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Thursday - March 29, 2012

From: Corning, CA
Region: California
Topic: Non-Natives, Plant Lists, Planting, Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Groundcovers, Trees
Title: Specifications for a property in Corning CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Drought resistant, deer resistant, low growing (ground cover), and shade tolerant request: I am looking for a variety of species that not only fit the above preferences, but also a few other things. I am trying to plant seeds that will produce a cover crop per se in an olive orchard that we don't irrigate during the summer. We are trying to dry farm and would like to find something that could provide nitrogen fixation of medium to high and doesn't grow more than 3' (or tolerates mowing no shorter than 1'). Drought tolerance should be no less than medium, and shade tolerance should be semi-tolerant. Winter usually brings 15-20" of rain that is sufficient for the trees. We would like to plant in winter or early spring, as mowing will occur in fall to provide a clean orchard floor to harvest in November. The deer issue is very important as we do not want to entice more grazing on the trees. I wasn't sure if something that has a high bloat factor would help discourage. It would be lovely not to have to reseed each year as we don't want to disc the rows each year. Big wish list? I think there are some species that could help me but it is very difficult searching under those multiple variables. Many thanks for your assistance!


This is more information than we could absorb in anything less than a semester of classes in Horticulture. We are going to go through and attempt to summarize the questions you are asking. Some we can help you with, some we can give you some research links for, and some, we will admit, stump us.

First and possibly biggest problem for us: "Farming" dry or wet. Most crops that are raised on farms including fruits and vegetables are either non-native to North America or so extensively hybridized that they will not appear in our Native Plant Database. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow natively. Example: olive trees.

Website from Wikipedia on olive tree:

"The place, time and immediate ancestry of the cultivated olive are unknown. It is assumed that Olea europaea may have arisen from O. chrysophylla in northern tropical Africa and that it was introduced into the countries of the Mediterranean Basin via Egypt and then Crete or Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor. Fossil Olea pollen has been found in Macedonia, Greece, and other places around Mediterranean, indicating that this genus is an original element of the Mediterranean flora. Fossilized leaves of Olea were found in the palaeosols of the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera) and were dated about 37,000 Before Present (BP). Imprints of larvae of olive whitefly Aleurolobus (Aleurodes) olivinus were found on the leaves. The same insect is commonly found today on olive leaves, showing that the plant-animal co-evolutionary relations have not changed since that time."

Gist of the matter: it may grow in California (everything else does) but it is not native to North America and therefore out of our range of expertise.

Next matter: ground cover for under the olive trees: Here is a Previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that covers that subject very completely. All the plants listed are not only native to North America, they are native to California.

Drought resistant: If the plants you choose are native to the area, which appears to be fairly arid and in USA Plant Hardiness Zones 9a to 10b, they should be tolerant of those conditions. You say you get 15-20 inches of annual rainfall in Tehama County. We suggest, since you are planning to farm, that you contact the University of California Coperative Extension for Tehama County. That office should have answers, perhaps even plant lists for many of your questions.

Deer Resistant: We have on our website a Deer Resistant Native Species List. Since you are obviously not committed to plants native to California, we don't know how much use this will be to you. However, you could at least check the plants you are interested in against the list, and see what help that gives you. We should warn you that just the mention of "deer resistance" on a plant record will cause it show up on that list, even if the resistance is minimal. We are going to sort that list by California, and see a plant we can use as an example. Please read the disclaimer at the top of the list, deer are very persistent, and you can leave a note by a plant listed as "Highly Resistant" and if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat the note. And the plant.

To give you a test drive on this list, we went to the link above on Deer Resistant Species, which has 344 plants on it; we sorted on California,and got 66 plants. We then arbitrarily chose one, Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush). Following that link to our webpage on the plant, under "Benefit" you will see that it is highly deer resistant. However, one more problem-California, like Texas, is a big state with a lot of different eco-zones, so we went to the bottom of the webpage and checked in searching for that plant in the USDA Plants Profile Map, which gave us this map of the United States, with green states having at least some areas in which that plant is native. California is green, so you click on that state, which in turn gives you a map of green counties where the plant grows, and guess what? They are all in Southern California. Hopefully, this exercise will help you learn to use our database to your benefit.

As we said earlier, we couldn't possibly address all your issues. We do recommend the use of plants growing naturally in your area in terms of conservation of resources. If you are looking for plants in our database, go to our Native Plant Database, select on California and the on the Habit (tree, shrub, etc), amount of sunlight, etc. and Submit Combination Search, which will give you a list of plants that meet those criteria. THEN, you still have to search the USDA Plant Profiles, as demonstrated above, to find out if those plants have a good chance in your area. And you will ONLY  find native plants. Others, you can usually get a lot of information on the Internet and, especially, from your local Extension Agent, as we mentioned above.

End of class. Good luck with your farm.



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