Privet is for Privacy

Privet. The word is virtually synonymous with hedges and, although it has no definitive etymology, some linguists maintain that privet is a variation of private. Indeed, privets are typically utilized as green barriers for privacy enhancement.
If you are fanatic about having a neatly trimmed hedge, one that can grow as tall as 20 feet, you will want to take a careful look at California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium). No, this is not a California native and no one knows why it was given its name, unless perhaps to distinguish it from the more common Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum). Both privets, as a matter of fact, are indigenous to Japan.
California privet lends itself to frequent pruning due to the small size and soft texture of its leaves. The more common Japanese or wax leaf privet, by contrast, has larger, semi-succulent leaves, making it more of a burden to trim. While Japanese privet also grows to 20 feet, its Texas privet cultivar (Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’) grows half that size and is the most popular selection for a low to medium size hedge. There is also a variegated silver and green Texas privet, although it may revert back, when regularly trimmed, to its solid green form.
Texas privat is a highly misunderstood plant that grows best in half-day sun, if not partial shade. Planted in more than half day sun, it requires regular water or its foliage will burn during the summer. In addition, the more sun it gets, the more susceptible it is to chlorosis, or leaf yellowing, brought on by iron deficiency. Japan’s climate is wetter, its soil pH is more acidic, and its soil iron is more available, than in Southern California. Although iron is present in Valley soil, it may be locked up by alkaline minerals and unavailable to plants. Texas privet, bottlebrush, eucalyptus, Pittosporum ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf,’ sweet gum (Liquidambar), gardenia and azalea may all become chlorotic if exposed to too much sun in combination with a sparse watering regime.
Glossy leaf privet (Ligustrum lucidum) has the largest leaves of the commonly grown local privet species and is best allowed to develop into a tall, informal hedge, reaching up to 30 feet, where pruning is not required except to keep it from growing out of bounds. Glossy leaf privet is a workhorse of a plant. It grows quickly in full sun to semi-shady conditions. Its lone drawback is that it eventually produces a heavy litter of purple, pulpy fruit that will stain concrete surfaces, so you may not want to plant it near pool decks or sidewalks.
Privet flowers have a scent that is sweet to offensive, depending on who does the sniffing. The smaller and more delicate flowers of California privet, in my humble opinion, are more agreeably aromatic than the larger panicles of white blooms produced by the other privet types, although you will find plenty of gardeners who extol the fragrance of all privet flowers.
Q. I planted three zucchini approximately two months ago. When I bought them they were about 4-inches tall. They flowered, the flowers faded and nothing now. I read somewhere that a male and female plant were needed in order to produce fruit. If this is true, how do you determine a male or female plant when they are only 4-inches tall when planted?
A. Botanically speaking, zucchini fruit are enlarged plant ovaries. When these ovaries begin to swell, female flowers open on the ovaries’ terminal ends. Male flowers, located in leaf axils or joints closer to the center of the plant, produce pollen that must reach female flower parts known as stigmas in order that pollination and full ovary (fruit) development take place.
Normally, honeybees are the messengers that bring pollen from male to female flowers. In recent years, however, there has been a significant decline in the honey bee population. Colony collapse disorder, where bees mysteriously disappear from colonies and hives, is a worldwide phenomenon, and is thought to be caused by the combined action of a pathogenic fungus and a virus, although other factors, both biotic and abiotic, may be involved. In addition, varroa mites are a constant threat to honey bee colonies.
You can still grow zucchini, even without honey bees, through manual pollination. You will need a small artist’s paintbrush to do the job. When male flowers open, dust pollen onto your brush and apply it to the stigmas, readily visible in the center of the female flowers. This will have the same effect as honey bee pollination. Once your flowers have been pollinated, you will see your fruits, left unchecked, grow far bigger than supermarket zucchinis. Yet zucchini is tastier when harvested earlier in its development, at about the size you see it in the supermarket, at the stage where you can still pierce through its skin with your thumbnail.
Q. I was wondering if you can help me figure out what is happening to my drawf peach tree. It has tiny fruit and has never produced. However this year the leaves are curling and it has big red bumps on the leaves. At first I thought it was full of bugs, but the bumps look like tumors. Is there anything we can do to stop it and protect the other trees from getting it?
A. Your tree is suffering from peach leaf curl, a fungus disease. The only way to control it is with a fungicide application, either in the fall when nearly all leaves have dropped, or in early spring just before buds start to stir with life and swell. To be safe, you can apply fungicide in both fall and spring. Make sure to follow fungicide application instructions carefully and to drench the entire tree since fungal spores reside on stems, branches, and trunk. That being said, it is difficult to grow tasty peaches of any variety in the Valley, and dwarf peach trees, aside from their ornamental interest, will be especially hard pressed to yield edible fruit.
I would love to hear from readers who have grown peaches or nectarines successfully in the Valley.
– Jim McAllister, Burbank – Susan Hammarlund, Porter Ranch
Tip of the week
You should try to grow at least one sweet olive bush. Sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is a privet relative whose alluring fragrance is unquestionable. In fact, according to some olfactory mavens, sweet olive has the most sweet smelling flowers of any plant.
If only it were easy to grow! You see sweet olive planted widely enough but few understand its cultural needs. In order for it to thrive, it requires monthly fertilization, including iron, slightly above average soil moisture, ideally achieved with drip irrigation, and protection from the day’s hottest sun. The fragrance of its flowers is fruity, smooth and intoxicating. Still, to appreciate it fully, you will have to practically touch your nostrils to the petals. It is sometimes called tea olive on account of the unique aroma provided by an infusion of its flowers in a pot of brewed tea.

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