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This spring I’ve noticed an expanded selection of captivating, low-water plants in our local nurseries and garden centers. Although all create an energizing splash, none of these beauties comes with clear, cautionary warnings and could be problematic in most of our microclimates.

Two of them are beguiling enough to entice any gardener, even those who have witnessed their shortcomings and hope to try once again. But when these species begin to struggle, the weekend gardener is likely to be quite perplexed.

Mirror plant (Coprosma) is featured in nearly all local nurseries and for good reason. Its shiny, multi-hued foliage, as eye-catching as any floral spray, promises to add sparkle to gardens and, once established, this easy-care, evergreen shrub needs little summer water.

Hybrids of the large-growing species, Coprosma repens, now include many named cultivars that are more compact, brighter, and more garden friendly. Small, glossy leaves are tinted silver, lime green, creamy yellow, orange, or pink, depending on the selection.

What’s not to like about coprosma? In a word: Tenderness.

Native to New Zealand, its hardiness rating generally claims to suit most of the Bay Area and North Coast. But mirror plants can be seriously damaged by cold and sometimes do not survive in many micro-climates nestled around our homes, in low valleys, and wherever cold air collects in winter.

Unless global warming hurries along, this plant needs winter protection to survive unscathed. Perhaps more sensibly, they should be planted only where cold winter air never accumulates or reliably flows away.

Cold-damaged plants can be severely pruned in spring when buds begin to show on living stems that have lost foliage. If all wood above ground dies, new sprouts can form at the base, but the process is slow. Young plants may not survive.

Another vulnerable beauty

Several different conebush (Leucadendron) cultivars have also appeared for sale in growing numbers this spring. Native to South Africa, it’s long been a popular plant in San Diego’s and Santa Barbara’s coastal climates. And above Monterey Bay, many extraordinary specimens fill the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum.

But in our area, success with leucadendrons can be iffy. Plant tags on some cultivars indicate they are hardy in Sunset zones 16 and 17, which lie in a very narrow coastal strip from the Oregon border southward, as well as in thermal belts on hillside micro-climates slightly inland.

A few cultivars are said to be hardy throughout the more expansive inland micro-climates, Sunset zones 14 and 15, but even here these may need winter protection when temperatures drop below 20 or 25 degrees causing plants to freeze to the ground.

Special care

Besides providing consistent winter protection, leucadendrons need other special care. They require fast-draining, acidic soil and do not tolerate phosphorous, one of the three main ingredients in most bagged fertilizers.

Several selections reach 4 to 5 feet or more in height but can be kept lower with pruning. Pruning, however, must be done carefully, since 3 to 5 branchlets will form at the point of each cut and will result in awkward structure.

But on the upside, leucadendrons are deer and drought tolerant and their highly colored green-red-pink-golden foliage becomes a year-round, cheery mosaic on fluttering, willowy branches that rise from the ground.


Spring plant sales abound in April and May with everything for the garden, from ornamentals to veggie starts. All sales are benefits for the sponsoring clubs, scholarships and community projects.

Santa Rosa Junior College: Horticulture students sell plants they’ve raised in the school greenhouses. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the Lark Hall Greenhouse located in the same building as the Planetarium. Parking is available for a small fee in the Beck parking lot off Elliott Ave. Free parking up to one hour in the surrounding neighborhood. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted.

Willowside School: Middle school students help support this nursery, which also raised money for school programs. They have thousands of plants each season, including a variety of low-water and drought-tolerant perennials, California natives, a multitude of succulents, grasses, salvias and many ornamental plants to invite beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds into the garden. $4 for 1 gallon container. They also have specialty Japanese maples that are 3 to 6 feet tall selling for $25 to $50 per tree. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. rain or shine. Today, May 5 and 26, June 16. 5299 Hall Road at Willowside, in Santa Rosa. 707-569-4724.

Santa Rosa Garden Club: A large variety of healthy plants propagated by club members, with an emphasis on drought-tolerant plants including an outstanding selection of succulents and perennials. Also look for deer-resistant plants and succulents, many in unique and fun containers. One fun aspect of the sale is a rummage sale of garden-related items. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Rain or shine. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa. Gardenclubevents@yahoo.com

Santa Rosa Men’s Garden Club: Many varieties of geraniums and some 50 varieties of tomatoes, as well as succulents, both individual and dish gardens. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Sunday. Inside Coddingtown Mall, Guerneville Road and Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa.

