Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Summer days are cooler under an arbor such as this one at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma.

Inland Valley Gardening

I had a letter from a reader in Sacramento asking for gardening tips for hot climates. Having been born and raised in Napa, I feel well qualified to address her inquiry.

Plants that do best in hot weather have thick, waxy foliage and deep roots. Carob and live oak are two examples of trees that thrive in the heat. Magnolias do fairly well if provided with a regular supply of water. They have shallow, fibrous roots that will do well only if the area is irrigated. Crape Myrtle loves the heat and flowers during the summer.

Roses do well in the heat. Their deep roots can suck up water from far below the evaporation zone. Hardy shrubs such as plumbago, raphiolepis, tamarix and bottle brush will provide color while going easy on water. Vegetables and other annual plantings must be kept mulched, otherwise you will be slave to your garden hose. Mulching prevents moisture loss and keeps the soil cool. Basil and all kinds of peppers love hot weather. Plant plenty and stand back.

Here is a tip I learned from a recent press release: Mr. Noguera, gardener at the Hyatt Hotel in Aruba, plants bougainvillea on trellises over outdoor living areas to act as a natural air filter. The bougainvillea cools the air that passes through the flowers and foliage in addition to shading the patio area. The aggressive vine also filters out dust. If you live in an area prone to frost, you might consider a hardier vine such as Carolina jasmine, grape, kiwi or wisteria. For some reason arbors have gone out of fashion in recent years. My grandmother had an arbor covered with an old Concord grape vine where we spent many hot summer afternoons. The air truly is cooler under an arbor.

Watering in hot climates should be done in the early morning or late afternoon so that the moisture does not evaporate before it hits the ground. I hate to see sprinklers running at high noon, even though the neighborhood kids might enjoy romping through the water. Personally, I like to water early in the day so that the plants can suck up the moisture from the soil as they need it and still be able to dry off before nightfall. Moisture remaining on the foliage at night is an invitation for fungus disease to flourish.

Lawns should be watered deeply and infrequently to drive the roots deep into the soil. Roots will only grow where the soil is moist, which is why most native plants do their underground growing during the winter months.

The Central Valley is blessed with rich soil. Unfortunately, although rich in nutrients, the soil is adobe clay which should be amended prior to landscape planting. Native plants don't mind adobe soil. Their strong roots push deep into the earth during the rainy season when the clay is wet. Anyone who has ever tried to dig a hole during the dry season knows that even the strongest roots would have a difficult time pushing through clay during the summer months. Organic compost in copious amounts will always loosen and improve even the toughest clay soil. Work the compost into a small area at a time so as not to wear yourself out.

California is blessed with beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery and gardening all the year round. There are tricks to every trade and finding the right combination of plants, watering techniques and soil conditioning can help make your gardening experience rewarding rather than frustrating.

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