries for the birds. (Courtesy Photo)
By Linda Richards
California native plants are getting more attention these days. More nurseries, including our local Cherry Valley Nursery, are now carrying them. But many people don’t realize California natives have different planting and pruning requirements.
There are exceptions noted below, but pruning in the winter months before new growth starts is often recommended.
Here are some takeaways of the more popular natives that my husband and I have employed in our native-plant landscaping. Most are from the excellent book “Care and Maintenance of Southern California Native Plant Gardens” by Bart O’Brien, et al, along with some tips we’ve learned the hard way.
Some terminology for novices — pinching is removing the tip of a growing branch, and results in side branching at the point. When pruning, use sharp pruners that are sterilized (we occasionally wipe with rubbing alcohol) and cut near to the main branch or trunk. Don’t leave stubs.
• Ceanothus (often referred as wild lilac): Pinch and lightly prune in spring after flowering and when they’re producing active growth. Never cut into old growth that is larger than a pencil. The cuts heal slowly and are susceptible to apricot dieback fungus. A happy ceanothus that has flowered heavily will have sections of stems without leaves or branches, so cut back old flowered clusters for a denser look.
• Manzanitas (Arcostaphylos spp): Do not prune during cool, wet winter months because of fungus pathogens. Pinch back young manzanitas when there is new growth — usually March and April. Older plants can be pruned up or thinned to reveal branching patterns in late summer, but because exposing formerly shaded portions can lead to burning it’s better to do this slowly over years.
• Toyon (Hetermomeles arbutifolia): Young trees should be pinched to develop a fuller appearance if desired, or leave as is for a tree shape. The optimal pruning time is winter before new growth starts. You can also prune or pinch back in mid- to late spring but be careful to not take off flower buds, or you’ll be without flowers and the beautiful red berries.
• Fremontia, sugar bush and hollyleaf cherry: Do not cut into old growth. Sugar bush (Rhus ovata) are beautiful large shrubs. We have an old one, 20 feet by 20 feet. They also make good hedges but don’t prune heavily, with early fall pruning best. Hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) needs only pinching, if anything
• California fuchsia (Zauschneria or Epilobium spp): This plant needs to be established before pruning, so don’t prune hard until the plant is a couple years old, then cut back hard every winter after blooming finishes and new growth appears. It seems severe but you can cut back to 1- to 2-inch stubs. O’Brien suggests light fertilizing a month or so after pruning if the plant is growing in infertile soils.
• Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri): O’Brien says if growing vigorously after a year, prune hard, cutting back all the old stems to stubs only 3 to 4 inches from the ground. But don’t prune back new shoots that have appeared.
• Salvias (sages): Prune in late fall or early winter, before or as new growth begins. If you prune later, you may remove developing flowers. Pinch young plants to get denser, fuller habit. Purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) and Cleveland and its hybrids such as Allen Chickering, Pozo Blue and Aromas can be cut back one-quarter to one-third. Cleveland sage can be cut back to one-half. One exception is white sage.
A mistake we made was waiting too many years before pruning our Cleveland sage and it’s gotten too leggy, and pruned older stalks never resprout. Pay more attention to structure early.
• Monkey flower (Mimulus spp.): Pinch young, actively growing plants to shape a dense branching structure, necessary to support the flower stocks. After blooming, remove the entire flower stalk. If you cut off all the flower stalks, and water, monkey flowers will rebloom in the summer. Monkey flowers can be pruned in late fall before new growth appears.
• Buckwheat (Erigonium spp): Buckwheat should not be pruned. Deadhead, but we wait until winter so birds can forage on the seeds. And pinch when young to shape. Cuts into old growth likely won’t resprout.
• White sage (Salvia apiana): White sage needs no pruning. Just remove old flower stalks. However, pinch young plants to promote fuller, denser habit.
• California sycamore (Platanus racemosa): As with other deciduous trees, prune in winter during dormancy. Never cut large branches or trunks, “which undermines the structural integrity of the tree,” writes O’Brien.
• Coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia): Don’t overprune. Prune in summer to early fall, mid-July through September. Pruning in winter and spring causes an abundance of new growth near the pruning site and takes months to recover. Minimize the amount taken, removing dead branches periodically. Young trees can benefit from pruning to establish good branching. Engelmann oaks (Quercus engelmannii) need little to no pruning.
• Other deciduous native trees such as desert willow, white alder, Chitalpa, California walnut, cottonwood, Mexican elderberry, willow: Prune in winter during dormancy. People have a tendency to overprune.
I’ve covered a few more on my website, but for others, check O’Brien’s book. We’ve found it very helpful.
Linda Richards is a member of the Redlands Horticultural and Improvement Society and lives in Redlands. Her website www.ifnaturecouldtalk.com is dedicated to speaking for the natural world. Contact her at [email protected]
I want to send poppys to my daughter so she can grow them, and was wondering could I cut the whole big pod before it flowers and send that to her. and if she put it in the dirt would it grow the next year.Thank you if you can help :) Or should i wait till the flower goes to seed. I sent some seeds before but they didnt grow.
These look like oriental poppies. They are easiest to reproduce by taking a 3" cutting from the underground rhizome while the plant is dormant. It is plump and white so easy to identify. Although poppies are notoriously hard to transplant, I have managed to take a small off-shoot and transplant it. Since poppies need cool weather, ask your daughter to try seeds again. They germinate best at 65 degrees and require loose soil that does not stay wet. Do not cover the seeds as they need light to germinate which takes 10-14 days.
The Matilija Poppy is grown in clumps in parks or gardens or in protected semi-wild places. The flowers last well in water and their delightful perfume and delicate satiny beauty make them most acceptable in any room.
These plants should be planted in warm, porous, sandy loam on a southern exposure. The soil should be free from stagnant moisture or water at all times, and especially so during the dormant season in Wintertime. Before the heavy frosts penetrate to the roots, they should be heavily mulched. After the plants are once established, they should be left strictly alone even cultivation around the roots seems detrimental. Like herbaceous perennials, the stems die to the ground each year and the flowers are borne on the new growth which comes each Spring.
PROPAGATION. The Matilija Poppy can be grown from seed, but this is a rather unsatisfactory method. Root cuttings are the surest way. The roots resemble thick prongs to which very few fibers are attached. Spring is the best time for transplanting.