Ceanothus is one of the plants that can make for a good start in putting together a natural garden of California natives.

Garden dectective: How to start indigenous plants

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7CALIFORNIA LIFE

I seek information on how to start indigenous plants with no irrigation water available. It is an area adjacent to a greenbelt area in Roseville. There are many blue oaks in the greenbelt.

I would like recommendations on the type of plant or tree, the maximum size that would have the best survival chance, and the best time of year to plant.

I look forward to your response.

– W. R. Porter, Roseville

According to UC Master Gardener Annie Kempees, plants that originate in California's Sacramento Valley are numerous. So you have lots of candidates from which to choose.

Plants anywhere need a good start at the beginning of their lives, whether they grow from seed or are planted with a root ball attached.

The best time to plant is in the autumn, after the first rain and before the soil is too cold or wet. Natives in this area require monthly irrigation during the dry season for 1 to 2 years until their roots become established. After that time, most native plants will thrive on rainwater alone, soaking up mist from fog or when temperatures hit the dew point.

It would be a good idea to visit the UC Davis Arboretum and walk through the native California plant section. There is a list of the 100 Arboretum All-Stars that may assist you with making wise choices.

The California Native Plant Society holds monthly meetings at the Shepard Garden and Art Center in McKinley Park, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento. There are many knowledgeable people to talk with in addition to browsing several excellent books for purchase that will guide you on your way to installing a beautiful native garden.

For starters, some good suggestions for your project are ceanothus (also called California wild lilac), toyon (Heteromeles) and manzanita.

We are having a problem with one of three 7-year-old linden trees we have in the flower bed on the perimeter of our backyard. Two of them are doing very well, but a couple of months ago, one tree began dying back and losing leaves.

It seemed to stop a bit with the change of seasons. We tried deep-watering the tree before the winter rain began, although it should be receiving plenty of water as it is on drip and probably gets some from our lawn irrigation as well. There is no indication of insect or bug infestation.

Do you have any thoughts on what the problem is with this tree?

– Kathy Prevost, El Dorado Hills

According to UC Master Gardener Amelia Murray, linden trees (Tilia) are native to the northeastern United States, Europe and Asia. The problem could be associated with the growing conditions and/or a pest issue.

Please check your tree for tree borers such as Longhorned borers (Saperda), which cause the leaves to wilt and discolor, while branches (and maybe the entire tree) die. Holes in bark or oozing liquid on limbs or trunks are common symptoms.

Borers usually start with a drought-stressed tree. Because drip systems are notorious for clogged openings, periodic inspections are needed. Make sure the tree is getting water on all four sides at the tree's drip line and to a depth of at least 18 inches.

Conversely, too much water can cause root rot, which shows up as severe leaf wilt and tree death. Also, since your tree is on your yard's perimeter, has something changed in your neighbor's yard that would damage the linden roots, such as digging or new hardscape or toxins on the soil?

Trees planted in flower beds are subject to root damage caused when planting flowers, pulling weeds, or using excess nitrogen fertilizer.

Applications of herbicides, such as "Weed and Feed," can damage the tree roots.

Your linden tree is also in the age group, 5 to 10 years, in which trees that were planted too deeply die, with soil mounded around the crown and trunk. This leads to the tree's decline in vitality and gradual death.

A call to a certified arborist may be in order to accurately identify your linden tree problem.

Poisonous vine

Helen Williams responded to the July 21 Garden Detective's suggestions for climbing vines. She wanted readers to know all parts of Carolina jessamine are poisonous if ingested.

"I know from experience," Williams said. "My 6-year-old golden retriever – unbeknowst to me – chewed on some leaves or twigs from this vine and was critically ill for days."

Williams wanted to warn "other families and pet lovers (so they) will not suffer this distress."


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address.

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