Daisy Tree for Dramatic Effect

My Daisy Tree is a doozy!

I first encountered this striking plant during a visit, several years ago, to the Esalen Institute. A gardener at the Institute told me its name, and later I found a small specimen to add to my garden.

This is Montanoa grandiflora, a native of southern Mexico (around Mexico City) and some other Central American countries. The plant was named for Luis Jose Montana (1755-1820), a physician, politician and amateur botanist. The specific epithet “grandiflora” is often applied to certain roses, but it just means “large flowers” and is applied to some other plants as well. For this plant, a different rose term, “multiflora” (many small blooms) would be more accurate.

The Daisy Tree is a member of the Sunflower tribe (Heliantheae) of the enormous Aster family (Asteraceae), and a relative to several familiar garden flowers: CoreopsisCosmosEchinaceaRudbeckia, and Zinnia, as well as the commercially important sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke. The Montanoa genus includes thirty-five species. Surprisingly, none of these are listed in Sunset’s Western Garden Book.

This plant grows well in full sun in the Monterey Bay area’s climate and is winter-hardy down to the mid-20s (which do not concern local gardeners).

Daisy Tree - long shot

Daisy Tree
Montanoa grandiflora

The Daisy Tree’s uniqueness comes first from its size. It grows up to twelve feet high and twelve feet wide (mine is about ten by ten). Its second feature is its floriferous nature. Some reports indicate that its flowers can be so abundant as to conceal the foliage, but I can still see my plant’s large lobed leaves. It’s possible that a little irrigation and fertilizer would increase the floral yield; my plant has grown on its own, without my assistance.

Daisy Tree Blossoms

Daisy Tree Blossoms

 

 

 

The flowers are unremarkable individually, but they appear in late October or early November and could last into early December. They create a fine display and provide a pleasantly sweet fragrance that suggests chocolate or vanilla. Some sniffers have found the fragrance resembles that of freshly baked cupcakes, so the blossoms might recall one’s own olfactory memories.

After the blossoms fade, attractive chartreuse seed heads last through the winter.

In early spring, horticulturists recommend cutting a Montanoa grandiflora hard to allow the development of new sprouts from the base.

This might seem like drastic action for such a large shrub, but that treatment has worked fine for another large Mexican native in my garden, the Tree Dahlia (Dahlia imperialis). My garden includes a stand of Tree Dahlias. I cut them to the ground last spring and they have now reached about thirty feet high and are about the begin blooming (a little later than the Tree Daisy.

Tree Dahlia- Long Shot

Tree Dahlia (Dahlia imperialis)

Traa Dahlia Blossom

Tree Dahlia Blossom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stunning annual growth cycle of these larger plants demonstrates their vigor, and their presence in the garden provides wonder and beauty. The bees enjoy them as well!

The Tree Daisy and Tree Dahlia are not commonly available in garden centers, in my experience, but both are available as small plants via mail order from Annie’s Annuals.

Most gardens can accommodate a few really large plants. While appropriate placement is always important, they can provide a dramatic feature to the landscape.

Gardening for the Senses

Gardeners develop and maintain ornamental gardens primarily for the visual appeal of beautiful blossoms and lush foliage. These gardens also please the sense of sight with the shapes of plants and the similarities or contrasts between plants.

Ornamental plants could also please three other of our senses:

  • Taste is served by certain plants that are both edible and ornamental, e.g., Saffron (Crocus sativus);
  • Touch is valued in plants that interesting texture, e.g., Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina); and
  • Hearing relates to plants that rustle in the breeze, e.g., New Zealand Flax (Phormium.

There are more examples of ornamental plants that appeal to these senses, but they are minor features of the garden, relative to plants that appeal to our sense of sight.

The fifth important category of ornamental plants is the aromatic plants: those that appeal to the gardener’s sense of smell.

The blossoms or the leaves, or both, of aromatic plants, produce volatile compounds that are known as essential oils. Their primary purpose, of course is to attract pollinators, but people have found myriad culinary, medicinal, therapeutic, and even magical and uses of such plants. Books have been written about such desirable applications. Here, we focus on our enjoyment of the aesthetic appeal of aromatic plants.

Plants with aromatic foliage release their essential oils primarily during the heat of the day. When the sun goes down, the foliage must be rubbed to appreciate the fragrance.

