Sometimes it is frustrating living in the outskirts of a large city, especially here in the higher, inland chaparral of Los Angeles county. People never think about the bigger picture when it comes to weather. All those glamorous weather gals that wax poetic about the wonderful weather in Los Angeles often forget someone else is paying for it. It is true all over the world, too, since we all forget that roughly the same amount of precipitation falls each year: it’s just the weather patterns that deposit it differently from year to year. No, we tend to think of reality as being limited to the space around each of us. And that certainly limits our perception of weather conditions.
So, as the happy folks in Los Angeles rejoice at the warm weather we are currently having here in sunny Southern California, there are those of us watching our roofing shingles being peeled away, trees being felled, and gardens being stripped of anything not battened to the ground with cast iron weights while the Santa Ana winds rip through the area howling at 60 and 70 mph. As they go they conjure up dust storms filled with inflated plastic shopping bags, dried leaves, unidentified pieces of riff-raff, and torn self-created origami scrap papers. Unless you have new windows and doors, expect these invading winds to shrill through the tiniest cracks sounding like winds on the Alaskan tundra while they threateningly rattle at your window glass. These pounding winds will continue for days as they hurl themselves down the canyons of the chaparral, compressing and warming the air to puff it out gently into the Los Angeles city area where recipients will delight in the warm, lovely weather.
This is just part of the normal weather in the upper chaparral. I tried explaining it to my garden that the downed fencing and blown over plants shouldn’t take it so hard, but they simply won’t listen. I guess I can just be thankful for all the natives I’ve planted. These plants scoff at winds, freezes and frying heat spells. One more reason to plant local natives in your garden. They don’t complain like we humans or our delicate plant imports.
So, hopefully the Santa Ana chaparral winds will blow themselves out soon so I can creep outdoors and start cleaning up the mess they leave behind. A good night’s sleep would be nice, too. In the meantime, frolic on, you television weather fashionistas. We will be toughing it out here in the inland chaparral. Unlike you, we’re a hearty breed. …Like we have a choice?
Last year provided us with a generous rainy season. The temperatures bounced all over the place so wildflowers and the production of edibles were disappointing for many despite the rainfall. But water tables rose enough to help out with the previous drought and the state officially declared the drought was over. Before we rejoice and conclude the water worries for our area and Southern California in general are a thing of the past, we need to be realistic.
Water will always be an issue where we live. This is the inland chaparral and summers are hot and dry. Even with the setbacks of the recession, people are drawn to the climate of Southern California where there are few natural water resources. That means those of us on city water are dependent on a lot of imported water. And that means we are governed by the bottom line profits and availability of supplies to the businesses that supply that water. Those of us who live independently on our own well water are vulnerable to the whims of nature – when it gifts or withholds rain or decides to nudge an underground stream into another course – and the possibility that someone up-line of the water source of your well could tap in and reduce your supply.
Water is nothing we can take for granted and with the economic changes, population shifts and erratic weather patterns, we seriously need to rethink how we landscape. Happily, water-guzzling gardens are going out of fashion and permeable paving, drought-resistant plants and smaller lawns are becoming the basis of decorative and Eco-friendly landscaping.
The habit of filling in spaces with blank expanses of lawn is not only expensive and impractical with our climate and soil, but they look ridiculous. We are so programmed to expect the emerald green sward that we have become blind to how silly it looks stamped like some geometric disease on the brown hills of the chaparral. Taste and “beauty” are frequently just a reflection of habit and programming. If we challenge our automatic judgments and open our minds to larger visions of creativity and aesthetic sensitivity, we will see those limitations fall away. We can find beauty in more practical, ecologically responsible solutions to garden design.
There are an infinite number of possibilities of how to create beauty in our gardens, lawns being only one small element. Lawns do have up sides as peaceful foils to busy garden planters, color contrasts to paved areas, practical areas for active use and even oxygen suppliers for the environment. I’m not saying the lawn should be done away with entirely. It simply should be designed into the landscape where it works aesthetically and practically in our part of the world, not just plastered all over the place as a default like a wall-to-wall carpet.
