“Oh Deer” – Part 1

This young buck at Quail Hollow is perfectly happy browsing on the native plants that grow there.

I thought my plants were safe from deer. Because most of my sunny spots are in front, I planted lots of colorful annuals and perennials out there. Then a couple months ago, all my snapdragon flower spikes were eaten overnight. I was stymied. I live in a condominium complex, after all. Then the buds of my agapanthus were severed and the snapdragons for the second time. It was then that my neighbor told me she had captured a young buck on her security camera heading right for my plants.

So I now spray with Squirrel Stopper (I have a squirrel problem, too) as it’s similar to some of the deer repellents with rosemary oil, corn mint oil, putrescent eggs solids and cinnamon oil. I don’t need to spray the zinnias, cosmos, geraniums, petunias or even the large hostas, just the snapdragons. Picky deer, I guess. But are there any other safe plants that deer seem to avoid?

There are native plants that are poisonous for us but only some of them are avoided by deer. It got me thinking. How do deer eat poisonous plants without apparent ill affect?

Deer are browsers. They thrive on a mixed diet. You’ve seen them eat a few roses then saunter over to the abutilon and then on to the daylily flowers. Deer will eat almost anything, even plants with a strong scent like catmint, lavender, or thyme when they are hungry or need water. They can even eat a few bites of various toxic plants.

According to Tom Hanley, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, “There seems to be threshold levels for the toxicity of different plants, and as long as deer eat below that threshold, they’re okay.” Plant toxicity varies with the time of year also and flowers may be less toxic than leaves or roots. They just mix it up.

That explains the eating habits of deer but what about us?

Many of us are including native plants in our landscapes to attract wildlife and save water and resources. Here are some common native plants that you should be aware of if you have small children. This list comes from
Borstein, Foss and O’Brian- California Native plants for the Garden.

Coffeeberry- leaves, berries and bark
California buckeye- all parts (poisonous to bees also)
Western azalea- all parts
Elderberry- all parts except ripe berries and fruit
Solanum-all parts
California buttercup- juice of the plant
Berberis- roots and leaves
Prunus ( cherry )- seeds
California poppy- all parts
Lupine (annual)- seeds, fresh leaves and stems.

Mostly though, native plants make great additions to the garden. They tend to be well behaved and are rarely invasive. Birds and butterflies rely on them for food, shelter and nesting. And best of all they are beautiful.

When I’m designing with native plants I find the following plants are fairly safe around deer. They are not perfectly safe at all times of the year but they are usually avoided.

Artemisia also called Ca. sagebrush
Asarum – Wild ginger
Baccharis – Dwf coyote brush
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’
Eriogonum – Ca. buckwheat
Douglas iris
Mimulus auritanicus – Sticky monkey flower
Monardella – Coyote mint
Ribes speciosum – Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry

Enjoy your garden. Let the deer browse elsewhere and be aware of plants that may be toxic to children.
Next week I’ll give you some good techniques that help deter deer.

Solutions for Gardening in the Shade

Clivia tolerate deep shade and the blooms are spectacular.

If you see a recurring theme in my columns about growing successfully in a shady garden, it’s because my last three houses have all had a lot of shade. You’d think I’d have so much experience by now that all my plants would bloom their heads off, shade tolerant veggies would grace my table and everything would be lush and productive at this time of year. Well, I have to tell you that only one of my 4 hydrangeas set flowers this year and I’ve given up trying to grow veggies. A harvest of twelve green beans just wasn’t worth the space and effort. So here are some tips if you garden in shady conditions or morning shade with the dreaded short, hot blast of afternoon sun.

Looking for shade tolerant flowering shrubs to cut for bouquets? Fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub. For summer fragrance grow Carol Mackie or Summer Ice daphne. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with blooms that smell like apricots in winter.

Oakleaf hydrangea (hydrangea quercifolia) also looks good in shade or sun. Showy leaves resembling oaks, turn bronze or crimson in the fall. Huge white flower clusters bloom in late spring through summer and turn pinkish as they age. They are attractive if left on the plant for the rest of the season.

Looking around my own garden one of the plants that does well in sun or shade is Fringe Flower (loropetalum chinense). This handsome evergreen shrub comes in two versions- green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year. You can prune loropetalum to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin its shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer.

