Under the canopy of a California Friendly garden, I chatted with Maureen Taylor, a California native gardener and landscape designer, to find out the best ways to care for a California Friendly garden during a hot summer. Below are some gardening tips she shared with me that can help many Southern California residents:
Gnorman: How often should I water my garden over the summer?
Maureen: Gardeners should be adaptable and adjust their watering according to the weather to mimic how nature waters plants. Because it’s summertime, it’s natural to think that you have to water your plants more. But most California Friendly plants have adapted to drier conditions during the summer. Some species, such as oaks, are especially sensitive and can die from overwatering during a heat wave. To prevent this, check weather forecasts and water before a heat wave. Always water during the coolest time of the week. Watering during extreme heat can lead to fungus or even plant death!
Gnorman: How do I know when my plants need more water?
Maureen: Always check to make sure the soil is dry. You can test the moisture level of the soil by digging a little or using a soil moisture sensor (rebate for OC residents available here) to see if you have watered enough. If the soil is almost dry, it’s time to water again. The goal is to make sure water penetrates down to a foot or so when watering.
Gnorman: What else should I know about maintaining a California Friendly garden over the summer?
Maureen: Remember, summer in Southern California is the harshest season for plants. Gardeners should lay low, not plant anything new, and help plants get through their dormant season. Wait until the weather cools down so you can get back to planting and pruning.
Bonus Tip: Mulch is a multitasking tool that can help protect our waterways by preventing runoff while, at the same time, keeping plant roots cool during hot times. Mulch also conserves soil moisture, prevents weeds, and reduces soil erosion. You can find great deals on mulch through CalRecycle’s directory of Compost and Mulch Facilities. Who knew mulch could do so much?
Thanks Maureen for the expert advice!
Maureen received her B.A. in Environmental Studies/Biology from UC Santa Cruz. After graduating she was hired by the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, which expanded her love for nature into the realm of native gardening. Maureen now operates her own landscape maintenance and design business for clients in Southern California. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and making nature-inspired art.
California Friendly plants have different soil needs than typical lawns or garden plants. So what are some steps to ensure your new garden will be healthy? Here are three suggestions:
- DON’T Amend Your Soil!
California Friendly plants are accustomed to the soil as it is and typically do not need fertilizer. Incidentally, a major benefit of growing California Friendly plants is that they reduce the amount of fertilizer entering our local waterways. So do your wallet, our waterways, and your plants a favor and don’t add amendments.
- But DO Mulch!
Mulching can save your plants! Not only will it prevent water loss, but mulching prevents the growth of weeds which can destroy a newly planted California Friendly garden. Be sure to use the correct kind of mulch and at an even thickness. Below are some options on what to use and the best way to use them.
• Shredded bark: Slow to decompose and excellent at weed prevention. Be sure to apply 2 to 3 inches thick.
• Cut bark: This is a good all-purpose option and looks very neat and clean. For smaller sized chips, only 2 to 3 inches thick will do while larger sized chips require 4 to 5 inches.
• Decomposed granite: Excellent for Southwest- or Mediterranean-inspired gardens, decomposed granite compacts quickly and does not blow away easily. Hand weed if weeds do pop up. Apply 1 to 2 inches thick.
When applying mulch, leave a few inches of clearance around tree trunks and the stems of plants. If the mulch is too close, it can retain water around the trunk and cause rotting. Make sure to maintain an even layer of mulch to provide enough coverage throughout the year.
- Watch Your Plants to Accommodate Their Watering Needs
Drought tolerant plants are not drought tolerant immediately. Until the plant is established, you may need to add extra water (unless there is rain). Keep an eye on your plants and if they look stressed, they may need more water. This close monitoring of your plants can take a whole growing season.
Additionally, California Friendly plants are naturally tough once they are established and tend to resist pests. However, if they do get pests, check out this website and use their plant problem diagnostic tool.
*Photo Credit: Diana Tran from Anaheim
With news of the recent super bloom happening across California, why not bring home a bit of wildflower color to your own home? Wildflowers can grow in the most unlikely places: along freeways, in the cracks of sidewalks, and in your own yard! All you need are some wildflower mix, a sunny day and the 4 steps below to get started:
- Find an area where the seeds will get to the ground easily. Scattering seeds atop mulch will not work. Gnorman recommends placing seeds along sandy patches or the space between other plants.
- Rake the wildflower seeds in lightly. This is more to confuse the birds than to bury the seed. Wildflowers prefer to be scattered about and not buried; it’s how the seed was designed.
- If it doesn’t rain, water weekly until the wildflowers begin to rise and form buds. If it rains that week, do not worry about watering.
- At the end of the season, feel free to mow the plants after they have produced and released seeds. This will allow the seeds to stay dormant in your yard over the summer and winter, and then return again next spring!
To keep up with the Overwatering is Out movement and prevent runoff, please only use natives for wildflowers since they can spread easily! If you accidentally use something invasive, it will be incredibly difficult to get rid of. Please read the full list of what is in the bag of seed mix to ensure there are no filler species. Ask your local nursery if you are unsure or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a starter list of California Friendly species to look for in seed mixes.
- Eschscholzia californica California Poppy
- Lotus scoparius Deer Weed
- Lupinus bicolor Miniature Lupine
- Lupinus hirsutissimus Nettle Lupine
- Lupinus nanus Sky Nettle
- Nemophila menziesii Baby Blue Eyes
- Nemophila maculata Five Spot
- Oenothera elata Yellow Evening Primrose
- Eriophyllum confertiflorum Golden Yarrow
- Collinsia heterophylla Chinese Houses
- Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass
- Baileya multiradiata Desert Marigold
- Linum lewisii Blue Flax
- Penstemon centranthifolius Scarlet Bugler
- Mimulus puniceus Bush Monkeyflower
- Sphaeralcea ambigua Apricot Mallow
OC Garden Friendly Events
Why not sharpen your gardening skills at an upcoming local event? OC Garden Friendly has partnered with various home improvement stores throughout Orange County to hold outdoor plant sales complete with local experts on water-efficient landscaping, vendor displays, and special discounts on plants that are ideal for Southern California. Don’t miss out on these FREE OC Garden Friendly events happening at a Home Depot location near you:
All events are from 9 am to 1 pm. For more information click here.
With the upcoming holidays, why not sprinkle extra love into your holiday cooking by using herbs hand-picked from your own garden? An herb garden strengthens a beginner’s green thumb and adds flavorful variety to the expert’s garden. The selected herbs below do not need fertilizer, require little water, and are disease and pest resistant.
- Rosemary: Grow rosemary in a container such as a terracotta pot to bring indoors during winter
- Sage: A Thanksgiving Staple, sage grows best in hot, dry climates such as Orange County
- Thyme: This low-maintenance herb will grow best in poor soil with little water.
As a bonus, the herbs add delicious flavor to your holiday meals. Try growing some today!