Tag Archives: erosion control

Ormanental Grasses Take Center Stage

phormiumThroughout the year I am asked for design help and plant suggestions but it’s at this time of year that I especially hear the request, “I’d love to add more grasses to my garden”. There’s no doubt that the movement and sound of grasses in the landscape adds another dimension to our experience. Many grasses and grass-like plants use less water than other plants, too. This is the time of year that grasses say “Fall is here”.

There’s an ornamental grass for every type of garden. Whether you are striving to create the perfect perennial border or have a hot dry slope, grasses can work in harmony wherever you place them. There are some that are made for the shade, some that are perfect additions to a small water feature and many that are invaluable in container gardening.

Most grasses require little care, minimal fertilizer, only occasional grooming and just enough water to meet their needs. Diseases and insect pests are rare. They have succeeded because of their adaptability and have evolved to suit almost every environment and climate on earth.

Grasses are distinguished from other plant families by their growth habit. They grow upward from the base of a leaf Orange_libertiaor shoot and can regrow from the crown when cut back. True grasses generally have extensive root systems which help control erosion. There are other grasslike plants that resemble grasses in their growth habits and are often some of the best companions for interplanting with grasses. These include New Zealand flax, carex family sedges, chondropetalum-a restio, kangaroo paw, lomandra, montbretia, liriope and their cousins ophiopogon.

So let’s say you are putting in a new patio and want a few low grasses as accents between some of the pavers. A variety like Northern Lights Tufted Hair Grass, with it’s creamy white foliage that turns pink in cold weather, would look great here. You could also use Ogon sweet flag for dense clumps the color of buttery in a shady spot, black mondo grass or blue fescue grass for even more color.

If you are trying to create a focal point or destination in your garden and think the texture of a grass with light and movement would be perfect, look to taller varieties to achieve this. Miscanthus purpurascens or Flame Grass grows 4 to 8 feet tall in the sun. Their magenta leaves turn to milky white in winter. Maiden grass sports narrow upright leaves 5 to 8 feet tall and creamy flowers. Their seed heads float and bounce in the the breeze. Planting them just above the horizon allow you to enjoy their swaying and dipping backlit at sunset.

Japanese_Blood_grassBesides texture, grasses provide color for your garden, too. Who hasn’t admired the burgundy foliage of red fountain grass? it’s one of our most popular grasses with it’s fox-tail like coppery flower heads. Another favorite of mine for color is Japanese blood grass, You’ll love this grass when you place it so the sun can shine through the brilliant red blades. This grass spreads slowly by underground runners and grows in sun or partial shade forming an upright clump 1 to 2 feet tall. Pink Muhly grass will stop traffic when in bloom.

Are sections of your garden hot and dry? Grasses are survivors and are good choices for sunny spots that get little irrigation. Good drainage is a must for these plants so OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAamend the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting. Combine drought tolerant grasses with companion plants and a few accent rocks to complete your dry theme. Good combinations for these areas are Pheasant Tail Grass with the sky blue flowers of Russian sage. This grass is extremely drought tolerant once established. Giant Feather grass looks great with the purple flowers of penstemon ‘Midnight’. If you like blue foliage, try ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue grass with Amazing Red flax for a show stopping combination.

For a touch of whimsy, you can’t beat fiber optic grass. This grass-like sedge from Europe and North Africa looks like a bad hairpiece. You can grow it at the edge of a shallow pond or display it inside in a pot on a pedestal to show off it’s flowering habit. Seeing is believing with this one.

These are just a few of the places where grasses can enhance and add beauty to your garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant a new one.

California Native Plants for Erosion Control

ribes_sanguineum_King_EdwardVII.1024Getting caught out in the rain last month was a timely reminder that the rainy season will soon be upon us.The Farmer’s Almanac predicts our “winter will be much rainier and cooler than normal”. Weather bloggers online posting an impressive number of charts and figures predict “a general dry trend”. NOAA says we have an equal chance of precipitation totals going either way.

My favorite predictor, the Sandhill crane, started its annual migration to the San Joaquin Valley several weeks earlier this year. Over the years, the timing of the migration has been a good predictor of both wet and dry winters. This year the early migration predicts an early winter with plenty of rain and snow.

