Mexican Orange (choisya) Help?

gardenbug(8b)April 16, 2010

My MO shrub is about a year old. It's only about 2ft tall. Seems to be hardly growing at all. It gets morning shade and afternoon sun. It is just getting some flower buds right now. I thought they would grow faster than this. It doesn't seem to be any taller than when I planted it last year.

Also, the rabbits have eaten some of the lower leaves and I've got about a 8" bare spot at the bottom, will new leaves grow back there again?

Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Likes warmth and good drainage. I see many specimens that look like they have a water mold problem. As far as yours and this year are concerned, it may be too early for new stem growth.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 1:58PM
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Thank you bboy. It gets west exposure. Morning shade and afternoon sun. It has good drainage so there isn't any mold problems. So, I'm not sure what the problem could be. Do you think the bottom leaves will come back where the rabbits chewed them off?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 9:09PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

It takes time for a woody to grow a sturdy root system.

Once it has, it will take off. It's similar to herbaceous perennials - the first year they sleep (growing roots), the 2nd year they creep (growing more roots but beginning to put out top growth), and the 3rd year they leap. Well, modestly leap.

And yes, that bare spot is likely to fill in. Patience is needed.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:13PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Actually, no plants change their annual growth cycles in response to being planted by a person. The energy budget follows the same schedule every year.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 11:03PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Not quite true, about growth habits of newly planted plants. It is a well documented phenomenon that some plants do concentrate on root growth to build up energy for future top growth. Bamboos in general fit this pattern. Having divided root divisions of Choisya ternata, it has also been my experience that this species does resent root disturbance, and will almost remain in stasis with above ground growth until it has developed a lot of new roots, and that Choisya puts on more rapid growth as the plant gets larger. More sun and warmth in combination with fertile soil and/or fertilizing on a regular basis during the warmer months will help push this into faster growth. At least here in California conditions, Choisya ternata tends to spread at the roots as well, so it will tend to fill in at the base if it doesn't continue to get eaten by rabbits.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 5:01PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Timing of growth being concentrated in a particular part of the plant is regulated by environmental factors like day length and temperature. Energy stored in stems and roots is used to support top growth, at the same time each year. Food manufactured by the top via photosynthesis, is the source of the energy stored in the stems and roots.

The basic general schedule for hardy trees and shrubs is energy use prioritized for new top growth (and production of new roots) in spring, flowering at about the same time or in summer, following by fruiting and then setting of winter buds. After winter buds are mature, in fall, existing root tips elongate markedly - the most of the whole year - as this is the only time the plant is not either essentially inactive (winter) or using energy in other parts of the plant.

If you divide a bamboo, since the total mass of the division is smaller than the original, intact mother plant top growth will not be as large as if the stock was still all in one piece. Roots and stems must gradually increase to their original total volume before culms as large as were being made by the parent plant will be possible. As the leaves the division came with or is able to produce at first (from a root fragment) build up the bamboo's energy each year, each subsequent year's amount of new growth is larger than the one previous.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2010 at 7:35PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Therefore, it is not wrong to say that the first year after planting a divided or small clump of bamboo, it will concentrate on growing new roots, the second year will see more new above ground growth, and the third year the bamboo will give growth close to or the equal of the mother plant.

I've seen the same sort of behavior with Choisya. No argument here that above ground and below ground growth are working in concert depending on climatic conditions, but Choisya is one of those plants that is very shy to put on top growth if it doesn't first have a good amount of roots, relative to how many other woody plants will growth if propagated from a multi-trunked plant, similar to how most bamboos act upon division. Divide a bamboo and retain a larger root ball and more culms, and it will show much less transplant shock, and usually continue to throw up new culms equal in size to the mother plant. Mexican Weeping Bamboo/Otatea acuminata aztectorum is especially sensitive to transplant shock and slow regrowth, from personal experience, as is Choisya ternata, or at least the cultivar 'Sundance' is.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 12:33AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

No, the plant will not change its annual routine for the entire first year because it has been handled. That is the part that is an artifice, like the idea that roots choose to stay in amended planting holes because they like them better than the soil around them. Plants aren't that human, a plant body is not a company or bureau that shifts resources around at will. Plant growth behavior is regulated by environmental factors like light, moisture, day length and temperature.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 1:05PM
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Fast growing Californicating plants sure look pretty as they're being unloaded off the back end of a big truck trailor. Choisya ternata is an exotic that dies in the PNW winters. Bring it inside.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 8:27PM
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brody(z7 WA)

No, in some neighborhoods in Seattle you see huge Choisyas in every other yard that have clearly been there for years. It's pretty well hardy there if grown in the right spot and I'd imagine it would come back from the roots if cut down in a particularly hard winter, like bay laurel or even flowering pomegranite. Anyway, most of the plants we grow are exotics.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 3:29AM
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I have two massive Choisyas that are growing in our W. Seattle yard. Cadence, wish you could take them (or at least one of them for us). They are unruly and very vigorous.

I'm not very familiar with the plant myself and have a question for anyone local who has some: The leaves are pretty fragrant when you crush them, almost basil-like, does anyone know if they've been used for cooking or medicinally?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 9:44PM
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Based on a lot of years of gardening both personally and professionally, my experience is that many plants DO require a season or two to establish before you see significant top growth. And I've not found this phenomenon to be restricted to bamboo or's been very obviously apparent in a whole host of plant types - trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and groundcovers. The first season or two, nothing much happens but by the third year, normal growth is evident. It may be due to restrictions in root growth during handling/harvesting by the grower or because of container culture but the situation exists nonetheless. I have no scientific basis to support this - only experiential evidence accumulated over many years.

And I'd not give too much credence to the contention that "Choisya ternata is an exotic that dies in the PNW winters". There are far too many large, established shrubs in this area for that to be a valid assumption. And judging by the size of many of these shrubs, they've been around for years. Proper siting is important but at worst, mine (and I've grown all three common selections) have experienced some minor foliar damage -- nothing more.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 11:19AM
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Wow, thanks everyone for all your information. Well, my little Mexican Orange made it through the winter just fine. It simply just didn't get too much growth. But now I understand why now. I'm happy to hear that the bottom branches should get some leaves eventually. Anyway, as I'm writing this note, the little white buds are opening up into pretty little white flowers. It looks really pretty. Do I prune it after the flowers have faded. How long will the flowers remain? When to fertilize and with what? Thank everyone.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 2:17PM
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If you need to prune, do so as soon after flowering as possible. Depending on exposure, the flowering period can last from 4-6 weeks and the shrub will often produce some sporadic rebloom in midsummer to early fall. I never fertilized any of mine intentionally, although two did receive the same compost-based mulch as everything else in the garden. The third was planted in my enclosed patio close to the rabbit hutch so it no doubt received some benefit from the bunnies and the routine cleaning and hosing out of their home :-)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 11:31AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Nice to get some backup on anecdotal experience with growth rates of plants from someone who is in the business and has years of experience to back it up. I don't understand the need to contradict actual experience with botanical jargon, particularly when it isn't backed up with direct experience with the plant in question. Gardengal's experience with Choisya certainly corresponds with mine, and I would certainly support her case that there are a variety of plants beyond bamboos and Choisya that act this way.

Another observation about timing of pruning with Choisya ternata; the new regrowth is much more sun sensitive, and can easily burn if you prune prior to hot weather, and the plant is exposed to hot sun. This is more common in areas that only get sporadic heat waves, and are not consistently hot for the entire season.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 1:00PM
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