» Archive for September, 2014

Xeriscaping: Drought-tolerant Landscaping

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs! It’s time to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and many other flower bulbs for beautiful blooms next spring.
    • Chrysanthemums are the brightest flowers for the fall garden. Plant some now.
    • Garlic cloves can be planted now. Keep them watered and weeded through the winter and you will harvest healthy large bulbs next June.
    • Pansies, violas, snapdragons, stock and calendulas can be planted now to replace summer annuals.
    • Wildflower seed broadcast with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.

Xeriscaping: Drought-tolerant Landscaping

After two years of serious drought, now that the rains are finally arriving and the soil may soon be “diggable,” you may find that this is an excellent time to do some landscaping. California, and other parts of the West, experience periodic droughts that can make it almost impossible to keep landscaping watered in many areas. For this reason, it makes sense to design your landscaping with water use in mind, by grouping plants according to their water needs.

From the Greek word xeros – meaning “dry” – comes the term xeriscape, (pronounced ZEER-i-scape), which is simply landscaping using minimal irrigation. The secret is to use tough, drought-tolerant plants that will grow in the amount of sun or shade available on a particular site.

Most often, xeric plants are used for hot, dry south and west facing areas. You can use plants that like more moisture along north and east facing walls. Don’t mix plants with high and low water needs in the same planting area.

Shrubs that will grow well in xeric conditions include rockroses, California wild lilac, lavender, rosemary, cotoneaster, manzanitas, and junipers. These will give you a variety of sizes and textures to fill large spaces and tumble over rocks and down hillsides.

Add color to the setting with some of the many perennials that tolerate these conditions. Reliable, easy-care yarrows have flat clusters of colorful flowers and finely divided, fern-like foliage. Smaller varieties, like ‘Red Beauty’, are low growing with 18-inch flower stems while ‘Moonshine’ grows to two feet and ‘Coronation Gold’ can reach four feet tall. They bloom through much of the summer.

Coreopsis, with their golden yellow flowers, also bloom over a long season. Lamb’s Ear, known for its “furry” leaves, is very drought tolerant. Echinaceas and Rudbeckias, both types of cone-flowers, are good summer-bloomers as are Gaillardias and red-hot poker plants.

Red Valerian is a well-known plant in many older gardens, where its rosy-pink flowers on tall, floppy stems bloom continuously from late spring through early summer. It reseeds readily and is easy-to-grow.

The sage family includes many colorful landscape plants. However, most of them find our climate too wet or too cold in the winter. Salvia ‘May Night’ is a neat clump-forming plant that sends up 18-inch spikes of dark purple flowers. It is very attractive in a mixed border.

Sedums are often overlooked but these succulents are excellent in sunny spots with well-drained soil. From the low-growing ‘Cape Blanco’ with its attractive silver-gray foliage, to the 24-inch tall ‘Autumn Joy’ with its large domes of bright pink flowers, sedums contrast beautifully with more delicate plants.

Large areas can be planted with a wildflower mix. Now is the perfect time to broadcast these seeds. The mix may include California poppy, lupine, purple coneflower, and gaillardia.

By designing your landscape with xeriscape plants, you can make the most of precious water resources.

Time for Asian Greens

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Chrysanthemums come in bright fall colors to give you instant color in flower beds and containers.
    • Cover newly planted vegetable starts to protect them from birds. Spray cabbage and broccoli plants with BT to control cabbage worms which make holes in the leaves.
    • Replace tired petunias with bright pansies, snapdragons, calendulas and stock for garden color this fall and winter.
    • If you have dogwood, walnut, birches and maple trees, these should be pruned in late summer or fall because these will bleed sap when pruned in early spring or late winter.
    • Lettuce can be planted from starts for a quick fall crop.

Enjoy a Taste Treat with Asian Greens

Chinese cabbage is the common name given to many different kinds of leafy Asian vegetables. They are grouped based on size, shape, heading and non-heading.

If you have a little extra space in your fall garden, try growing some Chinese cabbages. Although related to cabbage, they don’t taste much like cabbage. They are more sweetly flavored, with large, crisp, lettuce-like leaves. They are used in salads, sautéed, or pickled in Korean kimchee.

Chinese cabbage requires cool weather for most of its growing season, so fall planting works best. Spring planting usually results in the plants bolting and going to flower before they make edible heads.

Plants do best in a rich, light loamy soil. Apply plenty of compost or well-rotted manure before planting. It is important for the plants to grow quickly, so keep the soil moist and cultivate frequently to keep down weeds and save moisture. Set plants out about 10 inches apart. They will be ready to harvest in about two months.

