Friday, January 31, 2014

Dealing with Drought

This topic (Dealing with Drought) will be the subject of an upcoming column but I thought I'd give readers here a summary of the 5 steps you can take to save water and yet keep a healthy garden.
1. Group like-minded plants together. That is, plant drought tolerant plants together and ones needing regular water with each other. That's good advice in any case but you'll save water by keeping away as much as possible from "mixed" beds.
2. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Common sense I know but I would guess there are areas in many people's gardens that are "bare." You can vary the type of mulch so you avoid a sameness. You can even employ other materials besides bark mulch, such as gravel, stones or other plant matter. You can also add microbark to pots, to achieve the same results of less watering and fewer weeds.
3. Plant more drought tolerant plants for seasonal color. The list is a surprisingly long one, with perennials such as CA buckwheats (Eriogonum), Mimulus, Lewisias, native Salvias and Penstemons, Asclepius, Verbena lilacina and CA fuchsia (Epilobium). There are plenty of less thirsty spring native annuals to choose from as well. The list includes CA poppies, Clarkias, Gilias, Lupines, Monardellas and Desert Bluebells (Phacelia).
4. Employ vertical gardening. You can pack a lot of plants in a smaller area, thus using less water, by employing layers. Start with bulbs in the ground then add a ground cover or low growing plant above them and finally taller plants for a vertical element. I liken this approach to container gardening, where you play with levels, textures and colors in a confined space.
5. Employ deep watering. Once established, use less frequent but deeper watering for trees and shrubs. For many of these, setting a hose on a fast trickle for an hour once a month is sufficient. Most trees and shrubs should not be on drip irrigation. You can even use the deep watering technique on perennials, weaning them off more frequent but surface watering schedules.

And now a few photos from my Chinese New Year day garden! Congrats to all of you born in the year of the horse!

Oxalis carnosa. We may be invaded by the awful weedy oxalis but there are so many more desirable species out there. One of the distinctive features of this O. carnosa  is its large round clusters of mint-green leaves, with the typical but pretty yellow flowers shooting out from these spheres.

Physocarpus 'Nugget.' Here it is, still the end of January and many of my deciduous shrubs are already leafing out! Meanwhile the East coast is buried under a foot of snow and even the South is having near freezing temps. And people wonder why we want to live in CA? Anyway, this golden ninebark (given this name because mature shrubs will evidently go through nine peeling stages) is one of the most beautiful shrubs you've ever seen, especially when it flushes out its wrinkled golden leaves in spring.

This cute little primula is a survivor, having come back for a fourth year now. I love the white edging.

Lotus 'Flashbulb.' It wasn't until I saw Lotus grown as a ground cover in a neighbor's yard (and liked the look) that I realized I could do the same. It's spreading, staying dense and putting out its first flowers.

Here's a wider angle of the Lotus, with freesia foliage poking up through.

Though I didn't intend the look, the flowers on my Luculia look good in a bit of shadow. If you had a contest for the most powerfully fragrant plant able to be grown in NorCal, the Luculia would probably make the top five! It's almost too overpoweringly fragrant, though the smell is heavenly.

Calothamnus villosus. This wonderful shrub hailing from Australia has a neat trick. Its flowers sprout along the stems, making for an interesting display. This photo came out over-exposed but you can see the clusters of flower buds along the stem.

Melaleuca incana. This Aussie shrub has butter-yellow, bottlebrush-like flowers that really sparkle in the sun. It's loaded with seedcone-like flower panicles just waiting to open, so it should be quite the show this year.

Lachenalia species. How anyone can resist lachenalias is beyond me. So many different colors and color combinations. Vigorous. Floriferous. Easy. Reliable. If there was such a thing as a dog in the plant world (man's best friend), my vote would go to lachenalias.

Speaking of colorful, winter-blooming plants, here's a sweet new Cotyledon named Elisaea. Pretty flowers appear in abundance. It's very satisfying when one's hard work leads to a plant looking its best but then again it's nice when plants do all the hard work themselves, like many succulents.

This pretty nasturtium is climbing my bare Porcelain berry vine. Simple but pretty.

This new addition, a Paphiopedilum that features pale green, spotted leaves, is holding court in my kitchen.

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