Harvest for the Hungry Garden: This is the Mother of all Vegetable sales. An abundance of more than 100 varieties of tomatoes and dozens of varieties of peppers, squashes, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, herbs and some other edibles. In addition, there will be ornamental plants, garden art, books and gently used garden tools for sale. Proceeds support the garden and other charities committed to feeding the hungry with sustainable garden practices. Master gardeners will be available to give planting and gardening advice. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. 1717 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, behind Christ Church United Methodist. Harvestgarden.org

Green Thumb Garden Club: Members offer plants that they have grown or transplanted from their own gardens, including tomato plants and other vegetable starts, succulents, drought-tolerant transplants and a variety of outdoor and house plants. Check out the white elephant table for gardening finds. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. Ace Hardware parking lot, 750 Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale.

Windsor Garden Club’s Spring Plant Sale: Tomato, herb and veggie starts, Drought-tolerant starts, cut flower starts and succulents. Part of the Windsor Town Green Earth Day Health and Wellness Festival with music, environmental information and activities. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday

Graton Community Club: New Orleans is the theme for the club’s spring show, which includes a big plant sale featuring hundreds of tomato and other veggie starts, succulents, perennials, drought-tolerant plants and more. Also available are handmade novelties and recycled treasures, a raffle, garden art, flower arrangements, live music and refreshments. A $10 lunch is served both days. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27-28. 8896 Graton Road, Graton. 707-829-5314

Luther Burbank Experiment Farm at Gold Ridge: A chance to pick up garden plants developed by the Plant Wizard himself, Luther Burbank, at what remains of his farm in Sebastopol. Part of an open house with other activities. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28-29. 777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, accessed through Burbank Heights and Orchards. 707-829-6711, wschsgrf.org

Healdsburg Garden Club: A wide variety of plants propagated from members’ gardens. Heirloom tomatoes and water-wise plants such as succulents will be featured. The sale will also include air plants (tillandsias — great for the non-gardener) and own-root heritage roses. Also shop for crafts such as accents for your home and garden, Mother’s Day gift baskets, tea cups filled with succulents, dried flower arrangements in teacups and other small succulent planters. The sale includes garden supplies like tools, pots, gardening books, and even a new reel lawn mower. Bring your clippers for sharpening ($5), your orchid for repotting ($5), your gardening questions to pose to experts, including medical marijuana information. Breakfast offered for $5, lunch for $8, $10 for both. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 28, Healdsburg Senior Living Center, 725 Grove St., Healdsburg.

Santa Rosa Iris Society: The club’s annual spring show and sale. 1-5 p.m. April 28 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 29. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center, 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.

Redwood Empire Rose Society: Roses for sale grown by members of the Rose Society as well as companion plants for your rose garden. 1-4 p.m. May 5. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.

Hessel Community Guild: Look for a large variety of annual and perennial landscape plants and hundreds of vegetable starts as well as a white elephant area filled with garden-related items and local crafts. Coffee, tea and baked goods will be available by donation. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 12. 5400 Blank Road, Sebastopol. hesselguild.org

Bright colorful bracts similar to leaves surround small cone-like blooms on branch tips over a long period in the cool season to create a dazzling show.

Leucadendrons are pleasant companions for grasses and small conifers, but they are stalwart enough to stand alone as large specimens in dryscapes and are equally effective in large containers.

Tender in the night

More and more types of citrus have also become commonplace in the past year or two, especially in big-box garden centers. Besides oranges and lemons, it’s easy to find kumquats and grapefruits, mandarins and limes, and even the sour Calamondin.

All of these are cold sensitive to some extent, but lemons and limes are most easily damaged in nearly all of our micro-climates, though they rarely freeze completely once established. Still, all can be grown successfully if care is taken to shield them from heavy, cold air in winter.

If you find that your citrus does freeze and re-grow, check to see if the new growth rises above or below the graft. Any shoots below the angled graft line grow out of the root stock and must be removed. If no growth recovers above the graft line, remove the plant.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher, and author of Tabletop Gardens, writes the monthly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Contact her at rosemarymccreary@gmail.com or write to her at 427 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa 95401.

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