Help your garden roar in the Chinese New Year
by Jacqueline A. Soule
The Chinese Year of the Tiger begins Feb. 14 with a celebration that lasts 15 days. Plants of all kinds are traditionally a major part of these New Year celebrations, with bouquets, branches and boughs decorating homes.
If you wish to celebrate, too, consider these plants that have been introduced to America and do well in the Southwest since they come from the drier regions of China.
Nandina or heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) isn't a bamboo at all. Indeed, this graceful plant is more closely related to holly. Like holly, it's evergreen and clad in attractive red berries in winter.
Unlike holly, the leaves are delicate and soft. Nandina is pleasing year round, with clusters of nodding white blooms in spring, bright berries in fall and lovely winter color.
Most nandinas reach 4 to 6 feet tall, although there are dwarf varieties. Nandinas, which are rabbit and deer resistant, can take heat and cold, from 110- to 10-degrees F, requiring moderate to low water.
In Phoenix and San Antonio, plant in shade on the north side of the home; Albuquerque gardeners can plant nandina anywhere. If you live in Denver, pamper the plant with a warm, southern exposure.
A true low-care plant, nandina never needs pruning, unless it's to harvest some branches for an arrangement. The berries feed birds in late winter. Spent berry stalks can easily be snapped off in spring.
Liriope (Liriope muscari), also called lilyturf, is an appealing grasslike plant that never needs mowing, and uses far less water than a traditional lawn. Liriope grows as a clump, mounding to 18 inches tall, and makes a charming groundcover.
The species is a deep forest green; however, there are a number of variegated varieties now available. Another type, called creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata) is similar, but spreads aggressively.
Although it can take heat and cold, full summer sun can be too much in hotter areas. In Arizona and Texas, provide it afternoon shade throughout the summer.
An additional reason to add liriope to your landscape are the spikes of violet-blue flowers that appear late summer into fall - they make lovely cut flowers. Blooms will be more prolific with a dose of bloom fertilizer around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Butterfly bush (Buddleja or Buddleia), sometimes called summer lilac, attracts butterflies throughout the summer with clusters of small, nectar-rich, lightly fragrant flowers. The most common is B. davidii, originally from central China, and named after the French naturalist Pere Armand David.
There are many drought-tolerant cultivars with lilac-like flowers in white, pink, blue, lavender and purple to almost black. Hardy to minus-20 degrees F, this shrub will also withstand the heat of Arizona summers.
Although not picky about temperature, the plant is fussy about soil type. It must be well drained. Fertilize with bloom food once a month during the summer for best display.
Enjoy these plants in your low-water landscape and you too can celebrate every Chinese New Year with bouquets of oriental greenery from your own yard.
Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D., is a botanist, writer and educator. A member of the Garden Writers Association, she writes gardening columns for a number of newspapers throughout the Southwest. A self-avowed "Darwinistic" gardener, Jacqueline prefers plants that need as little care as possible while providing color, texture and movement in the landscape.