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Summer sunset in the chaparral. August 2023. Photo Emily Sluiman

We’re entering one of our two “tweener” months… we call May “pre-summer” and September  “post-summer.” Now we see fall ambling up the way towards us, with not a care in the world. And our “post summer” this year is really not so hard, because we got a strange rain in late August, better than any irrigation we could even imagine.

Current events, history, review, and notes

If moisture in the soil is like money in the bank, then we’re not broke this year like we are most times in September. Tropical Storm (TS) Hilary turned out to be a perfect Deep Soak (DS) Hilary, leaving between 2 and 4 inches on our natural gardens, all of which soaked in because it rained steadily for 24 hours. Some mountain and desert areas definitely experienced runoff and flash floods, but most of our coastal and foothill zones benefited from an abundant rain falling non-stop over a long enough period that it all soaked in. At Tree of Life we got 2.51”, practically unheard of for an August storm.

Muhlenbergia rigens, deer grass, and Quercus engelmannii, mesa oak, rewilding a San Diego neighborhood.


Post-summer means we’re on the home stretch toward fall and winter, when we can expect rain to take over. Until then, another Deep Soak (DS) might be necessary. Refreshing Sprinkles (RS) are becoming less important, as cooler nights and increased humidity have been the norm this year. If these terms (DS & RS) are new to you, see these articles from August and July 2023.

Related to Watering

Every gardener who was paying attention got a perfect example handed to them regarding what a summer season Deep Soak looks like. In fact, Hilary delivered enough water to constitute two Deep Soaks. DS Hilary is the new reference point.

This functional natural garden swale filled with runoff from a roof gutter during Hilary. All the water slowly soaked into the soil.


Any urgent pruning you have been putting off through summer can be done now, i.e.; dead flower stalks on buckwheat, sage, yarrow, etc. However, any discretionary pruning, i.e.; branch thinning, heading back, lifting a skirt (removing the lowest branches) or shaping should wait until October, when virtually all threat of an extended period of extreme heat is gone.


DS Hilary may have brought a new crop of weeds, or may have sparked germination of desirable native species in your established natural garden. Be careful what you pull.

Mulching / Top Dress

No new imported topdress yet.

Comarostaphylis diversifolia, summer holly. 


Towards the last half of September and extending into the fall, it is safe to apply an all purpose, dry, organic fertilizer to individual plants as needed, areas in the garden that are lacking, or indeed the whole garden. The best months for feeding are October and March/April.

Troubleshooting – Varmints, Pests and Diseases

Everywhere we look we see healthy plants. This has been one of the most rewarding years ever… 25” of cool season precipitation followed by a not-so-hot summer which included 3” of rain towards the end. Most plants have fared well with few or zero issues related to common problems. Don’t hesitate to send me your specific questions.

Annual Wildflowers

The recommended time for sowing seed is just before and during the rainy season, so wait till at least mid October.

Adding New Plants

Fall is one of the best times to plant natives, and we have long considered September 15 to be close enough. Finally, we made it. Planting season is upon us. The TOLN inventory has not been so full and diverse for many years, so come on over. We have an amazing selection, good quantities, and fantastic quality for you this season.

Epilobium canum, California fuchsia, a hummingbird’s favorite for its late summer flowers


So far, the current year (garden-calendar, October through September) is one of the best in memory. Our natural gardens continue to speak to us in a language of resilience, and to inspire us to press on, no matter the circumstance or season. October will mark the start of a new garden-calendar year. This month (September) we look both back and forward… sort of like December in the conventional calendar. Our plants are telling us something, “Live with both gratitude and hope.”

Frangula californica, (formerly Rhamnus californica), coffeeberry

Important Review

Deep Soak (DS) Hilary

A model DS

Pruning OK but wait to do major work

Weeds or wildflowers, be careful what you pull.

No new mulch

Feeding season begins

Plants are healthy all around

Sow seed in about 2 months

Yes, plant, plant, plant plant now, yes plant now, perfect time

Gratitude and hope


The highest and best use for our natural gardens is our human experience, our daily access to nature with its restorative and healing powers. Certainly we enjoy using less water, being thrifty with our resources, polluting not, providing habitat, and striving towards that elusive goal called “sustainability.” As we engage with and in our gardens, which are close-at-hand representations of wild nature, they help us and we help them.  “Engage.” It’s a word we relate to.

Recently, author Robin Wall Kimmerer in her compelling book “Braiding Sweetgrass”, introduced us to a word that accurately describes a healthy relationship with nature: “Reciprocity.”

Words, phrases, terms, and definitions help us understand, communicate, and share. A few years ago our society adopted “Mindfulness”. It’s a good word. Some of us are old enough to remember “Be here now,” “You can’t push the river,” and “This is it,” (a couple are 1970’s book titles by the way). So now we define “mindfulness” as an intentional, deliberate moment or lifestyle in which we are “in the present.” 

Interestingly a new word or thought is upon us, and it summarizes 40 years of our message at Tree of Life, which admittedly has been distilled and refined by our reading and associating with folks of similar philosophy, to wit, John Muir, Aldo Leoplod, Ed Abbey, Peit Oudolf and numerous contemporary artists, thinkers, practitioners, and authors. 

The word is “Wilding” or Rewilding,” and it encompasses as much a mentality as a practice. The definition lies in helping the land heal, to coax a place back into the functionality and beauty of its natural state. Human intervention along the way is timely, wise, gentle and never heavy-handed, always with the long term in mind.

Rewild: purpose, function, beauty, experience

Re-wild means approaching your natural garden, its creation and care, and your engagement in it, with mindful purpose. In the process, you encounter nature’s functionality and its aesthetic beauty, while experiencing healing and wellness; body, mind, soul, and spirit.


Mike Evans

P.S. To christen this word into our vocabulary, (for its discipline and meaning have long been in our practice) we present: 

An autumn event at Tree of Life Nursery:


Saturday 11-11-23, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

Tree of Life Nursery


Plant natives, experience nature.

It’s that simple.

Plant sales, presentations, readings – excerpts from great writers, interactive discussions.

Details to follow.

P.P.S. A testimonial example of Re-wild gardening:

“I trimmed a few branches off my groundcover ceanothus so more sun would hit the boulders… for the lizards.”

Fence lizard sunbathing near Ceanothus. Photo Emily Sluiman


Hey, Let’s keep makin’ it! New year a-coming.

From the SEPTEMBER in the Natural Garden,

Mike Evans
Questions? Help is just one call or one email away. Call (949) 728-0685 or email (with pictures if you like) our special helpline: