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Summer evening in the chaparral. Photo by Emily Sluiman

We have turned the corner. Summer is here, with its long days, high temps… and we’re ready with our drought and heat adapted native plants thriving in our natural gardens. We knew it would eventually show up, and this year’s arrival was a bit late. But now, summer is fully on us for at least three months, so let’s talk about how to enjoy it and bring our gardens through.

Current events, history, review, and notes

As usual, our classic Mediterranean climate has lately allowed for very cool days and nights at the coast. Inland however, we saw many days last month when the thermometer was hovering on both sides of 100. While the coastal zone will always be cooler, extremely hot days in July and August can scorch our entire region, so the following precautions for plant care in summer will apply to everyone.


It bears repeating: Use the Deep Soak with Refreshing Sprinkles method from now through September/October.

Deep Soak: Simulate a 1-1.5 “ rain event by running your sprinklers for around 20-30 minutes, in the early morning, three days in a row. Assuming your sprinkler system delivers around .75” per hour (you can Google the make and model of the sprinkler head to learn the precipitation rate), you will be applying over 1” precipitation, that will effectively penetrate 14” or so. Try to time your Deep Soak event during a cooler, overcast period, usually preceding a predicted heat wave. Watch the weather forecasts. Utilize this technique to apply the equivalent of a 1-2” rain shower event. If you are watering by hand, you can just methodically soak the soil a couple consecutive days. By dividing the total run time into three days, you avoid puddling, run-off, and subjecting the plants to a prolonged period of (excessive) ambient moisture around its leaves, which can cause disease on some natives. Depending on your location, the weather, and local conditions, you might provide your garden a Deep Soak once every 3-4 weeks, for a total of approximately 4-5 times this season. A Deep Soak saturates the soil and provides water to the roots. 

Refreshing Sprinkles: In between your Deep Soak events, approximately 3-5 times per week, you should go out and have some fun. In the late afternoon / early evening, simply stand in all the right places to spray down your whole garden for 5 minutes or so. You will be wetting the leaves and moistening the soil surface, but you are not providing any water directly to the roots. Try to time it when the sun is low, and so the leaves will be dry before nightfall. This technique immediately cools the whole garden and each plant at the end of a long hot day. The plants go to bed happy and invigorated, ready for the next day. You will enjoy this activity as well, as you take a few minutes to connect with your natural garden at the end of your long hot day. Turn the spray directly overhead for a quick, fully clothed, outdoor shower and you will feel what your plants are feeling.

Couple Deep Soaks with Refreshing Sprinkles all summer long. Adjust the pattern and the frequency to match your own environmental conditions depending on where you live. Enjoy.

Most stream rotors and other spray sprinklers apply approx .50 to .75” precipitation per hour

Related to Watering

If you do the math on the Deep Soak with Refreshing Sprinkles Method, at maximum usage, you will be applying 10-12” of supplemental water to your garden per year. Most established natural gardens use about half that amount. This is assuming you will have virtually no significant irrigation needs in the cool season, November through May. Congratulations on maintaining a truly “water efficient” garden.

For mature (established) natural gardens, the best way to test soil moisture is to dig a little inspection hole about 4-6” deep in the root zone of your plants. If the soil is dry 6” down, it’s definitely time for a Deep Soak.

Deer grass is a warm season grower. It does not want to be shaped (by hacking) into a ball, ever.


It is safe to prune branch ends, including tip pruning and overall shaping from the outside. Most major pruning (removing entire branches) should have been done in winter/early spring, or in preparation for summer, such as during May. Your next safe window is October.


With the Deep Soaks, you may see a new crop of summer weeds. Lightly cultivate the soil surface with a 3-prong scratch, or pull the weeds if they are large enough.

Mulching / Top Dress

Allow natural leaf fall to accumulate under the plants, as they drop interior leaves during summer. We do not recommend importing new foreign organic topdress or mulch during the warm season. If your mineral mulch (i.e. DG, aggregate or sand) needs a little refreshing, you can safely add a thin layer to keep it looking nice.

The wrong mulch at the wrong time cooked the stem and branches of this innocent plant.


No fertilizer at this time. By the way, in one of my favorite gardens, I carelessly let the April/May window on late season feeding close behind me. I did not apply fertilizer as I had planned. No big deal. I will wait until October.

Troubleshooting – Varmints, Pests and Diseases

Watch for manzanita leaf gall aphid (see June 2024), and Argentine ants that might carry aphid, scale, and mealy bug onto your plants where they feed on the excretion or “honeydew.” If you see black sooty mold on leaves or pavement of any surface, inspect your plants for insect pests being tended by ants. Use a strong blast from the hose, horticultural insecticidal soap or neem oil to control the infestation.

Keep an eye out for wilted branches (soggy, not crispy dry), branch dieback, and other signs of root rot or fungal disease in the plants. If you encourage the feeder roots to be active 14” deep, you should have no root disease problems, as the fungi that kill plants like warm moist soil, not cool moist soil. Frequent shallow irrigations promotes root rot. Infrequent, deep irrigations promote healthy plants.

Annual Wildflowers

Enjoy the last of the bloom. Any dried plants can be crushed and crumbled up and left in place, or discarded. Try to let the seeds fall, or at least distribute them about, before throwing the dead plants away.

Adding New Plants

To successfully install new native plants in summer, you will need to provide extra vigilance. It is safe to plant near the coast or in the shade everywhere. All new planting will require hand watering, filling the basin around each plant, approximately every 3-4 days at first. As the plant grows, and the roots explore the native soil outside the planting hole, the frequency can be decreased, but by no means will brand new plants get by on the Deep Soak with Refreshing Sprinkles Method during their first summer. Always hand water each plant until you are sure it is established, which usually takes 3-6 months.


Our love of plants and their love for us. When I look and listen out over the natural landscape or into a natural garden, I see and hear the word “fullness.” Let’s take our friend the sycamore for example. Each tree, small, medium, large, or extra large, is presently at full leaf capacity, cooling itself by transpiring amazing amounts of water each day, adding a little new growth as it might dare, and dropping not a single leaf. The same is true with the evergreens, the shrubs, grasses, tules and sedges. Are they in full leaf at full size as a result of the long day length, or in order to best take advantage of it… or both? Nature’s cycles of cause and effect seem to spin in both directions.


How can we open the door a little wider for nature to approach and enter our garden spaces? This month, tread lightly. Your garden is home to a myriad of creatures, all things big and small, mostly invertebrates, who live, breathe, feed, hunt, hide out, nest, mate, and raise their offspring (as it were), basically unseen. Many garden allies and pollinating species can be found working in “shifts,” basically taking turns at the same flower throughout the day. They are all part of the “fullness” mentioned above. When it comes to our work in the garden in summer, less is more. Avoid unnecessary pruning, raking, and disturbance of any kind, rather, become an astute observer, investigator, and participant in the fullness of this time. Of course the other big conspicuous creatures, our birds and lizards and suchlike, will also appreciate the space you give them. When the word of your quiet refuge gets out in the surrounding neighborhood of mow and blow, you will be inundated with native bird and insect species. Re-wild is real.

John Comer dusting the frame on one of his fine plein air paintings, marking a place in time.

Important Review

Hello summer

Deep Soak with Refreshing Sprinkle Method

6-10” supplemental water. Name another garden like this!

Shaping OK. Thinning no.


Natural mulch only please

No feeding until fall

Watch for ants, signs of root rot

Wildflower seeds, leave in place

Add new plants carefully

In the fullness of time

Garden chores – Less is more


Do our constructed re-wild gardens leave a mark that others might learn from or follow? For sure they attract wildlife, but are they useful and edifying to humans as well? And are they aesthetically pleasing? As this is a high calling in all things useful.

For comparison, in an urban setting, is graffiti an art form? In nature, does the stacking of stones (trendy in some quarters) make for a comprehensive assault on the area, or is it a form of contemporary art? There exists a controversy. My opinion is that all human made “art” in the realm of the natural world should be both attractive and useful.

What about trail markers? Surely rock cairns, wood posts, and slashes in tree trunks are not only useful and appreciated (at times requisite), but sometimes even artful.  Appealing to the senses and beneficial in every way. We tend to accept these.

Cairn marking a trail

Sign marking a trail

A slash marking a trail, the height above the ground being eye level to a person on a horse.

And what about other man made landmarks? Are they scars, or are they marks? I guess everyone is free to make their own call on these questions. Marks of value will pass the test of time. 

On hikes, or wilderness sojourns, have you ever encountered ancient petroglyphs or pictographs? (The former are carved into and the latter painted onto, rocks.) They are all very special, in our day sacred. And geoglyphs? These are arrangements of smaller rocks that form (sometimes huge) shapes on the ground, often discernible only from great heights. Are these scars or marks? Somebody had moved numerous stones in creating a geoglyph, spent hours gathering materials and painting a pictograph, days chipping away at a petroglyph. Purpose, effort, intent, care, mindfulness, lasting results, stories.




Given that some rock art goes back millenia, recollecting a bygone era, serving as a testimony to clans otherwise long forgotten, they are at the very least, important. Usually their “meaning” is best only guessed by people who consider themselves qualified for such. The point is that these unique “marks” on their landscape made by humans so long ago, were helpful both then and now, for interpreting or encompassing the true story of time and place. As works of art, they display an understated elegance. 

In our current era, we do not need to paint or etch on rocks to tell our stories. But we can make natural gardens, and in many cases these go beyond simply creating something new, because when we replace a nonfunctional ornamental landscape by planting natives, we are restoring, rewilding, redeeming the land, removing a scar and leaving a meaningful mark, relevant to our time and place, and to the beauty of nature close-at-hand we so deeply need.

We make meaningful marks on the landscape in the creation of natural gardens.

As we build and maintain our mini-ecosystems, we create living narratives and leave dynamic marks for everyone to utilize, appreciate, interpret, read, remember, and hopefully emulate, in both present and future. My friend Jenny Rigby is quoted, “Interpretation is the language of meaning.” I like that. Let’s recognize our calling to speak the language of meaning into the design, creation, and care in our gardens. And let’s invite all to draw near, take in and experience the story we are telling.

Let’s continue to remove useless scars and make significant marks, and let’s keep doing it with passion and joy. May the work of our hands prove both edifying and beautiful.

From JULY  in the Natural Garden,

Mike Evans

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