Peeling Bark

In a not uncommon response to summer-dry heat, a number of trees and shrubs shed their bark in the middle of the summer.

Summertime bark break, Manzanita, Arctostaphylos

In California, this exfoliation seems to happen almost instantly in Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and many species of Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) with great delight to any observer who watches these natives with any regularity.

One day a walk in the dry woods, the always beautiful red-mahogany bark will be split open, as the bark rolls back and the girth expanding just that much more.  In manzanita the bark will curl back in neat tight curlers.

Manzanita – Summertime Bark break, exfoliating

Madrone seems to come off in ribbons.

Madrone, Arbutus menziesii – Summertime bark break

Both of these genus are well adapted to summer-dry conditions but one must be careful to match the right species to the right microclimates. Manzanita are native to many parts of California and gardeners would do well to check with local nurseries, or if you are lucky enough to be in California, check in with your local native plant society chapter to find the best ones.

In nature Madrone are found in dry sloping conditions often in the company of taller Bay and Oak trees, and usually need just the right soil mycorrhizal relationships to thrive.  Gardeners might consider the Arbutus unedo, a mediterranean native, more adapted to garden conditions.  The bark is lovely and the large fruit are highly ornamental but you don’t get the exploding bark.

Madrone – Summertime bark break

Newsletter 2 February 2017

This is the second newsletter since Summer-Dry was launched two years ago, so those of you who might have been looking for this update expecting news have not missed anything directly, though there have been about 40 plant descriptions posted to the blog.

The initial phase of the site has been a success in simply luring Nora Harlow to write the plant descriptions and getting Dave Fujino of California Center for Urban Horticulture to help us apply for a grant to upgrade the WUCOLS database.

That grant application to California Department of Water Resources (DWR) seeks to add photos and plant descriptions to all of the low and very low water use plants in the WUCOLS database.  Those plants would then be added to Summer-Dry, greatly expanding the initial database created for the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and all photos become accessible per the terms of any State of California grant.

Is the drought in California over ?

California drought map January 31 2016 – Feb 2 2017;

That is the subject of the most recent blog post and  it depends on where you look, but we will always need to garden with water conservation in mind.  The recent post has some excellent links to official drought monitoring sites and links to other news sources.

Going forward, Summer-Dry will be sending out a monthly newsletter, a digest of blog posts, news, and plant descriptions. We now have a mail service that allows this to happen automatically for subscribers.  Sign up at the bottom of the Home Page.

Now that we have a newsletter service look for us to have more information to share, “Like” our Facebook page, and spread the word that gardening is alive and sustainable in summer-dry climates.




Is The Drought Over ?

It has been raining like crazy in California this winter.  Or rather, it has ben raining like a normal winter. In a summer-dry climate we expect it to be winter wet.

But is the California drought over ? Here is a map showing the overall change in exactly one year, since February 2, 2016.

California drought map January 31 2016 - Feb 2 2017;

California drought map January 31 2016 – Feb 2 2017;

While it has been a dramatic change it its not over; Southern California is still below average.  Although there is above average snowpack in the mountains, which will insure adequate water, the State is still experiencing water supply shortfalls and five years of drought have left California with a significant water supply deficit, especially when it comes to groundwater basins.

Who decides when the drought is officially over ?  The State Water Resources Control Board will vote on Feb. 8 whether or not to officially extend drought regulations. Item 9.

Raindrops and bubbles in street puddle

To follow the progress of the drought and the many water conservation resources that various government agencies provide, we have listed the most active Resources and summarized them below, including a few timely rainfall reporting sites:

California Water Year Totals from National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration NOAA

California DWR Daily Reporting Stations – Department of Water Resources

Two great websites with up to date news:

Water Deeply In-depth coverage of the California drought.

California Water Blog –  UC Davis Center for Watershed Science

Government resources:

Drought Portal California official website

California Water Science from US Geologic Survey and specifically CA Drought

Save Our Water State of California Water Conservation tips and action

California Drought from Pacific Institute

Background Report defining drought from DWR (Department of Water Resources):  “California’s Most Significant Droughts; Comparing Historical  and Recent Conditions | February 2015″

Newsletter 1 January 2015

433-335It’s a New Year, the first year of the Summer-Dry Project.  In California we are happy to report we had heavy rains in early December but a bit nervous that it has not rained in 3 weeks.

So it is with the Project, launched with much excitement last year but awaiting fresh energy to expand the database to include garden photos all nursery plants available in California according to the WUCOLS.

Soon we hope to have Nora Harlow, the Project Director and author of the EBMUD book, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates as our resident expert who will add posts and information on plants in the database.

We will be reaching out to various water agencies and the California Department of Water Resources for help and funding of our project.  No matter how much rain we may get this winter, or any winter, we garden in summer-dry conditions and must educate gardeners on the best plants for sustainable practices.

We believe photos can help encourage best practices if gardeners can see real gardens, beautiful gardens.


The Summer-Dry Garden


holt_782-158.tifSummer-dry gardens can be beautiful.  The art and science of gardening is learning which plant prosper in garden settings. Many plants are meant for summer-dry climates and don’t need lots of water, though careful irrigation improves their beauty.

I do water my own California garden in summer; and so does every farm and every garden – all summer.  It simply doesn’t rain.  The irrigation water has to come from somewhere, other than a faucet. Continue reading

Drought Tolerant is Irrelevant


holt_389-863.tifAll plants are drought tolerant in their native habitat and no plant can live without water.

No matter where a garden is located, the tropics or the desert, the plants in that garden should naturally tolerate periods of lower than average water.  They may thrive with supplemental water during dry periods but the term “drought tolerant” can be very misleading, especially in summer-dry climates. Continue reading