Another aspect of your landscape is maintenance. The larger the lawn you have, the more irrigation valves and sprinklers you will need. Any irrigation system needs regular care and inspection. Broken lines and sprinklers can waste huge amounts of water while turning a green lawn brown in just a few hot summer days. In the winter, areas that experience freezes can suffer cracked or broken pipe lines and sprinkler heads. So caring for a lawn can become expensive and high maintenance even without considering all the time that goes into regular mowing, edge trimming and blowing.
Maintenance can be reduced by using a good, drought-tolerant type of grass like Bermuda grass, but expect that same grass to turn brown when it goes dormant in the winter (or you can go to the effort and expense of over-seeding your turf with cool-weather grass that will need watering and mowing all winter). In the spring, expect the creeping stolons (roots) of Bermuda grass to invade your garden beds, smother cement or stepping stone edges and become weed-like just about everywhere. If you have the money and the patience, you can plant a less invasive, drought-resistant variety of grass like Buffalo grass that needs to be set in as single, tiny plugs. There are also new seed mixes available like EcoLawn. And you can save more money by investing in a smart irrigation controller that will use a sensor to adjust your watering daily. But supposing you do want some lawn and don’t like any of these choices? There are certainly benefits to having grass to play sports on, for children and pets, or even for a picnic blanket. You can’t build a putting green in your yard without lawn. Or can you?
What about artificial lawns? When fake or synthetic lawns were first being produced, they looked very phony. As the demand for more impressive artificial turf increased, the looks improved. Over the past few years, more improvements have been made to create synthetic lawns that look great and function better than ever.
The down side of a synthetic lawn is that it does not help oxygenate the air like a real lawn, it does not feel the same, and it is not completely maintenance free. On the other hand, artificial lawns require much less care, do not die or wear out into brown bald spots, are not attacked by insects, do not get muddy and will save on water use.
Expect to pay a little more for a nice look. Synthetic lawns should be installed right – ideally by a professional – to ensure long life. But they will pay back for themselves over time with savings on utility and upkeep. Fake lawns do need to be washed every now and then. They can be hosed down easily.
The most practical way to use artificial lawn is for specific areas like golf putting greens, sports, play and pet areas. Large areas of lawn are impractical unless you are covering an athletic area like a football field – not too many people have these in their backyards! Keep your real lawn where the feel of growing grass is appreciated. But consider the synthetic lawn for heavy or special use areas. You might be surprised just how good these coverings can look.
Shop around to see the different looks available in artificial lawn products. Now that the market has opened up, most garden and even the big box stores sell it. And consider all the useful or more colorful ways you can convert unnecessary lawn areas into productive or decorative spaces like vegetable or herb gardens, drought-resistant and ornamental grass gardens, or open utility spaces paved with decorative permeable paving. You can do yourself and the environment a favor at the same time with a sustainable chaparral landscape.
High winds in the canyons are no strangers in sunny Southern California, especially in the autumn, early winter and in early spring. Usually they are caused by a strong high pressure area over the four corner states that drives warmer inland air through the narrow grooves of the canyons, heating it up, and exhaling the warm winds into Los Angeles and other areas. These are commonly referred to as the Santa Ana winds, and they can howl for days at a time, especially on the outskirts of Los Angeles like in the Santa Clarita Valley into Palmdale, and north into Castaic.
Sometimes there are other high or low pressure areas that fight with each other and create cooler winds — usually when systems come down from the north rather than building over areas east of Los Angeles. Right now we are in the middle of an unusually long period of windy weather forecast for the Los Angeles County area due to one of those colder, northern pressure set-ups.
One of the biggest dangers of heavy winds in the chaparral are blown-over trees. Roofing tiles that are loose can also tear off. And objects can become dangerously airborne. Here are some things you can do to secure your garden during heavy winds:
Make your garden and home safe in these high winds. Keep branches trimmed on trees. It’s a good time for tree trimming in the cooler months when sap flows slowly.
Put away objects like umbrellas that can become lethal when whipped into flight by a strong gust of wind.
Use cement pots and heavily-built outdoor furniture around swimming pools so they don’t blow into the water.
