Q: Because my favorite summer flowers are impatiens, I have hundreds planted in my shady garden areas. However, Santa Ana winds and winter temperatures make them look terrible. How can I get them through the winter and back to their beautiful form for next spring?
A: That's a pretty tall order. If you're real lucky, impatiens will perform the following season. But their origins are in the tropics; they would prefer to bask in heat and humidity. Dry winds desiccate their leaves, and cold temperatures and moisture cause their roots and stems to rot.
Impatiens plants that bloomed enthusiastically through the previous spring, summer and fall are probably all tuckered out and won't survive the winter. But those impatiens set out later in the season and located in warm locations with good drainage often survive and look terrific the next season. In my own garden, I consider them bedding plants and I'm prepared to replace any that don't survive.
Use Netting to Keep Birds Off Ranunculus
Q: Last year when I planted ranunculus tubers, the new shoots were promptly eaten by birds. How can I prevent a bird feast this year?
A: Ranunculus plants are probably the prettiest and best-performing of all Southland bulbs, but birds do love their tender shoots. Protect the newly emerging growth with plastic tomato baskets or with netting. It's necessary to keep them covered for only about two weeks.
Another possibility is starting the tubers in flats in a protected area and transferring them to the garden when they are past the succulent stage. I use the latter method in my own garden because it not only foils the birds, but the flats also provide improved drainage. Ranunculus tubers don't like wet feet so be careful not to overwater when they are first planted.
Fasciation Turns Statice Into Conversation Piece
Q: One of my statice plants developed a very thick stem with a tuft of flowers sticking out the top. Looks like something from a sci-fi horror movie. What happened?
A: This condition, called fasciation, occurs when some plant part (flower, fruit, root, or as in your case, stem) abandons normal symmetrical growth and begins fused growth along one plane. Fasciation may result spontaneously or from physical injury to a rapidly growing plant part. It may also be induced intentionally from breeding and selection programs.
Plant scientists have developed large fasciated fruits, such as strawberries with broad, flattened tips and extremely large tomatoes (such as Beefsteak). Fascinated by fasciation, botanists, including Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, determined how frequently fasciation would occur among experimental seedlings. In short, your freak plant is not unknown and is not diseased. Keep it as a garden conversation piece.