Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs January 2004
SENNAS & CASCALOTE

JANUARY

It's January, a traditionally bleak month in the gardening department.  Almost looks like back east but without the snow!  There are some plants, however, that relieve the bleakness with a bit of color.  Cassias (often called Sennas now) are very common shrubs in desert landscapes and produce lots of yellow flowers during winter.  Feathery Cassia (Cassia artemisioides) with fine gray leaves is the most widely planted species.  Green Feathery Cassia (Cassia nemophila) with fine green leaves and Silver Cassia (Cassia phyllodinea) with wider silvery gray, curved leaves are also common.  These shrubs are all from Australia and extremely drought resistant once established.  They all develop a case of the "messies" after flowering because they all produce a prodigious crop of brown, papery seed pods.  If you don't like this natural look you need to trim of the branch tips with the ripening pods.  this trimming will also give you a more compact, fuller looking plant.  If left to their own devices, Cassias can get well over 6 ft tall and become open, rangy shrubs.  Also, seedlings will come up in droves in areas that stay moist.  Popcorn, or African Cassia (Cassia didymobotrya) is a large, rank, tropical looking plant that produces impressive spikes of large yellow flowers.  The smell of the crushed leaves is reminiscent of an afternoon at the movie theater.  Those of you that failed to cover your Popcorn Cassia during the late December cold snap are probably looking at the sorry sight of collapsed, frozen branches and flowers.  Don't worry. It will return and be more robust  than ever for the summer. 

There are a few Cassias native to Arizona.  One small, shrubby plant that will naturalize in your landscape is Rattlebox Senna (Cassia covesii) which blooms in late summer and fall.  You can cast seeds out or plant a couple of plants and let them spread themselves.  Another large native shrub is Shrubby Senna (Cassia wislizenii) which provides much needed color during the grueling, roasting days of late summer.  This plant is deciduous in winter which can make it a turn-off to all but the staunchest native plant lover who can appreciate its stark branches and seed pods.  Its yellow flowers are quite striking and it is very drought resistant and frost tolerant.

JANUARY

A tree that provides us with winter color is the Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco).  This plant is one of the newer ones to widespread cultivation.  Its natural form is that of a large shrub or multi-trunked tree to about 20ft tall and wide.  Branches can be pruned out to create a single trunked tree.   When young, the Cascalote bears forbidding thorns along its branches but tends to lose them with age.  Tall spires of yellow flowers appear in January.  This plant is quite tough and will survive most types of soil conditions with minimal to moderate water.  It  does not mind the heat, but young plants must be protected from frosts.  Left unpruned it can form a fairly dense barrier.

CITRUS HARDINESS

Limes followed by Lemons are the most frost sensitive Citrus trees.  Kumquats are the most frost hardy and can endure temperatures down to 20F.  Citrus fruits at the outside of the tree will freeze more quickly than the tree itself.

O CHRISTMAS TREE

What to do with that living Christmas Tree?  Take it outside as soon as possible and give it a thorough watering.  You can plant it in the ground right away or keep it in the container for months as long as you keep it wet.  Remember that Eldarica and Aleppo Pines eventually get huge-to over 50 ft tall.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004