Focus on fall tasks for a splendid spring garden

Focus on fall tasks for a splendid spring garden

by Nan Sterman

Fall is fast approaching here in California, though the summer's latent heat may make it hard to believe. One day soon, you'll wake up and the air will feel different – cool, and a bit less humid – and you'll know that fall has arrived.

Your plants have been standing valiantly all summer, waiting for the heat to pass. As we anticipate the eventuality of cooler times and even rain, it's time to think about the garden. In other parts of the country, garden dreaming time is when the ground is covered in a blanket of snow. For us, it's now, when temperatures are so hot that we retreat indoors. This is our time to think and plan.

Stroll the garden in the wee hours of the morning when the air is still fresh and cool. How has your garden survived the summer? What have you lost? What is still going strong? What really should be eliminated and what can stay?
Consider where you might need a new shade tree to keep your home cool. A tipu tree (Tipuana tipu), Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) or other deciduous tree will do double duty by cooling your home in summer and allowing the sun's warm rays through to heat your home in winter.

Vining native grape (Vitis californica) will cover a patio arbor in a single season. And, like the pistache, grape leaves turn scarlet and vermillion before dropping. The reddest of all native grapes is Roger's Red and comes from the Bay-area mountains.

Did the neighbor's teenagers drive you crazy with their pool parties all summer? If so, heavily foliated evergreen shrubs will help damper the sound. Consider a screen of native Heteromeles arbutifolia, commonly called "toyon." It's also the "holly" plant for which "Hollywood" was named. Coffee berry (Rhamnus californica) and lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) are good choices as well.

If you live in a frost-free area, take a look at Rhus lentii, the pink-flowering sumac native to Baja. This lovely shrub has oval, gray-green leaves that set off its pink springtime blooms.

Before you plant, make sure your irrigation system is up to snuff. Drip is best for these plants, most of which need little or no water after their first year or two in the ground. Remember that drip and spray irrigation must be on different valves as they work at different pressures and deliver different amounts of water. How have your hoses weathered the summer? Ultraviolet light can cause them to crack. Turn each one on to see if it needs replacing.

And remember, once the air does cool, plants need less water. Adjust your irrigation schedule to water less often but don't change how long they run. If you have a smart clock on your system, check it to see that it's still operating in "smart" mode.

Sterman is author of "California Gardener's Guide Volume II." She's a gardening expert, communicator and designer who has long grown an organic garden of plants that both feed her family and beautify her yard.

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