Gardening Guide

Tips for Bay Area Landscaping

Learn how to create a garden that suits your property's conditions. Photo: Artisans Landscape ©2020

Tips for Bay Area Landscaping

Thanks to the Bay Area’s mild climate, you’ll find beautiful gardens from Monterey to Marin year-round. But creating these natural wonders takes careful planning and continual maintenance. On this page, you’ll find tips and articles to help you better understand the unique landscaping challenges of the Bay Area.

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All About Landscaping

  • 5 Things to Think About When Designing Your Landscape

    Start Your Design

    Find out what you need to consider when beginning a landscaping project.

  • Guidelines for Gardening

    Landscaping Experts

    Local landscaping experts share their tips for taking care of your trees and garden.

  • Spring Garden Maintenance in 5 Steps


    Follow these steps to cultivate a successful garden for spring and beyond.




John Gingrich

Gingrich Horticulture Service

Rich Kerri

Kerri Landscape Services

Paul Singh

Natural Landscaping Contractors

Linda Gottuso-Guay

Manzanita Landscape Construction, Inc.

Scott Reilly

Reilly Designs

Jerry Allison

Jerry Allison Landscaping, Inc.

Alan Kostelnik

Gardens of the Wine Country

Alex Llamas

Jeff Sheehan

Confidence Landscaping, Inc.

Greg Baker

Valley Oak Landscaping, Inc.

Terry Powell

Terry’s Tree Service, Inc.

Stephen Wood

EW Landscape, Inc.

Chris Chapman

Horticultural Services, LTD

Simon Tunnicliffe

West Valley Arborists, Inc.

James Cairnes

World Tree Service, Inc.

Francisco Cortes

Green Environment Landscape, Inc.

Renato do Carmo

D’Carmo Interlocking Pavers, Inc.

Forest Kirk

Forest Tree Services Inc.

A Consideration for Plant Selection

A Consideration for Plant Selection

CONCORD — Consumers have a tendency to think bigger is better, and this is no exception when it comes to shopping for plants at a nursery. That’s why, when selecting among plants of a similar species, most people are likely to assume the biggest, most developed one is the best deal. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

When it comes to plant selection, it’s not always best to go with the biggest plant. Often, larger plants in a nursery setting grow too large for their containers, which makes them more likely to be root-bound, with roots tightly amassed and circling around the base. When a plant is root-bound in its container, this can hinder its success after being transplanted. In contrast, a smaller, less developed plant will be more appropriately sized for its container and therefore less likely to be root-bound.

If you bring a plant home and find that it’s root-bound, be sure to address the problem before putting it into the ground. By trimming and/or loosening tightly bound roots before planting, they’ll be better able to take in nutrients from the soil, which will give the plant a better chance to succeed.

The Benefits of Bark Mulch

The Benefits of Bark Mulch

LIVERMORE — If you’re looking for an economical way to improve the look and performance of your garden or landscape, consider adding a new layer of bark mulch. Bark mulch offers several functional benefits, including:

Water retention
Mulch decreases evaporation, which means more water goes to your plants.

Soil temperature regulation
Mulch keeps the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Weed blocking
Mulch creates a barrier that keeps weeds down, which means less work for you.

As if these practical advantages weren’t enough, bark mulch offers one more benefit: it looks good! Like a fresh coat of wax on your car, a new layer of mulch puts a finishing touch on your yard, resulting in a thriving and beautiful landscape.

How to Establish a Drought-Friendly Lawn

How to Establish a Drought-Friendly Lawn

CONCORD — Due to the recent drought, many California residents are opting to replace their lawns with more drought-tolerant alternatives like rock gardens and synthetic turf. However, some homeowners aren’t as enthusiastic about the prospect of giving up the soft, lush lawns to which they’ve grown accustomed. If this is the case for you, there’s good news: By following a few simple guidelines, you can install a lawn that consumes far less water than the average.

1. Get the lawn area as level as possible, maintaining a slope of no more than 2 percent to minimize water run-off.

2. Before installing your turf, make sure the soil is properly prepared. Add compost and till the soil to a minimum depth of four to six inches.

3. Install sprinklers around the entire area of the lawn to avoid any dry spots. Rotary sprinkler heads are a better choice than static heads: they have more flexibility for adjustments and emit water more slowly, which reduces water loss by giving the soil a better chance to absorb it.

4. Once installed, give your lawn three to four weeks to become fully established. It typically takes about 28 days for the turf roots to grow to a mature length. This is crucial, because the deeper the roots, the less water your lawn will require.

