No-Mow and Ornamental Grasses

As the desire for less maintenance and more drought-tolerant landscaping increases, ornamental grasses are growing in popularity. With so many varieties, its easy to find the right color, size and texture for the needs of any outdoor space. As their name suggests, these decorative plants are a terrific option for sprucing up a yard, patio or outside area. Need more convincing? Ornamental grasses are resilient to a range of temperatures, are deer-resistant, rarely attract pests and their deep roots can help stabilize slopes to prevent soil erosion.

Ornamental grasses (OG) add texture to your landscaping and make exciting additions to borders and gardens. Try planting several types together like feathergrass, fountain grass and blue fescue to create eye catching designs. Or mix grasses in with other plants like lavender, succulents and hydrangea to forge a melody of colors and patterns. Use the same grass in different locations throughout your yard to add unity and tie it all together.

This fluffy foliage will also soften and breakup the harshness of hardscapes. Blending an OG with surrounding stone or concrete features will bring an aesthetic balance to your landscaping. On a smaller scale, put types like Elijah Blue fescue or Juncus grasses into pots or containers that can be moved around as desired. Overflowing by design, the wind will whistle through their swaying blades and garnish your outdoor space with movement that brings it to life.

OG make wonderful ground cover, especially in comparison to a traditional lawn. Requiring much less maintenance, they also help keep out weeds and maintain their visual attraction year-round. In these areas I would recommend “no-mow” grass. It usually consists of a special blend of native fescue grasses that grow up to about 6” tall and then fall over giving it a meadow-type look that does not require mowing. Once established, these grasses use little to no water and can give the appearance of a lawn or green area in your garden. Certain types will need routine “haircuts” to help trim down overgrowth and allow for fresh blades to liven up the plant.

One of the most popular OG, Calamagrostis foliosa (Mendocino Reed Grass) is a California native and does great in almost any soil or sunlight. They are small, require very little trimming and make great accent plants in your garden. Adding some boulders to your garden is another easy way to take up space without adding water requirements, and they go great with OGs!

Complimentary to any form of landscaping, ornamental grasses will provide a unique appearance for your exterior space, while cutting down on cost and leaving you with more time to enjoy your outdoors!

2020 Garden Design

Keep your landscaping colorful year round with these blooms

For most regions within California, the winter and fall seasons can seem dreary and dull. Leaves vanish from trees, most plants halt blossoming and the skies turn grey. But what if you could enjoy some color in your yard all year round? Though most perennial flowers typically have a blooming season, there are a few varieties that still show off through the gloomier months. Extend the colorful joys of spring and summer by planting these off-season bloomers into your landscaping.


Available in hues of orange, red, purple, pink, green and white, coneflowers come in a variety of both colors and sizes. It is easy to grow and known to be drought tolerant. To keep its flowers blossoming throughout multiple seasons, make sure it gets adequate sunlight and not too much shade. Deadhead some of the flowers in early summer to ensure plenty of new growth come fall. Coneflowers are also great nectar plants for attracting butterflies!


This plant shines its brightest in autumn as the color in its flowers increases as temperatures lower.  Come late fall, sedum foliage can be green, purple or variegated and even some varieties turn red, orange or yellow.  Adaptable and steady, sedum is a beautiful addition to any garden or outdoor space.

Perennial Geraniums

There are multiple species of geraniums, but some types can luster through fall and even winter. It also comes in a range of pigments including white, peach, red, orange, purple and even bi-colors. Easy to care for, geraniums do well in containers, as ground cover or garden borders. Resistant to disease and pests, you’ll be admiring its charm for most the year.

Twinspur / Diascia

Cousin to the snapdragon, twinspur (also known as diascia), does well during the colder seasons. It loves the sun and does best in areas of moist soil, but good drainage. This ornamental plant can bloom with flowers in shades of white, purple, pink and orange, all with a yellow contrasting middle. Designed with two oil spurs, diascia flowers are the specifically pollinated by Rediviva bees.

April showers don’t have to only bring May flowers! Plant some of these “late bloomers” in your landscaping to keep natural beauty abundant throughout the whole year!


Environment ally additions for your landscaping

As landscapers, the great outdoors is our sacred realm and we hold a responsibility to help take care of it. Gardening and land management may be a remedial hobby for some, but it can also be a practical avenue for contributing back to the environment. Producing more green materials will help purify the air, reduce pollution and generate pollination, resulting in a happier, cleaner planet. There are so many types of beneficial plants and trees that encourage the health of our earth, but here are just a few favorites that do well in our Central Coast climate. Consider including more of these “green” options when planning your next outdoor space.


