Categoria: Home + Garden

Gardening: These Orchids Can Be Grown Outdoors In Southern California

Orchids are commonly thought of as delicate plants for indoor use, yet there are at least three species that can readily be grown outdoors in Southern California. There are an additional four species I have observed thriving outdoors on separate occasions, although I cannot vouch for their general suitability for outdoor growing in our area.

Cymbidium: Locally, this is the best orchid for growing outdoors in containers. I recently received a photo of a glorious cymbidium orchid growing in a container in Huntington Beach. The photo was taken six years after its caretaker, Janet Guillen, divided an orchid she inherited when her mother passed away. She had split the original plant in two, planted the divisions in Miracle-Gro Potting Mix in medium-sized containers, and situated them on a patio sheltered from direct sun.  

Cymbidium orchid in Huntington Beach. (Photo courtesy of Janet Guillen) When I asked Guillen what she does in terms of maintenance, she replied, “I just water them,” but also wanted to know what to do going forward since roots were growing through the bottom of her pots. Many orchid species, and cymbidiums in particular, flower at their maximum potential when crowded. In the case of cymbidiums, roots can be growing over the side of the pot or through drainage holes and continue to bloom heavily for many, many years. 

There is a great temptation to repot when roots are not confined to the interior of the pot, but you need to be aware that should you divide your plant, you may have to wait several years until you see flowers again. In nature, cymbidiums may be either epiphytes (tree dwellers), lithophytes (meaning they grow on rocks), or terrestrial (meaning they grow directly in the earth). There are also miniature cymbidiums that grow as small as eight inches tall with tiny flowers to match. 

Interestingly enough, if you keep Cymbidiums exclusively indoors, they will never bloom. According to Tony Glinskas of Huntington Beach, who is a member of the Cool Growing Orchid Society of Orange County, “Cymbidiums must have about a 20-degree Fahrenheit change in temperature between day and night in the fall or flower spiking will not occur. I have seen cymbidiums bloom in Hawaii only because they truck them up to the high mountains for a few days to get that temperature spread.” 

Glinskas adds that “most orchids require more light, humidity, and temperature variation than we normally have in our homes.” The one exception is the ubiquitous moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), seen wherever indoor plants are sold. Its temperature range for growth resembles that of human beings (a constant 60-85 degrees) although it will need 10-12 hours of daily light exposure to bloom the way it should. 

When I first visited the unforgettable garden of Richard Lynch in San Pedro, large clumps of cymbidiums planted in the ground had burst into bloom. Speaking with him the other day, he tells me that due to the many different cymbidium cultivars that he grows, he sees a steady show of cymbidium flowers starting in November and continuing at least through the month of March.

Epidendrum: I first encountered this plant, known as reed orchid due to its slender stems, growing in a large flower bed in Granada Hills that faced south but backed up to the facade of a house. It has been my experience that walls have a moderating influence on extreme temperatures where plant growth is concerned. This was definitely the case here although these orchids are known for growing in both full sun, which may turn their stems red, and partial shade. 

Epidendrums make excellent container plants as well and, like cymbidiums, bloom in a wide range of colors including yellow, orange, red, burgundy, bronze, pink, lavender, purple, and white. Inflorescences consist of clusters of small, star-shaped blooms. I have encountered Epidendrums – whether growing in the ground or in containers – throughout the San Fernando Valley, and all points south of there. They spread vegetatively through underground rhizomes.

Bletilla: Known as Chinese ground orchid or simply hardy orchid due to its cold tolerance down to 25 degrees, this is a carefree terrestrial orchid that is highly suitable for use as a ground cover, proliferating through its aggressive rhizomes, and I once saw a front yard in Sherman Oaks that had been completely overtaken by it. Flowers are fuchsia, purple, or white, and resemble diminutive versions of Cattleya or corsage orchids.

Oncidium: Its common name of dancing ladies refers to the form of its small yellow flowers that are studded in great profusion along its stems. I once saw this orchid growing in a container under an arbor in Thousand Oaks.

Zygopetalum: Planted in the ground, I witnessed the purple flowers of this most fragrant of all orchids and enjoyed their scent as it wafted through the San Pedro garden previously mentioned. This orchid’s caretaker informed me that it blooms on and off throughout the year.

Dendrobium: I was privileged to encounter pink rock orchid (Dendrobium kingianum) in a small backyard planter in Westwood. Its delicate blooms were quite enchanting. 

Laelia: Closely resembling cattleyas, with which they freely hybridize, there are cold-tolerant cultivars that grow outdoors as far north as San Francisco. My first encounter with a Laelia was when I saw a dazzling specimen vining up the trunk of a large cycad in Glendale. 

You are invited to tell me about your orchid-growing experience so I can share it with readers of this column.

A musical version of “The Secret Garden” is now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre, located in The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles. This is a classic story of personal transformation, as well as achieving family peace, through the restoration of a garden. Performances will continue through March 28th and tickets are available online at

Manzanita Arctostaphylos densiflora var. Howard McMinn.(Photo by Joshua Siskin) California native plant of the week: I am astonished each year at the spectacular bloom of my manzanita, a plant that never gets any attention from me except when I gaze or gawk, glare or stare at it. Each year, it blooms with more flowers than the year before and it has been doing this for the past two decades. 

I am privileged to have planted Arctotsaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn,’ a variety second to none when its abundant bloom and symmetrical form are considered. It is slowly approaching its ultimate size when height and girth will reach eight feet. 

Alas, I have never seen the fruit (manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish) for which this plant is named. There can only be one explanation for this: the native bees responsible for causing vibrations that move pollen to stigma – which is needed for fruit and seed development – are not present in this part of California when this manzanita is in bloom. 

With all manzanitas, these native bees grasp hold of the flowers and through “buzz pollination” or sonication dislodge pollen, allowing it to move down the flower, an inverted urn, until it rests on a stigma. This same phenomenon happens with the flowers of blueberry bushes, which are relatives of manzanita and prove this relationship with urn-shaped flowers of their own. Manzanitas run the gamut when it comes to form with mat-like ground-hugging species, compact bushes, large shrubs and trees all included in the wide-ranging repertoire of the Arctostaphylos genus.

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Exploring Biological Control Methods To Keep Pests Out Of The Garden

Vegalab ( is a company that has developed biopesticides that highlight a select group of plant and fungal extracts for their pest control properties. 

Biological control, where compounds from living organisms are utilized in pest control, is a rapidly expanding field. Vegalab has utilized a saponin found in Camellia sinensis – the same tropical plant whose leaves are used for making common tea – for slug control. This Chinese camellia species is not to be confused with the Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), the camellia with enormous flowers that bloom each winter. However, the tea plant is also suitable for growing in Southern California, reaching a height of 15 feet with fragrant white flowers that bloom in the fall. 

You can find tea plants, in addition to hundreds or varieties of ornamental camellias, as well as several dozen other camellia species, at Nuccio’s ( in Altadena. The saponin in tea leaves belongs to a group of botanical compounds that confer resistance to certain insect pests, as well as immunity to bacterial and fungal diseases. Saponins have a soapy or emulsifying property, meaning that they act as surfactants, sticking to leaf surfaces and thus minimizing the amount of product that needs to applied for slug, as well as ant, deterrence. 

Another Vegalab biological control product utilizes the root of shrubby sophora (Sophora flavescens) to combat mites and larvae of all kinds. It has also shown effectiveness in controlling aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and planthoppers. The pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) is a related species that is grown ornamentally in our part of the world. It grows 25 feet tall and forms a perfectly symmetrical dome that casts enough shade to picnic under it on hot days. A leguminous pod-forming tree, its fragrant yellowish-white flowers bloom abundantly in the summer.

Vegalab is using a by-product of fungus metabolism to combat fungus – powdery mildew fungus, to be precise. Powdery mildew is the most common foliar fungal pest, which may appear as spotty, tactile white growth on virtually any plant when conditions for its proliferation – leaf surfaces that stay moist for several hours in warm temperatures – are present. Fungi that produce enzymes that break down cell walls are grown under controlled conditions and then these enzymes are isolated and sprayed on plants susceptible to powdery mildew fungus. The enzymes break down the cell walls of the developing fungus before it can get a foothold and cause damage. A similar product is used for control of fungal spore germination and is derived from thyme, the popular culinary herb; even where the fungus is already established, this product can be effective in halting its spread.

With the heavy rains we experienced this winter, mushrooms are being noticed in our gardens that have not been seen in years. Forays into the wild are also yielding large crops of edible mushrooms such as morels and chanterelles that connoisseurs of these saprophytic treasures have not encountered in two decades. To learn more about our local mushrooms, you might want to attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Mycological Society. This group meets the third Monday of each month from October through May (except February), at 7:30 pm in the Verdugo Room of the Sparr Heights Community Center, 1613 Glencoe Way, in Glendale. A mushroom identification hour, starting at 6:30 pm prior to the monthly meeting, is an opportunity to determine the edibility of mushrooms you may have foraged, whether at home or on a hike.

Ellie Gardner is an African violet variety whose leaves are dappled with cream and pink markings. Its flowers have the appearance of miniature pink roses and it blooms non-stop as long as plentiful ambient light is available. There are a plethora of African violet varieties with variegated foliage and you can find more than a hundred of them, listed as sports, at  

Browsing the site, you will also discover everything you need to know about growing African violets. Buckeye Cranberry Sparkler, winner of the Society’s outstanding African violet of the year three years in a row, has green leaves with broad cream-colored margins topped by a large clutch of raspberry-colored flowers. Search “variegated African violets” for an adventure in unexpected and unpredictable foliar design among the seemingly endless number of varieties of this most popular of all indoor flowering plants.

California native of the week: Of the 12 species of California native lilies, leopard lily (Lilum pardalinum) is the easiest to grow. It is recognizable by its pendant, reddish-orange, turban-like flowers with multiple spots. It can grow in the sun but usually does better in partial shade since it prefers somewhat moist, if well-draining soil. Wayne Roderick, writing in “Pacific Horticulture,” regales the leopard lily as follows. “It is so easy to grow that it can become almost invasive! It grows to about five or six feet high with as many as 15 bright red flowers on each stem. If the plant likes the location, a single bulb can become a large clump of 40 or 50 in less than five years.” That’s an invasive problem I’m sure all of us would welcome. Carole Bernstein, in “California Native Plants for the Garden.” suggests planting it under riparian trees such as sycamore and alder, in the company of “giant chain fern, coral bells, and western azaleas.”

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2023’s New Garden Plants Look To Be Bigger, Better, Tougher

By Jessica Damiano

Most gardeners have favorite go-to plants that perform well in their climate and simply make them happy. For me, those are coneflowers, catmint, liatris, alliums, daylilies, black-eyed Susans and oh so many tomatoes.

But every year, I manage to find at least a little space for something new that woos me from a garden-center shelf or the pages of a catalog.

Behind those customer-facing outlets, plant breeders work tirelessly to produce innovative plants with larger flowers; better disease resistance; improved cold-, heat- or shade-tolerance; longer bloom times and even higher nutrition.

PERENNIALS The 2023 season brings us several firsts, including the first-ever groundcover shasta daisy, Leucanthemum “Carpet Angel,” from Green Fuse Botanicals. Named a 2023 All-America Selection by the independent, nonprofit organization of the same name, which tests new introductions and bestows the honors each year, the extremely cold-hardy plant starts blooming earlier than other varieties and keeps going straight through fall in zones 4a-10b.

