Bay Area CA Garden Failing to Thrive


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Hi folks, I'm new to the forum and have very little experience with gardening, but have a problem that's got me at a loss.

A few years ago my fiance and I hired a landscape architect with a related degree from UC Berkeley to design a simple, drought tolerant replacement for our corner lot turf grass front yard. We did this at the height of the drought, and leveraged a rebate program from our local water authority. The previous "lawn" was mostly weeds. We killed off the front lawn and hired a local gardener to till and haul the detritus and plant all the plants for us. The new design included 20 or so different species of plants around two sections of red fescue that my fiance and I planted as plugs as a smaller, no-more replacement for the "grass" we previously had.

This is a rental property, and we performed the conversion with the owner's blessing, willingly coming out of pocket quite a bit because we wanted the property to look nice, and we have a very favorable rent agreement.

Almost three years later, most of the plants that have survived have grown very little, and just seem not to be thriving. Many others (probably 15%) died in the first year. The yard is on drip irrigation, connected to a Rachio weather based irrigation controller.

I know this is a very vague problem, but I just don't know what to do, and don't want to throw a bunch more cash at the problem by hiring someone to figure it out for me - I'm already far deeper into this financially than I wanted to be, but I really want to get this yard growing and am feeling a little pressure from my landlord as well.

Without suggesting that this is the property owner's problem, where do you suggest I begin? We already contacted her and she admitted that some of the plants turned out to be a poor choice to to sunlight being different where they were planted than she anticiptated. She just suggested more water, which didn't solve the problem. I dont want to involve her any more either. I'm very happy to answer whatever questions you may have. I just really need to solve this problem.

Thanks!
 
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Welcome to the forum!

Okey dokey. When you have time maybe post a few pics and point out the shady or sunny areas. If it is a windy area might also be a factor.

Please also figure out your growing zone and share that. Then look out! You'll be bombarded with helpful advice :)
 
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Welcome Sarge. You will find that gardening is a compilation of many elements. Light, heat, humidity, minimum and maximum temperatures, and the list goes on. Even the correct mixture of plants can determine the success of a garden / landscape. The more info you can provide, the better the chance of getting advice that will revive your landscape.
 
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Thanks Lori and Silent, I sure appreciate it!

We're in USDA 9b / Sunset 15, and it's not at all windy here.

I've attached an image of our landscape plan. Tomorrow I'll grab some pictures of the plants that are most troubling for us.

I really appreciate your help with this! I'm a contractor, not a garden guy (though I am trying to become one!), so I'm just at a loss.
landscape w canopies.jpg
 
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Adding more water is most likely just making things worse, since over-watering is one of the most common mistakes first-time gardeners make. You have a large list of plants, many of which I'm not familiar with, since most of my gardening is done with natives. You basically would have to go plant-by-plant and trouble shoot the problem.

These areas that have the plants, what are they mulched with? And how deep is the mulch?

How is the grass doing?

What's your native soil, i.e. clay, sand....?


How moist is your soil around the plants?

How often does the irrigation system water?
 
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Roadrunner, thanks for your thoughts: I totally agree about over-watering, and I worried about that myself. The architect did come by and take a look, and suggested I needed more water, which did help a bit in some cases. I have since left watering up to my Rachio weather-based irrigation controller because I'm sure it will do a better job than me.

The mulch is mostly shredded redwood bark ("gorilla hair") though we have also used wood chips from our local landfill recycling station.

Th grass is growing at an agonizingly slow pace, but is finally becoming healthy.

Our soil in the bay area is clay, but we amended it throughout with planter mix from our local garden center when we turned over the soil after removing the "lawn"

It's a bit hard to say how moist the soil is around the plants because of recent rains, which would skew the intent of learning how much water is being applied by irrigation.

Irrigation is handled by a weather-based irrigation controller, so it varies by zone based on the weather.
 
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alp

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I personally would go for drought resistant and clay loving plants. It's better to co-operate with nature rather than fighting it.

I would incorporate horse manure and bark mulch to ameliorate the soil structure. I am surprised you didn't go for

cistus
images

images

rosemary
ground hugging ones which will never be straggly, showing bald stems when old.

eryngium Superbum
upload_2018-1-23_19-32-44.jpeg

irises beard ones
IndianC.jpg



osteospermum
osteos.jpg


Echinacea
echinaceaYell.jpg
echSingle (2) - Copy.jpg


Dahlias

Heurcheras

red hot pokers
alstroemerias
Alstoinca.jpg
alstro1Y.jpg


All these can thrive with very little water
 
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distant view of LOROPETALUM CHINENSE.jpg
closeup of LOROPETALUM CHINENSE.jpg
Here are some of the plants we're having the most trouble with.

The lorapetalum chinese against the wall of our house look healthy enough to my eye, but just haven't increased in size one lick, it seems. Following are a distant pic of them, and a closeup.
 
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I personally would go for drought resistant and clay loving plants. It's better to co-operate with nature rather than fighting it.

Hi Alp, all nice plants for sure, but I am not a garden guy and didn't design the yard, I'm just trying to get what is already there to thrive :)
 
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Another example are the DAPHNE ODORA 'MARGINATA', which also have not grown and look less than healthy, especially the left-most of the two

closeup of DAPHNE ODORA 'MARGINATA'.jpg
right side of walkway.jpg
right side of walkway.jpg
 

alp

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What aspect are those plants please? It's not a good idea to plant too near a brick wall, especially when they are west facing. Brick walls absorb a lot of heat and release it at night. It's like you're baking them.
 
