Favorite Winter Plants

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2015 November

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. Our question for this newsletter is: What are some of your favorite native plants in winter and why?

Nancy Harris – “One plant I always consider is Ribes viburnifolium (Catalina Perfume). It creates a lush forest atmosphere, needs little water, grows under oaks or other trees, but can take sun, has lots of berries, easy to prune if needed and is evergreen unlike other Ribes.”

Terry LePage – “Giant Coreopsis. (Leptosyne gigantea) It grows so fast (when it finally wakes up after looking dead for six months) I think you can see it grow by the day. It looks so cheery.”

Ron Vanderhoff – “Many of the Ribes, gooseberries and currents are very early blooming and for me they signify the beginning of the native plant season. The similar looking and similar growing Ribes malvaceum and sanguineum are very popular. I grow our locally native fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, Ribes speciousum as an espalier and love it’s golden-tan branches and spines all summer, followed by an incredible winter flower display that hummingbirds cannot resist.”

Leon Baginski – “Ceanothus. Blooms early and strong and leaves look their best with cool nights and winter rains.”

Alan Lindsay – “Winter? What’s winter—I don’t remember the last winter in Orange County thus making my choice difficult. The only one I can think of is the Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) because of its red berries around Christmas. They not only are attractive but they attract birds. The one in my landscape is the island form, H. arbutifolia varmarcocarpus from Tree of Life Nursery.”

Sarah Jayne – “Why do we have our garden tours in springtime when so much of our blooms happen in winter? Just one of my favorites is Fuchsia Flowering Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum). For most of the summer, it looks dead, but with the first rain of autumn, brilliant green crinkly leaves spring forth. The branches are soon hung with brilliant fuchsia baubles that dare hummingbirds not to notice. Arrayed with formidable stickers, this shrub is best located where it can be left to its own devices—or espaliered??

Dan Songster – “The Manzanitas are exceptional winter bloomers and may be the very finest of the California’s winter plants, but since they are tough for me to grow in my clay soils I lean towards other species like Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), most of the currants and gooseberries, (especially Ribes sanguieum varglutinosum and Ribes speciosum) as well as Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea). Curiously I have found the easy to grow bushrue, (Cneoridium dumosum), to be delightful with a bit of white and a nice citrus scent to the flower. And for early flowers and an intriguing foliage scent it is always good to have a Fragrant pitchersage (Lepechinia fragrans) around. I am also fond of the grasses that like to start their winter growth with their new green, oh, and the lovely new green of California polypody fern (Polypodium californica). And bright red berries from Toyon of course! Winter is wonderful!


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