Fragrant and beautiful, lavender is a lush addition to any home or garden. It attracts beneficial insects, butterflies and bees, making it a valuable choice for pollination. Place this purple-flowered plant close to gardens where bees and other pollinators won’t be able to resist its charm. The herb is also well known for its medicinal benefits including soothing, calming and healing properties. Resilient to warmer climates, lavender thrives here in California and is easy to maintain, requiring mostly just sun and proper drainage.

Eucalyptus Tree

The bigger the “plant”, the more carbon dioxide it can take in and thus the more oxygen it can release back into the air. Trees make a big and tall impact on helping our environment, so its crucial we continue to care for and grow these giant friends. Near the top of the carbon dioxide absorber’s list are eucalyptus trees which store approximately 70 pounds of CO2 per year! Implanted to the Santa Cruz area in the late 1800’s, eucalyptus have become one of the most common trees along our coastline.

Coast Redwood

This infamous western tree is a great addition to any California dwelling. Redwoods, known as the tallest trees on earth, can soar up to 350 feet in the wild and average a 600 year life-span. Surpassing the eucalyptus, studies have shown that redwoods seize more carbon dioxide from power plants, cars and trucks than any other type of tree on earth. The more CO2 they devour, the more they help combat climate change and improve our breathing air.

Trees can also contribute to air quality by providing shady surfaces and cooler temperatures. If a home or building has shade assistance from surrounding trees, it can reduce the need for conventional air conditioning and the gas emissions that come with it.

Even though Earth Day may have just passed, don’t let that stop you from making an impact throughout the whole year. Contribute to our ecosystem by making conscious landscaping choices that will benefit our earth for years to come!


Santa Cruz Curb Appeal

Driveway Decisions

Just because a driveway needs to be functional, doesn’t mean it can’t contribute creatively to your landscape. The driveway takes up a large portion of front yard real estate and overall look of your home. Get rid of that cracked asphalt and dress up your curb appeal. Drive through these ideas on how you can mix practicality with charm for a unique driveway design.


A popular selection, concrete driveways combine durability with low cost. Though less difficult to maintain, they can stain easily so watch out for oil drips and spills. A concrete driveway can clean up the front entrance of your home and while still producing a high-end appearance. If concrete makes the most sense for your budget, there are several ways you can spruce it up. Add sealant stains to give it a different color, stamp it with decorative designs, or impression it with texture.


While pavers may be more expensive up front than other materials, they can last for multiple decades if installed correctly. The most versatile in terms of design options, pavers can really enhance curb appeal. The color, pattern and size of the pavers can complement many different types of architecture. They can be permeable or sealed depending on your drainage situation. Permeable pavers allow water to flow through the cracks in the pavers and into an underground storage vault. Pavers can not only improve the presentation of your home but add to the sustainability as the maintenance and repair costs are minimal.


Gravel is one of the most budget-friendly options for a driveway, but it does require regrading maintenance every few years. It can be a smart choice for long driveways or country homes on large properties. There are some tradeoffs when it comes to gravel, (like tracking it into your house), so make sure you know how it will affect your living space.


One of the most common driveway hardscapes is asphalt. We’ve all seen the brand new asphalt driveway that looks clean and sharp but after a few months, and most definitely a few years, the asphalt begins to fade and crack. Although this can be a low-cost option it usually requires resealing and a lot of maintenance over the years.

If space permits, designing the driveway in a circular, or half-circular layout can give your anterior a convenient upgrade. It forms a much easier passage for vehicles while also giving your entrance a cohesive design flow. What can be really eye-catching is combining several of the above elements together. In between pavers you can add in softscapes like artificial turf to soften up the appearance, shaping a very inviting approach.

No matter which material works best for your budget and home, incorporate your driveway into your landscaping design to give your residence an attractive, and useful, upgrade!

proper watering for garden

Reduce your water bill with conscious landscaping

Santa Cruz’s wet season wasn’t very wet at all. In fact, we are coming off of the driest wet season Santa Cruz has endured in seven years. As of this week, the Santa Cruz Water Commission has sent its recommendation to City Council to enact Stage 1 of the city’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. If this passes, that will mean a 10% water usage reduction for its residences. What’s one of the easiest ways to have an impactful cutback on your home’s water usage? Smart landscaping!

Irrigation Management

Most people are actually overwatering their plants. One way to know if you’re accidently making the same mistake? Watering your landscape to the point the water pools or runs off. If this is happening, you’ll need to manage the run times on your controller. Make sure you are checking and adjusting these monthly as the weather and seasons change.

