Posts tagged drought tolerant

Photos: All photos by Linda Daley

Photos: All photos by Linda Daley

I personally favor gardens that combine different types of plants in the informal manner of cottage gardens. I am also a fan of succulents, with an appreciation for their use in “California-friendly” gardens. While succulents (and cacti) are generally marked for drought tolerant yards, don’t over look them as ornamental additions in any California garden, for these plants can add visual depth and interest when contrasted against the textures, color, and character of many garden perennials and shrubs.

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In planning your water-wise garden, there are several factors to consider when adding succulents and cacti:

1. Match your plants’ watering needs by zones: Don’t assume all drought tolerant plants have the same watering requirements. The cultural needs of succulents, for example, are as diverse as the number of plant species found in its broad category.

2. Consider the soil: Water is not the only consideration for a garden’s success. A water-efficient garden begins with the soil. For example, the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society recommends this tip: “A soil mixture for succulent plants should have a good crumbly structure.  To test your soil mix, moisten and then squeeze with your hands: the mixture should not form a lump but crumble loosely.” So if you are interested in water conservation, the natural sciences, or simply having a green thumb, then take the time to learn about the plant/soil/water cycle. You will be a better gardener for it.

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3. Factor in scale and spacing: Aloes, Agaves, Aeoniums, Echeverias and Senecios are among the most popular succulents in use today. These plants can add architectural structure and beauty to gardens when designed appropriately for its scale and site conditions. Leave enough space between larger succulents, such as some of the Agave species, and they can stand out as features.

Garden Feature_Opuntia in Pot_PP-Daley

4. Mixing in planter arrangements: Cacti and other succulents also make excellent container plants. So if you must have a particular species that does not fit in with other plants in your garden, select a special pot or planter, make an arrangement with it and—voila!—you have a feature in the garden.

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5. Consider placement: If you plant succulents in the front of your home, be careful where you place the ones with sharp points, spines, or prickly hairs. Certain agave species – such as the Agave americana – can get quite large with sharp points along its leaves’ margins and terminal spines. In my garden, no matter how lightly I move around my Opuntia (prickly pear cactus), its tiny hairs manage to attach themselves onto my gardening gloves, clothes, or skin.

Locate these types of plants away from edges where people or their pets may walk by, run, or play. I also recommend you leave such plants out of parkways—those strips of green between the curb and the sidewalk. I remember an unexpected visit to my veterinarian to remove thorns from my dog’s paw after he stepped into a cacti-planted parkway. Parkway planting ordinances do vary by city. So educate yourself before you dig. But then, isn’t that what gardeners tell themselves all the time?

Our yard and lawn before we began the yard transformation for drought tolerance.

Our yard and lawn before we began the yard transformation for drought tolerance.

When my husband and I – both of us landscape architects – purchased our home in Northeast Los Angeles in 2002, it came with a turf lawn with boxwood hedges and iceberg roses running along a white picket fence. Too provincial for our taste. But like the cobbler’s children who don’t have shoes, after buying the new house we were often too busy at work, and without the means, to transform our front yard into something more environmentally responsive and/or useful.

We did piecemeal landscaping in the front yard by pulling out the boxwood hedges and replacing them with New Zealand flax and Dodonea. Then two years ago we made the decision to turn off the irrigation system watering our front yard and purposely kill off the lawn. We also wanted a more substantial wood fence and gates, so we removed most of the plants alongside the remaining turf.

After - yard

AFTER - View from Sidewalk
After the fence was built by a contractor, we then hired a certified irrigation specialist to install drip irrigation lines and we planted some ornamental grasses, a Dodonea hedge by the fence, 3 lemon trees between the sidewalk and the fence, and some focal point Agaves as a backbone for the planting. As we find drought tolerant plants we like, we have been filling in with plants such as Gaura and will continue to do so. A thick layer of wood mulch covers the ground and drip lines between the plants.

AFTER - Agave, Mulch, Dodonea, drip irrigation
A note we want to pass onto others planning to convert turf to a more drought tolerant landscape: it is definitely a process that takes time and effort, but is worth the effort to save water.

Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

I recently attended an event held at the residence of Los Angeles architect Daniel Monti. The house was originally designed for the architect’s parents who required saving and protecting a large Italian Stone Pine tree located at the back of the property. I was struck immediately by the many vantages of the outdoor garden and the sunlight filling the rooms through the skylights and walls of glass.

Upon entering the home, my eye was drawn to the far end where the lone pine tree stood. It served as a feature in the garden while providing shade for outdoor dining and seating.

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As I moved further indoors, I noticed the tree above me, its branches of green pendulous needles arched over the house and framed by the skylights. This single tree embodied a forest. I felt its presence everywhere during a tour of the home; it seemed inseparable from the architecture.

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Pinus pinea, commonly called Italian Stone or Umbrella Pine, is native to the northern Mediterranean coastal region (southern Europe to Turkey and Lebanon). It was first introduced to California during the Spanish Mission period and grows well along the California coast. This drought-tolerant evergreen tree gets big, 40-60 feet over time (sometimes more), which means you would expect to find one in a large open space setting rather than a standard-sized residential garden. It develops a broad umbrella-shaped canopy, which flattens with age, and its foliage is comprised of 5-8” long green needles in bundles of two. The trunk of a mature tree is noted for having reddish-brown deeply-fissured bark.

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Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

Pinus pinea is valued for its nutritious edible nuts. Several pine species produce edible nuts and their use as a food source has been found in the histories of many cultures throughout the world, including California indigenous tribes. Today, pine nuts are considered a delicacy, with prices to match. The pine nuts from the Pinus pinea are valued as the highest quality of all species based on contemporary preferences for taste, texture and size. They are the ones we find in our grocery stores.

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I’ve notice in the last few of months that my neighborhood in Westchester is changing. There are many older homes being renovated and many are changing front yards to drought tolerant landscapes. Although I sometimes wonder who their designers are, I am thrilled that people are rethinking their water use.

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My front yard has been an experiment for the last 15 years. I’ve been trying different ideas, re-thinking the traditional front yard lawn. As some of you know, I grew strawberries for about 5 years so it was time to try something new again. I removed the strawberry patch and planted a variety of vegetables that my wife and I enjoy: zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, and green peppers.

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Now vegetables are not drought tolerant and they need water. My wife suggested why don’t we capture our warming water from our morning showers in buckets and use it for the garden. As it turns out both of us generate about 3 to 4 gallons of water each day, enough to irrigate all of our veggies. I am thrilled by what has transpired in the last 30 days.

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Skip the Artificial Turf – The Value of Native Plants and the Truth About Fake Grass: “Though it may seem drought-smart, artificial turf has a big negative impact on our watersheds, creating run-off that pollutes our beaches and rivers and fails to replenish groundwater supplies, while also starving our soil of the life it needs to flourish.”

Study Finds Evidence of Multicentury Drought: “Cal State Fullerton’s Matthew E. Kirby, who studies past climates, found that Southern California has experienced multicentury drought periods over the last 3,000 years.”

The Decline of the British Front Garden: “My next door neighbour completely covered the front garden with crazy paving, as mine mostly is now. The whole street is crazy paved. I’m the only one who has any garden to speak of on my side.”

More Than Just a Drop In the Bucket: “The average family of four uses an astonishing 146,000 gallons of water per year.” But picking the right shower heads, toilets, washers, faucets, and dishwashers, tens of thousands of gallons of water can be collectively saved.

Drought Spinoff: Dead Orchards May Go Up in Smoke: “The San Joaquin Valley’s tainted air might be getting an extra dose of soot and ozone-forming gases this spring as growers wrestle with the woody waste from dead citrus orchards.”