Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime Landscapes

Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime Landscapes

With Spring officially upon us, many people are ready for planting in their yards and updating their landscapes. It’s time to go outside with some of the pent-up energy we’ve been harboring and take it out on the dirt. The rewards can be beautiful!

While in many parts of California our gardens can have blooming plants virtually year-round, springtime is particularly associated with floral displays in our gardens. This holds true with the surrounding wild landscapes too.

We Central Coast residents certainly love our California native flora. Other regions across the world share similarities with our California climates. They are known as Mediterranean-type ecosystems or “MTEs.” MTEs, with their characteristic mild wet winters and warm dry summers, occur in just five regions of the world: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin in Europe; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia. There are abundant examples of plants suitable for our Central Coast gardens that are native to these other regions. Let’s consider five of these plants that might be great for your yard:

California Region

Starting close to home, there is the often-overlooked California Native Cornus sericea (Cornus stolonifèra), or Creek Dogwood. It is a deciduous shrub also known as Redtwig for its distinctive red stems, keeping it interesting through the winter. Creek Dogwoods can grow 8–12’ high and wide, and have clusters of creamy white flowers, spring to summer. The form is open, and leaves are 1.5–2.5 inches long and light green to brilliant red in fall. It is hardy to well below freezing and prefers partial shade. Branches will root if allowed to touch ground, and roots will spread. Redtwigs love moisture, are fire-resistive, and require medium irrigation in the dry months.

Mediterranean Basin, Europe Region

When one thinks of aromatic leaves used in cooking, Laurus nobilis, or Sweet Bay, is often the first thought. Also called Bay Laurel or Grecian Laurel, this small tree is a versatile evergreen tree for Central Coast landscapes. Growing 20–30 ft. tall to 20 ft. wide, Sweet Bays produce small yellow flowers in Spring, followed by deep purple berries. Best known for their fragrance, they are deer-resistant, fire resistive, and attract birds. Preferring fertile, well-drained soils, they are low water users once established. The variety “Saratoga” is best for use as a tree, but the species can also be used as a background or for screen shrubs.

South Africa Region

Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is one of many aloes native to South Africa. This beautiful succulent has found a home in many a landscape or garden in the milder micro-climates (hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit) of North County, and throughout the coastal climates. It grows to be a 2 ft. wide rosette with broad, pale green, nearly toothless, flat leaves. The brilliant coral-pink-to-orange flowers occur in spring on branched clusters up to 3 ft. tall. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Coral Aloes are fire- and deer-resistive, require minimal water, and attract hummingbirds.

Central Chile Region

Known for its graceful, weeping form and light green, evergreen foliage, Maytenus boaria, or Maytens Tree, is a unique and small specimen tree for much of the Central Coast. Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Maytens Tree grows to over 30 ft. and has long, pendulous branchlets hanging down from its branches. The tiny spring flowers are pretty inconspicuous, and the leaves are 1–2 inches long. They are fire- and deer-resistive and want full sun and ample summer water. Maytens Trees can produce beautiful lighting effects in the landscape.

Southwestern Australia Region

People native to Australia have have made good use of Grevilleas since time immemorial. With over 350 species of Grevilleas—from virtually flat ground covers to soaring trees—their uses range from building furniture to making drinks from the nectar. One favorite landscape plant is Grevillea “Canberra Gem,” also known as Spider Flower. This shrub has a graceful, open form from about 8 ft. tall to 12 ft. wide. The bright green leaves are needlelike and prickly, making for a good barrier plant. Flowers are red clusters starting early spring and intermittently at other times. Not only deer-resistive, this and other Grevilleas attract butterflies and birds with their nectar and seeds. Canberra Gem grows in a variety of soils from clay to sandy loam and is quite tolerant, preferring occasional deep soakings and good drainage. It is hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Although we’ve seen a bit of rain this year, as Californians we know that every drop we get is precious. It seems as though drought years are becoming more common, and wet winters are few and far between. Capturing and using rainwater has many benefits. Rainwater is very healthy for plants because it is 100% soft, free of salts, minerals, and chemicals, slightly acidic and a natural source of nitrogen. When it comes to the landscape, there are several techniques that can be used to harvest and utilize rainwater.

Bioswales and Detention Basins

You can beautifully maximize the effect of rainfall with passive techniques, using it to water deep-rooted plants such as trees. It is common to direct roof water and stormwater to bioswales or detention basins to allow for deeper infiltration in specific zones of the landscape. Keeping water on site reduces runoff and erosion downstream from your property.

Bioswales can be beautiful additions to the landscape if made to look like a natural creek or pond with rocks and plants. Concealed detention basins can be created by with underground gravel leach fields around tree groves.

For the 3,000 square foot home, you can get almost 500 gallons from downspouts with a light ¼” rainstorm. Even in a drought winter, your trees can get some good deep watering.

Rainwater Cisterns

The most efficient way to harvest rainwater is to collect it from roof surfaces by piping downspouts into a cistern system. With a properly designed rainwater harvesting system, you can essentially transfer 100% of the rainwater that hits your roof into storage.

For every 1” of rainfall, you can capture 0.62 gallons of water per square foot. This means that a home with a 3,000 square foot roof will collect 1,870 gallons from 1” of rain. With an average annual rainfall of 19” in San Luis Obispo and 13” in Paso Robles, that same home has the potential to collect between 24,000 and 37,000 gallons over one winter. Once stored, the rainwater can be filtered and pumped into an irrigation system to supplement the water supply during the dry season.

Options and Costs

One major constraint for rainwater harvesting systems is the cost. In California, most of the rain comes during our short winter season, with little need for irrigation between storms. To maximize the harvest, you need to have a lot of storage for the water. Most commonly, above-ground tanks are used to store collected rainwater. There are a lot of options for above or underground storage tanks, with plastic being the least expensive material. Collected water can also be stored in a holding pond, but this method allows for water loss to evaporation.

To have a system installed with a storage capacity between 5,000 and 40,000 gallons, you can expect to pay between $2 and $5 per gallon for overall cost installed by a qualified contractor. If a full system isn’t in the budget, you can certainly keep costs low and use simple rain barrels to harvest water from downspouts. You can use collected water for indoor plants or landscape areas that don’t get direct rainfall.

When to Plan

With all of the different ways to think about harvesting rainwater, planning is key. It is advantageous to think about your system now, during the wet season. That way, you can have your system designed and installed during the dry season to get ready for the following year’s rain. We recommend 3-8 months to allow for design and installation without rushing decisions. When June comes around, rain may be the last thing on your mind – just remember watching that precious rainwater running down the drain and plan, plan, plan!

At any time of the year, consult with your landscape designer. If you are already working on a landscape plan, be sure to consider your rainwater harvesting system. It can be designed alongside planting and irrigation designs to allow your contractor to take care of everything at once.

Want to learn more about including bioswales or dry creeks in your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Six Bird-Friendly Natives for San Luis Obispo County

Six Bird-Friendly Natives for San Luis Obispo County

Plants to Help Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat

​We often think of bees and butterflies when we’re landscaping—as well as drought-tolerant and native planting—but what of birds? Native, bird-friendly landscaping brings impactful benefits to more than just a residential landscape, they also support San Luis Obispo County region’s ecosystem and create protection and food.

By visiting California’s Audubon site, you can plug in your email and zip code to receive a long list of plants that are both native and bird friendly. You might also use the California Native Plant Society’s Calscape plant search, where you can put your location and check the boxes on what you’re looking for in order to find just the right plants for you.

Among all the bird-friendly plants in the Central California region, here are six of our favorites:

Eastwood Manzanita

Arctostaphylos glandulosa

We are big fans of manzanita! It also made our list of top plants for the Central Coast winter garden. There are several varieties of manzanita, from shrubs to trees. This species is best planted in sun or part shade, this Manzanita variety is found all along the western coast – from Baja to Oregon. It is drought tolerant, with white to pink flowers and reddish-brown berries. It may attract mockingbirds, jays, vireos, thrushes, and wrens.

Toyon

Heteromeles arbutifolia

No bird-friendly list would be complete without this perennial shrub. Native through the western part of California and the Sierra Foothills, Toyon is well known in the coastal sage scrub plant community. Toyon produces bright red berries and is also known as Christmas Berry and Christmas Holly. It is very attractive to butterflies, birds, and mammals alike. Mockingbirds, robins, and cedar waxwings are particularly drawn to this evergreen.

Cardinal Catchfly

Silene laciniata

A bright, perennial herb that vines through surrounding plants to show off its colors, the Cardinal Catchfly flourishes in partial shade and may attract orioles, waxwings, warblers, and certainly hummingbirds and butterflies. Drought-tolerant and easy to care for, its small splashes of vibrancy are a charming addition to any landscape.

Cream Bush

Holodiscus discolor

Cream bush is a shaggy, deciduous shrub called “ocean spray” for a reason. Bursting with cascading white clusters of flowers from early spring to late summer, its blooms then develop a tan that lasts them through the winter. With a faint, sugary scent and thick growth, cream bush provides cover for birds as well as fruit and nuts, attracting cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, and finches, among others.

Deergrass

Muhlenbergia rigens

The volume and character of deergrass makes it a popular plant for height and charm, with tufted, silver-green to purple foliage that makes it one of the most beautiful bunchgrasses for our region. Its summer seeds attract birds like finches, nuthatches, grosbeaks, and sparrows.

Silver Lupine

Lupinus albifrons

A gorgeous, prominent flowering shrub, Silver Lupine thrives in dry environments and attracts everything from bees to vireos. Silky and evergreen, it flowers in every season save fall. Its nectar is loved by hummingbirds, warblers, mockingbirds, orioles, and others.

Interested in a bird-friendly landscape design? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses

How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses

Tips for Bunch Grass Cutbacks on California’s Central Coast

In the Central Coast California Landscape, bunch grasses are a common landscape element. In some cases, huge swaths of showy grasses can be a bold botanic display of texture, movement, and glowing color. A bunch grass is a perennial grass that forms clumps as it grows. They can be as small as six inches or as large as eight feet tall, usually selected for their foliage and seed head plumage. On the central coast, most species are maintained by a significant yearly haircut to prepare for the next year’s growth.

When to Cut Bunch Grasses

Most bunch grasses are cut back so they look green and fresh for the next growing season, as well as to clear out dead foliage and debris for plant health. While some grasses don’t need to be cut back every year, others benefit from being cut back twice or more per year. For yearly cutbacks, the rule of thumb is to cut back after the last hard frost. Winter foliage can be attractive even if it is brown, and it protects the plant crown from frost damage. If the grass is particularly frost sensitive, the timing should be as late in the winter as possible.

In San Luis Obispo County, we tend to be split our grass cut-back timeframes between the beaches (Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Cambria, Los Osos, etc.), the coastal valleys (San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Edna, Nipomo, etc.) and North County (Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Santa Margarita).

Ryan maintains decorative grass
San Luis Obispo County Grass Cutbacks by Region

Grass cutbacks can start earliest on the beach zones because they have almost no frost and grasses start to grow even in the winter. December-January is good for most grasses along our beach towns. With the lack of frost, many more species of grass can be grown, such as Pennisetum setaceum rubrum, a beautiful Purple Fountain Grass. “Some grasses won’t show as much winter browning, so skipping their yearly cutbacks from time to time is acceptable. Because the growing season is so long, the window to cut back grasses is also more forgiving. Cutting browning grasses as late as March or April is better than not cutting them at all.”

In the coastal valleys, February is a great month to cut back grasses, but it can happen anytime between January and March. There is limited frost, so grasses such as the Purple Fountain Grass may wait until March, but most grasses are completely safe for a February cut. This zone is very similar to the beaches, but it may take a little longer for the grasses to green back up, hence the later cut.

Ryan maintains decorative grass

North County of San Luis Obispo County is much different than the rest of the county. The Santa Lucia Mountain Range separates it from ocean influence, making it much colder in the winter. For that reason, the cutbacks occur later to wait for the hard frosts to subside. In addition, most grasses in north county don’t start pushing new growth until April. February through April is the window for north county grass cutbacks, with March being an ideal month. While April is okay, cutting back the grasses after the spring flush should be avoided. While grass species are more limited in North County due to the cold, the explosive growth of the hot summer and the seasonal look of brown winter plumage can be stunning.

The bottom line for timing of grass cutbacks is to maximize the aesthetics and health of the plants. You want to minimize the downtime of a cut back bunch grass stump by waiting until the plant is just about to push new growth. Fine-tune the specific timing for your zone and grasses over the years to maximize your enjoyment of these versatile plants.

 
How to Cut Back Bunch Grasses
  1. Use sharp shears, pruners, hedgers, or bladed weed whackers to cut all blades and chutes as close to the ground as possible without damaging the crown of the plant.
  2. Hand pull any loose debris or dead plant material to prevent crown rot and allow for more air circulation.
  3. Pull back any mulch or debris at least 2” from the crown of the grass.
Ryan maintains decorative grass

Recommended Pruning Heights for Various Species

LOW: 2-4” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Festuca spp., Carex spp., Sesleria spp., Acoris spp., Juncus spp., Nassella spp., Melica spp., Bouteloua spp., Aristida spp., Calamagrostis spp., Muhlenbergia cappilaris, Ophiopogon spp., Stipa spp., Helictotrichon spp., Anemanthele spp., Pennisetum spp. (smaller varieties).
Non-Grass Species: Achillea spp., Zauschneria (Epilobium) spp., Nepeta spp., Teucrium spp., Coreopsis spp., Thymus spp., Erigeron spp., Salvia spathacea.

MEDIUM: 4-8” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Muhlenbergia rigens, Muhlenbergia dubia, Miscanthus spp. (small to medium varieties), Pennisetum spp. (larger varieties), Leymus spp.,
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (smaller varieties), Artemisia spp., Origanum spp.,

HIGH: 8-12” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Miscanthus spp. (larger varieties), Muhlenbergia dumosa, Cortaderia spp., Kniphofia spp.
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (larger varieties), Salvia spp. (some smaller varieties), Gaura spp., Lavandula (smaller varieties), Ribes spp., Perovskia spp., Eriogonum (smaller varieties).

 

Carex divulsa (LOW)

Muhlengergia Rigens (MEDIUM)

Interested in landscape maintenance, including bunch grass cutbacks? We are currently taking maintenance projects with a $400/month minimum. Fill out our Maintenance Request Form or contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263. 

California Central Coast Winter Garden

California Central Coast Winter Garden

Four Winter-hardy Plants for your California Central Coast Landscape

Nandina ‘Fire Power’ is a great evergreen shrub that has year-round interest. It is especially beautiful in the fall and winter: the leaves turn a deep red with cold weather.

Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ is a low-maintenance, low water-use shrub. Manzanitas are striking year-round thanks to their evergreen leaves and gorgeous red bark, but their dainty winter blooms really give them another dimension.

Here on the central coast, we don’t typically have freezing temperatures, and we have fewer plants that die back or go dormant during these colder, wetter months. During the winter months when nothing else in the garden is showing its colors, here are four of our favorite plants to steal the show.

Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) This cold-hardy succulent comes in a variety of colors and can be planted in rocky places with very little soil. We love the look it creates when you stick them in cracks and crevices of stone walls or walkways.

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Irene’ like Manzanitas, Trailing Rosemary is low-maintenance and low water use. When planted on top of retaining walls and allowed to drape over, they add drama to your garden, while their scent and seasonal flowers give them an added edge over some of the other trailing plant materials.

Interested in a winter garden landscape design? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Five Colorful Fall Favorites

Five Colorful Fall Favorites

Show-stopping Foliage for California’s Central Coast

 

Autumn’s drop in temperature means the debut of many plants’ most show-stopping colors. Whether it be trees or bushes, they each create a vibrant pop in a landscape. We curated a list of five plants we especially love for their bright personalities come fall, and we’re excited for you to get to know them, too.

 

Pistacia chinensis – Chinese Pistache

A gorgeous option for full-sun areas, the Chinese Pistache is not only drought-tolerant, its leaves turn stunning shades of orange and red with the cold. The seeds of their small, bright October drupes are considered directly beneficial for wildlife, and its graceful, symmetrical shape provides a picture-perfect feature for any landscape.

 

Ginkgo biloba “Autumn Gold” – Maidenhair Tree

Gingkos are native to China with beautiful, uniquely shaped leaves that allow the tree to be appreciated from afar and intimately up close. Not only that, but said leaves turn bright yellow come fall, lending a luminous contrast to any stand-out reds, and will drop in a carpet of gold.

 

Geranium sanguineum – Bloody Geranium

This hardy perennial is known in spring and summer for its vivid magenta flowers, but that’s not its only colorful trick. In fall, with the absence of flowers, its foliage tints red, garnering its name from those bright shades. With its charming leaf shape, it can be a lovely, more shrub-like addition or low-lying ground cover that provides lasting color nearly year-round.

 

Sedum reflexum “Angelina” – Golden Stonecrop

A cheerful shade of yellow year-round, Golden Stonecrop is a low-maintenance, weed-smothering succulent that only becomes brighter as the weather gets colder. It really does become a brighter, deeper yellow the colder it gets, so it is a perfect pop of color for any rocky, Central-Californian soil.

 

Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku” – Coral Bark Japanese Maple

We all know Japanese Maples, but this one is especially striking. As its leaves turn from lime green to yellow in the fall, they drop to reveal a striking red bark that stays until its leaves sprout again. Fall and winter landscapes benefit significantly from this perennially beautiful plant.

Interested in a show-stopping colorful landscape? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.