Eight Tips for Sustainable Landscapes on the Central Coast

Eight Tips for Sustainable Landscapes on the Central Coast

Our Californian Central Coast climate is unique and particular, shaped by drought-tolerant native plants and dry but beautiful weather. As professional landscapers, we understand the importance of planting flora that can live sustainably in our soils. Here, sustainability means many things—keeping water bills down, plants alive without fuss and unnecessary labor, the native landscape uninterrupted by any invasive species, and more—and does not undermine the beautification of your outdoor spaces.

This timeless video is just as relevant for central coast landscapes today as it was when it was filmed in 2009. Created by the Templeton Community Services District in cooperation with the SLO County Partners in Water Conservation, this ten-minute video walks through eight topics you should consider when creating a sustainable landscape. Hosted by Kate Dore and our own Rick Mathews. 

Eight factors to consider when creating a sustainable landscape:

  1. Planning and Design—know your site inside and out to ensure you start off on the right foot
  2. Soil Type—before deciding on your perfect plant palette, make sure you know what your soil can sustain
  3. Plant Selection—set your heart on the beautiful variety of native and Mediterranean plants that grow best in our area
  4. Limited Turf Areas—a costly and management-heavy asset, it’s best to design for only as much turf as you need for your practical enjoyment
  5. Mulching—organic mulch is the perfect solution for topsoil protection, temperature regulation, and weed prevention
  6. Efficient Irrigation—an essential component to preventing time-intensive care and water waste, make sure your irrigation system is efficient
  7. Hardscape Areas—these can be designed with sustainable and water-wise materials as well as potted plants and container gardens to beautify your walls and walkways
  8. Maintenance—reduce maintenance time and costs by considering the speed of your plants’ growth, the cost of any new maintenance tools, replanting needs, and any possibility for your plants damaging your landscape if left unchecked
Bunch Grass Cutbacks

Bunch Grass Cutbacks

How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses: California’s Central Coast

In the Central Coast California Landscape, bunchgrasses 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 clear out dead foliage and debris for plant health. While some grasses won’t need to be cut back every year, some benefit from being cut back twice or more per year. For yearly cutbacks, the rule of thumb is to cut them 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).

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 want to 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.

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. Try 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.

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)

Muhlenbergia rigens (MEDIUM)

 

 

Four Winter-hardy Plants for the California Central Coast

Four Winter-hardy Plants for the California Central Coast

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.

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.

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.

Tasting Room Landscapes in the 2020s

Tasting Room Landscapes in the 2020s

Wineries on the California Central Coast have had their share of curveballs dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but some have been well-suited to adapt to changing times. The tasting room experience could be considered even more valuable today for its ability to give visitors a relaxed, open-air experience as a respite from the headlines. As a follow up to our 2018 article Five Landscape Design Tips for California Central Coast Tasting Rooms we caught up with two notable winery leaders to see how the landscapes were faring in the pandemic.

In spring of 2020, all wineries were forced to halt in-person tastings for 10 weeks. When wineries could reopen, they were limited to providing tastings in outdoor spaces by and with proper social distancing. June McIvor of Tolosa Winery said they had to reduce their outside capacity somewhat to accommodate distancing requirements and they began offering online reservations in addition to the phone and email reservations they had already been encouraging. The winery shifted lounge spaces to tables and spread them out for proper spacings and reduced maximum group size. The variety of patio spaces and strategically located small planters provided the flexibility to adapt their space and fit people.

June reports the winery is welcoming many new guests from population hubs in Northern and Southern California who are traveling by car to vacation on the Central Coast. Locals and visitors alike are “looking for normalcy” and she feels that the relaxed atmosphere of tasting wine in a beautiful garden patio is greatly appreciated. She remarks, “We are grateful we renovated,” and because of thoughtful pre-pandemic design they are well-positioned to adapt to pandemic constraints.

Damian Grindley of Brecon Estate also had to rethink the outdoor table layout for tastings and reservations and has seen similar success. Surprisingly, he had considered moving to reservations-only prior to COVID-19. The requirement forced Brecon Estate into a reservation system early but with little pushback. He correlates reservations with better customer satisfaction because of a more controllable experience with adequate staffing to the reservation load. Satisfied customers will buy more wine.

The “relaxed Central Coast” vibe of Brecon Estate draws in locals and visitors with the goal of making customers feel welcome and comfortable. As far as the winery renovation and landscape built in the last six years, he says, “we almost could not have designed it better.” The comfortable outdoor spaces and detached outdoor restroom building worked out particularly well for COVID-19 restrictions.

With the respite wineries provide, demand for outdoor tasting room space will continue into the winter. Tolosa Winery has extended their outdoor tasting room season using tents for weather protection. Brecon has room for tents but is considering alternative layouts for patio design with tents in mind. A couple of feet one way or the other can make the difference for a great fit.

With outdoor tasting areas at a premium, savvy wineries will put thought into providing comfortable usable spaces for winter weather.

Here are five tips for wineries that are thinking of renovating their tasting room landscapes to accommodate customers looking for a great experience.

9 Tips for Selling Your Home During Coronavirus

9 Tips for Selling Your Home During Coronavirus

The coronavirus has affected so many aspects of our lives – from how we work to how we exercise, communicate, and so much more. It has also affected the housing market and how we now buy and sell homes. If you’re thinking about listing your home you may be wondering what you can do to attract homebuyers during this unprecedented time? While executing on curb appeal ideas and implementing strategic home staging are all still worthy endeavors in appealing to homebuyers, an ideal home office or an entertainment-worthy backyard may have found renewed interest for today’s homebuyers. Here are 9 tips to help you sell your home during coronavirus.

Start by prepping your home to sell in a virtual world

Due to coronavirus, developments in virtual home tours, 3D walkthroughs, and the ability to close remotely with online notaries have made the home buying and selling process easier than ever. Along with these advancements in real estate technology, services such as virtual staging, virtual home inspections, and even virtual interior design have grown in popularity.

1. Make your home shine online with virtual staging

Whether you’re listing a single-family home for sale in Atlanta, GA or a duplex for sale in Sacramento, CA, staging your home is one of the most integral parts of the process. It gives potential buyers an opportunity to visualize themselves living in your space, which can make or break a deal. So, unless you have experience staging homes, consider consulting with a professional home stager. Given the current climate, however, not everyone necessarily wants a professional stager to enter their house. That’s why virtual staging services have become such a popular alternative. The advent of virtual staging has allowed stagers to create comfortable and aesthetically pleasing atmospheres for potential buyers to view a home without ever setting foot inside. While in-person staging will likely return post-coronavirus, virtual staging will remain a convenient and favorable option that should be considered when getting your house ready to sell.

2. Organize your interior with a virtual organizing and decluttering service

As with virtual staging, many have found virtual organizing services to be an affordable and convenient way to receive advice on how to organize and declutter their space. Some organizers even claim that working virtually allows them to have longer organizing sessions with their clients, resulting in more in-depth appointments. However, one of the most compelling reasons to try a virtual organizing session is that you get to work hands-on with your space. By allowing a professional organizer to virtually guide you through the organization process, you can practice and integrate your new skills long after your session has ended, and having a functional space will give your home a leg-up when it’s time to sell.

3. Invest in professional photography to help your home stand out

Nowadays, with the ability to buy and sell almost entirely online, it’s more important than ever to make sure your home’s online appearance is top-notch. While it may be tempting to forego the expense of professional real estate photos and do it yourself, it’s important to note that your house will likely sell faster and for more money, if you go with a professional. Investing in a real estate photographer will ensure that your home is presented in its best light when you list. In the case that your home is located on a large plot of land or has a spectacular view you want to show off, consider having aerial photos taken of your home. With advancements in drone photography, this service is more affordable than ever and is able to capture your home’s most prominent features from a whole new perspective.

Make sure your home addresses all the needs of today’s buyers

4. Turn unused space into a home gym or office

For many people, things like working and exercising from home have been a completely new experience that they weren’t entirely prepared for. Prior to coronavirus, many hadn’t considered the importance of having a dedicated workspace that promotes productivity while remaining separate from their day-to-day lives. However, now people have begun to recognize the value of additional space. If you have an unfinished basement, a spare bedroom, or an insulated garage, take the time to transform it into a usable and desirable space. Whether it functions as a home office, gym, indoor garden, or something else, having a bonus area that buyers can customize to their individual needs will certainly provide value to your home in the eyes of today’s homebuyers.

5. Make your backyard a horticulturist’s dream

As many may have noticed, when the coronavirus initially struck, produce and even proteins were in short supply at the local grocery store. This shortage ultimately gave people a greater appreciation for being able to grow their own food from the comfort of home. Taking the time to build a garden bed in a previously unused part of your backyard will bring life to your outdoor space and be an added bonus in the eyes of the buyer.

6. Create a space to grow food indoors

Why limit your gardening to the outdoors? Indoor gardening has also seen a rise in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. Having a proper place for an indoor garden within your home can be a bonus from a buyer’s perspective. Not to mention, building an indoor garden can be a fun, rewarding, and educational project for the whole family to be a part of. Start by finding the right space in your home. Keep in mind that the ideal location for an indoor garden receives a lot of natural light and has an average temperature of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, choose vegetables and herbs that thrive indoors such as lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, arugula, etc.. For more in-depth instruction, refer to these expert tips on how to create the ultimate DIY indoor garden.

Turn your backyard into a personal getaway

With all the time that’s been spent at home, a beautiful space for outdoor entertainment has taken on a whole new level of importance. Investing a little time and money into your outdoor space will provide a range of benefits to you as a homeowner while adding value to your home when it comes time to sell. Create the ultimate gathering space in your backyard by incorporating elements like a wooden porch swing, lawn games, outdoor lighting, or even a DIY firepit.

7. Build a deck for relaxing, entertainment, and more

Adding a deck to your exterior for entertainment, barbecues, or even just relaxing is a great way to boost your outdoor living experience. Not to mention, decks add living space at a fraction of the price of a fully enclosed living area. You can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $35 per square foot versus an enclosed addition which can run you anywhere from $100 to $150 per square foot. Deck space also adds to the overall value of your home and will be an asset when it’s time to sell.