5. Once your lawn is established, keep it on a tight irrigation schedule—in most cases, three to four watering sessions per week is adequate. To avoid overwatering, establish a clear idea of how much your lawn really needs.

6. Fertilize your lawn three to four times a year, and patch and aerate it at regular intervals. By taking proactive measures before, during and after installing your lawn, you’ll be able to minimize its water consumption without diminishing its aesthetic qualities.

Cause for Hope: Understanding the Landscape Recovery Process Following the North Bay Fires

Cause for Hope: Understanding the Landscape Recovery Process Following the North Bay Fires

SANTA ROSA — In addition to the lost homes and businesses, large portions of the landscapes in Napa and Sonoma Counties were destroyed by the recent North Bay fires, including both private and public areas. However, despite the current desolate appearance of the once-lush North Bay countryside, there is cause for hope—hope that nature can, and will, reverse the damage.

For example, many of the large trees that now appear singed and stressed out will survive and return to their former health. Even if their trunks and branches were badly damaged, most trees’ roots have likely been spared because they’re situated safely underground. In a few months, the winter rains will rejuvenate these roots and, in turn, revitalize the trees.

For this reason, if any trees on your property were damaged in the fire, don’t remove them unless you’re absolutely sure they’re gone. You can check this by peeling back their bark and observing the cambium layer beneath. If you see green or light-colored growth, that’s a good sign. With some judicious pruning and trimming, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to save your trees.

This isn’t the only example of how nature will reverse the damage sustained by the landscape. In areas where the fires decimated much of the vegetative growth, the absence of shade will allow the soil to receive full sunlight exposure. This, combined with the winter rains, will result in a flurry of vegetative growth come spring and a resurgence of many native plants.

Wildlife will also play a role in the landscape’s recovery. The insects will do their part by eating the dead wood and ash left by the fire. The thriving insect population will provide the animals, now returning home or coming out of hiding, with plenty to eat in lieu of the missing foliage. So, even if the landscape seems deserted now, you can expect to see many signs of life in the coming months.

While the destruction wrought by the North Bay fires is heartbreaking, there’s going to be a lot of restoration and rebirth in these areas. It may take some time, but then again, it may happen quicker than you expect. So, be patient. Don’t make any rash decisions about your landscape. Wait to see what the spring brings. In any case, one thing is for certain: The North Bay will regain its former beauty once again.

How to Identify a Qualified Landscaping Company

How to Identify a Qualified Landscaping Company

SAN RAFAEL — When hiring a landscaping company to maintain your property, one trait you should look for is strong industry expertise, particularly in the realm of horticulture. For example, a knowledgeable professional should be able to identify the majority of the plants and trees on your property, so pay attention to this while interviewing candidates. If a contractor isn’t familiar with the plants in your landscape, they probably aren’t qualified to maintain it.

To further gauge a landscape company’s expertise, plan to interview not only the representative or “face” of the company, but also members of the crew who will be maintaining your property. After all, if they’re going to be doing the hands-on work, they need to have adequate knowledge of how to perform the job. All in all, by carefully scrutinizing a company’s depth of professional knowledge, you can be better assured of receiving expert service.

The New Paradigm of Landscape Irrigation

The New Paradigm of Landscape Irrigation

WATSONVILLE — After four years of drought in California, forecasts of a wet winter mean relief may finally be in sight. While the ongoing lack of rain has taken a toll on the state’s landscape production and water supply, it’s had at least one positive side effect: by forcing us to adapt our irrigation and planting techniques, it’s given us a greater sense of responsibility when it comes to our water use.

During the last four years, we’ve both improved the efficiency of our irrigation technology and implemented a more widespread usage of it. For example, many California residents are now installing water retention systems, which harvest water from home appliances like washing machines (as well as downspouts and trench drains) and reuse it for landscape irrigation. We’ve also increased the prevalence of water-efficient techniques like underground drip irrigation, which uses 60 percent less water than conventional sprinklers.

In addition to developing sophisticated irrigation technology, we’ve become more strategic in the way we plan and design our landscapes. For instance, drought-tolerant approaches like xeriscaping employ natural water-saving techniques like choosing plants that are appropriate for the local soils and microclimates. In addition to installing native plant varieties, many homeowners are installing native grass lawns, which use half as much water as conventional turf.

How to Protect Your Garden from Local Wildlife

How to Protect Your Garden from Local Wildlife

SANTA ROSA — In addition to watering, one of the most important aspects of maintaining a garden is protecting it from the local wildlife. While this can be a challenging endeavor, there are several simple ways to deter harmful animals and keep your garden beautiful.

