Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs October 2002
Lantanas & Artichokes

OCTOBER

There's lots for the gardener to do in October.  As day and night temperatures hopefully decline, you'll be itching to get in those winter flowers and veggies.  Remember that native soils here are generally pretty nasty for the lush, leafy things and usually require the addition of lots of organic matter, gypsum, etc. and lots of elbow grease.  Container gardening can be much easier and more rewarding.   Remember too, that there are always roving bands of pookas (Harvey's relatives) out there ready to gobble up your efforts!  Ugly old chicken wire is still the best and probably only deterrent for these hungry creatures.  It's easy to cast wildflower seeds about, but if you want to see those dazzling flowers in spring you must keep the area moist for germination and protected from critters.  Just about any trees and shrubs can be installed but new growth will be minimal as fall progresses.  Roses will begin to look more socially acceptable and even reward us with blooms.

LANTANAS

How about Lantanas?  What would we do without these colorful plants to liven up our highways and yards!  Originally large, coarse shrubs from tropical America, these plants are both beauty and bane to the plant world.  Introduced into Hawaii, they had become a rampant, invasive pest by the early 1900's.  They have also overrun areas of the S.E. US.  Here in the desert it's too dry for them to get a real foothold, although they readily reseed in wet areas.  Plant forms can be trailing or spreading with purple or white flowers; low mounding with yellow, cream or gold flowers; medium to large bushes with red, rose, pink, yellow, orange or white flowers;  Hybridizers have created more than 20 different varieties.  Many Lantana flowers, which butterflies and hummingbirds adore, are multi-colored and change hues as they age.  Flower colors also seem to vary with seasons and appear more intense during the fall.  To keep plants looking their best you should lightly trim back the tips through spring and summer, water moderately and fertilize sparingly.  Being fairly frost tender and hot weather growers, Lantanas can look pretty shabby during winter months but so do lots of other things.  Avoid cutting them back  until frost danger is past and cover them during severe cold.  Sometimes you'll see an enormous pink or salmon flowered rogue of a bush thrusting itself up through a hedge or beside an old house especially in older areas of the Valley.  These are volunteer seedlings which can be quite stunning if constantly pruned back.  Keep in mind that whiteflies love Lantanas and you always see a few fluttering around the leaves.  In a bad year, they can almost sap them of the will to live.  And, sorry, rabbits like them too.  Especially new ones!

ARTICHOKES

If any one remembers the Artichokes growing in front of the nursery last spring and wants some of their own, now is the time to plant them.  Almost all commercially grown ones come from California, but with lots of water and protection from full afternoon sun, they can be grown here.  Ask Barbara (the Shady Way Garden Lady) to show you her "baby" and tell you how she raised it.  We didn't have the heart to eat "baby's" progeny, so if you like shrunken heads, we have some adorning the nursery.

CARDOONS

A different plant you might want to try is Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).  This Artichoke relative is a large spiny shrub with dark blue thistle-like flowers that might be a conversation piece for your yard.  Also the leaf stalks and supposedly the bases of the flower buds are edible.  The leaves should be blanched like celery by tying up the leaves and mounding soil around the bases.  Sounds like a lot of work for a piece of celery! Cardoons also yield a yellow dye.  In Spain, the down from the seed heads is used for rennet in cheese making.

BITS & BRIEFS OBSERVATIONS

This wasn't the year of the gourd for us!  No amount of TLC seemed to inspire them to set fruits.  Maybe they just couldn't face hanging on our fence in the broiling sun.  Luffas, which are rumored to be undemanding and to reward you with mountains of fruits, produced nice vines but not even a hint of a flower.  Somebody is enjoying them though, aphids, with the aid of their ant buddies, are really partying down on the backs of the leaves!  But we won't give up the gourd...after all, next spring is another year!

Want something red and showy to add to your wildflower mix?  Try Red Flax(Linum grandiflorum) a tough annual from North Africa. The erect plants can get a couple of feet tall and bear lots of cup shaped scarlet flowers.  They reseed readily but are not a pest.  Also there are many different shades of California Poppy besides the well known orange one to add variety to your plant palette.

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