Tag Archive for: Landscape tips

Well, summer has arrived and so have the drought restrictions, a regular part of living in Southern California!

The Summertime

Our local water municipalities are good at reminding us to water on certain days of the week. But we at Root & Branch wanted to give you some information and tips to make sure your landscape makes it through the season.

Not to get to science-y, but when a water agency tells you to water early or later in the day, it’s because of evapotranspiration which, in a nutshell, is the rate of which a plant and the soil lose moisture through evaporation. The factors that affect the rate of evaporation are solar radiation, temperature, humidity and wind.

Studies by the Universities of California Davis and Riverside all conclude that watering early in the day is better than watering your gardens in the afternoon. And by early in the day, we mean between 4 AM and 6 AM, when there’s less wind, soil temperatures are cool, and plants’ roots are most able to absorb water.

You might also have heard it is better to water less often but for longer periods of time. Turns out, there’s really good science behind that too. A plant’s root system typically reflects what we see of the plant above ground. Meaning short plants have shallow roots (think grass) and tall trees have large, deep roots.

So if you are watering for a short period of time you’re only getting water just below the surface. This provides water to roots within the top few inches of soil, which isn’t how most plants grow.  Watering for a longer period of time will allow the water to get to the roots at greater depths.

This provides water to the plant, of course, but also encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil. This then acts as an insulator to the root system in high temperatures.

Grass is a terrific example of this! It should be kept longer in the summer – 2 to 3 inches is good, 4 inches even better. Not only does it shade the ground from the increased blade height, but it also encourages the roots to grow deeper. Also, again, a longer run time less often will encourage those roots to go deep, insulating them from the heat while the blade is insulating them from above. So, tell your gardeners to change the height of the darn mower!

If possible, consider upgrading your irrigation controller to a “smart” one.  Controllers now have moisture sensors and some can now connect to a local weather station and automatically make watering changes based on environmental conditions. As we mentioned, the water needs of plants are affected by sun, temperature, humidity and wind.  These smart controllers do calculations that take into account all these factors, as well as the type of plants they are watering, to make sure you provide the exact amount of water needed, and not a drop more!


If that’s not in the budget, consider at least using a water meter. Actually, if you have a garden you should have a water meter. This is the time of year when they are worth their weight in gold. See our blog post about water meters for more information on that topic.

Hopefully you and your garden can beat the heat this summer. A few adjustments – and maybe some tools – are all you need to make it happen for your plants. As always, feel free to comment below, we really enjoy your insights!

As a child I spent summer days laying on the grass or turf in the backyard, staring up at the blue sky with not a care in the world. My biggest concern would be if a half hour after lunch had yet passed so I could continue to swim “laps” in the blow-up pool.

I remember picking dandelions and blowing them to the four corners of the globe with glee, rolling races down hills of grass, and grass-stained knees and elbows – and the itch from it – all the memories of a time as a kid who grow up playing on grass.

The Fallacy of Turf:


As an adult and landscape professional, my knowledge of turf expanded significantly. In the past, Marathon sod dominated and fescue lawns prevailed. The allure of an immaculate green lawn was tempting, especially for those from lawn-centric regions like California.

During a recent trip to the East Coast, I explored historic mansions with vast lawns. Acres of green stretched before me, evoking images of owners enjoying croquet and picnics while children played nearby under a watchful nanny’s gaze.

Per usual, I was taking photos to keep my designing mind – and the business it shepards – remaining fresh and new. I thought to myself, this lawn, this huge expanse of seemingly perfect green perfection, this is what people are trying to attain! This is the goal! This is what people who want a lawn envision when they look out their living room window. My thoughts turned to the care of such a large swath of green.


I wanted to learn more. Getting closer to the turf, imperfections emerged. Uneven green swaths, bare spots, and water-logged areas appeared. Despite 60 gardeners tending to the property, the grass resembled the lawn of my childhood.

Weeds thrived, including spurge, clover, and dandelions, coexisting with unknown seeded grass. Crabgrass, zoysia, and nut grass infiltrated too. Together, they formed a visually pleasing carpet from afar. However, up close, it revealed a chaotic sight.

There are few things in life that bring me as much joy as a beautiful container garden with thoughtfully arranged planting material. Hmmm, well maybe a good bottle of red wine or a vodka martini, oh, sorry, never mind.

Plant a Container Garden:


Start with a clean container. If you’re re-using a pot, wash it well, inside and out, use a water and bleach solution. New containers should also be wiped down. Allow them to completely air dry before planting. I like to leave them in the sun for a day or two. This washing step also gives you a chance to see if the drainage is sufficient. If its not, now is the time to add a hole or two.

Few people really think about it, but healthy containers start at the bottom, with proper drainage & drainage material.

I prefer hard cell foam balls, in 1-2” size, depending upon the overall size of the container. These balls are lightweight, and impervious to water. Some landscapers prefer gravel, as it’s less expensive. Also in windy areas gravel can be beneficial, since it provides weight, which can add stability to the base of a container. If you’re the recycling type you might like to use crushed water bottles (with the cap on), as your drainage material.

No matter what material you use, be sure you allow enough space for the proper amount of soil for your plant material.


Next I add in a layer or two of weed fabric. This acts as a barrier between the drainage material and the potting soil. I’ve heard of people using coffee filters, which would probably be fine, but maybe not cost effective. Costco for 5,000 coffee filters anyone?


The next layer is where I never ever scrimp and that is the potting soil layer. My two current favs are EB Stone’s “Edna’s Best” available at H&H Nursery (in Lakewood, on Lakewood) or

Dr Earth’s “Pot of Gold” at Armstrong’s (they’re all over).

Measure the interior width and depth of your container, after you have added the drainage, to calculate volume. Sorry, don’t ask me how I know how to do this, I’ve done it for so many years it’s like autopilot. Google how to measure a cylinder or a square, depending upon your container for a simple formula.

Many brands of potting soil will be marked on the bag, them how many cubic feet or how many containers, of various sizes, they will fill. Smart marketing!

Never use soil from your garden or bagged “garden soil” in a container. Potting mix is specially structured to be lighter mixture, allowing for increased air and water movement, thus keeping the soil a more balanced ecosystem for your container plants.


And finally, we get to the part of container planting that people notice, the Plants! There are as many ways to plant a container as there are types of plants. But the “standards” are the standards because they do work. Use the “Thrill, Fill & Spill” method in a circular or square container. And in rectangular or trough like container, use a zig zag layout.

Add some starter fertilizer to the soil just before the plant material goes in. Another pro trick, is to put all the plants in the container before you take them out of their pots. This gives you a chance to move things around while you decide on your final placement and it’s a great time to check that your potting soil level is not to low or too high.


Toss in a bit of slow-release fertilizer and finish your container’s look with decorative gravel or small bark.

Water well and regularly while the plants adjust to their new home (where’s that water meter!!).

Remember to fertilize your containers every other month. Container plantings need regular fertilization to stay looking their best. Enjoy!