Tag Archives: California Native Plants

Backyard Wildlife Certification

One of my New Year resolutions is to get my garden certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It will be fun for me and would also be a good school project for your kids. They can keep track of all the birds, butterflies, dragonflies, insects, mammals, lizards and frogs that come to visit your yard. Once your backyard is certified by NWF, you can order and display an attractive Certified Wildlife Habitat sign to convey your commitment to wildlife conservation and the environment and help spread the word to your neighbors.

All species of wildlife need the basics of food, water, cover and places to raise young. We can help conserve our natural resources like soil, water, air and habitat for native wildlife by gardening in an environmentally friendly way.  Here are some of the simple steps I’m doing in my small garden garden to reach this goal.

To provide food in my shady garden I plan to include Ca. native snowberry, pink flowering currant and mahonia for berries that attract birds.  Hummingbirds will find nectar from coral bells, western columbine and fuchsia-flowering currants. I also keep my feeders up year round for them.

Butterflies will like like Santa Barbara daisy, sweet alyssum and columbine. Plants that will attract beneficial insects are Ca. rose, coast live oak and ceanothus. Although I try to plant natives for their beauty and toughness, I believe that finding the right balance by mixing natives with non natives can enhance benefits to wildlife.

Next, I provide clean water for drinking, bathing and reproduction. I don’t have room for a pond but I do have bird baths that I keep filled year round. I’m also planning to make a puddling area for butterflies.

Wildlife need places to find shelter from the weather and predators. I keep some areas of my garden orderly but leave some less manicured. I plant in layers providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides a large range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites. Keep in mind, wildlife need to feel safe in their surroundings. They tend to steer clear of large, open spaces. I find most of the wildlife that visit my yard start at the wooded area in the back and work their way up through dense shrubs, wild berries, a dead tree and a small log pile.

Evergreens and deciduous trees provide nesting areas for birds. The rock wall and leaf pile are favorite spots for mice, sakes and salamander to lay their eggs or raise young. Butterfly larvae find food on host ceanothus, huckleberry, oaks, bleeding hearts, foxglove, sweet alyssum, ornamental strawberry, dogwood, viburnum, crabapple and red flowering currant. I’d plant a wisteria for them if I had more sun.

I conserve our valuable resources by doing simple measures like mulching, using drip and soaker hoses, planting low-water use plants like natives suited to this area, using organic pesticides only when necessary and using organic fertilizers.

In my little corner of the world, I’ve created a beautiful wildlife garden. Visit the National Wildlife Federation at NWF.org to get started on your own certification.

El Nino & SOD

 Recent rainfall may have you thinking that El Nino conditions are indeed strengthening as NOAA has predicted and that this will be a wet winter. California does not always see an increase in precipitation, however,  during El Nino years but we can always hope and be prepared.

Here’s why. Every 2-7 years the trade winds in the warm equatorial waters of the Pacific Ocean slacken, or sometimes even reverse direction, and warmer-than-normal water accumulates along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific. This warming is called El Nino, because its effects are greatest in the winter and often disrupt fishing along the So. American coast around . Equatorial water is averaging one degree warmer so far this fall and should continue to warm. If it averages 2.5 degrees warmer, that’s a moderate El NIno. If it goes higher that would be considered a strong El Nino. During the biggest El Nino winters in 1997-’98 and also in 1982-’83, Pacific waters reached nearly 5 degrees warmer.  The winter of 1997 brought nearly 90" of rain to Boulder Creek and in 1982 we had 111" of rain.  Interesting to note, however, that the strong El Nino of 1991 only brought 46" of rain to our area.

The El Nino now under way doesn’t guarantee our area will receive drenching winter rains, but the stronger the condition and warmer the water, the greater the likely hood.

If you have oaks or tanoak trees on your property, a wet El Nino winter makes conditions perfect for the spread of Sudden Oak Death (SOD). The pathogen that causes this disease thrives and spreads in moist, mild climates. There is no known cure for SOD, the only way to protect susceptible oaks and tanoaks is preventative treatment before conditions for infection are optimal.

To arm trees with as much resistance as possible, treatments must be applied in the fall and again in the spring. There is a free training session given by the Calif. Oak Mortality Task Force in Berkeley on Nov 4th and Dec. 9th. This training session as well as information on their web site   (   www.suddenoakdeath.org  )  will help you gain information about how to select candidate trees for treatment and proper preventative treatment applications.  
 
We have seen the effects of SOD on the oak trees in our own area.  Since the mid 1990’s over a million oak and tan oak trees have died throughout California. Preventative treatment is the key to slowing the spread of this pathogen and to protect high value individual trees at risk of infection.

Laboratory testing is the only way to confirm this disease.  You cannot diagnose symptoms solely by eye as many diseases look similar. You can view photos at the web site to compare symptoms with those on your oak or tanoak trees. Also look at nearby Calif. bay laurel, rhododendrons or camellia plants with spots on their leaves as this could possibly by correlated.  If you suspect you have infected trees you can get the leaves tested at our local AG Extension in Watsonville.

