Sow there! – What do you plant where other plants have died?, Sept. 30, 2016

September 30, 2016

This week I phoned my friend Angela Handy, who knows most things gardenesque. The day I reached her she said she was spending a lazy afternoon, and spoke with such a relaxed drawl wondered if she was sitting in massage chair.

Could she help me with some ideas for fall planting, with an emphasis on plants that are drought-tolerant?

“My yard is always drought-tolerant,” Angela said. “I have spots I never water in the summer.”

Once she gets home from her job at Prestige Nursery, she doesn’t want to spend time watering. She brings home many plants, as one would imagine. Some thrive and some die, she said languidly.

Great. So what would she choose for filling in bald spots, where plants have died after years of drought?

A plant that came to her mind quickly is creeping wire vine, AKA Muehlenbeckia. Once established, the plant has almost no watering requirements, she said, especially in the shade.

The plants will also survive in the sun, even within close proximity to hot concrete, Angela said.

The plant has a reputation for being a invasive, but Angela said she “is not scared of it like I am with Vinca minor. (periwinkle).

One idea, which she may or may not get around to, is to plant creeping wire vine in green strips along the driveway.

People like driveway strips to allow water to percolate into the soil, rather than run down to the storm drain.

Maintenance required

The key with drought plants is that they still need watering during that first year. That’s why planting in the fall is ideal. The rain falls and the roots of the plant have a chance to grow. When the weather warms, you’ll still need to water, but not as often.

More plants to neglect

Angela said she’s had great luck with euphorbia. I looked this up and another name for euphorbia is “spurge.”

Many of us know spurge. It’s a spindly weed that really does grow in the cracks of the sidewalk.

About a year ago a truckload of dark gravels was delivered to my yard. There are so many spurge weeds now growing in the gravel, I’m wondering if the company sprinkled the rocks with weed seeds before the visit.

Yet, the good kind of spurge, euphorbia, can make great plants to fill in gaps. They’re known for having interesting clusters of flowers and will grow in almost any soil, except heavy clay, Angela said.

She said she is also quite fond of purple fountain grass. However, this particular plant will die back in a cold snap.

The Master Gardeners of Sonoma County suggest this plant as an alternative to lawns,

Yet, be careful. A similar plant, Mexican feather grass, is on the University of California Master Gardener’s radar for being evil and invasive, This online resource suggests Mexican deer grass instead, or blue grama grass,

Foxtail fern, or Myers’ asparagus fern, is a welcome volunteer in Angela’s yard. If you know asparagus ferns (a popular house plant in county fair entries), this fern is similar but different. The plumes include short needles and the plumes are more compact, rather than open and wispy. Angela has several plants in part sun, partial shade, and they have done well.

One thing to keep in mind is that each person’ yard is different — different soil, exposure to wind and sun. Each yard has a different person at the end of the hose.

Angela said she has killed just as many plants as have survived. Yet, she’s probably just being hard on herself.

One consistency in her gardening life has been roses, because most will survive neglect. As with all plants, there will be more reward if plants are given exactly what they need.

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