Tag Archives: Deer Resistant Plants

Zauchneria & other Favorite Plants for the Santa Cruz Mountains

I don't have room for any new plants. Really I don't, but come spring I just can't help myself. Every pretty plant I see in a nursery or at a friend's house, I want. Admiring from afar just won't do. I rationalize that if I choose from plants that will do well in my specific environment then it's OK to add something new to the garden. If you want to be armed with a check list of possible new plants that are almost guaranteed to do well in your own neck of the woods and without a lot of water, here are some good choices.

For those who live in the sun, consider a brilliant red California fuchsia. Hummingbirds and butterflies are both attracted to zauschneria which starts blooming in summer and continues through fall. They provide a principle nectar source for hummingbirds though the hottest, driest season. Deer aren't interested in them, either.

Ghostly Red is one of my favorites for sunny slopes although it will grow in some shade and is tolerant of many soils including alkaline, sand, clay and serpentine. The foliage is grey-green and shows off the intensely red flowers. It grows about 1-2 feet tall which is tall enough to attract the hummingbirds but low enough to be neat and tidy. Each plant can spread to 5 feet wide.

Another good variety of California fuchsia is Everett's Choice. This fast growing groundcover has dark orange-red flowers on a low, spreading plant. Furry grey foliage creeps along the ground and looks beautiful next to a path or rock wall. It's drought tolerant but will look fuller with an occasional drink after it's established. As with all California fuchsia a hard winter pruning will produce a denser plant the following year.

Consider combining either of these grey-leaved California fuchsias with the new Black Adder phormium to make a dramatic statement in your garden. Black Adder was bred from the deep, deep brown Platt's Black phormium but its color is even more striking. Deep, burgundy-black leaves have a high gloss overlay which eliminates sun fading. Black Adder is a strong and healthy grower with an upright but not stiff architectural form. When mature it reaches 3 ft tall by 3 ft wide so fits nicely into the garden.

Originally native to New Zealand, phormiums are also known as flax and their hemp-like plant fibers were traditionally used by New Zealand's Maori people to make rope, baskets and cloth.

Other good companion plants for California fuchsia are Bee's Bliss salvia, Western redbud, rockrose, buckwheat, armeria maritima, deer grass and ground morning glory. Ceanothus, rosemary and manzanita also look good with California fuchsias.

Shady gardeners ( no, I'm not making a moral judgement here ) or should I say gardeners who live in the shade or have portions of their gardens in the shade, have lots of plants to tempt them. Favorite plants for dry shade include flowering currant which is so spectacular at this time of year. This shrub blooms with huge clusters of pink, rose or white flowers. Other plants that attract hummingbirds in bright shade are Western columbine, bleeding heart, heuchera and mimulus. You can find these in a rainbow of beautiful colors these days.  Humminbirds love salvia spathacea so much they're called Hummingbird flower. Also suitable for planting under oaks are Douglas iris. I love the white Pacific Coast hybrid variety, Canyon Snow. Their white flowers make an area under tall trees come alive.

A couple of new additions to the garden would be fun especially if they don't use up your water budget. With a little planning you can have color, attract wildlife and have water for the vegetable garden, too.

Trials & Tribulations of a Test Garden

While at the Watsonville Terra Sole Nursery recently, owner's John and Sherry Hall shared with me their experiences growing and experimenting with plants in their own landscape and nursery. From these personal trials, they decide what to propagate and sell in the small, independent nursery they operate on their property.

With a philosophy to share what they learn with their customers, they grow native and unusual plants and other drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. Sherry told me that they grow their plants as sustainably as possible, hand pulling weeds and collecting snails by hand. They said they propagate and grow their plants without growth regulators or dangerous chemicals. I saw many birdbaths both in their own landscape and in the nursery. Sherry told me they encourage feathered friends like the Western Bluebird to live in the garden to eat bugs. It's a win-win situation.

Sustainable doesn't just get lip service at this nursery. They don't use labels on their containers making it easy to recycle them. And John makes his own succulent garden boxes from 100 year old barn wood. They looked awesome planted up with a collection of various succulents propagated in the greenhouse.

I commented on the hardy geraniums and other plants coming up through the gravel on the nursery floor. John and Sherry both laughed as they told me "it's the best place to propagate some of the plants. Our son works at a big grower nearby and can't propagate some of these plants even in his $10,000 greenhouse".

What were some of my favorite plants that I saw on the tour and which do they think are the best performers?  
In the test garden, a Lemon Fizz santolina, with foliage so brilliant it looked like a lit light bulb, nestled at the base of a burgundy phormium. A blooming euphorbia completed the vignette. Santolinas are drought and deer tolerant. One important thing Sherry has learned from the test garden is how close to plant things. "They get a lot bigger than you'd imagine from seeing them in that cute little gallon can".

