Tag Archives: Landscape Architect Chico

Urging Restraint

Winter is finally releasing its strangle-hold on the landscape, buds are bursting, the hillsides are glowing chartreuse, and I really feel like digging holes in my garden.  Which is fine, if I want to plant things that like to be watered.  Fruits, veggies, ‘normal’ landscape plants, stream-bank

Coffee berry is a Butte County native that can tolerate some summer water

plants, shade lovers . . . these guys all enjoy being released from the confines of their containers into real dirt when spring is springing.  I’ll water them during planting and keep doing so as they need it through spring, summer, and fall until the rains begin.


But . . . and I hate to say this because I don’t want to convey anything but complete enthusiasm for native gardening . . .  I’m trying not to plant super drought tolerant California native plants now. Excellent dryland plants such as Ceanothus, White Manzanita, Foothill Penstemon, and Canyon Live Oak deserve to be in the garden, but will reward you with their best vitality if you wait until fall to plant them.

Here’s why.  The natives that grow on hot, dry sites have evolved to thrive in our summers without supplemental water.  To do this, they require well developed root systems.  Their root systems do not like to be watered in the summers; the most drought tolerant species are actually prone to dying if they receive summer water.  So, the best way to ensure their health is to water them well at planting and then leave them alone.  No water, no fertilizer.

If I try to plant super drought tolerant natives now, with summer just around the corner, chances are much lower that they will be able to grow enough roots to allow them to survive unwatered until the rains come.  If I just can’t help myself and irrigate them, they might survive.

Foothill penstemon will do best without summer water

Or,  the combination of water and warm soil may cause them to develop  fungal root disease.


I’d prefer to wait until fall to plant these beauties.  If I get them in the ground in October or November, before the rains start in earnest, they will have all winter and spring to grow those essential roots.  By next summer, they’ll be ready for drought.  If it’s a dry spring, I’ll water them before the weather starts heating up to help them establish  and ‘charge’ the soil.  But, once it gets hot, I’ll turn the water off .  And the success rate will be much higher than it would have been if I’d given in to the temptation to plant right now, in this beautiful spring weather.  The beauty and satisfaction of using the most appropriate plants for our environment is worth waiting for the right planting time.

Plants should be the last thing to go into a landscape, whether they are our wonderful drought tolerant natives or not.  Next post, I’ll share ideas on sequencing the installation of a new landscape.


The Difference Between Native Grasses and the Brown Stuff

When  I’m raving about the beauty of native landscapes, I’m not talking about the vast expanses of  brown grass that dominate our hills and valleys.   Nope.   That weedy stuff is NOT native.  Its a mix of exotic invasive plants, mostly annual grasses with some notable perennials mixed in.  The Spanish missionaries brought the first invaders over and the assault has continued since.   We’re left with a such a pervasively different look that many people think that our ‘Golden State’ nickname refers to the brown.

What used to be there?   Tall perennial bunch grasses that stayed green all summer interspersed with smaller flowering plants that combined to make a spring display so spectacular, John Muir stopped dead in his tracks when he first saw it.   Many of our spring flowers still bloom, but the grasses are mostly gone from the wild.  Fortunately, there are nurseries that offer many of the native grasses from seed or in containers so that we can enjoy them in our gardens.  Floral Native Nursery in Chico is an excellent source.

What do the native grasses offer in the garden?  They retain a soft green blush through the summer, thrive on minimal care,  and support beneficial wildlife.  Their upright habits give them a structural quality that plays well with more amorphously shaped plants and ground covers.

Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens). Courtesy Gerhard Bock.

One beauty, Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) naturally occurs in oak savannas and near seeps throughout much of Butte County.  It forms a 2-3′ tall by 4-5′ wide clump of softly arching grass blades with 4-5′ tall flower spikes (inflorescence) in the summer and fall.  Looks great when back lit by afternoon sun.  Deer Grass is easy to grow in full sun to part shade.  If you treat it right – plant it in the fall, little to no summer water, no fertilizer, don’t mess with it much – it will live for a decade or two.