With California facing the worst drought in its history is it possible for a responsible home owner or property manager to turn a water-consuming landscape into a drought tolerant one and still include grass as part of it’s design?
The answer is …YES!
No-Mow Grass (a collection of fineleaf fescue “grass” species that have been developed over the last 40+ years) is the answer for low-maintenance, low-input, environmentally friendly grassy ground covers. No-Mow is ideal for home, commercial and industrial landscapes that include slopes, median strips, golf course roughs, cemeteries and untrafficked areas of parks.
Ficus Nitida and Ficus Benjamina are not the solution.
Whenever a client asks about installing a hedge they’re usually thinking of planting a row using Ficus Nitida (Retusa) or Benjamina. They have been Southern California’s “go to” trees for privacy hedges for decades, but there are a number of reasons to pass them by. They can be very invasive and their roots grow close to the surface, damaging sidewalks. While they grow fast, they need frequent trimming and are not drought-toelerant. They require a substantial amount of water to establish and a moderate amount once established.
What follows is information on seven excellent hedges provided by the North Park Nursery. If you’re thinking about adding a hedge and are concerned about how it will behave and how much water it will consume, here is valuable information about the best plant material for the job.
Best Screening Trees
What makes the the perfect screening shrub? The answer to this question may vary depending on the individual, but. generally, the desirable characteristics are as follows:
Between 15 and 20 feet tall.
Evergreen and dense.
Tolerant of full sun.
Low maintenance, particularly low water use.
Podocarpus, fern pine, yew pine, yellow wood, Japanese yew
Scientific Name:Podocarpus sp. Height: 50 to 100 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low to moderate Description: One of the tallest trees on this list, we love podocarpus because it is an extremely resilient, fast-growing tree that is tolerant of full sun and low water. It can also stand part shade and holds up against windy, salty, coastal conditions. In addition, it responds well to pruning and shearing, meaning it can be managed at any height and made into a formal hedge. Of course, you can always choose to leave these trees in their natural form for a more organic appearance. There are a few varieties to choose from, including P. henkelii, which has long, slender and drooping leaves, P. gracilior, with fern-like foliage and P. gracilior, which has pine-like foliage and can be found in a variety called ‘Icee Blue,’ which has fabulous steel blue coloration.
Pittosporum, kohuhu, ‘Silver Sheen’
Scientific Name:Podocarpus tenuifolium Height: 20 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low Description: Pittosporum tenuifolium is a drought-tolerant New Zealand native that makes an excellent screening shrub here in Southern California. It tolerates full to part sun and can be either sheared into a more dense formal hedge or allowed to assume a natural, upright and wispy form. The most popular cultivar for use in home landscaping is ‘Silver Sheen,’ named for the grey-green tops and white undersides of its small leaves, which appear to flicker when caught in a breeze. The dark stems on this variety make it a striking choice indeed. Other varieties include ‘Gold Star,’ ‘Gold Sheen,’ ‘Marjorie Channon’ and ‘Irene Patterson,’ which come in different shades of green, variegated or otherwise, with bright red to deep black stems.
California Bayberry, California Wax Myrtle, Pacific Wax Myrtle
Scientific Name:Myrica californica Height: 15 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: A shrub native to the West Coast from Washington to Southern California, it has slightly fragrant, evergreen leaves. Best used along the coast, it is tolerant of sandy, loamy and clay soils, high winds and salt spray, making it an excellent windbreak along the coast. Needs some protection from sun and supplemental water when used further inland. Beautiful natural form, does not tolerate shearing.
Privet, wax leaf privet
Scientific Name:Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ Height: 8 to 10 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: Many gardeners are averse to planting privet because it has a reputation as being invasive and aggressive. However, in spite of these characteristics it makes an almost perfect hedge: fast growing, dense, evergreen foliage, tolerant of shearing with profuse white flowers. We recommend choosing the cultivar ‘Texanum,’ which is a less aggressive variety that only grows to half the size of the species. Will .ppreciate supplemental watering during the warmer months.
Scientific Name:Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’ Height: 10 to 15 ft Sun: Full sun Water: Low Description: There are many species of vertical-growing juniper that make excellent wind breaks and privacy screens. ‘Spartan’ is a cultivar we love for its moderate height, vertical form and rich green foliage. It is very responsive to pruning, and tolerant of heat, cold, wind and drought. Requires very little maintenance once established. Other similar choices are Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ and Cupressus sempervirens ‘Tiny Tower.’
