Sunday, January 25, 2015

California Gourmet: Flavored Syrups

Flavored syrups made from California native and garden fruits
You can use them on pancakes or drizzle them on deserts.  They make refreshing beverages and can even be used to make cookies and pies.  One of the handiest uses for California native fruits and berries is flavored syrups. 

But why discuss syrups in January, when fruits mostly ripen in summer or fall?   First, there’s still time to plant native berry and tea plants this year. Perhaps this posting will inspire you.   Second, syrups are particularly useful right now, when fresh fruits – at least those from home gardens – are scarce. 

A third reason is that some syrups can be made right now.   Fruits/berries are the most common flavoring agents; but syrups can be made from anything used to make a natural tea as well.   If you love mint tea – and your mint patch is flourishing – now might be a good time to make mint flavored syrup.

Conditions have been perfect for Hummingbird sage this winter (see  You may be enjoying fresh tea and drying leaves for later use.  You might also make a batch of Hummingbird sage syrup.  It’s easy, cheap and a wonderful treat that can be used in many ways. We’ll post recipes featuring flavored syrups in the next few months.

Flavored syrups are essentially ‘simple syrups’ made with fruit juice or natural tea.  You can make as much or as little as you want; and you can use them immediately or process them (like you would jelly) for future use.   The flavors are unique to your garden – whether you make syrup from plums or nectarines or from the native fruits.  The syrups make unique and wonderful gifts.


Making the juice/tea

The main ingredient is either juice or natural tea.   You can make juice from just about any fruit: berries, grapes, strawberries, stone fruits, citrus, manzanita fruits, etc.  Just wash the fruits, cut and remove the pit (from stone fruits) or slice the citrus thinly.  Place fruit in a saucepan/pot and barely cover with water. 

Heat to a near-boil; then let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes.  The liquid should be colored and well-flavored; smaller fruits will have burst their skins.  Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, then strain out the pulp/seeds.  Use a jelly bag or line a sieve with several layers of cheese cloth.  The resulting ‘juice’ should be colored but relatively clear, with no visible particles.

If using natural tea, follow the instructions on making tea from our June, 2012 posting ( ).  You might want to make the tea a little stronger than normal if using it for syrup-making.


Flavored Syrup

1 cup prepared juice or tea

1 to 2 cups sugar

Other flavorings (optional): lemon juice; cinnamon (stick); other spices


You can make this syrup in any amount – just use equal amounts of sugar and juice.  A thicker syrup (good on pancakes or desserts) can be made by increasing the sugar up to a 1 to 2 ratio of juice/tea to sugar (e.g., one cup juice to 2 cups sugar).  Experiment to get the consistency and flavor combination you prefer.   You can also combine several types of juice/tea if desired.

Place sugar, juice and spices (optional) in a heavy saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until mixture boils.  Lower heat and continue to simmer 5 additional minutes.  Remove from heat.  

Process syrup with a boiling water bath* (as for jelly) if you want to store the syrup for up to a year.  Or cool and store in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.  




* A good way to preserve syrups is by canning them, using the sterilizing effects of heat.  This time honored method allows you to store syrups, in canning jars, at room temperature.   You need to be sure that you follow recommended methods exactly to insure that your food is canned safely. 

If you’re new to preserving using a boiling water bath, we suggest reading a good basic reference on home canning. A classic reference book is the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving.   Some good on-line resources are:


We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at :

Friday, January 9, 2015

Plant of the Month (January) : Munz’ sage – Salvia munzii

Munz' sage (Salvia munzii) in Mother Nature's Backyard garden

January can be an interesting month in Southern California gardens.  Sometimes the weather is cold and rainy – almost continually.  And sometimes we have periods of almost summer-like conditions.  This January is starting out to be a warm one.  Much to our surprise, the earliest blooming of our sages, Salvia munzii, is already flowering.

Munz’ Sage, also known as San Diego sage and San Miguel Mountain sage, is endemic to the San Miguel Mountains in southernmost San Diego County and  bordering northern Baja California, Mexico. This region, which includes the well-known Otay Mountain, is home to many interesting plants known for their drought tolerance.  Munz’ sage grows in both the Chaparral (higher elevations) and Diegan Sage Scrub plant communities.   Because it occurs in such a limited region, the California Native Plant Society has placed Munz’ sage on its Rare and Endangered Plants list (listed as ‘fairly endangered in California’ due to limited range and possible threats to habitat).