Another important watering factor is having the right irrigation for the right areas. While your lawn or trees may need a specific concentration, different flowers and plants will require less or more hydration. For example, changing out sprinklers to drip irrigation in shrub or plant areas can have a huge effect on your overall landscaping water consumption.

When mother nature does decide to grant us some rainfall, take advantage! Install a rain sensor on your controller to make sure you aren't watering during a rain event and wasting precious water.

An additional concern to watch out for is overspray onto hardscape services. Reduce the sprinkler reach where you can see wasted water on areas like decks, driveways and patios.

System Maintenance

An easy approach to cutting down on wasted H20 is changing out old sprinklers for new low-water-use heads such as MP rotators. These have a multi-trajectory rotating stream delivery system that are great for water conservation.

Additionally, make sure there are no minor leaks in your system, such as a sprinkler head leaking from the seal.

Plant & Lawn Maintenance

By keeping your plants and lawn in a continuously healthy state, they won’t need large amounts of water. With routine care and maintenance, you can support your landscaping’s overall vitality with lower demand for water replenishment.

One way you can achieve a healthy grass is by aerating your lawn. This creates small reservoirs for the water to be stored in, making the most out of when it is watered.

A few of your plants may be established to the point of not needing supplemental irrigation, including many native and drought-tolerant plants. However, some may be on the same valve that do still need the water. If you can recognize which specific plants that no longer need supportive watering, you can close off those valves and cut down on your usage.

Water conservation will continue to be an important civic duty here in California. Do your part by staying conscious of your water usage, and what better way to start than with your landscaping!?

Don’t forget about the front yard

Enhancing your front outdoor space should be just as important as developing your back yard. Whether it adds curb appeal, welcomes guests or provides security, a thoughtfully landscaped front yard is a valuable to your home. Don’t know where to start? Comb through these tips to find inspiration on how to upgrade your anterior outdoor dwelling.

Pick the right path

Make your home’s entrance memorable, functional and to the point by creating a clear walkway. An entry path should be easily recognized and convenient to follow. You don’t want mail carriers, delivery drivers or guests trampling through your freshly planted flowers or manicured lawn trying to get to the front door. Besides providing a safe and designated avenue, adding paths and walkways can bring an appealing visual element to your landscaping. Some common options include flagstone, cobblestones, decomposed granite, concrete, wood decking, brick, steppingstones or even a combination of the few.

Focal point

Without a focal point, your landscaping’s design could be lackluster and may leave the eye without a direction to land. Depending on the size of your yard, a focal point can be many different things - a large tree, sculpture, fountain, garden bed, or even just the front door. Build your landscaping layout to encompass around this feature and support it with the use of color, sizing and textures in your remaining elements.

Privacy where it matters

If you live on a busy street, or just have nosey neighbors, privacy in your front yard can be hard to come by, but you do have some options. Hedges, bamboo and ornamental grasses are helpful green additions to your landscaping that aren’t as obvious as a chunky metal fence. Slated or gapped fences and trellises can also give a great balance between privacy and intended invitation.  If surrounding neighbor homes have a direct view into your space, cascading landscapes can provide a perimeter barrier while giving your yard some creative dimension. If you install bamboo, make sure to include root barriers which will avoid unintended spread.

Conceal or reveal?

While privacy may not be an issue for you, maybe it’s the presence of unavoidable eye sores on your property. Conceal unsightly features like AC units, trash cans, hoses or power boxes as an easy way to clean up the aesthetic of your anterior area.  Mini sheds, lattice, wood boxes or tall plants are fairly simple and cost effective options for camouflaging what you don’t need seen. Out of sight, out of mind!


Boost visibility and safety while transforming your yard from dark and dull to dazzling and glowing. Up-light trees or focal points, guide paths and walkways or brighten up your lounging patio with mood setters. From LEDs to solar, there are a wide range of lighting options that could help illuminate your front yard without eclipsing your budget.


Installing motion detector lights is another useful addition to your front yard. Warn off burglars or startle away unwanted critters. Take it a step further by putting in a security camera system and you’ll have real-time peace of mind whenever you can’t be at home. There are also motion sensor sprinklers if you want to chase off those unwanted racoons and skunks.

Ground cover

There are many eco-friendly ground covers that you can utilize in your landscaping besides grass. Explore low maintenance alternatives like creeping thyme, clover, ornamental grasses, native perennials or even artificial turf. For even more ideas, check out my previous Landscaping Lesson on Xeriscaping and how you could build a water efficient, climate-happy front yard for your home.

