I am spending a few weeks with my Sister who lives in Huntington Beach, California recovering from a recent fractured disc in my spine. She is a very keen gardener like me but this year has experienced many cut backs with the watering etc. and what plants will tolerate the drought. Some plants have surprised her especially her roses which are watered infrequently but have produced some wonderful flowers. There is also a blue Plumbago and American Honeysuckle which is bright orange with dark green leaves which has grown on the wall and appears to have flowered more freely. She also split her day lilies putting some in different parts of the garden in case she lost any of them, and at the moment the day lily in the tub is flowering.

honeysuckle - gardening in California

The drought in Southern California has hit people in many different ways. Gardeners can only use their sprinklers for five minutes twice a week (also only a five minute shower twice a week!!). There has been a drought for the last four years, mainly because the snow which usually falls on the Sierra Mountains has been so little therefore no water when the snow melts and California gets a lot of its water from the Sierras in good years. The last four years have been the driest with 29 inches only of rain.



As a result of the drought there have been many brush fires with terrible consequences losing many trees and shrubs as well as small animals. Unfortunately when any rain does come there is nothing to stop it from rushing straight down the hillside or mountain onto the roads and towns causing a lot of destruction. The trees are beginning to dry out and crack and split enabling bugs etc to get into the bark. Branches are falling off as well. The drought is blamed for the infestation of native bark beetles because healthy trees can usually defend against the insects. The U.S. Forest Service estimate that 22 million trees have died in California since the drought started four years ago. In Orange County where I am staying one species of Southeast Asian beetle – shot hole borer – has been particularly troublesome.

Gardeners are saving water from any gutter downpipe – (although many houses do not have gutters) and washing up water from the sink in order to be able to hand water their plants. Lantana is a very good drought tolerant plant and grows well in dry conditions once established. As does Cassia, a pretty yellow plant. Also another good idea is when the ice cube tray/box needs emptying to put the ice cubes round the plants instead of putting them into the sink to melt.

cassia - gardening in california



Milkweed is also a drought tolerant plant which is good news as the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves of the plants which develop into small green/yellow caterpillars. These caterpillars eat the plants and when it gets around two inches long crawls to a convenient spot and hangs upside down turning into a chrysalis, where it stays for around two weeks before emerging as a beautiful Monarch butterfly. My Sister has several milkweed in her garden and we have watched the caterpillars getting bigger and sometimes even seen them emerging from the chrysalis. They usually sit on a leaf flapping their wings waiting for them to dry before flying off.

Quite a few people are moving towards growing succulents and in some cases have an entire front garden of succulents which are readily available now in garden centres and nurseries. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made in deciding which plants to keep and what to replace as it is difficult to get small plants established in these conditions. This really makes me appreciate our climate even if we do get a lot of rain at times.




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