What Garden Flowers Will Fit in My New Bed?

Foothills penstemon is one of several garden flowers I recommend for your California garden.

“I want to put underlayment cloth surrounding my 2 feet high by 2 feet deep by 15 feet wide garden bed to prevent the previous weeds I have tried so hard to remove from coming back. I want to grow Climbing Roses, Clematis, Foxgloves, Alliums, Cosmos, and Annuals in each 2 feet high by 2 feet deep by 3 feet wide area. Would that be enough space for all of these plants’ roots to successfully grow and be happy? Thank you.” Question from Anahita of Trabuco Canyon, California

Answer: The space is narrow, but the depth is good, though you may want to dig deeper in the area where you plant the climbing rose for long-term establishment. You should be able to grow most of the other plants you mentioned if the garden is sunny, though I am not certain you have the climate for a few of them. From what I have read, your area has hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Common foxgloves, some garden alliums, and more tender clematis are not adapted to the dry summer climates of the American Southwest. They will either need constant tending or they will die. Here are my suggestions for amending and preparing your garden bed followed by some plant ideas for you.

Garden Bed Preparation

Fortify your soil with water-holding amendments that aerate the soil. Some amendments naturally hold water and act as reservoirs, making water available to plant roots for longer. Organic matter (peat, compost, leaf mold, and coconut coir) is on the front line of holding water and providing air to the soil. For instance, our Black Gold® Just Coir processed coconut coir soaks up 90% of its weight in water and has lots of air pockets to keep roots happy. Black Gold® Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss and Natural & Organic Garden Compost are two quality amendments to consider. Liberally work additives such as these into your garden soil to support your plants and reduce the need to water as often.

Black Gold Inorganic soil additives, like water-holding crystals and vermiculite, also hold water but are better suited for container gardening.

Drought-Tolerant Plants

Plants from the Mediterranean and arid West tend to shine in the heat and drought. Those naturally adapted to more severe drought are often labeled as xeric or waterwise plants, and many specialty nurseries carry them. High Country Gardens is one great commercial online seller, and Xera Plants is another. The California-based Annie’s Annuals (they also sell perennials, shrubs, and many California natives) also has quite a few wonderful garden flowers for your area. Specialty succulent nurseries are also worth looking into, especially those with lists of hardy plants. I have bought many fine plants from the succulent nursery, Mountain Crest Gardens.  Their plants always arrive in great shape and perform beautifully.

Here are some beautiful, reliable garden perennials and flowering vines for your area that may interest you, based on the list you presented.

  • Sunset Foxglove (Digitalis obscura) is a semi-succulent foxglove from Spain with sunset-apricot flowers that rebloom, and it is suited to your climate.
  • Foothill Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) is a California native with spectacular spires of blue flowers in the spring and summer!
  • Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ is a tough heirloom clematis that blooms from summer to fall. It will tolerate more drought than most. In addition to a sturdy trellis against your home, you will need to give the vine extra water and care in the hot summer weather.
  • Polka™ climbing rose (R. ‘Meitosier’, Zones 5–10) is a double-apricot-pink bloomer recommended for droughtier areas as is the single-red-flowered ‘Altissimo’ (Zones 5–11).

Further Reading

I recommend you read the following article about ways to further protect your garden from drought.

Nine Water-Saving Garden Tips to Fight Drought

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith
Black Gold Horticulturist

Make sure your fill your garden with amended soil followed by quality mulch.

Mike Darcy’s Fall Garden Tasks For a Happy Garden

As potted annuals and vegetables die back, it is time to clean them up for the season. Mike Darcy’s Fall Garden Tasks For a Happy Garden

RAIN! We actually had rain. Not just rain but enough to clean the dust off of the leaves, wet the soil, and make both gardeners and plants happy. I was thrilled to see such heavy rainfall. Downtown Portland, Oregon actually received a record rainfall on September 17, 2021, of 1.80 inches. While our average rainfall for the year is still down, this was certainly a boost, especially coming after a very hot and dry summer.

Healing From The Hot, Dry Summer

Fall rains are lifting the spirits of those that suffered unseasonably hot, dry summers.

