Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Foliage Follow-up - Drought Busters

My front lawn has been dug up and our front entry is now surrounded by more than 800 square feet (74 square meters) of bare dirt.  Dirt that, left untended, will sprout weeds and grass attempting a come-back.  I'm planning to haul in additional topsoil to create berms and improve the overall quality of my vast expanse of dirt.  A wide area around the Magnolia tree will be topped with decomposed granite and remain unplanted.  But the rest of the area will be filled by plant material that I hope will be far less thirsty than the unhappy lawn we previously had.

In considering what to plant, I've begun by looking at what has done well in my garden thus far.  I thought I'd use this foliage follow-up post, written in connection with the monthly meme sponsored by Pam at Digging, to highlight the foliage plants that have demonstrated their drought tolerance during my, admittedly short, stewardship of this garden.

Since I reduced my water usage, I've lost a lot of plants.  The healthy ones stand out dramatically in contrast to those holding on by their root hairs.  Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt' is one of these.  As I went through my garden I was surprised just how good these plants look, especially those that have been in the ground for a year or more.  Last December, I commented that the 'Cousin Itt' I had in a pot looked better than those in the ground but the plants in the ground have taken off.  Perhaps they like drought.

This one looked spindly last December but it's got a healthy mop now

Despite competing with tree roots, this one's ready to take over a portion of the backyard lawn

The 3 plants in this border look better than any of the surrounding plants



I'm also impressed by the 3 Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' I planted last September.  Like the Agonis flexuosa trees that surround the property, 'Nana,' a dwarf variety, is taking the drought in stride.

One of the 3 Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' planted along the side yard patio



I've had mixed results with Phormium but P. tenax 'Atropurpureum' and P. 'Amazing Red,' which some sources indicate also belongs to the tenax species, have been the most reliable.

Crowded into a relatively small area along the driveway, this P. tenax 'Atropurpureum' is doing fine

I've been very pleased with this more diminutive P. 'Amazing Red' too - I now have 4 of them



Among the smaller plants, I've been impressed by the drought tolerance of Lomandra longifolia, a grass-like plant; furry Pelargonium tomentosum, also known as peppermint geranium; and Helichrysum petiolare 'Petite Licorice,' which spreads in my garden with relative abandon.

I now have 9 Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze' - I pick up one or more every time I come across them in small pots

The peppermint geranium can get by with less water in partial shade (it's certainly doing better than the nearly dead foxglove next to it in this picture)

The gray-leaved Helichrysums are astounding performers in the sunny, dry areas of my garden but I prefer the fine-leafed variety, which I inherited with the garden, even though it plants itself wherever it likes



I've acquired quite a few Leucadendron in the past 3 years as well.  One, L. 'Wilson's Wonder,' moved in with me - it exploded in size when I removed it from the large pot I had it in at our old house and put it in the ground here.  I've purchased half a dozen more Leucadendron since then, most of them hybrids of L. salignum.   I haven't had any problems with them until L. 'Rising Sun,' planted in March, died suddenly this month.

Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' gets no attention other than an annual trim

Leucadendron salignum 'Chief' has been happy in my dry garden since January 2013 and L. 'Ebony' has sat at its feet for a year now



I'm still not sure what caused the rapid demise of L. 'Rising Sun.'  The 2 most likely culprits are phosphorus toxicity - plants in the Protea family are said to react negatively to phosphorus in soil or fertilizer - or Phytophthora root rot.  It looks more like the latter to me but I'm no expert when it comes to conducting a plant post-mortem.  Still, I'm going to test my soil before I plant a lot more Leucadendrons.  I think another L. 'Wilson's Wonder' might do very well in the front yard.

The sad L. 'Rising Sun' shortly before I gave up and pulled it out



You can find more foliage-focused posts by visiting Pam at Digging.


All material © 2012-2014 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

22 comments:

  1. Hooray for your survivors! 'Cousin Itt' is a stunning plant that we have to grow as an inside for the winter plant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was surprised to find that 'Cousin Itt' gets better looking all the time (unless my eyesight is failing), especially given that much of the garden is looking so much worse after our very dry year.

      Delete
  2. Such lovely plants and what a bonus they are drought tolerant. Love that 'Cousin Itt'!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd love more drought tolerant plants so that I can water less in the summer, but then many of them wouldn't like our very wet weather in all the other seasons. It's a difficult line.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's certainly a challenge, Alison. Maybe try some varieties that specify summer dry conditions?

      Delete
  4. Those doing well are so commendable indeed for their drought tolerance. Hope that one Rising Sun is an exception and all the Leucadendrons you will plant will do well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I too hope that 'Rising Sun' was an anomaly. The loss surprised me - but then so did the sudden death of a mature Arbutus unedo years ago at our old house. The period from notice of perceptible decline to death was very short in both cases, which makes me think Phytophthora was the most likely culprit.

      Delete
  5. I think that Amazing Red must be the mystery phormium that I just pulled out. Looks identical. What a lot of room you have to play with! How about some big agaves? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why'd you pull the Phormium, Denise? San Marcos Growers' post on the plant indicates they stopped growing it because they didn't think it was amazing but they didn't explain. I've found it's size allows me to fit it in where other Phormium would overwhelm the space; however, whenever I grow so many of the same plant, I live with the apprehension that they'll all suddenly collapse because of some sudden change in weather or other conditions.

      Of course it goes without saying that agaves and other succulents will be part of the new scheme! Actually, I'd meant to include a reference to succulents in the post and then neglected to do so.

      Delete
  6. You've certainly found some drought-tolerant lovelies there! So sorry you've had to deal with the lack of rain. I do hope the trend shifts and you will have a better season ahead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly, the drought news isn't too cheery. Predictions vary as to whether California is in a 30-year or a 10-year drought. Prognosticators have backed off earlier forecasts for a wet El Nino year but I'm still holding out hope those heavy rains will materialize, while also making plans to minimize my water needs to the extent possible.

      Delete
  7. I really need to get myself a Cousin Itt. All of your drought tolerant plants look so happy and healthy, what more can you ask for in a plant? (Apart from poor L. 'Rising Sun')

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here, drought tolerance is becoming requirement #1, Amy.

      Delete
  8. Thank you for the update on 'Cousin Itt'. I've heard from a lot of growers that it's very hard to keep happy in a container (I've killed one myself). Perhaps it gets too much water? I will watch how much I give it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I probably need to get the one I have in a pot in the ground. It looked great back in December but it's getting balder my the day now.

      Delete
  9. Each time I read one of your posts I add plants to look for to my list. Very sadly the nurseries here don't really have stocks of plants that are suitable for the local conditions, a result of the lack of real interest in gardens by the inhabitants of this area. I wondered if the plant that died might have died through too much mulch around its base, some plants need to be able to 'breathe' or maybe something in the original pot that ate the roots. It is exciting to read about your progress in this new project.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was careful with the mulch, Christina, so I don't think that's it. In its final days, its appearance reminded me all too well of that of the Arbutus unedo I lost at my old house and I'm fairly certain the cause of that loss was the micro-organism that causes sudden oak death here. Arbutus are also susceptible.

      Delete
  10. Good heavens, Kris - I'm so behind in reading blogs that I didn't even realize you moved! I love that you removed all the lawn - what a wonderful makeover in progress! I love my Cousin Itt, but didn't realize it is that drought tolerant. I will make good use of that information, indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't moved, Anna - I just still speak of this house and garden as "new" even through we've been here over 3.5 years now. The lawn has been going in bits and pieces almost since we moved in but this most recent action was the largest taken at one time.

      Delete
  11. I love what you have done...we are going to get rid of more grass here too and add natives as they will survive the climate here...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the look of the classic English garden but, alas, my climate doesn't support that. Adapting to the climate is preferable to facing continuous plant losses.

      Delete

I enjoy receiving your comments and suggestions. However, with apologies to bona-fide commentators, due to a significant increase in spam, I've eliminated the option to post comments anonymously.