Overlooking the Crescenta Valley
The Crescenta Valley (encompassing La Canada, La Crescenta, Tujunga, and the northern parts of Glendale) offers a beautiful range of planting options for commercial and residential landscapes.
Although we might occasionally bemoan the intense summer heat, and minimal winter rainfall, there are still many gorgeous plants that fit well into our local Chaparral ecology, both native and non-native. This week we will take a look into irrigation needs and a few smart plant options for landscapes in the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles.
What is Chaparral?
The Vasquez Rocks, near Santa Clarita, rest in Chaparral.
Our natural biome (a biome is a naturally occurring community of flora and fauna), Chaparral, is characterized by low water use, woody shrubs with oak and riparian woodlands (riparian being the trees and plants on the banks of streams).
Our Mediterranean climate, famous throughout the world, generally consists of hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Chaparral is found over most of Southern California’s coastal foothills and interior mountain slopes.
Chaparral is an incredibly important part of California’s natural environment. Native plant gardens are becoming more popular as we, as a community, learn about the need to preserve water and support local pollinating insects.
Creative Concepts Landscape’s Planting Philosophy
A thriving low water use garden in the Crescenta Valley foothills of La Canada.
Our planting philosophy at Creative Concepts Landscape includes native and climate appropriate non-native plant types. Many of the plants found in Crescenta Valley landscapes come from other semi-arid, Mediterranean climates throughout the world such as Australia, Italy, and South Africa (to name just a few).
We want your landscape to be beautiful and match your individual sensibilities while keeping your landscape’s water use low. This will save you money while saving water.
Rain and Irrigation in the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles
Drip irrigation lines being installed for a new planter bed.
The Crescenta Valley usually receives around 22 inches of rain per year. San Francisco gets around 38 inches per year, and, just for perspective, lush New Orleans gets around 63 inches per year.
Installing plant types that are native or low water use allows your landscape to thrive without using excessive irrigation, again, saving money and one of our most valuable resources, water.
It is possible to install a new landscape without an irrigation system, however considerations will need to be made. Newly installed plants almost always need extra water while they establish themselves in the landscape. Often, this is done with an automated irrigation control system, however it can be done through hand watering, but only if someone is willing to hand water multiple times throughout the week. Planting during our rainy season (November through April) can help to provide some of this extra needed water for a new landscape, however many plant types are not available from commercial growers during this season. Life is full of tradeoffs.
A properly designed and installed irrigation system is often needed for commercial and residential landscapes in the Crescenta Valley, and Southern California as a whole. This irrigation system will give your landscape plants a proper start in life and continue to help maintain their vigor over the years.
At creative Concepts Landscape, we take pride in our irrigation installation and system repair and refurbishment.
Once a low water use landscape with a well designed and built irrigation system is established, the water can be dialed back considerably for much of the year. Keep in mind that many plants, even drought tolerant ones, will need additional irrigation in the intense heat of summer.
Like all climates throughout the world, there are specific types of plants that do well in Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles landscapes. We are blessed with many beautiful tree, shrub, and flowering plant options. Let’s take a look at some common plant types that tend to do well in our climate.
Native Plant Types for the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles
These are just a few types of native plant and trees. The list is extensive. In future blogs we will go into more depth.
Salvia/Sage (Salvia spp.)
The charismatic foliage of White Sage
There are many beautiful and native types of salvia plants (also known as sage) that make aromatic additions to a garden. Many of these shrubs attract local pollinating insects, turning your landscape into an oasis for butterflies. These plants are low water use and low in maintenance needs. We’ve covered a few salvia types more extensively in earlier blogs: Hummingbird sage, White sage, Cleveland sage
Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)
Flowering Lemonade berry
This evergreen shrub is often found in coastal canyons, sometimes covering entire hillsides. They have a pink to brownish color and the leaves are thick and leathery, satisfying to the touch. They tend to stay slightly smaller in inland valleys such as the Crescenta Valley. These low water needs, low maintenance plants stay healthy and look great throughout the year. Their name (lemonade) comes from the fruit, which has a tart flavor.
Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei)
Blooming Chaparral Yucca
Do you like a desert themed landscape? Although the Crescenta Valley, and Los Angeles, are not deserts (despite what folks on the east coast might think), many desert plant do very well in our climate. Chaparral yucca’s natural range is from the coastal hills, inland valleys, and out to the Mojave Desert. This beautiful, punk rock spiked plant, takes about five to ten years to mature (don’t you wish your kids could do that?). Once yucca reaches maturity, it shoots a flower spike up ten to fifteen feet, which bears a glorious display of hundreds of bell shaped white to purplish flowers.
Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
California buckwheat in a compact form
Looking for an extremely drought tolerant California native? California buckwheat is tough and easy to grow. There are multiple naturally occurring varieties found throughout the Southwest and northwestern Mexico, ranging from compact bramble to spreading shrubs. It flowers with profuse pink to white and cream colors as early as March. As the soil dries, these flowers often turn a beautiful red rust color.
Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
The impressive branching structure of the Coast Live Oak
The Cadillac of native trees. The coast live oak is a beautiful, evergreen tree with a large, rounded canopy. Often, these trees are found happily growing in well draining soil of coastal hills and plains, along with rocky hillsides where moisture is held. Coast live oaks are fairly easy to grow in the landscape, needing supplemental water about once a week until established (usually about one year), and then once a month until the tree is around ten feet tall. At that point, it is best to avoid any summer watering. In fact, it is more common for these trees to be over watered. Coast live oaks amend the soil, over time, with their own leaves, building a natural and highly beneficial fungal colony. Their fertilizing effect will improve the health of your landscape, and they can live hundreds of years, becoming neighborhood treasures.
Non-Natives Plant Types for the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles
Although these plants are not native to our region, they are well suited for our ecology. In some cases, plants like these have even become naturalized to our climate.
Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos spp.)
The otherworldly flowers of the Kangaroo paw
There are many different species of these Australian natives, all of which offer eye-catching foliage and flowers. They have long, slender leaves with somewhat unusual (but beautiful) tubular flowers, covered in velvety fuzz. These blooms come in shades from red, orange, yellow, to purple. They grow quickly, are fairly low water use once established, and require minimal maintenance. The novelty of their aesthetic is quickly making them one of the more common landscape plants in the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles.
Lantana (Lantana camara and Lantana montevidensis)
The showy flower bundle of Lantana montevidensis, the trailing lantana
Lantana is the old standby plant in many landscapes throughout the county and the country. Although native to tropical Central and South America and Africa, they grow well in many climates, including our own, and need minimal water and maintenance once established. Their showy little flowers range from orange/red to white and purple. They have become one of the most ubiquitous landscape plants in our area, and the reason is obvious. Low maintenance, low water, and colorful flowers. The trifecta of landscape desire.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
The eye-catching form and color of Lavender
Lavender is one of the most well known plants across the globe for its fragrance, grey-green foliage, and showy upright flower spikes. There are multiple varieties of lavender, many of which grow very well in our region. Deer tend to avoid this plant, further making it a good option up in the hills of the Crescenta Valley.
Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida)
Purple heart and its almost mysterious foliage
Purple heart has beautiful, elongated green leaves with fringes of red to purple. It almost looks otherworldly, in the most eye pleasing of ways. It makes an excellent ground cover or hanging plant and needs minimal maintenance and water once established. Purple heart makes a great accent plant throughout the landscape.
Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
Young foliage and showy flowers of the western redbud
The western redbud is a short stature tree growing in popularity in Southern California landscapes. Although not native to our region exactly, it is a Californian, naturally found in many foothill communities. This winter deciduous tree has beautiful heart shaped leaves that are light green early in the season, turning darker as they age. Some of these leaves, at higher elevations, may turn golden red as the weather cools. This tree’s short stature (often ten to twenty feet tall) makes it an excellent choice when utility lines are overhead. Perhaps the main reason for their growing popularity in cultivated landscapes is their beautiful, highly showy flowers that develop in spring and range from bright pink to magenta.
What’s in a Name?
Chaparral comes from the Spanish word ‘chaparro,’ which translates to, ‘short,’ as in short in height. This name, over time, came to roughly mean, ‘place of the scrub oak.’ Scrub oaks and accompanying plants often consist of relatively short flora. In a sense, this is calling our region the place of the short plants. Well, come on, they’re not all short… but the name stuck, and it has a nice ring to it, so chaparral it is.
Chaparral may be somewhat low growing, relatively speaking, but it still offers a wide range of beautiful, verdant colors.
In a somewhat dark twist, El Chapo (as in the infamous Sinaloa Cartel boss – real name Joaquin Guzman) is nicknamed ‘El Chapo’ because of his short stature. Chapo, which comes directly from ‘chaparro,’ means ‘shorty.’ I hesitated to put this information in, evoking the name of such a person, but it’s a crazy world full of unexpected connections.
Landscape Plants for Your Garden
We are blessed in Southern California. Ours is one of the most beloved climates and ecologies across the planet (and we have the population to prove it). With this beauty comes great responsibility in what we plant and how we maintain it. Water wise plants, including both native and climate appropriate non-native plants, with well designed and maintained irrigation systems is the smart choice for landscapes throughout the Crescenta Valley and Los Angeles. Creative Concepts landscape takes pride in our designs and installations. Contact us today to find out what plants will work well, and wisely, in your landscape.
By Daniel Williams
Client Liaison for Creative Concepts Landscape
Theodore Payne Nursery – Specializing in local native plants for our region.
Nick’s Nursery – A San Fernando Valley nursery with a nice selection and good prices.
Armstrong (La Canada) – Offering a range of natives and climate appropriate plants, along with more water intensive classics.