Tropical Style

California Gardener's June Checklist

This is a month when you can settle back and enjoy everything you have placed into your garden earlier in spring or preceding years. Smell the roses and star jasmine. Bite to the very first miniature skillet, no need to cook it. If your berries have put any fruit yet see. Or you could see June as a catch-up month. There is still time to plant summer flowers and vegetables — pumpkins and berries, which need a stretch of warm weather. I have also included a few problem solvers for simple, fast-growing screens and hedges, in case you want to fill some significant holes in your landscape.

Update your hydrangeas. There is nothing wrong with all the old-fashioned hydrangeas celebrated by Martha Stewart and generations of anglers, however the newer types which have flooded nurseries in the last decade are something else, especially for California gardens. The newer remontant (repeat-bloom) forms have overachiever names involving words like “invincible,” “endless” and “forever” They don’t disappoint. They bloom for half the season, and the flowers are pretty at all phases: green, half open, entirely receptive, drying. Cut blooms at any stage for lounges. One shrub will supply you with more than enough cut flowers. Or plant several shrubs in various shades of pink, white and blue.

Botanical name: Hydrangea macrophylla, repeat-blooming varieties such as ‘Summer Beauty’, ‘Endless Summer’ (shown here), ‘Blushing Bride’ and others.
USDA zones: 5 to 9 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Moderate and much more, especially in warm climates
moderate requirement: Partial shade; full sun near the shore
Mature size: 4 to 6 ft tall and much more, and equally wide
Growing tips: Repeat bloomers need different pruning than conventional hydrangeas. During the growing period, cut off faded flowers and pinch the tips for bushier growth. Near the conclusion of the winter dormant period, cut out dead wood and prune back to control the shape and size of this plant. (In cold climates hydrangeas die back to the ground each winter.) To change the blossom color from pink to blue, employ aluminum sulfate to the ground (to affect the pH) before bloom time.

Margie Grace – Grace Design Associates

Catch up on tomato planting. Some Californians planted berries in early March or April; others are still waiting. Funny thing is, I say this without scientific evidence to back this up, unless you live in a hot inland climate or have pampered your crops with warming devices or little hand-knit sweaters, the late and early planters will probably select their very first tomatoes about the exact same period in late July or August. Our spring days are plenty warm enough, but the cool nights don’t encourage much tomato plant growth or fruit setting.

What’s a good number if you’re planting today? It’s probably best to prevent the berries that take a long growing season (some of those heirlooms and beefsteak types). When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with Historical Girl — which has come to be the go-to, all-purpose tomato for almost all of California, especially for late planters. Its fruit ripens quickly, also it has a smallish to medium size; it is very much the normal tasty tomato in looks and taste.

The Historical Girl plant grows tall and quickly also, being an indeterminant kind, needs support (stakes, cage, trellis) from the start. At this time of year, watch fresh treatment such as signs of wilting on warm days and supply extra moisture before the roots have become established.

If you have been considering a pizza oven. A wood-burning oven, or pizza oven, is one of those features that could transform a garden — like a swimming pool, hot tub or, for that matter, basketball court. Here are a couple things to think about if you’re thinking about an outdoor oven.

First, the obvious: Can you use it? Would you like to cook? Entertain outside? The oven can be the focal point of your own entertaining. But it can be pricey, and all of the accoutrements are costly also: the peels, the 100 thermometers, firewood etc..

Do you have a place for an oven? It needs to be near the remainder of your outdoor cooking area (grill, dining table). You don’t simply start the fire and walk off.

Is there year-round accessibility? You’ll need a walkable surface near the oven, such as paving or even a nonsoggy yard.

Can you lighting the area?

Would you like to play with passion? Building and tending the cooking fire is the most vital step, and it is best if you like it.

What do you really want the oven to look like? Typically, a terra-cotta dome is enclosed in insulated housing — which can look like whatever you want. The oven shown here was designed by Ruth Chivers to complement a nearby terrace and grill center with a contemporary Mediterranean appearance. The oven comes from Mugnaini of Watsonville, California, which imports from Italy. You can find a lot of ideas from the Mugnaini site. There are simpler gas-heated pizza ovens also, for instance from the high-end maker Kalamazoo.

If you’re wondering, after all of my cautions, my loved ones and I like our oven a good deal, and we’ve cooked pizza, roast pork, eggplant Parmesan, Thanksgiving turkey and much more. Just don’t attempt to warrant an oven’s price, any more than you would amortize the expense of fly-fishing by the money saved on trout eaten.

What’s that flower? If you have never seen Matilija poppy earlier, it is bound to catch your attention in June, as the bloom season for California native plants melts. Native to Southern California, it is a strapping tree with glowing white, yellow-centered flowers around 9 inches broad. It’s frequently called fried egg plant, for obvious reasons. Definitely not tasty and definitely not for formal gardens, this is a good selection for wilder, dryer parts of a big garden, particularly hillsides. Beware, though: In favorable areas it can spread broadly by underground suckers, which is great for erosion control but not so great if you’re attempting to maintain better-behaved crops nearby.

Botanical name: Romneya coulteri
USDA zones: 8 to 10
Water necessity: Very light
moderate requirement: Complete sun
Mature size: 6 to 8 ft tall; spreads wide and far in the ideal conditions
Growing tips: Once it is established, don’t water it in summer. Cut back the stalks to the ground.

Play shield against the gorgeous grasses. The graceful, waving flower heads shown here say a lot about the beauty of many grasses and grasslike plants available today. But the flowers also suggest their potential for trouble. Many grasses can spread by seeds and eventually become obnoxious invasive pests. (For an extreme example, a species of Pennisetum is shooting over the barren lava fields of the Big Island of Hawaii.)

Don’t let me talk you out of planting grasses as a yard alternative, border, accent plant or container plant. Just do your homework. Check with your local nursery for appropriate blossoms for your area. An authoritative publication is The American Meadow Garden: Making a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Yard, by grass expert John Greenlee, formerly of Southern California and currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The plant shown here’s Carex divulsa, frequently called Berkeley sedge though it is native to Europe. It’s popular, pretty and easy to develop, but potentially can disperse far by its seeds. Cut off the flower heads as soon as they begin to dry, before the seeds scatter.

Botanical name: Carex divulsa, occasionally sold as Carex tumilicola
USDA zones: 4 to 9
Water necessity: Moderate. Can grow in moist or dry soils.
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet tall and broad
Growing tips: Cut off drying flowers to keep the seeds out of scattering. If plants become too big or straggly, cut them back to in just a few inches of the ground before spring growth begins.


Here’s a screen or hedge for near-impossible situations. Hopbush, or Dodonaea, is one of the very few plants that can thrive in dry, shady spots. (Most other shade plants seem to like moist conditions, don’t you believe?) It grows. To put it differently, it fits the ideal profile for a screen or hedge plant, in shade or sun, or in a combination of knots. Its evergreen foliage is bronzy purple in the sun, greener when grown in the shade.

Botanical name: Dodonaea viscosa
Common names: Florida hopbush, jump bush, hopseed bush
USDA zones: 8 to 11
Water necessity: Light to moderate
moderate requirement: Full sun to partial shade, even almost full shade
Mature size: 10 to 15 feet tall and broad
Growing tips: Prune to control the size and contour. Reduce the branch strategies for bushier growth. Remove the lower branches to train it into a single-trunked tree.

Here’s another overlooked, very beneficial shrub. Bush germander won’t ever be a star but creates a fantastic background plant — especially for showier plants such as the ‘Mutabilis’ increased shown here. Germander is an evergreen shrub with silver-gray foliage which seems to go with everything. Its little blue flowers bloom for a very long period — this photograph was taken in early November. (The number ‘Azureum’ has deeper blue flowers.) Plant bush germander in the back of a border or across the border of your property, in a dry and bright place.

Botanical name: Teucrium fruticans
Common name: Bush germander
USDA zones: 8 to 9
Water necessity: Lighting
moderate requirement: Complete sun
Mature size: 4 to 6 ft tall and wide or broader
Growing tips: For bushier growth, lean unruly branches and reduce back lanky branches.

The New York Botanical Garden

What Else to Do in June in Your California Garden

There is still lots of time to plant life. In fact, in all but the hottest climates, it is a fantastic time to plant warm-weather annual flowers, for example ‘Janie Tangerine’ marigold, shown here.

Plant summer flowers. For the sunniest areas, set out seedlings of heat-loving annuals such as celosia, cosmos, marigolds and portulaca. For shady areas: bedding begonias, impatiens, lobelia. All these are simple from seeds: cosmos, marigolds and zinnias. Good choices for summer perennials include gaillardia, penstemon, salvia and yarrow.

Plant fruits. As soon as you can, begin those from seeds sown directly in the ground: beans, carrots, corn, melons, pumpkins and squash. And put out seedlings of cucumber, eggplant, peppers, squash and berries.

Plant herbs. Favourite herbs flourish in warmth: basil, chives, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Plant a pot filled with them and keep it near the grill.

End up important planting. It’s ideal to plant trees, shrubs, ground covers, lawns and other essential landscape components prior to the hottest weather. In inland regions it is usually better to wait till early fall.

Attempt some tropicals. These all grow quickly in summertime heat: bananas, hibiscus, palms, gardenias and citrus.

Pay extra attention to watering. Winter and spring were sterile, and it is a very long wait before the rainy season. Deep soak shrubs and trees, except for established natives along with other drought-resistant kinds. Container plants may need water daily. Newly planted flower and vegetable seedlings shouldn’t dry out. Save moisture and control weeds using a 1- to 3-inch mulch around shrubs, trees and summer flowers and vegetables.

Maintenance for roses. Remove faded flowers. Feed the dirt using a complete fertilizer. Start a summertime irrigation schedule. Watch for aphids and spider mites.

Maintenance for perennials. After bloom cut off faded flowers. Pinch the tips of geraniums and chrysanthemums for bushier growth. Divided crowded clumps.

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