Friday, July 10, 2009

This Ain't Hawaii, Folks. Ask the Snarky Farmer!

     Fridays, we delve into the garden e-mail bag for the neverending series...Ask the Snarky Farmer!

     Jennifer in El Dorado Hills (elev. 1000 ft.) appeals for: "Help! I have a Banksia. I am sure this is not the proper zone for them but how should we care for it? We had it in direct sun and it did not seem to like it. So we put it in a pot and moved it to partial shade. It seems to like a lot of water, but it is just sickly looking. Should I cut it all the way back? Plant in the ground in more shade?"

     According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, Banksia (an evergreen shrub or small tree that develops flowers in cylindrical clusters) does best in Sunset zones 15-24 (coastal California, primarily) and Hawaii. Yep, El Dorado Hills (Sunset zone 9, with thin, rocky soil) ain't Hilo, Kona, or Santa Barbara, for that matter. Good luck, you'll probably need it.

     Rich in Grass Valley (elev. 2600 ft., Sunset zone 7) inquires: "What about these plants for my location? I'd like to know the likelihood of these plants surviving the occasional snowfalls and weather here at a 2600' elevation:
 Dyomondia margarete, silver carpet, or carpet daisy, it's said to be hardy to 20 degrees f and has tuberous roots. it's a very attractive low growing variegated leaf ground cover and i was thinking it would make a nice "fill in" between a row of steping stones in my garden. as a bonus, it has a profusion of small, daisy-like yellow flowers.

"Ipomoea batatas (not too easy for me to say!), or tri-color sweet potato vine (ok, maybe i should have just said that in the first place!) it grows like ivy, roots as it goes, and produces tubers, or potatoes, some are actually quite large."

Ipomoea batatas: does best in Sunset Zones 13 (low desert) , 21-24 (So. Calif.) and Hawaii. For Grass Valley (whose town motto reads, "Chains Required Next 20 Miles")...probably not.

Dyomondia margaretae: best for Sunset Zones 15-24. For Grass Valley, where the local Wal Mart converts the Garden aisle each September into "Snow Blower City"... probably not.
Both of those plants require nighttime temperatures that stay well above freezing.

This reminds me of my friend Lou, of El Dorado Hills (Sunset Zone 9). On a trip to Hawaii, Lou fell in love with the jacaranda tree (best in Sunset Zones 12, 13, 15-24 and Hawaii). He had to have one. He got one. Now, his electric bill soars each winter, thanks to the large string of Christmas lights that festoon all the branches of the jacaranda in a futile attempt to keep the tree alive during the winter.

The foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range of Northern California  have witnessed an influx of new homeowners from the Bay Area and Southern California over the last decade. They brought their pets, sofas and gardening habits with them.
For all of you transplants, may I offer this piece of advice:


Thanks. I feel better now.

Having said that, note that I used the word "probably" in all the answers. Why? Because all gardening is local. Garden conditions not only vary from town to town, but also yard to yard. Sometimes you can fool Mother Nature by creating a garden space that consists of excellent, well-draining soil that gets reflected heat from west or south-facing walls in the winter, thus expanding the range of planting options in marginal areas. But that takes planning...and luck.

     You'd be better off starting a new garden in a new home by copying what works for your neighbors. A good housewarming gift for the Western U.S.: the Sunset Western Garden Book. And, consult your local Cooperative Extension office. They usually have lists of plants that work best in your County. Your best bet: spend some time at your locally owned nursery. These people stake their livelihood on selling you plants that will work in that area. If you don't see it at your neighborhood nursery, it probably won't grow there. And the term "locally owned nursery" does not include the big box chain stores.

It is not uncommon for the big box stores to ship the same tropical plants throughout the state, especially bougainvillea. Bougainvillea may survive year after year in the Bay Area or Southern California. But here in many parts of the Central Valley and the foothills...grow it and enjoy it as an annual. Buy it in April...compost it in December.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the locally owned garden center as a resource.

    It's one thing to grow a citrus, aloe, or other tender plant in a container and protect it in the winter. It's another to plant Jacarandas at 3000 foot elevation. This person is a great customer of ours. However he was swayed by a plant broker to plant them. They will be toast this winter.

    As far as the box stores, well what can you say. They are by far the worst offenders. I remember a couple of years ago when Lowes and Depot we're selling box Queen Palms for some ridiculous price. You would see pick ups with these things sticking out the back heading up the hill. What a waste of time and money.

  2. There are plenty of well-established Bougainvilleas in Davis (Zone 14). The key is the microclimate. Successful survivors tend to be on south-facing walls, under an overhang. After the first winter, they usually don't need special protection except during our episodic freezes (1990, 1998).
    Jacaranda is very successful. As a shrub.