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February in the Natural Garden

Anza Borrego, January 28, 2023. Abronia villosa var. villosa & Cylindropuntia californica providing mid-winter color in the desert. © Emily Sluiman

The strange September soakings coupled with the bountiful winter rains have produced unprecedented blooms in some of our driest places. The desert came out with off-season flowers in fall and winter, and has already made a good start on spring. Other places are showing excellent promise and this should be a great year to appreciate our biodiversity as our plants rebound from the three prior years of severe heat and drought.

Current events, history, review, and notes

So far so good! Rain total at Tree of Life is just shy of 14”, with 10–12” being the rough average for an entire season, typically ending in April. The forecast has more rain on the horizon for February and with any luck the spring months will stay wet enough for us to call it “a good rainy season.” As we’re about half way through, we have set our hopes high.

Lake Henshaw, February 2023


You only need to water potted plants, plants under an eve that get no rain, or brand new plants if they happen to dry out between rains. Otherwise, the California natural garden this year is enjoying natural Deep Soaks with high quality rain water and it is thriving.

Related to Watering

If you have rain chains and rain barrels, you will have the purest water imaginable for your potted plants, herbs, vegetables, and house plants. Typically, rain barrels do not store enough water for effective use in the garden, but for special plants and seed propagation, you’ll have your own local supply this summer.


Lots of native shrubs are coming into flower, so if you pruned them properly last fall, they are structurally strong and beautiful now in full bloom. This month you can start a little pinching (removing the new growth with the tips of your fingers) on plants like Salvia, making them bushier before they bloom in late spring. Shrubs like lemonade berry can be shaped now if you see that their growth is starting to appear rank or gangly. Most pruning can wait until May/June which is when we get the plants ready for summer, after they have bloomed. Stay tuned.

Ceanothus verrucosus, The Rick and Vicki Halsey Garden, Chaparral Institute, Escondido


Never. Stop. Weeding.

Mulching / Top Dress

No. Do not import foreign mulch into your established natural garden this month. Watch as nature provides her own topdress with fallen leaves (and flowers). Note the “snow” of fallen flowers from manzanitas these days.

The fallen flowers of a large manzanita.


For instant gratification of needy plants, especially potted plants, feel free to use a balanced commercial (chemical) fertilizer, granular or liquid dilution, in moderation. We prefer, however, to recommend organic fertilizer for general use in the natural garden, but the soil is still too cold for it to be very effective. You can hold off on using organics for a couple months.

Troubleshooting – Varmints, Pests and Diseases

This weather is great for plants, keeping them strong. We are seeing very few problems in most natural gardens this February, but keep an eye out for aphids on new growth and tender flower stalks. Blast them off with water or use an insecticidal soap if the infestation is severe. You may have seen powdery mildew showing up on buckwheat and salvia about a month ago with the cool, dark stormy days. Now that the sun is out, the problem has been resolved. 

Annual Wildflowers

If you sowed last fall/winter, the wildflower plants should be a nice size and almost flowering. The time window for sowing flower seed has closed, unless you want to make a bet that the rainy season will be a long one. If you sow now, (quite late) the plants will be stunted in size and they will flower late and be puny. Still, they will probably flower and set seed, so it might be worth the chance. We have mature wildflowers (10 species) in pots. Come and get blooming plants for your own personal super bloom.

Adding New Plants

Hands down, this is one of the best times to plant new native plants in the garden.

Yes. Plant. Now.

Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Big Sur’. A welcoming, long-lived small shrub with its winter flowers.


Recommended: Take time to watch a documentary entitled “The Gardener,” available on Amazon Prime, which outlines the philosophy, purpose and work of a man called Frank Cabot who built an amazing garden in French Canada, then he opened it for public enjoyment. I found it quite inspirational and definitely worth passing on to you here. 

“Gardeners, I suppose, are all trying to recreate the Garden of Eden.” Frank Cabot (1925-2011).

If you watch it, write to me with your comments and observations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Important Review

Rain is more than enough water

Prune to improve growth

Never. Stop. Weeding.

No mulching now

Wait to feed with organics

Pests and diseases are nil

Enjoy flowers from November seeds

Yes. Plant. Now.

Gardens are for people

Henderson Canyon Road, Anza Borrego, January 2023. Abronia villosa var. villosa and Geraea canescens thriving after the fall rains. © Emily Sluiman


“It is inconceivable to me that an excellent relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.

Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow. Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to be a golf links or a ‘scenic’ area, he is bored stiff. If crops could be raised by hydroponics instead of farming, it would suit him very well. Synthetic substitutes for wood. 

Leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals. In short, land is something he has ‘outgrown.’” Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) A Sand County Almanac, 1949.

The Land Ethic

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

Watch the 73 minute version of “Green Fire,” a documentary by the Aldo Leopold Foundation here:

Hey, it’s almost spring! Let’s start makin’ it!

From the FEBRUARY Natural Garden,

Mike Evans and the whole TOLN Team