Summer gardening in the Santa Clarita Valley area

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burnt cannas  Sunburn can brown leaves when temperatures suddenly spike

Summer gardening in the Santa Clarita Valley area can be a challenge. There is an astonishingly wide range of microclimates in and around the city. Soils, humidity, sun intensity and even rainfall can vary considerably from one place to the next – sometimes even from one part of your property to another! But being inland chaparral, there are commonalities that make gardening in this part of Los Angeles County harder in the summertime than the rest of the year. Yet, if you love gardening, you don’t have to hide indoors all summer. Just plan around summer challenges. Keeping active in the garden will be good for you, your home, your garden and the environment. Here are some things to keep in mind.

garden hat holder

These garden hats are ready to go on their tree ‘hook’!

It gets hot!

The sun is intense in the inland chaparral. And we experience wide temperatures ranges that allow cooling at night. Too much sun has been proven dangerous to our skin, and overheating can cause sun stroke. That can make summer gardening less inviting than at other times of the year.

What you can do

This is one of the easier issues gardeners can handle. Simply take advantage of our nighttime temperature drops by working during the cooler hours of early morning and late afternoon. And to make working safer and more comfortable, wear protection. Add a hat, gloves and loosely fitting long-sleeved and leg-covering clothes. These will not only help protect from sun, but from scratches and insect bites. Wear a good sunscreen with a high pH. Closed-toe shoes will protect your feet from injury and absorbent socks will keep them more comfortable in the heat. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

Wildfire view

A landscape view no one wants in their garden. So design your garden to be wildfire resistant!

We live in the land of wildfires!*

We were again reminded of our vulnerability, how easily fires start, how much fuel there is out there despite the drought, how quickly they spread, how greedily and cruelly they will consume anything they can, and how willingly they will invade even areas we might have thought safe. We are also learning there is no reliable fire season anymore, so don’t wait around for the autumn Santa Ana winds before you consider making your home safe.

What you can do

Clear any brush surrounding your home. Keep gutters, eaves, areas around your house – especially corners where we tend to pile things up – and gardens cleaned up. Remove wood piles near your house. Design your landscape for beauty, efficiency, productivity and safety. That includes fire breaks in your design, choose your materials and their placement carefully, use low profile plants, avoid highly flammable trees and position irrigation and water sources wisely.

wild rabbit

Rabbits are cute, but they can become very destructive in the summer garden.

Wildlife invasions

Temperatures have been gradually warming during the past half dozen years. Many insects that used to avoid our frosty winters have expanded their territory into our gardens. We are seeing mealy bugs, thrips, scale insects and more aphids than ever.

Snails are invading northern and eastern Santa Clarita Valley landscapes. And raccoons, not all that common twenty years ago, are now seen everywhere up through Acton. Coyotes and rabbits, mice and rats, tree and ground squirrels, gophers and more are exploding in population and feeding off of our lush gardens as their natural resources are vanishing under housing construction and drought.

Now, diseases that threaten the human and pet population are finding vectors to endanger our health. Mosquitoes are carrying an assortment of diseases rarely seen a decade ago, ticks are doing the same, and bats are bringing rabies into a city previously disease free.

What you can do

Planting, pruning and other garden work will clean your garden and take away homes where pests multiply. Using chemicals will encourage pests to build up resistance and those same chemicals can filter into our edibles, drinking water, entering our food chain and that of friendly wildlife. Whenever possible, use physical barriers to deter pests. Try sticky traps, sound and odor deterrents and if necessary, enclose your most delectable edible and decorative plants in half-inch hardware cloth. Block entry holes into your house where rodents will happily move in and multiply.

Comfortable outdoor chairs

These outdoor chairs invite you or your guests to relax comfortably in the sunshine.

Enjoy summer gardening and using your garden

Despite summer gardening challenges, the garden still has a lot to offer. Make time to use your garden. Grow edibles, relax in the shade to reduce stress. Play with the children and pets. Use your pool if you have one. Entertain friends during balmy evenings. And keep your body active and your mind at peace working in the garden. There are plenty of jobs that can be done even during the hot summer months.

