Tag Archives: drought tolerant plants

Drought in the Landscape: What To Do Now

I’m getting lot’s of calls from people asking how to decrease landscape water use.  Here in Butte County, 75% of residential water use goes to landscaping.  ‘Droughtifying’ your landscape is a simple way to exceed Governor Brown’s request to reduce residential water use by 25%.  Get started with the following steps:

Sheet Mulching: Brown is the New Green

Sheet Mulching: Brown is the New Green

  1. Get rid of unneeded or under-used lawn.  Use solarizing or sheet mulching to kill your lawn – see my earlier posts for step by step instructions for these effective, non-toxic methods.  Starting now will set you up for replanting this fall.  Yes, your yard will look funky this summer.
  2. Water remaining lawn (do you really need it?) deeply and less frequently.  Your lawn will actually be better off being watered twice a week rather than daily.  Deep irrigation encourages deep root growth, which results in better drought resistance and reduced fungal diseases.
  3. Also, mow less and set your mower to cut at a minimum 4″ height. Less stimulation of new, thirsty growth and decreased evaporation means lower water use.
  4. Replace spray irrigation with drip irrigation.  Less water use, less loss to evaporation, reduced weeds, water applied right to the root zone; what ‘s not to love?
  5. Water in the wee hours of the morning.  For lawns, water between 2 and 5 am.  For drip irrigated plants, water before 9 am.
  6. Apply a 4″ to 6″ thick layer of wood chip mulch to all planting beds.  See my earlier post for many great reasons to become a mulch fanatic.  Make sure you keep the mulch about 8″ away from plants stems.
  7. Beautiful Foothill Penstemon

    Beautiful, Drought Tolerant Foothill Penstemon

    Phase out thirsty landscape plants.  Water-loving Chico favorites such a azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, Japanese Maples, annual flowers, and roses are dangerous beauties.  They are simply not appropriate for our dry summer conditions.

  8. Next fall, after the rains start, replant with drought tolerant native and well-adapted non-native species.  For a sunny garden that uses very little added water, even in our extreme

    Deer Grass, Cleveland Sage, CA Fuchsai, and CA Buckwheat make a lovely, dry garden

    heat, turn to CA Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Naked Buckwheat (Eriogonum Nudum), Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica ‘Eve Case’), Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon h. ‘Margarita BOP’), Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), CA Fescue (Festuca californica), CA Poppies (Eschscholtzia californica), Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’), Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Blue Gramma Grass (Bouteloua gracilis), Scarlet Mallow (Spheralcea munroana), Rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.), Black or Cleveland Sage (Salvia mellifera or clevelandii), CA Fuchsia (Epilobium californica), Autumn Sage (Salvia gregii), and Russian Sage (Perovskia ‘Little Spire’).

  9. Check out Chico’s own native CA plant grower, Floral Native Nursery, for many other drought tolerant plants.
  10. Limit pruning.  Pruning stimulates new growth which increases a plant’s water needs.

Drought tolerant landscapes are beautiful down deep.  Start creating your own today!

Why I Love Buckwheats

I know they are kind of, well, quirky looking, but I just love buckwheats.  Both of the species I put in my Dad’s garden bloomed for three months from late summer into fall.  The Naked Buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) displays it’s white pom-poms at the top of 2′ tall stalks, a minimalist display with a Dr. Suessian edge.  The airy quality of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliosum), with its hundreds of 1″ white blooms, reminds me of baby’s breath on steroids.

California Buckwheat showing off its prolific flowering.

I realize that they aren’t to everyone’s taste; buckwheats tend to be a little disheveled looking.   Native right here in Chico – drive through Upper Bidwell Park to see them in the wild – they haven’t been refined by years of breeding to exacting standards of tidiness.  They give a garden a free-wheeling character.

Their beauty goes beyond their appearance.  Both of these buckwheats are extremely drought tolerant, able to survive our long, hot, dry summers without supplemental water once they are established.  And, they are both magnets to beneficial insects.  I’ve counted five different kinds of native and honey bees at a time on a single plant.  Tiny predatory wasps, the kind that protect gardens from harmful organisms, love the flowers, too.  Watching the miniature wildlife flourishing on the buckwheats just plain makes me happy.

Then, consider that these guys are virtually maintenance free.  If you want, you can trim down the flower stalks after the blooms are spent in the late fall to tidy up your garden. Time required?  A few minutes per plant.

Use the California Buckwheat as a 3′ height background for smaller perennials or evergreen groundcovers.  It’s fine texture will also contrast nicely with course-textured taller plants such as Eve Case Coffeeberry or McMinn Manzanita.

The Naked Buckwheat’s verticality looks good in drifts behind shorter plants such as California Fuchsia and Bearberry Manzanita.

If you judge the garden-worthiness of plants by more than whether they fit a traditional definition of beauty, you may find yourself loving buckwheats, too.

Next Up: Irrigation

Drip emitters for this plant are punched directly into the 3/4" main tubing

Once the plants were in the ground, we still had some work to do.  My goal is to provide a lush garden that requires very little maintenance.  And, with as many plants as we added, that means adding automatic irrigation and mulch.

My Dad already had three spray irrigation zones in the front yard that he had used to water his former lawn.  We kept one spray zone to water some of the existing plants that we left in place.  The other zones we converted into two drip irrigation zones, one for the shade tolerant plants that went in the shadow of an existing maple tree and one for the sun-loving super drought tolerant plants.

The in-line emitter method with 1/4" tubing with 1/2 gph emitters every 6".

We ran 3/4″ Hardy Blue line piping in a closed loop from each valve then added drip emitters at each plant.  We used two different methods to put the emitters at each plant. Method A:  Punch the 1 gallon per hour (GPH) drip emitter directly into the 1/2″ drip main tubing.  We did this wherever the main was located right up next to a plant.  Method B:  Where plants were located away from the main tubing, we ran 1/4″ spaghetti tubing from the main to the plant, then connected 2′ of  in-line emitter tubing that has 1/2 gph emitters at 6″ o.c. spacing  (4 emitters per plant).  The loose end of the tube gets a ‘goof plug.’  Both methods work well; you can pick either one or combine them in a single zone.

Once all of the plants had irrigation to them, we tested the system to make sure everything actually worked as planned.  It did!  A 4″ layer of mulch over the landscape fabric and irrigation tubing finished up the job.

We ran both of the drip zones for a half hour that day.  Then, we ran both zones every three to four days for the next couple of weeks.  Because we did a major no-no, planting in the summer, we had to watch the plants closely and add more water than we would have if we’d have planted a month or two later.

When temperatures shot up to the high nineties and then topped 100 for a couple of days, some of the new plants were stressed.  I pruned back those that looked crispy and they are all now showing healthy new growth.  These guys are tough.

Now, a month after planting, we are

Foothill Penstemon two weeks after planting, in full bloom and growing.

running the shade zone every 4 to 5 days and the sun zone once a week, both for 1/2 hour.  Total water usage for the two zones is less than 100 gallons per week.  Compare that to the 625 gallons per week that my Dad had to put on the former lawn.  And, next summer, when the plants are fully established with nice big root systems, we’ll be watering the sun zone only once or twice a month and the shade zones about once a week.  Amazing!