Archive for drought tolerant plantings

Violet Blue Flowers in Your Summer Garden

Violet blue flowers in your summer garden

There is something magical about violet blue flowers in a summer garden. A mass of long flowering intense violet, purple or blue flowers to see from your summer chaise is a joy. Here is a plant that I use in my garden designs that is easy care and long flowering.

Blue False Indigo – Baptista Australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is a long lived perennial so it will live for decades in your landscape. I use it in my landscape designs because it is colorful, low maintenance, fully drought tolerant, and long blooming. It has attractive foliage and interesting seed pods for fall. Clients who want color and easy care would line up for this plant if they knew about it. It looks great with ornamental grasses and has a more naturalistic look since it is related to lupine, a classic native wildflower.

Planting combinations for Portland Landscape Designs

I’ve used it in a low water parking strip in NE Portland with true dwarf pine, succulents like Sedum spurium ‘Green Mantle’, heather and black mondo grass.  In a SW Portland Landscape design I placed it to tower over a low boulder with plant companion ‘Kim’s Knee Hi’ Echinacea to the side.

Over time the plant will increase to a nice thick stand of charcoal green stems (which add to the beauty) and violet blue flower stalks.  ‘Purple Smoke’ is grown locally, other varieties and flower colors are only available by mail order.  I only use the  variety of Baptista Australis called ‘Purple Smoke’.  Don’t use the parent plant of  ‘Purple Smoke’, it is called just plain old Baptista Australis and gets too tall for most city gardens.

Plant uses

The primary use is ornamental and wildlife friendly. It’s not edible although it is a legume but it is not toxic. It’s a true native American plant.  North American Indians had many uses for this plant.  The Cherokee made a blue dye for fabric from the flowers.  The Osage made some kind of eye wash.  Others used the roots as an antiseptic for wounds.  It is not considered edible and was once thought to be highly toxic.  Modern research has changed this perception.  Read more about the plants chemistry.

How to kill Baptista: Water it every day in the summer and fertilize it heavily. Plant it in a low spot where winter rain water will puddle or sit.

Best practice:  Water deeply once a week the first summer.  The second summer water deeply but infrequently or put a plug in the drip emitter because it won’t need any water by the third summer.  I always place it with low water plants so it is easy to provide it with low water to no water. Don’t divide it. It has a tap root so dividing will kill the plant. If the clump gets too wide, take off new plants at the edge of the clump.

After the foliage yellows in the fall cut it down to the ground.  Mulch twice a year with garden compost.

Check out my Summer Watering Tips. Learning how to water properly can be a great stress reducer for you and protect your landscape investment.

 

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

NW Native plant Sword fern

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is a problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II they want to do their bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants.  Here are some tips to help you have more success.

What size of plants to plant

They will establish better with a bigger root ball.  Expect 15 to 20 percent of your plants to fail.  Try not to take it personally.  Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.

Sword fern can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  Sword fern can also be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and  where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Vine Maple with Single Trunk

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem Vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of Vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk Vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get too wide.

When to plant NW native plants

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter and early spring works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little  bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in  the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide.  People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  The flavor is mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plant.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Sword Fern in Sun

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf Manzanita groundcovers,  Oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  Grama grass, dwarf Fountain grasses, Rosemary, Hebe, stepables like Elfin Pink Thyme.

 

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape – Bad Grass Good Grass

Xeriscape Planting Landscape Design in a Day

Good grass like Pennisetum Alocuroides ‘Little Bunny’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus Pracox ‘Elfin Pink’,  a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Hate Weeding?

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say they dislike weeding over all outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some new cute plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stippa Tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stippa Tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital G may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much over time, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Edited blonde ambition

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

Low Maintenance

Cut it down in February to two inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill Blue Grama Grass, plant it in heavy clay and over water it.  I’m excited about adding this good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

 

Drought tolerant low maintenance front yard

Drought tolerant Portland landscape design example. This front yard shown in winter is gravel, stone and plants.

4 Drought-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Increasing Your Property’s Eye Appeal

In recent years, droughts have made it harder to maintain your property’s landscaping, especially with water restrictions that make it almost impossible to maintain lush, green natural grass. While it may be tempting to throw up your hands and just let it go brown, you do have many other options for increasing your property’s eye appeal. Knowing about these four drought resistant landscaping ideas gives you the perfect starting point for transforming the look and usability of your lawn.

