2011 PLANT PUZZLER #3 December 5th

Great Guesswork, San Luis Obispo County! 

Our Mystery Plant for the week of November 28th was none other than the humble bunch grass Sesleria Autumnalis. We had some very diverse guesses this week. So many plants resemble one another, it can be a real challenge to nail the individual species down. We're really impressed with the range of the plants that everyone named! 

The WINNERS: Daniel, Kaveh, Greg, and Mary! Again, we had some other very close guesses, and we’ll honor those participants with a donation to the SLO Botanical Garden.



Up Next: The MYSTERY PLANT for DECEMBER 5th, 2011

  • I originated on the west coast of the US
  • I am a medium sized shrub that can reach around 8' tall
  • I am never without my powdery blue-green leaves!
  • My warm-toned, poppy-like flowers bloom in the spring time
  • I prefer my soil nice and dry, and I love basking in the sunlight, preferably on a shrubby slope.

(Visit our Facebook page on Wednesday the 7th for a hint!)


Enter your guess here! Include your name and email where required, and in the comment box, write the genus, species, and (where applicable) the cultivar name of the current week’s Mystery Plant. Write “Plant Puzzler” in the box marked “Phone” and include the date of the post with your entry. One guess per person, please!


For every correct Plant Puzzler answer we receive, we’ll donate $1.00 to the SLO Botanical Garden. The top two people who guess the most correct plants at the end of the contest will win a bare-root tree! Check back next Monday, December 12th for the Correct answer, and the next Puzzler!


Barrel-Free Rainwater Harvesting in SLO County

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”

Rainwater harvesting might not be for everyone, but there are still ways to lessen rainwater runoff. We routinely use and recommend Bioswales to remove silt and pollution and slow the water for better ground absorption. A bioswale is the use of mounded earth to create a drainage course, which slows the water's path and maximizes filtration. Thick layers of mulch and creative uses of earth also can be designed for the water to slowly sink back into the ground. (Ever rough up your nails before you apply that layer of glossy nail polish? Same thing!)

You may be wondering if rainwater harvesting is OK to do in San Luis Obispo County:

"City of San Luis Obispo 2010 Construction and Fire Code Amendments page 25: 1101.2.1 Rainwater Harvesting. Storm water drainage may be directed to an approved rainwater harvesting system and used an al alternate source of water for non-potable uses as approved by the building official and the San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Department. The installation and use of such a system or systems must be designed to not interact with the potable water system, the building sanitary sewer or drainage systems that flow to any creek. Rainwater harvesting systems must be maintained in such a manner as to not cause damage to neighboring properties."


Rainwater Harvesting Around the World:

· Currently in China and Brazil, rooftop rainwater harvesting is being practiced for providing drinking water, domestic water, water for livestock, water for small irrigation and as a way to replenish ground water levels.

· In Tamil Nadu, India, rainwater harvesting was made compulsory for every building to avoid ground water depletion.

· In Bermuda, the law requires all new construction to include rainwater harvesting adequate for the residents.

· In Senegal, the houses of the Diola-people are frequently equipped with homebrew rainwater harvesters made from local, organic materials.

· In the United Kingdom, "water butts" (water casks) are often found in domestic gardens to collect rainwater which is then used to water the garden.

· Until 2009 in Colorado, water rights laws almost completely restricted rainwater harvesting; A property owner who captured rainwater was deemed to be stealing it from those who have rights to take water from the watershed. Now, residential well owners that meet certain criteria may obtain a permit to install a rooftop precipitation collection system.

· In Australia, rainwater harvesting is typically used to supplement the reticulated mains supply.


Beyond Rain Barrels

Remember Grandma telling you that washing your hair in rainwater made it softer? If we look back a generation or two to Grandma's time, almost everyone had a rain barrel. Despite the benefits of collecting the yearly downpour, however, rain barrels in our area often don’t collect enough water to last through our lengthy dry season. 
What to do?
If you have some extra space and are able to invest around $20,000 you can have your very own rainwater harvesting system that’s efficient to water your garden all year long. That's a lot of output up front, but the savings over time are many, and you'd be doing our water stores a great service! Generally a 5,000 gallon tank is needed to collect enough water for Central Coast climate. Your garden will love rainwater just as your hair would, because it’s free of salts and harmful minerals and doesn’t have to be treated. 

