Late summer is upon us, and for most of Southern California, that means more sun and heat where our neighbors elsewhere in the country will begin to feel autumn creeping up. On one hand, great! We like our long summers in California to go to the beach, enjoy our pools, and cool down in the evening on porches and other cool places around the local cities. On the other hand, plants are taking a beating longer than usual with low rainfall and rare cloudy days. That little herb garden you’re keeping on the apartment porch may be looking a little crispy, or that normally vibrant row of Iceberg roses in the front yard may be wilting. Maybe you’re selling your home and want to strike a good first impression, or maybe you just want your garden to go back to its usual happy coastal self, but the sun’s not going away, so how do you keep your yard from falling apart until the cooler winter and spring temperatures come back?
Drought Preventative Measures
Cover the ground around plants: Mulch, river stones, wood chips, you name it; these will all help your plants retain water around their roots, and increase the mileage on the watering that you’re doing. With the sun not beating directly on the exposed soil, drying out the ground and your plants with it, you’ll find you need to water less often. With the drought conditions that are expected to continue into 2017, this will ease your water bill woes and help with conservation. This also has the additional benefit of making your yard look very well taken care of, so next time you’re at Ricardo’s or Armstrong’s Nurseries, don’t let the bark mulch slip past you.
Water plants very late (or very early), and only when you need to: Watering plants in the middle of the day may bring a brief reprieve to thirsty roots, but it will also run the risk of searing the plant itself when the sun evaporates the water from leaves and flowers. By watering at cooler hours, you allow the water to get down to the roots. Much like how mulching around roots can help with evaporation, watering in the evening or early morning will help with making sure your plants get time to soak without the heat making a sauna for them. If the ground is wet still next time you go to water, go ahead and skip it. Save the water for when the plant really needs it.
Change where container plants are oriented to the sun: The afternoon sun’s heat is brutal in Southern California, even if your plants were described as “full-sun” when you bought them. Consider moving plants in potted gardens or on porches to areas that they get decent morning sun, but stay in the shade for the afternoon. Herb gardens will also benefit from a little change of scenery. While a hearty Tuscan rosemary may relish the sunlight, the mint or basil plant next to it might appreciate a break from the direct heat.
Prioritize: If you have flowers and foliage that are designed to have a certain window of time to live and they have done their blooming, let them go and replace with something that is ready for the heat. While the zinnias will be missed until next year and the morning glories cover a lot of ground, something as simple as a sweet potato cutting to replace it can fill the yard with green and not flinch in that late summer sun.
With more sunny days ahead of us, and a summer that brings people to us in Southern California, these tips can help change a wilted and water-hungry garden into an inviting retreat from the heat. You can find more advice on watering in California at the University of California’s Garden Web. If you’re looking to sell your home and would like some suggestions on what to prepare for, check out our Seller’s Guide below.