Plants of the Season

Jan 2, 2022

SHRUB: Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) is a small shrub in my garden, several of which I can enjoy from my office window as I write this. They currently have the white berries that give way to its name. It blooms in spring with clusters of bell-shaped pink flowers which in the fall become clusters of white berries that last well into early spring. Fruit may be toxic to humans, but many birds do eat the berries, so apparently not toxic to them. These white berries make it a unique part of the plant world. It is a plant that tolerates a wide range of soil types though it thrives in clay and can handle shade and sun. They don't grow very large, about 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide, with arching branches and small leaves. They can be planted further apart to allow good air circulation because they are apparently vulnerable to powdery mildew although I have never observed such an infection. It spreads by way of rhizomes in its native habitat to form thickets. It is a native of the coast range from San Luis Obispo and north to Alaska. It is somewhat drought tolerant once established.

PERENNIAL: Dahlia. It is hard to believe, but this remarkable flower has not been in any Plants of the Season articles going back many years. I have grown lots of these gorgeous flowers over the years and this year had about 130. Dahlias are highly varied in form, size and color. This is because they have eight sets of chromosomes (octoploid) whereas most plants and animals have two (diploid) having one chromosome from each parent. This gives dahlias a great range of possible combinations of genes and results in the great diversity that we dahlia lovers enjoy. For more information on this, you can find it in this recent book: Dahlia Breeding for the Farmer, Florist and Home Gardener, a Step by Step Guide to Hybridizing New Dahlia Varieties from Seed by Kristine Albrecht with Brian Sprinsock. Dahlias can be grown from seed, tubers and cuttings from tubers. Most people start them with tubers and it can be tricky to do. Dahlia tubers have eyes that will sprout only around the neck that is attached to the stem. If a tuber does not get removed from the stem properly it may be worthless. Dahlias do best with some compost-enriched soil and require moderate watering. Staking and tying is required as most get 3-7 feet tall. For more information on growing dahlias, see the videos at Swan Lake Dahlias:  

TREE: Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). These are stately tall evergreen trees native to the North Coast of California and Southern Oregon. It is a tree of the coastal fog belt and thrives best where moisture is abundant. It is a tree that is often planted in the Central Valley, but is that a desirable thing to do? Apparently not because redwoods require a lot of water and we are more often than not in drought situations with climate change. In my neighborhood there are lots of them that were planted when conditions were different in the 1950-60 era. Redwoods have shallow roots and thus don't do well in competition with lawns and other plants and most people tend to plant them in shared landscapes. They are long lived on the coast, but in the Central Valley may only live 50-70 years without the summer fog and frequent winter rains. At the end of life, taking out a 100 foot large tree can be very expensive. They are also shallow rooted and can be blown down in storms. They are best left to coastal environs.