Munz’ sage was named in honor of Philip Alexander Munz (1892-1974), professor of botany at Pomona College and researcher at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.  He is best known for his books including A Flora of Southern California and a popular series of wildflower books (California Mountain Wildflowers, California Desert Wildflowers, California Spring Wildflowers and Shore Wildflowers of California, Oregon and Washington).  These books are still treasured by plant lovers, even though the original editions have long been out of print.  The University of California Press has released revised editions of these classics in the past decade.

Munz’ sage is a Salvia (Sage), a genus that includes many aromatic plants.  Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family, with over a thousand species world-wide.   At least 17 Salvia species are native to California, many to the southern part of the state. The genus name derives from the Latin salvere (to heal or be healthy), alluding to the healing properties of the genus.  Salvias are prized as ornamental plants - or for their culinary and medicinal properties - in gardens throughout the world.
Salvia munzii: growth habit
Among the California shrubby Salvias, Munz’ sage is one of the more petite.  In our experience it rarely grows to more than 3-4 ft tall and wide, though some growers (primarily those from moister climates) list it as growing to 6 feet.  In its growth form, Salvia munzii most closely resembles the Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), another native with a nice, mounded shape and rather slender, open branches.   While sometimes described as similar to Black sage (Salvia mellifera), in our eyes Munz’ sage appears quite delicate compared to the robust – even chunky – appearance of Black sage.  The bark of younger stems is red – also like Cleveland sage – becoming gray with age. 
Munz' sage (Salvia munzii): spring leaves

The leaves of Munz’ sage are smaller than other local sages (~ 1 inch or less) and  medium green to gray-green in color (see above).  Like many sages, the leaves are mostly oblong to lance-shaped.  They have a crinkled ‘pebbly’ surface (like Black sage) and are very aromatic.  The scent is probably closest to that of Cleveland sage – with perhaps a hint of Black sage thrown in for good measure.   In our opinion, Munz’ sage has the nicest scent/flavor of any of the California sages.  Fresh or dried, we use it routinely as a seasoning herb and in potpourri, sachets etc.  In fact, one of the more compelling reasons to grow it is to have a ready source of the aromatic leaves.
In addition to the straight species, several cultivars are available from native plant nurseries.  The cultivar Salvia munzii 'Baja Blue' has lovely lavender flowers and is garden hardy.  It grows to 3-6 ft. tall and wide.  Salvia munzii 'Emerald Cascade' is a short cultivar (1-3 ft tall) with a mounding growth habit (to 4-5 ft wide).  It was also selected for its ability to grow well in local gardens.

Salvia munzii in Spring

Like other local Sages, Salvia munzii produces two sets of leaves a year.  The larger, greener ‘wet season leaves’ (above) are produced in winter/early spring.  As the plants dry out in early summer, they drop the wet season leaves - alarming the first time you see it in your garden!  They then produce a set of smaller, grayer leaves to get them through the summer and fall (see below).   You can delay the summer leaf drop by giving the plants a little summer water.  But ultimately native Salvias need to dry out.  So learn to treasure their different – but lovely – appearance in fall.

Salvia munzii in fall
Munz’ sage is the earliest blooming Salvia in our garden, often by several months.  The species begins flowering as early as February in lower S. California elevations and may continue until April or so.  This year, the first blooms appeared in late December, surprising us all.  Were it not for the visits of eager hummingbirds, we might have missed the early flowers entirely.

The flowers of Salvia munzii are characteristic of the genus - and of the Mint family in general.  Flowers are small, tubular (formed from fused petals) with distinctive ‘lips’ (see below).  The flowers are arranged in ball-like whorls around the upright flowering stems.  In Mother Nature’s Backyard, the flowering stalks are significantly taller than the foliage.  When the plants are mature they should be showy indeed!
Munz' sage (Salvia munzii): flowers
The flowers are a clear pale blue or violet – occasionally almost white – and sweetly scented.  They are similar in appearance to those of Black sage, but smaller and usually more brightly colored (Black sage flowers are often almost white, at least locally).   Hummingbirds are frequent visitors, but butterflies, bees and other insects also collect nectar from the flowers. Pollination is probably due to the actions of hummingbirds and large bees.  Songbirds, lizards and other small wildlife use the shrubs for cover.   All things considered, Salvia munzii is a fairly good habitat plant.