Above all, create a space that encourages outdoor community and evokes enjoyment. Catch sunsets on a porch patio set or sway in a hammock while catching up with nearby neighbors. The front yard is the entrance to your home and should reflect the same warmth and care you carry for it on the inside.

Why are my plants yellow?

Just as a street sign or traffic light signal alerts you to heed with caution, cues can present themselves in your landscaping too. Universal warning signs or labels are often colored bright yellow in order to catch your eye, and nature is no different. If you’re finding that plants and greenery on your property are turning yellow, (also known as chlorosis,) it could be mother nature’s notification that something is off balance.

Thirsty or Waterlogged?

The most common stressors for a plant are water related - either too much or too little. Starve the plant of moisture it will drain the green out of its now crunchy, curled limbs. Drown the roots by over-saturating and the leaves will become yellow and limp while the plant struggles to deliver vital nutrients. Check your property for drainage issues; are certain areas flooding or pooling? Inspect your sprinklers and irrigation; any leaks or blockages preventing adequate hydration? Many native plants in our area are drought-tolerant and won’t require additional watering during these spring shower months but be sure to adjust once summer’s warm weather arrives.

Lighting & Temperature

Photosynthesis - in simple terms, it’s the process by which plants utilize sunlight to generate food. Without enough access to sun, many species of plants will starve. Consider giving your indoor plants a happy hour every week under the sun, or transplant outdoor greenery to areas not sun-blocked by structures and trees.  Re-positioning may also help with temperature problems, as both freezing and blistering degrees can affect your plant’s “homeostasis”. Avoid placements near heaters or air conditioners and be aware of weather changes for outside plants.

Soil Conditions

Its early spring here in Santa Cruz and many rain showers have already come and went, impacting the ground beneath us. Environment is crucial for a plant’s survival, but more specifically, its intimate soil habitat. Too much rain can lead to nutrient loss due to water runoff and leaching. Bright yellow plants are a key indication of nutritional deficiency. Fertilize with products that contain potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, just 6 of the 13 essential minerals craved by plants. Conduct a soil test to determine which nutrients are missing out of our plant diet.

Disease & Pests

Keeping plants healthy and happy also requires protecting them from predators and disease. If you know sunlight, temperature, nutrients or ample water aren’t the issue, it could be a harmful new tenant. In addition to yellowing, check the leaves for tiny holes where insects may have indulged. If no hungry pests are present, it could be a fungus or disease. Be sure to manage the soil appropriately to avoid creating fungus-loving moisture or try a DIY organic pesticide if insects are eating away at your plants.

Plants crave balance, so when the equilibrium sways too far in either direction, watch for the hints that nature will provide to let you know something is awry. Green means go, yellow means slow!

What you need to know about treated wood waste

With any element in your landscaping, whether it’s a bed of perennials, a stamped concrete driveway or a lush green lawn, your hope is for its longevity. While treated wood (TW) may seem like a helpful choice for weathering climate vulnerability on your property, its cons may outweigh the pros. Whether you are a homeowner, contractor, transporter or simply helping out a friend, application of the new TWW regulations will affect you differently, so use this article as a primer before doing some additional research.

What is TWW?

TWW refers to any lumber that has been chemically treated to protect against rot and insects. The most common type of TWW, and a name you may be familiar with is, “pressure treated” wood. The process entails placing the wood inside a depressurized tank to remove any air and then infusing it with chemical preservatives. Pressure treated wood is frequently used in areas with high moisture or insect populations like decks, picnic tables or fence posts.

What Changed?

As of December 31, 2020, a long-standing CA State Health and Safety Code (CA-HSC 25150.7) expired. This expiration means that all TWW is considered hazardous and must be disposed at a Class I hazardous waste landfill. Some of you may have already ran into this frustrating situation where you go to dispose of wood waste at the dump and you are turned away. For others, my hope is that this article can help save you some time and money by being prepared and educated on how to handle your TWW.

How do I know if my wood has been chemically treated?

TW can often be recognized visually. According to the DTSC fact sheet, some signs to look for include:

  • Treated wood end tag (with information regarding the preservative used)
  • Wood manufacturer stamp codes
  • Indentations on the surface of the wood
  • When cut, staining is visible around the perimeter only
  • Discoloration (e.g. green or dark brown appearance)
  • Odor Treated wood may also have an end tag

How do I dispose of TWW?

