In November, I received the following email from Gary Sparr concerning a tree that plum lovers should consider planting.
“We have an 11-year-old Methley plum tree that is blooming now with new leaves and flowers and has some small plums on it. The tree typically blooms in spring and bears fruit in late June and into July. I fertilize the tree in early spring and we had our largest crop yet last summer. Should I be concerned with the late blooming in fall and should I remove the new leaves and buds now? Is it normal for this type of plum tree to do this so late in the season?”
When a plant flowers out of season, it is typically due to stress of some kind. Having experienced a sizzling summer, the reaction of your tree to this stress was to flower in the fall. While under stress, a plant “thinks” it may die and therefore does what it must do to ensure the continuation of its species, which is done by forming flowers that, once pollinated, are transformed into seed-bearing fruit.
The same thing happened on my Golden Dorsett apple tree which, like your Methley plum, produced a huge crop of fruit this summer and then began blossoming again in the fall. Now here we are mid-January and another crop of apples, although much smaller than the previous crop, is ripening.
The question of whether or not to detach fall blossoms from a deciduous fruit tree – so no winter fruit will form — is important when contemplating next year’s crop. Deciduous trees use the winter to shore up resources for next year’s flowers and fruit and, using up those resources for a winter crop could make a dent in next year’s harvest.
Roses, for instance, are also deciduous, regardless of whether they appear in the form of bushes, vines, or ground covers. All roses must enter a period of complete winter dormancy in order to flower at maximum capacity in the spring. For this reason, if your rose bushes are still in leaf after January 1st, it is recommended to remove all leaves so that they can experience a period of true dormancy.
Getting back to the Methley plum tree, it is regaled as the most heavily producing plum variety so I do not think that a few extra plums forming after the initial harvest would significantly impact its production the following year. Discovered near a ranch in South Africa in 1907, the Methley plum is also renowned for its suitability for both cold and mild winter areas so that you could expect a sizeable yield whether you live in Lancaster or Long Beach. In the manner of the more widely planted Santa Rosa plum, Methley is self-fertile meaning that you only need one tree to produce a crop.
Gary Sparr acquired his Methley plum at one of the many Armstrong Garden Centers located throughout the greater Los Angeles area. But there are other nurseries that carry the tree, grown by Dave Wilson Nursery, and you can find them on the davewilson.com website. Scroll to the bottom of the home page, find “For Home Gardens” and click on “Where to Buy DWN trees.” Where deciduous fruit tree varieties are concerned, this is the time of year to plant them since they are leafless and have plenty of time to acclimate before our onslaught of hot weather, when planting of such trees is problematic. Dave Wilson Nursery has many uncommon fruit tree varieties that you may wish to consider.
Speaking of Armstrong Garden Centers, it is always a joy to visit them due to their consistent display of newly introduced cultivars of ornamental plants. On a recent visit, I was introduced to Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’ from India. It is a member of the dusty miller clan, a large group of silvery leafed plants in the daisy family. They come from many different genera, are invariably drought tolerant, and their leaves are most often delicately lobed, lacey, and suggestive of snowflakes. But this variety has large oval leaves with barely, yet charmingly scalloped leaf margins. These plants are called dusty millers since their silvery and slightly hirsute foliage is supposed to remind us of the dust that sticks to those who mill wheat into flour.
Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ is a catchy name for another recently spotted Armstrong selection. It will remind you of Cuphea ignea, the cigar plant, except in the case of ‘Vermillionaire’ the flowers are smaller and even more prolific. That’s saying a lot since Cuphea ignea, whose mature height and girth is three to four feet, is covered in flowers nearly all the time. Cigar plant flowers so heavily that shoots have been known to bend over under the weight of their blooms. Hummingbirds flock to it and to all Cuphea species. You can water it frequently or pretty much forget about it. Let its soil go dry and it will persist in yielding its unique blooms, orange-red tubes tipped in yellow. Leaves are dark green and diamond-shaped and it prefers full to partial sun exposure. Propagation is by shoot tip cuttings and is easily accomplished in fall or spring. In any case, you never thought you would see a plant that could outdo cigar plant until ‘Vermillionaire’, an embarrassment of riches, came along.
An interesting botanical aside is suggested by the origin of the word “vermillion,” which comes from “verm” or “worm” and refers to the excretion of a scale insect, originally thought to be a worm, that lives on certain European and Middle Eastern oak trees. A similar reddish excretion is produced by mealybugs that live on Opuntia ficus-nitida — that large beavertail or prickly pear cactus that is prevalent throughout California and the Southwest. Before the advent of artificial colorants, these excretions were used throughout the world for dying fibers used in making clothes and blankets.
Returning to the Cuphea genus, three other species are eminently worthy as garden ornamentals and are also in bloom most of the time. Upon first setting eyes on Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia), you cannot help but fall hopelessly in love. Delicate lavender-pink flowers are embedded among tiny, glistening leaves. Although advertised for both full sun and partial shade, Mexican heather becomes old and ratty-looking after only a few years of overly sunny exposure. Given sun in just the proper dose, which is no more than three or four hours of direct daily exposure, its innocent look of youth may persist for a decade. A white-flowered variety is also available. Mexican heather grows one to two feet tall so it is perfect for use as a miniature hedge along the walkway that leads to your front door.
Bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea llaeva) has flowers that bear an extraordinary resemblance, with red ears and purple heads, to the eponymous flying rodents. Last but not least, Cuphea micropetala is a robust shrub whose flowers are similar to those of the cigar plant, only it is more resistant to drought and never needs to be watered more than once a month.
Tip of the Week: When it comes to preserving cut flower arrangements, florist Marisa Scarda of Natural Simplicity in El Segundo, offers the following advice: “Flowers tend to drink lots of water the first two days, so add water the first two days and by the third day you should change out the water. You can add a couple of drops of bleach to keep the bacteria away. As the flowers start to die, remove the dead ones. Keep the arrangements away from heat vents — that will dry the flowers faster. Keep them in a cool place, but do not move them around from cold to warm, that will kill them quicker.” John Beach, of Dolce Blooms in Studio City, adds the following: “Make sure all of your florals are kept out of direct sunlight (this is a huge mistake people make). Flowers like cool moist areas with indirect sunlight (mist your florals.)” Regarding keeping wreaths fresh, Beach simply says, “Wreaths are easy, mist away every day.”
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