It has been a rough summer for many gardeners with the record-breaking temperatures, and if that was not enough, the lack of rain in what is normally a moist-summer region was unprecedented. Many gardeners, including myself, had a difficult time keeping plants hydrated. I could water plants one day and on the next, they might be wilting as though they had not been watered in weeks. Some plants were badly scorched from the intense heat, and there was little we could do to prevent it. We all learned some lessons from this and realized that we can expect repeated high temperatures. This year’s summer weather was not just a one-time occurrence. Future garden preparations are in order. [Click here for some good tips that can help save summer plants during extreme heat spells.]

Amending Soil for Heat and Drought

Mulch, such as these fine bark chips, is an important tool that helps retain water and protect plant roots from cold and heat.

One lesson to be learned is the need to increase and protect soil moisture. Even though there is no universal rule that says plants need to be mulched, mulching does reliably hold soil moisture and helps keep roots cooler when temperatures rise. There are a variety of mulches that help reduce soil evaporation, these include fertile compost, quality triple-shredded bark mulch, shredded leaf compost, and fine bark chips. Soil additives that naturally increase water-holding capacity include Black Gold Just Coir Coconut Coir, Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, and Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. All are OMRI Listed for organic gardening and hold lots of water to keep plant roots refreshed. [Click here to learn how to calculate mulch and amendment application rates for your garden.]

If transplanting is in order, adding Black Gold Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix to the soil is also beneficial. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend also makes an excellent addition to perennial and shrub containers in need of an organic matter boost. [Click here for additional tips for saving water in the garden during drought.]

Transplanting and Planting for Heat and Drought

Relocate more sun-sensitive shrubs and perennials to shadier spots.

October is an excellent time to plant and transplant many trees and shrubs. Before planting or moving plants, I walk through our garden and take a good look at the plants that suffered in summer. Perhaps they are not in the best location and would perform and thrive much better if they were moved. Since we have had predictably harsher summers during the previous years, I think that many of us, including myself, have stretched the “zone” where some of these shade-loving plants are planted. Moving partial-shade lovers to shadier locations seems safer these days, and if something does need transplanting, fall is an ideal time to do it in the Pacific Northwest. Gardeners with shorter seasons living elsewhere may be better off waiting until spring to move plants.

Plant drought- and heat-tolerant plants, like hardy olives.

Over the years, I have been choosing more plants for drought. In my garden, I have three fruiting olive trees, (Olea europaea ‘Arbequina’, USDA Hardiness Zones 7-11), that are planted in an area that gets intense summer sun. These trees received no supplemental water, and they show no sign of any stress. Through summer, I checked the leaves daily for any sign of scorching and there was none. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my hydrangeas and rhododendrons in sunnier locations did not fare so well, so I have decided to relocate them to a garden space that gets more shade. Transplanting them now, while the soil is still warm, will encourage root development, and fall and winter rains will provide the moisture they need. Back to soil amendment: this is the one opportunity that you have to amend the soil around the roots of your transplants. It is also essential to make sure that they do not get too dry after planting, even in fall. [Click here for a great overview of how to plant and site trees and shrubs.]

If you grow rhubarb and notice the stems seem to be getting smaller, it may be time to dig and divide the clump. Dividing rhubarb needs to be done every 3-4 years. Rhubarb develops a large root system and likes soil rich in compost or organic matter. Many gardeners grow rhubarb as an ornamental rather than as a food crop. Some varieties have red stalks that can be quite showy.

Sharpening and Cleaning Garden Tools

If you clean and tend to your garden tools, they will last for years!

While it is easy to forget to take care of the garden tools that we use, pruners, pruning saws, mowers, etc., this is a good time to clean and oil them so they will be ready for spring. Rakes, shovels, and hoes should also be cleaned and sharpened. I like to take my mower for a tune-up in the fall or winter, so I know it will be ready in the spring. [Click here for a great how-to for cleaning and maintaining bypass pruners.]

Planting Spring Flower Bulbs

Plant up layered bulb pots now for the spring show!

