Mysterious garden inhabitant is a sand verbena

Mysterious garden inhabitant is a sand verbena

This mysterious plant found in Corrales is a sand verbena. (Courtesy of T.C.)

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. Can you tell me the name of this lovely wildflower that has set root in my wife’s peace garden. I have seen it in the nearby Corrales mesa, and we were delighted when it appeared unannounced in our desert landscaping. I call it “the starburst plant” because of the shooting fireworks-like buds that spread into beautiful silken, dusty pink blooms. It needs no tending but does appreciate our intermittent monsoon rains! – T.C., Corrales

A. Oh you lucky pup! Yes, I know this marvel, it’s a sand verbena. Abronia is its botanical name for this variety of sand verbena.

When I worked for Rowland Nursery a client brought in a sample and no one recognized it until we showed it to the in-house landscape designer.

You’ll find it listed as three varieties. There are several cautionary tales surrounding these plants, including that they are not hardy in severe climates.

The annual variety, Abronia villosa, might be your variety and it might live a couple of years, especially if you augment the watering (not soggy mind you).

The “silken, dusty pink blooms” are chock-full of seed. In fact you should be able to see the seed as that papery “bloom” fades. Collect them as they dry and next year if the “mother” plant doesn’t make it through this coming winter, you’ll have the seed to continue the legacy.

I read that you can gently rub the papery cover off the seed as it dries. For storing the seed, keep them in a paper bag, cool and dry, and shake the bag periodically throughout the storing season.

Sand verbena likes it hot. The soil must be thoroughly warmed before planting. You just might want to start some in starter pots filled with a rapidly draining mixture of sand and just a smidgen of seed-starting soil, but again don’t get too far ahead of yourself by starting too early in the year.

If sown directly outdoors, I don’t think you want to bury the seed too deep as I believe it is wind-sown in nature, so it doesn’t get buried.

All I can say again is lucky you for having something as lovely as this visual charmer appear in your garden.

Q. My red tip photinia finally succumbed after weakening for years since the 2011 big freeze. What are good options for a shrub, relatively close to the north side of the house that can be kept pruned to three feet or shorter to preserve the view through the window on that wall? Is now a good time to plant or should I wait until spring? – P.H.

A. I need to ask a couple of things. Did you keep the photinia to that three feet or shorter height, and did it do well for you?

Most photinia are mammoth in size. Did yours look and do well before succumbing?

As amazing as it sounds, when some shrubs decline it’s too often that the “main trunk” – the plant’s nose if you will – gets buried, a major cause of decline. This happenstance is a major concern, especially with evergreens because they are so good at disguising their space.

Often when “decline” is noticed, too often pests or water are the first culprits blamed.

So, was the photinia’s trunk buried?

Now that I’ve gotten those questions off my mind, here are a few evergreens you might consider.

First up is barberry. They flower and in turn offer berries, and can have several different colors of foliage-especially when the new growth pops out. They also have thorns which make them a great barrier planting.

Next is boxwood. Aim for either Japanese or Korean (B. japonica or B. koreana) varieties as they can take some pretty chilly temperatures. They offer a good green color and will prune nicely.

Cotoneaster is another option. This one will look better if you allow it to drape as opposed to keeping it pruned, but they are pretty. They also prefer a cooler environment.

Finally, juniper. Yes I know junipers get a bad rap, but there are a couple that could fit your parameters.

That’s just a few thoughts to get you started and as far as planting now, this time of year or waiting until spring. Your selection will probably be best in the spring. If you can find plants that you like this time of year and you promise to water periodically throughout the dormant season, your plant life will be far ahead of the stress curve that can happen to spring plantings.

If you decide to wait, take this dormant period to make sure the whole of the photinia is well removed. Make sure all of the root mass is gone and start amending the soil for your newcomers.

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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