What you can do in the garden

Keeping spent flowers cut off of plants before they set seed will redirect that seed-setting energy into more flowering. Pulling weeds while they are small will make the job easy. It will also avoid the big job of brush clearance to keep your home safe if a wildfire should threaten.

New plants can be planted at this time of year, especially California natives, cacti and succulents. They will need to be regularly watered (including the drought-tolerant natives) to help roots settle in, and more delicate plants will appreciate some shading for the first few weeks. Most cacti and succulents love being planted during the dry season of summer gardening, but some may still be burnt when exposed to sudden hot sun. Keep dead leaves, sticks and branches cleaned up to discourage pests as well as eliminating fire fuel.

WIldfire view

Destructive, fast-moving wildfires endanger life, homes and gardens

*An extra note regarding wildfires and fallout

If you have ash on your property from the Sand Fire (or any other), sweep or blow it from traffic areas so it won’t be inhaled or tracked into your house. You can then quickly wash the remaining soot into the soil. Areas directly impacted by high heat will experience deeper effects from fire, but landscapes with ash and soot fallout, will benefit from potassium, phosphorus and magnesium and a number of trace elements, as well as calcium (raising the already high pH of our soils).

Adding compost or soil sulfur will acidify the soil and help neutralize the effect of the calcium if your soil is already high in lime. For the most part, the rise in alkalinity will not be a problem and the rest of the additions will actually help enrich your soil. If your house or garden was directly reddened by Foscheck foam, lightly water the surface, then wash it away with a gentle spray. It is water soluble.

When it is hot outdoors, work inside. It’s a perfect opportunity to list what you want to plant when the weather cools in the autumn. You can also use the time to design/redesign your garden with tough plants, lawn replacements and non-living materials (like colored gravel, decomposed granite, or something more imaginative like shale pieces, recycled tumbled glass and more).

After all, it will be hot again next summer. If the trend keeps up, it may be even hotter and drier than this year. But rather than losing out on one of the most beneficial outdoor activities, summer gardening, adapt to the changes and turn your landscape into a comfortable, productive, fun, sustainable and just plain beautiful place to be – all year around!

Water-wise gardens bloom with nonliving materials

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mixed garden flooring

This geometric design shows a range of nonliving garden materials to mix artistically with succulent plants. Water-wise gardens can double as living areas.

Although we tend to think of a garden as a gathering of plant materials, much of the landscape is taken up with noniving materials. This is helpful space in the water-wise garden. There is the soil between one area and the next, a front pathway, and probably a driveway in the front of your home. But even these prosaic members of the landscape need not be dull. Permeable paving has become popular in recent years. It allows water to sink into the garden rather than sheeting off flat surfaces, gouging out erosion gullies and wasting water. More than simply creating flat surfaces for foot traffic or for setting things on, consider that non-living areas can add more color and texture .

Unlike a few decades ago when everything was covered with cement or brick, the choices for paving areas have exploded – both for flooring and vertically. Now there are colorful types of stone in a wide range of designs and finishes as well as woods, vinyls, metals, glass and more, all perfect for integrating into the new landscape.

Becoming creative about landscaping offers a chance to think about more than the usual ground surfaces for non-living garden décor. Any space is now a place to have fun with.

With the cost of materials rising and landfills overflowing, this is the time to put to work all that stuff in your home, garage and yard that is just taking up space.

recycled sculpture

Recycled old auto parts make a decorative garden sculpture

Recycle!

Recycling has donned the elite title of ‘up-cycling’ when you re-use old items for new purposes. Look for all those pieces of left-over building materials: pieces of wood, pipe, PVC, screening, odd tiles or latticework hanging around your yard, garage or home. These can be formed into safe-houses for growing vegetables to keep out pests, fashioned into trellises or cobbled into artistic fencing. Old concrete chunks stack into fine retaining walls.

