Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Her neighborhood mystery reveals royalty

I am sending a photo of a plant in my neighborhood in hopes you guys can identify it. The leaves are velvety and it is in the form of a small tree or bush – just gorgeous.

JaNann Lewis, Isleton

That’s a beautiful plant, but hopefully it’s growing in a warm, well-protected spot. It’s princess flower ( Tibouchina urvilleana), a Brazilian native that’s a favorite landscape plant in frost-free areas around the globe.

Also called “glory bush,” this fast-growing shrub can form a small tree, up to 15 feet tall. Its tender stems form a rounded mound of velvety foliage. In summer, the bush is covered with large bluish-purple flowers. With its showy blooms, this is a great plant to use where people can see it, such as near a walkway, patio or window.

In areas with winter frost (such as ours), the bush dies back each winter, but quickly re-sprouts in the spring if the crown remains in tact.

Princess flowers like full sun, but in the Sacramento area, prefer some afternoon shade. This shrub prefers rich, fertile soil, but will adapt to other soils if well mulched. It needs average irrigation and will tolerate short periods of drought.

This plant is propagated from soft wood cuttings or divided by clumps. Perhaps your neighbor will share a cutting and you can grow your own little “princess.”

Nurseryman’s tip

Joe Marengo worked many years at Sacramento’s Capital Nursery. A California certified nurseryman, Marengo has tackled many garden problems, both those of his former customers and his own. For some jobs, you’ve got to turn on the hose – even in drought.

The lack of water has made the ground exceptionally hard and some jobs nearly impossible.

“I’ve broken shovel handles, trying to dig up privets or figs or other plants with deep tap roots,” he said. “But water acts as a lubricant. This method really saved some shovel handles.”

He offered this advice:

“I am sure many of us have had difficulty removing those nasty weeds (or other unwanted plants) which have a deep tap root. One example would be Japanese privet. You can dig and dig, even with a special shovel which allows you to go deeper, but the weed still refuses to come out.

“As a last resort, I decided to add some water exactly to the area where I was digging, even though there seemed to be enough moisture in the soil already,” he said. “Then, I waited about 20 minutes before I made another attempt with the special shovel. To my surprise the weed came out with ease.

“Perhaps there wasn’t enough moisture in the lower portion of the soil,” he added. “It took about two gallons of water to achieve success.”

Using water for weed removal will actually save more water in the future, he noted. Privets and other unwanted shrubs or trees use several gallons a week, stealing that water from your landscaping and more desirable plants.

“Many of these invasive and obnoxious weeds can use an abundance of water over time,” Marengo said. “You may not be successful (removing) every type of weed (with this method). Volunteer fig plants would be an example. However, it still might be worth trying if not too large.”

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