In comparison, some aromatic flowers release their perfumes during the evening and night hours to attract moths that have evolved to reach the plant’s nectar through long corolla tubes,

Many aromatic plants produce pleasant fragrances during the daytime and can be desirable additions to the landscape. An online search for “aromatic plants” will yield the information needed to select and locate plants to optimize daytime and evening enjoyment.

For example, very popular evening-scented aromatic plants include Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Border Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Honeysuckle (Lonicera), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Night-scented Phlox (Zalusianskya ovata), and Night-scented Stock (Matthiola bicornis).

The aromatic California native plants may be particularly interesting to gardeners in the Monterey Bay area. We appreciate the studies of Jackie Pascoe, a member of the California Native Plant Society, to select a few noteworthy plants in this large group.

  • Spice Bush (Calicanthus occidentalis) – wine barrel scent
  • Vanilla Grass (Hierogonum occidentalis) – vanilla scent
  • Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) – minty, but entirely unique scent
  • Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa) – minty scent
  • Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) – orangey scent
  • Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) – clean scent, “like a sweet desert morning”
  • Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) – wonderfully spicy scent
  • Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifoium) – fine wine scent

You could find some of these aromatic plants at the California Native Plant Society’s sale on Saturday. For info, see the story elsewhere in today’s newspaper.

Another good opportunity to learn about aromatic plants is to visit the Aroma Garden at UCSC’s Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

Explore the large and varied universe of aromatic plants to discover your preferences, and add a few to selected locations in your garden to expand your sensual enjoyment.

Designing Naturalistic Landscapes

Landscape design has been analyzed, discussed, and written about by many people, and from several angles. Most treatments of this subject consider the built landscape as part of built environment, which contrasts with the natural environment. Generally, they describe landscapes as vignettes or vistas that please the beholder’s eye by combining forms or colors from an aesthetic perspective. Aesthetics determine whether a garden is Victorian, Italian, Japanese, modern, white, classical, etc. Often, this approach results in random groupings of favored plants, with the only design principle being “tall plants in back.”

There are more horticultural perspectives for thinking about landscapes. For example, we have the idea of companion planting, in which proximities affect plant vigor. Then, we have generic groupings, as with small or large collections of roses, cacti, irises, or some other plant genus. Another horticultural approach involves grouping plants with similar needs for moisture. Such “hydrozoning” responds to the horticultural needs of plants and incidentally organizes the gardener’s irrigation tasks. A tropical landscape focuses on plants with an exotic look and a continuing thirst (not a good choice in the land of persistent drought).

Moving further into horticultural considerations, we encounter climate-oriented landscaping, with emphasis on plants from the world’s Mediterranean or “summer dry” regions, which of course include the Monterey Bay area. This landscaping approach supports plant development and vigor and eases the gardener’s workload.

The attractive subset of summer-dry landscaping is landscaping with California native plants, which combines the climate-oriented approach with the ecological compatibility of flora and fauna.

The more naturalistic form of landscaping with California native plants is landscaping with California plant communities. There are various ways to define this state’s several plant communities but essentially, the coast, the mountains, and the deserts are different horticultural environments, and therefore support different plants. A very useful book on this topic has been provided by Glen Keator and Alrie Middlebrook: Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens (University of California Press, 2007).

The next level of appreciating the difference between built and natural landscapes can be found in the book by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Timber Press, 2015). This book has been called “inspiring,” “masterful,” “groundbreaking,” and a “game-changer.” Reviewers have also praised it for “lyrical, passionate, and persuasive writing” and “lavish” illustrations.

Planting in a Pot-Wild World - coverThe authors deplore the ways in which typical gardening and landscaping practices have ignored the ways in which plants thrive in natural combinations, and present A New Optimism: The Future of Planting Design. They state, “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious, with less maintenance.”

The book (which we have just begun studying) advocates planting in interlocking layers of plants, which reflects the dynamic way plants grow together in nature. There is much to learn about this approach. The authors envision improved plant labels that provide more useful information about how a plant grows and recommend relevant resources as the http://www.cnps.org/cnps/grownative/California Native Plant Society.

Both aesthetic and horticultural approaches to plant selection have significant impacts on the success of gardening and the amount of work involved in maintaining a garden. If your gardening involves mostly keeping plants alive, replacing plants that have died, combating weeds, and wanting the garden to look better, it could be time to give more attention to plant communities.

