Tag Archives: shrubs

Make Every Drop Count:Best Watering Practices

Low water-use leucospermum or Pincushion.

Water is our most precious resource. One of the Apollo 11 astronauts recently said that the look back from the moon at our planet and blue oceans to be even more impressive than the moon itself. Life can’t exist without water. You are the steward of your own piece of planet earth. How you water can make it thrive and you can save water at the same time.

With summer water bills arriving this is a good time to re-visit how often and how much to water that landscape you’ve spent so much money to create. Basically, you’re wasting water if you water too shallow or too often. Here are some guidelines.

Photosynthesis is one of the most remarkable biochemical processes on earth and allows plants to use sunlight to make food from water and carbon dioxide. At temperatures about 104 degrees, however, the enzymes that carry out photosynthesis lose their shape and functionality. A garden that provides optimum light and water but gets too hot will be less vigorous.

California native Fremontodendron

Plants have natural systems that respond to heat problems. Plants can cool themselves by pumping water out through the leaves for a kind of swamp cooler effect. They can also make “heat-shock” proteins which reduces problems from over heating. All these strategies can take resources away from a plant’s other needs like growth, flowering and fruiting.

So how much water do different types of plants need during the heat of summer?

Be sure that you water trees and shrubs deeply checking soil moisture first with a trowel. Established small to medium shrubs should be watered when the top 3-6″ is dry, large shrubs and trees when the top 6-12″ is dry.

As a rule of thumb, trees and large shrubs need deep but infrequent watering. They should be on a separate valve than your smaller shrubs and perennials. Water ornamental trees 1-3 times per month depending on the type and soil. Tree roots grow 12-36” deep and require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter.

Apply water with a soaker hose, drip system emitters or hand held hose with shut off and soft spray attachment according to your water district’s restrictions. Don’t dig holes in the ground in an effort to water deeply. This dries out roots even more. Be sure to water the root zone to the indicated root depth every time you water. Watering deeper than the root zone only means you are wasting water. You can test how deep you watered by pushing a thin, smooth rod into the ground soon after you irrigate. The soil probe should easily slide through the wet soil but become difficult to push when reaching dry soil.

The roots of smaller shrubs are 12-24” deep in the soil. Established native shrubs may need only monthly waterings to keep them looking their best while other shrubs may need watering every 7-10 days during the heat of the summer. Perennial roots only go down 12” or so and may need watering once or twice a week depending on type.

grevillea lanigera ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ groundcover

When is the best time to water? Watering in the morning is the most efficient whether you water by sprinkler, drip system, soaker hose or by hand. The water soaks deep in the soil without risk of evaporation. It bolsters the plant for the day and has dried from leaves by evening reducing the risk for foliar diseases like mildew. Plant roots are also more receptive to watering in the morning.

Is it true that water droplets will scorch leaves in the midday sun? According to a study, fuzzy-leaved plants hold water droplets above the leaf surface and act as a magnifying glass to the light beaming through them so there is a very slight chance of scorch. The study also reported that water droplets on smooth leaves, such as maples, cannot cause leaf burn, regardless of the time of day.

Living Fences make Good Neighbors

loropetalum_chinense.1600To quote Robert Frost from his 1914 poem ‘Mending Walls’ , “Good fences make good neighbors”. When I visited eastern Poland a couple of years ago each house and garden was enclosed with a fence of some sort. Some fences were wood, some stone, some ornamental iron and some were plant hedges that divided properties. I thought the living hedges were the most beautiful and neighborly. Whether you need to screen a water tank or noisy road or the neighbor’s second story window there are lots of choices. Plan now to be ready for fall planting season.

There are many kinds of plants that make good living fences. Recently I designed a screen for a narrow yard along a busy street. We didn’t want to enclose the area with dense plants that would take up too much space and not allow her to enjoy a view of the beautiful neighborhood but still she didn’t want every person walking their dog to look into her kitchen window. Some of the plants we chose will display a graceful, weeping habit. Others are wispy and columnar. Still others are compact.

