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Time to fall into landscaping

Garden: Know what to plant, how to plant and when to plant in the SCV

Posted: September 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

A citrus kumquat tree at Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus.

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When you visit Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus, you know you’ll come away with plants best-suited to the Santa Clarita Valley. And you’ll also come away fully informed on how to take care of them.

Often, the information given you will include a long-term weather forecast suitable for a “Farmer’s Almanac.”

That’s because, during his decades in the nursery business in the SCV, owner Richard Green has studied the weather patterns that occur in the SCV. And since we are now in fall, headed for winter, when I visited the nursery this week, Green brought out the fall forecast.

SCV weather
You probably don’t realize that the weather in the SCV is very different from the weather in the San Fernando Valley, where our “official” weather is predicted.

And that fact changes quite a bit about the type of plants that thrive here and about how you should care for them.
Comparing SCV weather to SFV weather, Green said, “We’re usually 10 degrees hotter in the summer and 10 degrees colder in the winter.”

He explained that the San Fernando Valley is a coastal valley, influenced by the ocean.

The SCV is a high desert, intermediate valley.

“Our influence is stronger from the Mojave,” he said, “with hot days and cold nights. We can fluctuate almost wildly compared to the San Fernando Valley.” And he added, “We’re affected differently when the fronts come in.”

Green said that, in years past, the SCV temperatures would drop into the teens two or three times a year, which can have a disastrous effect on cold-sensitive landscaping.

“That’s why it’s so crazy to plant bougainvillea here,” he said.

But even with hardier plants, you may need to protect them from severe cold weather — keeping an eye out for those extra-cold fronts approaching.

 “When you live next to the woods, watch out for the wolf,” he said.

Fall in the SCV
“With the fall equinox, our nights will be getting cooler,” Green said, “and there are things to consider in your yard.” There will be fewer hours of sunlight and the angle of that sunlight is changing. These things cause plants to get ready for dormancy. “The sugar content in the leaves of plants diminishes. The leaves turn colors and fall.”

But Green noted we aren’t done with the heat just yet.

“This week or next week, we should start the Santa Ana winds,” he said. “They say each mile per hour of wind is equivalent to a one degree increase in temperature,” Green noted. And so, on a 70-degree day, a 50-mph wind dries out your landscaping as if it was 120 degrees.

“Plant your winter annual flowers at the very end of October,” he said. If you plant them too early, you run the risk of them frying in the heat and dying, or at least being too damaged to do well.

The Santa Anas will also affect your watering. Though, in general, you should be cutting back on your watering in the fall, when the Santa Anas are coming, it’s best to get a good root-soaking in ahead of them. And during the windy days, you should water when the winds die down, such as at sundown and in the early morning hours.

However, Green noted that too much root soaking can make your trees and taller plants more susceptible to getting blown over by the wind.

And, once we are through with the Santa Anas, you can start worrying about frost. Green said that, last year, the first frost came at the end of October.

“The coldest times are when the air is still and there is no cloud cover,” Green said. “That’s when it gets down below 32 degrees and the plants get damaged.”

“Once the first frost hits, tomatoes, basil and other frost-sensitive, tender annuals die,” he said.

And, of course, as we move into winter, you have to consider those Arctic cold fronts.

“Our coldest time is usually from the week before Christmas to just after the first week of February,” Green said. “That’s when the really bad fronts may come in, and you have to anticipate them and cover or move susceptible plants.”

Of course, where your home is located in the SCV, and even where your plants are planted in your yard, can greatly alter the effect our valley’s weather will have on them.

Micro climates make all the difference. For example, lower, more sheltered areas will have lower low temperatures, and more chance of frost — and more exposed areas will be affected by the Santa Anas more.

Fall tree color
If you like colorful leaves on your trees in the fall, there are certain types that will provide it. But Green explained that weather patterns, and even micro climates, will affect the leaf-color on any tree and how long it lasts.

Green said that Chinese pistache is a good tree for fall color. “It can give a long period of fire-orange, then fire-red,” he said.

Crape myrtle is another tree that provides nice fall color, as is liquid amber. Green said when the leaves on liquid amber change, they can range from yellow-orange to deep burgundy and everything in between.

Open trees, stakes
With the threat of Santa Anas, it’s a good idea to open up trees that are so thickly limbed and leaved that they could be damaged or toppled by the winds.

This is especially true with evergreens, such as camphor, peppers and magnolias.

Removing some appropriate limbs or lowering the height of the tree gives it much less wind resistance.

Green said that you should check your trees that are staked. Be sure the stakes are secure and the bands are in good shape. You might even want to have some extra stakes and bands on hand.

Fall and fruit trees
Green said you should cut back on fertilizing your fruit trees in October, and (aside from Santa Anas) cut back on watering now.
This latter is particularly true of citrus trees, which are very sensitive to over-watering. It’s the same with Asian pears, pomegranates and cherries. He noted that persimmon and apple trees need a little more water.

Green said that you should let your citrus trees dry out until the leaves hang down. Then water them. “Treat your citrus like it was a cactus,” Green said.

Green said that, if a plant is not dormant, pruning stimulates growth. You have to be careful not to prune too late into fall, which might stimulate new, tender growth that will be easily damaged by frost. On the flip side, opening up plants by severe pruning will make them more susceptible to drying out and other damage when the Santa Anas blow.

When it comes to fruit trees, you can prune correctively after the leaves have fallen.

“Cutting fruit trees back in summer stops the growth,” he said. Of course, this can be used to keep your trees smaller and limit fruit production, if you desire that.

Add bark
Though plants well-adapted to our climate can easily handle our severe cold weather, the roots of cold-sensitive plants might need a little help. Using cedar bark mulch to cover the roots will accomplish this.

“It’s like putting on a pair of socks to keep your feet warm,” Green said.

Cold sensitive plants include jacaranda, bougainvillea and Brazilian pepper, among others.

Covering, moving
When severe cold weather is coming you may want to cover your frost-sensitive plants at night.

If your plants are potted, you might move them to protected areas. Even your potted citrus trees will benefit from this. Green said you should purchase your plant covers well ahead of time.

Otherwise, when the cold comes, they may all be gone from the stores.

Green Landscape Nursery is located at 26191 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350 (corner of Cinema and Bouquet). The phone number is (661) 255-8838.


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