Munz’ Sage is one of the easier native Salvias to include in a home garden.  It likes full sun, but does fine with a little shade.  In Mother Nature’s Backyard, the area is rather shady in winter, but quite sunny in summer, when the sun is higher in the sky.  While it likes a well-drained soil, Munz’ sage can be grown in soils from sandy to clay.  If you’re worried about drainage, plant it on a low berm (1 ft. high is adequate) to increase the drainage. 

Like other native S. California Salvias, Salvia munzii is drought tolerant.   It can take quite dry conditions (water perhaps once a summer) if you don’t mind the dry appearance.   It does, however, hail from a region that gets occasional summer rain, in the form of the summer monsoons.  So it can take a little summer water, making it easier to garden with than the truly dry species like White sage.  

After the first summer, we recommend occasional summer water – perhaps once every 3-4 weeks in sandy soils or several times per summer in clays.  Be sure to water deeply and let the ground dry out (to at least 4-6 inches below the surface) between waterings.  Taper off the water in September to give plants a dormant period.  This water regimen provides a good compromise between garden aesthetics and plant health.   If you water more frequently, you’ll likely shorten your salvia’s life.

Local Salvias look their best with a yearly pruning, beginning with the first fall (in other words, after at least 6-9 months in the ground).   Some prefer to prune soon after Salvias complete their blooming – often in late spring or summer.  This   encourages Salvias to produce a second, fall flowering, which may be desired.   But we delay pruning until late fall for several reasons.   First, birds can eat the seeds if seed capsules are left on the plant.  Second, you avoid plant stress by pruning during the cooler weather. 

A third, practical reason involves the pruning itself; if you wait until plants begin to re-leaf in late fall/early winter it’s easier to remove just the right amount. The aim is to prune back enough to control shape, but not so much that you’re cutting back into the older, non-sprouting wood.  It’s important to prune each branch back to a point that retains 3-4 sets of new leaves.   Delaying pruning until plants are just beginning to re-leaf makes pruning Salvias easy.   And if you live in S. California, there will always be a dry spell in November/December that’s perfect for pruning Salvias.

Salvia munzii (Munz' sage) blooming in Mother Nature's
 Backyard garden: Gardena, California - 2014

Munz’ sage is a lovely addition to the sustainable S. California garden.   It provides early flowers, a nice shape and interesting foliage.   Its small size makes it appropriate for sites that can’t accommodate the larger native Salvias.  This is  probably also the best native sage to grow in a large pot.  

Munz’ sage does fine on sunny slopes and looks lovely planted with other Salvias and native buckwheats.   It’s a good habitat plant and a great addition to scented and culinary gardens.  The only word of caution applies to those whose gardens are within two miles of stands of native Salvias.  Salvias, including Munz’ sage and many others, interbreed between species, producing hybrid plants.  If you live within bee’s flight distance of native Salvias, the California Native plant Society recommends planting only the local native species and, ideally, those produced from local seed sources.  That’s the responsible – and sustainable – thing to do.

For a gardening information sheet see:

For more pictures of this plant see:

For plant information sheets on other native plants see:


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

California Gourmet: Dried Apple and Berry Crisp/Crumble

Apple-Elderberry Crisp Bites

It’s finally getting cold enough in Southern California for warm baked desserts.  Fruit crisps, crumbles and cobblers are easy ways to end a winter’s meal.  They can be made with fresh, frozen or canned fruits or with those dried last summer and fall.  Our recipes call for dried apples and elderberries because that’s what we dried last summer.   But you can use any dried fruits you have on hand.

Most traditional crisps and crumbles have fruit on the bottom and a crisp, crumbly topping (recipe 1, below); a few recipes use part of the topping as a bottom layer. Traditional cobblers have fruit on the bottom and a shortcake-like topping.  All combine the flavors of baked fruits (like a pie) but are simpler to prepare.

Crisps, crumbles and cobblers are simple to serve at home – still warm and fragrant from the oven.  They are less easy to manage for a potluck supper or other event away from home.  We know this from experience! 

We feature California Gourmet foods at events held several times a year in the garden.  Out of necessity, we developed a variation of the traditional crisp/cobbler recipe (recipe 2) which is more portable. We call them Dried Fruit Crisp Bites.   The bites are made in muffin tins (regular or mini-muffin size) and can be eaten warm or cold.  They combine the crisp topping of a crisp, with a shortcake crust that’s more like a cobbler.  If you only need a few Crisp Bites, you can easily halve the recipe.


