For most of us, thoughts of winter conjure visions of landscapes void of color, filled with the bare limbs of deciduous trees and semi-dormant shrubs. We also think winter is the time to relax about landscaping. While this may be true in the east, winter is actually a very important time for most Southern California landscapes and is the perfect time to add unique combinations and varieties to your garden. In the west there is no excuse for a drab winter landscape. In fact, many plant varieties are at their best this time of year, and they can enhance winter landscapes with beautiful textures and color. Our favorite plants here at Deep Roots are Australian, South African and New Zealand natives. They are perfectly adapted to our climate and soil, are drought tolerant once established and and are easy to grow.
Leucadendrons – Also called Cone Bush or Cone Flower. Native to South Africa and part of the Proteaceae group of plants, Leucadendrons (photo left) are a large group of evergreen trees and shrubs that have beautiful winter foliage ranging from silver-gray to dark red with brightly colored bracts that are used as cut flowers by florists. Some bracts when fully open look like flowers.
Each year more and more varieites become available. Many have beautifully colored stems with different colored leaves. They are large plants - some grow to a height of 6 or 7 feet and 5ft wide and so are suitable for growing at the back of the flower bed. Smaller varieties are also available. Grow them in full sun to part shade. They make a dramatic and beautiful year round addition to any drought tolerant garden.
Grevillea - (Photo below left) Ranging from small shrubs to large trees, grevilleas are evergreen plants with needle-like narrow leaves or ferny pinnate foliage, usually in whorls around the stems. The flowers, which are fragrant in some species, are arranged in three basic forms: spider-like, toothbrush-like, and large brushes. Their flower heads, which open at varying times, are composed of many small flowers, usually in shades of yellow, orange, or red. Some varieties flower all winter long. Plant grevilleas in a sunny position with light, gritty, free-draining soil that is low in phosphates. Although drought tolerant once established, they flower more freely and the foliage is healthier for occasional deep watering. Needs no fertilizers.
VINES: Selecting vines for your landscape can lend color and fragrance.
Hardenbergia violacea – (photo left) This beautiful easy-to-grow,drought tolerant evergreen vine features long grey-green leaves and abundant lilac-colored flowers in winter. It is wind-tolerant and offers prolific displays of winter color. IN STOCK RIGHT NOW: Hardenbergia "Walkabout Purple" with beautiful deep purple flowers.
Variegated Bower Vine (Pandorea jasminoides photo left) This is an attractive variegated vine that keeps its beautiful cream and green coloring all year through. In late summer it produces beautiful light pink trumpet shaped flowers with a dark pink center. Drought tolerant once established it is perfect for patio covers and arbors as it always looks beautiful.
Phormium - (photo left) Phormiums come in a wide variety of colors and sizes from darkest burgundy through to variegated varieties of cream and green, or yellow and apricot. Some are dwarf varieties growing to 18" tall, and some giant varieties grow to 8 feet or more. These are drought tolerant and slow growing plants that will thrive in full sun to shade.
Ligularia: (photo left) This is a group of durable plants originating in Asia that are ideal for the shade garden, although they can also take some sun. They are happiest with regular water but can live quite happily alongside drought tolerant species once established. They have large round leaves that can grow to 12” across in some varieties. In the fall large yellow daisy-like flowers grow above the leaves which are very popular with butterflies.
Dianella: (Photo left) This a large group of grassy leaved plants from Australia, similar to Phormium but does not grow as big. More varieties become available each year. Leaf colors include white variegated, gray blue, dusty blue and deep green. The deep green leaved variety spreads by underground runners and has royal blue berries that appear in summer. Very drought tolerant, easy to grow plant.
SHRUBS: Many shrubs are evergreen and are the foundation of a year-round garden. They have leaves in a large spectrum of colors from almost white variegated, gray, yellow, light green, dark green, through to dark burgundy, often with a beautiful display of flowers.
