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Power Up Your Landscape with These Edible & Herbal Superstars!

Power Up Your Landscape with These Edible & Herbal Superstars!

If you would like to maximize your yard space for nutrition, wellness, and enjoyment, check out these sixteen plants, many of which are highly nutritious, support pollinators, provide year round interest, or attract hummingbirds and butterflies!  Enjoy!  🙂

Trees

Citrus ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’

 Edible & Herbal Superstars!Lemons have a relatively low heat requirement in terms of citrus, and do very well near the California coast.  All citrus is frost sensitive.  Improved Meyer Lemon is one of the only disease free lemon varieties allowed for sale in California.  Meyer Lemon can be easily maintained at 6′ x 6′.  Lemon trees are evergreen and have dark green glossy leaves.  Meyer Lemon is thin skinned, is very juicy, and has a less acidic taste than most lemons making it a great variety for juicing.  Lemon is extremely valuable medicinally, and for preparing herbal home cleaning products.

Citrus Orange

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Like lemons, orange trees are beautiful in the landscape, and very valuable in the home garden.  The orange blossom fragrance is very calming, and oranges are a wonderful source of vitamin C.  There are many varieties of oranges that ripen at different times of the year.  If you love fresh oranges, you might consider having one tree that ripens in Summer, and one that ripens in Winter.  All citrus is frost sensitive. Citrus can successfully be grown in containers for years.  Use a dwarf variety for container planting.  Check with a nursery or citrus grower for best varieties for your needs and growing area. Four Winds Growers is an excellent source of information on citrus selection and care.

Pomegranate  (Punica granatum)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Pomegranates produce a highly nutritious, fruit that is very high in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, and is usually very expensive when purchased in stores.  Many of the juice brands sold in stores have added sugar and other ingredients.  Pure pomegranate juice will be the most expensive. The fruit ripens in Fall, and can be stored for several months in the refrigerator.  For this reason, I consider pomegranate one of the most valuable trees to have in the yard if they can grow in your area. Pomegranates are one of those plants that I’ve often seen thriving in spite of neglect. Although they can tolerate considerable drought, trees grown for fruit should receive regular watering.  There are many varieties available with differences in tartness or sweetness of juice, and some varieties are better than others for juicing.  Pomegranate trees are deciduous, and usually grow as a large multi-stemmed shrub.  Pomegranates can tolerate heat and many soils including alkaline.  I’ve seen them produce well in clay soil as well.

Shrubs

Pineapple Guava (Feijowa Sellowiana)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Pineapple Guava is an evergreen shrub or tree that can take full sun.  The plants can get quite large (to 15′ x 25′), but can tolerate heavy pruning.  These plants are usually grown as large broad shrubs or multi-trunked trees.  Flowers and fruit are edible, and attractive to birds and bees.  The pretty flowers can be added to salads, and the fruits can be eaten plain or used to make jelly.  The plants are drought tolerant, but should be watered regularly if grown for fruit.  Improved varieties such as ‘Beechwood’, ‘Coolidge’, ‘Mammoth’, and ‘Trask’ will be self-fruitful.  Older varieties will need a pollinator plant nearby.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Rosemary is a great culinary herb that also makes an exceptional landscaping plant because it is tough and easy to grow.  Rosemary comes in spreading or upright forms, and is usually grown as a large shrub or mounding ground cover.  Depending on variety, plants can typically grow to 6′-8′ wide and 3′ tall or more. Rosemary can also be used to create topiaries or shaped into small living Christmas trees which can be used year after year. Rosemary can be grown in full sun, and is a low-water user.  The plant tolerates ocean spray, wind, heat, poor soils, and clay.  Rosemary is also fire resistant and deer resistant.  There are many varieties available with differences in growth habit and size.  Depending on where it is grown, it may bloom off and on all year.  Most flower in some shade of lavender blue, but there are a couple of pink varieties as well.  To save yourself work, and maintain the attractiveness of the plant, be sure to plant it in a location where it can grow to full size without needing extensive pruning to control size.  Variety ‘Barbeque’ is very upright and narrow.  It grows only 2-3′ wide and up to 6′ tall. This variety would be great for small yards or for creating a natural living screen.  Rosemary is attractive to bees when in bloom.

