UNITED STATES—It is easy to see why there are optimum times to prune, and just as easy to see when pruning should not be done. Generally, deciduous plants prefer to get pruned while dormant and bare. They should not be pruned when actively blooming or making new foliage. Roots are of course not so easy to see. Do we really know what they are doing, or what sort of mischief they are getting into?

Autumn is the best time for planting most plants. They are less active than they had been earlier in the year, and many are going dormant. Either way, they do not need much. Once in the ground, their roots are kept cool and moist by the weather. They get to sit there all winter, as they slowly begin to disperse their roots to get ready for the following spring. It all fits into their natural life cycle.

Shopping habits, however, do not. By autumn, many plants are neither as pretty nor as tempting as they were earlier in the year. By winter, the weather keeps many of us inside, and out of nurseries. Now that it is spring, it is difficult to resist all the pretty plants that are blooming so delightfully. We are tempted to buy them compulsively, even if we have no immediate plans for them.

That is okay. We can make this work. Buying certain plants in bloom actually has certain advantages. It shows how and when particular plants bloom. This might be helpful when trying to decide between different cultivars of deciduous magnolias, flowering cherries, flowering crabapples or wisterias, for example. Besides, they will finish blooming quickly, and start to produce new foliage.

If planted before new foliage matures, new plants should be planted in cool weather, and maybe sprayed lightly with water after the roots get soaked in. This is best for drought tolerant plants like ceanothus, that want out of their cans (nursery pots) as soon as possible. If new plants stay in their cans long enough for foliage to mature, they must be watered carefully, but not kept saturated. The black vinyl cans should be shaded, since they get warm in sunlight.

Highlight: maritime ceanothus

What ever happened to Point Reyes ceanothus? It is such a nice low growing shrub, with small holly-like leaves, and cheery blue flowers in very early spring. It was quite popular when it initially became available, but now seems to be rare. Maritime ceanothus, Ceanothus maritimus, from San Luis Obispo County, is a similar species that presently seems to be getting more attention.

‘Frosty Dawn’ is the standard cultivar of maritime ceanothus, although there may be at least three cultivars with the same name. The ‘correct’ cultivar gets about two feet tall and five feet wide, with rigid but arching stems, grayish half inch long leaves, and dense trusses of minute blue flowers as winter ends. Another cultivar gets taller with more open growth. Another has lighter blue flowers.

Once established, maritime ceanothus can probably survive without any watering, but it might be happier with occasional watering through summer. New plants will need to be watered until they disperse their roots. Compared to other ceanothus, maritime ceanothus grows relatively slowly, but lives longer. (Many ceanothus can be short-lived.) Also, it is a bit more tolerant of partial shade.