Plant of the Month

Autumn Daffodil
Sternbergia lutea

  • Plant Form: Perennial bulb
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 0.25 – 0.5 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Fall (Sept – Oct)
  • Native to: Southern Europe, Asia
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 28°F

This cheery surprise arrives to brighten your garden in the fall, seeming to appear out of nowhere. Autumn Daffodil bulbs sleep underground all summer, then burst up with bunches of yellow, waxy flowers in September and October, closely followed by clusters of strap-shaped leaves all winter. This plant’s charm and easy maintenance has garnered it awards — once you plant your own, you’ll know why.

Autumn Daffodil pops up through bare ground when you least expect it, just as autumn arrives. Its crocus-like, goblet-shaped, waxy yellow flowers each appear singly on 5 to 6-inch-tall stems. Soon after, deep green, strap-shaped leaves emerge that persist through winter, feeding the bulbs so they survive through their summer dormancy. Eventually these leaves disappear in spring until the next fall bloom. This heirloom bulb is so ridiculously easy to grow, and looks so charming, it has earned the prestigious “Award of Garden Merit” from the Royal Horticultural Society for its outstanding qualities. Happily, rabbits and deer rarely bother this plant. Plant bulbs 5-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart in late summer. Accepts most soil types, but they must be well-drained. Prefers full sun, and hot and dry summer months, so don’t give it too much summer water. Brightens up border fronts, rock gardens, cottage gardens, Mediterranean gardens, foundations, containers (with evergreen companion plants), pathways, and sidewalks.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for September

Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass
Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

  • Plant Form: Perennial grass
  • Water Use: Very low
  • Mature Size: 2-3 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar – May), Summer (June – Aug)
  • Native to: Southern California, Canada, North America, Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -30°F

There are so many desirable aspects of this interesting bunchgrass that Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass is bound to find at least one way into every gardener’s heart. It is long lived, deep rooted, drought tolerant, very low water-use, extremely cold tolerant, heat tolerant, deer resistant, can tolerate foot traffic and mowing, provides winter interest with distinctive seed heads, attracts songbirds, is comfy in containers, and even makes interesting dried flower arrangements. Can you resist it?

Blue Grama Grass is a long-lived bunchgrass with distinctive seed heads that look like curved combs or blonde sets of eyelashes. Its unique seed heads hover horizontally above green foliage from summer into fall, starting out chartreuse, then turning brown, and finally blonde (hinting at this selection’s name). In winter, its leaves also dry to a tan color, so this warm-season bunchgrass looks best when cut back in early spring to 2-3 inches above the ground to remove last winter’s dry leaves and flower spikes. Don’t prune too soon, though–the dried, tan seed heads are interesting all winter, and wintering songbirds love the seeds. This drought-tolerant, extremely cold-hardy grass fits into any garden style, including rock gardens, Mediterranean gardens, meadow gardens and naturalized areas. Lovely as a specimen plant, or along sunny paths, in borders and beds, in containers, or massed as a groundcover. Tolerates foot traffic and mowing, so it makes a great choice for drought-tolerant lawns. Its interesting flowers work wonders in dried arrangements.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for August


Spring Leaf Drop

It’s normal for evergreen plants to shed their oldest leaves, which are closer to the trunk than the newly emerged younger leaves at the ends of branches. While the term “evergreen” may make one think that the leaves last forever, evergreen leaves may last between one to several years before being replaced by new leaves.

Don’t panic if you see your evergreen plants dropping large amounts of yellow leaves in the spring! These are actually older leaves giving up their nutrients to the flush of young leaves that seem to sprout up overnight as the temperature warms.  You might worry that leaves turning color and falling to the ground indicates that your evergreen plant isn’t happy or is stressing, but this spring leaf-fall is very much a vital, living process that prepares the plant for a giant growth spurt each spring. As I discussed in another post, leaf drop is only possible if the leaves are attached to a plant or branch that is alive. In fall, leaf drop is a preparation for winter dormancy; in spring, it is a sacrifice of nutrients from old leaves into young leaves that need an injection of critical nutrients to expand and mature quickly for the growing season.

Spring leaf drop from our evergreen Sugarbush (Rhus ovata). This is a normal response to the flush of new growth in spring and early summer. “Out with the old and in with the new” is the agenda that moves valuable nutrients from older leaves into new, fast-growing spring leaves. After transferring their nutrients to the new growth, the old leaves fall to decompose and release their remaining nutrients into the soil as a continuing fertilizer…so their death keeps recycling vital gifts.

People are used to seeing deciduous plants shed their foliage at the end of the growing season in autumn, over-wintering with bare limbs and branches. “Leaf-peepers” travel around the country every year to watch the spectacle of leaf colors as groves of deciduous trees prepare for their autumn leaf drop and winter sleep. But we are not as accustomed to the often significant leaf drop of evergreen trees just as spring entices new growth.