Proven Winners has introduced two new native hummingbird mints in their Meant to Bee collection — “Royal Raspberry” and “Queen Nectarine” — which, as the group’s name implies, is beloved by bees. I grew the latter in my test garden last year and was impressed with the terracotta-colored flowers that blanketed most of the plant from mid-summer through fall. Hardy in zones 5-9, the mounding perennial should reach 30-36” in two or three years.

Also from Proven Winners, I tested out the new Upscale “Red Velvet” bee balm, another native that lures pollinators to the garden. Suitable for part-sun to sun in zones 4-8, the tall Monarda variety emerges from dormancy with bronze-tinged foliage before large, cherry-red flowers take center stage in spring and summer. The deer-resistant plants grow to 32” tall.

The breeder’s Rock’ N Round “Bright Idea” hybrid sedum stonecrop added a burst of yellow to my sunny test garden with its red stems, serrated green leaves and bright yellow, star-shaped blooms. The 10-12” salt-tolerant perennial attracts bees and butterflies, resists rabbit attacks and thrives in hot, dry spots in zones 3-9.

PanAmerican Seed’s Echinacea “Artisan Yellow Ombre,” another AAS winner, is a bushy, multi-branched coneflower that produced bright yellow flowers in my test garden. Grow it in full sun in zones 4a-10b and watch as the pollinators come.

The breeder’s new Rudbeckia “Goldblitz” is a strong, 28-inch black-eyed Susan with shiny green leaves and abundant blooms. The sun-lover starts blooming about three weeks earlier than other varieties and continues into fall. It’s hardy in 3a-9b.

Astilbe “Dark Side of the Moon,” a National Gardening Bureau Green Thumb Award winner, is a long-lived, shade-tolerant perennial that attracts bees and resists deer and rabbits. Foliage starts out yellow with a dark margin before turning a rich chocolate brown, and its raspberry-colored buds open to reveal pinkish-purple flowers. The plant is hardy in zones 4-9 and reaches 22”, including the tall flower spikes.

ANNUALS The shade-tolerant, downy mildew-resistant “Glimmer” double impatiens from Ball Flora Plant are reminiscent of miniature roses and come in an array of colors, including Appleblossom, Bright Red, Burgundy, Dark Red, Hot Pink, Salmon and White. Plants grow to 10-16” tall and 10-12” wide.

The beautiful tropical “Royal Hawaiian Waikiki” Colocasia elephant ears, bred by University of Hawaii emeritus plant pathologist John J. Cho, Ph.D., was honored with a National Gardening Bureau 2023 Green Thumb Award. Its large, glossy leaves, adorned with creamy white centers and pink veins, are held atop deep burgundy stems on compact plants sturdy enough to withstand wind and rain. Grow it as an annual in zones 7 and under.

Starflower “Paper Moon” Scabiosa, another Green Thumb Award winner, is a pollinator-friendly annual from Sahin/Takii EU. Its 36-inch stems hold round clusters of pale blue, purple-veined flowers that give way to decorative, papery bronze seed heads, which can be used in fresh bouquets or dry arrangements. For best results, grow it in full sun.

Snapdragon “Double Shot” Orange Bicolor, from Hems Genetics, has uniquely strong, branched stems that hold white-backed, double orange-red flowers that fade to a dusty hue as the season progresses. The All-America Selection winner grows to 18-20 inches tall in full or part sun.

EDIBLES “Sun Dipper” tomato from PanAmerican Seed was named Best New Edible Plant of 2023 by the National Gardening Bureau. Its peanut-shaped, orange fruits, meant to make dipping easier, are perfectly suited for a crudité platter. I grew the indeterminate plant, bred to resist fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus and root-knot nematodes, in my trial garden last summer. It was the only tomato that performed well during the year’s too-hot, too-dry season.

Another new tomato, “Vivacious,” available to grow from seed this year, is notable for its enhanced nutritional value. Breeder W. Atlee Burpee claims the roughly 3-inch-long, plum-shaped, orange fruits are high in beta carotene, with just one tomato said to provide 40% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Each plant promises to produce roughly 70 tomatoes throughout the season.

How about a seedless pepper? “Pepper Pots Sugar Kick” from Proven Winners is a miniature, sweet orange snacking pepper that grows seedless when isolated from other pepper varieties to prevent cross-pollination. The upright plants grow to 20-30 inches tall and are suitable for growing in both containers and the garden. Harvest green fruits in 54 days or orange ones in 74 days.

“Sweet Jade” squash, a single-serving-sized kabocha with sea-green skin and dark orange flesh, produces high yields and has a long storage life. The fruit of the All-America Selection winner, harvestable in fall, weighs just 1-2 pounds apiece.


Jessica Damiano writes regular gardening columns for The Associated Press. 

What Gardeners Need To Know About This Flowering Phenomenon

Have you ever noticed that certain plants that undergo dormancy flower before leafing out? This phenomenon, known as hysteranthy (hyster = after, anthy = flowering) is evident during late winter and early spring when many fruit trees as well as certain ornamental trees and geophytes (plants that grow from underground storage structures we call bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes) come into bloom. The reasons behind this flower-followed-by-foliage sequence are varied, but all confer distinctive advantages to the plants in question.

I was inspired to write about this subject after seeing almond trees in bloom earlier this month. I learned that 25% of deciduous trees, including most Prunus species (almond, cherry, plum, peach, apricot, nectarine) are hysteranthous. While both leaf and flower buds of deciduous trees require a certain number of hours of winter chilling (during dormancy, the total number of hours below 45 degrees) to open, once this number has been reached, flower buds on certain tree species are more responsive to warming temperatures and thus open prior to leaf buds. All the mineral nutrients stored in the stems of such trees can then be channeled into the developing flowers without any of these resources being diverted to the leaves. 

Almond tree flowering before leaves appear. (Photo by Joshua Siskin) It is important to remember that the sole purpose of a plant’s growth is to make seeds, the end product of a process that begins with flowering. Indeed, all the photosynthesizing activity of a plant’s foliage is directed towards providing the biochemical compounds needed to produce robust flowers that attract pollinators so that fruit and especially seeds can form. Ultimately, seeds drop in place or are distributed far and wide by wind or water or in the excretions of birds and various other critters that have feasted on the fruit.