Pak choy is a popular Asian vegetable which belongs to the loose-leaf cabbage family and resembles Swiss chard. It develops large, glossy dark green leaves with wide white celery-like midribs. It is tender and delicious either cooked or quick fried in oil. It is used extensively in Chinese restaurants in Chow Mein, Chop Suey and soups.

Baby Bok Choy has become the most used vegetables in various Asian dishes due to its excellent flavor, texture and size. This fast-growing vegetable can be ready for harvest in 3-4 weeks. Young leaves and petioles are very tender and crisp, and they are good for stir-fry cooking.

Nappa cabbage, or Wong Bok, makes large, tight, cylindrical heads with broad round smooth leaves. It is very tender with a mild flavor. In much of the world, this is the vegetable referred to as “Chinese cabbage.” It is used in stir fries, soups and kimchee.

To harvest Chinese cabbage, cut the entire plant at ground level when the heads are compact and firm. A light frost is fine, but they should be harvested by Thanksgiving.

There are many other interesting Asian greens. Mizuna is a Japanese non-heading leaf type with narrow, dark-green, feathery leaves. It is very decorative in salads and popular in stir-fry. Tatsoi is a loose -headed variety similar to Pak choy, with a large, bulbous celery-like base. It holds well into winter. Tendergreen mustard-spinach is a leaf type with flat glossy dark-green leaves that grow fast and hold well into the winter months.

Try adding some Asian greens to your garden and your diet, and treat your taste buds to some interesting new flavors this fall and winter.

Cheery Snapdragons

Friday, September 26th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose chrysanthemums in a variety of colors now. They are hardy perennials which will brighten your garden each fall.
    • When blackberry vines are done fruiting, prune back the canes which bore fruit this summer. Twine young canes around the fence or trellis.
    • Garlic should be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from Early White, Late Pink, Spanish Roja or Elephant Garlic.
    • It’s time to divide overgrown perennials that bloomed in the spring or early summer. It’s also a good time to choose and plant some new varieties.
    • Apples, pears and other fruit trees can be planted in the fall from containers to get a head start on next spring.

Cheery Snapdragons

Snapdragons are colorful bedding plants that thrive in the cool weather of fall and spring. If you plant them this month they will begin blooming in just a few weeks and give you more flowers next spring.

Natives of the Mediterranean region, there are many fine varieties of ‘snaps’ in almost any size from 8-inch dwarfs to 3-foot giants. Snapdragons bear their flowers on spikes. These are tall stems lined with flower buds. The lower flowers open first, then those above and so on until the entire spike has bloomed.

Snapdragons are a particular favorite of children who like to pinch the tiny individual blossoms and make the “dragon mouth” open and close. But some snapdragons don’t “snap.” They are the open-mouthed flowers and double azalea-flowered types.

The flowers come in lavish colors. There are bright yellows, rich reds, pleasing pinks, vivid oranges and pure whites. They all bloom over a long season here. Some even have a soft, sweet fragrance.

The tall varieties make fine cut flowers. Snip the spikes to within several inches of the base to encourage the growth of additional flowering stems. Flowers are also visited by hummingbirds and bumble bees.

Well-liked cultivars include the low-growing Floral Showers series that reach 6 to 8 inches tall and make bushy plants with a compact mound-like habit. They make good container plants, colorful ground covers and walkway borders, and are nice to fill the gaps between spring-flowering bulbs or in mixed flower beds.

Sonnet Mix snapdragons are a taller variety that makes beautiful backdrops for shorter plants. The mix contains dark red, yellow, white, pink and orange shades. They grow 18″ to 20″ tall and can be planted 10-12 inches apart. This is a great medium sized snapdragon. It doesn’t need staking like the taller types, but is big enough to plant behind some other shorter flowers.

Madame Butterfly Mix has double azalea flowers that don’t ‘snap’ but look elegant on their tall, 28” stems. Open-faced double blooms average 1½ inches across on 8-inch long flower stalks. The plants are strong and sturdy with a good branching habit, and the blooms remain on plant for a very long time.

The handsome Rockets have tall, strong spikes of beautifully colored blooms rising on stately stems to 3 feet tall. Plant them in the back of the border where they will make a colorful backdrop for the other bedding plants. Stake them in windy areas and cut them often as cutting stimulates more flowers. Enjoy them in the and their spicy fragrance in the garden or the vase.

Snapdragons like full sun but they will tolerate some shade. They should be watered and fed regularly, and flower spikes should be cut off after they are done blooming so that seeds don’t develop, which signal the plant to stop flowering.

Whether you plant them for their stately cut flowers, or so the children can enjoy making them “snap,” don’t let your fall garden be without snapdragons.