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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Shade Trees for a Changing Future Climate

Blue Elderberry tree once provided needed shade in Garden of Dreams,
 CSU Dominguez Hills

The past few years have been sobering for anyone concerned with our planet’s future.   In Southern California, the effects of four years drought can be seen in nearly every garden and wild place.  Record-breaking heat and winds have also plagued us, compounding the effects of the drought.   Climate change is happening right now – and we’d best be planning for more to come.

In 2014, we gave a talk on Climate Change and the Southern California Garden.    We discussed the climate models, their predictions for Southern California and the implications for local gardens.  Two conclusions are clear: 1) overall temperatures – and the number of high heat days (> 95° F; 35° C) – will increase in S. California over the next century; 2) the frequency of extreme precipitation years (both drought and greater than normal precipitation) are also likely to increase. For more predictions see our 2014 talk:

Our gardens must provide more shade in the future.  Hardscape features like patios, arbors and awnings are one way to create shade.  But ‘living shade’ – that provided by trees, shrubs and strategically placed vines – has additional benefits.  Plants cool the surrounding areas by evaporative cooling; that’s why the shade under trees feels cooler than the shade under a patio roof.  Plants also release oxygen, clean the air of contaminants and provide habitat for numerous creatures.  If chosen carefully, shade trees and shrubs provide colorful flowers, edible fruits and a green oasis in summer.
Toyon (Heteromeles arbulifolia) - pruned as tree
Ideally, shade-producing plants are long-lived – 50 or more years is ideal.  That means that shade trees planted now must be tough enough to thrive in the climate of 50 years and more in the future.  We’re betting strongly on California natives, including some trees and shrubs that already grow in the Los Angeles Basin.   Locally native survivors are appropriate for our soils and provide key habitat for local creatures.  So we should use the local natives when appropriate.

But the choice of trees that can survive and thrive into the future is anything but straight forward.  To learn more - and for a list of suggested trees and shrubs - see:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pruning California Native Plants – Don’t Use a Bulldozer

Garden of Dreams Native Plant Garden - CSU Dominguez Hills
Good example of how not to prune native plants

Many California native plants require yearly pruning.   The best timing and methods differ depending on the type of plant.  But a bulldozer is NEVER the right tool for the job.    For more on the proper ways to time and prune native plants see:


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Surviving the Drought

Plenty of summer flowers, seeds and fruits for bird & pollinator habitat:
 Garden of Dreams, CSUDH, in July, 2015 (after 4 years of drought)

The past four years of drought have been tough on gardens and gardeners.  Even water-wise native plants are showing signs of stress.  For some practical ideas on surviving the drought see:

Water-wise native plants from the Channel Islands stand up well to the drought. St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) and Catalina silverlace (Constancea nevinii) with background of Mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia) and Southern Island mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bee Flies – the family Bombyliidae

Bee Fly (Villa lateralis):  a species seen at CSU Dominguez Hills

While most people think of bees when they hear the word ‘pollinator’, in fact a wide range of animals function as pollinators.  To learn more about pollinators in general see:

Among the bee-like insects that serve as pollinators are the Bee Flies.  The Family Bombyliidae is a large family of flies with literally hundreds of genera and thousands of species worldwide. The exact number of species is currently unknown, due to a significant lack of research on this family.  For a good review of the main types of  flies seen in Southern California see:
To learn more about Bee Flies and their role as beneficial insects, see:


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Celebrate National Pollinator Week (June 15-21, 2015)

National Pollinator Week (the 3rd week in June each year) celebrates the importance of pollinators for all life on earth. Eighty percent of food crops, as well as many ornamental plants, require insect pollinators.    Life without living pollinators would be very different, indeed.

Here are some things you can do to celebrate National Pollinator Week:

Learn more about specific S. California pollinators:


Register your garden as part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC):

Participate in National Pollinator Week activities:


Friday, May 15, 2015

Heritage Creek Running in May!!

Heritage Creek Preserve (CSU Dominguez Hills) - rare May rainstorm (5/14/15)
Heritage Creek (CSU Dominguez Hills) running in May (5/14/15)
We've had two unusual (for us) May rainstorms this year.  May 2015 rainfall total as of 5:00 p.m. 5/14 was 1.05 inches!  It will be interesting to see how the plants react to this late rainfall.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Summer is Approaching

Many summer plants beginning to bloom in the 'Garden of Dreams'

Spring flashed by so fast this year.  Come see the summer flowers now blooming in our native plants gardens on campus.  Watch for birds, butterflies and other pollinators.