Category Archives: landscape design

Citrus & Avocado for the Santa Cruz mts

Late September and you can feel autumn in the air. While our days are still beautiful and warm, nights are getting cooler with less daylight hours. Perfect weather for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden.

Why is this a good time? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees ( even broadleaf evergreens ) are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the roots system should be well established.

So take advantage of fall planting weather. Decide what changes or additions you want to make in your garden.
Perhaps it’s time to remove lawn from banks or slopes where water runs off instead of soaking in. Replant with more drought tolerant ornamental grasses or perennials.  Picture hummingbirds feeding on beautiful variegated autumn sage, their creamy white and green leaves topped with brilliant red flowers from summer until frost.

If you have a small lawn on flat land and want to improve water absorption and reduce water waste, rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base. Then aerated your lawn in a hollow-tine aerator or power aerator from a rental yard.  This brings plugs of soil to the surface, then rake compost over the hoes and water well.

Now is a good time to plant citrus and avocado. They will fair better during the cold winter months if roots are established.  Remember to give older citrus a good soak every week or so or the fruit will be dry.

If you’ve always wanted an avocado tree there are several varieties that do well here.  The Bacon avocado is hardy to 24 degrees. You can harvest medium sized fruit from November-March. They even produce at a young age and grow to 30 feet tall. Fuerte avocado have excellent flavor. This tree is large and spreading, hardy to 28 degrees and the fruit ripens from November-June. Zutano is another good variety for this area. Mexicola varieties are also very good.
 
These avocados are self fertile for the home gardener. You can expect your tree to live for about which is a lot of guacamole.

If you receive frost of consecutive night during the winter you can easily protect a young avocado or citrus by erecting a simple frame of 1×1" stakes that extends above the height of your tree.  Then drape with a frost blanket or beach blanket on cold night. Don’t use plastic- the cold will go right through it.

Take advantage of this great fall planting weather. Bon appetit !

Originally posted 2009-09-27 07:13:36.

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.

Originally posted 2009-09-09 08:47:52.

New Plants for the Garden

Every season new varieties of colorful flowering annuals and perennials are introduced by hybridizers. These new plants are field tested and bred for better performance, disease and insect resistance, flower size, color and heat tolerance.  Where does this happen?  What goes into that gorgeous vivid red geranium you see on the bench at the nursery?

Over 30 breeders of flower seeds and perennial starts each spring showcase their new varieties in trials held throughout the state.  Professional growers visit the trials to choose which new varieties they will grow this year and offer to local nurseries and garden centers.  Goldsmith Seeds in Gilroy is one of the locations that hosts the colorful spectacle.

Fragrant, wisteria-covered arbors shade paths that wind throughout the landscaped grounds . The grounds are open to the public to enjoy throughout the summer.  Also on site are the greenhouses where breeders work on creating new and better flower varieties.  It was interesting to see several acres planted with fava beans as a cover crop. Soon the fields of this flowering legume will be cut down and tilled into the soil to add nitrogen. 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 that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed new plants. After a few weeks of decomposition the energized soil will be ready for planting test flowers that Goldsmith seeds will further evaluate.

All of the seeds are actually grown in greenhouses in Holland and Guatemala. Cool season flowers like primroses, cyclamen, violas and pansies are produced mainly in Holland while warm season flowers like dahlias, geraniums, gazanias, and verbenas are grown at different elevations in Guatemala. I learned Goldsmith Seeds has been developing and growing seed in Guatemala for 40 years.

What new cultivars really impressed me at the trials?  There’s a new geranium that combines the best features of ivy and zonal geraniums. I liked the amazing color of Calliope Dark Red but all the colors were show stoppers. They would be perfect for baskets or beds in full sun or part shade. And you should see all the colors that calibrachoa now comes in-light blue, dark blue, deep yellow, peach, orange, even white with rose veins. These have now been bred to bloom earlier in the season which is why you’re seeing them in nurseries now.  There were many fragrant flowers like . I always looks forward to them when they arrive at the nursery. 

Try something new in your garden this year. There are so many good choices.
 

Originally posted 2009-04-22 19:17:57.

Planning the Garden

As you plan this year’s garden, whether it’s a new vegetable bed, un-thirsty perennials,  shade trees , or anything in between, think of how they will affect your surroundings. Will they take up less of the earth’s resources and not too much of your own time and energy? Changing weather patterns make it smart to find new, more sustainable ways to garden.  Downsize your garden’s neediness without sacrificing beauty or productivity.

Start with a smart design.