Battered car parts, sinks, toilets, tubs or cracked fountain bases make unique container gardens. Broken dishware and pots can add color and texture as mulch over small garden areas where no one will be digging or walking. (These can have sharp edges.) Repurpose young tree stakes or poles into low fences, an archway or a series of pee posts over a washable gravel area for male dogs you don’t want marking your favorite plants. (Paint them bright colors for fun.) Hey, one designer even used bowling balls from an alley that closed down to cover open soil areas. This was one material guaranteed not to float or blow away even in the most aggressive winds!

metal landscape effects

Corrugated metal makes an interesting addition to this nonliving part of a landscape.

Mulch!

Even mulch offers more interest and color in the water-wise garden than ever before. Bark pieces come in colors, gorilla hair (shredded bark) clings to hillsides, gravel and decomposed granite can come in a wide range of colors – even greens and purples – or mix your own blends. Find durable colored shredded, recycled tire chips. They are bouncy for running, sitting and playing as well as just covering exposed soil. Go glittery with colored tumbled glass. Invite imaginative materials into water-wise gardens.

unusual stepping stones

Have fun with cast critters as stepping stones.

Form paths, edgings or designs with bricks, stepping stones, flagstone or a wealth of precast concrete blocks.

water-wise gardens

Gravel and stone in gray hues make for an artistic combination of living and nonliving materials in this water-wise cactus garden.

Flooring

Floor a patio with slices of tree trunks for a rustic look. Check out some of your local industrial plants. You can find extruded waste materials in vinyl, metal, plastic and glass that may be ideal for decorating surfaces of your landscape. (Just make sure the material is not toxic, sharp or anything that could degrade into an undesirable form.)

Get creative or hire a designer or artist to help you make your space special. Decorate walls, furniture and even cement areas with murals or paint them with your favorite colors or designs. Hang outdoor curtains. Spread around colorful outdoor pillows or create gardens of metal or colorful pots.

Add a trellis, pergola or a screen. Lay down outdoor rugs.  Or paint your own yellow brick road on recycled materials to lead you on a winding path that tours your garden. Place sculptures. Dangle wind chimes. Post colorful fabrics to be spun by the wind. Mix living and nonliving materials for the widest range of effects and for a healthy, eco-friendly, easy-care landscape.

Assorted stone floor

Assorted nonliving stone shapes create their own floor design

As you can see, there is an endless supply of nonliving materials you can use to make your landscape into a work of art. Partner your creations with drought-tolerant plants, some comfortable furniture and turn your yard into a water-wise garden/work of art that invites you to live in it.

Grow the Yesterday Today and Tomorrow bush (Brunsfelsia pauciflora)

Yesterday Today and Tomorrow plant

A Swallowtail butterfly enjoying Yesterday today and tomorrow blooms. Photo courtesy of Velvet Heller.

 

 

This is a lush, green shrub that will only take light frost. But if you live in a warm sunny climate where you only get mild frosts occasionally in the winter then you can grow the ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant. It will not only catch the attention of passers-by when it flowers in three stages of flower colors, but it can be kept trimmed to offer handsome green in either a semi-formal or informal garden. The Latin name for this fascinating bush is Brusfelsia pauciflora.

The Yesterday Today and Tomorrow is a plant with glossy leaves that grows to about three feet tall. It likes a rich soil, but is tolerant of a wide range of less than ideal soils. It is mildly drought tolerant but prefers regular water with good drainage. Give it full sun except in hot desert areas when some shade would be in order.

The plant gets its name from its changing flowers that were deep purple ‘yesterday’, lavender ‘today’ and finish white ‘tomorrow’. These sizable open-faced flowers fill this evergreen bush during its long blooming period with three different colored blooms all at once.

Brunsfelsia

Cheerful flowers change color day to day.

The Yesterday Today and Tomorrow bush is not difficult to grow and blends in well with other plants. Use it in a cool-colored garden with blues, purples, pinks and whites, or use it for contrast with bright colors. It also fits in nicely with pastel shades. Although the plant looks best trimmed lightly with a slightly rangy habit of growth, it will accept more harsh, formal shearing, but you are likely to remove the best attributes of the plant – those multi-colored flowers – if you insist on cutting it back this way. There are plainer shrubs that would probably be a better choice for this kind of highly controlled treatment. Instead, use the Brunsfelsia paudiflora where it can show off its unique beauty in a natural-looking border, as a backdrop for other flowers or a stand-alone focal point. The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush is also an excellent choice as a specimen plant to grow in a container.

