Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - December 02, 2009

From: San Diego, CA
Region: California
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils
Title: Area needing soil amendment in San Diego
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a dirt area in the corner where my fence comes together. The dirt is clay-like and during the winter the area gets very little, if any, sun and during the summer it gets 4-6 hours of sun. What could I grow here?

ANSWER:

We can go to our Native Plant Database and find several plants that need sun (6 hours or more of sun daily) or part shade (2 to 6 hours daily), but first we need to address the poor soil in your fence corner. While clay has nutrients in it that plants need, it compacts so readily that the tiny little rootlets on plants that are responsible for picking up nutrients and moisture from the soil cannot access them. Since it is now cooler weather and perhaps you are getting some rain, we would suggest you take the opportunity to amend your soil by digging some organic matter, like compost, into it. Really fluff it up and raise the surface level a few inches with the addition of the compost, and not only will the micro-nutrients in the soil be more available, but the drainage will improve a great deal.

Now, on to the plants. You didn't say if you wanted a flower bed, a tree, shrubs, or what, so we are going to go to Recommended Species, click on Southern California, search first on "herb" (herbaceous blooming plant) under General Appearance, then "shrub" and then "tree." You could also search on "grasses" or "cacti and succulents" for more variety. We will give you some suggestions, and you can go from there. Follow the plant links below to find out more about each plant.

Herbaceous blooming plants for Southern California:

Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) - 1 to 2 ft. tall, blooms orange, yellow, February to October, low water use, sun

Penstemon eatonii (firecracker penstemon) 2 ft. tall, blooms red May to August, low water use, part shade

Shrubs for Southern California:

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) - 3 to 15 ft. tall, deciduous, blooms white April to June, medium water use, sun, part shade or shade

Arctostaphylos patula (greenleaf manzanita) - 3 to 15 ft. tall, evergreen, blooms pink April to June, medium water use, sun

Trees for Southern California:

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) - 10 to 20 ft. tall, deciduous, blooms pink, purple March and April, medium water use, sun, part shade

Chilopsis linearis (desert willow) - 15 to 30 ft. tall, deciduous, blooms white, pink, purple April to September, low water use, sun

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Eschscholzia californica

Penstemon eatonii

Amelanchier alnifolia

Arctostaphylos patula

Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Chilopsis linearis

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Pros and cons of live oak leaves left on ground in Dripping Springs TX
February 20, 2013 - What are the pros or cons of leaving live oak leaves on the ground around trees or bushes?
view the full question and answer

Trees for cutout in driveway in Houston
November 12, 2010 - I live in central Houston. I have a new driveway with a cutout of 4' x 8'. I would like to plant a shade tree that will not break up the concrete. What do you recommend?
view the full question and answer

Non-blooming climbing rose in Conroe, TX
October 09, 2009 - I have a climbing rose and it has never bloomed and has no thorns, it was a cutting from another rose bush. I have given it water and fertilize and have mulch around it also.
view the full question and answer

Shelf life of hawthorn leaves in Florissant, MO
April 30, 2009 - I have a bag of hawthorn leaves that were harvested in 2007. Do you know if they're still effective? How long is the shelf life of hawthorn leaves? Thank you for your assistance.
view the full question and answer

Replacement for grass under non-native weeping willow from Yorba Linda CA
April 24, 2012 - What would be a good replacement for the grass currently growing under a weeping willow? Something requiring low maintenance, the problem is with mowing over and around the roots.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.