Fall is the best time to plant your low-water landscape

Date 2008/9/22 11:30:00 | Topic: Garden Care

Of all the gardens that grow in the Golden State, few can match Mediterranean-inspired landscapes for their toughness, sensual appeal, and suitability to our wet winters and dry summers. Whether their designs spring from the Italian-, Spanish-, or Mission-style architecture of a house or the imaginations of their owners, smart gardens like the two we feature here make sense for our climate. Their plantings don't need much water once established, and maintenance is minimal. If you're planning a new landscape or renovating a forgotten corner of an existing one, these gardens can help inspire your own designs and plant choices. Nurseries are filled with shrubs, perennials, and trees to plant now, and fall's the best time to do it; days are shortening, temperatures are cooling, and autumn rains will soon come to get roots growing.
California gardening challenges

SOIL. Depending on where you live, your soil can be heavy clay, alkaline (which plants such as camellias don't like), or salty (especially in the desert). To lighten clay soils, add amendments such as compost. To acidify alkaline soils, mix in peat or acid fertilizer periodically. To leach (wash) salts from the salty soils, water plants' root zones slowly and deeply at least once a year.

WIND. Warm winds that sweep from east to west in late summer can dry out foliage and blow down young trees. Properly stake newly planted trees; prune dead or weak branches from established ones. Deeply irrigate plants.

WATER. Dry summers, recurring drought, and a limited water supply are realities in California. Choose plants that adapt well to aridity, and group them by water needs.

PRIVACY. It's an increasingly valuable commodity in California, especially in urban areas where houses are close together and lots are small. To block unwanted views, use leafy screens of closely spaced, fast-growing shrubs such as purple hop bush.

FIRE. In fire-prone areas (Malibu, Bel Air, Santa Barbara, or the hills behind San Bernardino, Laguna Beach, or Oakland, for example), avoid growing highly flammable plants such as junipers, manzanita, or pines. Create an irrigated greenbelt around your house, and clear out any branches that overhang your roof.

Getting started

Annuals and groundcovers

1. About two weeks before planting, spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure over the soil in garden beds.

2. Dig the amendments into the soil, mixing lightly to a depth of 9 to 12 inches. Rake the bed smooth. Water it well, then water again before planting.

Container trees, shrubs, and perennials

Unless your soil is very sandy or is heavy, poorly draining clay, it's not necessary to add organic amendments before planting native and Mediterranean plants.

1. Dig a planting hole three or four times as wide as the rootball; the hole's sides should taper outward into the soil, as shown. Slip the plant out of its container, loosen roots with your fingers, and set it on the central plateau of firm soil. The top of the rootball should sit just above ground level.

2. If your native soil is loam and drains well, backfill with unamended soil you dug from the hole. If your soil is sandy or is heavy clay, mix the backfill with an equal part of compost. Either way, add the soil in stages, firming it around the roots with your hands as you work.

3. Build a berm of soil around the plant to form a watering basin. Irrigate gently. Spread a layer of mulch around the plant, keeping mulch several inches away from the stem or trunk. Don't fertilize until you see new growth emerging in spring.

Design notes

Play up details. Pay attention to compact groupings of plants or objects. Such details can enrich a garden--especially a small one.

Use pots as focal points. Fill containers with herbs, such as oregano, trailing rosemary, salvias, or thyme. Display them in prominent places.

Soften hardscape. Plant creeping thyme between pavers, and edge paths with soft-foliaged plants such as hardy geraniums and yarrow.

Include a few workhorses. To add color to a mostly herbal garden, rely on a few shrubs that bloom nearly year-round, such as lavatera and groundcover roses.


(Taken from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1216/is_3_211/ai_107203123)



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