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GARDENING

The Sweet Smell of Simple Success

February 11, 1996|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

Sometimes the simplest ideas turn out best, even in gardening. When I redid my frontyard last year, I put a rustic arbor over the entry gate and planted it with winter-flowering jasmine. In full flower now, it is a delight to eyes and nose.

A tall pair of unpainted 4-by-4s with a couple of horizontal 1-by-4s bolted to the top puts the flowers up where you can see and smell them when passing underneath. For such a simple project, the effect is almost overwhelming and much appreciated at a time of year when virtually nothing is flowering except the fall-planted annuals and a few camellias.

Jasminum polyanthum is common at nurseries, though not usually noticed until February, when the vine becomes buried under an avalanche of white.

The flowers are sweetly fragrant, with pink on the reverse, so even before they open--back in January--they are pretty. The evergreen foliage is dainty and dark green, except on mine. I found a variegated version at Desert-to-Jungle Nursery in Montebello, which brought it here from Australia. When flowers are in bloom, the creamy edges on the leaves are more frosting on an already overdecorated cake, but they make the vine vibrant at other times.

Winter jasmine needs some watering and full to part sun. Vines, which must be tied to a support at first, can get to 20 feet and quickly become a tangle of stems if not pruned after flowering. Cut out much of the growth then, stem-by-stem, to keep it airy and in bounds.

Despite somewhat unruly growth, I've seen this jasmine on pergolas, balcony and deck railings, even in containers, where it never fails to flower with blizzard ferocity.

The Attack of the Giant Whitefly

If this were a low-budget film, it would send gardeners screaming from the theaters, but there really is a giant whitefly. It has already invaded San Diego County and is poised on the southern boundaries of Camp Pendleton, with only the Marines between it and us. It caught San Diegans by surprise, so we might want to get prepared.

Before you abandon your garden for a mountain fortress, I should point out that "giant" is a relative term. This new whitefly from southern Mexico is only a fifth of an inch long, but that is still twice the size of a normal white fly.

The winged adults are not the real problem. As with other whiteflies, it is the larva that suck vitality from plants. They are harder than ever to control because they protect themselves with a thick waxy coating that covers the undersides of leaves like cotton candy. At one stage, the larva secrete dangling inch-long white filaments, so a severe infestation makes a plant "look like it was flocked," according to San Diego nurseryman Chris Klein.

It is particularly fond of hibiscus but has also been found on other plants, including citrus, avocados, bananas, plumeria, mandevilla vines, xylosma, even bird-of-paradise and ivy.

Once-a-week spraying with light horticultural oils such as Sun Spray or soap sprays like Safer's are "somewhat effective," says Vincent Lazaneo, advisor for UC San Diego's Cooperative Extension. He also suggests simply hosing them off with a forceful blast of water from the garden hose. This must be done weekly before the problem gets too bad, and the spray must be directed at the undersides of leaves. He says the whiteflies are easier to control during the cooler times of the year.

A "foliage cleaner" made by Klein (call [619] 436-6605 for more information), called Jungle Rain, containing citrus oil and Castille soap, also seems to help, as does the botanical insecticide BioNeem, made by Safer. Sprayed once a week for several weeks, it brought the giant whiteflies under control for at least one gardener, Lazaneo reports.

Real control of the giant whitefly will come when a tiny beneficial wasp, imported from Mexico by UC Riverside entomologist Tom Bellows, takes hold, although that may be a few years off. With luck, it will be as effective as the wasp imported to control the ash whitefly, which has virtually vanished.

Then we can sleep better at night.

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