UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County

Water-Efficient Landscape Gardens in October

Home » Fair Oaks Horticulture Center » WEL Gardens » October in the WEL

The WEL gardens at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center are open to the public seven days a week from sunrise to sunset for self-guided tours.  Due to COVID-19 health guidelines, the WEL Gardens will be closed during scheduled maintenance workdays.

Wheelchair accessible, the gardens feature natives, commonly available perennials, trees, shrubs, and plants from other Mediterranean climates that do well with less water during our long, hot, dry summers and tolerate our chilly, damp Sacramento County winters. Most plants are labeled and many are UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars. The landscape demonstrates how home gardeners can be smart about using the water we have to create beautiful landscapes. (For more information see Gardening with Limited Water.)


October is a lovely time to visit the garden. The low growing delicate white zephyr lilies have burst into bloom along the entrance walkways. Our native plants are waking up from their summer dormancy. The buckwheat, currant, Douglas iris and ceanothus etc., are sprouting fresh new growth. Guava, dwarf pomegranate, and dwarf strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’) fruits are ripening. Purple Mexican sage and red autumn sage flowers sharply accent the ripening, drying grasses. Frothy pink muhlygrass stalks glimmer in the parking lot bed. Shorter days have also triggered the daisy-like blooms covering the pungent yellow marigold shrub, copper canyon daisy. Bees continue to flit about the garden sampling late blooms. Scrub jays are happily planting acorns. Many deciduous shrubs and trees are turning lovely golden, scarlet and amber hues. Especially attractive are the Chinese pistache, burning bush, scarlet oak, trident maple and crape myrtles.

Fall is planting season in the Sacramento area. The pleasant fall weather allows roots to establish ahead of the rainy season. We will be replacing, removing, dividing and renovating areas of our garden throughout the month. Tasks include dividing overcrowded bulbs and perennials (especially our Peruvian scilla, daylillies, penstemons, and black eyed susans), deadheading late blooming salvias, cleaning out our dry river bed, and pulling late season weeds such as perennial spurge and pokeweed.  For help identifying weeds check out the UC IPM online Weed Gallery.

Garden chores in October also include the time to continue to monitor for pests. Since pests tend to be specific to a plant it is important to identify the pest before determining a management plan. In many cases spraying a pest off the plant with water, picking it off and dropping it in a pail of sudsy water or deciding to live with the small amount of damage is the correct course of action. Often, the good bugs and birds are able to control minor infestations. In past years we have had our redbuds suffer damage by the redhumped caterpillar, Schizura concinna, which skeletonizes the outer leaves. It has been controlled in our garden by parasitic wasps that use the caterpillar as a host for their eggs.  (A good resource for flower pest management and cultural care is the UC Integrated Pest Management website on flowers and for woody-plant leaf caterpillars is Leaf-feeding caterpillars on woody plants).

Irrigation lines, connectors and emitters will be checked for clogs, cuts and breaks regularly and schedules will be monitored. As the days shorten and cool off earlier, irrigation times will be reduced.  (See more irrigation tips.)

Come check out the garden. In addition to the plants, pathways, patios, raised planters, drip irrigation, a dry creek bed and permeable pavement demonstrate water wise, sustainable alternatives for gardeners who are considering replacing or reducing their lawns. See Lawn Removal Methods for help with the first step.

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Dwarf Strawberry tree

Native to the coast of Ireland and along the Mediterranean coast as far as Israel, Arbutus unedo prefers dry summers. A versatile evergreen shrub or multi-trunked small tree, it tolerates a wide variety of soil types but must have good drainage to do well.  Slow growing to 6 feet high and wide, this shrub will award the patient gardener with concurrent fall white blossoms and lovely berries that change from golden yellows to bright red that are set off by glossy green foliage and attractive maroon bark. Birds and bees are entranced by the buds and berries. Very drought tolerant once established and tolerant of some shade, this plant benefits from pruning that brings emphasis to the branching stems and bark.  The berries are edible but tasteless.

Bouteloua gracilis
Blue Grama Grass (Eyelash Grass)

A medium size native perennial warm season grass, blue grama grass retains a tidy upright shape even when winter dormant. Charming eyelash flowering stalks 1 to 2 feet tall fade from light green, to tan, to light beige throughout spring to fall.  Once established in full sun or part shade it can tolerate foot traffic, mowing and can be used as a lawn substitute.  It is very drought tolerant. If planted as an accent or perennial companion plant, it should be sheared back in mid winter to renew. See the Ornamental Grass Environmental Horticulture Note (pdf) for more information on growing and maintaining ornamental grasses in the Sacramento area.

UC Davis Arboretum All-Star.

Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californica)
California Fuchsia

An easy-to-grow California native that tolerates heat, drought and poor soils (although it prefers good drainage), the California fuchsia welcomes bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects to our garden. It is available in many varieties from aggressive mat-forming ground covers to 3 to 4 foot subshrubs with tubular blossoms of white, pink, orange and red and narrow to broad leaves ranging from gray to lime green. Once established the plants should be cut to the ground in late fall after blooming ends. 

We have several varieties growing in our garden. Near the entrance is the low growing gray, round leaved Epilobium canum ‘Calistoga’. Along the dry creek bed at the back of the common variety area is a taller growing, bright green leafed variety, while the entrance to the native garden is graced by a similar, but lower growing groundcover variety.

UC Davis Arboretum All-Star selection.
Pink Muhlygrass

Muhlenbergia capillaris
Pink Muhlygrass

For most of the year, this warm season mounding ornamental grass is just another evergreen background plant.  But, in late summer and early fall just as other summer blooms fade, an otherwise nondescript evergreen grass takes center stage in the FOHC parking lot bursting with show stopping persistent, vibrant, gauzy, pinkish-red, waving panicles rising up to 2 feet above the thin dark green mounding leaves. It is guaranteed to grab attention as visitors enter the front gate.

Muhlenbergia capillaris, pink muhlygrass, is native to Mexico and the eastern United States. Thriving in sun to part shade, it copes well with our hot, dry climate with some summer water and good drainage.  Growing to 2 feet by 2 feet prior to bloom the dark green, slender leaves make a good background for spring and early summer perennials and annuals. The long lasting blooms dry into a light buff color throughout  winter until February when we prune the entire plant down to 4 to 6 inches just prior to new spring growth. (Additional  information about this and other ornamental grasses seen in the WEL and elsewhere in Sacramento can be found in  here.)


Salvia greggii ‘Hot Lips’, ‘Lipstick’, Raspberry’, ‘Red Lady’, ‘Blaze’, ‘Sparkle’
Autumn sage

Commonly called Autumn sage, these evergreen members of the sage family with charming red, pink, red and white blooms (depending upon variety) start blooming in spring and often bloom non-stop through fall, especially if spent flower stalks are pruned back.  They typically grow 1 to 4 feet tall and wide.  If properly sited in full sun or part shade, they are practically ‘goof proof’, easy care, drought tolerant plants that attract hummingbirds, bees and other beneficial insects.  They can be pruned in late winter to keep compact.

UC Davis Arboretum All-Star.


Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’
Mexican Bush Sage 

Also known as velvet sage, S. leucantha is a native of eastern and central Mexico. A moderate sized late summer/fall blooming perennial star in our far parking lot bed, it will bloom abundantly from late summer until the first frost especially if spent blossoms are removed just as they begin to fade. The size (2-1/2 feet tall and 4 feet wide) of our ’Santa Barbara’ cultivar is not as large as many other varieties.  Very drought tolerant once established, the soft grayish green leaves set off brilliant purple flower stalks that make good cut and dried flowers. Plant in full sun, well drained soil and reduce summer watering for the best bloom.

Mexican bush sage will die back to the ground in winter and may not survive a severe frost.  If it does not die back during a mild winter, the plant should be cut close to the ground before spring growth begins to maintain a more compact shape and control flopping flower stems.
Copper Canyon Daisy

Tagetes lemmonii
Copper Canyon Daisy

Also known as tangerine scented marigold, this large shrubby herbaceous perennial originates in canyons at elevations between 4,000 to 6,000 feet from southern Arizona throughout Mexico. A member of the sunflower family, it is covered in the fall with vibrant, yellow daisy-like flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.  The very aromatic, airy foliage can cause dermatitis so care should be taken when pruning. We have 2 varieties in our garden, one that reaches 6 to 8 feet in height and a dwarf variety that grows to about 4 feet tall. Both can reach 4 to 6 feet in width. Copper canyon daisy prefers good drainage and is drought tolerant.  In fact, it blooms more abundantly when not overwatered.

Blooms are triggered by shorter days in fall, so an overcast period earlier in the year may produce some additional bloom. If overwatered or given too much shade, the plant may become leggy. Hedging back the stems may reduce subsequent flower production, however.  Fall blooms cover the bush and last until frost. Plants will die back in winter under frost conditions.  We have found that our plants do best when cut back close to the ground just as spring growth begins.

Zephyranthes candida
Zephyr flower

Also known as an Argentine rain lily, this cheery white flower blooms in late summer. Growing from bulbs that form small clumps of low growing shiny, grassy leaves it makes a good edging plant or groundcover.  Once established, they require little water or pruning. Preferring full sun, it will handle small amounts of shade. Zephyr flowers also grow well in pots. Here it is pictured with another late summer bloomer, a low growing California Fuchsia.

A UC Davis Arboretum All-Star selection.   

4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95827       Master Gardener Phone:  916.876.5338             Fax:  916.875.6233

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