Tips from a pro on foliage and no-mow 

Gardens need special care at this time of year. To help our readers better prepare, we asked Katey Mulligan — award-winning, certified landscape designer at Liquidambar Garden Design ( — to give us some tips.

What special growing conditions are unique to our region?  We’re fortunate to have a Mediterranean climate.  This means we have long dry summers with rain only in our short winter season. The area also has more than 30 microclimates.

What plants are in bloom now? What’s coming up, and how can we keep them looking good?  Plants from the southern hemisphere — South Africa, Chile, Australia, New Zealand — bloom during our winter, so these are good options. Most also tolerate drought. Plants that do well in more temperate climates also can thrive here. These include late-season and early-spring bloomers such as camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid-lovers typical of Asian or woodland gardens.

What other plants will soon be in season? Many native California plants are early spring bloomers, like ceanothus, the wild lilac, available in a wide range of groundcovers, shrubs, and some that can be trained as small trees. You’ll see the California poppy and lupinus popping up. Ribes are the native currant, and gooseberry shrubs with gorgeous delicate blossoms.  Arctostaphylos, the manzanitas, one of my favorites, offer some robust groundcovers, shrubs, and small trees with beautiful bronze bark.

Are there long-range steps we should take now to help our garden later? Good soil structure produces healthy, robust plants. Most soils benefit from a good organic amendment that, over time, greatly enriches the soil. These are available at most good garden centers and can be applied in spring and fall. For mature gardens, top dressing works well — lay the amendment around the base of the plant and let the organisms in the soil do the work. In new gardens, mix amendment into the native soil when plants are being installed.

How about trimming and fertilizing? It’s usually best to prune deciduous trees when they’re not in leaf. Hire a professional who can see the tree’s structure and trim appropriately for aesthetic value as well as tree health and leaf growth. Carefully select fertilizers and follow directions to fertilize roses, fruit trees and vegetables.

Special secrets for this time of year? Foliage plants outperform many bloomers. Excellent examples include banksia, protea and leucadendron. One favorite is the “Safari Sunset” variety. Phormiums are tough flax that come in numerous colors as well as dwarf sizes for small spaces. Tree bark can shine in winter gardens: examples are coral bark Japanese maple, white bark birch, golden bronze of evergreen arbutus.

What are trends for gardens for 2010? Water is the major concern, regardless of recent rains. Lawn substitutes, native and no-mow grasses will prevail. People also are planning vegetable gardens. Hopefully, more people will come to love succulents, which add enormous sculptural value to landscapes with well-draining soils, and they’re excellent in pots.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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