They have an extensive coral bell or heuchera collection that they have been testing for the past 4 years. Starting with 80 plants of different kinds, 90% have survived. The fancy hybrids do need some summer water and compost to look their best. The variety Pinot Gris, with molasses colored foliage, really stood out among the rest.

The echinacea were just emerging from dormancy and will bloom during the summer.  They are very dependable in the garden unless the gophers get them, I was told. Agastache is another one of their favorites and the hummingbirds love them, too. They grow many colorful cordyline from clumpers to tall types. They are doing great, Sherry said. "Maybe a little too great" as they get big fast. Gaillardia have been disappointing but maybe they received too much water at the wrong time, she confessed.

In the nursery, I was drawn to the hardy geranium, 'Bill Wallace'. Loaded with purplish-blue flowers, this mounding perennial blooms for a long time. In another spot, I couldn't miss the rich, dark burgundy flowers of the camellia "Night Rider". "It's the only camellia we grow", the Hall's explained. A very slow grower, it's perfect for containers.

At the Spring Trials they bought a flat of a new acacia called 'Cousin Itt'. This plant is very different from the invasive tree we see blooming each winter. A well behaved 30" mound of soft, emerald green foliage it's drought tolerant and would look great near a dry stream bed.

With so many plants to talk about, we ran out of time and ended with the "under-used, under-appreciated" Beschorneria.  This genus of succulent plants belong to the subfamily agavoides and is native to Mexico. The Hall's are concentrating on propagating a variegated variety in their nursery. A tall blooming red spike had emerged from one of the green species.

This is just a taste of the many plants I learned about that day at Terra Sole Nurseries. From drought tolerance, disease resistance, cold and wildlife compatible the experiments continue.

You can find out more about this small nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Terra Sole Nursery Trials New Plants

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own little nursery on your property? What would you grow? How would you decide?  Over the years, I've been asked by home owners with a bit of extra property what would be good to grow. What is there a market for? So I decided to ask some friends who trial plants on their Watsonville property and operate a small nursery there how it all works.

Terra Sole Nurseries was founded in 2004 by John and Sherry Hall with the goal of experimenting and growing native, unusual and drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. "We push the limits on water use in our test garden until we fall too much in love with a plant and can't bear to see it die with our tough love approach", Sherry said as we talked about the their operation.

Just back from attending the California Spring Trials,  Sherry and John were excited to share how they decide what to grow In their nursery. Their focus is to grow a large variety of native and unusual plants, some of which are old-fashioned, some are hot new introductions. What treasures did they find this year?

During the course of a week at the Spring Trials,  the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts share the latest and greatest at several open houses throughout California. The robust plant varieties of today are a direct result of the countless hours and decades of study from the dedicated professionals spending their time observing, testing and experimenting the new varieties that are more disease resistant, more floriferous, the best performers and are easy to grow in ordinary landscapes and gardens.  

How does a plant get from an idea in a breeder's mind to your local nursery? It all starts with the breeders who might cross pollinate thousands of plants to select maybe a hundred of the best ones. Then the growers buy an unrooted cutting or the seed or plugs of rooted plants and grow them onto a larger size. This is where the finish growers buy the plugs and liners to put into bigger pots growing them to retail or sellable size. Terra Sole Nurseries bought some of the newest plants on the market this year themselves.

What are some of the newest trends that we might see in our neighborhood nursery this year? The breeders of impatiens have developed a variety that appears to have a gingerbread man in the center. Called Patchwork this  impatien has a bigger flower and comes in six bi-colors.

Grafted vegetables, higher in antioxidants, are being developed. Non GMO vegetable varieties are grafted onto vigorous rootstalks to produce a plant disease resistant higher in nutrients. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers. peppers and lettuce are just some of the vegetables being grown.

Biodegradable pots made from wheat are another of the new trends being offered for sale at the Spring Trials. The pots look like plastic yet breakdown after being used and can be recycled in your compost system. They hold up to the normal environmental pressures of heat, water and cold.

Sunset Western Gardening and HGTV are both offering their own branded plants that are available this year. Patented varieties coming out include a compact hardenbergia called Meena, two upright. compact nandinas- Flirt and Obsessive with bright red winter color and a compact mahonia called Soft Caress with non-prickly foliage. A cold hardy salvia named Amistad that has a very long bloom time will also be coming out soon.

To simplify choices for gardeners, better dahlias, calibrachoa, petunias and pansies are coming on the market this season. Several types are grown in the same pot so the buyer need only to plant one of these in a basket or container to get a combination that will look good and grow happily all season.