Don’t forget to plant the many spring-flowering bulbs that are now available in garden centers. Bulbs also do well in containers and can provide some color on a deck or patio in the spring. For bulbs in a container, I plant winter pansies over the top and they provide color all winter. In the spring, the bulbs will come up through the pansies. I use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix in the pots. [Click here to read my article about how to prepare and plant deluxe layered bulb planters for spring.]

There is much to do in the garden during autumn before we have a killing frost. If the weather stays warm and sunny, many plants like fuchsias, salvia, geraniums, etc, will continue flowering. Enjoy them as long as you can.

How Should I Prepare The Base of My Raised Bed?

“In a raised bed application, what should I use first before adding soil to prep the bed to reduce weeds and grass?” Question from Marlene or Stuart, Florida

Answer: There are several ways to stop perennial weeds from rising from the base of a new raised bed. You can either do the obvious– roll up your sleeves and completely desod and remove all weeds from the base of the bed–or you can place an organic cover at the base that will break down over time. If you choose to desod, you may also consider double digging below your beds to encourage deep rooting. (Click here to learn more about double digging.)

Raised Bed Organic Covers

The three organic covers that I recommend include either a layer of plain cardboard, black-and-white newspaper, or biodegradable burlap garden cloth.  Any of these will work well if you provide full coverage. Place the cover of your choice at the base of the beds to stop weed growth, and then add enriched, raised-bed soil. 

Raised Bed Soil Preparation

Raised bed soil should contain a mix of your own topsoil amended with lots of organic matter. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, Black Gold Earthworm Castings, and an organic soilless potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Mix, are all good choices. Soil-to-amendment ratios depend on topsoil quality; good topsoil requires fewer amendments. In general, mix two parts topsoil to one part compost and one part soilless potting mix or earthworm castings. If drought is a problem in your area, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost along the soil surface to reduce surface water loss. I also recommend that you fortify your soil with a quality vegetable fertilizer. 

To stop further weed encroachment, remove the grass from around your raised beds. Surrounding the beds with walkways covered with pebbles or organic mulches will look great and really help with weeds! (Click here to learn more about mulch solutions.)

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Should You Start by Tilling a No-Till Vegetable Garden?

Here’s a shot of my no-till garden three years after its creation.

“When creating no-till garden beds, do you think it’s best to till once and never again, or just use a never till method?” Question from Anthony of Bentonville, Arkansas

Answer: There are lots of benefits to going no-till with vegetable beds, especially when it comes to weed and weed seed control and the encouragement of soil beneficials. For me, creating a good no-till garden started with a big investment. I dug deep, enriched my beds to the hilt, and lifted and bermed my planting areas. (Lifting soil is especially important if your garden’s topography is low.)

Here’s my five-step method for starting a no-till garden.

  1. Till deeply: Creating a good vegetable bed is all about adding lofty tilth and good fertility for extra drainage and deep rooting. In my opinion, you cannot accomplish this without initial tilling. For excellent no-till bed longevity, you have to start by lifting and aerating your soil as deeply as possible.
  2. Double dig: Move the lofty tilled topsoil aside and double dig areas that you plan to plant. This is easier if your beds are on the smaller end, but at bare minimum, double dig the areas where you plan to grow root crops. (Click here to read more about double digging.)
  3. Amend all of your backfill: Amendments rich in organic matter and microbes are essential for the longterm health of your garden. Work as much good stuff, like Black Gold compost, earthworm castings, peat moss, and even composted manure, into your backfill as possible and till it in.
  4. Define pathways, fill, and berm: If you have a large or relatively large garden space, it’s nice to establish paths for easy garden access and harvest. Most gardeners choose a row or block design. I always like my pathways to stand a bit lower than my beds to encourage deep rooting, so I berm up fill in the bed areas.
  5. Cover: As a final step, I cover my walkways with black & white newspaper or non-waxed corrugated cardboard and cover the paper with a thick layer of seed-free grass clippings, straw, or even pine straw. You can even plant nitrogen-fixing clover in the walkways. Then I add a thick layer of compost along the top of the beds to detur weeds.

Each year, I clean up and refresh the walkways and add fresh compost as a mulch. Invest in your no-till garden like this in the beginning, and you will be wowed by the results.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist