Low Flowering Hedges

cigar plant (Cuphea ignea)

cigar plant (Cuphea ignea)

Q. Can you recommend a low hedge to plant along the side of my house, below some windows? I’m not sure if I prefer a flowering hedge like lantana or a non-flowering one like boxwood. I want something that will look nice all year round, but require little maintenance.
A. As for a flowering hedge, you are correct in considering lantana. You will want to select from the hybrid, as opposed to shrub or trailing, types.
Most hybrids, with one shrub lantana parent and one trailing lantana parent, grow no more than three or four feet tall and are available in yellow, red orange, and multi-color varieties such as Confetti. You will want to be sure that your lantana is exposed to full sun.
Once established, lantana is highly drought-tolerant and blooms nearly all the time. It also attracts butterflies.
The cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) is one of my favorite low hedge plants. Its flowers, inch long orange cigars tipped in yellow, are produced nonstop. It grows slowly to a height of three feet and only needs pruning to keep it in bounds on an occasional basis. Cigar plant can grow in full or partial sun.
Flower carpet roses bloom practically all the time in full sun and deserve consideration for a low, informal hedge. They do tend to sprawl and will grow up to four feet or taller unchecked. However, once established they can be pruned hard and will grow back soon enough. For maximum flowering, they should be regularly fertilized.
Dwarf karo (Pittosporum crassifolium Compactum) is a soft-textured, oval-leafed beauty. It has a mounding growth habit to three feet. It glows with cool colors in the light gray to lime green range and handles both full and partial sun.
In Chatsworth, and throughout the Valley for that matter, boxwood (Buxus microphylla japonica) is an iffy plant. Unless it is well-protected from the elements, as in an interior courtyard, its foliage may suddenly turn orange or rust-colored from excessive heat, cold, or pests that attack its roots.
It will definitely need a regular and reliable water supply and, with water rationing almost certainly in our future, should probably not be planted at this time.
Q. I have four trash cans full of saved rain water from recent storms. What should I add to prevent algae from forming, yet allow water to be used for plants? Also, I have not yet pruned peach, nectarine and apple trees that have started to bloom.
Will more buds form if long branches are shortened? How should I treat the many side branches growing off the longer ones?”
As long as you put lids on your trash cans, you should not see any algae. Even if some algae does grow in the rain water, this should not affect the growth of your plants. The buds on deciduous fruit trees such as yours form in late summer and fall, so new buds, if you prune now, will still not develop until then. Also, pruning now after sap has begun to flow could invite pest infestation on cut surfaces.
As a rule, apple trees require little pruning anyhow since they produce fruit on spurs, small stems that grow no more than one inch a year. You can easily forgo pruning them this year. As for peaches and nectarines, you generally want to minimize side branches that may bend and break from too much fruit. However, in lieu of pruning, you could avoid breakage by hand-thinning the fruit as it develops on these branches.
Q.Can you discuss which houseplants are safe for cats to be around, in case they try and nibble on them? Also, which are the easiest if you don’t have a green thumb?
A. Most commonly grown houseplants are toxic to cats. Houseplants that are nontoxic to cats include African violet, peperomia, cacti, parlor and bamboo palms (Chamaedorea), and Boston fern.
The easiest cat-friendly plant to grow is Aspidistra, known as cast iron plant because of its durability. You can still grow any indoor plant your heart desires as long as it hangs from a ceiling basket or is caged.
Tip of the Week: A neighbor of mine transformed his front lawn into a series of 8×4 foot planter boxes made from wood. In the process, his water bill has been drastically reduced.
He is growing winter wheat, from which he will make flour and bread, as well as peas, lettuce, carrots and Swiss chard. He also has constructed a four-sided strawberry pyramid, with a different strawberry variety growing out of each side.

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