Spring in the garden: Enjoy the flowers
Last updated 8/21/2014 at 9:21pm | View PDF
Springtime in California gardens is a bounty of flowers. From fruit trees to roses to California chaparral plants and wildflowers, we enjoy an abundance of riches, even when rainfall has been sparse. Ah, the wonder and beauty of nature, whether beyond the fence or in our own backyards! Also celebrating with us are hundreds of beneficial insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that share our gardens and revel in springtime bounty.
This year especially, we are all looking for new and creative ways to reduce our outdoor watering. Many plants are simply over watered. Try reducing your water a little bit at a time until you find a happier, lower balance of water usage and plant health. You may discover that some established plants really didn't need watering at all. Sometimes the planting bed plants have their roots under the lawn and receive all they need from the turf sprinklers.
Consider eliminating or reducing the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Many plants, including lawns, are over-fertilized, and in lean-water years we don't need to encourage more foliage growth. Convert to drip irrigation or water-saving pop-up sprinklers wherever possible. Mulch your garden beds to reduce evaporation and keep soil cooler. Consider replacing old plants that have never worked well or are pest-magnets with newer climate-right species. Consider making a species switch for your turf, or reducing the size.
Small changes add up, and all of these things are great spring-time jobs. We want to keep our gardens attractive and healthy, even in a drought, and we can. Instead of "grandmother's way," we can try to do things "granddaughter's way" looking to the future, recognizing the need to stop depleting the water aquifers future generations will need to grow food and prosper in our valley.
April and early May are fine months to transplant new plants, especially those that are frost sensitive, such as citrus and most succulents, or if you have an urgent need, such as a pest-insect ridden shrub, a water-hogging planting bed, an over-sized lawn. We shouldn't think we can't plant anything new just because we lack abundant water. A small new climate-right plant will use less water than a climate-wrong larger plant.
By reducing water in our ornamental landscapes, we can still easily and successfully grow our own backyard vegetables and fruits. Many methods that work well for ornamentals work for edibles too. We can space vegetable plants closer together, water in the early morning hours instead of during the hot part of the day and grow varieties well suited to our region.
April and May are the best months to transplant summer vegetables and herbs like tomatoes, peppers and basil. You can also direct seed beans, melons, cucumbers, soft-neck garlic, okra and squash. By the end of May, you may be harvesting the garlic you planted in fall, as well as the last of cool season vegetables. Remember to use crop rotation to avoid pest problems, which means don't plant the same family of vegetables in the same place season after season, year after year.
Spring is a great time to be out in the garden. Once we have made the changes we need to and have a plan for keeping our gardens vibrant on less water, which often means less care too. We can relax and enjoy the birds, butterflies and blooms of spring. Enjoy!
Peyton Ellas is the owner of Quercus Landscape Design, specializing in California native plant-based gardens, and the owner of Auntie's Home Grown, a small sustainable farm.