As an herb, rosemary is commonly used to flavor meat, pasta, fish, and other dishes, and has medicinal properties as well.  Rosemary, like orange blossom, is another plant that makes me feel better instantly just by smelling it. Rosemary has been regarded throughout history as being uplifting and energizing, and has been used to relieve depression, exhaustion, and arthritis.  The essential oil of Rosemary is believed to stimulate hair growth, and is an ingredient in many shampoos.

Purple Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Sage (Salvia officinalis) has long been associated with health and longevity. This is the plant referred to in the saying, “Why would a man become sick when Sage grows in the garden”.  This is also the herb commonly used to flavor chicken.  Some herbal references say that Purple Garden Sage (Salvia o. ‘Purpurescens) is more effective medicinally than the green leaved variety, Salvia officinalis. In the garden, both varieties are easy-care plants growing to about 3′ x 3’ with stalks of purple flowers that are loved by bees and hummingbirds. The purple tinged leaves on Purple Garden Sage will stay through the Winter in Central California.  Both varieties can tolerate ocean spray, poor soils, clay, wind, deer, rabbits, and alkaline soil.

California White Sage or Sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Salvia apiana is a California native with aromatic silvery white leaves and lightly fragrant white flowers growing on 2′ tall stems. This plant is loved by bees and hummingbirds.  The silvery foliage shines in moonlight and provides a great background for dark purple or red flowers.  This plant requires very little summer water once established, and tolerates poor soils, heat, deer, and rabbits.  It is also considered fire resistant.  Sacred White Sage has medicinal properties, and is the sage commonly used ceremonially by Native Americans.  The plant should be located in full sun.

Blueberry

Blueberries are highly nutritious, and given the right conditions, can be grown successfully in the landscape or in containers.  Being native to Eastern North America, Blueberries thrive in conditions that suit Azaleas (cool, acidic soil rich in organic matter with good drainage).  There are now many varieties available for all areas of the country.  Varieties also differ in size of plant, as well as size and sweetness of berries. Because blueberries require specific conditions for fruit production and to keep the plants looking good, I would encourage you to learn about them before adding them into your landscape.  When receiving the right conditions, Blueberry plants look great in a landscape, and are a valuable addition to the home garden, especially if you are gardening with children.  I live in California, and our native soil conditions are about opposite of what Blueberries like. However, we do have some Blueberry farms here where they plants are growing very successfully in the ground.  I first tried growing Blueberries in containers rather than planting them in the ground.  Ours have been in barrels for two years now.  The first year, we hardly had any berries.  The second year was great.  The bushes were beautiful and loaded with berries.  Blueberries can remain productive in containers for several years, and I know some people who have had some very impressive results here in California.

Perennials

Lavender (Lavandula)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Lavender is water-wise, very beautiful, loved by bees & butterflies, and is very useful. Lavender has calming and antiseptic properties as well as a wide variety of medicinal uses.  Lavender flowers are edible, and can be used to flavor ice cream, cookies, and pastries.  Lavender is commonly used in sachets, perfumes, soaps, and baby products as well as cleaning products, and as insect repellents for pets.

Lavender is easy to grow, especially in hot, dry climates.  Lavender can thrive in heat or cool climates, and requires little to no fertilizing.  The most common causes of death or poor growth of Lavender are over-watering, over-fertilizing, frost, or humidity combined with heat.  There are many varieties available with differences in size of plants, flower color, and strength of fragrance.  Some varieties have been developed with better tolerance to certain environmental conditions such as humidity.  Lavender needs full sun.  If you are wanting to grow Lavender for medicinal or herbal use, plants with variety name beginning with Lavandula angustifolia would be best.

Oregano (Origanum AKA Marjoram)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Oregano is a valuable herb that also makes a great landscape plant.  Most of us are familiar with Oregano as one of the herbs that gives the sweet taste to Italian pasta sauces.  Oregano is one of my essential cooking herbs.  I find the flavor kind of addicting like Basil and Dill!  I also love oregano as a landscaping plant because it thrives in heat, is a low-water user, and grows only to about 2′ x 2′.  It is also a butterfly attractor, and bees love it.  Oregano can be used as a small ground cover, in rock gardens, and cascading over retaining walls.  Oregano has really pretty flowers that can be cut and dried.

