Malibu Garden Column: Enjoying Malibu gardens in August

Lavender adds summer color during August.

Those who have their vegetable gardens producing know the great joy of bringing in the fresh tomatoes, peppers, beans, zucchini and other gifts from the yard to prepare summer meals. Dinner menus revolve around daily harvests from a productive vegetable garden. Also, bring in the gladiolus, cuttings from flowing sages and lavenders and agapanthus, dahlias, foxglove and echium “Pride of Madera.” Daylilies (Hemerocallus hybrids) should also be blooming through summer. Whatever is blooming can be made into creative displays indoors, with the exception of some noxious smelling garden blooms like society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea,) lantana and Shasta daisies.

Deep watering is recommended for shrubs, vegetables, flowers and trees in summer. Water early in the day and use the water wisely, filling trenches around plants at the perimeters where roots are spread. Soak roots every three to four days in the heat of summer or, for more mature plants, once a week. For mature draught tolerant plants, even less water is required.

For summer color, try marigolds, dahlias, gazania, gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) and zinnias. If you garden colors are blues and purples, add scabiosa, foxglove, heliotrope, and phlox. Nicotiana, scabiosa, nemesia, and, of course, the salvias make colorful additions to the summer garden.

The most important job for August and September: Fire prevention

Clearing dead wood from plants close to your property in preparation for the Santa Ana winds and the traditional fire season of October is the most important job a Malibu gardener faces in August and September. Following the principals for keeping clearance for fire zones around homes has proven to be one of the most effective ways to save homes in the inevitable situation of a chaparral or brush fire in the Santa Monica Mountains. The key to fire protection in established landscapes is thinning out dead growth, keeping trees trimmed and using slow burning plants. See the impressive photos of the Trancas Canyon fire on the city of Malibu Web site for demonstrable proof of the importance of clearing dead material from around structures.

The Zone Method

Zone 1 is 0-30 feet from the structure. Plants should be low growing and irrigated. Nonflammable materials should be used for hardscapes, and trees should be at least 15 feet from the house. Suitable plants for this zone recommended by Santa Barbara Firescape Demonstration Garden guidelines include agapanthus, sea thrift (armeria maritime) and hemerocallus. Succulents, agaves and aloes are excellent choices for this zone.

Zone 2 is 30-50 feet from the house or structure. This area should stay open and be planned with low growing ground covers including the agave, cacti and succulent families. The colorful aeonium arboreun Atropurpureum and its relative undulatum or saucer plant are recommended for Zone 2. In addition, agaves and aloes and yucca plants can be grown in zones 2 or 3.

Shrubs up to 3 feet can be clustered, but should be divided by at least 18 feet. Trees should be spaced 30 feet apart. Any tree close to the house should be trimmed so no limbs are lower than 6 feet. The quercus agrifolia, coastal live oak, the California Sycamore and Platanus racemosa are on the recommended list from Santa Barbara.

Zone 3 is the area 50-70 feet from the home. Mediterranean plantings not exceeding 6 feet are recommended. These can include manzanita (arctostaphylos “emerald carpet” and “woods red”) and rockrose (cistus “Sunset”).

Sages for Zone 3 shrubs include “Allen Chickering,” salvia leucantha, the popular and fast growing Mexican brush sage, as well as salvia leucophylla, purple sage. Zone 3 can include the rockrose plants, cistus purpureus and ladanifer (white flowering.) Penstemons provide flowers in Zone 3. Recommended varieties are the red flowing “Firebird” and the “midnight” beard tongue penstemon.

Shrubs include manzanita, Arctostaphylos pajaroensis “Paradise” and ceonothus varieties including blue flowering “Frosty Blue,” “Ray Hartman” and the white flowering “Snow Flurry.” Ceonothus is known as the California lilac and can be found as a ground cover or a shrub. The flowers in early spring provide a beautiful blue (or white) addition to the garden. Throughout the summer it holds its dark green foliage and maintains itself with very little water.

Zone 4 is 70-100 feet from structures. Trees and shrubs should be planted with spacing up to 18 feet between trees. Be sure the entrance to your property is clearly designated and that there is clearance for fire vehicles to enter the property. Water storage is extremely important, particularly if you are in a remote area.

More information can be obtained from the Santa Barbara Fire Demonstration Garden, 805.563.5703.