Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sources of Inspiration for Drought Proofing Your Garden

Dudleya pulverulenta is a gorgeous California native

The severe drought of the last three years has demanded a revised approach to gardening and garden design in California. If you haven't replaced your lawn yet, consider taking advantage of incentives and rebates. Check your local city web pages.

Dialing it up a Notch
Having a landscape with low to moderate water needs in a severe drought isn't good enough, so I've been dialing up the drought tolerance of my garden. Besides, the less I'm watering other stuff, the more edibles I can grow. 

And it's not that I'll be deprived of a rewarding garden, it just takes some focused plant choices. To keep it simple, collecting plants from the salvia (sages) and succulents groups offers lots of showy and water-wise choices, including drought tolerant California natives. As a bonus, saliva and succulent flowers are potent magnets for pollinators, especially hummingbirds and bees of various types.

A Sage for Every Garden

Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, is a hummingbird magnet
 Not all salivas are drought tolerant. For the toughest and showiest look to our California natives: Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman', Salvia pachyphylla, Rose Sage, and Salvia apiana, White Sage, to name some of the most popular selections. Look for your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) plants sales to purchase native sages.

Many sages flower almost all year round

If you are choosing sages at your local nursery, make sure to check on the water needs of each specific variety before you plant them in your garden. They'll reward you with abundant flowers and fragrant foliage with very little upkeep. Most sages appreciate an annual pruning to renew foliage and flowers for the next season.

Succulent Envy

A recent shopping trip to Succulent Gardens in Castroville
There seems to be no end to the variety of shapes and  sizes of this plant group that includes cacti, as well as echeveria, sempervivens (Hens and Chicks), groundcover sedums, plus aloes and agaves.

Succulents pair well with natural rock features

Use them on the ground in mass plantings, create a rock garden, hanging baskets, or in plant in repurposed containers for interesting focal features. 

Success with Succulents
For low maintenance success you'll need to make sure the soil has excellent drainage, and no chance of remaining soggy. I like to use succulent & cacti planting mix or buy soil for potted plants and mix with lava fines 2:1. Don't fertilize, as a rule. If you must, use very little to kick-start growth then just water periodically when the soil is dry. Avoid keeping them moist which leads to rotting.

It's also important to note the hardiness, or frost tolerance of your selection. If you've fallen in love with a frost sensitive type, make sure you remember to protect her when the cold season approaches.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke


  1. Great article on water wise plants and focusing on Succulents and Salvias. Saving water for edibles :)

    1. Thank you for your kind comment- we really have to do all we can!

  2. Thanks! Succulents seem to be endless in the varieties available and so photogenic :)

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  4. Lovely succulents! I have few kinds in pots and want to move them into the garden outside, but how can I propagate them form my old plants? Are there any seeds, or do I have to cut any parts of the plant?Thank you for the nice post!

  5. Hi Jacquie, sorry it's taken me awhile to respond! In general, succulents are easy to propagate and grow if you follow a couple of rules: good drainage is a must, so if you transfer any to your garden, make sure they will not sit in soggy soil. You can amend the planting area with lava fines, for example, (fertilizer is not necessary). And remember that they like to dry out before being watered again, and that not all like full hot sun.
    Succulents are most easily propagated by cutting the "pups" (the babies that form) cleanly, leaving a short stem. Let these cuttings sit in a dry place out of sun for a few days till the cut side is dry, then stick into soil that is slightly damp. They will begin to root. You can also just set them on top of a tray of dry perlite or potting soil until they start putting out tiny roots- then plant them.

    For a great book, see "Succulents Simplified" (Timber Press) by Debra Lee Baldwin.
    Thanks for writing! Have fun,

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