By Elinor Teague
October is the best planting month here in the Central Valley. Warm daytime temperatures and longer, cooler nights allow plants to recover more quickly from transplant stress and establish root systems before
winter dormancy slows their growth. If you are buying drought tolerant and native California plants at the CBG plant sale on October 16th and 17th, here are a few tips for success.
Prepare the soil in your garden before you buy. Drought tolerant and native California plants must be planted in well-draining soil. If roots are kept too wet, these plants will soon develop root rots that can kill them. Sandy soil drains well (sometimes too well), but doesn’t hold nutrients; add compost to sandy soils. Clay soil does not drain well. Add sand or small gravel to clay soil. Most garden centers and nurseries stock cactus sand, although usually in small bags. Digging in amendments in large planting beds is hard work. It can be easier to dig shallow trenches and amend or replace the soil in those trenches.
Water the plants as soon as you get home and make sure the soil in planting spots is soaked before you plant.
When planting, leave enough room between plants for their full-grown size. Group plants by water needs to make automatic irrigation more efficient. You can always ask the CBG docents or the Fresno County Master Gardeners for advice on how to group your plants. Your new drought-tolerant and native plants will need more water in the first two to three years until their roots are well established. Use the finger test and water when the top inch of soil is dry for young plants and then only once a week when the plants
are mature (more often in July and August).
Drought-tolerant and native plants, even those that bloom for a long time, need less fertilization than other types of plants, like roses. A half cup per plant of a low-nitrogen fertilizer once or twice a season is usually enough. Plan on regular deadheading of flower stalks and regular trimming of scorched leaves to keep your drought-tolerant garden looking good all year.
Many of you may know Elinor Teague as the Fresno Bee garden columnist. Elinor has been a Master Gardener since 1995 and wrote a column for the Fresno Bee for 16 years. She is a strong supporter of our garden too!