In the absence of leaves, flowers will also be more abundant which means more insects will visit them and more pollination and seed formation will occur. Wind also affects pollination and will be more of a factor in blowing pollen from one flower to another without interfering leaves. Furthermore, flowers are more sensitive to water loss than leaves, so should a water deficit in a plant occur if warmer temperatures should suddenly prevail, the flowers will have already been pollinated and will not suffer from lack of hydration.

Pink trumpet (Tabebuia impetiginosa) and golden trumpet (Tabebuia chrysotricha), with brilliant pink and neon yellow trumpet flowers respectively, have been called the “eye-candy” of flowering trees.

Their growth habit is described as semi-evergreen since they are briefly deciduous before they bloom. In the tropics, this bloom period depends on the weather since a wet winter will delay flowering and a spell of dryness encourages it, as a trumpet tree may persist in forming leaves as long as soil moisture is high. Pink trumpet tree is the national tree of El Salvador, where tourism spikes during its bloom period. For this reason, predicting when pink trumpet trees bloom in a particular year has become a matter of economic interest in that country.

The coral trees (Erythrina spp.) that we grow here originate for the most part in South Africa, whose Mediterranean climate is similar to our own. These hysteranthous trees, in the manner of trumpet trees, also bloom at the onset of dry weather. In the case of coral trees, however, there is another advantage when leaves are absent at flowering time. Passerine birds, those that perch and make up 60 percent of all avian creatures, play a significant role in coral tree pollination.

Finally, many geophytes, including certain crocus, squill (Scilla), and cylamen species, all orginating in Mediterranean climates, produce flowers at the end of the rainy season so as to remain hydrated as long as it takes to produce seeds before the stress of a long dry spell – which lasts through the end of the fall – begins.

California native of the Week: Bird’s foot fern (Pellaea mucronata) is perhaps the toughest among California native ferns. Another common name for it is birdfoot cliffbrake (brake and bracken are synonyms for certain fern species) and it does actually grow in cracks on cliffs, no doubt drawing moisture from underlying rock strata. The legendary Bert Wilson of Las Pilitas Nursery testified to this fern growing in rocks where the temperature “reached 130 degrees” during the summer and “where the December 1990 frost froze most things off this slope but the ferns looked better than ever.” Yet this fern has a delicate look that belies its reputation as an indestructible garden selection. It is resilient to drought and strong winds and will grow in full to partial sun, reaching one foot in height. You can acquire bird’s foot fern through Suncrest Nurseries, a plant grower near Watsonville that supplies a number of nurseries in Southern California. To find local retail nurseries in your area that would have access to this plant, go to and, when you get there, click on “Retail Sources” on the left side of the home page. 

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5 Garden Tips: Consider Planting This Tough, Long-Blooming Perennial

1. There is a new variety of almond called Independence that has taken the almond industry by storm. Most almond varieties are self-sterile, meaning they need to be planted with another variety in order to produce almonds. Independence, however, is self-fertile, meaning it can produce almonds on its own. The advantage of growing Independence is that, since it can pollinate itself, it does not need bees to assist in this process. You can acquire an Independence tree from any nursery that carries plants grown by Dave Wilson Nursery. To find out which nursery in your area carries their trees, go to Still, studies have shown that Independence does produce more almonds where bees are available for pollination, but far fewer bees are needed than in the case of conventional almond varieties, which require two hives per acre to reach their harvest potential. This finding alone, however, is significant since there are more than one 1.3 million acres of almonds in California, producing 900 billion almonds a year, or more than 100 almonds for every person on earth. To even halve the number of beehives needed to achieve this harvest would represent a significant savings since the cost of renting each beehive, for a single growing season, is around $200.

2. Sproutable pencils are gift items that have the appearance of regular pencils, colored pencils, and eyebrow pencils. The only difference is that the top end consists of a biodegradable capsule that contains seeds of sage, chia, thyme, basil, and coriander (note: coriander seeds grow into cilantro plants) in the herb category; carnations, daisies, and forget-me-nots in the flower category, and spruce seeds in the confier category. You can customize a message on the pencils, of which 40 million have been sold to date. After your pencil has been whittled down to a nub, you simply place the top end in potting soil, water, and watch the encapsulated seeds germinate. To find out more about sproutable pencils, go to

3. There are an ever-increasing number of websites that help you identify plants. However, there is only one website I have discovered that offers this service at no charge. The service is provided through Pl@ntNet ( The riches you will find here are virtually endless and will give you an inside look at everything the plant world has to offer. Plant images, all contributed by the Pl@ntNet community, are arranged by country. You will discover what plants you could expect to encounter when traveling to a foreign land or tropical island; Martinique Island in the Caribbean has 1,929 plants listed and Reunion Island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean has 1,856. You will also find a multitude of images of “useful plants” from different continents as well as invasive plants and weeds.

4. Pink mulla mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus) displays a unique, cone-shaped, pinkish-white bottlebrush flower that will take your breath away, especially when it is planted en masse. I have only seen it grown by Monrovia nursery locally, but you can grow it from seed or root cuttings as well. It demands full sun and barely needs any water, as it is native to the dry Australian plains. It belongs to the Amaranth family, a group of durable plants that includes love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Technically a perennial, mulla mulla is commonly grown as an annual. Expect to see it increase its presence in retail nurseries as its charms and durability are more widely recognized.

