Colorful Californian Shrubs
from September 1995

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Our best planting season is just around the corner. Fall is the season for plants to adjust to a change from growing in containers, to growing in a garden. Many of our California native plants are most successful when planted after the first rains have come and as our weather cools. Some good choices to plant now include the following:

Fremontodendron 'California Glory' is the oldest of our known flannel bush hybrids, growing to 20' tall and even more in width, with 3" rich yellow, slightly cupped flowers, tinged with red on the backs of the petals. Well established plants bloom profusely in late spring. These shrubs grow very rapidly given a well drained soil in full sun. Survival during our summer months depends on withholding most irrigation. Like many of our natives, they have evolved without summer rain and are most susceptible to root rot when given too much water in the warm season.

Fremontodendron 'Pacific Sunset' is another hybrid from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden that also produces flowers in great abundance. The flowers are a deep orange-yellow in a flat, saucer-shape and about 4" across. This clone blooms over several months time from late spring through summer, with occasional blossoms into fall. In testing this form at Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, we found that it was more tolerant of some clay in the planting site than other forms.

Fremontodendron 'San Gabriel' also comes to us through the breeding program at Rancho Santa Ana. It is of similar size or slightly larger than both of the above, with larger, more deeply lobed deep green leaves. The 3" flowers are a butter-cup yellow in a more cupped shape than the above, but equally prolific in quantity. Like all the other fremontias, it makes a wonderful espalier against a wall.

Fremontodendron mexicanum is a rare species that just crosses into California in San Diego County, from Mexico. The Mexican fremontia grows to 25' tall and wide with 3" wide golden yellow bowl-shaped flowers that bloom from March to June. This species grows in the wild within 15 miles of the coast, yet we grew one in Gilroy for many years. Like all fremontias, this too has hairs on the backs of the leaves, and some folk find them irritating to their skin. I recommend that they be planted away from regular walkways. If the maximum size of all the fremontias is daunting to gardeners, I have learned that they all may be maintained at a moderate 6 to 8' by annual pruning in December.

Comarostaphylis diversifolia, summer holly, has similar water requirements as the fremontias, though is more tolerant of many soil types and will grow in some clay given a bit of a mound. It has dark long green slender leaves, white clusters of urn-shaped flowers that bloom in late spring that form clusters of orange-red berries in fall. It has great resistance to fungal leaf spot and will perform well in locations where Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) has difficulty. Lightly shredding reddish bark adds to the ornamental value of this lovely evergreen shrub.

There are many more beautiful native shrubs that do best with fall planting, like Garrya elliptica 'Evie' and 'James Roof', Arctostaphylos, Ceanothus, and Rhamnus.