Many people only think of plants that remain evergreen when they need screening. However, if you use one-third deciduous plants to two-thirds broadleaf evergreens they will weave together and you won’t be able to tell where one leaves off and another begins. This makes mature hedges secure borders, especially if you throw a few barberries or other prickly plant into the mix.  You’ll also get seasonal interest with fall color and berries for wildlife.

Pittosporum Silver Sheen, westringia ‘Wynabbie Gem’, leptospermum, nandina, Lily-of-the-Valley shrub and English laurel also make great screens and hedges. What other plants can you use that would be beautiful, productive and practical in all seasons?

Many times a screen may start in the sun but end up in mostly shade. For your sunnier spots why not mix in a few dwarf fruit trees for you to enjoy, ceanothus and Pacific wax myrtle for the birds, barberry for beautiful foliage and fall color, spirea, rockrose, escallonia and quince for their bright flowers and fragrant lilacs for cutting in the spring?  The shadier side can include Oregon grape for fragrant, yellow winter flowers, snowberry for those striking white berries in the fall, oak-leaf hydrangea, viburnum and native mock orange for blossoms in the spring.

Loropetalum chinense or Fringe Flower is a handsome evergreen shrub that comes in two versions: green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year. They thrive in sun with occasional water or part shade  The burgundy form would add color to a woodland garden and they even do well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer.

Variegated Mint Bush is another shrub to consider for a living hedge. Creating pleasing prostanthera_ovalifolia_Variegataplant combinations is a big part of gardening and this one would look great alongside a Fringe Flower of either color. Allow each plant to interweave and grow together. The Mint Bush will grow 4-6 feet tall and 3-5 feet high. The foliage smells very strongly like mint so deer avoid this shrub, too.

To keep down maintenance, mulch around your plants and install drip irrigation. There won’t be any pruning to do if you choose plants that grow to the height you want. Mixed hedges appeal to bees, butterflies and songbirds while also providing flowers, berries and color throughout the year for you to enjoy.

How close should you plant a mixed hedge?  Depending on the mature size of the plant spacing could be from 3-5 feet part If you want a quick, thick screen.This gives them room to breathe and develop their own shapes. Fast growing plants can be space 5-6 feet apart or more and will usually full in within 5 years.

Provide the best growing environment for the fastest results. By this I mean amending the soil at planting time if your soil is not very fertile. Cover the soil with mulch and fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer. Watering deeply when needed especially during the first three years after planting when young plants put on a lot of growth. Formal hedges are fine for some gardens but think of all the added benefits you’ll get planting a mixed hedge.

Progating Heirloom Veggies, Fruit Trees & Christmas trees

‘Tis the season. No, not that season but the time to propagate and increase the number or your plants. Maybe you want to save seed from your heirloom vegetables or start more shrubs inexpensively. How about getting more fruit trees or even trying your hand at starting your own Christmas tree?

Let’s start with saving seed. When your vegetables start to produce this summer, you may want to save some of the seed of plants that produced the best-tasting, earliest ripening fruits. These will be strains that are particularly adapted to our climate.

You can only save seed from open-pollinated varieties– those vegetables that are bee or wind pollinated. All . You cannot save seed from F1 hybrids as their unique traits, such as specific disease resistance and early maturity, are uniform only in the first generation of seed. Seed saved from hybrids they will not come true when replanted.

Hybrids have their place in the garden especially if you have a very short or cool season, not many hours of sunlight as you’d like or a serious nematode problem.

If you enjoy saving seed, it’s fun to identify your best plants to save and use every season. Become a backyard breeder and develop your own unique cultivars for your garden.