With so many plant choices which ones do Terra Sole Nurseries trial in their own garden and grow in their nursery? Next week I'll talk about what Sherry and John have their eye on, which plants they grow and the results of their own plant trials. You can find out more about the nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Better Choices for Old Favorites

Thinking about planting a new area or redoing a part of your garden that has gotten out of control? If many of your old favorites just get too big, insects and diseases plague them or they  take too much time to prune you need some new favorites.  What’s a gardener to do these days when we want our yards to be sustainable?   Here are some substitutions for good plants gone wrong. This time it’s gonna be the right plant in the right spot.

Phormiums have been popular for many years now. This plant from New Zealand looks great in low water landscapes providing architectural interest but usually grows much wider and taller than anticipated and next thing you know it’s taken over. One of the cultivars that behaves itself is called Jester. This phormium has beautiful 2-3 ft long pinkish leaves that have an orange midrib and lime green bands near the leaf margins. Combine it with teucrium  chamaedrys germander for an awesome combination.

If you want a similar fountain-like plant in your landscape that never reverts to plain green, try a cordyline Festival Grass. Vivid burgundy red leaves to 2-3 ft tall arching over so the tips reach the ground. Tiny pale lilac flowers appear in the summer, with a jasmine-like fragrance.  Plant in full sun to part shade and water regularly. Plants in shade have a darker more purple color while sun grown plants have more red.

What’s deer resistant with fragrant, gold foliage, uses little water once established and stays compact? Danny’s Sport Breath of Heaven is a bushy, finely textured shrub of the citrus family. They have slender stems and tiny narrow leaves which give off a spicy, sweet scent when crushed. Bright yellow new growth is upright, growing to 3- 5 ft tall. They thrive in sun or light shade and are hardy to around 18 degrees or less. Use it as a foundation plant, informal hedge or specimen plant. They are very showy in the landscape.

Ornamental oregano is a great perennial to use in a border or to tuck between other plants. Most oregano varieties are wonderful while in bloom but offer little interest after the main show is over. Oregano Santa Cruz is a better choice. Antique-toned, dusty rose-colored hop-like flowers, are offset by bright green calyxes and remain all summer on branched red stems. This plants grows 18" – 24" high and 3 ft wide. For a pleasing fusion of color, combine it with penstemon Blackbird or another rich burgundy penstemon. Add a grass such as muhlenbergia capillaris to complete the vignette.

Everybody loves clematis. They come in so many styles but how do you prune them for best flower production? Plant a Sweet Autumn Clematis ( clematis terniflora ) and your worries are over. They are a gorgeous sight now covered in pure white, lightly fragrant flowers. Later in the fall the vine will become a silvery mass of fluffy seed heads. This small-flowered species looks impressive covering an upscale arbor or even embellishing a plain fence of garden shed. It blooms on new growth so you can easily keep it in check by cutting stems back to 12" in the spring. It will bloom well in partial shade, too.

A smaller cultivar of the old favorite oak-leaf hydrangea is Sikes Dwarf. This lovely plant provides year-round seasonal interest.  At this time of year their huge, whitish-pink conical flowers turn a papery soft tan color. In later autumn, the leaves will take on striking shades of crimson and bronze-purple, and through winter the dry flowers persist above the branches lined with exfoliating copper-brown, cinnamon and tan bark. Oakleaf hydrangeas are fast growing and accept full sun or partial shade in rich evenly moist soil. They’re real lookers in the garden.

How to Combat Moles and other Critters in the Garden

There’s a gentle guy among us with a beautiful garden in Scotts Valley who’s a serial killer – a killer of moles, that is. "The first one’s the toughest"  he said while showing me around the other day. Caddyshack has nothing on this determined gardener and from the look of his landscaping he’s definitely winning the battle.

This mild mannered vegetarian started planting trees 20 years ago when he moved to the property but says he became serious about gardening only 5 years ago. He has created lush-looking, low water landscaping in his extremely sandy soil, watering some areas only once per summer. And oh, did I mention, he shares his garden with deer, too?

Many of us battle some of these same issues. How does he win the war while watching his garden grow? He used to have gophers, too, but after using cinch and Macabee traps for the past couple of years there are not too many left on the property. The moles are a different story. They have the ability to learn testing our mental prowess in the process.

He has found that one of the best ways to keep moles from destroying his garden is to install perimeter fencing around the beds. Gardening by exclusion he calls it. Cinch traps are successful, too, and he’s killed 16 so far this year. It’s not that the moles eat the plants but their burrowing dislodges roots and the plants will die the next time it gets hot. He digs down 24" and sinks a gopher wire barrier, one area at a time.  Paths are left bare so he can see if they are encroaching. Moles can tunnel 17 hours a day and ruin an area in just a couple of hours so he has become ever vigilant.