Keep trash, leaves and pine needles cleaned up. This not only looks better and avoids clogging drains for the next rainfall, but also keeps your property safer from the potential of wildfire destruction in these dry winds.
Tie down covers and other coverings that could catch wind and blow away or be shredded.
Keep in mind high winds in the Los Angeles County garden when choosing trees and other plants for your garden. Plant trees a safe distance from your house in a location where they can root strongly, and choose varieties with lower wind profiles and good root systems. Avoid plants with large leaves that will tatter. Design in deciduous (winter leaf-dropping) plantings where leaves can become a problem, like near a swimming pool or a pond. And design in furniture, storage and hardscapes (permanent features) to weather heavy winds.
Living in Los Angeles county and other surrounding chaparral areas offers lovely weather compared to so many other parts of the United States. But beware. We DO get winds. Big winds. And if you design your garden wisely, you can sail comfortably right through them!
The Castaic water board is continuing to offer classes that will allow customers to learn all about weather-based watering systems in exchange for a free smart irrigation controller. This triple benefit class will show you how to install your own controller, save you money on your water bills and hand you an expensive water timer for free.
For people who have taken the course or have bought one of these labor and water saving devices, there is one thing to be aware of. If you live where temperatures fall below 37′ F, which will happen all through Santa Clarita during a normal winter, your irrigation system will automatically shut off. The SmartLine brand controller offered at the class has a ‘freeze’ stop at 37′. Other brands have similar shut-off points. You do not want to irrigate when water can turn to ice, crack pipes, split heads or drape your landscape with icicles. Water will not penetrate frozen ground either. On the other hand, in many areas of the inland chaparral the early morning hours are the coldest and may hover around freezing without danger of icing up.
During dry winter periods irrigation is still important. So check on your garden regularly. Early morning is the best time to water, but if your system has a red light, ‘freeze’ warning or other warning signal showing, chances are your garden may not be getting the water it needs. You can override your system, or you can simply set watering times for later in the morning when the danger of cold temperatures has passed.
Should you notice your landscape is too dry, don’t panic and conclude something is broken. Instead, check your smart array controller in the morning during the run time to see if it is simply being fooled into shutting off due to early morning frosty temperatures.
(Title to be sung to the original ‘Deck the Halls’ melody.)
While you find yourself cooking, entertaining, partying, shopping and occasionally getting over-wrought during the holiday times, your garden is not sitting around doing nothing. Here in the chaparral of Southern California, seeds are germinating with recent rains, leaves are falling, and California native plants are coming into active growth.
Don’t think of this as more work to be done, since the chaparral garden is not in any rush for attention. But do remember that physical work in the garden is an excellent way to work off stress and to burn off calories. So taking a break from holiday craziness to putter in the garden can be good for both you and your plants.
I just tore out my vegetable garden after over a decade. The time went painfully fast, but the carefully set block wall started to tilt, the soaker hoses and drip irrigation became too full of holes, and the over-zealous rats and mice found too many entry points and gobbled down more of my vegetables than I did.
With the cool temperatures and moistened soil, this has been a perfect time for transplanting and rebuilding. I’m trying out some new designs and ideas for discouraging the rodents. One reason I love gardening is that it keeps me thinking creatively. The wildlife all too often outsmarts me, but sometimes I get the upper hand. Experimentation always produces both knowledge and results, albeit the results aren’t always what I expect.
Working on my chaparral garden during the holiday season is not only much more comfortable without the hot sun and the dry, baked soil, but it has allowed me to splurge a little with holiday foods and not gain weight. I find I can think things through more clearly while working which allows me to address all my other projects in a much better state of mind. And getting my body tired out with garden labor helps me sleep well despite all the end-of-the-year things on my mind.
Now that I finished this little bit of writing, I’m going out to the garden to transplant some of those boysenberries I dug out around the vegetable garden. I’ll enjoy the sense of accomplishment, the cool sunshine, and the Deck the Halls Christmas melody going through my head reworded to: “ ‘Tis the season to be gardening, in the chaparral, the cha-par-ral!”
Amazon Carousel Widget