Garden grasses are for more than lawns

ornamental grass design

Mixed grasses offer textural and colorful effects that move gracefully in the breeze.

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Gardens love grasses!

The number of garden grasses is awesome. They are more than lawns. We tend to think of grass as the accepted way to grow a lawn, but although most lawns are comprised of low-growing grass types of plants, not all lawns have to be grass based.

Lawns

You can have a lawn of other green groundcovers, like Dichondra or even thyme or mint. Tough grass lawns have been cultivated for resistance to heavy foot traffic and different mixes are adapted to a wide range of climates and uses. All require a fair amount of water to grow well. Lack of rain and the need to supplement water have encouraged the development of new drought-tolerant mixes. Look for brands like Pearl’s Premium Lawn Seed and EcoLawn. Less formal varieties have also found their place in lawns like Blue Grama, Buffalo and Black Gamma that have afforded a resilient lawn with less irrigation, even if they are less neat and low-growing.

Ornamentals

In addition to low-growing lawn grasses there are all kinds of ornamental kinds available. You can use them in flower gardens, in like-kind gardens, wild lawn effects or even as focal points in the landscape. Ornamental varieties look perfect near rocks, dry riverbeds, water features and fountains. They can be lined up like soldiers to define the edge. Or use them to outline a formal garden. They can also ramble over the landscape creating a completely natural look.

Although they do not have colorful flowers, some have dramatic inflorescences (arrangements of insignificant-looking blooms). Some inflorescences fluff out decoratively and make splendid 10-second cat toys! Pampas grass is probably one of the best known ornamental favorites. But as it self-seeds so readily in some parts of the country that it has been declared a garden pest.

Use for interesting foliage

There are, however, many other garden grasses with better manners that you can try.  Try Miscanthus for tall colorful foliage that comes in varieties with a great selection of marvelous patterns and colors. Fountain grasses come in reds, greens, and even black-flowered, as well as large and small sizes. (Watch out for the large green ones: they self-seed like crazy!)  Blue tints are available in fescues, oat and lyme grasses. And the Carix family offers plants with blades fine as hair, thick as a finger, curly, straight and in almost every color.

Consider adding garden grasses to your landscape. They are easy-care plants that sway gracefully with breezes, adding motion to your landscape design. Look for decorative grasses that will grow well in your climate and exposure. Some stay small, others grow wide or tall. There are so many interesting types, you are likely to find the vertical growth habit will be an asset to your landscape, no matter what design you have. Enjoy the possibilities of grasses, for lawns and for much more!

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!

Three popular garden plants are back

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Check out what’s new in plant cultivars and varieties. Some old favorite popular plants are back. And they’re better than ever!

popular callistemon

Callistemon flowers are more showy than ever on these favorite popular plants.

Gardening goes through fashion changes much like our clothing. Some plants become so overused that they become boring and fall out of favor. But just like clothes, fashions tend to return after a number of years, only with an updated look.

Callistemons, known as the bottlebrushes due to their flower forms, have been favorites in warmer winter climates. Most species come from Australia and were very popular for years. In fact, they became so popular that landscapes became cluttered with these small trees. You could find them dangling sloppily over fences, squished between walls and buzz-trimmed into sizes and shapes that were embarrassing. Over time, they became used less as other small tree options came into style. The bottlebrush trees have always been brightly-flowering, well-behaved handy-sized trees that could handle heat, wind and a fair amount of drought. The bottlebrush flower form is eye-catching and showy in brilliant red, with the occasional find of a white or pink variety. Callistemon varieties were grown as large shrubs or trees.

Callistemon tree in bloom

A healthy Bottlebrush tree in flower

Plant breeders decided to give these deserving trees and shrubs another chance. The same showy flowers have been bred into neater, more glamorous forms that are much smaller and adaptable to the garden itself. There are purple-reds and mauves and even a variety called C. ‘Austraflora Firebrand’ that is semi-prostrate shrub.

small Bottlebrush

This is the small growing ‘Long John’ with all the beauty of the larger tree, but sized for use in the border.

One of the earlier small cultivars C. citrinus ‘Long John’ grows 3 – 4 feet tall and about 5 feet wide. There are handsome trees back to claim their rightful place in front yards. And now there are smaller varieties to grace garden beds or form hedges. You can find some with yellow and green blooms, too. And they all have the decency to be evergreen.

I am currently testing out a new cultivar, Callistemon ‘Slim’ that should grow up to 10 feet high and 4 feet in width. It has been bred to be an outstanding, flowering hedge.  in my garden. So far it’s a handsome little red devil that has put up with dreadful soil and erratic and unkind weather conditions from frosts to triple-digit heat.

Check into some of these showy plants to find the perfect variety for your garden. These offer more flexibility in growth habit than ever before.

 

Osteospermum

Soft colored daisies

Freeway Daisies are popular plants showing up with new colors each year.