Propagating fruit trees involves more than saving seed because 99% of all seedling trees bear fruit inferior to that produced by the parent. It may be the same species but it is unlike that of the parent in flavor, color and date of ripening. To obtain a true-to-type fruit tree that is a clone of the parent tree, it is necessary to graft or bud on a desired rootstock. The graft wood, called a scion, should be collected in January so you have lots of time to ask the neighbor for a small, pencil-thin branch of their peach tree to add to yours or to get a branch grafted onto your tree that would pollinate your cherry, apple or whatever you might need. You can even graft different trees together if they are compatible such as an apricot on plum rootstock or almond on peach.

Mid-July to early September is the best time to propagate broadleaf evergreen shrubs. The growth flush is complete, the wood is firm and the leaves have matured. Using cuttings 3-6" long and rooting hormone they will root in 4-6 weeks. Ceanothus, manzanita and camellia are just a few of the shrubs that can be rooted this way.

And what about those visions of starting your own Christmas tree? It’s difficult to start a tree from a cuttings unless it’s a very fresh cut tree and the cutting is taken from currents seasons growth near the base of the plant. Most evergreen trees used for cut Christmas trees start their lives from seeds. These seedlings grow 1-2 ft in a year or two. After transplanting, they become 6 footers in 5-8 years. So if you are patient you can grow your own from one of those started seedlings. Doug fir, Scotch pine and Noble fir are popular varieties.

There are so many types of plants and methods to increase your collection. Perennials, houseplants, berries and grapes all lend themselves to propagation. I f you have a favorite plant or just want to increase your plants inexpensively there’s a way to do it. 

Great Shrubs-not the ‘usual suspects’

Everybody has them. Some are burgundy, while some are variegated with fragrant flowers. I’m talking about shrubs that provide reliable good looks without a lot of work. Plants that have high impact, are low maintenance and contribute year-round interest should be the stars of your garden. Perennials are pretty but shrubs provide long term beauty without all the work. Here are some shrubs that I use often in designs. Shrubs I couldn’t live without.

Shrubs can be problem solvers. Let’s say you have a bare spot between you and the neighbor next door. The neighbor is nice and all but still you’d rather they didn’t look right into your kitchen window. You want a shrub with some pizazz as you will see it daily when you’re doing dishes. You’d like something different than the usual suspects for screening.

A wonderful plant for this spot would be Lophomyrtus Sundae. This evergreen, myrtle relative grows in full sun or partial shade and requires only moderate watering. Showy, creamy variegated leaves on burgundy stems make this narrow 8-12 ft tall by 4-8 ft wide shrub really stand out in the border. Small white summer flowers are an added bonus.

Need a fast growing, deer resistant, drought tolerant evergreen shrub for a sunny spot? Luma apiculata reaches 6-8 ft tall in no time and can even be trained as a small tree. Dense, deep green leaves, beautiful smooth bark and white to pinkish late summer flowers all make this plant valuable in the landscape. Birds will like the blue-black, half inch fruits although they are not especially tasty to us.

What tolerates considerable shade, blooms with fluffy yellow flowers that smell like chocolate or vanilla and is dense enough to make a good screen or informal hedge?  Azare dentata grows to 15 ft tall, 12 feet wide and can also be trained as a small tree if you want. It would combine well with other tall shrubs in the shady border like Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, podocarpus Maki, hydrangea, Japanese aucuba, mahonia and rhododendron.

Another shrub to ignite a border with smoldering shades of burgundy and purple is the Royal Purple smoke bush. Their stems grow straight up which makes them a useful addition to any border in need of diverse forms. Growing up to 15 ft tall and wide, you can keep this drought tolerant plant in check by cutting back hard each spring after the first leaves break out. They will send up new growth year after year. If left unpruned, wispy, smoky flower clusters appear in spring. Even the youngest specimens turn a striking burnished orange-red in fall. They grow in full sun or partial shade.

There are so many  interesting, easy to grow shrubs. Any one of these will earn its keep with good foliage, interesting form and low maintenance.

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.