8. Put up a fence for added privacy

Having a fence that provides privacy without being an eyesore is another great way to improve your outdoor living area and appeal to buyers. There are a variety of aesthetic fencing materials such as wood, vinyl, aluminum, wrought iron and composite all of which can range in price and require varying degrees of maintenance. So before you run to the hardware store and start building a fence yourself, we suggest consulting with professionals to determine what material is best for you and your home.

9. Give your exterior the facelift it deserves

Investing in an outdoor space that acts as a getaway can be one of the best ways to relieve stress and provide entertainment, while simultaneously adding to your homes curb appeal and overall value. Whether it’s sprucing up your lawn, adding exterior features like a fountain or a pool, or giving your walkway some love, investing in your homes curb appeal will make buyers eager to picture themselves living there. If you’re short on ideas, give your local landscaper, hardscaper, or exterior design expert a call – they can work with you to develop a personalized plan that will make your home the star of the cul-de-sac. Originally published on Redfin

Fire Season is here. How can your landscape help?

Fire Season is here. How can your landscape help?

Fire Season is here again.

As we cope with the grave threats to public health from the COVID-19 virus and its surreal, devastating effects on our culture, one could almost forget that we are deep into the wildfire season here in California. People are experiencing a whole new level of home life now, both in- and out-of-doors. But as the wildfire threat increases through the summer months, the question remains: How can your landscape help?

In Northern California alone, nearly 9,000 buildings were destroyed in 2017 and 44 civilian lives were lost. Not to mention later in the year, we subsequently watched as the southern portion of our state endured fires so severe, that a State of Emergency was declared. It’s a sobering reminder of the threat posed by living close to nature, as record heat and low humidity continues to intensify by the year. Property owners are at risk, to be sure, but what can we do to minimize those risks? Is it possible to improve the defensibility of our properties by landscaping wisely?

The answer is yes.

At Madrone Landscapes, we have dealt with properties in high fire danger areas for decades. There are many ways to enhance the defensibility of a property, whether it is through plant selection and design, or irrigation and water system strategies. Fire-resistant plants selections are available, but it is every bit as important that your plantings be well-spaced, properly pruned, and adequately watered in order for them to perform their fire-resistance function. Also, eliminating plants entirely from around structures may do more harm than good. Properly chosen plants can catch air-born fire embers, letting them die out harmlessly, and plants’ roots are often vital to control erosion in the event of a fire.

For ways to make your home more fire safe inside and out, see the Homeowner’s Checklist of from the SLO County Fire Safe Council.

Defensible Space – Defensive Landscaping

What you plant in your yard, and where you plant it, can be just as important as how your home is built. When in the path of a wildfire, your garden and lawn can become fuel for the flames. But, by learning the different zones around your property, you can create a more fire-safe home.

ZONE 1 Garden Zone: 0-30 feet from the outside walls of the building – This is the most important zone, as fire in this area will present the greatest danger to your house. This area should be kept irrigated and clear of debris at all times.

Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 1

  • Plants up to 18 inches tall that are low-volume (not thick and bushy)
  • Plants with a high moisture content, such as succulents
  • Grasses a maximum of 3 inches tall
  • Tree branches trimmed 10 feet up
  • Area is irrigated and kept clean

ZONE 2 Greenbelt/Fuel Break: 30-50 feet from structure – The goal of this zone is to reduce the available fuel in order to slow a ground fire. Larger shrubs and trees can be introduced here, as long as a distance that is twice their height separates them. This will prevent the ‘fire ladder’ effect, where fires jump from one clump of shrubbery or trees (fuel) to another. Grass in this area should be mowed to 6”. This area should be kept irrigated and maintained.

Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 2

  • Succulents, small to medium shrubs
  • Trees at least 10 feet apart and tree crowns 10 feet off the ground
  • Grass a maximum of 6 inches tall
  • Shrubs separated by two times their height, so a 6 foot shrub will be at least 12 feet from its neighbor

ZONE 3 Transition Zone: 50-100 feet from structure – The major effort here should be to thin existing vegetation and remove debris. Grass should be kept at 18”.

Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 3

  • Low to medium height plants
  • Plants grouped in “islands” for water efficiency
  • Dead branches and leaves removed

ZONE 4 Native or Neutral Zone: 100+ feet, depending on conditions – The primary goal of this area is to reduce fuel buildup by mechanical clearing or occasional prescribed fires.

Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 4

  • Grass mowed to 12 inches
  • Vegetation thinned and ground kept free from litter

Landscaping in fire-prone areas should try to create a fire safe buffer – a defensive space – around your home. The home’s roof and gutters should also be cleared of any plant materials like leaves and pine needles. Taking these measures can make it easier and safer for firefighters to save homes from wildfires.

Fire Safe Demonstration Garden

The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden has a new Fire Safe Demonstration Garden located at 3450 Dairy Creek Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405. They are open daily during daylight hours. The Gift Shop and Office are open 9 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Friday.

Get more tips from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s Fire Safe Landscaping Brochure.