Westringia fruticosa (Coast Rosemary, photo left) – this plant has attractive whorls of small leaves that are usually a light gray-green color with some cultivars being attractively variegated. The flowers, which usually are most profuse from late winter to early summer color from white to light lavender though some can bloom year round in coastal climates. They grow best in full sun but some can tolerate a varying amount of shade and while fairly drought tolerant most of them appreciate irrigation in summer. They make excellent plants for coastal region as they tolerate wind and salt.
Euphorbia –This is a very large genus of plants that includes the Christmas favorite Poinsettia. The sub- group that we recommend for winter color is also called “Spurge”. It's the plant with everything: evergreen for winter structure, foliage in myriad colors and frothy flower-bracts in winter and spring. Easy to grow and drought tolerant these plants are happy in containers or in the ground in sun or part sun and come in a variety of leaf and flower colors ranging from dark burgundy to lime green and grey-green. They also self-sow giving you new little plants the following year.
Euonymus - A group of evergreen shrubs with variable habits including upright shrubs, ground covers and vines. A wide choice of foliage colors is available, with the most popular being the fiery red Burning Bush and the yellow variegated variety “Emerald and Gold” (photo left).
Coprosma - This is a group of evergreen shrubs with multi-colored leaves that originate in New Zealand, Australia and islands of the Pacific Ocean. Coprosmas used to be considered boring evergreens with their small, shiny, plain green leaves, but there have recently been some new hybrid varieties released with leaves of various color combinations (photo left). Some are small, low growing shrubs with tiny colored leaves, and some can grow to between 6 and 8ft tall.Many varieties have beautiful variegated foliage that shines and sparkles in the garden, hence its common name of Mirror plant. Color variegations range through several combinations and include dark burgundy- green, red, pink, orange, yellow and cream. They are drought tolerant and an outstanding addition to a mixed border, and they will accept a big pruning session without too much sulking. Try planting some with other drought tolerant plants with contrasting leaves such as Cordyline, Phormium or Dianella.
Cordyline - is a group of spiky-leaved plants native to the western Pacific Ocean region, from New Zealand, eastern Australia, southeastern Asia, to Hawaii. They can add lots of striking winter and summer color to the drought tolerant landscape. The leaves can come in a variety of colors from almost black, dark burgundy, and green through to red and light pink, yellow and cream. They are about 12 to 30 inches in length and from 2 to 6 inches in width. The trunk of this palm-like evergreen shrub is not branched and can grow as tall as 10 feet. However this is often too tall for our smaller coastal gardens where the many smaller varieties such as “Electric Pink” (photo above left) are more suitable. Cordyline likes partial shade to almost full sun. When in full-sun the plant should be watered more often. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings
Winter Flowering Plants
If the English Garden look is just your thing, but you still would like drought tolerant plants, consider the perennials Bergenia crassifolia and Hellebores - also know as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose. (Now in stock at Deep Roots).
Bergenia crassifolia (Winter Blooming Bergenia) - Evergreen perennial with large, green, leathery glossy leaves with red margins that rise from the center of a perennial clump to reach 1-2 feet tall. The rose-pink flowers clusters rise on short stout stalks among the foliage in mid-winter through early spring. Best when grown in light shade or cool sun in a well-drained soil with little to moderate watering. This plant is very similar to the later blooming Bergenia cordifolia except for the bloom time and the flower clusters held more erect with leaves that have more of a rippled sparsely toothed leaf margin.These great drought tolerant plants are just coming into flower now. Leaves are often used in floral arrangements. Provides a welcome round shaped leaf in the garden which sets off strappy-leafed plants well. Plant several of them together to provide a welcome eye catching sight in your winter
Hellebores have attractive evergreen foliage and bloom from December through to April, some varieties bloom even later. The flowers can be single or double and come in a wide variety of colors, from white to pink to magenta, and pale greens. They need regular water for the first few months in the ground but once established they can withstand quite dry conditions. They do best in the dry shade found under deciduous trees, but also do well in pots placed in the shade or half sun during the winter. The plants increase in size over time and if they really like their position in your garden they will spread slowly through the years.
One word of warning - they HATE to be moved, so be careful not to disturb the roots when taking them out of their original containers, and once they are in the ground leave them where they are.