The treatment approved by the State of California against phytophthora ramorum infection is Agri-Fos, a phosphonate compound. It is best used as a preventative measure and is not a cure. It can help protect trees from getting infected and mays suppress disease progression in very early infections. Sprayed on the trunk or injected into the tree it takes 3-6 weeks to be assimilated and become effective.

Generally, you should treat high value oak trees within 150 ft of other infected trees or plants. You may want to treat healthy oaks or tan oaks if they are surrounded by healthy bay laurel and there are know infections within 1000 ft. I could not find a local source for Agri-Fos but you can buy it directily through them.  There is a link on the above listed website.

Education is key to slowing the spread of SOD and protecting high-value individual trees at risk of infection.
 

 

Help Bees Help You

Bees are getting a lot of press lately, Most fruits and vegetables, except crops like corn, wheat, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans and beets, need bees to pollinate them. Of the 3 million hives in this country about 600,000 have disappeared. Our bees are at risk and research has not found the smoking gun for colony collapse disorder ( where bees leave the hive and mysteriously never return ). In the 1980’s a mite caused a huge die off but now researchers are looking to a virus from Israel that might causing a decline in the bee’s immune system, like AIDS for bees. Pesticide are also contributing to the decline. Maybe these interfere with the bees ability to find their way home. It may be that there are several reasons that are causing our bees to be at risk.

What can we do to help?  For one, we can attract native bees to the garden. Native bees are solitary, meaning they do not make a hive but make nests underground, one female per nesting hole, where she lays her eggs. Some of the things we do in our gardens, such as mulching, is good for the soil and deterring weeds but not helpful for ground nesting bees.  The key is to leave some unmulched sections near your flowering plants for them to burrow.

Native bees won’t sting you. It’s not that they don’t have a stinger, they just don’t use them on people. Also most of our 1,600 species of native bees are too small to be able to sting.  Native bees are solely responsible for keeping many native plants pollinated. To help bees and other pollinator insects—like butterflies—you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, and thus, through the whole growing season. Choose several colors and shapes of flowers, plant flowers in clumps and plant where bees will visit- in sunny spots sheltered from strong winds.

Native bees love Ray Hartman ceanothus and toyon, for instance. Also ribes, sambucus, penstemon, echinacea, sedum, salvia, Ca. poppy, buckwheat, willow, sunflowers, lavender, basil, agastache, marjorum, rosemary, erysimum, zinnia and aster.

All species of bees will benefit from these tips.  Let’s lend a helping hand to these vital pollinators.

Layering Plants for Wildlife

I confess , I’m a lazy gardener.  In July, my idea of working in the garden consists of removing seed pods from the fuchsias and trimming a few parsley and basil springs for dinner. I don’t have to spend time spraying for harmful insects and diseases because the birds and other creatures I encourage in my garden provide natural pest control. Having wildlife in the garden saves time and money, too.

A wildlife garden doesn’t have to be messy. It just requires the right balance between form and function. Areas close to the house can look more refined because they get more attention. Spots farther away from the house can be a little more relaxed because they are seen at a distance.

Plant in layers, providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides the greatest range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites for birds and other creatures. Towhees, black-headed juncos and robins like to stick to the shrub layer but are frequently found foraging in leaf litter on the ground where they find insects for food. Warblers and chickadees tend to search for insects in the canopy layer. 

Many native plants provide essential food and foraging areas for wildlife. Plants from similar climates like the Mediterranean region also have benefits for wildlife.

Coffeeberry are a favorite for many birds. This native grows in full sun or partial shade and aren’t fussy about soil. Established plant need no irrigation but will accept regular gardening watering unlike many other natives. They make up for small inconspicuous flowers with large berries than turn from green to red to black as they ripen. Use this 4-8 ft. shrub for your middle layer.

If it’s summer color you’re after, look to Vitex agnus-caste. This large shrub can be trained as a multi-stemmed small shade tree if you like. Fragrant lavender-blue flower spikes cover this plant summer to fall. Even the leaves are aromatic with handsome lacy, fanlike leaflets. Vitex thrives in heat with moderate water and is deer resistant.

Pacific wax myrtle is another shrub to use in your middle layer as a screen.  This 10 ft evergreen can also be trained as a small 30 ft tree. It’s one of the best looking native plants for the garden with aromatic glossy dark green leaves. Clusters of tiny berries are a favorite food source for several species of birds, especially warblers.

Other natives for the middle layer include Howard McMinn manzanita, Ray Harman ceanothus, bush anemone, western redbud, snowberry, pink-flowering currant and philadelphus. Native plants for the ground cover layer would also include Emerald Carpet manzanita and Yankee Point ceanothus.

You don’t need a lot of land or a huge garden to use the layering principal. Even the smallest yard can have all three layers that offer beauty and shade for us and nesting sites, food and foraging areas for wildlife.