Instead of your usual local dump, TWW can only be dropped at an authorized hazardous waste landfill. As of March 2, 2021, the DTSC has posted an updated list of landfill locations that will accept TWW, which can be found here. Many of these landfills have different acceptance requirements, like a pre-approved waste profile, so it is recommended to call ahead. Currently, there are no dump sites in Santa Cruz County. There are some locations in San Jose, but again, call first to ensure you are properly prepared.

Construction and demolition costs to increase

Due to the changing regulations, disposal fees are skyrocketing for contractors. Most have to transport the waste much farther which comes with increased costs. Be sure to inquire with your contractor during the interview regarding their company’s updated policies on TWW as this is a newly implemented order, and to budget appropriately for your next remodel.

Woman with pink glove holding mulch to prevent soil erosion

Get a step ahead for spring landscaping

Longer days and warmer temperatures are slowly creeping in as we approach springtime. Welcome this new season by preparing your landscaping for the changes to come so you can enjoy your outdoors as much as possible!

Start your “spring cleaning” outside. Throw on some gloves and clear out any debris that has accumulated in your yard. Rake through lawns and garden beds to remove dead grass, dried leaves, pine needles, twigs, etc. Clearing off this excess thatch will give your lawn the chance to breathe and your plants room to grow. Tidy up your perennials by trimming off any dead stalks or leaves.

Early March is a great time to prune your shrubs and trees. Proactively cut off dangerous limbs before they fall from your tree and to help give it shape for new growth. Keep your bushes pruned down now to avoid wild overgrowth come April, May and June.

Mulch is one of landscaping’s best friends. It aids in moisture retention and weighs down weeds from being able to sprout up. Replenish your grounds with an application of fresh mulch to give your plants support for the upcoming season. Just be careful not to smoother any potential perennials that may be budding.

Keep crisp lines between your lawn and other elements or hardscapes in your yard by edging its perimeter. Mow the grass first, then clean up the remaining edges. This will help define the lines in between your landscaping and lawn, leaving a sharp and clean look. Trex decking or other composite wood products can work great as an edge restraint.

Fertilizing your grass should ideally be done soon after or before a light rain, so plan accordingly with these March showers we’ve been having. Supply your lawn now with the nutrients it needs to flourish come spring.

A little preparation can go, (or grow!), a long way. Incorporate these tasks onto your landscaping to-do list before spring bounces in. Leaves will soon be turning green, flowers will blossom, the sun will shine, and you’ll already be basking in a beautifully manicured yard!

Beneficial Nematodes

All of us that love to garden know a downside can be dealing with all those pesky pests! Seeing a favorite plant in distress can have us pulling our hair out, but need not fear, as beneficial nematodes are here to save the day!

These helpful worms are not only killing machines, but they are also a biologic control that does not harm humans, animals or even other worms. These live microscopic organisms seek out and destroy the larval stage of many problem insects including fungus gnats, wireworms, codling moths, corn earworms, cutworms, fleas, fly larvae, grubs, leaf miners, root weevils, and shore flies to name a few! Having problems with moles, raccoons and skunks? Beneficial nematodes will indirectly help with those too. Those animals are digging for grubs, so if you get rid of the grubs, they will be forced to look elsewhere.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic, unsegmented roundworms that live in the soil. These invisible friends can hunt down, penetrate and kill almost any soil dwelling pest. Many insects that injure our plants have a larval stage in the soil. So, whether the insect damages your plant or the larva eats its roots, beneficial nematodes will take care of the problem. Seeking only the larval stage of insects, they search out susceptible hosts by detecting excretory products, carbon dioxide and temperature changes, kill it with a bacterium, and then reproduce. The nematodes will continue to live and reproduce as long as there are hosts and no insecticides or freezing weather reaches them. Since they will eventually kill all of their hosts, you will need to reapply the nematodes about once a year.

Beneficial nematodes can be applied to your vegetable garden, ornamental beds, containers, lawn, pasture or anywhere that there is soil and plants! I have even applied them to a living wall with great success. They work for indoor plants as well. UV light will kill the nematodes, so apply at dawn or dusk, when sunlight is not direct. It is important to have moist soil, so give a light watering to the area before and after the nematode application.

Having used beneficial nematodes for an extended time, I can definitely attest to their effectiveness of honing in and killing soil born larvae in many situations and landscapes. Most of them come refrigerated and must be kept chilled and used within a month. There are different types of nematodes, so do some research and make sure you purchase the correct nematodes for your problem. You will also find charts to help decide how many you will need for the area you wish to treat.

Even the tiniest of critters can have an impact on your landscaping, but with beneficial nematodes you can fight nature with nature and keep your plants living their greenest life!