DIY Daydream

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Garden Features

1

Drought Tolerant

2

California Natives

3

Drip Irrigation

4

Pesticide Free

5

Rainwater Harvesting System

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Rain Garden

7

Reclaimed/Recycled Materials

8

Sheet Mulching

9

Lawn Conversion

10

Lawn-Free Landscaping

11

Permeable Surfaces

Partner: Santa Rosa Water

Imagine a corner lot with nothing but clay soil and Bermuda grass – this is what we walked into when purchasing our first home. But it’s nothing that two DIY-ers couldn’t fix, right?? Yes, but…

It ended up taking over a year of work. First we intentionally killed the lawn by not watering, and then applied gypsum to break up the clay a bit. Simultaneously, we built a hog-wire fence to surround the garden. We tried to dig up as much Bermuda grass as possible at this point, and moved soil around to create topographical features. Next, we constructed a winding path made of deconstructed granite. What followed was many trips to Costco to pick up cardboard for mulching. For the rain garden (drainage at the bottom of the sloping lot) where cardboard was not feasible to use, we laid down multiple layers of newspaper instead. Finally, the fun part arrived: garden design and planting.

Neither my husband nor I have any landscaping experience, but I have a background in agriculture and worked at a retail nursery for a few years, so…good enough. A portion of plants used in our garden (out of ~100 total) were salvaged from that nursery dumpster. The rest came from local Sonoma county nurseries. Our favorite plant sale was put on by Jail Industries Plant Nursery. In the fall of 2022, we got everything in the ground. This involved cutting through the cardboard mulch and digging holes twice as large as each pot so that we could amend the terrible soil.

Again, with virtually no previous experience, I modified the existing irrigation system so that each plant was hooked up. Funny enough, we rarely use this drip irrigation system. Instead, we hand-water using our rainwater collection system that my husband installed. The drainage from ~1/4 of our roof is connected to water tanks with ~3000 gallons of capacity, which appear to fill up after 2 winter storms. All excess water drains into our rain garden, and a solar-powered pump allows us to hand-water with ease.

After pinning all the irrigation lines and emitters to the cardboard mulch, we were ready for the bark mulch. Once again, we opted for an inexpensive option: chip drop. After receiving our LARGE pile of cheap mulch, we were able to cover all the cardboard with a thick layer. The final touch was to add river rocks in the drainage areas.

Nowadays, our yard maintenance includes weeding, pruning, and watering. The first year (2023) we hand-watered once a week with collected rainwater, which didn’t run out until September. After that we switched to our drip irrigation system. For the coming years, the goal will be to decrease the frequency of watering every year until we virtually stop all applied water.

For all our efforts, we received the Santa Rosa “cash for grass rebate” and “rainwater harvesting rebate”, and the yard of our dreams. Come check it out!

Plants in this Garden

Achillea spp & cvs

Yarrow
Organization

Yarrows are variable low-growing, spreading herbaceous perennials with finely divided leaves that inhabit many temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Flattish clusters of flowers form in spring and well into summer and provide an important nectar source for pollinators and insects. Yarrow can help to stabilize slopes and is a good addition to the upper level of rain gardens and swales. Colors include yellow, pink, and red.

California native spp & cvs: A. millefolium (common yarrow), A. m. ‘Calistoga’, A. m. ‘Island Pink’, A. m. ‘Sonoma Coast’, A. m. ‘Terracotta’.

Other yarrows: A. filipendulina (fern leaf yarrow), A. f. ‘Coronation Gold’, A. ‘Moonshine’, A. tomentosa (woolly yarrow).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Gray GreenGreen
  • Flower Color: PinkRedYellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Artemisia ssp

Sagebrush, Wormwood
Organization

Large group of plants that includes annuals, perennials, and shrubs grown for fine, soft-textured, aromatic, gray-green foliage. Flowers are inconspicuous but provide a source of pollen, nectar, and seeds for wildlife. Shrubby varieties can be cut back to maintain a more tidy and compact appearance. Perennial varieties can be divided in fall or early spring. Excellent choice as support for more showy plants in the garden.

Examples: A. ‘Powis Castle’ (3’ x 6’), A. californica (2-5’ x 4-5’, low-growing cultivars ‘Canyon Gray’ and ‘Montara’), A. pycnocephala ‘David’s Choice’ (6” x 2’).

