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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

MANY more evergreen and water-efficient plants are detailed and illustrated in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs
& Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!
Order these books from Garden Wisdom Press.

Choosing Plants for Water-efficiency
Foothill residents have many deer-resistant choices

by Carolyn Singer
January 2, 2010

Santolina rosmarinifoliaWinter is the time to evaluate a landscape. Striking are those plants with foliage that is attractive even after snows and hard freezes slow growth. And if they are still not damaged by deer even when there is little else for these four-legged foothill residents to browse upon, we can safely say the plants are deer-resistant. Without quotes.

If the mature plants have also survived our hot, dry summer with no irrigation, we can truly say they are "water-efficient".

Gardening in the same spot in the Peardale area for more than three decades, I have tested many plants for "deer-resistance" and water needs. Once my old dog died many years ago, I learned even more about deer-resistance as a small deer herd established itself on my property.

During that process, I discovered that plants fertilized with nitrogen were particularly attractive to the deer. Fertilized plants also needed more water. I could grow two of the same plant side by side, and the one consistently eaten was the one fertilized to encourage lush growth. Any plant you bring home from the nursery is vulnerable, so do not offer your enticing purchase to the deer, even if the plant is considered "deer-resistant". Always protect plants with spray or netting until the plant establishes.

"Water-efficient landscapes" are being defined for California through an ordinance that examines the choice of plants and the system used to meet its irrigation requirements. Just as you might select a plant considered to be "deer-resistant", you would also base your choice on its adaptation to a dry climate where there is little or no rain during the growing season. Summer irrigation is provided during the first two growing seasons.

Santolina chamaecyparissusWe all need to commit to this approach to selecting plants. Some of the plants in my garden have survived and thrived for years with only natural rainfall. Deer-resistant favorites include the lavender cottons (Santolina), the common sages (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Rosmarinus) and wormwoods (Artemisia). While each chosen species might grow larger with summer irrigation, I am much more interested in adaptation than show. I want a plant that is "water-efficient".

Santolina 'Lemon Queen'For winter beauty, the gray lavender cotton, Santolina chamaecyparissus, is one of my favorite groundcovers. It does best in a full-sun exposure and is a great choice for western-facing slopes. However, it is also tolerant of a little shade. My oldest specimen has spread to eight feet in diameter. Gold flowers in early summer contrast with silver-gray foliage. The cultivar "Lemon Queen" has pale yellow blossoms with gray-green foliage. Santolina rosmarinifolia forms silvery buds that open to yellow.

Salvia officinalis 'Bergartten'Sage is another excellent landscape choice, and a good culinary herb. While the non-blooming Salvia officinalis 'Bergartten' has striking foliage, it is the dwarf and standard cultivars of Salvia officinalis that are my favorites. They look better in winter in my garden (it gets colder here than in many other areas of Nevada County), and I enjoy the blue flowers in May and June.Salvia officinalis

Rosmarinus officinalisTrailing rosemary is an effective groundcover, and the upright cultivars of this evergreen herb are a beautiful form in the winter garden. The blue flowers often open in January, providing a destination for honeybees on a warm winter day.

Finally, the wormwoods (Artemisia) are among the best of the "water-efficient" landscape choices. The large sub-shrub, Artemisia 'Powis Castle' and the lower-growing Artemisia versicolor have fine silvery-gray foliage that is evergreen (evergray!) in most foothill elevations.Artemisia 'Powis Castle'

Artemisia versicolorWhen you learn how many wonderful native and non-native choices there are for the water-efficient landscape, your garden may be defined more thoughtfully and responsibly. This coming garden season, resolve to choose plants that need little or no irrigation once they have established. Save the water for your edible crops!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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