Planting Thimbleberry, Toyon, and Ceanothus

It was my great pleasure last week to distribute some seeds and plants I've grown to fellow enthusiasts of local native plants.These folk live within 30 miles of me, for the most part. I hope to get a yet more local distribution (the opposite of what most people want in their enterprises!).

I promised the new plant owners some guidelines for their new acquisitions, and here is part the first. I always want to put all that I can share in one post, but I'll have to pace myself. I have seeds to go over, and other topics in mind, but today - planting plants from pots into the ground.

As ever please note: these are just gardener-to-gardener guidelines – I hope you all also check your plant out on and as well as, to see what they have to say.

Potted Plants - General Planting Advice
Plant now! The ground is ready with the rain we've been having.

Rat and I planted the ceanothus I grew from seed last weekend. These seeds came from the tree that blew over in a storm last year. Funny coincidence - when I went to update the planting label, I discovered that it was a year to the day, from the day I sowed the seed!

We decided to plant it just down the slope from its mother tree, which is still lying on the ground. We are being positive about it: it's creating habitat! We'll be chopping it up sometime I guess. It's in this picture, but hard to see.

The planting holes don't have to be much bigger or deeper than the plant you are putting in it. Rough up the sides of the hole.

When you take the plants out of the pots, spend a few minutes loosening out the roots. (I didn't get a picture of this part.) This can be hard work. As Fran Adams taught me, you should not see the shape of the pot when you are done. You can wet the roots if they are dry, to make it easier to untangle them a bit. Try not to break the roots, but don't worry about the long hairy stragglers. Especially unwind or even just cut through any roots that are growing circular wise around the pot. If you don't cut or unwind them, the plant will remain rootbound.

Make sure the plant is settled in well, and MOST important, keep the crown – the part where the roots meet the stems – slightly higher than the surrounding soil. Kinda hard to see below but I did check. You want to avoid the crown getting soggy. Fungus can attack there.

Water newly planted plants to fill in any air pockets. Roots can't grow in big air pockets.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus one year old, newly planted

Keep newly planted plants from drying out till their roots have grown into the soil. Wean them slowly from nursery watering. I'm an anxious parent and I do keep my babies well watered. 

First Year of Care
If there are dry spells during winter, water the plants. You might want to create a little watering berm around the plants, creating a moat effect so the water you add can soak in - but in winter this is not generally needed. Again, don't let water sit around the crown.

By spring they should be establishing good roots. Still, for their first spring and summer, give them some water – occasional deep watering to get the soil wet all the way to the bottom of the roots. And in between, if they look dry, give them a bit of water to keep them happy. Basically, don't overwater, but don't let them dry out completely – their first year they are not properly established.

I've lost a lot of  new plants by not watering them in summer.

Subsequent Care
After their first year, these plants (ceanothus, thimbleberry, toyon) may not need any watering, though they won't mind it. They will look a bit better with some summer water. But they've been growing here in the wild quite happily, in their summer-dry environmental niches. The ceanothus may be a bit sensitive to too much summer water, but the others won't mind.

Adding a light top dressing of compost is helpful when they start growing in spring. Natives don't need as much “food” as regular garden plants. But they will need some, and compost is best. Avoid rich fertilizer. Also, mulch helps to conserve moisture.
Now a few tips about the individual plants themselves.

Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus
Yerba Buena page

Thimbleberry in an East Bay garden.
Plant thimbleberry where they are in shade part of the day, preferably where they won't get afternoon sun. Extra water can compensate for extra exposure to some extent. They are edge-of-the-woods type plants. Around here they grow along dry dirt roads, as well as down by the creek, so they tolerate different water conditions.

They are deciduous, so now they are starting to look a bit ratty as the leaves wither.

Thimbleberry grow between four and six feet tall and wide, with lush large soft fuzzy green leaves I really love, nice white flowers in late spring about an inch or so in size, and pink raspberry type fruits that are fairly good to eat. No thorns. I would recommend pruning the babies I gave you to encourage bushy growth. I'm not sure – I plan to prune some of mine back to leave six or eight leaf nodes that will grow branches, but it's up to you what kind of plant you want to end up with.

They can grow into a thicket – prune back any spreading growth you don't want. I don't think they are hard to keep in bounds, but I haven't grown them yet in my garden so I don't really know – You are my guinea pigs!

Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
Yerba Buena page 

My neighbor's berries. Mine get black sooty mold :-(

Please also look at Town Mouse's last post featuring toyon - lovely pics!
These shrubs/small trees grow both on the sunny chaparral side and also on the shadier woodsier side of my property. Those in part shade are more leafy and smooth. The ones in the sun are a bit scrubby looking, but then I don't irrigate them. I bet with a bit of summer irrigation they would look better.

A bit more sun and drought tolerant than thimbleberry, as you can tell by their leatherier leaves.

They'll get to be 15 feet tall, but you can prune them. I've whacked back toyon here and it comes right back. They get leggy. You can train them to a tree probably. You can try pruning them for bushiness. Depends what kind of final look you are aiming for. I rather like the long trunks. With luck and a lack of ants and aphids and sooty mold (bane of my life here), they will get gorgeous clusters of small creamy flowers in early summer, and in fall to around Christmas time, gorgeous clusters of red berries. The birds, of course love them.

California  Wild Lilac, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus

This is the tree form of ceanothus. (the photo may be showing Julia Phelps, a different one but with similar blossoms).
It can get 20 feet tall, and it is fairly wide too, with a pretty pyramid type tree shape. Plant where you want a small tree. I have topped some of my babies to see what they grow like as a shrub.

I don't see these growing on the chaparral side. They can take full sun but they probably prefer some shade, and richer soil than the lean chaparral soil.

They are fast growers. They have a nice airy look. In a good year they will be covered in pale blue blossoms that the butterflies and bees adore.

Well, that's all there is to it - I do hope you will enjoy these plants as much as the wildlife surely will, and I hope you'll let me know how things go for you. Happy native gardening! -- I'll post about the seeds I gave out soon.


Nice job propagating the Ceanothus. Now the greenhouse is up I'm going to try starting some from seed here. We get a few that pop up of their own accord, but as we've discovered, they transplant badly from one part of the property to the other, so we'll see how they do from pots!

We don't have much Thimbleberry here, but do have a little. I'm hoping to propagate a lot more, as we have plenty of areas it should do well. Did you propagate yours from seed, or cuttings?
ryan said…
Those are some great plants to be giving away. I've never grown any of them from seed. Nice to know it can be done. I like all three of them a lot.
Town Mouse said…
I'm so impressed you've done this! And I'm sure all the recipients of the plants will enjoy them so much!
The Thimbleberry runners are not bad. The roots are woody and come up really easily in garden soil. It's a shade plant that should be more widely used, for sure.
Sue Langley said…
How cool is that you've been able to propagate really useful and beautiful plants but also it a year to the day!
On a steep slope I place a rock below the plant to anchor it and dig a small basin up slope of the plant to fill with water during the summer. I usually have to rebuild these at times. I learned this from another mountain gardener and it works! This is just until they 'get established'
Country Mouse said…
CVF if you want seeds, we're not so far away, and I think it would be OK to bring in some from our valley to yours. So if you miss out next year, let me know. Or if you want to get an early start, also let me know. Yes, Ryan - these are easy from seed!
Susan, thanks for the advice from your garden experience of thimbleberry! and Sue - great tips for hillside planting - a basin upslope of the plant - I never would have thought of it! I do hope the recipients enjoy the plants to be sure.