Some people put up bird netting to protect their plants from wildlife, but there’s a simpler home remedy that offers a natural, nontoxic way to deter animals without diminishing your garden’s aesthetic value. Just follow these simple steps:

1. Combine raw garlic cloves, habanero peppers and jalapeno peppers in a blender and mash them up.
2. Put this mixture into an empty plastic container, add some water and let it steep for three to four days.
3. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and put the liquid into a spray bottle.
4. Spray the liquid directly onto your plants.

In addition to vegetation, another thing that attracts animals to a garden is water, particularly from an automatic drip system. In some instances, deer will attempt to get a drink of water out of the drip system and pull off one of the water emitters in the process. Since a damaged water emitter can result in overwatering, it’s a good idea to periodically check your drip system for deer damage and watch for water-stressed plants.

Besides deer, two other common culprits of plant damage are moles and gophers. Moles thrive in softer soil, which is another reason to avoid overwatering. While traditional rat poison can be used to eradicate moles, the best products to deter gophers are “gopher baskets.” When these metal wire baskets are placed in the soil beneath your plants, they surround the roots and protect them from gophers.

Deep Watering Your Trees

Deep Watering Your Trees

ALAMO — When a tree looks unhealthy, it’s usually due to stress from a lack of water or nutrients. A simple way to address this problem is to use a deep watering tool. All you need to do is connect a garden hose and insert it into the ground, where it will deliver water and nutrients directly to your trees’ underground roots.

When you go to the store to purchase a deep watering tool, you’ll notice there are a few variations. For example, one model has a little canister on top where you can add fertilizer. This is a nice feature that allows you to water and fertilize your trees simultaneously.

To ensure effectiveness, it’s important to use your deep watering tool correctly. For instance, you should always insert your tool at the tree’s dripline—the point at which its outermost branches end. Since a tree’s roots typically extend an equivalent distance to its outermost branches, watering at the dripline will ensure the water gets delivered where it’s most needed. After locating the dripline, insert your tool about 12 inches into the soil, turn on the water at a low but steady flow and set your irrigation timer for one hour. This will give your tree a deep watering that will revitalize its condition.

The ideal frequency of deep watering will vary depending on what type of tree you’re treating. For example, an oak or pine tree should be deep watered once a month during the warmer seasons. Additionally, it’s good to incorporate supplementary measures like mulching, which improves soil water retention and minimizes evaporation.

How to Conserve Water with Landscape Irrigation

How to Conserve Water with Landscape Irrigation

CAMPBELL — When it comes to landscape irrigation, Californians have a tendency to overwater plants to the point of twice and even three times the amount of water they actually need. However, under the current drought conditions, this is no longer a luxury we can afford. On the contrary, all landscape irrigation today should be regarded from a “need-based” approach.

This approach involves a complete change in strategy. Rather than watering at the usual tri-weekly intervals, try turning off your automated irrigation controller and waiting for your plants to “speak to you.” Over the ensuing few days, observe them—once they start to wilt, turn on the water. Repeat this process a few more times, taking note of the timeframe in each instance. By observing your plants and gauging the amount of time it takes for them to start wilting, you can establish a more accurate, need-based irrigation schedule.

Don’t worry about letting your plants experience a little bit of stress—they won’t die. More importantly, by recalibrating your irrigation intervals, you stand to reduce your water usage by as much as half, and potentially even more. Seeing as the government has called for a 30 percent statewide reduction in water usage, if everyone implemented this approach in their landscapes, we would far surpass that goal.

Protecting Your Drip Irrigation System

Protecting Your Drip Irrigation System

SANTA ROSA — In response to the drought conditions that California is currently facing, many Bay Area residents are converting their existing water sprinkler systems to drip irrigation. While this is a great water-saving measure, a critical yet often overlooked aspect of installing a drip irrigation system is protecting it from exterior elements.

There are several sources of potential damage that threaten an exposed drip irrigation system. One is exposure to sunlight, which can cause irrigation hoses to become corroded over time. Likewise, local wildlife can be a concern, as animals like deer are known to chew on water emitters in an attempt to get hydration. When a drip system’s hoses and emitters become damaged, it often results in leaks, which can compromise the reason for having the system installed in the first place.

The best way to protect your drip irrigation system from these and other sources of damage is to bury it beneath the soil. In addition to providing protection from damage, burying a drip system situates it closer to the plants’ root zones, which reduces evaporation and makes for even more efficient watering.

The Benefits of Proper Tree Maintenance

The Benefits of Proper Tree Maintenance

LIVERMORE — The upkeep of trees on a property is an important yet often overlooked aspect of home maintenance. In addition to having their health periodically assessed by a professional, you should keep your trees well-trimmed via regular pruning and periodic canopy thinning.

Thinning the canopy of a tree typically consists of removing elements like deadwood, cross branches and excess growth. In addition to improving a tree’s ventilation (allowing wind to pass through the tree more freely), thinning results in weight reduction, which lessens the strain on a tree’s trunk and roots. Furthermore, thinning a tree’s canopy increases sunlight exposure to its interior branches and your overall property.

When it comes to trees growing near your home, it’s also a good idea to trim branches away from your roof line. When a tree’s branches come in contact with your roof, they can provide easy access for rats, squirrels and other rodents, which can then find their way into your attic. In addition to potentially bringing various insects and diseases into your home, rodents can pose a fire hazard if they start chewing on your electrical wiring.

If you’re unfamiliar with proper tree trimming techniques, consider hiring an ISA Certified tree company to perform the task. Remember, by proactively maintaining your trees, you’ll not only make your yard a safer and more enjoyable environment, you’ll also increase the value of your home and property.

Repurposing Wine Bottles for Landscape Irrigation

Repurposing Wine Bottles for Landscape Irrigation

MENLO PARK — After enjoying a bottle of wine, you probably discard the empty bottle into the recycling bin. However, did you know that empty bottle can be used to irrigate a plant on your landscape?

Here’s how it works: Fill the empty wine bottle with water and take it over to a plant in your yard. Turn the bottle upside down and place it into the soil near the plant’s root zone. Upon entering the soil, a plug will form in the bottle’s neck, which will keep the water from immediately draining out. Over the next few weeks, the water in the bottle will gradually seep into the soil, providing the plant with a slow, steady supply of irrigation.

This method is especially handy if you don’t have an automatic irrigation system on your property. Besides saving water, it saves you time, since you’ll no longer need to hand-water your plants each day. A single 1.5 liter wine bottle can deliver water to a plant for anywhere from four to six weeks. Even if you prefer smaller bottles of wine, these can still give you a couple of weeks’ worth of irrigation from a single fill-up. Keep in mind that bottles tend to empty faster in dry soil.

In light of the drought conditions we’ve experienced lately in California, this method offers a convenient and water-wise solution for irrigating your landscape. It’s also convenient if you’re going out of town and don’t have someone to water your plants in your absence.

Proper Tree Irrigation

Proper Tree Irrigation

ORINDA — Irrigation is crucial for established trees, but in order to be effective, it’s important to follow proper procedure. For example, a common mistake people make with tree irrigation is watering the trunk. Since a tree absorbs water through its roots, watering its trunk doesn’t make much sense. Instead, water should be applied at the outside edge of the tree’s drip line, where the shadow of its canopy is cast upon the ground. It’s also important to provide an adequate amount of water—ideally, the water should soak down about a foot into the soil.

In addition to proper procedure, a great way to maximize the effectiveness of irrigation is to apply a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch beneath the tree’s drip line. Besides reducing sun and wind evaporation, mulch adds beneficial fungi and bacteria to the soil as it decomposes, which improve tree roots’ ability to absorb water and nutrients. Since mulch decomposes over time, it should be reapplied annually.

Deep Root Fertilization

Deep Root Fertilization

CAMPBELL — Like any plant, trees require nutrients to grow and flourish. While trees typically derive nutrients from the soil, under certain circumstances they may not be able to get adequate nutrition, which can put them in a state of stress. This can occur when trees are situated near lawns or in areas of dense vegetation, where competition for water, nutrients and minerals is intensified. In cases of extreme nutrient deficiency, a good remedial measure is deep root fertilization.

Deep root fertilization utilizes hydraulic injection to deliver nutrients directly into the soil at the tree’s root level. The nutrients are conveyed in the form of a liquefied solution, which makes it easier for the roots to absorb them. In addition to supplying nutrition to the tree, the hydraulic injection’s lateral spray aerates the soil, providing much-needed oxygen to the roots.

Depending on the tree’s needs, deep root fertilization is typically applied one or two times annually. By providing both nutrition and oxygen, this supplementary measure can go a long way toward safeguarding the health of at-risk trees.

Does My Tree Have Sudden Oak Death?

Does My Tree Have Sudden Oak Death?

SAN ANSELMO — Sudden oak death has been a major problem in California for years, and it continues to concern property owners statewide. In some cases, however, what people perceive to be symptoms of this disease actually denote a much less alarming condition.

