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Cultural Information

All of the cultural information given in this site is based on growing experiences in the Sierra Foothills and may have limited relevance in other areas of the country. We consider a plant to be "Xeric" if it requires no water or only monthly irrigation once established. Plants listed as requiring "Low" water use are those that can thrive with only weekly or every other week irrigations, while those listed as requiring "Moderate Water" are those that have needed water at least twice a week during the summer months. Obviously, water needs are also soil and site dependent, so use our listings as guidelines only.

Where possible, we try to list minimum zones of hardiness for our plants. The gardener should remember, however, that a plant’s ability to survive a winter depends on a lot more just the minimum temperature the plant might be expected to encounter. For many plants, the determinant factor in survival is affected more by drainage, the combo of wet and cold, or repeated freezing and thawing, than by any minimum temperature. The hardiness of most rock garden plants can be increased by providing for better drainage in the wet winter months. Plant on slopes, use a gravel mulch, give your plants a rock to hunker around. This will protect their roots from temperature fluctuations and freeze/thaw cycles.

Almost all the plants we carry should be hardy into our higher elevations. We try to note exceptions where possible.

Waterwise Gardening

Having a successful waterwise garden involves much more than simply finding a source of beautiful drought tolerant plants. Those plants must be placed and planted in a way that complements their natural adaptations. The following strategies will help you succeed in the development of a waterwise garden.

Plant in the fall or the very early spring. If you are in the lower elevations (2500’ or below), you can easily plant all winter long. Some dryland gardeners feel that as long as the ground is not frozen, soggy, or completely covered in snow, it is plantable. Your goal should be to allow the plant as much time as possible to establish deep roots before the summer heat hits. You can encourage the plants roots to enter the native soil more quickly if you remove as much of the potting soil as you can from around its roots. A gentle way to do this is to swish the plant around in a bucket of water, and then use a gentle spray from the hose to help remove clumps of potting soil.

Use a mulch. Mulches are invaluable for insulating the soil from the heat of the sun, as well as for conserving water and slowing evaporative losses from the soil. Many of the plants we sell require excellent drainage around their crowns and will not tolerate the use of organic mulch such as compost or bark. For this reason, we highly recommend using gravel as a mulch, and use it throughout our own gardens. Any coarse pea gravel or source of grit can be used.

Rocks and boulders can provide a great deal of shelter in the dryland rock garden. Rocks are insulating masses, so on a hot summer day the soil underneath a rock will be cooler than the surrounding soil. Rocks also slow evaporative losses, so the soil underneath a rock will stay moister longer. To take advantage of this protection, simply plant your plants near a rock, or place a rock near your plants! The roots will travel naturally to the cooler, moister soil under the rock.

Pay attention to exposures, especially when using rocks for shelter. A plant planted on the north side of a rock will be much more sheltered from the sun than a plant placed on the south side of the same rock. For more information on rock garden techniques, visit the North American Rock Garden Society.

Watch the plant carefully its first season. Drought tolerance is not instant. Most plants will need careful watering throughout the first spring and summer, perhaps even weekly. The later in the spring you plant, the more attentive and careful you will need to be. Many plants that are adapted to a Mediterranean climate do not tolerate being hot and wet at the same time, so overwatering in the summer can lead to plant loss.
In our part of the west, there is simply no substitute for planting in the fall. Ironically, it can be difficult to find varied sources of plants at this time.