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: EvergreenHerbaceous
  • Leaf Color: GrayGray GreenGreen
  • Flower Color: YellowWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Asclepias spp, CA native

Milkweed
Organization

Colony-forming, herbaceous perennials with several species providing important habitat and larval food sources for the monarch butterfly while attracting a diverse array of insects.

California milkweeds remain dormant during the colder months. Stems that emerge in April or May bear clusters of small, star-like flowers in summer followed by silky-tailed seeds that are dispersed by wind. A. fascicularis (narrow-leaved milkweed, 1-3’) is the preferred food source for monarch larvae. A. speciosa (showy milkweed, 2-4’) has larger, soft foliage, showier flower clusters, and is also a food source for monarch larvae. A. cordifolia (heart leaf milkweed, 1-2′) has heart-shaped leaves and is also a food source for monarch larvae.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Pink
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Baccharis pilularis & cvs

Dwarf Coyote Bush
Organization

Flowers are inconspicuous but provide a source of pollen, nectar, and seeds for wildlife. Shrubby varieties can be cut back to maintain a more tidy and compact appearance. Perennial varieties can be divided in fall or early spring. Excellent choice as support for more showy plants in the garden.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green - Dark
  • Flower Color: White
  • Blooming Season (s): Fall

Ceanothus spp & cvs

Ceanothus, California lilac, 'Ray Hartman'
Organization

Ceanothus is a group of fast-growing, evergreen shrubs that vary from groundcovers to small trees, many of which are native to California. They provide a spectacular display of flowers in spring that will attract a multitude of pollinators. Flowers are followed by seeds that provide food for birds. The clusters of tiny flowers range from white to deep violet. Plants perform best with good drainage and minimal irrigation once established. Some do best in cooler coastal climates, but many thrive in hotter inland climates. Pay close attention to the mature size when selecting ceanothus to ensure that it has sufficient space for its natural form.

Groundcovers: C. ‘Centennial’ (1’ x 8’), C. gloriosus var. gloriosus ‘Anchor Bay’ (2’ x 8’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’ (variegated, 1’ x 4’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’ (3’ x 12’), C. maritimus (2’ x 6’).

Shrubs: C. ‘Blue Jeans’ (6’ x 6’), C. Concha (6’ x 6’), C. ‘Dark Star’ (6’ x 8’), C. ‘Joyce Coulter’ (4’ x 12’), C. ‘Julia Phelps’ (8’ x 10’), C. cuneatus (8’ x 8’), C. thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’ (4’ x 6’).

Large shrubs: C. ‘Frosty Blue’ (10’ x 12’), C. thyrsiflorus (20’ x 20’), C. t. ‘Snow Flurry’ (white flower, 20’ x 20’).

Trees: C. ‘Ray Hartman’ (15′ x 15′)

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: GreenGreen - Dark
  • Flower Color: BlueWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Cercis occidentalis

Western Redbud
Organization

Western redbud is an ornamental, multi-trunked and deciduous, large shrub or small tree with year-round interest that provides a California native and very low-water alternative to the moderate-water Cercis canadensis. Magenta to rosy pink blossoms that resemble pea flowers cover bare branches in late winter to early spring. Apple green, heart-shaped leaves emerge to accompany the flowers. Over the summer, the leaves become more leathery and bluish green, and seed pods mature and remain into the winter months.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Violet
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring

Chilopsis linearis

Desert Willow
Organization

Chilopsis linearis is a deciduous shrub or small tree. Noted for fragrant, showy flowers in the spring and summer seasons. They are often multitrunked and fast-growing getting up to 15-30 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide. Holds foliage with occasional summer irrigation.

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Gray GreenGreen
  • Flower Color: PinkPurpleWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SummerWinter

Eriogonum spp

Buckwheat
Organization

Diverse group of flowering, evergreen shrubs and perennials and annuals found throughout the western United States. Most available in nurseries are native to California and generally prefer drier sites. Flowers colors include yellow, white, pink, and red and are held above foliage in umbels that dry over time and are popular in flower arrangements. Buckwheats provide pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies, larval food for butterflies, seeds for birds, and cover for many creatures.