One of the most obvious signs of sudden oak death is a black staining of the lower part of the tree trunk—a thick, sticky substance with a sweet odor, similar to wine. What few people realize is there’s another tree condition that exhibits similar symptoms: bacterial wetwood (also known as slime flux). Bacterial wetwood is basically a fermented, slimy bacterial liquid that oozes from a crack or wound on a tree’s exterior and leaves vertical streaks as it runs down the side of the trunk. Luckily, this occurrence doesn’t have much of an effect on the tree; it doesn’t need to be treated, and it’ll eventually go away on its own.

People sometimes mistake slime flux for sudden oak death, but if you look closely, there are several differences between the symptoms. First, sudden oak death usually occurs on the lower trunk, whereas slime flux can occur much higher up. Also, unlike the thick, sweet-smelling character of sudden oak death, slime flux is a thinner liquid and has a rancid odor. So, before jumping to the conclusion that your tree has sudden oak death, take a closer look at the symptoms.

3 Tips to Conserve Water in Your Yard

3 Tips to Conserve Water in Your Yard

WATSONVILLE — When it comes to irrigating your yard, small steps and smart practices can go a long way toward conserving water. Consider the following tips:

Water less often for longer intervals. Many people water their lawns and gardens every day, but this actually isn’t the most efficient method. A better strategy is to water less frequently but for longer intervals. For example, instead of watering your lawn for 15 minutes every day, a better method is to water it for 45 minutes two to three times per week. This extended watering interval will soak the area and ensure water permeates deep into the root zone, which will sustain your lawn and plants for a few days until the next watering.

Minimize runoff in sloped areas. When irrigating lawns or plants situated in sloped areas, you can inadvertently waste a lot of water due to runoff. As the soil becomes permeated with water, the excess will run off (typically into a nearby stream or storm drain) instead of going into the ground. That’s why if you irrigate a sloped area for 10 minutes, less than half of that water is likely to make it down to the root zone. To address this, utilize the “soak cycle” method: water the area for five minutes, give it a couple of hours to soak and then water for another five minutes. This method will minimize runoff and ensure most of your water goes where you want.

Recycle your lawn clippings as mulch. In addition to providing the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, mulch helps conserve water by reducing sun and wind evaporation. Some people spend a lot of money on store-bought mulch products, but ordinary lawn clippings can also serve this purpose. After mowing, simply distribute your clippings over the areas you want to cover—they’ll help conserve water and fertilize your soil at no additional cost to you.


Paver Restoration: A Cost-Effective Alternative to Replacement

Paver Restoration: A Cost-Effective Alternative to Replacement

RICHMOND — If your paver patio or driveway is showing signs of age, you probably assume you need to have it replaced. However, did you know there’s an alternative option that can restore the beauty of your paver feature for a fraction of the cost? With a paver restoration service, your existing pavers can be refurbished and made to look new again.

A paver restoration typically includes the following measures:

  • Power washing with hot water
  • Application of a chemical cleaner to remove stains
  • Replacement of joint sand and removal of weeds
  • Application of a high-end sealant to enhance paver coloration

If your paver feature contains any cracked or damaged sections, additional measures will be needed to restore its integrity. Your contractor will attempt to find replacement pavers on the market; if suitable replacements can’t be found, the contractor will have to work with the existing ones. To ensure you have pavers on hand for these types of future repairs, it’s good to keep an additional 15 to 20 pavers from your feature’s original installation.

Annual Tree Maintenance

Annual Tree Maintenance

SANTA ROSA — Maintaining your trees once a year will ensure their long-term health, make your property safer and save you money. Almost all trees require a similar annual maintenance regimen. This includes:

•  Trimming back excess growth

•  Removing dead and crisscrossing branches  

•  Performing reductions on elongated, heavy branches to prevent limb failure

•  Identifying poor attachments and wood decay 

•  Thinning the crown to allow the canopy to breathe, reduce the windsail effect and prevent storm damage

Whether you choose to perform these tasks yourself or hire a tree service contractor, it’s important to make sure the work is being performed to the standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

With the exception of fruit trees, mulberries and sycamores, a tree’s limbs should be trimmed to leads, meaning one-third the size of the original branch. This will enable the tree to continue growing without losing its structural integrity. Bear in mind that topping cuts and stub cuts are not recommended. Additionally, codominant attachments on neglected trees may require cabling or support systems. A certified arborist will be able to advise you on any special needs your tree may have.