5. For a long-blooming perennial that self-sows, consider columbine (Aquilegia spp.). Its delicate appearance is a facade that masks its toughness as a garden perennial. Flowers are bent in the manner of daffodis but there is nothing shy or submissive about these plants, which perform well throughout the summer with their attractively lobed bluish-green foliage providing a refreshing antidote to hot sun and dry weather. Coneflower or Echinacea is another perennial everyone should try. Although native to dry prairies and the edge of woodland habitats, coneflower grow swell in California gardens when planted with compost, assiduously mulched, and given half-day sun. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is another must-have perennial for its wave upon wave of bright orange-yellow flowers that begin as soon as the weather warms. You can sow the seed now so that by the time the heat arrives, the plants will be ready to bloom. How did black-eyed Susan get its name, anyway? Well, the central disk on this flower is black and legend has it that a black-eyed Susan and a sweet William fell in love. Since black-eyed Susan and sweet William (the name given to another perennial, a carnation relative known botanically as Dianthus barbatus), bloom around the same time, the names of the two lovers were given to these two simultaneously blooming plants.

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Joshua Siskin | Gardening columnist For more information about plants and gardens, visit Joshua Siskin’s website at Send questions and photos to

What You Need To Know Before Repotting Your Houseplants

Q. When should I repot my houseplants? Is there anything I should know before I start?

A. When your indoor plants start growing again, usually in the early spring when the days become longer, it’s time to give them some attention. Tip the plant out of its container and look at the roots. Have they filled the container? Are they circling? Coming out of the drainage holes? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to move your plant to a larger container.

When potting up, select a container that is only slightly larger. For instance, you would move a plant from a 6-inch pot into an 8-inch pot. Relocating into a much larger container will cause problems including root rot from inadequate drainage.

If the roots look crowded or are circling, try to gently separate them. Extreme circling roots can be trimmed and unwound. Use fresh potting soil and a slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote when filling the pot. If using a systemic pesticide, now is a good time to dose with that to get a jump on aphids, mites, and mealybugs.

You may be tempted to put your indoor plants outside once the weather gets warm and sunny. This can result in severe sunburn and, in extreme cases, defoliation (loss of all leaves). Even plants that have been brought inside for winter protection should be gradually acclimated to direct sunlight. Think about your first sunburn of the season – this is how your plant feels when it’s brought outside for too long.

Q. My citrus trees have been super productive and I don’t know what to do with all of the fruit. I was thinking about canning some of the juice, but I can’t find any canning recipes for citrus juice. Why is that?

A. Citrus will lose its flavor when exposed to high temperatures. Citric acid is the key component of citrus’ tart flavor, but it breaks down at 175 degrees. When a recipe calls for citrus juice, it almost always instructs you to add it immediately before serving. If citrus is heated to a high temperature for too long, it can impart a bitter flavor or cause discoloration.

What about commercially prepared citrus juice? To ensure shelf stability, it has to either be pasteurized or heat processed. Since the juice has lost its flavor, flavoring agents must be added after the fact.

Marmalade is another alternative, but I shudder to think about how many jars I could get out of 100 pounds of oranges.

If you have a glut of citrus (and you’ve given so much of it away that your neighbors run away when they see you coming with another bagful), you can freeze the juice since that will preserve the flavor. Grated zest can be frozen as well and added into recipes at a later date. Dried orange slices seemed to be a popular Christmas decoration last year. Perhaps this trend will still be around next Christmas and you can get a head start on your decorations!

Los Angeles County; 626-586-1988;

Orange County; 949-809-9760;

Riverside County; 951-683-6491 ext. 231;

San Bernardino County; 909-387-2182;

Laura Simpson | Columnist Laura Simpson has been a master gardener since 2002, and a master food preserver since 2015. She and her husband, Jim (also a master gardener), live near Temecula in an ordinary tract home. Their edible landscape consists of an ever-changing variety of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Together, they have five children. Laura frequently speaks on gardening and food preservation topics, including vegetable and herb gardening, edible landscaping and food safety. Before joining the master gardener program, she worked in the biotech industry and in biomedical research. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego.

What Home Gardeners Should Know About Spirulina And Sorghum

Nearly 40 years ago, at Kibbutz Sde Boker in Israel’s Negev Desert, I spent a summer doing research on Spirulina. You may have heard of it. Spirulina has been called a wonder food since it’s dense in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and is noted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Its consumption is rising rapidly throughout the world with a market value set to reach a billion dollars over the next five years.

Spirulina was originally classified as a blue-green algae but towards the end of the 20th century was reclassified as a photosynthesizing cyanobacteria, although it is still popularly labeled as an algae. In any case, it lives in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, a physiology shared with legumes such as peas, beans, and lupines. As in the case of these edibles, Spirulina also has a high protein content.

At the kibbutz, we grew spirulina in large outdoor pools but now you can now grow it at home. Type “Spirulina growing kit” into your search engine and you will find several companies that provide everything you need to grow Spirulina in a fish tank-type apparatus, set up in your office or living room. Sprirulina can be eaten fresh or dried and turned into powder for addition to stews, soups, or smoothies. It can also be harvested for use as a garden mulch.

Algenair ( has manufactured an attractively designed lidded flask for your desk or kitchen counter where Spirulina is grown for air purification purposes. In addition to the removal of carbon dioxide and addition of oxygen that all photosynthesizing organisms provide, the Spirulina acts “synergistically with your home garden as the algae can be used as an all-natural organic fertilizer for your plants.” Incidentally, if you have seen green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, know that its color was produced by the addition of Spirulina powder to the brew. In China, various formulations of Spirulina wine are now imbibed.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), whose growth habit will remind you of corn to which it is closely related, is another plant not customarily selected for cultivation by the home gardener. However, it is a magnet to pollinating insects and, thanks to its plethora of bronze flower tassels, provides an ornamental touch as well. Grass family plants such as sorghum are generally overlooked as pollinator plants yet their pollen and nectar are rich targets for honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, and predatory beneficial insects such as parasitoid wasps and hoverflies.

Recent research also revealed that the aphid infestations regularly found on sorghum are a positive since the copious sugary plant sap or so-called honeydew excreted by aphids serves as a nectar substitute for many families of beneficial insects. The presence of aphids and their honeydew on sorghum may persist into months when other pollinator plants are no longer producing nectar; thus, sorghum may be a powerful force in keeping nectar-needy pollinators in the garden.