Lily of the Valley shrub (Pieris japonica) looks good in shade or sun. An evergreen shrub with year round interest this plant blooms early in late winter through early spring and is covered with little bells for several months. Starting in fall when reddish flower buds appear through summer as the new foliage emerges with a red tint there is always something attractive happening with this plant. It’s deer resistant also.

Plants to grow in dry shade areas include liriope, coral bells, bergenia, mahonia, nandina filamentosa, fragrant sarcococca, clivia and Viburnum ‘Mariesii’.

Chinese Ground Orchid ( Bletilla striata ) is another of my favorites plants for shade. A natural companion for ferns and wildflowers, this plant is tougher than it looks. Vivid, magenta blooms resembling small cattleya orchids emerge on long stalks for about seven weeks in the spring.

California native Western Wild Ginger and Pacific Coast Iris grow well in shade also as do Western Sword fern and Woodwardia ferns. Coral Bells, columbine, lewisia, lobelia cardinals, ribes, salvia spathacea, fragraria, dicentra, calycanthus, philadelphus or Mock Orange and carpenteria to name just a few.

What veggies can you grow in shade? Without much sun, plants photosynthesize less and produce less sugar. On the bright side- no pun intended – shade does offer some benefits. Gardens in the shade don’t have to be watered as often and weeds don’t grow as quickly.

Root crops and leafy plants can tolerate more shade than fruiting crops. Beets, carrots, celery and turnip will grow quite happily in partial shade. So will shallots and bunching onions, cilantro, garlic, chives, kale, leeks, parsley and thyme. Leafy plants can tolerate partial to light shade because their leaves grow larger to absorb the sunlight the plants need. In very light shade areas concentrate on leafy green like Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, radishes and tarragon.

Shade tolerant vegetables for your brightest spots – the partial shade areas – include beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, summer squash and early maturing tomatoes like Early Girl, Stupice, San Francisco Fog, Isis Candy as well as other cherry tomatoes. Corn and peppers will be lankier and bear later and only modesty in partial shade.

Shade can be decidedly helpful to some crops. Leafy greens will be more tender and succulent, without the bitterness they tend to acquire when conditions are too hot. A combination of a bit of afternoon shade and an abundance of moisture will help cut-and-come-again crops like broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and celery stay in good condition longer in hot weather.

Whatever plants you grow in your shady garden, be sure not to crowd them. Plants tend to sprawl there and if placed too close together they will compete for available light. Place your vegetables plants wherever they will get the most light even if it means putting different crops in separate places. A small harvest is still better than no harvest at all.

Sure, every garden is different– different look, different soil, different degree of shade, but it’s surprising how often one of these plants plays a starring or supporting role in a vignette or border

Those of us who live under the trees know a shady garden is a pleasant place to spend time on a hot summer day. Don’t give up if your garden is like mine. There’s a solution for everything.

Knee High by the Fourth of July

Also known as Siskiyou Lewisia is an easy to grow perennial that thrives in sandy soils.

I don’t grow corn in my small, shady garden so I’m not sure how tall they’d be if by now if I planted on May Day when the soil was 50 degrees, but that’s how the saying goes. And from what I’ve read about the early hot weather in the midwest, their corn is higher than knee high. But this column isn’t about growing corn, it’s about climate smart plants that hold up to the heat. So let’s get started.

All this talk about “drought tolerant” plants or “water smart” plants is misleading in some ways. What really matters for the success of a plant in your garden is that they are climate smart. You can call the new California garden climate tolerant or climate adapted but it all comes down to the same thing. The plants you choose to grow in your garden should be able to naturally tolerate periods of lower than average water. This doesn’t mean no water during extremely long dry periods. No plant can live without water.

I have two books that I look to for plant ideas when called upon to design a garden in our area. This first was published by East Bay MUD in 2004 and is called ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates’. The other book I refer to regularly for ideas and information is ‘California Native Plants for the Garden’. Both are invaluable in these times of water conservation. One of the best tips each of them offer is to garden where you live.

Silver-leaf manzanita

All of us live in a summer-dry climate. Summer-dry gardens are naturally dry for long periods. Knowing which type of plant community you live in can make the difference between success and failure in your garden. Choose the right plant for the right place whether it’s a California native from an area with similar soil and exposure or a plant from another Mediterranean-like climate with growing conditions like yours.

Plant communities have evolved over time with geologic changes in climate, topography and soils. We have several district areas here- mixed evergreen forest, redwood forest, chaparral and sandhills.

