May 22, 2010
Although we are blessed with year-round wonderful weather in the Bay Area, fall through spring is the optimum time to plant. In fact, most woody plants should be planted as early in fall as possible to ensure good root establishment. Winter rains, moderate temperatures, natural soil moisture and the plant growth cycle all contribute to fall planting success.
Where to begin? In preparation for your new plants, make sure you know your soil. Is it sandy? Clay? Acidic? If you know what you have, you can either plant plants that work well in it or bring in new soil, replacing what you have or building raised planting beds.
And great news on the budget front: studies have shown that planting both a one- and a five-gallon size of the same species at the same site at the same time can produce surprising results: in three to five years, both plants will be the same size! Even better, in seven to ten years, the one-gallon plant will be more drought-tolerant than its larger companion.
If your landscape looks a bit bare using one-gallon plants, use ground covers, perennials or annuals to fill in the gaps. Avoid the temptation to plant your shrubs closer together, since that will make for higher maintenance down the line when they grow up.
May 22, 2010
Even though it seemed they would never end, the rains have subsided for the year. We are entering our typical dry summer months. Now’s a great time to assess your garden and consider making some modifications that will save water — and save you on your water bill.
Number one on the list to making your garden water wise is “lose the lawn.” Lawns are great if you have kids and pets, but grass is water gulper. You should make your little spot of green as small as it can be to still meet your needs. Certainly consider replacing most or all of your front lawn with curb-appeal planting beds; very few families play in their front yards. And if you haven’t already, take a look at replacing your thirsty bluegrass with some of the newer types of grasses that require less water.
The second step in creating your water wise landscape is installing a drip sprinkler system. Except for in a lawn or other ground cover area, your sprinklers serve you better if they drip rather than spray. Overhead spray uses a lot of extra water and is inefficient in planting beds, where some plants get too much and others too little water. Fortunately, there are kits for converting overhead sprinklers to drip, so you don’t have to pull everything up and start over.
The third step is landscaping with water-conserving plants. More and more beautiful “drought-tolerant” plant materials are in the nurseries every year. You don’t have to plant cactus! The East Bay Municipal Utility District has put out a gorgeous color book, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates, with hundreds of water-wise plant descriptions, pictures and landscape ideas. You can order the book online (or find local bookstores who carry it) at the East Bay “MUD” site: http://www.ebmud.com.
Finally, don’t forget to top off your water-conserving efforts with a 2-3” layer of mulch. It will not only curtail water evaporation but also keep the weeds at bay, fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s texture over time.