Easing into fall gardening projects
The transition from summer to fall is very fluid here in the western Sacramento Valley. It’s not like you wake up one morning and it’s autumn all of a sudden. Instead, it’s a drawn-out process, full of false starts. In recent weeks, we’ve been swinging between 95°F and 70°F degree days, often with no transition, just to veer towards the 90s again.
On Saturday evening, though, we had an epic thunderstorm that might have marked the beginning of fall. We rarely get thunderstorms so lightning is always something special. And Saturday night was epic. Virtually nonstop thunder and lightning for over an hour. In the 18 years I’ve lived in Davis, I can’t remember anything quite like it. And for about 45 minutes we got rain. Not the weepy drizzle we had earlier in the week. A real honest-to-goodness gully washer. It cleaned the cars in the street, the solar panels on the roof and the plants in exposed areas.
On Sunday morning, for the first time in a long time, I felt the urge to putter around outside. I didn’t do much, but I did remove a few plants that had died in the infernal furnace of the 2015 summer: a Canary island sow thistle (Sonchus congestus) I bought at Annie’s Annuals last fall, and the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ I brought home from the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery in February. The latter one really hurt, but I hadn’t been certain it would make it this spot anyway.
Dead Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ (left) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), now removed
I also dug up the Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) next to the leucospermum because it was beginning to smother everything around it—and it was sending out runners that popped up three feet away from the mother clump.
In their stead I planted the 5-gallon Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ I’d gotten from the Ruth Bancroft Garden earlier in the year. I had originally earmarked it as the centerpiece for the front lawn conversion to happen later this year but I’m going to use Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ for that.
Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ is a big agave, up to 6 ft. across. Although in the photos below it looks like it’s right next to the fence, it’s actually a good three feet away. That should give it just enough room to spread its wings.
Right now, the area where I planted ‘Arizona Star’ looks very unfinished, like so many spots around the garden. The plan is to cover the bare dirt with Dymondia margaretae. But that has to wait until the real fall rains are here.
I also need some vertical interest against the fence. Something airy and see-through, like the Verbena bonariensis already growing in many spots outside the fence. I’m thinking rice flower (Ozothamnus diosmifolius). I already have one behind the Agave ‘Joe Hoak’ in the strip between our house and our neighbor’s. It’s very well behaved and doesn’t need (or get) much water.
Here’s another view of this corner. Unfortunately, progress isn’t as fast as I would like because succulents are such slow growers.
Just regular maintenance but it has to be done: many plants are encroaching on the sidewalk. I’m surprised we haven’t received a complaint from the city yet.
As much as I like Texas rangers as a group, this Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compactum’ isn’t getting the overhead sun it needs because of the Bradford pear tree behind it (in the backyard, actually). As a result, it’s growing outward, smothering the plants in front of it. I’ll prune it hard in an attempt to confine it to the back half of the bed. That will be its last chance so it’d better fall in line.
Lifting up the front half of the Texas ranger, I uncovered three aloes. The one in the middle, Aloe broomii, is actually a decent size. It’s been growing in virtual darkness for months! I’ll have to be careful to protect those aloes from the sun so they don’t burn.
The projects above are minor compared to the front lawn removal and conversion. Time has gotten away from me, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of urgency. The plan was to hire somebody to take out the lawn but everybody is jumping on the lawn removal wagon and finding folks to do the work is getting challenging. I may have to do it myself. Heaven forbid!
Ironically, the lawn is looking fairly decent in spots even though it’s only getting watered once a week.
But the space could be used much more creatively so it will go. I outlined my tentative plans in this post.
Against all expectations, the Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’) next to the front porch is thriving on its once-a-week irrigation diet. It needs some serious thinning though.
The sago palm (Cycas revoluta) next to it is not getting enough sun. But overall, I do like the lush look.
The spot formerly occupied by the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ that flowered and died is still empty. After having toyed with the idea of planting another large agave here, I’m now leaning towards smaller succulents and more rocks to avoid crowding. I need to think on it a little more before I get started.
Moving to the backyard, the first project I want to tackle is removing this ratty bamboo (Indocalamus tessellatus). It has not taken kindly to the restricted watering it’s been subjected to. The other bamboo in this stock tank, Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’, is doing well, so it’ll have the stock tank to itself. May it run and proper!
In the next photo, the bamboo (Borinda fungosa) is perfectly fine, but the Australian sword fern (Nephrolepis obliterata) in the pot next to the granite lantern is dead. Another victim of our watering restrictions. What would do well here in the dry shade?
Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ is thriving. I wish all plants were that easy. But the Dymondia margaretae I planted around it is taking its sweet time to grow (I don’t think it’s getting enough sun) so there’s a lot of bare dirt. I’m thinking I need to cover it with some rocks until the dymondia fills in. Probably something innocuous, like small gravel.
Not thriving: Agacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’ in a large bowl next to the family room slider. I had high hopes, dreaming of a lush cascade of finely dissected green. Instead, we got this. I’ve heard from several people that ‘Cousin Itt’ is very temperamental and unpredictable. I think it’s time for it to move out. Not sure what to plant here yet. My first choice would be an agave, but it wouldn’t be the most user-friendly plant in such a high-traffic area. Any suggestions?
Another project: potting up these bulbils from the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ formerly growing next to the front door. They’ve rooted much faster than I thought. I gave some to a friend recently and took six to a raffle at the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society last week. But there are still more than 80 left. I need to separate them and move them to individual pots soon before their roots get too entangled.
The biggest project in the backyard is the same as in the front yard: removing the lawn. Except this lawn is pretty much dead already. The plan is to replace it with Dymondia margaratea. It will give us an expanse of green and it will take (light) foot traffic. I will space the plugs fairly tightly so it won’t take forever for the individual plants to mat together.
I’m sure I’d find more projects to add to the list if I tried but that is plenty to start with. I’m already feeling overwhelmed.