Q: We are horse owners and ride on the Chatsworth equestrian trails maintained by the city. Several years ago, the city planted oleander bushes along the bridle path. Oleander leaves are highly toxic to horses. It is our understanding that just a few leaves can kill a horse. We ride along these trails with great trepidation that our horses snatch a few leaves as they are walking along. We would like to be instrumental in replacing these highly toxic plants with something equally as drought-tolerant but not lethal. We are proposing to pay for the replacement plants from our own funds as a living legacy along the bridle paths of Chatsworth. Could you suggest suitable plants for this landscaping project?
– Joseph and Shelley Witzman
A: There are at least three California natives that would be suitable for a drought-tolerant hedge in Chatsworth. You can choose from the following: sugar bush (Rhus ovata), which has fragrant leaves, sugar-coated fruit and eventually may reach a height of 12 feet or more; laurel sumac (Rhus laurina), perhaps the most common of local chaparral shrubs, a sprawling species whose height and breadth are both around 15 feet; Nevin’s mahonia (Mahonia Nevinii), a prickly plant with yellow flowers that grows into a 6-foot globe; and Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), a Mediterranean native with glossy leaves that grows to 20 feet and requires little water.
Keep in mind that even drought-tolerant species need to be watered on a regular basis until they are established, which may take up to two years. Fall is the best season for planting them. Roots grow primarily in the fall and winter so that plants are better equipped to cope with their first season of heat, which, in the Valley, can start as early as April. Also, California natives and other drought-tolerant species are often slow starters, so to minimize the time you will have to wait until they mature, plant the largest potted specimens you can find.
Q: I have a fig tree in my yard that was started 32 years ago when my father took a small cutting from a friend’s tree and planted it in my yard. It now stands some 20 feet tall in full bloom, and we pick the fruit from July through September. The fruit is green with red flesh and is about 2 1/2 inches long. Do you know the name of this fig and how I would propagate it?
– Albert Martellaro
A: It sounds like a green Kadota or possibly a Conadria fig. Fig trees are propagated by taking 8- to 12-inch-long woody shoots in December. These shoots should be 1 year old, with a 2-year-old heel of wood at their base. Bury them in sand or fast-draining soil in 1-, 2- or 5-gallon containers so that only two nodes or leaf scars are showing above the soil surface. Next fall, they should have developed enough roots to be planted outside or in a larger container.
Q: I have a small area of original Valley Concord grapes. Some are at least 60 to 70 years old and still produce. I have lost quite a few grape vines to age and termites. I have started new plants from the old ones by using hormones and have planted them in a group for ease of watering. At what time of the year should I transplant to a permanent position? Should I use a hormone again when I transplant?
– Charles McCammon
A: This is probably the most favorable time of the year to transplant rooted cuttings from woody plants such as grapevines. There is a product I recommend. It’s called SUPERthrive and contains root hormone, which you can add to the soil to give new transplants an extra boost.