Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2011
Regional Report

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Bougainvillea shows color throughout the plant, making it perfect for growing on a trellis.


Henry has an amazing grape vine in his garden. We have never tasted so much as a single grape from this plant, although small grapes form every spring. The squirrels usually beat us to the harvest. So you see it's not the flavor of the fruit that makes this particular plant amazing. As a matter of fact, I don't even know what variety it is.

The thing that makes it so amazing is the fact that it has survived ten years of television pruning segments. Every winter we think we are going to illustrate how to prune a grape vine and every single time either Buzz or Henry accidentally removes one of the supporting branches or, worse, cuts the entire plant off at ground level. The fact that this particular vine recovers year after year to withstand even more abuse the following dormant season is a testimony to the hardiness of grape vines.

Why Vines?
The reason vines came to mind is that my friend Jean has had a new trellis built to cover her back patio and is now in the process of searching for a mild-mannered vine to cover it. She lives in South San Francisco so frost is not a problem. The selection of vines for this area is vast. However, she is going to have to live with her choice for hopefully many years, so we want to choose carefully.

Jean wants color that lasts for more than a month or two, so hardenbergia and Carolina jasmine were ruled out immediately, as were clematis and wisteria. Besides, wisteria is so darned aggressive unless it is pruned hard every year. She thought a climbing rose might be nice, however the flowers would bloom mostly on the top of the trellis and therefore be invisible from the house.
We talked about kiwi, but again, too aggressive and besides, you need a male and a female plant to make kiwi fruits. I recommended, and love, passion vine, especially because it invites Pacific fritillary butterflies to overwinter as cocoons among the foliage. Jean didn't think it was colorful enough. We considered trumpet vine, but again, the flowers would be on top and invisible from the house. Honeysuckle (Lonicera) is a contender and easy to groom -- you simply cut it to the ground in late winter, fertilize, and stand back.

And the Winner Is...
The plant we have decided upon is bougainvillea. It comes in many shades of red and pink and holds onto the flowers throughout the late spring, summer and fall. There are several factors in selecting a bougainvillea. It will tolerate very little frost, but South City has such a mild climate that will not be a problem. The roots are the most delicate in the entire plant world. It is recommended that you cut the can away from the roots rather than tipping the plant out of the container to avoid disturbing them. Even the slightest disturbance will cause the plant to fail. Bougainvillea is aggressive and needs a sturdy trellis, which Jean has. There is also the matter of pruning. Bougainvillea has nasty spines along the stems that bite hard, so heavy leather gloves are strongly recommended when guiding this particular plant.

My only concern is; will it live in a container? According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, bougainvillea vines that are pruned on an annual basis are good candidates for container gardening.

What the heck, I think we will give it a try!

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