2011 Plant Puzzler!

Think You’re A Plant Expert? 

...Would you like to find out?? Then accept our challenge to Name that Plant! Take a tour of Mediterranean flora in our weekly competition where we will post a picture and description of a plant, and do your best to figure it out. For every correct Plant Puzzler answer we receive, we’re donating $1.00 to the SLO Botanical Garden. The top two people who guess the most correct plants at the end of the contest will win a bare-root tree!

How It Works:

Check our blog every Monday from November 21st until December 19th to see the new Mystery Plant. Follow the “Guess” link to our entry form and provide your name, email, and your best guess in the comment box. (Please write "Plant Puzzler" in the box marked "Phone.")

Names and emails are used for contest purposes only, and you will not be signed up for any mailing list.

Guess To Win: 

Provide your name and email address where required, and in the comment box, write the genus, species, and (where applicable) the cultivar name of the current week's Mystery Plant. Write "Plant Puzzler" in the box marked "Phone" and include the date of the post with your entry. One guess per person, please!


Each Monday, a new Plant Puzzler will be published--and get consecutively harder. Each previous week’s correct answer will be posted with the current week’s Mystery Plant. Don’t forget to enter every week to win! Grand totals will be announced on December 21st.

Plant nerds, start your planters!

Contain Your Compost!

How to make your neighbors love you
Containers, containers, containers, so many to choose from. They’re usually designed either as an upright open bin box or closed container.  An open box design collects rainwater and makes it easy to add materials. However, it can attract rodents, bees and other insects, become too wet and potentially be an eyesore for the neighbors. Compost containers tend to be more aesthetically pleasing and many designs have rotating drums making them easy to mix and unload. You’ll also need a turning fork (unless you have a rotating bin) and a shovel to remove your garden goodness.
I’ve got my compost, now what? 
After cooking for several weeks, you’ll find wonderful rich ingredient ready for use.  It’s best to till your compost into the soil in fall and spring. You can also side dress compost into your garden throughout the season for a slow released fertilizer. If you sift your compost, it makes a great lawn fertilizer and will save you money and save the environment from chemical runoff. Compost can also adds a boost to potting soil making for happier and healthier plants.
Value added benefits...
Thirsty? Compost tea is yummy, for your plants that is! Just soak a bag of compost in a bucket of water for about an hour and you’ve got a supercharged plant food for your house plants or garden that will boost nutrient levels and help prevent plant diseases.
You can relax knowing that with a little effort you're compost will grow healthier plants, save you money, and help the environment. That's a lot of good!

Compost Part Two: Let It Rot, Let It Roll!

The great (digestible) outdoors! 
Outdoor composting includes both green and brown materials. Which is to say, all you really need is food, water, and air, and maybe a bin (if you want to impress your neighbors). Good compost is made of the stuff you’d usually just throw away: table scraps, yard waste, shredded paper, pruned branches, eggshells, and so forth. With the right mix, millions of microorganisms will convert your raw leftovers into rich, beneficial compost.
How can I be sure the composting has started?
The little mico friends that make compost possible need a balanced diet of green materials (high in nitrogen) for protein and brown materials (high in carbon) for energy.  Once these elements are in place, there's no stopping them! The best combination is three parts brown to one part green.
  • Fresh green grass clippings
  • Kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, compostable plates and flatware)
  • Weeds and green leaves
  • Brown dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks and straw
  • Excess mulch
  • Pruned branches
  • Pet droppings
  • Materials treated with herbicides and/or pesticides
  • Too much meat, especially if your pile is uncovered
When do I stop adding stuff?

Start with a minimum of a cubic foot of raw materials, and add as you go. More material is always better to generate the heat core necessary for rapid breakdown. Remember that compost needs time to cook down before you use it in your garden: Each time you add new material it’s like resetting the clock on harvesting your product. You wouldn’t buy a bag of potting soil with a rotting tomato inside, so don't do that to yourself at home!

