Finding plants that are suited to your conditions. Keeping thirsty plants out of dry places. Grouping plants together wisely. These simple steps and others can make a big difference in how you use resources in your garden. Take a look at these tips that will save you time, money, and work, while providing you with a more satisfying garden.
Photo courtesy of Penny Wilson
When choosing plants for your landscape, first determine what conditions you will be planting them in. Do you have heavy clay soil or beach sand? Do you get 60 inches of rainfall or 5? Do you have scorching summers and bone-chilling winters? Do you regularly get summer fog? It's a lot easier to choose varieties that have already adapted to your conditions instead of trying to change the conditions of your garden to suite your plant choices. Picking plants that grow in your environment means less water, soil amendments, and pests, not to mention work.
Mulch can inhibit weeds to reduce the use of weed killers. It can keep moisture in the soil to reduce water use. Organic mulch slowly decomposes, adding nutrition to the soil. The wrong mulch, though, can do more harm then good. Redwood or oak mulch is great for many scrub and forest plants where large quantities of leaf litter occur naturally, but will smother and kill desert plants that prefer bare soil or rock mulch. Straw works nicely in a vegetable garden, but inhibits the growth of most drought-resistant landscape plants.
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Irrigate just enough to keep the plants healthy. Too much water will encourage diseases and pests to attack your plants. Over-watered plants are more susceptible to gofers, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other hungry herbivores. Too much water also shortens the life of many drought-tolerant plants.
Most areas of California and the southern states have mild winters but long, dry summers. It's easier to plant in the winter or fall than in the spring or summer. Use the rain during those months to get your plants established and you will need very little irrigation, if any. Planting after the third rainfall is the best rule of thumb. After the third rain, the soil is usually soft and easy to dig. Also, surrounding wild lands are lush in those months, providing food for hungry animals like deer and gophers that might otherwise eat your new plants at the end of a dry summer.
Choose plants that normally grow together in the wild. They need similar conditions and often complement one another with resources. Plant desert plants with other desert plants. Plant natural oak understory plants with oak trees. Don't mix vegetables with dry Mediterranean plants. This will make for a more resource-efficient landscape and healthier, happier plants.
Avoid planting plants that become invasive. These plants take over wild land choking out native species and removing wildlife habitat. Herbicides are often used to try to eradicate them as they have no natural biological controls. Many common garden plants are in fact invasive bullies that take over natural areas in the wild. Some of these include Vinca Major, Fountain Grass, and Pampas Grass (shown in photo). To find out if a plant is a pest, look on the California Invasive Plant Council website. Just because they don't require irrigation does not mean they are good for the environment.
Article By Penny Wilson. Penny is a gardening writer who specializes in California native plants.