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And lastly from my batch of example issues, is the very sad state of our distant view of DESCHAMPSIA 'NORTHERN LIGHTS', which are barely alive and have absolutely not grown a bit.

distant view of DESCHAMPSIA 'NORTHERN LIGHTS'.jpg
closeup of DESCHAMPSIA 'NORTHERN LIGHTS'.jpg
 
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Hopefully, that will be enough info about my sad state of garden affairs to generate some helpful tips from you fine folks! Of course, dont hesitate to ask if there's anything else you'd like to know
 
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What aspect are those plants please? It's not a good idea to plant too near a brick wall, especially when they are west facing. Brick walls absorb a lot of heat and release it at night. It's like you're baking them.

Good thought Alps. There is no brick, it is all light-colored stucco but still worth considering
 
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We are in Texas, so some of what I recommend may not pertain to a less drought prone area.
Since you are renting, plant in containers which you can move later. Soil, water, fertilizer is easier to handle in a container than in the ground.
Landscape architects are often not the best at selecting plants, since they go for color/height/texture and not necessarily the best plants for the specific situation.
If there is a nursery near you that is not a "big box" plant store, take photos and a list of the plants that you have, and ask for advice. You may have plants that just don't like your soil, the sun/shade exposure, or the amount of moisture they are receiving.
And finally, do not let this deter you from gardening and enjoying greenery. We all make mistakes, pick the wrong plants for the wrong places, and have failures. That's gardening! The successes more than make up for the failures.
 
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So a lot to take in. I've looked at you plant list and recognize a few and have a few. I can't speak to specific issues at his point as that would be a look at each plant and it's specific needs, but I have a few higher level thoughts. Don't be convinced it's all one thing either. It looks like a very nice, but a little complex with a fair density of plants in certain places.

Hydro Zones - Plants have different watering needs so they should be in Hydro Zones specific to their needs. It's also not but how much necessary, but also when. With any California oaks if you water them in the summer they will dry as with the climate they don't expect rain in summer, we get our rain mostly winter. Is everybody in a correct hydro zone, have you been regularly been watering plants that that don't necessarily need it or want it? I see the citrus in the plant list, but don't know where they are in the yard. They certainly have different water requirements than many of the plants on your list. They on the same valve? do you have a watering plan or blue print? How many valves? Who is on what?

Mulch - You have a lot of mulch going on and that typically is a good thing. However some plants do not want an organic mulch, Lavender for instance. Lavender wants nothing and leave it alone in a patch of dirt. Rocks or gravel ok. Next is your mulch holding excess moisture in the soil? Ca native prefer fast draining and you have clay. With a Carnation plant in a container for instance you can run water on it for a few minutes, soak it and walk away if it has reasonable drainage. I have found Natives do not like to sit in moisture, if a cup or two of water will dampen the soil in and near the root zone only a cup of water is best. The more the soil holds moisture the more cautious you will want to be. Native like their moisture a little more subtle then common plants.

Reflective heat if any - I see plants close to walls, if the walls are south facing they could be generating too much heat.

You have plants under trees. No formal experience with this one but I hope they were cautiously selected, I do know that mismatched trees and under tree growth can be a negative to both in general and as it come to the correct application of water, does the tree and the plants underneath both really have the same water requirements? Is the tree getting what then plants need and not what is right for the tree?

It looks like the Lavender, Germander and Ca Fuchsia are near each other, they all should be reasonably drought tolerant and require little summer water, probably not much controller delivered water in your area. Also some natives do not want fertilizer. They have adapted to the native soil and much of the native soil is low nutrient in many parts and areas of the state.

Also they might have sold you some root bound plants. They will remain stunted for some time (years) and eventually maybe die. I got a few citrus like that but can't bear to dig them out and replace them while they are still alive.

I hope everyone is getting the sun they need? Time of year and other plants in proximity could have an affect.

For starters your best bet would be to check who each of your valves service, what are the requirements for the plants they are servicing. Next what are the plant requirements, the Sunset Western Garden book is a good start. Then maybe pick a couple of then most challenged and take care of them manually. Check the soil before watering and only water once the soil is starting to dry a little.

I just a quick 1 site look up (never trust just 1 source really) for the DESCHAMPSIA 'NORTHERN LIGHTS' and it says they should be kept a little moist and in filtered sun, they look pretty out in the open? That and they are looking almost buried in much?

If you can provided any information as it relates to some of my questions above I'd be interested to know more.
 
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alp

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Apart from the grass, the plants don't look too bad. It's after all winter. I would move those plants close to the wall a bit away from the wall. Don't know where you live exactly. If you live in Florida, there must be enough heat in the atmosphere, too much perhaps for a plant to be so near the wall of your house.

For soil: aim for free-draining and moist.
 
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Marlin, greenhorn (wow!) and all, thank you so much for your feedback. I won't have time to really take in your comments for a few days due to work, but wanted to at least acknowledge you all for the carefully considered replies you've posted!
 
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The one thing I see, and the one thing nobody is really mentioning is PH. I bet it is too high. There is an electrical measurement associated with PH called the EC. I bet you have a neutral soil, and not enough oomph in it as a result. Composting mulch runs to the neutral as the components get digested down. I also think you have some cool season plants (northern lights is a name but a clue also) like fescues that may like less heat or more shade. You may need some sulphur to drop your PH, or gypsum if its clay. A soil test could tell great details but definitely check your EC.
 
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