Thyme (Thymus)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Thyme is another popular culinary herb that makes a great landscaping plant.  The small mat-forming varieties make an excellent ground cover for small spaces.  Most varieties prefer full sun, or afternoon shade in hot summer areas.  Elfin Thyme has tiny leaves and only grows to 2″ x 5″ wide.  This variety is a low-water user, and does not produce flowers, so it would work well between stepping stones. There are many varieties with differences in scent, flower color, and growth habit.  My favorite is Lemon Thyme Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’. The plant grows 1’x2′, and has grayish green leaves splashed with gold.  Leaves have a lemon scent and flavor.

Garlic

Edible & Herbal Superstars!The medicinal and nutritional qualities of Garlic make it essential in the family garden.  Garlic is one of the most valuable plants on the planet. Garlic has several medicinal qualities, and is an essential cooking herb for flavoring meats, dressings, sauces, and many other foods. Garlic can be used in home made pest repellent and pest management recipes for the garden, and is said to be a good companion for roses. Fresh Garlic is far superior in flavor and nutritional quality than Garlic typically found in stores.  In mild winter areas, plant in Fall for early summer harvest.  If your winters are cold, plant in early spring.

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Aloe is another of the most medicinally valuable plants on earth, and it is not difficult to grow in relatively frost-free areas. Pure, raw Aloe Vera juice and gel can be expensive to purchase.  If you are using Aloe juice on a regular basis, you might consider growing your own.  You can’t get fresher than harvesting from your own plants, and by growing your own, you know it is 100% pure and contains no chemical additives.  It takes several years for Aloe plants to grow large enough for harvesting significant amounts of gel or juice. A couple of years ago, I was growing my own plants, and harvesting the gel and juice.  My plants were doing very well, and I was amazed at how fast they were growing.  I had them all in large containers filed with soil from the yard.  They were receiving mostly indirect light in a spot that received sun around noon and maybe a little again in late afternoon.  Do your research on how to properly harvest, store, and use the gel and juice.  There is an irritating and fowl-tasting sap in the leaves that must be drained prior to juicing. Aloe is frost sensitive.  

Annuals

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Borage is a beautiful annual plant I fell in love with the first time I saw one.  I’ve never grown it myself, but would love to give it a try.  The following is information I’ve learned about the plant through books and other resources.  Borage grows to about 3′ x 2′, and has bright blue flowers, and fuzzy green leaves. Borage doesn’t transplant well, so direct seeding in late spring is the best way to get it started.  The plant will self-seed, so you should be gifted with new ones each year!

According to the Sunset Western Garden Book and other herbal references, the leaves and flowers are edible.  Flowers are often used in salads.  The plant also has a wide variety of herbal uses.  Borage is know to stimulate the adrenal glands, reduce stress, soothe cough, and more.  Flowers can be used in fresh arrangements.  The plant tolerates poor soil and some drought.  It needs afternoon shade in hot summer areas, and needs frost protection.  Seeds are commonly available in retail stores, nurseries, and online sources.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!The sight of Calendulas growing in Winter always brings joy to my heart.  Come to find out, ancient herbalist used to recommend Calendula for “clearing the head, and encouraging cheerfulness”! Calendula is a plant I love not only because it blooms during Winter here, it is medicinal! Many of today’s modern homeopathic remedies contain Calendula.  Herbal handbooks and internet sources contain instructions for making a variety of home remedies including teas, compresses, and creams. Calendula is super easy to grow, and can be started from transplants in Fall or grown from seed. Calendula provides masses of dependable color from Fall through mid Spring in mild Winter areas.  Use calendula in flower beds, along driveways, or plant some seeds in a sunny spot where you just need some quick and easy color.   Calendula comes in orange, yellow, as well as other new shades. Calendula is great in children’s gardens and play areas, and the flowers can be used for cutting. Remove spent flowers to prolong bloom.  Allow some plants to go to seed at the end of the season, and they will self-sow for you year after year!  🙂

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)

Edible & Herbal Superstars!Like Calendula and Borage, the sight of Sunflowers always bring me joy.  Sunflowers are among the easiest plants to grow.  They are often found growing wild along roadsides and open areas.  There is a wide array of varieties available in a wide range of colors, sizes, and growth habit. Some are annuals, and others are perennials. Sunflowers are great in the family garden and child play areas.  A friend of mine planted some of the giant ones in a half-barrel with Zinnias in front, and they looked great.  Many varieties make great cut flowers, and birds love their seeds.  Sunflowers bloom in Summer and Fall, and need full sun.  Most non-native varieties need regular watering.  Plant in early Summer.