Osteospermum is another plant that wore out its welcome by being splattered all over the sides of freeways (which is how it acquired its common name, Freeway Daisy) and open areas. Because of its easy care, groundcover growth habit and continuous flowering properties it has a lot to offer low maintenance gardens in warm climates. When originally used by cities to cover tough areas of full sun, fast-draining water and exposure to pollutants, wind and dust, the available colors were white and pink. But today growers have produced a full rainbow of colors and plants that are thicker, bushier and altogether showier. They are still low maintenance, tough and adaptable, but glamorous enough to grace the most fussy garden. And they are appearing in even some of the snobbiest of landscape designs.

Colorful freeway daisies

Freeway Daisies come in a wide assortment of colors these days

 

Ornamental edible cabbages

Popular plants like cabbages are more than just edibles these days!

Look what’s happening to our simple, old-fashioned cabbages and their cousins from the Brassica family. We’re talking about going frilly, becoming celebrities and dressing in outrageous colors. Suddenly, the lowly kale is taking over as a super-food. Cabbages blend from yellow greens to hot pinks, icy whites, frosty blues and luxurious lavenders. Some had already escaped the vegetable patch and insinuated themselves into the annual flower garden as ornamental cabbages. Now the lines are blurred. Cauliflower glows in pure white, orange or lime green. Broccoli grows on plants from dwarves to giants. Many of these now come in varieties less likely to bolt even when weather is unpredictable. There’s no limit to the brazen performances these vitamin-packed vegetables are willing to do in our gardens. They have no shame nor should we gardeners – in showing them off anywhere in the garden!

 

These are only three of the old fashioned favorites that have fallen out of favor only to return with more pomp and circumstance than a valedictorian at graduation. Check out some of the popular plants that are back from the past. They’ve kept all the good qualities of their past, but have added new skills and are likely to be just gorgeous in your garden.

Color your garden with drought-tolerant succulents

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drought tolerant color

Succulents can add color with leaves and foliage. They work well with other plants, grouped together or alone.

Drought-tolerant succulents are plants that retain water within specially adapted stems and leaves. It gives them a greater ability to survive changeable climates where periods of dry would be lethal to other types of plants. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. The adaptation for water storage has given many of these plants interesting and even sculptural shapes and forms.
Beavertail cactus

Beavertail cactus is a native Opuntia cactus in Southern California — perfect for an easy-care garden and lovely in bloom.

Some naturally have evolved to have decorative coloring or very showy flowers. With the uncertain climate wreaking havoc with so many gardens, succulents have not only proved to be useful to grow where so many other plants are failing, but they offer artistic shapes and color to the landscape. With more and more demand for drought-tolerance in the garden, plant breeders have produced more colorful varieties than ever before.

Because these plants usually have small root systems, (they don’t need to constantly gulp down as much water as other types of plants) they are ideal to use in small spaces like cracks in walls, between stepping stones, for green roofs in sunny climates, in vertical gardens or container gardens. They can also create impressive effects when tumbling down walls or carpeting hillsides.

Because the shapes are so varied – strings of colorful pearls, big felt leaves (Kalanchoe beharensis) mats of fine foliage (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), or a crisscross of pencil-like branches (Euphorbia tirucalli), they are ideal to use for textural effects or even eye-catching focal points in the garden.

succulents in vertical decor

With their small size and ability to tolerate demanding conditions, succulents are perfect for creating living wall paintings.

Some succulents are more colorful than the average garden flower. The Echevaria family offers a rainbow of pink, purple and blue leaves on the “Afterglow’ variety, Aeonium comes in dark mahogany shades that contrast like black with other foliage, and many of the artichoke shaped Sempervivum plants are striped, spattered or netted with colors. You can find foliage that stays red, orange, yellow, green, bluish, purple, black or white – fuzzy, shiny, toothed or textured – all the time; no need to wait for blooms.

Giant cactus flower

Epiphyllum orchid cactus plants can display giant flowers in brilliant colors

Some offer exciting flower colors. Blooms can be found in almost any color, some large and exotic looking, some small but smothering the plants in huge numbers. Various plants known collectively as “Ice Plant” are well-known in warm climates for blanketing hillsides with brilliant hues in early spring.
Agave bud

This is the bud of what will be a tree-like bloom on a healthy agave.

The Century Plant (Agave) is impressive sending up two-story-high flower stems that branch into predominantly green flowers that look like trees and can be seen from long distances away. Brilliant red, yellow, orange and coral flowers bedeck many aloes while some cactus plants (all succulents) can produce flowers that dwarf the parent plant.

mixed succulent groundcover

A patchwork of multicolored low succulents form an artistic groundcover.

Use succulents to add color to hillsides, gardens (on their own or mixed in with other plants), or in container gardens. Their colors and interesting sculptural forms can create interest when nothing else is in flower.

colorful succulents

These are just some examples of the wide range of color you can find in succulent plants.

Most succulents can take periods of drought, sun and shade. Some can handle frost – even hard frosts. Double check the plants you buy to make sure they will thrive in your climate and where you want to grow them in your garden. There are so many different kinds of succulents; you are bound to find a number of them that are perfect for your landscape.

June to-do gardening list for Southern California

Pool
A swimming pool keeps you cool in the summer, looks great in the garden and is useful for keeping the children occupied.