Gravel and Stone

This landscaping option requires no watering, and it can last for years. However, too much gravel and stone can look stark. There is also the risk of gravel and stone being displaced during times of heavy foot traffic or inclement weather. For this reason, it is best to limit the use of this ground covering to smaller accent areas. Filling in the area around a fire pit or lining a walkway with stones and pavers reduces the amount of grass you need to create a lovely outdoor space. Yet, you will still need to consider other options if you prefer some green in your landscaping plan.

Garden path with stone stairs in Portland Oregon

The new stairs are complemented by easy care artificial grass.

Artificial Grass

Gravel and stone may do the trick, but they still lack the soothing quality of staring out at a lush, green space. Artificial grass is a great option when you prefer the look of natural blades since it has a similar appearance and texture, and it offers additional benefits for drought conditions such as requiring no water to maintain its look. You will also find that installing artificial grass eliminates the need for other forms of energy wasting such as mowing and weeding, and it lasts for years with little more than an occasional wash down with the hose.

Succulents

These hardy plants require very little watering to achieve gorgeous growth. While succulents are low-maintenance, it does take some know how for selecting the types that will work best in your climate. Therefore, you will want to do some research before planting to find the right mix of colors, textures and hardiness for your outdoor area.  Hen and Chicks – Sempervivum and Sedum Spath ‘Voodoo’  are two popular options for adding succulents to drought-prone areas.

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

Perennial Flowers

Life in a drought state is hard for flower loving home owners. However, there are some options for brightening up your outdoor space even when the rain has yet to fall. Consider adding low-water blooms such as Russian sage and lavender to your garden. Ideally, you should choose flowers that can be planted in pots so that you can keep them out of the heavy sun and put them out anytime that you need a splash of color for your décor. This option is a great way to add a touch of life by combining it with other ground coverings such as artificial grass.

Keeping your landscaping in top condition may seem harder when you are dealing with drought conditions. However, water restrictions may be the impetus you need to explore other options that offer far greater benefits than natural grass. For best results, consider mixing it up a bit by adding a few succulents as accents to your artificial grass, or define a small space with gravel. By being willing to experiment, you will find the perfect design for transforming your lawn into a gorgeous oasis that frees you from the dreaded parts of regular lawn maintenance.

 

Controlling Erosion on Hillsides – A Portland Landscape Designer’s Perspective

Preventing erosion

My vacation home is above a steep slope. It’s smart to learn about preventing erosion

Controlling Erosion on Hillsides

As a Portland landscape designer I often work with hillside properties.

I also own a vacation home on Harstine Island in Mason County, Washington. We built our house about 10 years ago. The house is 30 feet from a steep hill overlooking the beach. The things I’ve learned about controlling erosion are useful to anyone who has a sloped property.

When we built the house we made some smart choices, we went with a natural landscape instead of lawn, ran our water from downspouts down the hill in pipes rather than spilling it out at the top of the hill.  Nor did we disconnect our downspouts to let water pool and perc down into the soil near the house.  That can be a fine practice for flat properties but not hilly ones.

I have a majestic fir tree on my slope and neighbors have suggested I cut it down for fear that it will remove a lot of my bank someday when it fails.  I want to support this tree for as long as possible so I was inspired to make an appointment with Karin Strelioff with Mason County Conservation District.  Karin is a technician with their Marine Waterfront Assistance Program.  She knows about the slopes and cliffs that make the shoreline of the South Puget Sound and many methods of erosion control.  She gave me some important signs to watch for regarding my tree and the name of a local arborist who is astute in the science of trees on slopes.

Well planted slope controls erosion

My slope is well planted with salal, sword fern and other erosion controlling native plants.

My Tree    

Karin gave me these basic things to watch for with regards to my beautiful huge fir tree.

Pay attention to the surface soil and the plantings around the trees trunk. Know what the ground and general area looks like typically and watch for any changes in that area.  On the uphill side of my tree trunk I’ll look for an area of disturbance, an area of soil higher than it was when I saw it last.  This could mean my trees roots are pushing toward the surface.  On the downhill side of my trunk I will be looking for soil that may have fallen away making a new steeper area.  Either one of these disturbances will have me on the phone to an experienced certified arborist that I trust.  I love knowing what to look for.  It will help me with my anxiety when the wind blows and my tree’s branches whistle like a Hitchcock movie sound track.