By adding leaves and natural ingredients, you’ve got all the bacteria and fungi ready and waiting to help.  If you want to give them a little boost, add a shovel of good garden soil to the mix. By regularly turning your compost you help the decomposition along and speed up the process.


Turfgrass Is SO Last Century

We all know the hidden costs of manicured green grass ~ fertilizer, mowing, water, time... it's endless! But what choice do we have, right? WRONG! The Leave It To Beaver picket fence yard days are gone. A new generation of nutrient-rich, water-wise plant habitat-development is taking over.


Which means: It's time to reimagine your lawn! How better to start creating your home's new ambiance than with the vision of David Fross, co-founder of Arroyo Grande's Native Sons plant nursery, who will be speaking at the SLO Botanical Gardens tomorrow, Saturday June 11 from 1-3p.m. Besides lecturing on why lawn is a yawn, David is a leader in plant identification, a several-times-over published author, and in general is the bee's knees. Prepare yourself for an inspiring afternoon filled with endless planting possibilities!
P.S. Check out Reimagining the California Lawn, co-written by Native Sons owner and plant mogul David Fross, which educates the California garden owner about practical ways to replace their lawn with beautiful water-wise alternatives. Explore plants that are native to California, as well as those native to our Mediterranean counterparts within its pages.


Just A Cup Of Rain For Me, Thanks!

For much of the year, gardeners in our Mediterranean climate gaze at the dusty, golden hills dreaming of the first shower that will bring verdance back to the parched earth. During the summer months, irrigation from our public water supply keeps our plants from drying out, but it's difficult to mimic all the benefits of natural rainwater.

Watering isolated areas of your garden's soil with drip irrigation and sprinklers is good, but often the root zone isn't thoroughly saturated. After a while what the plants really crave is a good, penetrating soak. Whether we get 9 inches or 29 inches, nothing fully recharges the soil or revitalizes the plants like a good, solid rain.


Our garden, composed mostly of succulents, gets watered quarterly—that’s only four times a year. Compare that with your average fine fescue lawn, or Kentucky blue grass, that need a drink at least twice a week. The trick is establishing your plants' roots properly, right off the bat. The way to do that is this:

  • Make sure you have plenty of mulch on your garden for trapping moisture, wherever it comes from.
  • Water for longer periods of time, not in short, frequent bursts
  • Water less often.

This trains your plant to extend their roots far down into the soil, making them more efficient water-seekers. Plants whose roots are too near the surface are high-maintenance complainers!

Plant of the Month: California Carex

If you love the look of a lush green yard, look no further than California Field Sedge (Carex praegracilis). You've seen this beautiful grass or its cousins, perhaps without realizing it, dotting gardens throughout the Central Coast, contributing fresh, clean lines and structure.

Growth to its full height, for that truly native look, Carex praegracilis will reach around 18". With heavy foot traffic, or mown biannually (only!), your native grass can be kept at a comfortable 4-6", making it a beautiful place for friends to take an afternoon stroll or a playground for young feet or four-legged friends.

Plant 2" praegracilis plugs 6-8" apart. Contrast its soft texture with a meandering path made of edgy flagstone or smooth cobble.


A little shorter, a little bluer, and just as soft, is praegracilis's Carex European cousin, Carex glauca. While not native to California, we love the glauca's calming effect on the landscape, echoing the neighboring Pacific and calming the mind. The glauca is more compact, and more tolerant of foot traffic. In fact, gardeners throughout the county use it successfully in their plantings but also as their driveways. Replace your concrete with glauca and bring a grassy ocean to your doorstep. Plant either glauca or praegracilis to rid yourself of the heftier water bill that comes hand-in-hand with typical lawn grass.

Reimagine Your Lawn!

One of our favorite resources at Gardens by Gabriel is Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande. Their plant material and their crew are oriented toward sustainability--and we're oriented toward them!

A recent publication, Reimagining the California Lawn, co-written by Native Sons owner and plant mogul David Fross, educates the California garden owner about practical ways to replace their lawn with beautiful water-wise alternatives.

Explore plants that are native to California, as well as those native to our Mediterranean counterparts within its pages.