Who knows what the weather will actually bring but we do know that some of our rain events will come with a vengeance. It’s not that unusual for our area to get 8″ of rainfall during a storm and you know what havoc that can create on an unprotected hillside. Yes, folks, I’m talking major erosion of your precious land. Fortunately, October is a good time to do something about it.

Fall is the perfect time to plant in our area. The soil is still warm encouraging root growth and the weather is mild. Using the right plants on hillsides can help slow and spread runoff and prevent soil erosion. Mulch also protects soil from direct rain impact and slows runoff across bare soils. Covering the steepest slopes with jute netting through which plants may be installed is an added precaution.

There are many attractive plants that work well for erosion control. Often they need to adapt to shallow, poor soil and cope with less than ideal conditions all while putting down dense, strong roots. California natives are well suited to this job.

Common native shrubs include ceanothus and manzanita of all types. Calycanthus lives up to its OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcommon name Spicebush. Fragrant flowers appear in late spring and continue to bloom well into summer with a spicy fragrance similar to a wine cellar. The foliage is aromatic when crushed and changes from a spring green color to pale golden in autumn. Decorative woody fruits last into winter making this shrub attractive year round. It thrives with infrequent to moderate watering. Combine it with coffeeberry and deer grass in sunnier spots or with Douglas iris and giant chain fern in shaded spots below trees. These also have deep roots and control erosion.

Ribes sanguinem (red flowering currant) is another show stopper capable of controlling erosion. In the spring the long, flower clusters of this deciduous shrub will dominate your garden. There are many selections of this plant to choose from so if the huge white flowers appeal to you ‘White Icicle’ will be beautiful in your landscape. “Barrie Coate” and ‘King Edward VII’ have spectacular deep red flower clusters and ‘Spring Showers’ has 8″ long pink ones. Grow in full sun to partial shade. This California native requires little water once established and are a valuable nectar source for hummingbirds.

Some other good California native shrubs for erosion control are western redbud, mountain mahogany, western mock orange, lemonade berry, toyon, snowberry, matilija poppy and western elderberry. Ribes viburnifolium, creeping mahonia and snowberry, baccharis, ceanothus maritimus and Anchor Bay are good groundcover selections.

Smaller natives that put down deep roots are yarrow, coast aster, California fuchsia, wild grape, mimulus, buckwheat, wOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAild rose, sage and salvia.

Bush poppy (dendromecon rigid) is another native found right here in our area and needs no irrigation at all once established. Beautiful bright yellow, poppy-like flowers cover the plant in spring. They can be propagated from cuttings taken in summer and are pest and disease free.

Remember when setting plants on a steep slope to arrange them in staggered rows. Make an individual terrace for each plant and create a basin or low spot behind each one ( not around the stem ) to catch water. Set the crowns of the plants high so they won’t become saturated and rot after watering and make sure mulch does   not build up around the stem.

California Native Plants for Erosion Control

ribes_sanguineum_King_EdwardVII.1024Getting caught out in the rain last month was a timely reminder that the rainy season will soon be upon us.The Farmer’s Almanac predicts our “winter will be much rainier and cooler than normal”. Weather bloggers online posting an impressive number of charts and figures predict “a general dry trend”. NOAA says we have an equal chance of precipitation totals going either way.

My favorite predictor, the Sandhill crane, started its annual migration to the San Joaquin Valley several weeks earlier this year. Over the years, the timing of the migration has been a good predictor of both wet and dry winters. This year the early migration predicts an early winter with plenty of rain and snow.

Who knows what the weather will actually bring but we do know that some of our rain events will come with a vengeance. It’s not that unusual for our area to get 8″ of rainfall during a storm and you know what havoc that can create on an unprotected hillside. Yes, folks, I’m talking major erosion of your precious land. Fortunately, October is a good time to do something about it.

Fall is the perfect time to plant in our area. The soil is still warm encouraging root growth and the weather is mild. Using the right plants on hillsides can help slow and spread runoff and prevent soil erosion. Mulch also protects soil from direct rain impact and slows runoff across bare soils. Covering the steepest slopes with jute netting through which plants may be installed is an added precaution.

There are many attractive plants that work well for erosion control. Often they need to adapt to shallow, poor soil and cope with less than ideal conditions all while putting down dense, strong roots. California natives are well suited to this job.