I recognize that my tree is supposed to fail at some point, falling down the hill along with a portion of my slope to bring more sand to the beach and add to the natural beachhead.  Given that I would like to keep every square inch of my backyard, when the tree is starting to fail, the arborist will probably recommend it be removed.  Hopefully by that time I will have enough plant material well established to offset its loss to my erosion control plantings.

Erosion Prevention

Blackberry Fruit

How can anything so sweet, be so evil?

I learned important things about my property.  For one thing my various slopes and banks have either a lot of trees or ground covering plants or both so I can take the information from Karin and apply it as a preventative rather than having to rush into a mitigation process. We also have very few invasive plants on the property. I have one Himalayan blackberry plant that we will work on getting rid of.  Lucky me.

Karin says the most important thing that I can do is to learn about the water load on my property and how best to control where it goes.  The biggest water load source is water from the roof of the house.  The county had good rules in place when we built the house so we are also ahead here.  We took our water down the hill in pipes.  The old practice of disconnecting our downspouts and letting the water perc down a slope has caused erosion problems for many properties.  That’s a fine practice for people with flat lots in Portland, in fact Portland encourages disconnecting downspouts and building rain gardens. Karin says be sure to inspect your pipe.  If we had a crack or damage to a pipe that allowed water out in the wrong place, it could create a heavy water load and cause big problems.  We can start inspecting pretty easily because our pipes are not buried.

Other sources of water are as simple as rain water. The way to control rain water is with plants.  Think of it this way………..Gravy and bread.  We use bread to sop up the gravy, well we did until they said it was bad for us and now they are saying animal fats are good for us…….  I love gravy which is a diversion from this article, must be dinner time.  We will use the right plants in the right places to sop up the rain water.

Evergreen trees are most effective on slopes and yet a lot of people cut down evergreen trees because they spoil the view.  It turns out evergreen needled trees (coniferous) perform brilliantly to protect slopes from erosion.  I had no idea. Here’s why:

Coastal feeder slope

This cliff is feeding sand to the beach.

Large evergreen coniferous trees like our Western Red Cedar or our Douglas Fir have needled foliage.  The needles break the impact of hard pelting winter rain into tiny droplets. The surface soil is protected from the impact of the hard rain. That’s helpful, but even better the trees roots take up a tremendous amount of water and utilize a process called transpiration which releases the water from the needles as a fine mist. So water under the soil surface is absorbed by the roots instead of spilling out of the side of the cliff.  Deciduous large trees such as Oregon Bigleaf Maple, or alders have no leaves in the winter, and they are dormant and so their roots do not take up as much water as the needled trees do in winter or any other time of the year.  The conifir reigns as the top water catcher on the slope.  There is also what seems to me to be a rather magical thing fir trees do.  It’s called thigmomorphogenesis.  This word refers to the way trees and plants respond to mechanical stimuli that influences how they can  grow in really unusual ways. Basically, they are responding to the situation on the slope and growing their roots in ways to protect that slope. They may grow a larger branch to balance their mass.  Somehow they know to do this.  It’s seriously cool science stuff here.

Here’s what I’m going to do to help protect my slope.

New plantings that include evergreen coniferous trees.

First I am going to enhance the soil above my big tree to help the native plants spread and grow.  I’ll add compost near my top of slope plantings to try to cajole them into growing toward the house.  The top of this hill was graded flat by the developer to build the house so there isn’t a drop of top soil in my flat yard.  The native plants stop growing and you can see the straight line across the edge of my yard at the top of the steep downhill slope.

Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees. It’s a NW native plant.

I am going to plant 3 more (tiny sized) Pacific Madrone below my big fir tree and also 5 dwarf Western Red Cedar. I’ll use willow stakes in areas with more sun.  They are easy to plant.  I’m using a modified native tree to try to protect my view.  The Excelsor Western Red Cedar matures at about 20′ tall, not 70’.  Will I be here to see them at 20’ tall?  Hard to say, I better keep eating lots of grass fed butter and Kale.

I got so much from my appointment with Karin that I have another blog that will explain what plants I am planting where.  Stay tuned for part two.