Recommended Websites
Recommended books:

Western Garden Book by Sunset

Western Garden Book of Edibles by Sunset

California Native Plants for the Garden by Bornstein, Fross, and O’Brien

Edible Landscapes by Rosalind Creasy

The Edible Herb Garden by Rosalind Creasy

Western Garden Problem Solver by Sunset

Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do about It Robert Glennon

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    Succulents in the Garden

    Your garden doesn’t have to resemble a desert to use succulents.  Succulents can add beauty and architectural interest to your garden.  They mix very well with other drought tolerant or water-wise plants such as Sage, Phormium, and some ornamental grasses.

    American Agave with Pineapple Sage and Mexican Bush SageFor areas with hard winter frost or a freeze, you do have to select your succulents carefully or be sure they have protection under a heavy eave.  Those that are ‘Frost Tender’ need to be under a heavy eave or planted in pots so they can be moved to protection during winter.  Usually the plant label will say ‘protect from frost’ if they are frost tender.  I have played around with that and found that some can handle a bit of winter chill if protected by another plant nearby.  However, plants known such as the Kalanchoes of all types, can not risk it or they are gone.Kalanchoe behrens is extremly frost tender. Shown here in a pot with a purple leafed sweet potato.The 'Snake Plant' has to be under protection from summer heat and winter frost and often used as a house plant. However under a deep eave with bright light works well as seen here.Echeveria 'Peacockii'Sedeveria hybrid 'Blue Elf'Echeveria 'Evening Glo'On the other hand, Sedums, Crassulas, Aeoniums and Sempervirens in general can do very well and generally are not frost tender.  There are a select few of Echeveria that can survive to come back beautiful in spring.   Here are shown Echeveria 'Topsy Turvy' and Sedum 'Blue Spruce' with a background of Blue Fescue which can make an interesting monchromatic display of textures.

    Sedum 'Autumn Joy' with Autumn Sage in red and purple just begining to bloom again for fall.

    Sedum 'Autumn Joy' have pretty pink flowers in summer that fade to an interesting rust in fall.  By winter, the plant goes dormant with baby plants sprouting at the base of the stalks.

    This Crassula (relative of Jade Plant) is frost hardy but the Echeveria 'Pink Ruffles' in this pot is not.  So they are in a pot to be moved for winter chill.

    This variety of Sempervirens, commonly referred to as 'Hen and Chicks' are very frost tolerant and look nice with the ground cover of Elfin Thyme.  In time, the babies growing around the base (the "chicks") will eventually fill in the space.  Plucking the "chicks" off and replanting them away from the parent is a faster way to encourage them to fill in.

    Plants that are frost tender can make interesting vignettes such as this Sedum that mimics the flowers on the pot.Flower like Aeonium 'Kiwi', Senecio 'Blue Chalk Sticks', Kalanchoe tomentosa and Sedum 'Pork and Beans" has color when exposed to heat and cold.Majority of these succulents can handle a chilly winter, however the felt like Kalanchoe in the back can not.  Therefore the entire pot gets protection in winter. Sedum 'Angelina' with Phormium 'Jester'Sedum 'Angelina' with Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'There are a lot of great succulent ground covers that can be very dependable for covering the surface with color and texture and work well with other plants.  The various sedums are great for this.In back, Sedum 'Americanum' with Hyacinth 'Muscari' (bulbs) and Lamb's Ears (Stachy byzantina)So have some fun and mix them up in a pot or plant frost tolerant varieties directly into the garden.  They add a different type of texture, architectural interest, and can have interesting shapes and colors.


    Tips for Selling Your House

    Making a first good impression with the front yard makes a huge difference to a potential home buyer.  Landscaping completes a home and increases livability with outdoor spaces.

    1. Foundation: Look at your house and the surrounding landscape.  Repair and replace any damage including windows, trim and downspouts.  Spruce up the address numbers or replace with fresh new ones. 
    2. Plants: Keep surrounding plants healthy and cleaned up.  Prune out dead wood, prune undergrowth, remove dead or tired plants.  Finish with a topping of fresh bark mulch in all plant beds.
    3. Lawn: Keep it healthy, green and mow it regularly.  An overgrown lawn is NOT a ‘meadow.’
    4. Focal Point: Consider adding a pot or two with lush plants and color somewhere near the entry.  Make sure they are watered regularly.  Does the door need new paint?  Maybe a new color that is complimentary to the house color and pops.
    5. Walkways/Driveway: Are they clean and in good condition?  Do you have access from the street curb to the front door?  Cracks, holes, missing bricks, etc. require repair.
    6. Style:  Overall style of the yard should be complimentary to the style of the house.  Don’t overwhelm a potential buyer.  Your yard should excite them to see more.  Add some seasonal color, keep it clean, and nothing needing repair are important for first impressions.  If you have water features and outdoor lighting they must be working properly and be appealing aesthetically.
    7. Outdoor living: Decks and patios are a plus when in good condition, maintained and designed well.  They should be extensions of the indoor living areas.  Don’t overfill with furniture that makes a space seem smaller.  Keep it simple with cozy groupings for entertaining, lounging and dining.  Keep clutter to a minimum, accessories are supposed to enhance and not be the focus.
    8. Garden Art: Keep sculptures and artwork to a minimum.  A potential buyer may not share your aesthetic and style of art.  When in doubt remove art from the space.  You want the buyer to be able to imagine themselves in your house.

    Once you have everything in order, you have to keep it maintained and clean.  Regular maintenance and irrigation can go a long way to create that first impression.


    BLUE Hydrangeas for Fourth of July Display

    I wanted to cut some flowers that were red white and blue for the holiday.  Not a lot in my garden is blue!  However my hydrangea is sporting blue flowers this season and I took advantage of that.  I added Hydrangea lace cap flowers that have faded to white and since the forms of both gave me an impression of fireworks, I went with some tassels of bottle brush.  I added some red ivy geraniums for just a bit more red.

    Now why am I sharing this?  Not because I made a haphazard arrangement for our BBQ.  The Hydrangea macrophylla that is blue was done over a five year period.  I started adding acid to the soil with very little change about 5 years ago.  I now realize I was not adding nearly enough.

    First of all you have to fix the pH of the soil BEFORE buds are formed for next season.  Next, using organic acid soil amendment I actually put a lot more on the soil than instructed.  With a soil test from the home improvement store, I found out I was doing this transition really slowly before. 

    The first couple years I got a little raspberry marbling in the pink flowers.  It was very interesting; however, my goal was blue.  Last year was actually very striking in colors on one plant.  I had full pink flowers and a lot that on one ball had pink variations of raspberry to some blue.  It was rather pretty.  I added more organic acid amendment and finally this year the flowers are predominately blue.  Success!  Although I have to admit I miss the raspberry marbled affect.  I think my next goal is to see if I can condition for that affect and if I succeed, I have to take a picture!


    Plant a Garden for Hummingbirds


    The robins hit my neighborhood in a storm with huge flocks of males last January, eating the berries of my neighbor's Camphor tree.  Their arrival is usually a harbinger of Spring and they swarm in a display of hungered frenzy every year.  The weather has been rather warm this past February after a very chilly December and January.  We often see a warm trend this time of year to only get hit with a few more weeks of cold before spring truly arrives at the end of March.  So far I have only counted a few chilly days.  Spring is upon us!

    The hummingbirds have also started migrating north.  They are a couple of weeks early and are moving up into North America and Europe alike.  Scientists believe that it is because their wintering sites are warmer than in the past.  The problem is that many of the nectar sources and insects the hummingbirds feed on may not be available in the quantities needed.  Hummingbirds select their mates and stamp out their territories and then nest.  Having ample food sources for the young has scientists a bit concerned and observing the trend.

    How can we help?
    Many folks like to put out hummingbird feeders.  If you do so, make sure to clean the feeder and stock regularly.  Hummers become dependent on that source and it needs to be clean and free of mildew. Also be sure it is located in an area where they have secure cover from predators.

    A better way we can help the hummers in the future is planting plants in the garden that provides them with nectar sources at different times of the year.  California natives and other drought tolerant plants do well in the San Jose area.  There are many plants hummers are highly attracted to, especially tubular flowers and red flowers.  Insects on the plants provide another source of food so do not use pesticides and herbicides in your garden.  Use only organic fertilizer if you must.  Compost is a healthier source of nutrients for plants.

    Don’t fertilize natives nor disturb their roots or they will die from the stress.  Also drought tolerant plants in general need very good drainage.  Standing water and overall wet conditions will rot the roots.

    Here are some garden nectar favorites: (Photos to follow once I take them)

    Agastache, Hyssop   Beloved by Hummingbirds and butterflies, Hyssop is a water wise, full sun plant that comes in a range of colors.  They average about 18” tall and wide.  Great for a cottage garden look without the water bill.

    Arctostaphylos or Manzanita are California natives with small bell like flowers at the end of winter and are usually in bloom mid February.  These plants help provide a much needed nectar source before the big spring bloom.  These plants are also grown for their beautiful burgundy colored bark.

    Callistemon, Bottle Brush is a hardy plant with bright red flowers in a bottle brush formation.  These plants come in compact dwarf sizes to shrubs that eventually can be small trees.  They are very popular with hummingbirds and bees alike and bloom often throughout the year.  They need full sun and the regular varieties will need space when mature.

    Ceanothus spp., California Lilac can grow coastal or inland depending on the variety.  They are a good overlap with the native Manzanitas to provide nectar in late winter.  They bloom in white to every shade of blue to indigo.  They come in prostrate sizes only reaching 2 feet tall and growing out to 8 feet, to tall specimens that can become small trees.  There are even a couple of variegated versions with green and yellow leaves.  These plants prefer full sun unless they are a coastal variety and then need shade in the heat of day inland. Once established they should not get any supplemental irrigation, especially in summer or they die an early death.
    Ceanothus 'El Dorado'
    Epilobium spp., California Fuchsia is a California native with red tubular flowers.  It likes full sun and blooms spring to summer.  They come in different sizes and forms so pick one that fits your garden.

    Salvia clevelandii, Cleveland Sage is a California native and it has a wonderful fragrance. Great for rubbing against by a walkway.  Plant them in full sun where it can grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.  The very small blue tubular flowers grow in clusters at increments up a stalk.

    Salvia gregii, Autumn Sage blooms profusely in autumn but usually has flowers all year long except during hard frosts. Hummingbirds love this plant as well and it is a good plant for color at least three seasons long. Comes in a varieties of reds, pinks, purples and white.

    Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage is a hummer favorite.  Bright red tubular blooms occur in fall and go on until frost.  These plants can get 4-6 feet tall.  The 'Golden Delicious' variety has chartreuse green leaves and only gets 3' tall and wide.  These plants can be cut back to rejuvenate.  The leaves can be used to add flavor to cold drinks, also be used in cooking but the flavor and aroma are greatly diminished.Pineapple Sage with red flower and Mexican Bush Sage with purple flower. Both bloom profuesly in fall and great nectar plants.

    Salvia spp., Sage in general attracts hummingbirds and different varieties bloom in different seasons from spring through fall.  Even varieties considered annuals can give a boost of color in the garden and extra nectar.  Most are aromatic if rubbed, and many are edible.  A must have in the water wise garden.

    Penstemon spp. There are many native and non-native varieties.  These plants can usually grow to 3 feet tall and wide with time and the tubular flowers come in many colors.  They like full sun but can do well in part sun too.  They can take a mix of water, making them good transition plants between sun and shade or lawn and dry areas.

    Trichostema lanatum Wooly Blue Curls  A California native, it has tubular blue flowers along long stems.  A great nectar source, very aromatic, and adds a great color to the garden.   It will grow 3-4’ tall and wide.  Evergreen in San Jose area and after it is established only low water to none at all. 


    Blueberries for Warm Winter Climate

    Sunshine Blue photo from Monrovia Nursery website

    Southern Highbush Blueberries

    Vaccinium corymbosum and then name of variety from below

    Southern highbush berries are a hybrid of North American native northern highbush and the native southern blueberries.  They don't require the extensive chill of other blueberries such as northern highbush and rabbiteye and so perform well in mild winter climates such as California.
    Blueberries grow well as a hedge, screen, in containers, shrubs in the edible garden and mixed with ornamental plants requiring the same climate and soil conditions.  Two designs in my gallary have blueberries incoporated into the landscape.  Once the berries are blue and have a whitish or grayish coating, they should be ready for harvest.  They will not ripen further after they are picked.  Blueberries can last a few weeks on the bush once ripe, so they don't require daily picking. They are ready when they easily come right off.  (See below for info on how to freeze or dry your extra harvest by Rosalind Creasy.)