Common native shrubs include ceanothus and manzanita of all types. Calycanthus lives up to its OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcommon name Spicebush. Fragrant flowers appear in late spring and continue to bloom well into summer with a spicy fragrance similar to a wine cellar. The foliage is aromatic when crushed and changes from a spring green color to pale golden in autumn. Decorative woody fruits last into winter making this shrub attractive year round. It thrives with infrequent to moderate watering. Combine it with coffeeberry and deer grass in sunnier spots or with Douglas iris and giant chain fern in shaded spots below trees. These also have deep roots and control erosion.

Ribes sanguinem (red flowering currant) is another show stopper capable of controlling erosion. In the spring the long, flower clusters of this deciduous shrub will dominate your garden. There are many selections of this plant to choose from so if the huge white flowers appeal to you ‘White Icicle’ will be beautiful in your landscape. “Barrie Coate” and ‘King Edward VII’ have spectacular deep red flower clusters and ‘Spring Showers’ has 8″ long pink ones. Grow in full sun to partial shade. This California native requires little water once established and are a valuable nectar source for hummingbirds.

Some other good California native shrubs for erosion control are western redbud, mountain mahogany, western mock orange, lemonade berry, toyon, snowberry, matilija poppy and western elderberry. Ribes viburnifolium, creeping mahonia and snowberry, baccharis, ceanothus maritimus and Anchor Bay are good groundcover selections.

Smaller natives that put down deep roots are yarrow, coast aster, California fuchsia, wild grape, mimulus, buckwheat, wOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAild rose, sage and salvia.

Bush poppy (dendromecon rigid) is another native found right here in our area and needs no irrigation at all once established. Beautiful bright yellow, poppy-like flowers cover the plant in spring. They can be propagated from cuttings taken in summer and are pest and disease free.

Remember when setting plants on a steep slope to arrange them in staggered rows. Make an individual terrace for each plant and create a basin or low spot behind each one ( not around the stem ) to catch water. Set the crowns of the plants high so they won’t become saturated and rot after watering and make sure mulch does   not build up around the stem.

Good Shrubs for Erosion Control in the Santa Cruz Mtns

You know fall is just around the corner when you hear thunder. Seems like summer just started but now plants like lilac, rhododendron and dogwood have already set flower buds for next year. We don't know exactly what winter will bring. Will we receive lots of rain or a meager amount?

The latest from the Climate Prediction Center for the San Francisco Bay Area 2012-13 rainy season is that a mild El Nino event may be setting up. There has been a  weakening of the positive sea surface temperature in the Pacific. El Nino has been known to come with plenty of rain for our area. We are still in a wait and watch mode.

Long range outlooks for the fall from the CPC run from equal chances for above or below normal rainfall to a slight tendency toward below normal. For the November through January period the probabilities start to shift and a slight chance of above normal rainfall creeps up along the coast from the south.  By the time we get to the December through February period, the outlook is for above normal precipitation for the whole state with significant above normal chances for the Bay Area.

This is not a forecast but an outlook for the probabilities of above or below normal precipitation. If we do get heavy rains in January or February you should be prepared. Do you have a slope that might have an erosion problem?  Now is the time to start planning and planting. The nights are cooler, the days shorter, the soil still warm. Everything that a new plant needs to get a good start.

What plants are good for controlling erosion in our area? When choosing plants to cover a bank for erosion control, assess the conditions of the area you want to plant.  Is it in the sun or shade?  Is it a naturally moist area or dry?  Do you intend to water it or go with our natural cycle of wet in the winter and dry in the summer? Matching the plant to the site conditions will ensure success.

When designing a plant layout I consider whether I want a sweep of the same plant or a tapestry effect with a variety of plants.  Using more than one type of plant allows me to work with contrasting foliage adding pattern to my composition.  To create a stunning combination choose 5 or 6 styles and repeat them in small drifts to carry the eye through the composition. Add grasses for linear texture.

If the area you need to stabilize is large and mostly shade, consider Ribes viburnifolium aka Evergreen Currant which grows 3-6 ft tall spreading to 12 ft wide. It needs no irrigation when established. Another plant that tolerates shade and needs no irrigation after 3 years is Mahonia repens aka Creeping Mahonia. It grows 1 ft tall by 3 feet wide spreading by underground stems that stabilize the soil.

