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.

Flowering Rockroses

Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons can be pruned now without sacrificing next years bloom. Ask at your nursery if you need help.
    • When you finish cutting asparagus, feed the bed with good, rich compost that will also act as a mulch this summer.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Finish planting the summer vegetable garden. Seeds of early corn, and beans can go directly in the soil and plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash, cucumbers and basil can be set out.
    • Red, white and blue petunias or combinations of these with lobelia, geraniums, impatiens and salvia will make a nice display for the Fourth of July.

Tough, Colorful Rockroses

Well-known for their showy spring flowers, rockroses are sun-loving, fast-growing, drought-resistant shrubs that are tolerant of poor, dry soil. They are ideal plants for informal plantings, rocky hillsides or along country driveways.

Since rockroses grow wide, they are at their best where they are not confined to small areas. Use them on hot dry banks, tumbling over rocks, or in a planting of drought resistant shrubs. Given plenty of room, they are beautiful, picturesque shrubs.

Rockroses, or Cistus, are Mediterranean natives that have a long flowering season in late spring. Scattered flowers begin to appear in April; by the end of May the plants are covered with large petaled single flowers; then the blooms taper off through June.

The flowers drop their petals when they fade, so they don’t leave brown, dead flowers on the plant.

Rockrose flowers come in white, pink and lavender-rose, a very striking color. Some plants will grow only thirty inches tall while others reach four to five feet with little effort. Another genus, Halimium, are called yellow rockroses, and they have showy flowers as well.

It is important to choose a variety which will fit the site chosen as rockroses resent severe pruning. Prune only to protect a path from encroachment or to eliminate dead wood or occasional lopsided growth.

Rockroses keep their leaves throughout the year, and are effective at preventing erosion on banks and suppressing weeds underneath them. They are drought tolerant, thrive in rocky soil, and are generally deer-resistant. They also make a pleasant background for flowering bulbs.

There are two requirements for growing rockroses: good drainage and very little summer water. They will often appear at first to respond to frequent irrigation, but the excess water greatly increases the chance of die-back, induces lanky growth and shortens the life of the plants. Plants grown in more natural settings may live for 20 years or more.

Plant rockroses in full sun and add a little lime at planting time. Irrigate deeply and infrequently for the first season. By the second year, most plants can survive without water.

These are truly carefree plants that will delight you every spring with their showy flowers.

Spring Flowers

Friday, April 3rd, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant sunflowers now from seed or plants. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    • Begonias bulbs can be started indoors now and set out after danger of frost. You’ll enjoy their beautiful flowers this summer.
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.
    • Broccoli, cabbages, lettuce, onions and other cool-season vegetables can be set out with no frost protection. They will give you a delicious early harvest.
    • Evergreen candytuft is a hardy perennial with bright white flowers set against dark green foliage. They bloom now and make a fine border plant.

California’s Wild Lilacs

California Lilacs, or Ceanothus, are some of our most fragrant and colorful native shrubs. Evergreen and very drought tolerant, they provide us with ground covers, shrubs and small trees for various landscape situations. About 40 species are native to California, with many selected varieties also developed.

Many wild lilacs prefer coastal slopes but some are well-adapted to inland conditions. They all like well-drained soil, and prefer light watering and little or no fertilizing. Plants often work best in perimeter areas, on slopes and as background masses.

Ceanothus are fast-growing plants. This makes them useful for quick effects and covering large areas.

They begin blooming at an early age and cover themselves with beautiful, fragrant blossoms in the springtime. Flower colors include white, pale blue, deep blue and purple. Many small flowers are arranged like small lilac blooms at the end of the branches.

Ground cover Ceanothus do best in coastal areas, but some varieties will grow in inland conditions. ‘Yankee Point’ is a wide-spreading, low, dense shrub with shiny, dark green leaves and one-inch clusters of medium blue flowers. It is drought and heat tolerant.

Wild lilac shrubs grow anywhere from 3 feet to 16 feet tall. Most types are wider than they are tall. Many varieties grow well inland including ‘Dark Star’, ‘Julia Phelps’ and ‘Concha’ with deep blue flowers, ‘Frosty Blue’, with light blue blossoms, and ‘Joyce Coulter’, with large clusters of medium blue flowers. ‘Snowball’, with white flowers, also does well here.

‘Ray Hartman’ grows as a large shrub or small tree with large, glossy leaves and profuse displays of medium blue flowers. Sometimes they are grown as patio trees making a very showy display in spring.

Ceanothus grow best with little attention or care. Three things that they dislike are soil amendments, summer water and drip irrigation. Just water occasionally with a hose until the plants are established, then leave them to grow on their own. They will live a long and healthy life this way.

Deer-resistance is often an issue with Ceanothus. Most varieties are eaten by deer since, being natives, they have long been part of their food supply. Some small-leaved or prickly-leaved varieties, like ‘Dark Star’, ‘Julia Phelps’ and ‘Blue Jeans’, are usually more deer-resistant. But given protection when the plants are young, they are vigorous enough that they can withstand some browsing once they get large.

Wild lilacs are a nice addition to the natural landscape and they will delight you each spring with their wonderful, fragrant sprays of flowers.