Pacific Dogwood & Plants with Seasonal Interest

Driving east to Yosemite recently, I was reminded of how diverse botanically and geologically is the state of California.  Leaving the redwood forest here, I passed tawny grasslands and oak studded foothills to a mixed evergreen forest up in the Sierras. Many of the same plants grow here- buckeye, solomon seal and western azalea. I was hoping the native Pacific dogwood would still be blooming and was not disappointed. Huge white flowers, resembling butterflies, covered these small trees. I last saw them a couple of years ago when they wore bright red fall foliage. This got me thinking. What other plant are interesting in more than one season?

    

 

                            Here is a table of trees and shrubs to add to your garden

name flowers? fruit berries? Fall color? interesting bark?
Dogwood yes yes yes yes
Golden Raintree yes yes yes yes
Maple no no yes yes
Crape Myrtle no no yes yes
Redbud yes no yes yes
Fringe tree yes no yes yes
Katsura yes no yes yes
Crabapple yes yes no no
Persimmon no yes yes yes
Nandina yes yes yes no
Japanese barberry no yes yes no
Smoke bush no yes no yes
Blueberry yes yes yes no

Other plants that make a bold statement in the garden are big-leaved perennials. If one of your garden beds or borders need something to quickly enliven the scene, look to giant leaves to give contrast. Often a planting will have too many similar flower or leaf sizes and end up looking fussy, overly detailed and chaotic. That’s when large architectural plants come to the rescue.

Ligularia dentata form 3 ft. clumps in partial shade. From midsummer to early fall, 3-5 ft. stems bear 4" wide orange-yellow daisy-like flowers. Their leaves are the most striking feature. Othello has deep purplish green, kidney-shaped leaves almost a foot across while Desdemona has leaves with purple undersides and green upper surfaces. Ligularia clumps can remain undisturbed for years and stay lush and full from springtime through frost.

For borders in the sun, cannas add drama. They stand bright and tall with huge leaves on 4-6 ft. stems. Some like Pretoria and Tropicana have striped leaves and others have bronze leaves like Wyoming and Sunburst Pink. Flowers range from orange, red, pink, yellow, cream and bicolor. Canna leaves are useful in flower arrangements but the flowers themselves do not keep well. In the garden border, canna foliage, backlit by sunshine, positively glows.

Red bananas are grown for the impact of their beautiful leaves which range in color from deep claret brown to re-purple to green. Plant them in full to part sun in an area protected from the wind to avoid shredded leaves. Ornamental bananas grow fast to 15-20 ft and make a bold tropical accent in any garden.

 

A White Garden with Fragrance

Gardens are living things-changing over time. One year everything in the garden seems to bloom in April and May. Other years different plants reach maturity and provide color and structure during the summer. If your garden needs a few plants that will "pop" in the landscpe why not add a white bloomer that you can still enjoy after the sun goes down?

A great looking native plant for the back of the border is philadelphus lewisii or wild mock orange. Fragrant, white, satiny 2" flowers attract butterflies in late spring and early summer. Goose Creek is a doulbe-flowered selection that forms a fountain shape 4-10 ft tall and is fairly drought tolerant. Not fussy about soil type but it must have good drainage.

Another sweet-scented, white flowering Ca. native is carpenteria californica or bush anemone. Although this plant needs little water once established it can also accept ordinary garden conditions making it valuable closer to the house in the "lean, mean and green" zone that the fire dept wants irrigated more to retard flames. Clusters of fragrant 2-3" white blossoms with yellow centers appear at the ends of the branches. This shrub grows slowly to 4-6 ft tall and would be beautiful along a path or next to the patio where you could enjoy it’s fragrance in the evening, too.

Roses are among the showiest fragrant flowers you can grow in your garden. Sure they need a little extra water but the pay back is spectacular. Place them in areas with other plants that need regular water. Here are my favorite white roses.

Full Sail- a medium upright hybrid tea rose with large bright white flowers and a strong honeysuckle fragrance.
John F. Kennedy- Huge, full greenish white buds open to rich white and smell like licorice. This rose stands up well to hot weather.
Iceberg- One of the top ten roses of the workls and the best landscpe white around. It also comes as a climber. Honey scented rose clusters are borne in great profusion. This rose is extremely disease resistant and needs little care.  Looks great as a hedge or in mass plantings. This the the part I love, they have very few thorns.
Stainless Steel-  A rose that is so close to white it would shine in a moon garden. With pale silvery lavender flowers and a fragrance stronger than Sterling Silver it’s easier to care for and grow. Flower size and color are best with cooler temperatures or in a bit of shade.

What else can you grow in a white garden? If I had more room, I’d have a Longissims Alba wisteria with pure white fragrant flowers that cascade in spikes up to 4 ft long. Or I’d grow a Krasavitsa Moskvy lilac whose lavender-rose tinted buds open to full, double, creamy, fragrant white flowers.

I also like the also called mock orange because it’s flowers really do smell like citrus blossoms. Their green and white foliage can lighten up a dark corner in any garden and scent the air. Tuck some sweet alyssum along a path and your white garden is complete.