If you had any doubts about the capacity of lilacs to bloom in a mild climate, the following testimonial from Patti Hugh, who gardens in the balmy coastal community of Huntington Beach, should put those doubts to rest. “I have had a lilac tree in my home for over 20 years and I love it,” she writes. “It kind of does its own thing as long as I keep watering it. Right now, it is about to burst into leaves and blooms. It blooms several times a year instead of all at once. The blooms are lilac-colored and smell heavenly. Our tree was purchased at a small single-owner nursery that had lots of unusual plants. The owner was a special lady who really knew her plants. My lilac was the only kind she had and was adapted to this area. It is special to me as I remember lilacs from the Chicago area which made spring a wonderful time of the year.” The variety to which Ms. Hugh refers might be Lavender Lady, since it has a solid reputation for blooming in Southern California.

Ms. Hugh also had a question concerning her lemon tree, asking me to “come up with a solution for getting rid of whatever is peeling my Meyer lemons, eating the peel and leaving the flesh in the tree for the bugs.” The lemon-peeling critter involved in this debacle is most probably a rat, but could also be a mouse (or mice), and possibly a possum. There are two solutions to this problem. Either cover your fruits with some sort of protective covering such as QYFIRST fruit protection bags or neutralize the critter by trapping it.

In response to a recent column on dwarf citrus trees, Nancy Terrebone, who gardens in Encino, wrote about her large collection of productive dwarf specimens as follows: “I have had dwarf Valencia and navel orange trees in pots for over 25 years. My Meyer lemon of the same age looks weak but it still produces at least 25 lemons twice a year. I transplanted these three trees into larger pots about 10 years ago and pruned their roots at that time. My potted semidwarf Mexican lime and semidwarf grapefruit are five years old and both produce a lot. I have a potted three-year-old dwarf Cara Cara (red-fleshed navel orange) and Meyer lemon of the same age that are very productive. I also have a semidwarf grapefruit growing in the ground that took seven years to produce. I use Dr. Earth organic fertilizer one or two times a year, in spring and sometimes summer. In winter, I water, at most, once a week and, in summer, sometimes up to two times a week.”

California native of the week: White alder (Alnus rhombifolia), properly sited, is one of the most glorious California native trees. I say properly sited since, although it adapts to drought, it would much prefer a riparian habitat, or at least a soil that is somewhat moisture retentive. Where it is regularly watered and has good light on all sides, it grows into a handsomely symmetrical, almost cone-shaped specimen that you will swear is the most verdant tree you have ever seen. Perhaps it owes its verdure to the fact that it lives in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria so that it is never deficient in nitrogen, the main constituent element of the chlorophyll molecule that makes plants green.

Ceanothus is another nitrogen-fixing plant and perhaps that explains its brilliantly verdant foliage as well. White alder may grow over 50 feet tall so you will probably have to prune it once in a while unless you live on a large estate. I may also be drawn to this plant because my namesake birds, the pine siskins, consume its seeds, as do its goldfinch cousins. Alas, in the typical manner of trees that grow quickly, alders do not usually live longer than a hundred years and often meet their end much earlier.  White alder bark is pleasantly gray in color and is fully revealed after the leaves of this deciduous species have fallen.

Please send questions, comments, and photos to

Keeping Your Citrus Trees Healthy And More To Do In The Garden This Week

1. David Herrig sends the following prescription for successful growth of a dwarf Satsuma mandarin tree: “We purchased ours from Home Depot back in 2002 when we lived in West Covina. It lived in a pot on our patio through 2014 when we moved to Pomona. The only issue we had in the pot was insufficient drainage. I drilled some holes in the bottom and set the pot up on blocks rather than directly on the cement. We fertilized it 4 times a year starting in January according to a schedule we got from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. We use the citrus/avocado food from Home Depot. In January 2015, we planted it in the backyard here in Pomona where it has thrived ever since. We continue to fertilize on the same schedule and it gets water every other day when it is not raining. The soil here is very sandy so it does not hold water. Starting in mid-to-late November every year and continuing through January we harvest and eat at least 5 or 6 dozen Satsumas of various sizes.”

The citrus fertilization schedule to which Herrig refers was the recommendation of legendary horticulturist, the late Jack Christensen, who penned the Five things to do in the garden and more in Southern California News Group publications for many years. “Mature citrus trees need a yearly total of 1.6 pounds of actual nitrogen fertilizer,” Christensen wrote, “divided into four equal portions applied in late January, early March, late April and early June – about six weeks apart – and distributed around the drip line. Since one pound of any dry fertilizer equals about two cups, that is about four cups of ammonium sulfate, two overflowing cups of ammonium nitrate, or 1.5 cups of urea, each time you apply it. Be sure to water it in well.” The fertilizers listed by Christensen may not be available and so you can use a citrus/avocado formula, as suggested by Herrig, instead.

2. In Los Angeles, spring comes in February and proof of this can be seen in flowering peaches, pears, plums, apricots and cherries with their blinding clouds of blooms. The “flowering” moniker indicates that these fruit trees are grown entirely for their flowers since fruit either does not form or, if it does, it is not edible. An exception would be certain flowering plums whose fruit can be eaten although it is tart as opposed to sweet. Descanso Gardens is worth a visit if only to see its bellflower cherry tree (Prunus campanulata) covered in dark pink bell-shaped blooms. Along the periphery of Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley, you can see dozens of luminous Pink Cloud flowering cherries (Prunus serrulata var. Pink Cloud). And Huntington Gardens has long been famous for a gnarled but resplendent Japanese flowering apricot (Persica mume) that blooms about this time. Also included in this group are evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii), a massive globe of blinding white flowers, flowering plum (Prunus cerasifera cultivars) with usually pink but sometimes white flowers, also know as purple leaf plum due to bronze purple foliage, and Peppermint flowering peach (Prunus persica) whose blossoms are variegated pink and white. 