Deer control comes from plant selection and a product he gets on the internet that contains a bittering agent found in antifreeze, anti-nail biting and cleaning products among other household items.  Having used other taste and smell repellents containing rotten eggs, garlic, blood meal, citrus, ammonia, hot pepper and coyote urine, he swears by this product. His garden contains many plants he considers "bullet proof" like lambs ears, lions tail, hot lips salvia, breath of heaven, tagetes, armeria, asteriscus, carnations, dietes, Little John callistemon, mimulus, westringea and society garlic to name just a few. He plants "what works".

What hasn’t worked with his deer population is vinca that used to grow under the oaks. Wandering jew has successfully taken over and he’s OK with that. "Why fight it?" is his mantra. Plants he protects with Bitrex are daylily flowers, star jasmine, correa, penstemon, some sedums and the flowers on the aloe. He grows lots of different aloes, yucca and agaves, rescuing many from garbage piles and propagating others. He has 4 acres to cover.  There’s also a huge Angel’s trumpet under the oaks that he started from a cutting 4 years ago.

In one garden a huge Breath of Heaven has grown 9 ft tall. Nearby is a handsome small tree from So. Africa, Podocarpus henkelii or Long-leafed Yellow-wood. Eventually it will grow to 25 ft but is only half that size now. The foliage is distinctive and dense with heavy, shiny, dark green drooping leaves, giving it a weeping look. It is truly a specimen tree. His euphorbia collection includes a variety that looks like an azalea with chartreuse flowers. A very large stand of crocosmia was started from a 4" pot. Fortunately it’s planted in the right spot.

So much to see, so little time. Everywhere I looked was another beautiful vignette- accenting a dry river bed in one area, a fire pit with log seating in another. I learned so much from this gentle, determined gardener.

Deer Resistant Strategies

There’s something about babies. You know that feeling when you see a new infant and can’t help but gush "how cute and tiny!". It’s universal to be drawn to new life. This applies to other babies in the animal kingdom, too.

Last Tuesday morning I was delighted when I saw two tiny fawns in my driveway with their mother. Actually, it was my cat, Jasmine, who saw them from inside. They were so tiny that she thought they were invading neighbor cats and let out a low growl from her perch inside the window. I had to laugh when I saw the little fawns. Boy, was Jasmine confused for a couple of minutes. Despite the fact that I have no groundcover on my slope, I still enjoy sharing my surroundings with wildlife. But what are you have paid for with good hard cash? And are there really plants that are "deer resistant"?

At this time of year  last year’s youngsters are being chased away by their mothers.  In heavily wooded areas their territory may be only the square mile right around where they were born and since they eat about 5 pounds of food per day ( this would fill a large garbage bag )  your garden is this year’s smorgasbord.  Eating mostly semi-woody plants  they supplement  this with soft foliage and, as we all know, our beloved flowers.  They browse, moving from place to place seeking plants that taste good and have a high protein content. Knowing their habits can be your advantage.  Don’t let them make a habit of eating in your garden.  Employ some of the following techniques before they print out a menu of your plants.

There are many barriers you can use to keep deer out of your garden like mesh fencing, deer netting, chicken wire or fishing line.  Two short fences a few feet apart can keep them out.  Frightening devices that hook up to your hose work well, too.  But if you can’t fence your area then the following tips may help.

Protect young fruit and nut trees  by encircling the trunk with fencing to a height of 6 ft.  You can remove it after the tree has grown taller and can be limbed up.

Plant deer resistant plants as well as plants that deter deer. Make sure deer find the entryway to your garden unattractive.  Concentrate deer repelling plants here. Highly fragrant plants jam the deer’s predator-alert sensors and make them uneasy.  Try planting catmint, chives, lavender, sage, society garlic, thyme or yarrow around your favorite plants that they usually eat and you may have better luck this year.

Jam their senses with repellents like fermented eggs solids and garlic, You can buy these ready-to-use or in concentrates and are very effective. The idea is that you spray directly on the plants and the surrounding area two weeks in a row and then afterwards monthly.  They stay on the plants through the rain but keeping it fresh during the peak spring browsing period is a good idea.  Soap bars are effective for small areas for short periods.  You would have to use 450 bars per acre for a large area.  Deer get used to the smell of hair real quick and so it isn’t effective for very long.    Blood meal and sprays are effective also but can attract predators.

Taste repellents must be sprayed directly on the plants you want to protect and don’t use them on food plants.  You can buy hot pepper spray or mix it yourself:  2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce, 1 gal water, 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap.  Another spray you can make up yourself:  5 tablespoons cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 gal water. 
My personal list of deer resistant plants that are flourishing in the shade are philodendron selloum, all ferns, liriope, mondo grass, Queen’s Tears hardy bromeliad, aspidistra or cast iron plant, bamboo in containers, podocarpus, carex grass, Japanese maple, fragrant sarcococca, clivia, calla lily, sago palm. douglas iris and hellebore.

There are many deer resistant plants for the sun, too. The main thing is to start using one or several of these ideas now before deer establish feeding grounds for the season.