As spring triggers new growth, older leaves are busy sending their accumulated stores of essential minerals, sugars, and other hard-won products out of the leaf, and sending them to the fast-growing cells of new leaves. As minerals like iron, phosphorus, and other valuable nutrients are transported off-leaf, color changes paint the older leaves yellow and orange, a visible sign of the chemical transformations happening within each old leaf during its sacrifice before it falls.

So don’t stress over the overnight yellow apron of leaves underneath your evergreen trees and shrubs that appeared just as spring kicks into high gear. It’s just the elders making way for the next generation of youngsters…as we will all end up doing.


Notice that only the older leaves are turning yellow on this evergreen shrub, Sugarbush (Rhus ovata), not the newer leaves near the branch tips. The older leaves are transferring nutrients to the flush of new spring growth.



Plant of the Month – July

Carob Tree
Ceratonia siliqua

  • Plant Form: Evergreen tree, shrub
  • Water Use: Very low
  • Mature Size: 30-45 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Fall (Sept – Nov)
  • Native to: Mediterranean region, Iran
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 20°F

Evergreen shade trees that can take the heat, cold, wind, and drought of our deserts are hard to come by, but Carob Tree takes all those challenges in stride. After established with infrequent watering, little or no summer water may be needed for Carob Trees to survive. You can train this plant into a tree for shade, or allow it to remain a shrub to create a windbreak, sound barrier, or tall hedge.

Carob Tree, best known for its cultivated seed pods used as a substitute for chocolate, is also valued for its ornamental landscape qualities. Its dense canopy of glossy, evergreen foliage makes a wonderful shade tree. Allowed to grow naturally, it retains its bushy form as a multi-stemmed shrub with branches to the ground, useful as a big hedge. If the plant is trained as a tree, with lower branches removed, it grows into a dense, rounded tree. Trees are either male or female, with both needed to produce carob fruit. Female trees produce flattened, brown leathery pods 1 foot long, which can be messy and may require occasional clean-up. Request a male tree to avoid fruit drop.  Young trees may need winter protection the first year or two. Water infrequently and deeply until established, after which little or no summer water may be needed. Use as a shade tree, windbreak, sound barrier, or tall hedge.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for July


Plant of the Month – June

Creeping Thyme
Thymus praecox ssp. articus

  • Plant Form: Groundcover, perennial herb
  • Water Use: Very low, low
  • Mature Size: 2-3 in. tall x 1.5-2.5 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, part shade
  • Bloom Time: Summer (June – August), Fall (Sept)
  • Native to: Europe
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 10°F

This low, mat-forming groundcover is delightful in so many ways; it is low maintenance, low water-using, it attracts butterflies when in bloom, it releases a pleasant fragrance when crushed under light foot traffic, and it softens hard edges of anything from rocks to walls, ledges to dry banks. Let your Creeping Thyme cascade over a container or spread out as a lawn substitute.

Creeping Thyme is a low evergreen ground cover that fits into small spaces but seems to bring big smiles to everyone passing by. It has a pleasant, spicy fragrance when crushed, and it will tolerate light foot traffic to release its scent. The stems spread out horizontally, taking root to form a flat mat, easily spreading over rocks, ledges, or a dry bank. In summer, this mounding plant produces a bounty of lilac or pink flowers that attract butterflies. This low water-use plant is also low maintenance, needing only slight pruning to maintain shape. Creeping Thyme does best in well-drained soils, and suffers in wet or poorly-drained soils. Perfect in pots, between rocks or stepping stones, draping over walls or banks, as a lawn substitute, or in any small area that needs a touch of magic (try it in a fairy garden).

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for June


Plant of the Month – May

Smokey Coast Rosemary
Westringia fruticosa ‘Smokey’

  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 3-6 ft. tall x 4-5 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full sun, part shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March – May),
    Summer (June – August)
  • Native to: Australia
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 20°F

This compact, neat shrub is a favorite of landscape professionals because of its low maintenance needs, drought tolerance, versatility, and the beautiful contrast of its foliage with green-leaved companion plants.

Smokey Coast Rosemary is a rugged Australian native with dainty evergreen leaves covered in soft white hair that makes the whole plant appear “smokey”. Its dark green leaves are edged in creamy white margins, creating attractive foliage year-round. Small, two-lipped white flowers tinged in purple can appear almost any time of year, but are most prolific in spring. Landscape professionals commonly use this outstanding plant because it is fast-growing, versatile, strong, drought-tolerant, and resilient.  This compact shrub retains a neat, globe shape without pruning, and lends itself to low borders or hedges, as well as mass plantings, accents among green-leaved companions, and for erosion control. Beautiful in butterfly and Mediterranean gardens.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for May