Growing Dahlias

Dahlias are among the easier blossoming plants to cultivate in the garden. As natives of Mexico, they thrive in the Monterey Bay area climate and bring drought-tolerance as well.

As mentioned in today’s article about the upcoming sale of the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, dahlias are available in many different blossom forms and colors and can be a fine addition to the garden.

This column offers basic practices for growing dahlias after you have selected tubers at the Society’s sale.

The first consideration is to select a location will full exposure to the sun and good drainage. Dahlias, like most flowering plants, grow best with six hours of sun each day, and in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is fine, but clay soil will require substantial amendment with organic material.

Dahlia with Bee

Dahlias can be planted any time between the last day of frost (which is not a concern in this area) and as late as mid-June. The local tuber sale is scheduled around the time when last season’s tubers are ready to be dug and divided, so the day of the sale represents a good beginning for the local planting season. If you are not ready to plant, store your new tubers temporarily in a cool, shady environment.

Most dahlias will need staking, so it’s a good practice to position a sturdy stake for each tuber, and to install the stake at the same time that you plant the tune. Inserting a stake later runs the risk of stabbing the tuber.

If you don’t want bare stakes in the garden while the plant develops, you could install a short piece of plastic pipe with the top at ground level next to the tuber, then, when the plant grows to need staking, insert a thin stake (bamboo?) in the plastic pipe and tie the plant to the stake.

Plant the tuber several inches deep, with the “eye” (the growing point) facing up. Some tubers might lack such an eye, and will not sprout, but well-selected tubers will have viable growing points. The eye can be difficult to confirm, so selection can require some experience in identifying tubers that are ready to grow.

Separate the tubers from each other by about two feet.

Protect the sprouting plants from snails and slugs. A good practice is to visit your plants in the night (with a flashlight) or in the early morning to remove any crawling pests that have discovered them. Regular applications of an organic snail control, e.g., Sluggo, also works.

Control flying pests with insecticidal soap or other organic pesticides.

Generally, soil with ample organic content will provide sufficient nutrients for dahlias. If your soil seems “lean,” regular applications of high-nitrogen, organic fertilizer would be helpful.

As each plant grows, tie it to a stake to ensure that it remains upright. The first tie should hold the main stalk loosely to the stake; later ties could connect branches to the stake.

Each branch generally will produce three buds. To produce large blossoms, many gardeners remove two of these buds when they appear. This disbudding process allows the plant to direct nutrients to the remaining bud, with positive effect. If you have several dahlias growing in the garden, you will still have lots o blooms.

At the end of the season, the top growth dies back, and the plant produces several new tubers. The gardener can remove the top growth, and can either dig and replant the tubers or leave them in the ground. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, dahlias grow quite well when simply left in the ground. After two or three years, they will become crowded and will benefit from dividing.

Enjoy your dahlias! They are wonderful additions to the garden.

Rediscovering Eco-cultural Gardening

Gardening is a very old activity. The word “garden” has its roots in an Old English term meaning “fence” or “enclosure,” and the earliest enclosed outdoor space discovered was created about 12,000 years ago.

We are still learning about gardening.

More accurately, we are rediscovering ideas that earlier gardeners understood thousands of years ago.

One of the earliest ideas, evidently, was that a fence keeps some hungry animals from the vegetables and (later) from the flowers.

The most basic principle for successful gardening is compatibility with Nature. We are advised occasionally that humans developed instinctive behaviors, e.g., Fight or Flight, at an early stage of our history, and evolved to thrive with a diet that consisted of a combination of foods that grew naturally in our local environment.

By the same token, plants and animals evolved over long periods to thrive in specific regions, together with each other. As a result of this co-evolution, we have interdependence between plants and animals that grow naturally within a specific environment. We even have interdependence between those plants and animals and certain aspects of the environment itself.

Ancient civilizations that understood these relationships intuitively gardened—and lived—in harmony with Nature. “Eco-culture” is today’s buzzword for the connection between ecological and cultural practices.

Some aspects of the environment appear not to interact with the plants and animals: the weather, elevation, and sunlight operate under their own rules, but the soil microbiota has close relationships with the flora and fauna.