Scientific Name:Bambusa sp. Height: 15 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: Bamboo is an excellent choice for a fast-growing, tall privacy screen with a tropical look. We recommend choosing clumping varieties that will not invade the rest of your yard – a favorite is the cultivar ‘Alphonse Karr,’ which has beautiful golden yellow stems and can be maintained at whatever height you desire with occasional pruning. Note that bamboo is a messy plant and tends to drop lots of leaves.
Bay laurel, sweet bay
Scientific Name:Laurus nobilis Height: 15 to 25 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low Description: Similar in appearance to privet but lacking flowers, bay laurel is a slower-growing, less-aggressive shrub that can be sheared into a formal hedge and is tolerant of full sun and low water. Very low maintenance and can be allowed to assume its natural form for an organic look.
Our California drought is not going away. In fact, given the current weather and worsening drought conditions, this fall will probably be the worst forest fire season in the state’s history. In addition, the state and local communities are significatly increasing regulations regarding the use of water for lawns and have added substantial fines for its misuse.
I came across this info graphic on ways to help your trees survive the drought. Even if you allow your grass to die or decided to replace it with drought-tollernat and native plants, your trees are not only a significant investment in money and time, they add substantial value of your property and provide a number of environmental contributions. Providing the correct amount of water and right nutrients can help trees and plants survive through severe droughts. If you would like to print this out and keep it handy to refer to, please Click Here
While this is probably not news to most of you, I believe it’s well worth repeating and considering. Last year, 2013 became the driest year on record in California; San Francisco had the least amount of rain since record keeping began during the gold rush of 1849, and here in Southern California, Downtown Los Angeles saw the driest calendar year on record.
We have had virtually no rain this winter (our rainy season) and on January 17, Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a statewide drought emergency. He has urged a voluntary 20% reduction in the use or water saying, “We ought to be ready for a long, continuous, persistent effort including the possibility of drinking-water shortages. I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits, that nature has its boundaries.” The department of Water and Power has announced that water rates will be going up and inspectors will soon be on the street checking to see that the thee-day water rationing is being respected and that sprinkler systems are in good working order.
I have written a number of newsletters and blogs about our diminishing water supply with ideas and suggestions on how to deal with it; I even have a page of my website devoted to Sustainable Green Landscape Design. Should you want to read what I’ve had to say over these past three years, here are their links. There is a lot of valuable information in them on how you can save money and help protect your home from fires, which is also of serious consideration, since the Santa Ana winds are now blowing year round.
Over the last two months, in Parts I and II of this series, we have looked at how nature, and in particular “Green Cities” impact not only our health and well-being but how they can positively contribute to a whole range of intellectual, emotional and developmental issues.
Part I focused on how interaction with nature can help alleviate mental fatigue and relax and restore the mind. It also presented compelling documentation on the importance of nature in child development.
Part II demonstrated how the out of doors and bringing nature into the work environment can positively affect workers’ performance. It also describes how nature can positively impact children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and individuals suffering from Alzheimers and Dementia.
Part III, and the last of the series, looks at how we can go about achieving what has been described in Parts I and II and what roles technology, parks and landscape design play in making this happen. As an example of my own work in this area, I have included information, photographs and links to the Weingart Center Garden here in Los Angeles, which I designed and believe incorporates and exemplifies the underlying premise of this series: we all have a deep, significant and perhaps even a genetic need to to be a part of and interact with nature.
Published by the College of the Environment, University of Washington, the project’s support was provided by the national Urban and Community Forestry program of the USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry. Summary prepared by Kathleen Wolf, Ph.D. and Katrina Flora, December 26, 2010. You can read it in its entirety at http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html.
Can Technological Nature Be Effective
The question has been asked, “Couldn’t we simply substitute aspects of the natural world with technological depictions of nature?” Can technology provide an adequate substitute in places where the natural world is some distance away?
When comparing subjects’ reactions in windowless offices with and without plasma TV “windows” showing natural scenes, participants preferred the offices with plasma-display windows and noted increased psychological well-being and cognitive functioning as a result of this connection to the natural world. In another study comparing viewing formats, outdoor views through glass windows were more restorative than blank walls, but plasma windows were no more restorative than blank walls to the subjects’ sense of well-being. Subjects’ heart rates were lower in offices with the glass windows than in those with plasma windows and blank walls.
