Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter planting at the in-laws

We spent this past weekend at my in-laws who live in Mount Shasta, 215 miles north of here, not only to celebrate Easter with them, but also to deliver a bunch of plants I’d been collecting for them since the fall. Some of them were divisions from plants in our own garden, others I got on close-out, and a few were regular purchases. This is what we hauled in our van:

7 lavenders
22 ornamental grasses
1 dogwood
2 junipers
2 bamboos

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Our van loaded with plants…
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…including two bamboos (Phyllostachys bambusoides and Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’)

Mount Shasta is in zone 7a and spring is just now starting to arrive there—weeks later than usual because of the longer-than-usual winter. In fact, they’d had fresh snow just last week! While Saturday, our planting day, was cool and drizzly, it was actually fairly pleasant for gardening.

The following photo shows the hill in front of their house where we planted everything except for the two bamboos and the holly. The section on the right (not visible in the photo) is studded with trees and hence shady, but the area you see below gets a good 6 hours of direct sun in the summer. Right now, the hillside is covered with periwinkle (Vinca minor), some irises, and the occasional Western redcedar (Thuja plicata) seedling.

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Hillside before replanting

In their 1-gallon nursery containers, the lavenders and grasses looked to be of decent size, but once planted out, they seem to disappear into the carpet of conifer needles and periwinkle. Eventually they will dominate the hillside—especially the grasses in the 5-7 ft. range—but for now the fruits of our labor seem disappointingly meager. I’m so used to gardening on a small (sub)urban plot where even one plant makes a difference that I was a bit stunned to not see a more dramatic improvement right away.

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In addition to grasses and lavenders, we also planted three shrubs on the hill: two ‘Old Gold’ junipers (Juniperus x media 'Old Gold'), a compact spreader to 2 ft. in height; and a variegated Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima'), renowned for its red stems which provide winter interest. The dogwood should look stunning with a blanket a snow.

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‘Old Gold’ junipers (Juniperus x media 'Old Gold')
and  variegated Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima')

The following drawing shows what went where. It’s mostly for ourselves so we’ll be able to identify the plants later on. Many of the grasses are new to us, especially the switchgrasses (Panicum virgatum sp) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel'). These grasses are native to the tallgrass prairie that once covered large portions of the Midwest. They are very cold-hardy, and I’m hoping they’ll do well here in the Northern California mountains.

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We also found a home for this holly that I bought on clearance at Lowe’s in January. It’s actually a matched pair of a female (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess') and male plant (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince').

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Holly ‘Royal Court’ ((Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess'
and Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince')

The final two plants we put in the ground were running bamboos of the genus Phyllostachys. The first one, Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’, went on another hill across the driveway from where we put the ornamental grasses and lavenders. Here it will have room to expand. ‘Henon’ is a timber bamboo with the potential to produce 4” culms that grow 55 ft. tall. It’s the all-green version of the popular black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), and has small and elegant leaves just like its relative.

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Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’, looking lost now,
but it will come into its own in a few years

The 2nd bamboo was a Phyllostachys bambusoides, also known by its Japanese name madake. It is a true giant (70 ft., 6” culms), with extremely sturdy culms that live 20+ years. It is a highly valued construction material in Japan, but it establishes much more slowly than other timber bamboos like ‘Henon‘. I don’t know how well it will do in Mount Shasta since it’s only hardy to 5°F, but the plant I had didn’t represent a great financial investment, so it’s worth a try.

I should add that the hole for the madake was dug in no time at all by my father-in-law using his trusty backhoe. In fact, the very first post I ever published on this blog was about transplanting a black bamboo (seen in the upper left quarter of the photo below) using this very backhoe. Click here to read this post.

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Phyllostachys bambusoides

All in all, it was very productive Saturday, and we left behind an impressive jumble of empty nursery pots.

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5 comments:

  1. Those pots are going to be reused or recycled, right? RIGHT?

    Visualizing what the plants will look like in 2-4 years is the hard part, but is essential. Looking at a bunch of "tiny" plants (like a 1-culm bamboo) it's hard to get excited. Make sure photos are taken from the approximate same vantage point at least every 6 months. You'll want those comparison photos!

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  2. Alan, the pots went back home with me. They'll definitely be reused.

    Longer term visualization is definitely harder when you have that much room to play with. But I'll be sure to take photos everytime we visit. I did that this time around with the bamboos we planted last year--very little progress, but shooting season hadn't really started yet in earnest.

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  3. What a haul Gerhard, and 22 types of grasses too! But seeing the size of the planting area, it made sense why you had to bring them so many plants. It should fill up nicely in a few months time.

    The soil should be nicely acidic will all that conifer needles carpeting it. Are Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Magnolias widely available there?

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  4. Mark and Gaz, the soil at my in-laws' place is dreamy (ignoring the rocks, that is). It's light and fluffy and very easy to work. And yes, definitely on the acidic side because of all the conifer needles. My in-laws have one rhododendron that I know of but no azaleas or magnolias. Which magnolias would you recommend?

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  5. Some of the North American big leaf Magnolias would do well, like M. macrophylla and tripetala. M. macrophylla var. Ashei doesn't get that big and flowers at a young age. Magnolia 'Atlas' flowers profusely even as a small plant too :)

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