Summer snow, in a pot

Extra heat can unleash the beauty of snow bush
Sharon Cohoon

Snow bush ( Breynia nivosa 'Roseopicta') loves warm, humid climates. In its native Melanesia, it can reach 6 feet tall or more; in Southern California, it typically tops out at just 3 to 4 feet tall. So why is the one in the pot pictured above, at Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, approaching tropical height?

Extra heat, for one thing. The plant in the picture sits next to a west-facing wall that reflects a lot of the sun's warmth. Being in a container rather than the ground helps the plant too, says John Bishop, manager of horticulture at Sherman. The pot keeps the soil warm. "We have the same shrubs in the ground, and they don't get nearly as big," he says.

Bright, diffused light is another reason snow bush does so well here. The roof overhang is covered with corrugated clear plastic panels made of Lexan that are whitewashed with a shading compound. The panels cut the sun's rays by 50 percent ― ideal, according to Bishop.

This snow bush also gets plenty of water, twice a week most of the year, and is fed once a month with an acid fertilizer (Liquinox 10-10-5 Grow). Pruning each February stimulates fresh, rosy pink growth.

GROW A SNOW BUSH

ZONES: Sunset climate zones 22-24 and H2, or indoors

POT: 36-inch-diameter plastic pot (doesn't dry out as fast as terra-cotta)

SOIL: Rich packaged mix that includes worm castings

SHADING: Lexan panels and shading compound available from Conley's, a commercial greenhouse manufacturer in Montclair (800/377-8441 or www.conleys.com)