To find out if these plants will thrive in your growing area and to see ideas for how you might use them in your garden, click here:  http://www.plantmaster.com/share?id=59ebc8f51a9ec  

Happy Planning!

Take care, slow down, and enjoy!

Melanie

 

My Most Recommended Resource for Western States DIY Garden Design Inspiration!

My Most Recommended Resource for Western States DIY Garden Design Inspiration!

Are you considering a new landscape installation or re-design?  Whether you are planning to DIY or hire a pro to complete all or part of the project, one of the first things you’ll need to do is to get a good idea of what you want.

 

When people ask me where to get ideas for plants to use in their yards, my favorite resource to suggest is one of the Water Smart Gardening Websites created by a company called Garden Soft. There are over 50 Water Smart Gardening Websites created for various regions of the Western United States. See the Water Smart Gardening Websites here: http://www.watersmartgardening.com/

 

Garden Soft gardensoft.com created the professional plant database and online plant presentation program that I use called Plant Master. The Water Smart Gardening Websites are a free resource available to the public. The websites assist with plant selection, provide amazing examples of beautiful landscapes, as well as links to many excellent resources for irrigation and garden planning.

The reason the Water Smart Gardening Websites are one of my most recommended plant selection resources is because they are so easy to use, and they provide many of the same plants, photos, and features I use in the professional program that I pay for.

 

As a user of a Water Smart Gardening Website, you can browse photos of real life landscapes organized by category such as Front Yards, Back Yards, Lawn Alternatives, Low-maintenance Landscapes, CA Native Gardens, Parking Strips, Water Features, and many more!

 

Photos of plants are also organized by categories such as Plants That Attract Butterflies, Ornamental Grasses, Unusual Foliage, etc.  The plant database is searchable by common or botanical plant name and has a guided search feature to help you choose plants to meet your interests or specific growing conditions of your yard.  As you search, you can save plants you like and create your own printable plant list.

If you’re planning a new landscape project, be sure to check out this fabulous resource for design inspiration, planning tips, and irrigation resources.  Click here to access the Water Smart Gardening Websites:

http://www.watersmartgardening.com/

Slow down, take care, and enjoy!

Melanie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautify Your Space with Plants and Improve Your Well-being!

Beautify Your Space with Plants and Improve Your Well-being!

Are you finding it difficult to relax and quiet your mind? Perhaps the state of your personal space has you a bit on edge.  

We all need some personal space.  Having a space we can consider personal where we can unwind, recharge our energy, and express our individuality is good for our health and happiness.

Even if we don’t realize it, our surroundings have an impact on how we feel.  We all need some personal space, and if our space is cluttered, dirty, or just plain ugly, that can cause stress. What we see day in and day out is going to influence how we feel. One of the simplest things we can do to improve how we feel on a daily basis is to beautify our personal space so that being in it feels good to us.

Transforming a space to one of positivity may not necessarily have to be expensive or a huge undertaking.  Start small with perhaps one room of your home or just a section of a room such as your office space.  The idea is to create a space that can be your own personal place of tranquility.

An inexpensive first step may be to simply clean it up.  A good cleaning can often make a huge difference.  A clean space is calming and inviting.  Nothing like a dirty kitchen to squash our desire to cook a meal!  🙂  Self-care is key to our health and happiness, and sometimes finding our way to wellness involves removing things from our lives that don’t contribute to our happiness and well-being so that we can focus on the things that do.

If you are having difficulty cleaning because you are overwhelmed by clutter, remove anything you don’t absolutely love or that doesn’t serve a purpose in your life right now.  Make a place for everything you are keeping, and give away the rest.

Josh Becker, creator of BecomingMinimalist.com has a great book, The More of Less  and step-by-step course to help people remove clutter from their lives.  The course comes with access to a supportive online community of fellow De-cluttering students who are simplifying their lives along with you.  You can find the course here: http://becomingmin.wpengine.com/

 

Once clean, one way to quickly and easily beautify a space is to add living plants.  Plants not only help clean the air, they provide instant beauty and connection to the natural world.  Also, because they are alive, caring for them can provide a special sense of fulfillment.  If you need a new hobby in your life, growing indoor plants might be fun for you.