Drought-Tolerant Plants of the Southern California Chaparral

Some of the extremely drought-tolerant plants in the California chaparral can be as showy as the fanciest imported garden plants when in flower. Here are some pictures of some of the lovely flowering displays the chaparral has to offer. Look for these plants to start blooming in early February with most of the stragglers to finish before June. There are some late-bloomers, but since the rainy season is in the winter and heat can start scalding within inland chaparral areas as early as May, most of these plants will want to flower and set seed so they are ready for their dry, summer dormancy well before the end of June. This schedule will vary depending on the micro-climate of the chaparral area since elevation, coastal humidity, soil type and other factors range widely throughout most of the California chaparral areas. All chaparral plants tolerate an extreme daily temperature range and are highly drought-tolerant. Still, it’s curious to think that when much of the country is still battling snow and ice, some of these beauties are unfurling their petals in the different, but still demanding, climate of the California chaparral.

These are just a small sample of the highly decorative Southern California chaparral drought-tolerant plants that are budding up in the winter months to paint the landscape with color in early spring.

 

A few Mediterranean plants for the drought-tolerant garden

Designing a Mediterranean garden
Mediterranean plants have become very popular for dry-summer areas in the past decade. There is a wonderful choice of varied growth habits, flowering and colors in these plants. The Mediterranean is a large area encompassing southern Europe, northern Africa and even parts of western Asia — we’re talking about lands that surround the Mediterranean Sea. This is an area known for having a mild climate and dry summers. Some parts experience a climate much like parts of Texas and California. But many of the plants that are happy in this kind of environment are also flexible to be used in gardens elsewhere.
Since these plants have evolved to thrive despite periods of no rain they provide a good source for material that will thrive drought-tolerant gardens. Lack of rain has been hitting the headlines in so many different geographical areas that these plants are finding welcome homes in gardens over a wide range of territory.
Some favorite plants that originated around the Mediterranean have also found their way into the kitchen serving double-duty in the garden. Look for sage, fennel, olive trees and rosemary to fit the bill. Showy flowering choices for landscapes are Oleanders, Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis — not a sage at all!), some geraniums (Pelargoniums) and  Wall Germander (Teucreum). The list grows if you want to grow Mediterranean-like plants — those that like similar conditions but are native to places like Australia, South Africa, parts of South America and more. Although there are thousands of choices available, some popular examples used in landscapes are Bottle Brush and Eucalyptus trees, Hardenbergia, Grevilleas and Swan River Daisy  from Australia and the Bird of Paradise (Strelizia), Clivia and Treasure Flower (Gazania) from South Africa.
There are too many wonderful water-wise plants for the landscape to list here. But don’t overlook the Mediterranean climates for some of the best choices.

California Poppies bloom in the desert

The California Poppy, (Eschscholzia californica) is a marvelously showy wildflower that can carpet hillsides in Southern California. Both the chaparral and desert areas should offer an exceptional show of California Poppies this year with the good winter rainfall after so many years of drought. It’s always an extraordinary experience to see the California Poppies bloom in the desert.

I went off in search of the first blooms today and as I crested a hill, discovered the first stand of brilliant orange-yellow trumpets spattering the still moist terrain. It’s still early and there should be many more to follow. Check with the latest reports to see how intense the flowering is at the Poppy Reserve if you want to take a memorable hike through some of the more impressive fields of California wildflowers. Check out  the Antelope Valley Poppy reserve with its miles of hiking trails through the Antelope Buttes near Lancaster, California — just northeast of Los Angeles, east of the ‘Grapevine’ at interstate 5.

Since this visit a couple of years ago, the weather has been very stingy with rain. As a result the shows have not been impressive. Enjoy watching this video to re-live the vibrant color offered by the inland California chaparral after a generous winter rainy season.  Sooner or later there will be another wet winter in this part of the world. With all the wildflower seed laying dormant during drought times, the show should be spectacular. That’s when you really must check out the Antelope Valley Poppy reserve.