Reality of a new Landscape
If you build a wall or build a house or pour a patio of concrete, you are done. It’s finished. But a garden that is composed of living plants is growing, maturing, changing, propagating and dying. Trees grow up and create shade where there was none. Roots of trees and larger plants invade and choke smaller weaker plants. Lawns develop thatch, ground covers get woody and different plants have different life expectancies as we ourselves do and die out. Soils get compacted and contaminated. New bugs and diseases invade the garden. Droughts and the declining quality of city water take a toll. Gardening is an art and in real life, it’s a battle. You will win some battles and lose some. Good quality garden design mitigates the severity of these battles, but we as gardeners always fight them.
The best approach I’ve found is to adjust our expectations to reality. The reality of a new landscape is that it needs consistent regular maintenance to keep it on track. Usually, weekly visits are required. In addition to weekly maintenance, the garden is usually due for a tune up three to five years after installation. A typical tune-up would be to prune trees, thin out tree roots, replant shorter lived border color plants, adjust irrigation for new heights of plants and sun/shade situations. A walk around with you and one of our supervisors is best. We’ll take an honest inventory of what is working in the garden and what is struggling. We will put forward solutions for the parts that need help with possible soil reconditioning and maybe a different variety of plant. Gardens are like little kids, you think you know how they will turn out, but occasionally they surprise you. Just call us and we can help to keep your garden on course for a lifetime of enjoyment. It’s a fun journey and the uncertainty is the charm.
What is most important in a garden is what we can’t see on the surface. A new landscape is equivalent to an entire landscape of potted plants. Initially, the individual plants are totally dependent on the small can size root ball at their installation. Eventually, with time, the roots grow and the plants are hardier and more efficient with what we would say are larger mouths to eat with. Generally, much moisture in a new garden is good. It is typical that we keep the new garden a bit soggy for the first month or two. After that, watering is gradually cut back over a six-month period. This allows the root system to grow and develop in harmony as the watering is reduced.
There are generally a few types of water situations in a landscape. Some common ones would be:
- Shrubs and groundcover in sun
- Shrubs and groundcover in shade
- Lawns in sun
- Lawns in part shade
- Vegetable gardens
- Citrus and fruit trees
- Rose gardens
- Cutting gardens
I will cover some of these now with respect to time of year and watering requirements initially and after the establishment period. We need to apply common sense in regards to the time of year. For example, if it is rainy and cool in December, we might water a lawn in La Jolla for 2 minutes twice a week. The same lawn in the heat of summer might be watered for 10 minutes three times a week. How close to the coast is your garden? This makes a big difference. We might water a hillside in La Jolla in the summer for 30 minutes every third day, whereas we might water the same hillside in Rancho Bernardo for 45 minutes every two days. Generally, most of our work is along the coast, so the following water times are for this area. Add time if you are inland, or experiencing unusually hot weather like a Santa Ana condition.
The above guidelines are for established landscapes only. Remember, a new landscape is watered daily for the first month at least and then is gradually tapered off. A freshly planted garden that is a bit soggy for the first month is right on track. However, if water isn’t tapered back as the roots grow in, the new roots can rot. This is a bit tricky for fall planting where the weather is in a cooling trend. Shady and partly sunny spots in the garden are especially vulnerable to overwatering and rotting roots in the winter. The most difficult areas are ones that receive strong sun in summer months, but none in the winter. Plant selection and watering are especially delicate in these areas.
Generally, after 3 to 4 weeks, we can cut the initial watering in half. Keep an eye on the garden, and if the lawn is turning darkish green-brown and is hard then you’ve cut back too much. If it’s soggy, yellow and really muddy, you haven’t cut back enough. Be careful not to water shady and part shady areas too much in the winter. We can really rot the roots if we do.
Your new garden has been planted with a number of start-up type fertilizers. After these wear off, you will need to pick up the ball and keep your new investment properly fed. The main thing to consider is that the larger the plant, the slower and more evenly it eats. For example, a lawn needs to eat fast and often. We fertilize a lawn every six weeks, but an established tree would need to be fed only once a year.
Lawns need a hotter or stronger fertilizer in the winter and less nitrogen in the summer. Feed your new lawn every 4 to 8 weeks. If the green color starts looking patchy (darker green in some spots, and lighter green in some spots) then it’s time for food. Sometimes a lawn will have a yellow look if it’s hungry. Shrubs and ground covers should be fed every quarter, or seasonally. Use the chart below as a guide. Water fertilizer right away! You can buy the “Best” brand fertilizers at SiteOne Landscape Supply. We also suggest that you buy a red “Earthway” fertilizer spreader. They are available online.
For fertilization of specialty plants such as roses, citrus and vegetables consult the “Southern California Gardening Guide”
Suggested Reading and Reference:
- “Southern California Gardening Guide” by Pat Welch
- “Southern California Organic Gardening” by Pat Welch
- “The New Sunset Western Garden Book”