As with other items of decor, keep it simple when decorating with plants.  Depending on the size of your space, one or two plants may be all you need.  If you want more because you love them or you are growing them for fun, then go for it!  It’s your space.  🙂

How to decide where to place a plant…

When I’m decorating a room, I place my plants first because they have to have adequate light in order to thrive.  Other decorative items can be used in spaces that don’t get the best light.

Prime space for many indoor plants is right in front of a window that gets good morning sun.  Strong afternoon sun might be too much for some plants so you’ll need to keep an eye on them, and move them if needed.  Adjusting the light by closing blinds in the afternoon during summer may be an option.

There are many plants that can grow in the low light conditions typical of many homes and offices.  If you don’t have space right in front of a window, work your way back from the windows, and look for other available spaces that still get some sunlight.  The farther away you get from windows, the less natural light there will be for your plants.  In these areas, you will need to use plants that can tolerate low light conditions.

When deciding on where to locate plants, look for empty spaces that could use some color.  Trees or other large plants soften the look and feel of a room, and can be used to fill corners and other large spaces that have good light.  Several smaller plants can be placed around large ones to create an attractive grouping.

Small potted plants can be used on table tops and desks.  Trailing plants can be placed on the top of bookshelves, wall units, or elevated plant stands.  Avoid placing plants on top of or right next to televisions, computers, office machines, or other electronic devices.  The electro-magnetic energy given off from such machines is not good for plants, and it can also be a safety hazard when watering especially if children help water plants.

There are many attractive plant stands available now that can accommodate a good number of plants.  They are available in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes, and can be used in corners or directly under windows.  Some are lightweight and easily portable or come in sets of multiple sizes that nest together for compact storage when not in use.  Yard sales, thrift stores, and consignment boutiques are good places to find plant stands, pots, and baskets at bargain prices.

To help you get started choosing specific plants, check out some of my favorite indoor plants here:

12 Great Plants Easily Grown Indoors

Many of these plants are commonly available at plant nurseries, garden centers, or even grocery stores.  Use the list to help you determine which plants might be the best fit for you and your space.

Tip:  Take some photos of your room with a few close ups of the various locations you are considering placing a plant.  Bring your photos and your list with you when you shop for your plants.  Your photos will help you visualize the plant in your space.

You might also want to take some measurements.  For example, if you want a rectangular plant stand to go under a window, you’ll need to know how large it can be to fit the space.  Also measure the distance from the floor to the windowsill.  The plant stand must be tall enough so that your plants will sit above the window sill, otherwise they won’t get light.

If you’re shopping at a nursery or garden center, these items will also help the salesperson better assist you in selecting plants, pots, or other items to meet your needs.

I would love to see your before and after photos, and hear about how your project worked out.  Please share in the comments below.

Thank you, and Enjoy!

 

 

12 Great Plants Easy to Grow Indoors

12 Great Plants Easy to Grow Indoors

Plants add quality to our lives on so many levels.  Indoors, they soften the environment, add living beauty to a room, and provide us with connection to the natural world.  All of the plants listed here are easy to grow even for beginners, and most are commonly available at nurseries, garden centers, and maybe even grocery stores.

 

Table Top

Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)

May every family enjoy the presence of an Aloe plant!  Aloe is one of the most medicinally valuable plants on the planet, and it is super easy to grow indoors!  In addition to being spiky, bold & beautiful, you can’t beat fresh Aloe gel for minor burns on the skin.  Aloe is a succulent plant that can hold water in its leaves for long periods of time. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings.  This may mean watering only every two or three weeks.

 

Common Jade or Money Plant (Crassula ovata AKA C. argentea)

Jade is amazingly resilient, and does not require frequent watering. This is another plant that should be allowed to dry completely between waterings, and so may need water only every two or three weeks. If the leaves fade and start to shrivel, it has gotten too dry.  With thick stems and succulent light green leaves, Jade produces a profusion of light pink flowers off & on from Fall through Spring.  Indoor plants may not flower if they are in a low-light location. Jade can be kept small by keeping it in a small pot, and pruning its fast growing shoots.  These plants can get quite large and heavy when grown outdoors or in large pots.  I’ve seen them as large as 6′ tall and half as wide.  Jade works nicely on the patio, but must have afternoon shade and protection from frost.  There are now many new varieties of Jade with interesting textures, flower colors, and growth habits including dwarf varieties that would be ideal for indoor or container growing.  Jade is sometimes used for Bonsai as well. This is another plant that should be allowed to dry completely between waterings, and so may need water only every two or three weeks. If the leaves fade and start to shrivel, it has gotten too dry.  The leaves should be smooth and plump.  Jade is highly toxic to dogs.