Recipe 1 – Dried Apple-Elderberry Crisp/Crumble


1 cup dried apples, cut into small pieces after measuring

4 Tbsp dried elderberries (or other dried native berries/fruits: currants, gooseberries,

                                      dried strawberries, etc.)

2 Tbsp orange juice

Water (just to cover the fruits)

4 Tbsp granulated sugar

2 Tbsp flour

Place apple pieces, elderberries and orange juice in a medium bowl (a flat-bottom bowl is best).  Add water to just cover the fruits (you’ll need to pour off excess if you use too much).  Cover and let sit for at least one hour to let the fruits re-hydrate.  Press fruits down into the liquid half-way through to be sure each piece becomes hydrated.  After an hour most of the water should be taken up; if not, pour off the excess or filling will be too runny.   Add sugar and flour to fruits and stir to mix.   Let mixture sit while preparing topping.  Our filling is a bit on the tart side; taste and add more sugar if desired.

Filling for Apple-Elderberry Crisp



1  cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)

½   cup flour

½ cup granulated sugar

½  cup brown sugar

½   cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

In a medium bowl mix together all but the butter/margarine.  Cut in the butter/margarine with a fork or pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas.  The topping mixture should be well blended (homogeneous) and crumbly.
Topping - well-blended and ready to use

Place prepared filling into the bottom of an ungreased 8”x8” or 9”x9” non-reactive (glass/ceramic) baking dish or 9” pie plate.  You can also use single-serving ramekins.  Crumble topping evenly over the filling.  Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet on the middle rack of the oven.   Bake at 350°F until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 40-60 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Some like to top with ice cream or whipped cream.                                                                     Makes 6-9 servings



Recipe 2 – Dried Fruit Crisp Bites

Filling  (as above)

Topping (as above)

Shortcake crust

 All-purpose baking mix (enough for one recipe of shortcake)


Follow the shortcake recipe for your all purpose baking mix.  Ours uses 2 ½ cups baking mix with 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar, an egg and a little melted butter - but follow the instructions for your own  brand.


Prepare the muffin tins (regular or mini-size).  Non-stick muffin tins need no preparation; others should be lightly greased or sprayed with pan spray (if using cupcake liners, spray them with pan spray).   Roll out the crust on a floured cutting board or pastry cloth to about 1/8 inch thickness (pretty thin).   Using a circular cookie cutter that is just a little larger than the bottom of the muffin cups, cut out shortcake rounds.   You can also use a drinking class, jar lid or other round that’s the correct size.  Place the shortcake rounds in the bottom of the muffin tins; gently press the dough into the bottom of each cup.  

Shortbread crust in place - ready for filling

Crisp Bites ready for the oven

Spoon filling over each shortcake round, dividing it evenly between the cups.   Crumble the topping evenly over the filling in each cup.   Bake at 350°F until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 30-40 minutes for regular size, 20-30 minutes for mini-muffin size.   Remove from oven.   Serve warm or cold (can be re-heated in microwave).

                       Makes 18-24 regular or 48 mini bites.


We encourage you to send us your questions, comments and recipes (either comment below or e-mail to us at :

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Plant of the Month (December) : Lemonadeberry (Lemonade sumac) – Rhus integrifolia

Three year old Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia)
Mother Nature's Backyard garden

December is a quiet time in many Southern California gardens. This is just as well, given the flurry of other activities this time of year.  Plants are only beginning to respond to winter rains and the glory of fall is but a distant memory; it’s truly a quiet time.   However some plants do bloom in the cooler months from December through February.  For example, the native Lemonadeberry brightens a cloudy day with its masses of cheery pink flowers.

Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) is a member of the Anacardiaceae, the Sumac or Cashew family.  Other S. California natives in this family are the Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), the Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) and the closely related Sugar bush (Rhus ovata) and Sourberry/Basket bush (Rhus trilobata).  The family includes a number of well-known members including the Cashew, Mango and Smoke Tree.  The non-native Brazilian and Peruvian Pepper trees, which have so naturalized that many think them S. California natives, are also members of this family.  

Trees and shrubs in the Anacardiaceae produce a milky sap which is poisonous – sometimes dangerously so. Fortunately, shrubs in the genus Rhus, the true Sumacs, are more of an irritant than a danger to most people.   This makes them good candidates for the home garden, where they can replace truly toxic non-native shrubs like the Oleander.   

The red-fruited true Sumacs (Rhus species) are now separated from their white-fruited cousins in the genus Toxicodendron (poison oak; poison ivy; poison sumac). Rhus species do not produce urushiol, the chemical responsible for the severe allergic reactions caused by poison oak and poison ivy.  While gardeners are advised to wear gloves and long sleeves when handling Lemonadeberry, the itchy rash associated with sap exposure is usually mild and short-lived.  Rhus fruits are used as spice or flavoring agent in both the Middle East and North America, where they grow native.

Rhus integrifolia, Palos Verdes peninsula, California (foreground)
Lemonadeberry is a true Southern California shrub, growing from south of Santa Barbara to Baja California, Mexico.   While primarily a coastal species, it ranges east to Riverside County, appearing in the Coastal Strand, Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral plant communities.   Typically it grows in drier canyons, either on north-facing slopes or slopes/bluffs facing the ocean.  A lowland species, Lemonadeberry is rarely found above about 2500 ft. (900 m.) elevation, its distribution likely limited by freezing temperatures.

Lemonadeberry is a large evergreen shrub, reaching a maximal height of 6-10 ft. in protected areas and 2-3 ft. along the immediate coast.  It is usually somewhat wider than tall, spreading to as much as 10-12 ft. in diameter in favored spots.  Interestingly, it can be kept to a much smaller size with regular pruning (more below).

Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia): new foliage
Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia): new foliage

The leaves of Rhus integrifolia are simple, usually light- to gray-green (although they may be darker) and rather thick, fleshy and waxy.  The leaves may have pinkish margins or midribs (the main vein of the leaf) and new leaves/branches are a shockingly bright pink or orange.   The bright color is due to the production of Anthocyanins – chemicals that provide a ‘natural sunscreen’ and herbivory deterrent to protect the delicate new growth.  The bright foliage adds a spot of color this time of year.  The older bark is gray and not particularly showy.
Students from CSU Dominguez Hills measure Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia)
Palos Verdes peninsula, CA

Lemonadeberry shrubs are dense.  Their thick trunks are many-branched, starting quite low to the ground.  The new wood is soft – almost rubbery – but mature wood is dense and can be used for fuel.  The wood is pretty and distinctive in cross section, but we’re not aware its use in craft or furniture-making. In the wilds, young stems and branch tips are regularly nibbled by browsing animals, increasing the foliage density.  Mature plants in the wild are virtually impenetrable.

Flowering can occur at any time from December to February or March in S. California.  The timing reflects yearly climatic variability, primarily in temperature and precipitation (plants flower early in warm, dry years).  While small (1/4 inch), the flowers are showy, even in bud (see below).

Flowers & buds: Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia)

Lemonadeberry flowers are simple affairs with five pink or sometimes white petals.  The flowers are clustered at the ends of branches, with literally thousands of flowers on a mature shrub.   The flowers, indeed the shrub itself, remind some of the non-native Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), a common garden shrub in S. California.  In fact, Lemonadeberry is a good native substitute for Indian Hawthorn.

Close-up of Lemonadeberry flowers.  Left inset is male flower.

The flowers have a lightly sweet fragrance and are an importance source of nectar and pollen for winter-flying bees, their principal pollinators.  Individual plants may contain only male or only female flowers (dioecious), or a combination of bisexual (complete) and unisexual flowers (see above). This arrangement likely allows the species to maximize fertility in different environments.   The male and bisexual flowers have conspicuous anthers with yellow pollen (above).  Plants are not self-fertile, so you’ll need at least two for good fruit production. 

Fruits of Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia).  Inset shows fully ripe fruits.
The fruits of Rhus integrifolia are drupes – small, flattened, fleshy fruits with a large seed or two.  The fruits start out a pink-white color and ripen to red-orange in late spring or summer.  Fruits are covered by a crystalline coating (see above) which has a distinctive tart flavor.  While native Californians sometimes eat the fruits fresh, many of us prefer to soak the pink fruits in warm or cool water to extract the lemony flavor.  The ‘flavored water’ that results (after the fruits are strained out) can be sweetened to produce a lemonade-like beverage. 

We assume that Lemonadeberry-flavored water can also be used to make a  distinctive jelly, dessert gelatin or syrup.  We’ll try these potential uses and report back; if all goes well, we’ll even feature the recipes in a future blog posting!  In the Middle East, red Rhus fruits are dried and ground into a spice that’s used on salads, meats or kebabs for a spicy lemon flavor.  We’ll also try this idea out when our fruits are ready.   

In our experience, the fruits don’t create any problems or mess.  If not used by humans, they will be gobbled up by Northern Mockingbirds, Jays, Flickers, Crows and other fruit-eating birds.  We rarely see fruits on the ground in our gardens.  However, we do see lots of birds eating, perching – even nesting – in our mature Lemonadeberry shrubs.

Lemonadeberry is very easy to grow in our area.  We’ve had good luck with it in compacted clay soils and sandy soils.  Needing little in the way of added soil nutrients or amendments, it can take alkali soils (pH 7.8 to at least 8.0 and likely higher).   It does fine in full sun, though it prefers a little afternoon shade in very hot inland gardens.  Its foliage is susceptible to frost damage; however plants will usually re-sprout unless low temperatures are severe or prolonged.

Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) in a garden.
Garden of Dreams, CSU Dominguez Hills.

Lemonadeberry is quite drought tolerant once established (2-3 years).  During the past two dry years we’ve summer-watered some plants every month, while others have received no supplemental water. Both groups have done just fine.   In Mother Nature’s Backyard, our Lemonadeberry was mulched with chipped wood at planting time.  We let mature plants self-mulch, supplemented with chopped up trimmings from the plants.

Lemonadeberry is a usefully substitute for non-native evergreen shrubs commonly used in local gardens.   Its size and density make it a useful background plant.  It  can also be trimmed for a water-wise foundation plant.   One of our favorite uses is as a hedge, screen or hedgerow shrub.  The dense foliage makes it an ideal ‘backbone plant’ for a mixed hedgerow; we like it combined with Toyon, Catalina and Hollyleaf cherries, and local Ceanothus species.   It is a great choice for slopes, where its deep fibrous roots bind the soil, limiting erosion.
Native plant hedgerow at CSU Dominguez Hills (Heritage Creek Preserve)
Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia) is main shrub.

If growing Rhus integrifolia as a hedge or large shrub, realize that some plants are slow to get started and many experience a gangly adolescent phase.   As seen above, shrubs planted as one-gallon shoots grow to substantial size in six years, even in drought conditions.  But plants take time to grow and develop their mature shape.   We suggest letting Lemonadeberry grow naturally (without much pruning) for the first 2-3 years.     Once a plant begins to develop long side branches then it’s time to begin pruning. 

Even if you want a more natural shape, you’ll want to do some yearly pruning, at least in the beginning.  In the wilds, young plants are regularly ‘pruned’ by rabbits, deer and other animals.  That’s why wild plants often have a nice rounded shape!   In your garden, you’ll have to ‘be the deer’, cutting back unruly branches in late spring/summer.   In fact, you can prune anytime the plant is actively growing.  But you’ll sacrifice some flowers and fruits if you prune in fall.
How much pruning is needed?   That’s entirely up to you.  Some gardeners prefer a natural look – they prune only for safety or plant health.  At the other extreme, we’ve seen plants formally hedged to four feet tall.  A formal hedge will need regular (even monthly) hedge pruning to keep it neat and tidy.  The formally hedged plant will have fewer flowers and fruits; but no one will guess it’s a native plant and it will be very water-efficient!

Mixed hedgerow with Lemonadeberry, Toyon and native cherries.
Heritage Creek Preserve, CSU Dominguez Hills.

You can actually have the best of both worlds.  If a formally clipped hedge is needed (to face the neighbors), prune one side formally and the other (facing your garden) semi-formally.  This will often please all parties.  You needn’t be too worried about how to prune a Lemonadeberry – it’s a very forgiving plant.

We hope you’ll want to consider Lemonadeberry for your garden.  In addition to being pretty and evergreen, its adaptive ways and useful attributes make it a garden winner.  We already pointed out its culinary and habitat values.  In addition,  Rhus integrifolia leaves and smaller branches (e.g., prunings) can be used to dye natural cloth or yarn a nice tan color; they can also be used as a mordant to help bind other natural dyes.

Native Californians have several additional uses for Lemonadeberry.  Tea from the leaves is used in treating coughs and a drink made from ground seeds for fever.  The ground seed is also used with the fruits for tea; tea from the bark was used after childbirth.  The wood has been used as fuel.   And the seeds produce an oil which can be extracted and used for making candles. 

For plant information sheets on other native plants see:

Large lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia).
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont CA


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: