Ask the Expert: What is a reliable winter bloom?

By Bruce Reed, SBBG Horticulturist

Originally published as "Ask the Expert: How can I remove my lawn?" This article is reprinted from Ironwood Vol 21, No 4; Winter 2013

Q: What is a reliable bloom during the winter?

A: Winter is the prolific growing season in California. Many plants begin new growth in winter as moisture becomes available. New shoots and leaves abound soon after the first rains, but what about good bloom?

Some of the earliest plants to bloom, coastal sunflower (Encelia californica) and chaparral nightshade (Solanum xantii) are lovely December accents for your garden. Pink-flowered currant (Ribes sanguineum) is a great bloomer beginning in January, with individuals still blooming as late as March. Of course, even in October, buckwheats and California fuchsias are often still pushing bloom.

An impressive show, often overlooked by gardeners, is Nevin's barberry (Berberis nevinii). A medium-to-tall shrub with very spiny, stiff leaves, Nevin’s barberry gives an impressive color display in many months of the year. Its gray evergreen leaves have a slightly blue tint which sets-off well against other greens in the garden. They provide a beautiful matte backdrop for the small, lovely, bright yellow flowers held in small clusters along the branches. Plants can begin to bloom as early as January. Blooming for months, it is common to see new blooms and ripening berries on the plant at the same time. The fruit is every bit as colorful as the flowers. Turning from green to an almost-white, to pink, they finish a bright scarlet red.

Nevin's barberry is not extinct in the wild, but nearly so. It was brought to cultivation by renowned plantsman Theodore Payne from the chaparral of the Los Angeles basin. Populations are few, but not immediately threatened in Riverside County. Nevin's barberry is sometimes available in very limited quantities at the Nursery, and can be seen here at the Garden growing in the Meadow and Porter Trail sections.