William Miller, a native plant gardener and newspaperman extraordinaire, creates our weekly digital community newsletter, YLP Life. He invited me to share a piece about my discovery of and dedication to California native plant gardening, so our community could have some insight into the origins of my obsession. Here’s a link.
[first published in YLP Life, July 21, 2020, the Yosemite Lakes Park newsletter]
A star of the California native plant garden is Brandegee’s Sage, Salvia brandegei. It’s fast, lush, floriferous, resilient, deerproof and remarkably drought-tolerant. Join me in my springtime garden, as I sit in a patch of this intoxicating sage, extolling its virtues.
[first published in YLP Life, 8/21/20, the Yosemite Lakes Park Newsletter]
The air is yellow today, plus extreme heat and dangerous air quality. My morning garden walk was a search and rescue mission, for plants showing signs of extreme stress. I did spot- watering, mostly overhead showers with a hose to dust off and perk up the leaves. In two cases, I deep-watered plants that I know will tolerate the combination of heat and moisture.
How do we care for California native plants during these blazing hot days?
The answer is to keep doing what we always do -- once a week deep watering of first-summer plants, along with overhead showers -- adding daily observation and intervention for signs of stress.
When CA native plants are less than a year old, and experiencing their first summer, we treat them as newborns -- responding to nonverbal messages with caring and disciplined intervention when needed. If this is the first summer for your California natives, this will be tricky depending on your individual plants. You may lose plants, especially if you planted them only a few months ago. But best practices will minimize these losses.
Best practices do’s and don’t’s
-DO mulch three inches deep for at least a foot radius around each plant. This mitigates the effects of the heat and drought;
-DO continue deep watering once per week, as early in the morning as possible;
-DO continue to shower plants with a hose briefly, to dust off and hydrate leaves, more often than usual, every few days if possible;
-DO walk your garden each day. If a plant is wilting (the leaves have softened up), give it a shower. If it doesn’t perk up in a few hours, deep water it early in the morning.
-DON’T water everything more just because it is extra hot. More water is not a remedy in general for drought-tolerant California native plants during heat, and can be a death sentence.
-DON’T water your native treasures at all, including gray pine, manzanita, buckbrush, and oaks.
-DON’T give up in this blazing heat, throw your hands in the air and be like, “whatever...it’s too freaking hot and these plants are giving me mixed messages.” I hear you.
In our Native Plants Live Here group, we learned that California native plants have a superpower, developed over thousands of years, that allows them to thrive in heat and drought.
The climate here in YLP, hot and dry in the summer, is their comfort zone. Our native treasures - gray pine, manzanita, buckbrush, and oaks -- accept and even require these conditions. It is a mistake to water those mature plants during our area’s regular periods of heat and drought. But our young native plants? They need support till mature.
This is the hardest time of the year, most years, for native plant gardening in California. Plants are dry and stressed, and so are we. But if we accept nature’s 365-day rhythm, over time we come to enjoy and even cherish this regenerative cycle. We accept the drought, and dream of bounteous rain.
Here's a video Patty Groos made at our Equestrian Center garden, where I demo deadheading and watering poppies. It's a well-kept secret that, with deadheading and watering, your California Poppies can go on and on into summer. Then let them go to seed and wait till the fall.
Lovely 3 minute walk in California Botanic Garden in Claremont with David Bryant. He highlights 5 natives, most of which we have in our own yards. Following our orders from CDC, he makes soap from Ceanothus blooms and washes his hands with it. Not bad when we are in a pinch in the garden. Or...fill a bowl with blooms and keep it by the sink. It works.
Our native Ceanothus species (we have two in YLP, one know as Buckbrush), are beginning to bloom. The blossoms contain saponins, which make them an effective soap. I am headed out to my yard to try it.
To anchor the Equestrian Center native garden, both visually and botanically, we installed three Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’, commonly known as Bigberry Manzanita. While likely a hybrid, ‘Dr. Hurd’ has many characteristics of its parent, Bigberry Manzanita, Arctostaphylos manzanita.
Here’s a taste of how much fun we had planting them. Thanks to Alex at Thicket & Vine Nursery for beautiful plants and spirited help, and Diana Binney for some great shots:
Thank you, Will Miller, for our first public introduction to the larger community in the YLP newsletter.
Here’s what the corner of Longhollow and Yosemite Springs Parkway looked like prior to 10AM yesterday:
A virtuous crew, thanks to our marvelous Jeannie Cosby, got to work around 10AM.
By the time I got there, all the really hard work had been done (great plan on my part, lol). And the spot was transformed! We got on hands and knees and weeded up most of the rest:
Wednesday from 12-3 we will finish up. Please join us!
Here are resources for you as you plant your natives. If you are coming to the class on Thursday, please watch these videos and glance at the handout ahead of time. That will allow us to get the most out of our time together. If you aren't able, don't worry...we got you covered.
NOTE: He recommends digging a hole twice the width of the plant. I don't. We dig a hole the same size as the plant.
Planting California Natives: Preparing and Planting
Planting California Natives: Watering In