  • Does your garden utilize permeable paving like gravel or pavers that help manage runoff, giving the soil more time to absorb rainfall and recharge the ground water?
  • Have you considered installing a rain garden or small, planted basin to catch and filter rainwater and keep it onsite?
  • Have you grouped plants in your garden according to their water needs? Do you have some plantings that can survive on rainfall alone after their second season? Have you chosen plants that are locally grown and adapted to our climate?
  • Do you have an irrigation system that is efficient without being wasteful?  Do you water slowly, deeply and infrequently so there is no runoff? Do you water in the early morning or evening to maximize absorption?
  • Do you have deciduous trees to provide cooling shade in the summer and allow sunlight to warm the house in winter? Do you have trees and shrubs to clean the air of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide? Trees also breathe in carbon dioxide ( a major greenhouse gas) , use the carbon to build mass, then exhale oxygen. They retain more carbon than they lose so every tree you plant helps reduce your carbon footprint on the planet.
  • Does your garden feed and shelter birds, butterflies and other wildlife? Do you have perennials such as echinacea, lavender, penstemon or salvia to attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds? Have you planted flowers that attract beneficial insects to help control harmful insects? Do you use organic pesticides?
  • Do you make your soil a priority by adding compost each year? Do you mulch your soil to keep down weeds and conserve water?  Do you use natural fertilizers like manures or fish emulsion that feed the soil? Do you compost the green and brown waste your garden produces-fallen leaves, weeds without seeds, grass clippings, spent flowers and vegetables?
  • Do you stay ahead of weeds , pulling them before they set seed and spread?

       
Take steps to make your corner of the world contribute to the larger landscape around you.
 

Originally posted 2009-03-14 18:21:38.

Grapevine “Christmas Tree”, late Bulbs & Rosemary

 It’s great to see so many magazines and TV shows showcasing quick, inexpensive Christmas gifts and decorations to make from simple objects.  As we all try to reduce, reuse and recycle , here’s  an idea that you can use to decorate your deck or front porch with items you already have.

What’s more "green" than recycling your own garden cuttings?  You probably have a large pot where the plants are just about through for the season.   Pull out the spent plants but keep the soil.  You’ll be making a Christmas "tree" from a tomato cage turned upside down and secured with large U-shaped staples poked into the pot’s soil. Tie the wire prongs that are normally sunk into the ground with twine to make a pointed top. 

 Once the cage is anchored in place you can weave prunings from grapevines or honeysuckle in and around it.  Any vine will work as well as  long flexible branches from shrubs like cotoneaster, willow or abutilon.
If you have an electrical outlet nearby you can weave small lights throughout the tree.  If you want to get fancy, poke dried hydrangea flowers or berry sprigs or rosemary cuttings into the "tree".    After the holidays, you can plant primroses in the container and store the tomato cages for next summer. 

 It’s not too late to plant bulbs.  We get enough cold around here for many more months so the bulbs will get enough chilling even though you’re getting a late start.  The worst that can happen is the blooms may be slightly smaller and bloom on shorter stems.   I always start my bulbs about now as the squirrels have buried most of their acorns for the season and tend to leave my pots alone.  If they do discover them, I put gravel over the the surface and that seems to stop the party.   I plant lots of pots because the color will be so welcome in early spring. 

A simple ( read lazy ) way to plant that I’ve always had success with is to reuse the soil in a pot that just finished up like impatiens or other annuals.  Some I plant with cool season color but many, especially the glazed ones, I take out half of the soil, layer some bulbs, and pack the top with the rest of the soil.  Voila !  Instant spring bouquet in less than two minutes.  If you haven’t planted any bulbs yet,  do go out and get some now.  You’ll be very glad you did.

A word to the wise:  protect against killing frosts that often hit this month.   Watch out for still, starry nights and be prepared to protect tender plants with frost blankets.   Even a sheet, tarp, cardboard box, or regular blanket will help. If you do use plastic, make sure it is supported by poles and not draped right on top of the plant.  Better yet,  sink four 1×1 stakes to make a frame around tender plants,  then you’ll be ready  to throw something over quickly on a cold night.  Plants must be watered adequately to survive a freeze.  Drought stressed plants are more susceptible to damage. 

A plant that’s hardy, drought tolerant, blooms in the winter and makes a nice wreath, too, is the rugged rosemary.  One of the most versatile of all herbs, rosemary can be used in a variety of ways in both the garden and kitchen.  You can use an upright version like for a deer resistant screen.  Low. prostrate types make great ground covers.  And they do well in pots on the deck or outside the kitchen door.  Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary tolerates a wide variety of growing conditions from hot sun to partial shade  and survives down to around 15 degrees.   It will accept regular watering as long as there is good drainage.  You can add it to a mixed perennial bed or delegate it to the back forty.  Rosemary will flourish for decades in your garden but too much fertilizer will result in a shorter-lived plant.

 Harvest leaves for cooking anytime.  Plant some by the barbeque so you can toss plant sprigs over the coals to flavor food as it cooks.  Or use rosemary branches dipped in sauce to baste grilled food.   Mmm… yummy.

Originally posted 2008-12-07 20:01:26.

How to Plant a Garden that will look like it’s been there forever

 

 I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like "How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend"   or   "This Front Yard in Just one Year".  If you’re like me you think  " Can I really do that " ?   There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them.  Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden.  A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas.  Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build off of.

If you want your garden to fill in quickly choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions: sun exposure, soil type and water availability.  Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly.  Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas.  Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter.  Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust.  Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.  Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18" tall spreading 2-3 ft wide.  They look great in wide swaths across the garden or  along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing.  This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2" periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall.  Catmints are easy to care for.  Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade.  They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space. penstemon, crocosmia, cardinal flower, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow all put down deep roots and mature quickly.    

Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months. 

 

 Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quicky, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time. 

 

Originally posted 2008-10-03 17:15:57.