Sister's mystery plant sounds like a mock orange - Albuquerque Journal

Sister’s mystery plant sounds like a mock orange

Q. My sister bought a home in the downtown area north of Lomas late last year. In the backyard there is a shrub that is about 5-foot-tall and in winter looked like a pile of ugly, stiff grey sticks. With all the moving in and settling in we never got around to pruning it. It came out of its winter dormancy really quickly and is now covered with bright white, 2-inch-across flat four-petaled, sweetly scented flowers. When I say covered, I mean it’s a riot of blooms. The neighbor says the previous owner always called it a honeysuckle, but the flowers aren’t like any honeysuckle I’ve ever seen, and the branches are more stiff, not twining like honeysuckles I’ve seen. Any idea what this shrub is because I’m convinced it’s not a honeysuckle! – SH, Albuquerque

Tracey FitzgibbonA. I owe the identification of your sister’s shrub to my sister.

I have a similar shrub in my yard and my stepmother insisted that it was a honeysuckle. Well guess what?

I was taught the shrub planted at my home, and probably your sister’s, is called a mock orange (Philadelphus).

You’re correct that during the winter months they do look like an ugly piles of sticks but now it is covered in a riot of bright white blooms.

I am rewarded with the scent first-thing in the morning and again at dusk, and it is very sweet smelling, perhaps suggesting that it is a honeysuckle.

The scent is different though, sweet yes, but not as overpowering as a lot of honeysuckles can be. The flowers are short-lived, so enjoy them while you have them.

After flowering the shrub will be covered with medium green pointy oval-shaped leaves throughout the summer months that last well into autumn.

My mock orange drops all of its leaves cleanly after the first hard frost, so tidying up after it is easy.

I have, during the active growing season, tied ribbons on some of the older growth so that when it is an ugly pile of sticks, I know which older growth I’ll want to prune out. But, I suggest that you don’t keep it too pruned, allowing it to keep more of its natural shape.

My bible lists several varieties of mock orange, and one is defined as “native to western North America” called the wild mock orange that is the state flower of Idaho.

Mock orange can be considered semi-drought tolerant but will always preform better with occasional deep watering. My mock orange sits in full-day sun until late afternoon and I’d consider it a slow grower. Very rarely does it throw out an arm that needs pruning back, but they can be shaped easily.

So, I’m pretty confident that sister’s shrub is an easy-to-grow mock orange. Enjoy!

Q. I’m confused and need some guidance. The city has a “watering plan,” but I have just planted several bushes that, if I water according to the city’s plan, won’t make it! What do I do? – CP, Albuquerque

A. The “plan” you’re referring to is the “Water by the Numbers: 1-2-3-2-1” monthly watering schedule from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. It is a guiding tool meant for watering established plantings. We are asked to water the established plantings of our landscaping thoughtfully, conserving our precious water.

We are now firmly in the “2” of the schedule, meaning you should aim to water the established plantings twice-a-week during the months of April and May. In June, July and August you can bump up to three times a week.

I hope you noticed the word “established.”

Certainly you do need to water your newly-planted treasures more often than that. I suggest that you do that watering first thing in the morning or at dusk.

Also do the watering by hand, so you are far more sure to get the water to the spots where it’s needed. Be very specific with the water placement.

The ABCWUA strongly suggests that water not be applied between the hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., since far too much of that water, offered during the heat of the day, evaporates.

So please, be sure to water your new plantings as often as you need to. Just be very thoughtful and responsible with that water. Give your new treasures the assistance they require and you’ll be okay.

Happy Diggin’ In.

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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