Saturday, July 28, 2007

Meet Little John, From Down Under


Callistemon viminalis 'Little John'


Australian plants do well in Arizona, as the climate there is similar to ours. Most desert gardens have at least three or four different varieties of "Aussie" natives. In my garden, I have several types of Emu Bush, Willow Acacia trees, and some Dwarf Bottlebrush shrubs, (Callistemon viminalis 'Little John').

The Dwarf Bottlebrush is a low mounding shrub that grows very slowly and will eventually reach about three feet tall with a five-foot spread. Since I don't want my shrubs to be sprawling, I prune them minimally in late autumn. They have attractive foliage and a bottlebrush-like red flower that blooms in early spring, then periodically through summer. Hummingbirds love them, but are sometimes hesitant to swoop in so low, so will choose other flowering plants before this one.

There are a couple of problems with the Dwarf Bottlebrush. It seems to collect more dust than other plants in my garden, so it always looks dusty. I think that's because the leaves are somewhat hairy. Although it does well here, it prefers a more humid environment where it can really thrive. It is also somewhat frost sensitive. Every year, I have to trim back a few frost-damaged tips, but even the hard freeze we had this past winter didn't severely affect it.

This little shrub is like a miniature version of the Bottle Brush Tree--same flower, same foliage, and same frost sensitivity. Like the Bottle Brush Tree, the pollen is an allergen, so sensitive folks may want to skip this shrub, as well as the tree.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not a garderner, so I have no idea what I'm doing. That being said, I purchased a bottlebrush 5 gallon plant and planted it on my front yard. It looks really dry, the leaves are not even green anymore. I wonder if I kill this beauty? What should I do?

No Rain said...

Hi anonymous,
Little John needs little to moderate water after established. You didn't say how long it has been in your yard, but when first planted, it needs a bit more water than after it's there awhile. It becomes chlorotic (yellow leaves)if not watered properly. If it has poor drainage it also becomes chlorotic. It prefers a slightly acidic soil. So, I would make sure it is not being overwatered, and make sure that the ground is not boggy. Also, you didn't say where you are from, so you'll need to check to see if your region has acidic or alkaline soil. There are amendments to increase acid in the soil if needed.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you for comment. Well, after reading your comment I would say that the plant has become chlorotic. To give you more information the plant has been in my yard for 2 and 1/2 months and I live in the town of Maricopa, AZ. I water the plant every other day and I'm not sure if the soil is acidic. How do I test for acidity levels? If I make changes to the soil and water properly will this plant come back?

No Rain said...

Anonymous,
You could have your soil tested, but that's a bit expensive, certainly more than a new plant! They have small test kits available at some nurseries, but they can't tell as much as professional testing. Maricopa should not have soil that is very acidic, so you may just try adding an amendment to see if it helps. Watering every other day is just too much. a good watering once every couple of weeks this time of year should be fine. As it gets hotter, it may need water once a week, even twice if the soil is fast draining. Try cutting back on the water.

Anonymous said...

Hello;
I too purchased 2 dwarf bottlebrushes and planted them on each side of my driveway. They have been there for less than 2 weeks. I am in Houston TX and it's very hot here right now. The plants look extremely dry. The leaves look brittle to touch, although they are not, and are a greyish color. Looking at them, it seems they need more water, although I am no where near being an expert. I leave the water hose on at a trickle every other night (all night) for each plant. HELP!

No Rain said...

Anonymous,
Your dwarf bottlebrush plants may be suffering transplant shock and may need some special care to try to save them. If the leaves don't crumble to the touch, they are not dead yet, so the plant may survive. Even if some leaves may be dead, don't get rid of the plants until you know there are no leaves alive and no new ones growing.

Plants just getting established need regular water. Depending on you type of soil, the water should run long enough to reach a depth of just beyond the length of the container they came in at this time. It may take several month for the roots to take hold and start putting out more, so watch the watering for a while.

Once they are established, then they should be watered to a depth of two feet every 7 to 14 days. (check the depth by using a piece of rebar and pushing it down in the soil after watering. It will go down easily where the soil is wet. When you run into resistance, the the soil is dry.)

