This year’s puzzling weather has produced a few days cold enough to promote dormancy in plants that don’t need a real winter chill, and nowhere near enough rain. We still hope late rains will replenish aquifers and reservoirs, but there’s little promise in the forecasts.
The arrival of spring does not cause abrupt change in our gardens, but it does bring warm weather that takes plants out of dormancy and stimulates new growth. Plants need moisture at this time but water restrictions demand reduction of our water usage. The middle ground for gardeners involves watering plants efficiently and only when they show need by wilting a little. This means drip irrigation if you have it, or moving a hose or watering can from plant to plant. Store your wasteful wide-area sprinkler!
If you have been preparing for drought conditions, you have emphasized summer–dry plants, a category that includes California native plants and other Mediterranean climate plants.
This is not the best year to add summer-dry plants, however: newly installed herbaceous or woody plants need regular watering for two years to establish roots.
A more appropriate strategic response to this drought is to add succulent plants, which have developed ways to minimize transpiration and maximize water retention in their leaves, stems or roots.
When added to a garden or moved within a garden, succulent plants come with their own supply of moisture, and need only minimal watering to settle their roots. They are quite resilient, but of course will need some water in time.
Succulents are far from compromises from an aesthetic perspective: they offer a range of blossom colors and foliage textures as well as low maintenance and drought tolerance. They have in fact become desirable specimens in garden beds or containers, even before our current weather concerns.
Happily, a major sale of succulent plants is less than one month away. The Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society will hold its annual, free-admission Spring Show & Sale from 9:00 to 5:00 on April 19th and 20th in the San Juan Batista Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street, not far from the Old San Juan Batista Mission.
The Society’s show will include members’ selected cacti and succulents, demonstrating plants that are very well grown and shown, and that display an amazing range of shapes, sizes and colors. The sale includes a great selection of mostly small plants grown by members or commercial growers, with reasonable prices. Society members also will be available to offer advice and answer questions.
Respond to this drought creatively: use this occasion to start or expand your collection of succulent plants.
If you are a beginning gardener of succulent plants, a helpful book is Debra Lee Baldwin’s newest book, Succulents Simplified. Her earlier books, Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens, are a more advanced, but still accessible for casual gardeners.
Visit Debra Lee Baldwin’s website for inspiring photos and practical information.