Elephant’s Food (Portulacaria afra)

This plant is very similar to the common Jade plant in appearance and growing requirements, and is sometimes sold under the name of “Miniature Jade Plant”.  Portulacaria afra has thick reddish brown stems and fleshy green leaves like Jade, but is faster growing and more loosely branched. Portulacaria afra is also available in a variegated form that has green and white leaves.  This is a very interesting, beautiful plant that grows into a broad bush or small tree, and provides nice contrast in texture when grown with other common houseplants.  It is also a fine specimen on its own.  Having a small root system and being drought tolerant, this plant also makes an excellent bonsai specimen.  You like minimalist decor?  This is your plant!

 

Peperomia species

There are so many varieties of Peperomia that I love!  They come in a wide selection of varieties with vast differences in form, leaf color, size, and textures.  Most have small root systems so they will stay small, and not require frequent re-potting.  Generally Peperomias can hold water in their leaves and stems so if you forget a watering, they are likely to be fine.  Peperomias do well with bright light.  An east facing window or one that could be shaded in the afternoon would be ideal.  A couple of my favorite varieties include Peperomia c. ‘Jeli’ – upright growth with bright green & white leaves, and Peperomia caperata which has thick dark green leaves with deep fissures that provide interesting texture.  Another beauty is the Watermelon Peperomia (Peperomia argyreia).  Its leaves have green and white stripes that look like a watermelon.  If you don’t find the exact variety you may be looking for, there is likely to be one by a different name that is very similar in appearance.

 

Variegated Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata variegata)

This beauty will tolerate neglect and low light, and comes in many varieties with differences in leaf markings.  Leaf color of variegated varieties will look best with bright light.  This plant is a succulent, and has stiff upright leaves with sharp points on tips so take care when choosing location.  Allow plant to dry between waterings.  This plant can remain in the same pot for many years.  Some people say this plant loves being potbound.  This is another plant that is very forgiving, and would be a good choice for beginners or travelers.  It may only need watering every two or three weeks.

 

Hanging Baskets

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

English Ivy is an evergreen vine that comes in many varieties with different leaf shapes and markings.  All are easy to grow.  The miniature leaf forms are the best for use as stand-alone plants, topiaries, or as fillers with other plants in potted arrangements.  Keep soil evenly moist, and avoid full sun.  Some of the prettiest varieties include Hedera ‘Needlepoint’ which has very pointed leaves that will stay small, Hedera ‘Glacier’ which has white edges, and Hedera ‘Teardrop’ which has very pretty heart-shaped leaves.  English Ivy is easily grown from cuttings.

 

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’

Pothos is probably the most popular houseplant in existence.  They are very forgiving.  If you are just getting started with houseplants, Pothos is a good one to try.  This variety has green leaves with white marbling.  Leaf color will be best in bright indirect light.  Pothos can be grown on tabletop, climbing, or hanging. These are often seen in restaurants climbing all along the ceiling.  Several varieties are available with differing colors of leaf variegation, and they are easy to propagate from stem cuttings.

All of the plants listed above as hanging plants can also be used as tabletop plants when young or if kept small enough with occasional pruning.  You can also place them on an elevated stand or shelf if you don’t want to use a hanging basket.

 

Trees

Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’

This is a very showy, drought tolerant palm-like plant with red, green and cream striped leaves.  It looks awesome when backlit by the sun, and is great for grouping with other plants.  This would be a fine tree to showcase against a wall with night lighting.  They are not fast growing so buy one that is already full and bushy.  These plants can be quite pricy purchased large, but once you have one, they are easy to propagate – a plus if you’re one who likes to play with plants!  Your plant will need to be pruned occasionally to keep it full and bushy.  If a stem becomes too tall and bare, cut it off at the desired height, and new shoots will soon appear.  You can make stem cuttings from the branches you prune off, and start a new plant with them.  Just cut the stem into about 3-4″ lengths (remembering which end is down), and place the cuttings (top end up) into a fresh pot of houseplant potting mix.  Keep the planting mix evenly moist, but not wet.  These new plants make nice gifts for plant lovers, or multiples for yourself!

 

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

Every time I see one of these, I feel happy inside!  This beautiful tree looks lovely all year, and makes a great living Christmas tree.  The foliage is soft and fern-looking.  Norfolk Island Pines can grow to over 100′ in their native environment, but will be kept small when grown in a pot indoors.  So don’t transfer it to the yard unless you have ample space for it!

 

Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica)

Japanese Aralia is a bold, tropical looking bushy plant that can get quite large. They are great for instant beautification!  They also work well on shaded patios, but will need frost protection in winter.  Variety ‘Moseri’ has a smaller compact habit, and ‘Variegata’ has leaves with golden yellow or creamy white edges.

 

Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Considered nearly indestructible, the Ponytail Palm adds instant interest to any room.  These plants require very little water, so would be ideal if you travel often.  Plants are sold in a variety of sizes from tabletop to tree size.  As they grow, the leaves will get longer, and the plant may need to be placed on an elevated stand so that its fountain-like leaves can hang naturally. These plants do well in bright light.  Outdoors they can grow in full sun.

 

Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica)

The Rubber Tree is one of the easiest trees to grow indoors, and can tolerate less light than most large houseplants.  The plant has smooth thick dark green leaves that can grow to 8″ long or more. The new leaves unfold from rosy pink sheaths.  Rubber Trees can grow up to 8′ tall, and they can be kept smaller if needed by pruning tall shoots.  There are several varieties available with differences in leaf coloring.  Avoid using leaf shine products on these or any plants. They can interfere with the plant’s ability to breath.  Just wipe the leaves with a dry or damp cloth.  When you dust your furniture, dust your plants.  If you spray these with water occasionally to clean them off, dry the leaves with a soft cloth or there will be water spots left behind.

 

Please note: All plants or parts of them may be potentially toxic to pets and humans, especially young children. Some plants are more toxic than others, and some can be deadly if ingested.  Take care when selecting and locating plants. Keep plants out of reach of young children and pets. More information on toxic and safe plants can be found here: http://ucanr.edu/sites/poisonous_safe_plants/Toxic_Plants_by_Scientific_Name_685/

 

 

 

 

My Most Recommended Tool for Choosing Water-wise Plants for California Gardens

My Most Recommended Tool for Choosing Water-wise Plants for California Gardens

Choosing plants for a landscape plan or even a small garden project can be overwhelming.  There are so many plants!  It is easy to find examples of landscapes and plants we love, but how do we know that the plants we like are going to thrive in our garden?

There are many factors to consider when choosing plants, and if you want your plants to be low-water users, developing your plant list can be challenging.

When researching plants, we see terms like, “water-wise”, “low-water use”, “drought tolerant”, “no summer water”, “medium water”, “moderate water”, “water regularly”, “keep evenly moist”, “keep on the dry side”, “let dry between waterings”, “let dry somewhat between waterings”, “deep and infrequent waterings”.

Seriously?!  How do we know what these words really mean in terms of how to choose and water our plants?  This is like trying to figure out how much light a plant needs:  low, moderate, high, bright, indirect, part sun/part shade, half sun/half shade, dappled shade, filtered shade, etc.!

Introducing Waterwonk!  Waterwonk (www.waterwonk.us) is my absolute favorite Must-Have tool I use when choosing plants for a California garden.  The water needs of any given plant will vary depending on the climate region where it will live.  To make sure the plants I’m considering are appropriate for the location, I look them up in the WaterWonk database. WaterWonk is the WUCOLS online California plant database search tool.

What is WUCOLS?

Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) provides a guide to estimating irrigation water needs of landscape plantings in each of 6 distinct California climate regions.  WUCOLS was developed by the University of California Cooperative Extension in cooperation with landscape professionals and funded by the California Department of Water Resources.

What I love about WaterWonk is that it is so easy to use.  You simply type in your city, and the tool will pull your search results from the correct WUCOLS climate region.  You can view the entire list of plants appropriate for your region, or you can filter the list by entering other search criteria such as type of plant (tree, shrub, succulent, etc.).  You can even select CA native plants only, or plants that require less summer water once they are established.  The database also provides clickable links to Flicker photos of each plant so you are able to get a really good idea of what the plant looks like.  Enjoy!

If you check out the WaterWonk search tool, I would love to hear how you liked it.  Let me know in the comments below!

If you’re gardening in a state other than California, check with your county Cooperative Extension Service, or do a Google search to find landscape water efficiency resources for your region.  Many water agencies, native plant societies, plant nurseries, and other organizations publish plant lists online.  You might start by entering search terms such as “low-water”, “drought tolerant”, or “water-wise” plants for (your city/state).

The #1 Question I Receive About Ecological Landscaping

The #1 Question I Receive About Ecological Landscaping

The question I was most often asked while visiting clients as a Garden Consultant was, “Can you design a totally no maintenance yard for me”?

Although done in a humorous spirit, those who asked this really would prefer to avoid yard work!  🙂

My answer often went something like this…”Sure, if you don’t want any plants”!  We can create a nice hardscape plan for you, and you’ll never have to mow, weed, or prune again”!  (Hardscape includes all the elements of a landscape that are not plant material such as sidewalks, patios, and BBQ pits, etc.  Softscape is the plants: lawn, trees, shrubs).

Seriously though, there is no such thing as a maintenance free landscape.  All require regular maintenance in order to thrive and grow even more beautiful over time.  Your landscape is an investment, and part of the cost of that investment that is often overlooked by DIYers is maintenance.  Maintenance takes time, energy, and money.  If you (or another family member are not a person who really enjoys working in the yard, and has the time and energy to do it, I encourage you to consider hiring a professional gardener to maintain it for you at least for the first two years.”

“A well-planned landscape will require less maintenance once the plants become established, which may be up to two years for many varieties.  The cost of maintenance for two years should be included in your initial budget for your new landscape.  We can definitely create a low maintenance landscape for you by planning for minimal maintenance from the beginning of the design process.  However, please don’t plan to do the work yourself just to save money without really thinking it through.”  It doesn’t take long for a newly installed landscape to go from fabulous to failure due to lack of proper maintenance.

One beautiful benefit of ecological (or sustainable) landscaping is that maintenance is greatly reduced because we design gardens in such a way that we allow the power of nature to do much of the work.  Essentially, we eliminate or greatly reduce labor intensive maintenance tasks by purposefully selecting our design elements and plant material for sustainability, and we let nature put on her show!

What does that mean?

In terms of landscaping, sustainability means we garden in a way that can be continued indefinitely without causing harm to people or the environment, or being a drain on resources.  We seek to work with nature as much as possible, and let go of the need to have complete control.  We build gardens that invite nature in, and we interfere as little as possible with the normal processes of nature.  Don’t worry – that doesn’t mean we allow nature to run wild in our yards and we do nothing!  That is not gardening.   That is simply observing wilderness.  🙂

One example of how to significantly reduce maintenance when taking a sustainable approach to landscaping is to eliminate or at least reduce the size of the lawn.  The lawn is the highest maintenance element of most traditional landscapes, and typically requires high inputs of products for fertilization and management of weeds and diseases.  The lawn is also the highest water use element in most yards.

I’m not totally against lawns.  I just like to encourage people to consider how much they really need.  If you have a lawn now, how often does it get used?  If it is rarely used anymore, maybe you would get much more enjoyment out of the space by turning it into a water-wise garden that would attract hummingbirds and butterflies.  Think about all the time, energy, and money you could save if you didn’t have to spend it growing a lawn.  A hummingbird garden would require maintenance and water too of course, but not nearly as much as a lawn.  I love the idea of not having to even think about the lawn every week!  If you’re looking to simplify your life, and get more enjoyment out of the space you already have, less lawn might be a good fit for you.

So, although the idea of having a completely maintenance free landscape is not realistic, it is possible to keep maintenance to a minimum without sacrificing beauty.  If you don’t live in a desert, your yard doesn’t have to look like one.  And, conserving water doesn’t mean brown has to be our new green.  🙂

If you have any questions about creating your own sustainable landscape or lowering maintenance in your yard, let me know in the comments below.  Your questions will help me choose topics for future blog posts.  If you already have an easy care landscape you love, I’d love to hear about it.  Please include any details you care to share such as whether you created your own plan or paid a professional to do it for you.  Did you do any or all of the work yourself?  What went right, what went wrong?  What would you do differently next time?

If you found this post valuable, please pass it on to someone who might benefit from it, or give it a share on Facebook or Pinterest!  🙂

Thank you,

Melanie