Rock or alpine gardens mimic the rocky, steep habitat of high mountains, where high solar radiation during the summer and long, brutal winters produce an interesting effect on plants called ‘krumholtz:’ a stunted form of plant due to the harshness of freezing winds and rain. Plants often show a 'cushion' effect: low growing mounds that are low enough to stay out of the biting winds.
In this environment, plants welcome the shelter of larger rocks. the plants grow low to the ground and often have woolly leaves to deflect sunlight during the short growing season.
To mimic this look in a garden environment, utilize local stone as your base point. Think of rocks as your mulch for the garden. Build up soil and larger rocks to create slope. If your garden is already on the rocky side, embrace your rocky terrain as an advantage.
Tuck in plants from this list:
Install some of the plants next to large and medium sized rocks, and plant others in finer rocky substrate such as decomposed granite. Utilize crevices in between stone pavers and fill with recommended plants.
If you live in a fire-prone area, it is much easier and less expensive to prevent fire damage than to fix it. Below is some choice plants for a fire wise (and drought-tolerant) garden.
Pinemat Manzanita or Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a great ground cover with winter interest (red-tinged leaves) and delicate pink blossoms in the spring.
Plant in sun to light shade. Pinemat Manzanita is a good slope stabilizer, and its leaves make an excellent tea. Sunset Zones A1-A3, 1-9, 14-24
Senecio mandraliscae, S. serpens, S. talinoides, or S. vitalis are great choices as succulent ground covers. These plants are also known as Chalk Fingers or Chalk Sticks. Zones vary, but range from 12 to 24, plus H1 and H2.
Aloe species are usually succulent rosettes with showy, tubular flowers. Sharp drainage is key to keeping Aloes (and all succulents) happy. Over watering or heavy clay may cause the roots to rot. Some are cold hardy, others will only thrive in frost-free zones. If you live in Santa Barbara area, check out San Marcos Growers selection of Aloes (note - SM Growers are wholesale only).
It would seem that the oils contained in this fragrant shrub would go up in a second, but if watered regularly, this perennial is slow to catch fire.
Plus, Lavandula dentata is beautiful, drought tolerant and smells delightful. French Lavender is easy to grow in full sun and makes an excellent dried flower. Sunset Zones 8, 9, 12-24.
Crassula ovata, or Jade plant, is another succulent-leaved perennial that takes shade or sun. It requires very little water and practically no care. It can grow about 4' tall and wide outdoors where temperatures stay above 30 degrees.
These structurally striking gems are native to the most wildfire prone parts of the country, the West and Southwest. There are so many Agave species to choose from, each one remarkably beautiful. Zones vary.
Mimulus sp. (shown is recently renamed Diplacus aurantiacus) are charming, versatile, and heat adapted perennials native to the West.
Blooms are usually orange, but also come in yellow, red, or bi-colored. They are easy to grow in Southern California and bloom for most of the year and attract hummingbirds and Checkerspot butterflies. Zones Vary.
Ice plants comprise several genus. Delosperma species are vibrantly hued ground covers that tolerate dry, hot, and low fertile soil conditions. Aptenia is a super easy ground cover that attracts pollinators. Carpobrotus edulis has naturalized in many areas of California. Lampranthus is another popular ice plant whose name literally means 'shining-flowers' due to its vibrant hues.
Landscaping with fire in mind:
Cool fall weather is fast approaching, and here in Southern California, that means planting time! Our mild, wet winters are great for establishing fall planted shrubs and trees (especially natives).
Choosing the right tree can be overwhelming - thousands of cultivars exist, but your local nurseries will only carry a fraction, with only the most popular varieties in stock.
Call ahead to where you are planning to purchase. What fruit trees do they carry, and what cultivars or varieties do they have in stock? From this list - do your homework. Your back yard's micro-climate, chilling time required, size, and any particular pest problems will need to be considered and researched if you want the highest yield for your garden.
Winter chilling is vital for many nut and fruit trees. This required time and low temperature are needed by the tree to set it's cycle of growth and dormancy period. The buds on the bare branches of a winter tree are small and tightly covered by bud scales as protection against freezing. These buds need a cold period to induce growth.
Click here for a guide on fruit tree chilling requirements.
Best bare root fruiting trees for the Southern California (low chill requirements):
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Click the button below to learn about pruning different types of roses.
An easy way to bring spring delight to your garden is by planting bulbs and their ilk (corms, tubers, rhizomes, etc.) in the fall. Local nurseries are now selling fall planted bulbs for beautiful spring blooms.
According to The Sunset Western Garden book, take these steps to ensure healthy and vibrant blooms:
1. Work a complete fertilizer into the entire bed or mix a tablespoon of fertilizer into the bottom of individual holes; add 2 inches of compost over that.
2. Place the bulb in the hole. To protect bulbs from gophers, plant each in a basket of wire mesh. For depth and spacing of specific bulbs, refer to package or planting guide.
3. Irrigate bulbs while they're growing actively, from after planting until the foliage dies back.
4. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer when growth starts. Leave spent foliage until it dries; then feed and water once more.
There is a stunning amount of cultivars on the market today for Daffodils, also known as Narcissus. Plenty of specialty catalogs carry hundreds of varieties of this simple yet beautiful bulb, but you will always be able to find it at you local nursery as well. I like Brent & Becky's Bulbs for their wide selection.
These plants are in the Iris family and originally from South Africa. The cultivars used in gardening today come in many colors, including yellow, white, purple, orange and pink. Their spicy sweet fragrance is truly wonderful!
Depending on your climate zone, you might have to pre-chill your bulbs or order them already pre-chilled. But what stunning colors and forms! If you live in a climate that doesn't experience a cold winter, use tulips in planters and pots in order to easily remove the bulbs in the fall to place in your fridge for spring time planting. Click here for a great article on growing tulips in Southern California.
"Ixia bulbs are winter growers and should be planted in early fall and watered to start them into growth. In mild areas they may be grown outside in a sunny positions but in cold winter areas they need frost protection. They are suitable for planting directly into a bed in a cool glasshouse which is kept just-frost-free, or for growing in pots, although many of them are a little tall for this purpose. After reaching the end of their growing season in late spring they can be dried off for the summer months."
Iris 'Canyon Snow'
The Univeristy of California Davis Arboretum has compiled a list of plants they deem 'All-Stars', and Iris 'Canyon Snow' is one of them! From their All-Stars site:
"California native plant; most dependable hybrid iris of the Pacific coast; white orchid-like flowers light up shady gardens; grows with little maintenance; narrow leaves form an attractive, evergreen, grass-like mound."
And from our own Santa Barbara Botanical Garden:
"One of the loveliest of the Pacific Coast Hybrid irises, this clone has pure white flowers that consist of three erect standards and three broad falls held perpendicular to the stem. Each fall is highlighted by a yellow patch at the base. This rhizomatous iris, with its bright shiny green foliage, slowly spreads to form clumps up to 4 ft across."