Many of our natural gardens in southern California are still enjoying the benefits from our abundant rains last season, especially if they have already received a couple Deep Soaks and several Refreshing Sprinkles to date. And we, the gardeners ourselves? How are we faring? Well, we are enjoying a little break from so much physical involvement in our gardens, because during the hot season we take time to genuinely appreciate their strength and resilience, long day after long day.
Current events, history, review, and notes
This year, the effects of our “Mediterranean” climate are on display to their utmost. While the interior regions have experienced many consecutive days of scorching heat, the immediate coast and its adjacent coastal plain and foothills have been relatively “cool,” or at least not as hot as some years. This is not to say that August will be easy on the beach towns. We might still get a blasting heat wave from some weird dome of high pressure that could bring extreme temperatures everywhere. But the further we move away from the Solstice (June 21, the longest day), the more likely such a heat wave’s effects would be less severe, because (presumably) the longer nights give a better chance for some intermittent cooling. We shall see.
At least that’s one thing we can always say about the weather.
See last month 2023 July in the Natural Garden “Watering” section for a complete explanation. Here’s the Executive summary:
Deep Soak. Infrequent irrigation which applies 1-2” of water on established gardens approximately every 3-6 weeks in summer, May through September. May involve sprinklers running for 20-30 minutes on each of 2 or 3 consecutive days to achieve the total. Always early mornings, ideally during “cooler” summer periods before any predicted heat waves. Water the soil in the root zone 14-18” deep 4-6 times a year. Purpose: Provide deep water for the plants by preserving healthy moisture levels in the soil’s rhizosphere (root zone).
Refreshing Sprinkle. Frequent sprinkling which provides a quick cooling to the leaves and soil surface, approximately 2-3 times per week in summer, July through September. Done by hand with a pistol sprayer on the hose. Usually takes only 5-10 minutes. Always late afternoon/early evenings, especially at the end of a hot, dry day. Wet the leaves and the ground, but no water actually reaches the root zone. Purpose: Cool the plants and the garden before nightfall. Some water is taken up by the leaves, extending the intervals between the Deep Soaks and making them more effective.
Related to Watering
Spot watering. This is the simple act of noticing any dry spots created by uneven terrain, slope, or blockage in sprinkler coverage by plants, branches, rocks, etc. Simply water these areas by hand, or set the hose at a trickle for a few hours to get a Deep Soak in small isolated areas.
No major pruning at this time. If it can wait till October, let it wait till October.
You should be all caught up on this by now. But then of course you should also have your A/C filters changed regularly, the top drawer in your kitchen organized, garage clean, car washed, and laundry folded. Some things are never quite “finished.”
Mulching / Top Dress
Apply no new (foreign origin) mulch or top dress at this time. Let leaves accumulate naturally under mature plants. If mulch is mounded too thick around the plant branches and stems, remove it now, as it can become the source of problems in hot weather, (excess humidity around the base of plants, especially low growing plants.)
No fertilizer needed at this time.
Troubleshooting – Varmints, Pests and Diseases
Insect populations tend to reach a near-perfect equilibrium in summer, as garden allies and plant pests coexist in a balance, with the good guys generally winning.
Argentine ants are always an exception, and the best “control” measure would be to avoid creating and maintaining “habitat” for them. They like rotting wood, so be careful regarding the mulch you choose. They like isolated spots with moist soil, not directly affected by Deep Soaks and Refreshing Sprinkles, i.e.; under boulders and rocks. Keep an eye on the branches of your woody plants like ceanothus, coffeeberry, manzanita. Ants can move into place a harmful insect called scale. Then the ants feed on the excrement and “farm” the bad guy scale to their (the ants’) advantage. You can knock back the ant population with growth regulator baits like Combat, which is a gel you apply with small dabs on their main trails. You can control scale with Neem oil. Write me if you have further questions.
Keep a-dreaming and a-scheming. Come by anytime for seed (we have several wildflower mixes available), but don’t sow it until October/November.
Adding New Plants
Yes and no.
Yes near the coast. Yes in the shade. Yes desert plants.
No anywhere where the extra care you would have to give a newly transplanted native outweigh the benefit over simply leaving it in its container until September 15.
But please do come by for plants you can nurture in summer, keep till fall, or just to look around and plan for your big planting project in a couple months.
A little something for everyone. Have you noticed this month, how many summer-flowering natives are abuzz with pollinators, every sort? And then on careful inspection, you find those pollinators working in “shifts,” certain types in the morning, other species at midday, yet others in evening, and a few (mostly moths) at night? These summer patterns will give way to different flowers in fall, then winter, culminating in the super diverse blooms of springtime. Diversity necessary for healthy insect life cycles: birth, emergence, activity, reproduction, dormancy, death, and then rebirth.
Visit your natural garden at different times during a hot summer day, and let the insects (and every other fellow mortal) speak to you, audibly or not. Are they saying “thank you” for providing and tending to the needs of their ecosystem, their home, your natural garden?
We’re almost to the threshold of a change in weather
But it might still get hot before it cools down
Deep Soak (DS) plus Refreshing Sprinkles (RS) = Success
Pruning can wait if it can wait
Weeding as necessary
No new mulch
Control, or at least tolerate Argentine ants
Wildflower seeds for fall sowing
Add plants where they will do well
Provide flowers all year, something for everyone.
Just add water. Living water.
For millennia, gardens in dry-climate zones incorporate as a central component, a fountain, spring, rill, or seep – some source alive with the most precious of all resources, water. From its origin in the Fertile Crescent, into the ancient Near-east, through Spain, across the sea to Mexico, and consequently into our borderlands including California, flowing water has been designed into virtually every dryland garden. Historically, a fountain in the courtyard was a utilitarian water source as well as a place for social gathering, a rest stop. It provided ambient cooling, refreshment, beauty, and hope, because oppresive weather lasts but a season.
In a dry land, water is scarce; it is also precious, valued, indeed priceless, making its place in the garden one of honor. A fountain can be (should be?) relatively small within the space it graces, like the jewel on a necklace, complimenting the form entire of its wearer.
If your garden already features a fountain, pond, bird bath, or some mellow water element, you know this. If not, wouldn’t this be a great month for you to explore the idea to just add water? Living water. A garden fountain will become a magnet for birds and other wildlife… literally, a “stream in the desert,” a subtle paradisiacal symbol in our otherwise dry land.
And oh yeah, nothing could ever compare to the tones and notes, patterns and rhythms, and the sing-song melodies of flowing water, hidden yet revealed within a world of plants.
Hey, we really made it this month! Let’s keep makin’ it!
From the AUGUST in the Natural Garden,
Questions? Help is just one call or one email away. Call (949) 728-0685 or email (with pictures if you like) our special helpline: firstname.lastname@example.org