No discussion of tulips that excel in Southern California would be complete without a word about Tulipa saxatilis , another wild species, from the valleys of Crete, which--being an island in the Mediterranean--has a climate similar to ours. While Tulipa clusiana has thin, gray-green leaves with a red margin that makes it look as though it comes from a desert climate, T. saxatilis has very wide, shiny, apple-green leaves that look like no other tulip. It comes out of the ground at the same time as paperwhite narcissus--in November. That means it should be planted right away, with no chilling required. The goblet-shaped flower is rose pink with a yellow center. It has filled the area between two railroad ties in my garden, so it must be happy. I feed it with a complete dry fertilizer when it first comes up and keep it watered well while it's in growth.
Tulipa sylvestris, a yellow species tulip, is not a rampant grower. Though it supposedly is a wanderer, it has stayed in one place for me. It is smaller than regular hybrid tulips--about a foot tall. The golden-yellow flower is the shape of a lily-flowered tulip. It hangs its head downward until just before the bud opens, then perks right up. Do not plant it with golden daffodils, because it blooms at the same time and will get lost in all that yellow. It too is a native of the Mediterranean and also grows naturally in England.
Azaleas looking shabby? Let's assume that they've had enough water through the dry summer and fall months (they wilt quickly when they're short of it and recover equally fast when they're watered). Three other causes could be: too heavy a soil, too little acidity and too little iron. In nurseries, azaleas are always planted in a light mix, since they need a porous soil easily penetrated by water and air. In the garden, as the planting mix breaks down, heavier soil washes over the top and the roots are soon deprived of air. Some plants resent being moved, but azaleas are not among them. On a cool day, an azalea can be dug up and replanted for a fresh start. Use a jet of water to wash the soil off the roots and replant the azalea in soil heavily amended with peat moss or something sold as an azalea or camellia mix. Plant them high so that when the planting mix breaks down again, the rootball will not end up in a shallow hole. Don't fertilize until new growth shows. The best time to do that, of course, is immediately after bloom, but if an azalea looks sickly (with small, light-green or yellow leaves), it may be possible to save it; if you wait until spring, it may be too late. Using peat moss when planting helps make the soil acidic. Azaleas like a more acidic soil than what naturally occurs in Southern California. Even our water is alkaline. Azaleas also need iron, which an alkaline soil tends to lock up chemically, making it unavailable to the plant. This is easily cured with iron chelate, found at nurseries. It will keep iron accessible.
Are you ready for bare-root roses? They will be available at the end of December and January, but if you're planning to purchase roses, it will be worthwhile to see them in bloom now. No picture can tell you whether a rose is fragrant, whether it has short or long stems or how thorny it is. Often, a picture taken of a rose in Portland may not be the same color as one grown in Los Angeles. A yellow may turn out to be cream, or an orange might be more on the red side. To see roses in bloom now, visit Exposition Park or Rose Hills, or go to a nursery where they are available in cans.
Plant biennials now. They normally take two years to flower, but because fall weather is so mild in Southern California, autumn produces the equivalent of one year's growth. Spring then becomes the second year, and the biennials bloom. That is true as well for some perennials. If you start them in the spring, don't expect flowers that year. But if you plant them in the fall, they are sure to bloom. Some popular annuals and perennials that can be planted now are foxglove, columbine, Sweet William, Canterbury bells, penstemon and coral bells. If you prefer to grow your own from seed, there's a good chance that they'll get enough fall growth to bloom in spring, but don't delay.