If you live in a mixed evergreen forest you garden with trees like coast live oak, tan oak, madrone, bay and buckeye. Understory plants include ceanothus, coffeeberry, hazel and poison oak. Your soil contains serpentine and granite. Many other unthirsty plants like salvias, lavender, santolina, society garlic, giant feather grass, rosemary and rockrose do well here. California natives such as western mock orange (philadelphus lewisii), wild ginger and western sword ferns grow here also.

Mixed evergreen forest may also be found along canyon bottoms near streams where big leaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, and western sycamore trees grow. Most plant here grow lush in this deep soil. If you are looking to add something new to your garden here consider giant chain fern, aquilegia, dicentra, Pacific Coast iris and fuchsia-flowering gooseberry.

This mimulus auritanicus is growing in the hottest, driest conditions and thriving.

Chaparral areas are the hottest, driest slopes of these mountains. Dense thickets of manzanita, coyote brush, chamise, coffeeberry, ceanothus, monkey flower and sage are native here. These plants are adapted to little water and often have tiny, thick, waxy, light green or grayish leaves. Soils tend to be rocky and shallow with overlaying rock or a subsoil that is mostly clay. Plants here need to have an extensive root system that reaches widely and deeply for water. If you live here a classic combination would be the spring blooming western redbud and Julia Phelps or Dark Star ceanothus. The combination of magenta and electric blue flowers is unforgettable.

The sandhills near Quail Hollow and Bonny Doon around Martin Rd. are part of an ancient sandy sea floor that was uplifted, eroded and exposed. These sandy soils lack organic matter and nutrients and their white color magnifies the temperature of the summer sun. Unique, native plants like silverleaf manzanita and Ben Lomond wallflower live here. Buckwheat and sticky monkey flower do well here. You might also try growing Siskiyou Lewisia, a pretty little plant native to northern California, thrives in sand and gravel soils with good drainage. This 8″ tall hardy perennial blooms from spring to early summer with extremely showy flower clusters in colors ranging from apricot to pink, rose and bright cherry red. Mulch them with gravel or crushed stone.

Remember right plant-right place. Don’t try to force nature although most gardens do look better with some summer water. Closer to the house we expect a fuller look. Combinations I’m going to try this season include leucospermum paired with blue echium or grey-leafed westringia planted with red-flowering callistemon ‘Little John’.

Butterflies in the Garden

American Painted lady

Recently we were visited by hundreds of butterflies. I had over 20 drinking from the small puddle near my front door. One made it into the house as they fluttered around me when I opened the screen door. He’s going out today to join the other California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica). You would think with so many of these beautiful subjects to photograph, I could have gotten the perfect shot but alas, nary a one landed on any of my nectar-rich flowers, not even the buddleia. They were looking for ceanothus and were soon trending on local social media. Where did they come from and why so many this spring?

The California Tortoiseshell butterfly is a common butterfly that lays its eggs on ceanothus. After the CZU fire we have an abundance of this succession plant as the soil-stored seeds germinated after the fire broke their dormancy. These seedlings can account for more than half of the plants present in burn areas. If you’ve visited Big Basin State Park or any of the other burn areas, ceanothus are pretty darn happy with all the extra space and sun they are now getting.

Tortoiseshell butterflies have an interesting life cycle as do all butterflies. With three generations per year, they fly here from the Sierra foothills where they lay their eggs on ceanothus. Then those hatch and feed, morph into butterflies who fly to the foothills to repeat the process. Larval food plants include several species of Ceanothus. Adults feed on flower nectar, sap, fruit and mud. They live for 10 months or more.

The Tortoiseshell is no stranger to our mountain. After the Lockheed fire this same phenomena happened when the ceanothus were head-high. After hatching here they took flight to the mid-elevation Sierra Nevada to lay eggs on a different species of Ceanothus. After that generation denuded the patches of Ceanothus there those adults flew to the highest elevations to eat yet a different species of Ceanothus. Then the adults flew all the way back to Monterey Bay to lay eggs on our Ceanothus and start the cycle over again.

We have about 90 species of butterflies in the Monterey Bay area. Many of these occur only in our mountains, forests and chaparral environments. They are easy to attract and make a permanent feature in your landscape. Here’s how.

A butterfly garden should include plants that accommodate all stages of the life cycle – egg, larvae, pupa and adult . When both adult nectar and larval host plants are available, they will attract and support a butterfly population. In addition to the right plants, your garden should also have sun, a water source, protection from wind and plants in clusters. When maintaining your garden avoid the use of insecticides, including BT.