Gardening is easiest and most successful when we recognize and respect these natural relationships. Good practices include gardening organically and growing plants that are native to the local environment.

The more recent history of gardening, however, has included many attempts to rewrite Nature’s rulebook. For example, as people traveled the globe, they added plants from exotic environments to their gardens and developed adaptive practices, including irrigation systems, greenhouses, and indoor gardening.

Also, as gardeners desired plants that would grow faster or larger, taste better, or look better, they developed hybridizing methods, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Such departures from Nature’s ways are often successful in achieving certain objectives, but they often have negative consequences, as well.

The clearest downside of attempts to “fool Mother Nature” is that gardening requires more time, energy and expense. If you find gardening to be burdensome, try converting to plants that are native to your environment.

When large-scale, commercial gardening (“agriculture”) adopts new technologies, the disruptions of Nature’s processes also grow larger in scale. Widespread applications of synthetic agricultural chemicals are damaging the soil biota, are poisoning the soil, killing birds, bees and butterflies, contributing to climate change and threatening our health.

Historically, ecological traumas began with the Industrial Revolution and accelerated in the 1940’s (with at the start of World War II), particularly in uses of synthetic chemicals.

Today, a growing number of non-profit organizations are sounding alarms about these practices and advocating alignment with Nature’s ways. Consumers increasingly demand organic foods, and intuitively resist genetically engineering foods. These groups and individual gardeners are rediscovering eco-cultural gardening.

Our roots are showing!

More to come: links to consumer-oriented non-profit groups related to eco-cultural gardening.

Here’s a related article (with an inappropriate title), “The dirty little secrets of a Native American garden,” from the San Francisco Examiner.

Basics of Low Maintenance

For many gardeners, as they create or recreate their gardens, their objectives include minimizing maintenance. Let’s consider the “why” and “how” of low maintenance gardening.

The motivation for minimizing maintenance requirements begins with the press—or the appeal—of other priorities, and the perspective is that gardening is drudgery that steals time from higher priority pursuits, and should be avoided whenever possible.

Some of us have unavoidable demands on our time, it’s true, but in reality, maintaining a garden does not require large chunks of one’s schedule.

In addition, gardening has unique rewards to be appreciated and even sought after: time for meditating, exercising a bit, and absorbing vitamin D, as well as communing with Nature and making an individual contribution to ecological balance.

Avoiding drudgery and securing those rewards requires both a positive attitude and a well-designed garden.

With those elements in place, gardening can be easy not burdensome, and satisfying rather than frustrating. Here are basic guidelines for creating a low-maintenance garden.

Establish Realistic Goals

The size of your garden should be manageable within your available time, physical capacity and financial resources. In this assessment, consider your gardening partner or partners, including family, friends and contractors.

Your horticultural knowledge and skill are also important, but because you can increase them, they are not limitations. If you have a large property, define an appropriate size of your garden, and leave the rest to Nature. If you have less space than you would like, develop an interest in container gardening, or community gardening.

If your gardening plan includes regular “mow, blow and go” assistance, it’s likely that you are not really gardening, and not gaining those unique rewards. Take another look at the design of your landscape, with a focus on eliminating the lawn.

Work with Nature

This core idea reaches into all aspects of gardening. Gardening and landscaping amounts to imposing on Nature, which has powers that are not be denied. For this reason, gardening should be pursued in ways that are compatible with, and supportive of, Nature. Those who challenge Nature must commit to high-maintenance gardening., but will, in the long run, lose.

Gardeners could challenge Nature in many ways, beginning with the selection of non-native plants, especially those that have evolved under significantly different environments. Choose plants that have evolved under your garden’s conditions, including climate and precipitation, elevation, soil type, wildlife habitat, etc.

Another strategy for challenging Nature is the monocrop, i.e., limiting large sections of the landscape to a single kind of plant. In residential gardens, the most familiar monocrop is the lawn. Such landscapes do occur in Nature (think of Midwestern prairies) but lawns are inhospitable to wildlife, and costly to maintain in acceptable condition. Mixed plantings work better, can be very attractive, and are easier to maintain.

A related issue is the use of synthetic chemicals in garden maintenance. This practice might seem to mimic Nature, but truly natural ways to feed the soil and the plants are based on the growth and decomposition of organic materials. The use of synthetic chemicals leads to the accumulation of inorganic salts that eventually poison the soil. Short-term impacts from chemicals may be welcome, but organic compost yields the best results in the long term. In addition, the birds and the bees will thank you.