Examples:

  • Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (E. arborescens, 3-4’ x 4-5’) densely mounded with white flowers.
  • Saffron buckwheat (E. crocatum, 1-2’ x 2-3’) with chartreuse-yellow flowers and pale leaves.
  • California buckwheat (E. fasciculatum, 2-3’ x 3’) and its low-growing cultivars such as E. f. ‘Warriner Lytle.’
  • Catherine’s lace (E. giganteum, 4-8’ x 6-10’) with delicate, white flowers and soft pale leaves.
  • Red-flowered buckwheat (E. grande var. Rubescens, 1-2’ x 2-3’) low-mounding perennial with rose-pink flowers, coastal bluff buckwheat (E. latifolium, up to 12” x 1-2’.)
  • Sulfur buckwheat (E. umbellatum, 6-18” x 1-3’) with intense yellow flowers and cultivars E. u. var. aureum ‘Kannah Creek’ and E. u. Var. ‘Shasta Sulphur’.
  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: EvergreenHerbaceous
  • Leaf Color: GrayGreen
  • Flower Color: PinkYellowWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFall

Zauschneria [Epilobium] spp

California Fuchsia
Organization

Group of highly variable, semi-evergreen subshrubs and herbaceous perennials distributed over a wide geographic area, including California. Epilobiums bloom in late summer with tubular flowers providing a food source for hummingbirds migrating south and are also attractive to bees and butterflies. Epilobiums range from low-growing groundcovers to upright plants of several feet. Flower colors include orange-red, white, pink, and salmon. Most can be pruned back in late autumn to maintain a more compact form and be rejuvenated for the following year.

Low-growing examples: E. ‘Schieffelin’s Choice’; E. canum ‘Calistoga’, a selection from Phil Van Soelen from California Flora Nursery from the Palisades east of Calistoga; E. canum ‘Cloverdale’, a selection from U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum from along the Russian River north of Cloverdale with exceptionally orange flowers; E. c. ‘Everett’s Choice’, E. c. ‘Summer Snow’ with white flowers, and E. septentrionale ‘Select Mattole’, a somewhat redder flowering selection that is more shade-tolerant.

Upright examples: E. c. ‘Bowman’s Hybrid’ (2-3’), E. c. ‘Catalina’ (3-4’), E. c. ‘Liz’s Choice’ (3’) selected by Milo Baker Chapter CNPS Fellow Liz Parsons, E. c. ‘Marin Pink’ (2’) with pink flowers.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Gray GreenGreen
  • Flower Color: OrangePinkRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): Fall

Fremontodendron spp. & cvs.

California Flannelbush
Organization

Fast-growing evergreen shrub with fuzzy, flannel-like leaves. Large golden yellow to orange blossoms that bloom in the spring. Best suited in full sun with well-drained soils.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Gray GreenGreen - Dark
  • Flower Color: OrangeYellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Bark Color: Brown

Juncus patens

California Grey Rush
Organization

California gray rush is a go-to species for the summer-dry rain garden. It will thrive in moist conditions and its roots will help stabilize soil and filter stormwater runoff. It is also tolerant of extended periods of drought. Clumps of stiff, upright foliage provide an interesting contrast among other perennials. ‘Elk Blue’ is a widely available selection from Mendocino County. Its bluish gray foliage is shorter than the typical gray rush.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Gray Green
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringWinter

Sambucus spp

Elderberry
Organization

Fast-growing shrubs and small trees for sun or part shade that attract pollinators from far and wide to large clusters of cream flowers in spring, followed by berries in summer that provide food to many types of birds. Fruit can also be used for culinary purposes. While naturally fairly wild-looking, elderberries can handle being cut back to the ground in the winter or pruned to maintain size and shape.

Examples:

  • Blue elderberry (S. mexicana [nigra] spp. caerulea, 8-25’) is native from Oregon to Baja California and beyond.
  • Black elderberry (S. nigra, 20-30’) is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and is available in nurseries in the form of many named cultivars. Cut leaf black elderberry (S. n. ‘Black Lace’, 8’ x 8’) has intense dark, fine foliage. Cut leaf elderberry (S. n. ‘Laciniata’, 10’ x 10’) has green leaves, and variegated black elderberry (S. n. ‘Marginata’, 6-12’) has variegated leaves.
  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: White
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer
  • Fruit Color: BlackPurple

Favorite Plants

1

Desert Willow (chilopsis)

2

yarrow (achillea)

3

matilija poppy (romneya)

4

sagebrush (artemisia)

5

CA lilac (ceanothus)

Favorite Garden Suppliers

Jail Industries Plant Nursery

2254 Ordinance Road Santa Rosa

Urban Tree Farm

3010 Fulton Road Fulton

Cal Flora Nursery

2990 Somers Street Fulton

Recommended Resources

Gardening Tips

1

Proper watering is key. Deep infrequent watering is better than shallow daily watering if you want your plants to become drought tolerant.