Keys to growing Matilija poppy
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 4:01 a.m.
Alan writes: I have been trying to grow a Matilija poppy. Still no success after two attempts and needless to say I am getting very discouraged. What is the secret to success?
For those readers not familiar with this drought tolerant and deer resistant native, it is a spreading shrub that can reach 4 to 8 feet in height and is admired for its flowers that are sometimes described as resembling "fried eggs." The gray leaves are deeply divided and during extreme drought can drop entirely, but the plant will recover. It is not extremely particular about soil, but appreciates mulch around its roots. Here are some tips that may unlock "the secret to success:"
1. Select a healthy plant with a stem not less than a diameter of 1 inch.
2. Plant in the fall to take advantage of the winter rains. (Some gardeners are equally successful planting in early spring.)
3. Matilija poppies do not like their root ball disturbed during the planting process. This is most important, so the recommendation is to carefully cut the sides of the container and then ease the root ball out and place it into a prepared planting hole the same depth as the root ball. Initially water well to help the new plant "settle in."
4. Matilija poppies are happy when their roots are kept cool until they become established in their new environment. This is one of the main reasons for failure but can be solved easily enough by creating shade with a flat piece of cardboard or wood shingle propped up next to the plant, blocking the plant's exposure from the hot south and west sun. In addition, keep the roots from overheating by layering 2 inches of mulch around the plant's base, keeping the mulch from contact with the main stem.
5. Matilija poppies prefer full sun, good drainage and some moisture during the summer months. They are a good choice for dry gardens or slopes and should be given plenty of room to grow so they can "have their own way" since they spread from underground roots and can become invasive.
Matilija poppies are native from Santa Barbara south to Mexico and do well in northern coastal and inland regions, so you should be successful growing this plant in our area. (Don't give up!)
One last piece of trivia -- the plant is named for the Matilija River in Ventura County.
Judy writes: Can you again offer some care advice for Poinsettia? I misplaced last year's column.
There is always more to learn about the fascinating poinsettia, its care and history. The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, grows prolifically in Southern Mexico, so success in growing them indoors in our climate this time of year means emulating their constantly warm natural growing environment.
Choose a plant that has healthy yellow flowers in the center of undamaged red bracts. The red bracts should remain fully attached to the main stem. (The red "petals" are really modified leaves attached below the small yellow true flowers.)
Poinsettias don't like chill and temperature variations. If the weather is cold when bringing the plant home, cover it with a paper bag for protection.
Place the plant in an area that has bright indirect light but not in a dark corner.
They don't like drafts created near heaters or cold windows. Keep the indoor temperatures no lower than 50 degrees and no higher than 80 degrees. If you have a protected warm area near your entryway (think Mexico), by all means use them as a welcome for the holiday season. But leaving them outside overnight is not a good idea.
Remove the foil wrapper to allow for drainage when watering. Only water when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Avoid standing water in trays.
A little history: Poinsettias were prized by the Aztecs and used in winter celebrations way before Christopher Columbus. They were introduced to the U.S. by the first ambassador to Mexico in 1828. His name was Joel Roberts Poinsett, leading to the plant being named in his honor in 1836.
(Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at email@example.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.)
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