Symphoricarpos aka Common Snowberry or Creeping Snowberry can hold the soil on steep banks. They tolerate poor soil, lower light and general neglect. Philadelphus lewisii aka Wild Mock Orange tolerates some aridity and partial shade. This beautiful, fountain shaped, fragrant flowering shrub grows about 8 ft tall by 8 ft wide and is not fussy about soil.

A bank in the sun would contain a different plant palette. Some of my favorite plants to control erosion in this situation include Ceanothus in all its forms. Groundcover types like Centennial, Anchor Bay and Maritimus are not attractive to deer like the larger leaved varieties. Rockrose such as Cistus purpureus also provide large-scale cover for expansive sunny areas.  Their dense strong root systems helps prevent soil erosion. Choose from white, pink or magenta flowers on plants varying from 1-5 ft. high depending on which variety you choose. This Mediterranean native is fast growing, drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Smaller plants for color that control erosion are lavender, California buckwheat, salvia leucophylla, California fuchsia, deer grass, needle grass, mimulus, yarrow, Pacific Coast iris, bush poppy, penstemon and artemisia.

These suggestions are just a few of the plants that control erosion. Every area is different and every situation unique. Email me if you would like help with your area.
 

Erosion and You

 Now that we’ve had a bit of rain, it’s time to get serious about planting wildflowers for spring color and to attract bees,   cover crops to renew your soil,   and erosion control seed and plantings to hold your slope during the winter rains.

 Let’s start with the fun stuff- wildflowers.  Picture your meadow or garden filled with beautiful wildflowers, attracting all sorts of songbirds, hummingbirds, dragonflies and other beneficial insects.  If this is your goal, first get rid of existing weed seeds that in the soil and can smother out the slower growing wildflowers. The rains earlier this month will have germinated those pesky weed seeds so you can hoe them off now.  Be careful not to cultivate over 1" deep or you will bring more weed seeds to the surface.

Next, choose a site with at least a half day of sun.  Rake the soil lightly and spread the seed at the recommended rate.  It helps to mix the tiny seeds with 4 times as much sand or vermiculite so you don’t spread the seed too thickly.  Rake the seed very lightly into the soil and tamp it down for good soil contact.  Then you can wait for the next rain or water the area by hand.  It’s important to remember that after your wildflowers have germinated they must remain moist.  If mother nature doesn’t cooperate , you will need to hand water a for a while- a small price to pay for all that beauty in the spring.

What’s a cover crop?  These are grasses or legumes that grow during the fall and winter and then are tilled into the soil in the spring.  They help prevent erosion when planted on slopes and energize the soil when planted in the garden.   Preserve you topsoil and nutrients by planting a pretty cover crop like crimson clover. 

Crimson cloverCrimson clover has beautiful magenta glowers, but its primary benefit happens below the ground- the soil gains nitrogen, a better structure and greater biological activity.  Growing a legume, like clover, will "fix" nitrogen in the soil.  You can reduce the amount of fertilizer you use in the spring by 1/3 to 1/2,  especially in areas like the vegetable garden that need a lot of nutrients to produce all those good things to eat.   If you’re going to be growing peas or beans as the garden’s next crop, though, don’t use a legume cover crop in these areas.  You may end up with all vine and no peas or beans to harvest.  Heavy feeders like corn or squash will really respond to the extra nitrogen.

How do they do this?  Legumes attract soil dwelling bacteria that attach to the plant’s roots and pull atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and soil, storing it on the roots as nodules.  When the plant is cut down and chopped up to decompose in the garden bed, that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed the leafy growth of other plants.

 Besides reducing erosion a cover crop like crimson clover  can reduce soil compaction and their tap roots break up clay soil.
    To plant, rake the bed, sow the seed by hand and rake again.  Water to help germination if rains don’t do it for you.  Next spring, chop them down when they begin to flower.  Early spring is the best time to dig the clover into the soil because that dose of green manure is at it’s peak before the plant matures.  After a few weeks of decomposition, you energized soil is ready for vegetable seeds and starts. 

 Another way to prevent erosion is to plant native grasses, herbaceous and woody plants.  If you haven’t started planting a steep slope yet, you may need to use jute netting to stabilize the slope while the permanent plants are becoming established.  Santa Cruz erosion mix is a quick growing grass especially suited for our conditions.  You can also plant crimson clover under jute netting.

Whatever you choose, take steps now to prevent .