It seems that artificially represented nature is not an effective substitute for directly perceived nature as it does not provide equivalent benefits and positive experiences. Such technological representations could be useful to some degree in situations where it is difficult to incorporate “real” nature, as in space shuttles, submarines, or other extreme environments where there is an unavoidable disconnect from the natural world.
Nature in the Community
Green Space for Physical Activity
Play and exercise are an important part of children’s and adults’ development and brain function. As children, play can help develop cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities. Later in life, exercise likewise helps increase and maintain the brain’s cognitive capacity.
Researchers have found that exercise boosts the growth of new nerve cells and improves learning and memory in adult mice: newly formed nerve cells were concentrated in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is key in memory formation, spatial learning, and conscious recall of facts, episodes, and unique events.
Urban green spaces encourage exercise and are a more restorative environment than indoor settings, with a greater positive effect on mental health. Additionally, urban green spaces offer a free, accessible, public environment in which to exercise and play to those who cannot afford a private gym membership.
A neighborhood than incorporates easily accessible green spaces into its design may also improve social cohesion and interaction. As a result, the mental health of individuals may also remain positive due to a decreased chance of depression and feelings of isolation and increased self-esteem. Effective social support networks have been found to restore feelings of personal control and self-esteem by buffering the effects of stress and poor health.
Green spaces, such as community gardens or even the shade of a large tree, encourage social contact by serving as informal meeting places and sites for group and shared activities. Green spaces can serve as a sort of ecotherapy, as marginalized people can find empowerment, respite from stresses, and personal involvement in environmental stewardship. Green spaces in close proximity to homes encourage exercise, which can improve mental health. As described earlier, studies indicate that having views of nearby nature and living within green spaces can improve worker productivity, reduce stress, improve school performance, and lessen the symptoms of ADD.
Specifically concerning the elderly, social interaction is important as less loneliness is correlated with lower mortality rates, depression, and cognitive impairment. Additionally, in a study of elderly populations that prefer natural over built environments, there is a positive correlation between familiarity of the environment and restorativeness. To promote this, the elderly require easily accessible spaces due to their more limited mobility, so having parks and green spaces in close proximity to their neighborhoods or care centers is especially important.
Landscape Design for Mental Health and Function
Parks are often scattered about cities, and many cities have too few parks. Based on decades of research findings, parks should be managed as systems, not just for the usual purposes of beauty and recreation, but also to help citizens function at their best. The National Parks and Recreation Association recommends that there be park space within 2 miles of every residence (with ¼- to ½-mile distances optimal for walkability) and that a city’s park system provide 5 to 8 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents.
Planting design within a park is also important. The “savannah hypothesis” argues that people prefer open landscapes with scattered trees, similar to African landscapes in which humans evolved. However, this theory has been recently challenged by evidence showing that the psychological benefits of green space are positively correlated with the diversity of its plant life. People who spent time in a park with greater plant species richness scored higher on various measures of psychological well-being than those subjects in less biodiverse parks.
Planters, gardens, green roofs, and other features can be incorporated into building design to address mental health and cognitive function. For example, the soft rhythmic movements of a trees or grass in a light breeze or the light and shade created by cumulus clouds, called Heraclitean motion, are movement patterns that are associated with safety and tranquility, aiding the development of a calm, stable mental state; lighting or space design that mimics Heraclitean motion could be incorporated into building design to create calm, peaceful areas that aid patients’ recovery or improve workers’ or students’ productivity. Bright daylight supports circadian rhythms, enhances mood, promotes neurological health, and affects alertness; increasing the use of natural light and reducing dependence on electric lighting can also significantly improve mental health and function.
Design can also encourage learning and exploration by creating spaces that are not immediately interpreted but allow discovery through sensory exploration. Effective architectural design is not easy to achieve: built objects and spaces that are too complex at first glance can become daunting, overwhelming, and too difficult to understand, while those that are easily scanned do not encourage interaction. If the built environment simulates the layered complexity of ecosystems, a person’s sensory systems will be engaged to explore and learn about the built object or space, which encourages cognitive function through a high level of visual fascination and mystery.
Weingart Center Garden
A Little Bit Of Country On Skid Row
In May of 2010 I began designing and eventually building the Weingart Center Garden. The Garden is adjacent to the Weingart Center, in the heart of the skid-row section of downtown Los Angeles. I wrote about this experience in one of my first newsletters entitled, “A Little Bit of Country on Skid Row.” That newsletter detailed my experiences and became the basis for an article I wrote for Worldscape, a Chinese publication, in both English and Chinese, that focuses on global landscape design.
The Worldscape editors requested an article describing one of my projects and I thought the design and construction of the Center’s garden was ideal. It demonstrated how a public/private partnership (the Weingart Center, AmeriCorps and me) can make a major contribution to one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Here is a link to a PDF of that article: Worldscape-Weingart and a video documenting the Garden’s construction is available here: Weingart-Construction.
The Weingart Center Garden – A Testimonial
The Garden that Garden of Eva designed and constructed for the Weingart Center, with the assistance of AmeriCorps, is a beautiful, comfortable and extremely functional outdoor living space for our clients, guests and community. Eva provided both the technical understanding of our needs and the vision to make the best use of the space. It provides a much-needed extension to our facility and it is continually used for meetings, training and fund-raising events, as well as barbecues for our staff, clients, guests and the community.
This small park provides refuge, relief and is a pleasant contrast to Skid Row and the city’s streets, sidewalks, large business complexes and housing developments. When you enter, the feeling you get is like walking into a country garden filled with beautiful flowers, trees, plants and a water fountain. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome and Eva’s continuing maintenance of our Garden.
Maurice Ochoa, Vice President – Facilities Services
Weingart Center for the Homeless
While bamboo may be beautiful–even exotic–in concept, it can be treacherous and very difficult to deal with in execution. To demonstrate my point, I offer this cautionary tale.
I am currently dealing with clients who are in the process of selling their home while having to contend with a next-door neighbor who is badmouthing both them and their property. This has come about because the stand of bamboo on my client’s property has sent runners under their neighbor’s garage. The bamboo runners are forcing their way up through the floor of the garage, breaking up its concrete foundation.
While my client’s are doing their best to resolve the situation, which is one reason I’m involved, it never would have happened had they not planted bamboo.
What is Bamboo?
There are over 100 species of bamboo, which is an evergreen member of the grass family, and it ranges in size from petite miniatures to massive giants that can reach over 30 feet in height. It can be found from the tropics to the tops of mountains and while most bamboos are tropical or subtropical, there are hardy bamboos that can survive temperatures of –10° to –20°F.
With summer coming to a close and kids returning to school, now might be the time to consider dealing with those bare spots of grass in the yard. A yard is an eco-system unto itself and the reason behind the bald patches of grass need to be dealt with before the replanting or re-sodding begins.
What’s Causing the Spots?
There may be a number of causes: lack of water (irrigation is broken or not properly calibrated), rocky or non-draining soil, grubs, dog urine, disease, shade, and compaction. Before you waste time and money you need to figure out what’s causing the problem, deal with it and then proceed.
If your problem is too much traffic, consider rerouting traffic or laying stepping-stones to discourage stepping on the lawn. If shade is the trouble, select a shade-happy variety of lawn seed or sod. If your dog’s urine is the problem, take it for a walk.
In addition to planting grass seed there are several alternatives to restoring your lawn:
If you don’t want to wait for the grass to grow, re-sodding the area is always an option. Home improvement superstores sell sod by the piece and it’s relatively inexpensive. The ground should be properly prepared, fertilized and leveled before cutting the sod to fit the exposed area.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time fixing up the lawn, there are some great products that incorporate seeds and a mulch-like covering in one easy application. These products work very well because the shredded paper and pulp that is mixed with the seeds is very effective at keeping the ground moist and the birds at bay. The filling is usually colored blue or green so you can easily see if you have the entire area covered.
The health of your lawn and new plantings depend upon the soil in which it is planted.
Dig up and remove the grass in the problem area. Remove the top layer of remaining turf and soil
Turn over the soil using a spade shovel (has a rounded or pointed end). Be sure to go down 4″ in depth. This breaks up soil compaction making it easier for your new seedling’s roots to grow deeper with more ease. Remove any stones, roots or other plant materials that may hinder the growth of your new grass as you work.
Amend the soil by placing compost or a commercial bagged product from your garden center into your loosened topsoil. This can greatly improve the growing conditions for your lawn’s roots. The darker the color of the soil more organic material and nutrients there are in it. Work the organic material into the soil using the spade and or garden rake.
Level the surface by using your garden rake to level and create a smooth surface. The soil surface should be the same level as the surrounding soil (or slightly higher to allow for settling). If you are using sod, the soil should be 1″ lower to allow for the depth of the sod’s soil and roots. Take care the surface is even with no low or high spots. This will create a lumpy end result and depressions can collect water, which may lead to disease.