This is one of the best months for Southern Californians to get outdoors and get gardening. School’s getting out, summer heat hasn’t fully arrived and the longest days for garden work happen in June. Here’s a quick to-do list of some of the things you can get to work on this month.

Real estate prices are likely to take their time coming back in most parts of Southern California, so why not make your home a comfortable place to ride out the economic woes. June is a perfect time to add some comforts to your garden. Consider adding a swimming pool, a barbecue area for entertaining, or a golf putting green for practice in your own backyard.

  • With all the rain we got this year, it could be a serious year for wildfires. So get out there and clean weeds, gutters and cut back branches that come too close to the house.
    Enjoy the cooler weather for digging and planting. Soon it will be hot for both you and new plants making the job that much more difficult. This could be a great year for adding a raised vegetable garden if you don’t already have one.
  • You can still seed root crops like beets and radishes, beans, corn, squash (for later season cropping) and some of the hot-climate spinach substitutes like Malabar spinach. Slow-growing edibles like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are best set out as small plants in June.
  • Pay attention to water. The drought may officially be over, but our water bills are going up anyway. Efficient watering and drought-resistant planting will save you maintenance labor as well as money on your water bill.
  • Save lugging waste into bins by building a compost heap. You can construct your own or buy one ready-made.
  • If you do have a vegetable garden, check over fruits and vegetables daily for anything that is ready to crop and for incipient signs of insect infestation or disease. Supplement with hand watering and spray any insect invaders hard when watering to dislodge them. Insecticidal soap should handle remaining pests.
  • Re-set sprinkler systems and check for low-volume and drip irrigation alternatives. Consider installing smart irrigation controllers to take the guess work out of watering.
  • Check ponds and fish regularly. Spring is when disease is most likely as the water warms and fish become more active. Treat at the first sign of white spots, lesions or parasites.
  • Consider redesigning your landscape or reducing lawns for lower water consumption. Check into artificial lawns before buying. There are pros and cons you might not know. And consider re-designing lawn so you get the most out of what you have and make the rest of your property more productive and attractive.
  • What about starting a cutting garden? Grow your own cut flowers rather than buying them.

Enjoy the few days when it is cool for doing the June to-do gardening list in this part of the country — especially for Southern Californians who live and garden inland. Summer heat is coming!

A list of some easy to find succulents

Echeveria

A display of some rosette forming succulents in a variety of foliage colors.

Easy to find succulents

Succulents are plants that have adapted their leaves or stems to store water. Although there are succulents that have evolved in hot, cold, wet and dry climates, all come from places where the soil drains quickly and there are times when the root systems would be unable to supply the necessary water without the water storage adaptation. Some of these plants can handle extreme, hot sun. Cold tolerance varies widely. All of them have interesting, decorative foliage and some sport remarkably showy, bright-colored blooms. Use these plants for their decorative growth habits that range from tiny to huge, colorful and textural, smooth to coarse, soft to sharp and sculptural or simply bizarre. Here are some easy to find succulents you can use.

Agave: tough, rosette-growing (they grow in a rose-like circular pattern of leaves) group of plants with more than 300 named varieties. These are best known for their sharp, pointed, wickedly serrated or sharp toothed leaves. Some are less spiny than others. There are small growing ground-huggers and tall varieties that tower up to 30’ when in bloom. Some blooms look like trees themselves.

Aloe: a large family of thick leafed plants that can grow low to the ground or form trunks giving them a sparse, sculptural look. Most bloom with showy heads of clustered red, yellow or orange flowers. The most well known are the aloes used in cosmetics and for healing; the Aloe vera.

Crassula: a genus that boasts just under 200 species and often come in bizarre and brightly colored forms. Flowers can be showy but leaves can be so colorful or unusual that they attract as much or even more attention than the flowers.

Dasylirion, Yucca, and Cordyline: slow growing tree like plants that look more like ornamental grasses when young, before forming trunks. These are tough growing plants that have smooth or toothed foliage growing from a central point. Slow growing, they can make big, showy, specimen plants.

Echeveria: smaller rosette-forming succulents with remarkable coloring and leaf shapes that can be rippled, fluted, scalloped or even fuzzy. Most send up colorful spikes of blooms in spring or summer.

Euphorbia: a huge group of plants with over 8000 variable looking species. Some look like cactus plants, some look like pencils, others have thorned stems and flat leaves. All have a milky white sap that can be a skin or eye irritant. The most famous member of the euphorbia family is the well-known poinsettia.

Sanseveria: elongated, stiff leaved plants that can grow as a short rosette or with longer, sword-shaped leaves, often patterned and variegated. The Mother-in-law’s Tongue is a commonly grown houseplant.

Sedum: a huge group of plants. Most are small and perfect sizes for the dish or container garden. A number of them are ideal for using as handsome ground covers with textural leaves and sparkling blooms.

Sempervivum: small plants that tend to form clusters of rounded plants that send out baby offsets that earn the plant its common name: Hen and chicks (or chickens).

These are just a handful of the many cactus and succulent plants available, some large, some small.

They are easy to find at garden centers all over the country.