California Plants of the Month: August
ANNUAL FLOWER: Zinnias. The gaudy colors – red, pink, orange – can create the look of a fiesta in a cluster of container plants on a sunny patio or deck. August is too late to start zinnias from seeds, but it’s easy to start with blooming seedlings for a month or two more of color. Select nursery plants with lush leaves with no signs of drying out. Old favorite varieties include double and single flower forms, on plants from less than a foot to 4 feet tall. Look for the dwarfish Profusion (in photo), well suited to containers, with tons of short-stemmed, small flowers, in orange, white, other colors.
PERENNIAL: ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia. Easy to grow, even tolerant of some sun, this is the unfussy fuchsia. Often considered a shrub, 2 feet tall or more, it mostly dies back in winter. A prolific producer of orange-red tubular blooms in partly shaded corners or in background of annual flowers like begonias.
EDIBLE: Sweet basil. The flavor, fragrance, and essence of summer – keep it coming until cool weather by starting seeds or small nursery plants in pots near the kitchen. At this time of year, it’s best to plant in part shade. Choose (by sniffing leaves) from a range of flavors: lemon, clove, lime, Thai, classic pesto types. Keep tips of new growth pinched back to keep flowers from forming and leaves from hardening; pinching prolongs the season.
SHRUB: Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This is the subtle member of the family – not one of those hydrangeas with the soccer-ball-sized flowers that threaten to tip over the plant. You can plant now or in late summer or early fall and enjoy the autumn color of the deeply cut leaves. Good in background shade or in big pots.
TREE: Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). Stalwartly blooms even in our hottest, smoggiest climates – it should be the city tree of Riverside (maybe it already is). In cool coastal climates, mildew often strikes foliage and flowers. Versatile in the landscape, it can be trained as small tree with nice winter form and bark or even as a container plant. Blooms when very young.
NATIVE: Zauschneria californica. In the wild, intense orange or scarlet blooms – set off by gray leaves and gray granite – say a lot about the indomitability of California’s native plants. If you’ve ever seen California fuchsia (its common name) blooming in the Sierra in late summer, you’ll want to try it at home. It’s a rugged little ground cover for dry sunny spots.
CONTAINER PLANT: Dudleya. This big group of native California succulents will remind you of summer trips to the beach. Some species are called cliff lettuce, which gives a hint of their tenacity in hostile locations. Great in full sun in small pots with quick draining soil mix. Look for Dudleya pulverulenta, especially striking with its powdery leaves.