Spread the Seed
Pick a quality grass seed that matches both the type of grass currently growing in your lawn and the requirements of the area it is to grow in.
With the soil prepared, lightly sprinkle the grass seed over the exposed area. Be sure to spread it at the rate as described on the seed packaging. Rake a thin layer of soil over the seeds. Apply a starter fertilizer to assist with jumpstarting the seed growth and ensuring strong roots.
Apply Mulch Covering
Cover the seeded area with a protective layer of mulch. Typical materials include straw, peat moss, or other commercially available products made of recycled newspaper, which conserve moisture and contain starter fertilizer. The covering used is not as important as what it does: conserve moisture, increase turf density and minimize weed seeds from finding your freshly prepared fertile soil.
Keep Soil Moist Until Seeds Sprout
Lightly water the seeds every day, multiple times a day if it is warm, sunny or windy. Keep them moist until you see the seeds germinate and begin to root into the soil, then reduce the frequency of watering. Allow your grass to grow and fill in before you mow. Mowing it too early or too short can damage the grass and possibly uproot it.
Grass consumes an extraordinary amount of water and there are so many alternatives to its use that I suggest, before you spend time and money trying to maintain a perfect lawn, you consider replacing your lawn or a considerable portion of it with drought-tollerent, sustainable native plants and succulents. I’ve written a number of blogs on this subject including my last post, Arid Southwest Cities’ Plea: Lose the Lawn. Help save water and save money by re-thinking how your garden grows.
The dormant season, late fall or winter, is the best time to prune although dead branches can and should be removed at any time. Pruning during the dormant period minimizes sap loss and subsequent stress to the tree. It also minimizes the risk of fungus infection or insect infestation as both fungi and insects are likely to be in dormancy at the same time as the tree. Finally, in the case of deciduous trees, pruning when the leaves are off will give you a better idea of how your pruning will affect the shape of the tree.
How Much to Prune
When deciding how much to prune a tree, as little as possible is often the best rule of thumb. All prunes place stress on a tree and increase its vulnerability to disease and insects. On no account, prune more than 25% of the crown and ensure that living branches compose at least 2/3 of the height of the tree. Pruning more risks fatally damaging your tree. In some cases, storm damage, height reduction to avoid crowding utility lines or even raising the crown to meet municipal bylaws, your pruning choices are made for you. But even in these instances, prune as little as you can get away with.
Advice regarding tools is pretty straight-forward. Buy the best tools you can afford and keep them in good condition.
Recently, a number of new and innovative tools have come on the market that are extremely useful to a homeowner.
A new and safe way to cut high tree limbs – pull the ropes to prune while standing on the ground.
Pole Pruner & Lopper A versatile pole pruner that can be attached to any standard-thread extension pole. Includes 14-inch pruning saw blade and 1-inch lopper.
A versatile, folding pruning saw that can be attached to any universal extension pole for long reach. Lightweight and robust.
Portable Buck Saws
Extremely lightweight and collapsible. Perfect for the homeowner, gardener and camper.
After each tree you prune, remember to disinfect your pruning tools in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water followed by cleaning with soapy water and then drying. Tree diseases are easily spread by infected tools. Finally, if you’re not skilled in the use of tools like chain saws or if the pruning job is more than you’re capable of managing, hire an expert. Safety first.
Free PDF Guide
For an excellent free guide on tree pruning published by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the National Arbor Day Association, and the University of California, Agriculture & Natural Resources: Click Here.
With Summer upon us and life moving into the out of doors, I’ve had a number of clients ask what they can do to make their balconies more attractive. Of course, as a landscape designer and contractor, my obvious answer is … “add plants!”
While there are many other things you can do to improve the look or view of a balcony, including furniture, outdoor lighting, umbrellas and a whole host of soft goods, as well as water features, the thing that will brighten up a balcony faster and more economically than anything else, is a well thought out selection of plants.
Balconies, regardless of their size or the amount of sun they receive, can transform a view from the same old building you’ve been staring at since you moved in, into a charming vista. And while it would be ideal to sit out on one and enjoy the view, a view isn’t required or even room to sit. A simple “Juliet Balcony” (an ornamental stone or decorative iron enclosure outside a window) or even a window ledge is more than enough space to create landscape magic. Of course, the larger the balcony, patio or roof garden, the more creative you can be.
However, before you rush off to the garden store, there are a few things to consider. Balconies, patios and rooftops are often micro climates that present different conditions from the ground below. Spend time during the day observing the space where you intend to garden. And please consider the following: