Most Californians don't enjoy high summer heat waves, and neither does their landscaping. But unlike you and your family, plants often don't display easy symptoms of heat stress. So how can you help ensure your landscape continues to thrive even in extreme conditions? Here are a few steps to take.
1. Choose Plants Wisely
A hardy summer landscape starts with choosing the right kinds of plants, shrubs, and trees. California native plants look great and do well even without a lot of water. And they come in varieties sure to make any yard look great — from beautiful flowers like penstemons to ground covers like Yerba Buena and tall, fluffy deer grass.
Consult with a local landscape service to determine the best native and imported plants for a drought-tolerant yard.
As you choose plants, be sure to find out the signs of stress in each one. Tropical plants, for instance, may wilt with too much heat. Other plants may simply fade from bright green to pale or yellowish. And sunburn can cause yellow or brown patches. Knowing what to look for will help you respond quicker and better.
2. Prepare Soil
The soil will help insulate plants from high heat. Your landscape service can test your soil to determine its content and texture, or you can buy a DIY kit at many home improvement stores. Soil testing can identify the acidity of your soil, the nutrients it has (or lacks), and the content of things like clay and sand. From this, you know how to adjust it to promote healthy growing.
You may also want to mix organic matter in before planting most plants. Common materials like grass clippings and leaves act like tiny sponges to help the dirt hold moisture.
3. Use Mulch
Mulch is a simple but effective way to provide protection from heat and from water loss. A layer of mulch between one inch and three inches creates a natural layer of insulation over roots and wet soil. Plus, it's a great way to make your yard look better without any extra watering. Use mulch or straw around tree roots, in garden beds, around vegetable plants or herbs, and over new plants.
4. Shade Sensitive Plants
New plants that aren't well established yet are susceptible to high stress from the heat and too much sunlight. You may want to protect them from direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day. There are several ways to do this, including rigging up a movable frame with a light fabric strung across it that could be placed over some plants.
Another easy way to add protection is to determine where the shade normally falls in your yard. Look for shade from the house itself, outbuildings and sheds, fences, and existing hardscape elements. Use these partial shade areas to plant non-native species that can't tolerate as much sun. If you lack natural shade, consider adding a pergola, arbor, or awning that will provide some protection over garden beds.
You may also be able to add some natural shade for more fragile plants by using a few trees strategically placed. The Catalina cherry tree, for example, is a medium sized but fast-growing tree that provides dense shade from a thick canopy.
5. Don't Fuss
When the temperature is high, many of your plants are in survival mode. That means you should forgo unnecessary fussing with them until things cool off a bit. Pruning not only stresses plants but can also reduce the natural shade that a canopy provides to it and plants around it.
For the same reason, avoid re-potting plants, transplanting them, and adding new ones during a heat wave. Let your plants rest and save extra gardening fun for the fall.
For more help creating and maintaining a heat-tolerant landscape, call on the San Jose area greenery experts at Bill's Tree Care and Landscaping, Inc. today.