There are more ways to achieve low maintenance gardening. These two basic guidelines are a good start.

Enjoy your garden!

Evolution of the Community Garden

I never expected to be impressed by a housing development in the San Jose area, but late in September of 2015, the City of Santa Clara launched an extraordinary project that City Council member Lisa Gilmor said is“…the first of its kind for Santa Clara. I don’t think we’ve done anything like this in the past.”

The Council selected a developer, The Core Companies, to lead master planning and development of a six-acre site on Winchester Boulevard, near the Valley Fair and Santana Row shopping centers.

Win6 Project - conceptual

Core/CNGF Project – Conceptual

The project concept combines housing with several familiar elements: a small organic farm, community gardens, a children’s garden, California native plant edible landscaping, roof gardens, solar energy production, a farmer’s market, a rainwater garden, an outdoor kitchen, and much more.

Overall, the project qualifies as an “agrihood,” a newer idea that focuses residential housing on a working farm, rather than a pool, tennis court or golf course. An agrihood also engages the residents in creating a sustainable food system for the entire community.

This concept could be appealing to people of all ages, but the United States has only a short list of existing agrihoods (for examples: http://tinyurl.com/ox4to7h). The Santa Clara project appears to be the only agrihood in an intensely urban environment, and an exceptional showcase of several ideas in sustainable gardening.

The City of Santa Clara selected this project among eight competing proposals because of its creativity, vigorous community support and the history of the site, which had been part of an agricultural research station operated by the University of California, beginning in the last 1950s.

A visionary neighbor, Kirk Vartan, galvanized community support for this project. He found a creative and knowledgeable ally in Alrie Middlebrook, a landscape designer and leader of the California Native Garden Foundation, a non-profit group that demonstrates innovative gardening ideas and supports the development of school gardens. Middlebrook’s ideas are evident in the rich array of gardens in this agrihood, which has been called the Core/CNGF project.

The California Native Garden Foundation will be involved in managing the project’s urban agriculture open space. (Full disclosure: as a long-time member of the CNGF’s board of directors, I have had both opportunities to monitor this project’s development during the past several months, and a very limited role in its creation. The CNGF board’s primary role is to review schools’ applications for the planning and development of learning gardens.)

Agrihoods could become the evolutionary next step beyond community gardens and community-supported agriculture. Through this project in nearby Santa Clara, we can see the leading edge of innovative strategies for relating research-based gardening and community relationships.

Right Time, Right Plants

Tom Karwin

Each spring, many gardeners seek new plants for their gardens. That’s understandable, since that is when gardens spring into new life (sorry about that!).

The spring can be a good time to plant seeds for annuals, but the fall is by far the better time to plant perennials because our rainy season, beginning historically around mid-October, hydrates the plants while they establish roots and prepare for the following spring.

For this reason, we have excellent plant sales during the fall, offered by non-profit garden groups that support your gardening success, and of course want to earn money for their activities.

These sales offer California natives and other plants that thrive in the Monterey Bay area’s summer-dry climate and that align very nicely with your plans to build soil health in your garden.

Two early sales happen Saturday, October 3rd.

  • The Monterey Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will have its annual plant sale from 10:00 to 1:00 at the Hilton Bialek Habitat at Carmel Middle School. Info: http://montereybay.cnps.org/
  • Watsonville Wetlands Watch will host its 3rd annual Pajaro Valley Backyard Habitat Festival and Native Plant Sale from 9:00 to 4:00 at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Recourse Center, at Pajaro Valley High School. Info: http://watsonvillewetlandswatch.org .

Two more sales have been announced for the following Saturday, October 10th.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and the UCSC Arboretum will hold their sales together at the UCSC Arboretum’s Eucalyptus Grove. The entrance to the sale is on High Street, is across from Western Drive, on the edge of the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Both sales are open for members from 10:00 – 12:00, and for the public from 12:00 – 4:00. Memberships for both organizations will be available at the gate on the day of the sale.

Info for the CNPS sale: http://www.cruzcnps.org/

Info for the Arboretum sale: http://arboretum.ucsc.edu/ (click on “Events/Recurring Events”)

The Arboretum’s sale includes selections from dry-summer climate regions in California, South Africa and Australia, offering opportunities for venturesome gardeners to add exotic plants to their landscapes. As one example, Melinda Kranj, Curator of the Australian Collections, has shared her knowledge of an iconic Australian plant in “Banksias Breath New Life for a Fall Garden” (click on “News” on the Arboretum website). She wrote, “The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is currently growing about 50 species, and many different varieties and cultivars” and will have several Banksias available at the sale.

Banksia victoriae

Banksia victoriae

Incidentally, the generic name of this plant honors English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who collected the first Banksia specimens in 1770, while on Captain James Cook’s first expedition into the south Pacific.

These plant sales are scheduled at the right time, and they offer plants that are right for our regional climate. As always, the gardener should install new plants in the right place in the landscape. Consider mature size and sun exposure, as well as garden aesthetics.

Restoring Soil

Several people commented on last week’s column on the carbon cycle. All endorsed the concept of restoring garden soil, to support its natural ability to sequester carbon.

One reader had questions about how to go about restoring garden soil. This is a Big Topic and you, good reader, might have your own questions, but you also might share his interests. My brief responses are below. Visit gardening.com for more details, including plant suggestions.

Q. Plow the grass under?

A. Losing the thirsty lawn is a good first step, because such monocultures are not appealing to wildlife. Plowing, however, could both promote re-growth of the grass and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface. A better approach is to kill the grass over several sunny weeks by covering it with clear plastic (solarization), or with newspaper or cardboard (smothering).

For information on Soil Solarization for Gardens & Landscapes, visit the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management webpage on the topic. The presentation emphasizes pest control; in this context, unwanted turf grass amounts to a pest.

The California Native Plant Society has Detailed lawn removal advice.

Q. Plant different grass?

A. Yes! California native grasses can provide the basis of an attractive meadow, which is more casual than a manicured carpet of turf grass. A meadow has unique aesthetic appeal; supports a variety of wildflowers and wildlife; requires little water, infrequent mowing, and no chemicals; and helps to restore the soil.

Kids on Native Grass Lawn
JACQUELINE RAMSEYER —
BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Lily Baker’s front yard in San Jose
features a native grass lawn.
California native grasses help restore the soil.

For information on several California native grasses, visit the Tree of Life Nursery’s web page, “Masses of Grasses.”

A very good book by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien is Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs (2011).

Q. Grow more trees?

A. Absolutely! Trees and large shrubs are attractive additions to the landscape, valuable participants in the carbon cycle, and welcomed by all forms of wildlife. Invest a little research to select trees will thrive in your climate, and grow to an appropriate size for your landscape. Again, California natives are good choices.

A good introduction to California native trees and larger shrubs is available from the non-profit Nipomo Native Garden, which has produced a web page, “Native Trees for Landscaping and Wildlife.”

Q. Eliminate ground cover in favor of something with deeper roots?

A. Ground covers are any plants that hug surface or rise to any height up to four feet. Most importantly, they protect soil and soil microbiota from baking in the sun, or eroding. During the fall and winter, plant seasonal cover crops that draw nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. Examples of such “nitrogen-fixing” plants include peas, beans, and clover. In the spring, before your cover crop sets seed, till the plants under to decompose and release their nitrogen into the soil to support the growth of other plants.

Deeper roots mean better drought-tolerance: deep-rooted plant can find moisture far below the surface. Such plants are generally preferable in the landscape, all other factors being equal.

The depth of roots varies among plants, reflecting adaptation to the plant’s environment. Among weedy grasses, for example, Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua) has roots only about right inches deep, while Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) can grow to 60 inches deep in search of water.

Infrequent, deep irrigation encourages all plants to develop deep roots and drought tolerance. A common error with automatic irrigation systems is to schedule frequent, brief periods of watering. This practice encourages shallow roots, ultimately increases overall water usage and leaves plants vulnerable to dry periods.

Q. Shallower roots?

A. The advantage of shallower roots is that plants growing in arid climates have immediate access to occasional rains. Succulent plants have adapted to such conditions by developing shallow roots and the ability to store scarce moisture in their leaves, stems or roots. For this reason, gardeners often appreciate succulent plants for both drought tolerance and landscape appeal.

The New California Garden, which we envision here, features meadow grasses and succulent plants: a good time to start is now.