3. Monrovia Nursery has a list of perennials and annuals to plant for early spring color. They will start to bloom as soon as temperatures warm which, in this part of the world, could be only a month from now. One of Monrovia’s recommendations is Hellebore. This rhizomatous species has flowers whose colors are often understated but appear in yellow, pink, salmon, red, and purple to nearly black, as well as white. Foliage is often bluish-green. Hellebore is a clumping plant that is the perfect candidate for a semi-sunny to shady garden. Dianthus is a long-blooming biennial (that is, it takes at least two seasons of growth to bloom) or perennial, depending on the species. And then there’s the gerbera daisy. Gerberas are probably the happiest plants on earth as their large daisies in vivid yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds may well be described as boundless botanical smiles. Although Monrovia lists it as an annual, I have seen patches of gerberas persist for decades. The key is to grow them in a very fast-draining soil. Gerberas also make outstanding cut flowers, or you can just cut the flower heads and float them in shallow bowls. Monrovia has a new variety of Agapanthus or lily-of-the-Nile known as Baby Pete which seldom forms seeds and thus flowers for a longer period of time than conventional Agapanthus types. Seed formation on any plant depresses subsequent flowering.

4. To keep your houseplants healthy, give them a quarter turn each week to keep them symmetrical, allowing sun to reach each of their four sides in equal measure. For more compact plants, pinching of new growth is required. If your plants become leggy due to lack of light, improve illumination with a LED light. Gooseneck LED lamps are ideal for desk plants. Any sign of etiolated (light-deprived) or stunted growth is a warning sign since disease and insect problems may occur when plants are stressed by lack of light or, for that matter, any other factor. You want to delay fertilization until new growth begins. Slow-release fertilizer pellets that break down quicker in warm weather are probably a safe bet since their outer coating is not likely to dissolve until prime growing conditions return. This is the proper moment to air layer plants that have grown too large for their location or their pots. With air layering, you remove an outer ring of stem tissue and cover it with moist peat moss that is enclosed in plastic wrap and tied off on both ends. Roots will eventually begin to grow and when you see they have made a robust cluster, you can cut the branch above and below the rooted segment and pot it in its own container.

5. This is the time to weed, especially where the soil is still moist from our heavy rains. Where soil is dry, it is advisable to water it the day before you embark on your weeding project. When soil is moist, it is much easier to pull out your weeds along with their root systems so resprouting cannot occur. If seeds are formed, it is not enough to pull the weed and drop it in place, even if it will eventually decompose and improve soil fertility. Those seeds will eventually germinate where they lie. On the other hand, by removing weeds before they flower, you can distribute them around your plants as mulch or put them in your compost pile. Actually, though, if your compost pile is hot enough,even weeds with seeds can be tossed in since the seeds will die from the heat before they can germinate.

Please send questions, comments, and photos to 

Joshua Siskin | Gardening columnist For more information about plants and gardens, visit Joshua Siskin’s website at Send questions and photos to

Composting Meat, And The Curious Case Of An Artificial Turf Fungus

Q. Hello from West Los Angeles. I have what I think is a fungus growing through our artificial turf. Any suggestions on how to deal with this without damaging the turf or endangering our dog? I am considering using our shop vac after loosening it a bit. Thoughts?

A. Artificial turf has become a popular choice for California homeowners who want a maintenance-free landscape that won’t use water. If you have an odd-shaped area that is difficult to irrigate, is in deep shade, or is not suitable for any plants (no matter how hardy), artificial turf can provide a ready solution. Many of my fellow master gardeners may disagree, but I think there are some situations where artificial turf can be useful.

Although low maintenance, it can have its drawbacks. In your case, you’ve got mushrooms growing out of it. Fungi (at least mushrooms as good-looking as yours) need organic matter in order to grow. That organic matter could be soil, leaves, or anything really. Professionally installed artificial turf has an extensive base layer consisting of gravel inlay, sand, decomposed granite or any combination of these. If you have mushrooms growing at the edge of your turf, you may not have enough base layer or possibly a drainage problem.

High and low spots can cause drainage issues, which can lead to moss or fungi growth. If there’s standing water, you can end up with mosquito problems as well. Curling or lifting at the edges or seams can also occur if the base is not installed properly.

Removing the mushrooms will only be a temporary fix. I recommend contacting your installer for more recommendations. The base layer may need attention.

Q  Why can’t you compost meat?

A. Obviously, meat will putrefy and smell awful. That stench will attract rats, mice, opossums, raccoons, and other unwelcome visitors. Meat can also harbor parasites and other disease-causing organisms that may not be destroyed in the composting process. Although your compost thermometer may read 160 degrees at some point, there’s no guarantee that every inch of that pile has reached that temperature. Most pathogens, pests, and weed seeds are killed at 160, but not all of them. Consider that in order to maintain that temperature, the pile will need to be turned frequently, and believe me, you don’t want to do that when there’s rotten meat lurking in there.

Commercial or municipal composting facilities can handle meat waste because they use a high-temperature process that kills pathogens.

Q. Why is home-grown fruit smaller than supermarket fruit? My grapes are so tiny! 

A. Commercially grown varieties are selected for larger size, ease of harvest, beauty, and resistance to damage during shipping. They are often heavily fertilized and sometimes treated with plant growth hormones.

If you want to grow especially large fruit, for instance, a huge pumpkin for Halloween, plant a variety that gets big, remove all but one fruit from the vine and fertilize generously. Soon you will have a gigantic pumpkin of dubious utility that is fibrous and has no flavor.

