The drought-tolerant and native California plants that replaced thirsty lawns and landscape planting during the last four dry years are flourishing with this year’s above-normal rainfall. Most have had huge growth spurts and produced at least twice as many flowers (and double or triple the amounts of pollen) than during the previous four seasons. A real boon for bees and other pollinators. These hardy plants don’t need much care but a little grooming in spring will keep them in vigorous health and bloom even as our summer heat slows their growth and flowering.
You may have seen huge fields of bright orange California poppies in full bloom along our local freeways (thanks to Caltrans) this spring. Keep the poppies in your garden in flower by regularly cutting off the spent flowers that quickly turn into seed heads. The poppies will continue to flower until temperatures reach near 100 degrees. California poppies easily reseed themselves; allow some seed heads to form at the end of the bloom season to increase your next year’s poppy population. Take a photo of the leaf structure now to help you identify and save new poppy seedlings when they reappear next winter and spring.
Nepeta or catmint, the ornamental sages and the yarrows attract many types of pollinators throughout the growing season. Shear spent flowers on nepeta as soon as they’ve died to encourage rapidly succeeding flower crops. Yarrow flowers are lovely in dried arrangements; cut off flowers when they are fully opened and save some for drying. Yarrow will produce two to three crops per season when the spent flowers are removed after bloom. Ornamental sages (including Russian sage, lipstick sage, autumn sage) can become shaggy and unruly during the summer months, taking up more than their share of garden space. Ornamental sages are cut back to six to eight inches high in late winter, but can be kept tidy by cutting side branches as needed.
Drought-tolerant Mediterranean culinary herbs should be harvested now when leaves are tender and plump with the highest concentration of aromatic oils. Don’t be nervous about harvesting culinary herbs when they are in flower. Thyme, tarragon, lavender, rosemary, and chive flowers are some of the tastiest herb flowers and can be safely eaten. While you’re harvesting herbs to dry and store, shape plants to maintain size by cutting or pinching back wayward branches and long stems first. Harvest lavender by shearing off flower stems just above where they’re attached to the woody plant base. Try not to cut into the woody portions, trim just the long straight stems to avoid deforming the natural shape.
Well-established drought-tolerant and native plants need very little water during the hot summer months. Overwatering is the main cause of death or decline in these plants. Set irrigation timers to water when the top two inches of soil is dry in beds of drought-tolerant or native plants. Irrigate once or twice a week, depending on temperature, soil type (plants in sandy soils will need more frequent irrigation than those in clay soil) and mulch thickness (3 to 4 inches of mulch is ideal).
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.