    Most blueberries ripen early summer to winter.  Some are "early" and some are mid-season through fall. 
    Most require more than one variety to pollinate; plus, planting different types can lengthen the harvest period.  It is also recommended to plant two plants for each consumer if you want plenty!  Birds are the primary competitor in the garden and a net that allows bees in is the only way to keep the fruit from the birds.  Blueberries can be evergreen in the mild climate and never drop their leaves.
    Those that have the chill to drop leaves can be very attractive with yellow orange to brilliant red fall color.

    Most southern highbush get tall and will only need pruning to control shape or size.  Don't prune the first few years except for broken branches.  Blueberries will primarily fruit on new growth.
    One variety is a semi-dwarf and gets 3' tall and is self fruiting but it is still better to have more then one kind for best pollinization.
    You should be able to find plants at SouthBay nurseries such as; Summerwinds, Almaden Valley Nursery or Yamigami's.
    IF they don't have what you want in stock, they may be able to order it for you.
    For a hedge like appearance (even if not pruned) plant 3' apart.  For individual shrubs, plant 4-5' apart.

    Blueberries need the same soil and water requirements as Azaleas with moist well drained acidic soil and regular water; however blueberries need full sun.  In summer they likely will need water at least once a week and more often during heat waves.  They have shallow roots that grow out more than down.  Every spring, add mulch which will help keep weeds down, retain moisture and protect surface roots in addition to adding nutrients.  Acidic pine needles are a good mulch to use.  Small soil kits at nurseries and hardware stores can help you watch the acid level of your soil which should be a pH level 4.5 to 5.5.
    Use an organic acid loving fertilizer suitable for Azaleas and Rhododendrons.  Blueberry Flowers of Sunshine Blue, photo from Monrovia nursery website types grow best and produce a good harvest in a mild winter climate such as most of California.

    Harvest late summer through fall
    Grows 4-5' tall and wide in a tall upright form, moderate growth
    Medium to large sky blue berries that are good flavor
    Can be a blue green evergreen or yellow orange for fall color
    White flowers in spring (500 chill hours)


    Harvest midsummer through fall
    Grows 5-6' tall and wide, moderate growth
    Large very sweet berries with excellent flavor
    Heavy fruit bearer
    Leaves are a blue green and turn red for fall
    Pink flowers late spring (300 chill hours)


    Harvest summer to fall, considered early
    Grows 5' tall and 6' wide, moderate grower
    Considered to have the best flavor and large dark blue berries
    Can be evergreen with green leaves to brilliant red fall color
    White flowers in spring (200-400 chill hours)


    Harvest early to mid-season in summer - almost year round bloom and berries
    Grows 5-6' tall and wide, moderate grower
    Large and fast growing green semi-evergreen shrub
    Large dark blue berries with excellent flavor
    White flowers in spring (300-500 chill hours)

    Harvest early summer to mid-season
    Grows upright to 6' tall and wide, moderately vigorous growth
    Large bright blue berries with excellent flavor on green shrub
    White flowers  in spring and fall color being deciduous (500 chill hours)

    "Sunshine Blue'
    Harvest in summer
    Compact 3'-4' tall and wide semi-dwarf, moderate and compact growth
    Can be grown in containers
    Abundant large light blue tangy flavored berries
    Green semi-evergreen with hot pink flowers that fade to white
    Self pollinating but still does best with another variety to cross pollinate
    Pink flowers in late spring (150 chill hours)

     Blueberries are highly nutritious and have high antioxidant power.  Freezing and/or drying the extra harvest makes them available at other times of the year.
    Per Rosalind Creasy, to freeze blueberries, wash and pat them dry and then place as a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze.  Once frozen, they can be saved in freezer bags.  Use them frozen or thawed in smoothies and baked goods.
    To dry blueberries, use firm berries washed and pat dry and place on a plastic screen out of direct sun in a warm dry place. Stir them on occasion to insure equal air circulation and drying. In 4-5 days the berries should be dry and have no moisture when squeezed.  Soak in water and refrigerate for a few hours to re-hydrate and use like canned blueberries in recipes.

    Resource information Monrovia Nursery website, Sunset Western Garden Book, and Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy.