Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bye bye Mexican bush sage

This past weekend has been the most productive for me in many months. I not only created a new succulent bed in the backyard, I also did some repotting and I tackled a large and sprawling Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) along the street that goes by the side of our house. My wife and I had been talking about removing this particular specimen for a number of years but every time it started to bloom—like right now!—our resolve dwindled. No doubt, it’s a stunningly beautiful plant and even though it’s quite common around here, people still stop to admire it.

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However, as you can see in the next photo, this clump had gotten so large that it was completely covering the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to step into the street to walk around it

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The good citizens of the People’s Republic of Davis don’t hesitate to call the city for just about any code violation. We’ve received citations for lesser offenses so I had to do something about this plant. One solution would have been to cut it back from the sidewalk, but considering how vigorous Salvia leucantha is, it would only have been a temporary measure. After much soul searching, we opted to go for a permanent solution and remove it altogether.

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That’s what I did this morning.

I was hoping to remove the root ball in one piece so I could find a new home for the plant but the crown was so brittle, it broke into many smaller pieces as I was digging it up. I saw no alternative but to put everything into the curb for yard waste pickup on Monday morning.

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Seeing this 4 x 6 ft. area so bare was a strange sight. But I didn’t think too much about the beautiful shrub I’d just removed and proceeded to plant the compact cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compacta’) I’d bought at Yucca Do a few months ago.

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Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compacta’ is a smaller version (4 x 4 ft.) of this Texas native, also known as cenizo, Texas ranger, Texas rain sage or barometer bush because it is said to flower immediately after rain. (I think “barometer bush” is a silly name—I don’t need a plant to tell me that it just rained. Plus, ours is starting to bloom now even though it hasn’t rained since early May.)

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Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compacta’

I fell in love with the full-size version of cenizo when I saw it at the UC Davis Arboretum years ago. From everything I’ve read, Leucophyllum frutescens is tough as nails and very undemanding as long as the soil is reasonably well draining. I dumped a bucket of coarse sand onto the planting area and worked it into the soil (which was quite friable already from the many leaves that have decomposed there over the years). It’s ironic that in our area we have to jump through hoops to create what is essentially “poor” soil!

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Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compacta’

In front of the cenizo, I planted a Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ (Grevillea gaudichaudii × longifolia). This prostrate Australian shrub with attractive sawtooth leaves stays under a foot in height but can spread to 15 ft. across, making it ideal as a groundcover (I intend to shape it as needed). It produces red toothbrush-shaped flowers from spring to late fall. Actually the specimen I plant is just now starting to bloom; I should have updated photos soon.

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Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’

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Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’

Coming back to Salvia leucantha—yes, I still feel bad about removing it—has anybody been able to successfully grow the compact version sold under the cultivar name ‘Santa Barbara’? I’ve tried two two now and they simply won’t thrive. They linger for a season or a year and eventually croak. In contrast, the full-size Salvia leucantha is very easy to grow here. I’d love to have a smaller version of Mexican bush sage in our garden but I may have to wait until somebody develops a more viable dwarf.

10 comments:

  1. Wait....are you saying that you can just leave a pile of plant material aside the curb like that and the city will just pick it up? You don't need to put it in a container?

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    1. Yep, the joys of curbside yard waste pickup. Piles cannot exceed 6 ft. in length but otherwise there are few restrictions. Everything gets chopped up and composted for use in city landscaping.

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    2. That is sooo cool! Here, we have to chop everything up so it will fit into yard waste dumpsters. Doing that always adds extra time to garden clean up projects.

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  2. You've been busy this past weekend indeed! It's nice to have some changes, even if it means removing plants to make those changes.

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    1. What is it they say: variety is the spice of life, or something like that :-).

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  3. Why not treat it like an annual like many of us need to? Remove it each winter and replant in spring. It won't get so huge! You can take cuttings and propagate so you don't have to buy every year. I guess you could probably remove and replant at the same time in your climate.

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    1. Alan, I'd never thought of that. I should have taken a few cuttings before the yard waste was picked up early this morning. But there are plenty of other bush sages around from which I can snip a cutting.

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  4. I wish they had curbside pick up here. In parts of Sacramento and the area they still do but not here in Roseville. So we have a green waste bin that they only pick up every two weeks. Right now my 3rd 'son' and I pulled up that huge Rosemary and Thyme bush and couldn't fit it all in the bin. Then today we tackled the back planter against the fence. Not sure what I will plant there though because it stays fairly wet. Hose issues need to be resolved and in the winter it is at the bottom of a dip in our backyard. But what is cool I now have 3 new succulent planter areas. Tomorrow Parker is going to come and line two of them with terra cotta edger bricks. Then dirt and dry stall. Exciting!

    Can't wait to see what you do with your new succulent area buddy!

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  5. A beautiful plant to have to remove, but your reasons are entirely understandable. The replacements look excellent. I have the 'Santa Barbara', not much smaller than the species, seems to me, but I could be wrong.

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  6. Grevillea 'Fanfare' is a great choice. It reaches that 15 feet across size pretty quickly too!

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