Los Angeles County; 626-586-1988;

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Laura Simpson | Columnist Laura Simpson has been a master gardener since 2002, and a master food preserver since 2015. She and her husband, Jim (also a master gardener), live near Temecula in an ordinary tract home. Their edible landscape consists of an ever-changing variety of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Together, they have five children. Laura frequently speaks on gardening and food preservation topics, including vegetable and herb gardening, edible landscaping and food safety. Before joining the master gardener program, she worked in the biotech industry and in biomedical research. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego.

Why Gardeners Should Consider Growing Weeds In Southern California

Whether it’s the puffy white seed balls of the dandelion or the creeping succulent stems of purslane, weeds are a constant challenge to gardeners everywhere. 

But it turns out, one person’s weed can be another’s prized greenery. 

A great number of the plants we consider weeds are not only edible, but many are considered superfoods, according to Douglas G. Kent, a professor at the Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona and author of the book “Foraging Southern California: 118 Nutritious, Tasty, and Abundant Foods.” 

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent poses for a photograph following a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent describes London Rocket (Sisymbrium) during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Douglas Kent is the author of “Foraging Southern California.” (Courtesy of Adventure Publishers)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent picks a Brazilian Pepper tree during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent describes Stinging Nettle (Urtica Urens) during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent poses for a photograph during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent gives a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent describes Aloe Vera during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent describes Bitter Lettuce (Lactuca Virosa) during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent gives a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent poses for a photograph during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent describes Nopal during a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Cal Poly Pomona professor Doug Kent gives a foraging tutorial at the Santiago Nature Center in Santa Ana on Friday, January 27, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Kent has been foraging and growing the plants that gardeners would just as soon pluck and throw away in their compost bin for decades, and he is an advocate for the ways those things can be cooked and used. 

He gets excited as he discusses how weeds and humans have a long and shared history. Many of these plants were things that our early hominid ancestors adapted to eating, he said, and there’s also a reason you can find these plants all over the globe. 

“It was a coevolution,” he said. “Our system was evolving to them; their system of seed distribution was evolving to us. And so we went together. We traveled the world.” 

Ground rules 

Before foraging for weeds, Kent recommends following some safety tips. He said would-be foragers should only consume those plants for which they can make a positive identification, and it’s best to wash foraged plants with water warmer than the leaves because warmer water expels potential toxins from the plant while cooler water can cause the toxins to be pulled in. 

Kent also recommends starting in the place that’s most familiar to you – your own garden. 

“And once you’ve nailed your own garden, then work on your neighbor’s garden and then go out into the wilderness,” he said. 

In his book, Kent encourages would-be foragers to also consider the legal risk before they go out and collect weeds. He notes that it’s important to not enter private land without permission. There are also places such as commercial properties and state colleges that sometimes do not allow collection of plants. Kent recommends checking the restrictions for those places online before heading out. 

On the hunt 

Want to know what weeds Kent regularly finds in Southern California? From wild mustards to curly dock, here are some weeds that are commonplace. 

Black mustard: This is a wild mustard that is very common in Southern California. Its leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds are edible, Kent said. He said the plants are high in fiber as well as vitamins A, C and K. The mustard can be eaten raw, added to salads or made into pesto, but because the leaves have a strong flavor they’re best added to flavors that will dull its own.

Cheeseweed: This weed prefers dry, disturbed soils and some of the locations it can be spotted include trailheads and the sunny sides of buildings. Kent said the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The flowers and immature green fruits can also be eaten. The plants are rich in pectin, which Kent said is good for the skin. 

Curly Dock: The leaves of this weed can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed or roasted, but it’s best harvested midwinter to mid-spring. If harvested later in the summer or fall, the plant’s leaves may need to be seared to get rid of some of the bitterness and acids that it may have developed. 

Dandelion: Kent called this common weed “the bell of the ball of herbology,” and noted the root, stalk, leaves, flour and seeds can all be eaten.

Goosefoot: This plant, a relative of modern spinach, can be found all over Southern California, but is more common within 125 miles of the coast. Leaves could be eaten raw or cooked, and the seeds are also edible. It’s high in vitamin D, A and C, according to Kent.  

London Rocket: This plant is abundant across Southern California, from the coasts to the mountains. Up close, it looks similar to arugula and has flavors reminiscent both of that plant and of mustard – and it makes sense since it is a part of the family Brassicaceae that also includes mustards, arugula and broccoli. Leaves of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s best to pick the lower leaves of the plant and younger plants taste better than older ones. 

Purslane: This weed is another example of a weed that follows people and it tends to be more common in more populated areas. It pops up in areas where the dirt has been disturbed and in areas of “incidental irrigation,” according to Kent’s book. This weed has a tart and lemony kick and is used in all sorts of recipes. Some of Kent’s recommendations include adding it to salads with other greens such as nasturtiums and mustard; putting it into juices and on top of eggs; and cooking it by itself. 

Grow your own 

Want to bring a piece of the wild weedy world home? It’s not only possible to forage many of the weeds common in Southern California but to grow them as well. 

Kent grows his own weeds at his home and is excited about the purslane that has spread out over a section of gravel in his yard. 

“Everybody that comes, I tell them to stay on the tracks,” he said, with a smile. “Don’t ruin my crop!” 

Seed companies such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sell some of these plants, according to Baker Creek horticulturalist Randel Agrella. They sell an improved version of purslane with slightly larger leaves and several different varieties of dandelion. 

Agrella said that potential weed gardeners can also obtain seeds by collecting them as they forage but they should do their research before they start to grow seeds from those things. 

He recommends not only reading up on the plants but also observing the kinds of conditions they’re growing in.

For example, a plant that is only growing at the edge of pavement could be growing there because of the water runoff that it gets, which may be a sign that it needs more water than what it would get out in the open.

Agrella suggests that gardeners pay attention to when things are sprouting. If a particular kind of plant sprouts in February, it’s a good idea to plant the seeds from it just before February instead of July. 

“After they’ve identified some plants that they like and they know of an area where maybe the plants come back year after year, go there and just observe,” he said.