Water-Efficient Landscape Gardens in August
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.)
Harvest Day will be "virtual" again this year. You won't want to miss this! For details, please visit our Harvest Day page.
August and September have been called California’s 5th season by native plant enthusiasts. This is because many of the natives and plants from similar climates go dormant when the weather is hot and dry. They stop growing and several lose their leaves. Our California golden currant, Ribes aureum gracillimum, is a good example of a plant that may drop leaves. Planted for charming golden blossoms mid-winter, it’s foliage turns brown and falls off in August and September. Several cool season grasses, such as the ornamental fescues can turn brown mid-summer also. Evergreen natives such as ceanothus, manzanita and coyote bush also take a break from active growth during hot, dry spells. (This is why pruning of some of these natives is recommended now. It is important to research each plant before doing major cut-backs however.)
Late summer brings many serene, sun loving perennials to center stage. From cheery yellow sunflowers, black-eyed susans, goldenrod and lantana to the feathery lavender spikes of bluebeard, Russian sage and society garlic, a full range of warm and cool shades grace our walks and patios. Hot lips, raspberry, lipstick, blaze and the other autumn sages continue to attract carpenter bees and other pollinators. Purple trailing lantana, cape plumbago, ruellia and catmint along with white trailing lantana, St. Catherine’s lace and the everblooming Flower Carpet® white groundcover rose add cooling touches here and there. Red carpets of California fuchsia continue to entice hummingbirds and bees. This is also the time of year for the bunch grasses to dance and show off their slender, spiking leaf blades and inflorescence as the sun rises and sets lower in the sky. Red, soft green, gold, wheat, tan, beige, and ocher spikelets wave gently throughout the garden. The variety is amazing right now, from the charming propeller-like short seed heads on the knee high blue grama grass to the tall sturdy 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass, a UC Davis Arboretum All-Star. If you are considering ornamental grasses (PDF) in your landscape, come check out the deer grass, love grass, esparto grass, and the ‘Little Kitten’ dwarf eulalia grass and others throughout the garden.
Garden chores this month include continuing to monitor weeds. (The Weed Identification Photo Gallery is a good guide to identifying and controlling weeds.)
We will also be deadheading salvias, Santa Barbara daisies, black-eyed susans and other continuously flowering perennials to promote longer bloom periods. (A good resource for flower pest management and cultural care is the UC Integrated Pest Management website on flowers). Additional mulching will be done to cover to a depth of 2 to 4 inches around plants to keep weeds down, conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Irrigation lines and emitters will be checked for clogs, cuts and breaks regularly and schedules will be monitored. See more irrigation tips.
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.
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.
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Knight’, 'Summer Sorbet’, ‘Worcestor Gold’
Native to Asia. A bee and butterfly favorite, this low-growing, deciduous, mounding, small shrub grows 2 to 3 feet high and wide. It looks best planted in groups of 3 to 5 plants in well drained soil or raised beds. Flower cluster colors range from violet, to dark and light blue depending on variety. Bloom occurs from midsummer to frost. Flowers form on new wood, so prune nearly to the ground before spring growth begins. Trim off spent blossoms to prolong bloom. Prefers full sun and moderate water.
Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californica)
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.
A UC Davis Arboretum All-Star selection.
Despite its name, this long-bloomer isn't native to Russia, but to several countries in central Asia. That may explain its toughness. Deer and pest resistant, Russian Sage welcomes poor, well-drained soil, is drought tolerant once established, and needs scant maintenance. Prune it back to 4 to 6 inches in February and it's good to go for another year attracting bees, butterflies and perfuming the garden.
Taller cultivars like 'Blue Spire' (3 to 4 feet tall) can flop, especially if over-fertilized or are subject to overhead watering. There are shorter cultivars, like 'Little Spire' and 'Peek-A-Blue' that are 2 feet in height. Russian Sage can be moderately invasive. Mature plants send out rhizomes and plants emerge 2 to 3 feet from the mother plant. Dig them out or give the plant lots of space.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’
Brightly blooming along the entrance of our perennial pathway, these cheery, golden summer icons welcome our garden visitors all summer long. Originally from eastern North America, these members of the aster family were enthusiastically received by European horticulturalists as early as the 18th century where they were named by Linneaus in 1753 to honor his teacher, Swedish botanist Olaus Rudbeck. ‘Goldsturm’, our pathway stalwart was originally bred in Czechoslovakia and honored as the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year.Requiring nothing more than average garden soil and moderate watering, these heat lovers attract bees and other beneficial insects. With deadheading they re-bloom into fall. They spread via rhizomatous roots that benefit from dividing every 3 to 4 years. While hardy, it does die back in winter making it an ideal succession companion for spring bulbs and other early flowering perennials.
Solidago hybrid ‘Golden Baby’ (pictured) and Solidago californica ‘Cascade Creek’
Solidago hybrid ‘Golden Baby’, a low maintenance goldenrod perennial along with it’s close hybrid relative, Solidago californica ‘Cascade Creek’, makes a cheery addition to the summer perennial pathway. Growing to 2 feet tall, 18 inches wide, it starts blooming in June and continues throughout our long hot summer continuously into fall attracting bird and butterflies. A tough plant that thrives in any soil type, it can take part shade and moderate to occasional water. Cut to the ground after bloom has ended in the fall. We don’t recommend planting the parent native goldenrod, Solidago californica, because it grows taller and can be invasive.
Solidago californica ‘Cascade Creek’ is a UC Davis Arboretum All-Star.