When varying watering schedules for season, the length of time of watering should remain the same--after all--that's how long it takes the water to reach a depth of two feet in your soil and that doesn't change. The frequency of watering is what you change depending on the temperatures. More often in summer, less in winter. After awhile, you'll learn just what your climate requires by how the plant responds.

DonB said...

I have 3 bottlebrush plants which were beautiful until a misguided landscape worker trimmed off the "flowers". they seem to have grown back but are still green not the red the original ones were. I live in NW Phoenix AZ, the plants are watered by my irrigation system. Any suggestions would be appreciated.






az

Aiyana said...

Any pruning should be done after flowering to remove most of the spent flowers and to encourage an attractive growth habit. Since the landscapers trimmed off the flowers when they were still active, you may have to wait until spring to see more. Little John usually blooms in autumn and again in early/mid spring, and sporatically throughout the year (which rarely happens for me.) I think your Little John bushes are going into their normal non- blooming period. I wouldn't worry too much about it and just wait until spring to see what happens. This plant does not need a lot of water once established.
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

I'm from Marble Falls, TX. I have 3 bottlebrushes and they are in an estimated 10 sq ft area. I planted them Oct 2010. All the stems and main 'trunk' have turned a very light brown. I trimmed them down about a month ago and when I did they were still vargrant. I do not see any type of growth, so I'm trying to decide if it's time to take them out. It seems I'm in the same situation as the 'average gardener' from Ft. Worth. I have other plants that I cna put in there, but I love the way that bottle brushes can look. Any real advice would be greatly appreciated.

Aiyana said...

Did you have a hard freeze this past winter? Sometimes a newly planted shrub will succumb to the cold easier than an established plant. If the brown areas are brittle, then that portion is probably dead. However, I think I'd wait just a bit longer to see if any new growth starts comes in other areas of the plant. Sometimes new growth comes a little later than normal if the winter was exceptionally cold. Once it's clear that no growth has started, then I would replace as the plant is too damaged to recover. Bottle Brush shrubs are susceptible to iron deficiency, (chlorosis) so if they do revive, watch for yellow foliage and treat with applications of iron chelate or iron sulfate.
Good luck,
Aiyana

Anonymous said...

I have 5 dwarf bottlebrush that were planted about a month ago. I live in central Texas and we are in a drought right now. for the first couple of weeks I watered them every other day and then tapered off to twice a week. They now have a gray fuzzy substance at the tip of each branch and yesterday I noticed that some of the leaves have tiny black spots on them. I have not watered them at all this week. I do not know what to do next. I could use some help. Puzzeled in Texas

Anonymous said...

I am in Maricopa Co and have three bottle brushes which are probably about 14 years old. When we purchased the house they looked beautiful but over the past six years they have declined. They were yellowish so we started to fertilize last year and they started looking better now this year they have brow tips on the leafs. We are only here from Nov through May. We water every third day. Need some advice.

Aiyana said...

Anon.
You may be watering too often, especially this time of year. Little John becomes chlorotic if not watered properly, or if they are planted in an area with caliche or poor drainage. This shrub prefers a slightly acidic soil, so use fertilizer meant for acid-loving plants. I've used iron chelate with good results. Not too much or often. The brown, dry tips could be from underwatering earlier this year. We've had half of our normal rainfall, so plants needed more frequent watering this past summer.

Kimberly Ramirez said...

Hello I know this is an older thread but would hope to find some answers. I bought two dwarf bottle brush shrubs and planted one each in a large pot on both sides of the garage. They get part sun and I try and water once weekly. I notice that the bushes are looking a little dried out and brown not all of the leaves have that look and still looks like it can be saved. Should I dosomething different with them?

Kimberly Ramirez said...

Btw I live in south texas

Aiyana said...

South Texas--hot but humid? I think you are just going to have to experiment with them to see how much water they need. Potted plants need watering more frequently in the summer months--but the only way you will really know what is the best for the climate, location of the plants, soil composition and how fast water drains and/or holds in the soil. As I suggested--get that moisture meter and test until you get it right for your particular plants. Little John is drought tolerant, but it does need water--especially when potted. How much and how often will be decided by your experimentation.

MidwestTrixie said...

Hi, I live in Cave Creek and have 4 bottlebrush (little johns) that are a year in their current location and survived last winter's hard frost. I need to transplant two of them. When is the best time to do this?