As adults, most butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers. Some local butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral, feed primarily on rotting fruit or tree sap for moisture and nutrients while the California Sister feeds on aphid honeydew.

In the larval stage, most butterfly species are limited to a single plant family and occasionally a single genus. To attract more Western Tiger Swallowtails, for instance, provide larval host plants such as willow, sycamore, alder, big leaf maple, sycamore, plum and ash. Common Buckeye lay their eggs on mimulus and verbena while California Sister use the coast and canyon live oak. Planting a variety of grasses and shrubs like ceanothus, buckwheat, coffeeberry, bush lupine,manzanita and perennials like redwood violet, California aster and wallflower will attract a variety of local butterflies. If your garden is near a wild area that naturally supports the caterpillar stage, you can plant just the nectar plants to attract butterflies to your garden.

Filling your garden with nectar producing flowers is the fun part. Adult butterflies rely on sugar-rich nectar for their daily fuel. Different species have different flower color and shape preferences. Many butterflies produce scents that attract the opposite sex and many of these scents smell like the flowers that they are attracted to and visit. The scent of these butterfly-pollinated flowers may have evolved as an adaptation to ensure their survival.

Butterflies typically favor flat, clustered flowers that provide a landing pad although larger butterflies can feed on penstemon and salvias while hovering. Unlike bees, butterflies can see red and are attracted to brightly colored flowers. Pink, red, orange, yellow and purple are the most attractive nectar source flower colors but they also use blue and white.

Consider the blooming time of each plant. Having plants blooming in the sun for many hours in the day will lengthen your viewing time. Nectar rich flowers include yarrow, aster, verbena, scabiosa, buckwheat, toyon, salvia, erysimum, zinnia, lantana and coneflower.

In addition to nectar, butterflies need a source of water and salts. A patch of mud kept wet year round or a shallow depression lined with pebbles and kept moist will work fine. Also provide some flat rocks for them to bask in the sun in an area protected from the wind by shrubs.

Having a garden filled with birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators is fun and easy.

Watering Tips for Hot Weather

De la Mina verbena is a California native that blooms spring to fall. Water when the top 3 inches of soil is dry.

After a lovely, mild spring, summer weather arrived with a vengeance. My poor plants were thinking they lived in England and then were rudely awakened and reminded that they actually live inland and away from the influence of the cool coast. My watering schedule and methods have changed and I’m reminded of some tips that will make all the difference in my plants’ performance this summer.

After you’ve chosen climate adapted plants how much water do they really need? Here’s how can you keep everything happy and not waste water.

All plants need water- even those that are tolerant of our summer dry conditions. Water makes up 90-98% of every plant we grow. It’s needed for photosynthesis, as well as reproduction and defense against pests.

With summer water bills arriving this is a good time to re-visit how often and how much to water that landscape you’ve spent so much money to create. Basically, you’re wasting water if you’re not watering deep enough to moisten the entire root ball or if you’re irrigating too often.

Photosynthesis is one of the most remarkable biochemical processes on earth and allows plants to use sunlight to make food from water and carbon dioxide. At temperatures about 104 degrees, however, the enzymes that carry out photosynthesis lose their shape and functionality. A garden that provides optimum light and water but gets too hot will be less vigorous.

Plants have natural systems that respond to heat problems. Plants can cool themselves by pumping water out through the leaves for a kind of swamp cooler effect. They can also make “heat-shock” proteins which reduces problems from over heating. All these strategies can take resources away from a plant’s other needs like growth, flowering and fruiting.

So how much water do different types of plants need during the heat of summer?

Be sure that you water trees and shrubs deeply, checking soil moisture first with a trowel. Established small to medium shrubs should be watered when the top 3-6 inches of soil is dry. Water large shrubs and trees when the top 6-12 inches is dry.

As a rule of thumb, trees and large shrubs need deep but infrequent watering. They should be on a separate valve than your smaller shrubs and perennials. Water ornamental trees 1-3 times per month depending on the type and soil. Tree roots grow 12-36 inches deep and require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter.

Apply water with a soaker hose, drip system emitters or hand held hose with shut off and soft spray attachment according to your water district’s restrictions. Don’t dig holes in the ground in an effort to water deeply. This dries out roots even more. Be sure to water the root zone to the indicated root depth every time you water. Watering deeper than the root zone only means you are wasting water. You can test how deep you watered by pushing a thin, smooth rod into the ground soon after you irrigate. The soil probe should easily slide through the wet soil but become difficult to push when reaching dry soil.

The roots of smaller shrubs reach 12-24 inches deep in the soil. Established native shrubs may need only monthly waterings to keep them looking their best while other shrubs may need watering every 7-10 days during the heat of the summer. Perennial roots only go down 12 inches or so and may need watering once or twice a week depending on type.

When is the best time to water? Watering in the morning is the most efficient whether you water by sprinkler, drip system, soaker hose or by hand because the water soaks deep in the soil without risk of evaporation. This bolsters the plant for the day and has dried from leaves by evening reducing the risk for foliar diseases like mildew. Plant roots are also more receptive to watering in the morning. Don’t forget your pots. On a hot day, you can water midday to not only supply moisture but to cool the soil. You wouldn’t want to live in a pot where the temperature at the roots could reach over a hundred either.

Is it true that water droplets will scorch leaves in the midday sun? According to a study, fuzzy-leaved plants hold water droplets above the leaf surface and act as a magnifying glass to the light beaming through them so there is a very slight chance of scorch.The study also reported that water droplets on smooth leaves, such as maples, cannot cause leaf burn, regardless of the time of day. But no matter the time of day, a plant that needs water should get the right amount.

Butterfly Bush are fragrant, too.

It’s no surprise that many California natives are adapted to high temperatures. Some California native plants that can handle the heat with little water include salvia, mimulus, California fuchsia, eriogonum, manzanita, artemisia, California milkweed, ceanothus, mountain mahogany, bush poppy, bush lupine, native penstemon, monardella, mahonia nevinii, fremontodendron and holly-leafed cherry.

Other well adapted plants that are known to be more tolerant of heat include butterfly bush, germander, rosemary, smoke tree, rudbeckia, coreopsis, lantana, plumbago, gaillardia, lilac, sedums, oregano and verbena.

With lots of mulch and the above watering tips you can keep all your plants happy and healthy.

The Cutting Garden

The assignment: create a cutting garden. For a designer this is the best kind of request. Until about 100 years ago, one of the most important areas of any large garden was the cutting garden where flowers were harvested like a crop and taken inside for display. Today our lifestyles and tastes are reflected in bouquets that are more casual. The bouquets you make from garden grown flowers, interesting foliage branches, grasses, vines and even herbs always seem to have more personality and cottage garden softness than ones bought from the store. So if you picture yourself strolling out in your garden, bucket in hand to cut beautiful richly colored, fragrant bouquets for your own home or to give to family or friends here are some tips that will make that happen.

Flowers that lend themselves to cutting with long stems and a long vase life can be incorporated into any spot of the garden but if you enjoy lots of cut flowers indoors you may want to set aside a small bed primarily for an old-fashioned cutting garden. A seldom used side yard would be an ideal place as long as it receives at least a half day of sun. Or how about that narrow bed along the fence you never know what to do with? if you’ve never planted in the soil of your future cutting garden, amend the soil generously with organic matter or compost. Then water to germinate weed seeds and hoe them off. Don’t turn the soil again as you’ll bring up more weed seeds. Now you’re ready to plant.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub that provides interesting variegated foliage as well as flowers. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans blooms smell like apricots. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets.

For sunny spots grow perennials like penstemon and kangaroo paw. Also coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow are good as cut flowers. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets.

Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula. Annual flowers such as zinnia, lisianthus, snapdragon, statice and marigolds are great in containers where you can make every drop of water count and are also good for cutting.

Native flowers that last for a week or more include Clarkia and Sticky Monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days.

While just about any plant material that strikes your fancy will work in a mixed bouquet there are four types of plant forms that naturally look good together: Spires for height and architectural properties with flowers like liatris, snapdragon, gladiola, salvia, Bells-of-Ireland as well as the strappy leaves of flax or cordyline. Round flowers such as roses, dahlias, long-stemmed marigolds and peonies provide focus. Lacy flowers are fillers- ferns, baby’s breath, dill. Foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, California. bay, ornamental grasses, grapes and other vines, herbs, woody tree branches like smoke tree and Japanese maple which also look handsome in a bouquet.

A deconstructed arrangement separates each type of flower into their own vase or container instead of grouping them in a mixed bouquet. Vary the size and shape of the vases and containers and group them together to create a unique vignette.

All bouquets are beautiful.

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