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Gail's Gardens November 2014

by Gail Fanning

I’ve been hearing lots of talk now about fall planting, and I just have to add my two cents to the discussion. When I started gardening in Sonoma County many years ago, fall planting was great because it seemed that we almost always got some good rains starting in October. But lately we have had very dry weather in the fall, and dry ground is not good for planting!  So I would vote for a change to “planting when the rains come” – which may not be until December this year! If you put a new plant into the ground now, the surrounding dry soil will suck all the moisture out of it, even if you water regularly. If you check the data on the Water Smart section of the Santa Rosa City website, you will see that our gardens are still experiencing almost one inch of water loss per week (ET = evapotranspiration), so adjust your watering appropriately, and hold off on planting until ET water loss is down to zero. Make it a habit to check the website every month to fine-tune your watering to actual local weather conditions.

Want to replicate your gardening successes for next year?  Now is the time for seed saving!  Seeds are in abundance now: check your garden and neighborhood for California poppy, columbine, cleome, queen anne’s lace, asters, or sunflowers.  These are easy to collect and store in a dark, dry place until spring sowing time, or you can just scatter them around the garden in places you would like to see them growing: I love the surprise of finding these self-seeding beauties in new spots each spring!  

Vegetable garden seeds can also be dried and stored: but remember if you have planted hybrid seeds next year’s plants will not be the same as their parents.  You may stumble on an exciting new variety!  Old fashioned non-hybrid varieties are more likely to come true from seed. If you want to learn more about seed saving, heritage plants, and why we need to preserve these old varieties, check out the excellent website at

Traveling through the north county?  Check out this great resource in Healdsburg: the FireSafe Demonstration Garden. The garden demonstrates how to create a landscape which reduces the risk of serious damage if a fire comes through your neighborhood. Stop by to get some good ideas for your garden. The FireSafe Demonstration Garden is a joint project of Sonoma County Master Gardeners, Fire Safe Sonoma, Cal Fire and the Healdsburg Garden Club. It is open to the public during normal business hours at 17475 Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, right off the Lytton Springs exit at the Cal Fire station. 

Looking for a hardy evergreen yellow/green grass-like plant?  I’ve just seen a great new (to me) Carex!  Discovered in New Zealand, it is  called Carex trifida ‘Rekohu Sunrise’. It stands 2- 3 feet high and wide with beautiful yellow striped leaves that are evergreen, and reportedly hardy to 7 degrees!  It’s also deer resistant.  Available from Monrovia, I’m anxious to try it out in my “hot color garden” near the pond: I already have ‘Yellow Wave’ phormium, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, red flowered California fuchsia, and an orange flowered Peruvian lily (alstroemeria) doing well in this sunny, well watered location. Monrovia says Carex trifida ‘Rekoju Sunrise’ will be drought tolerant when established, but we’ll have to see if that’s true: New Zealand is a very wet place!  Try it out if you love grassy, variegated foliage like I do.

Send me your comments or questions I’d love to hear from you!

If you need garden advice or have questions, send me an e-mail at