Blame the drought followed by ample rain
Local nurseries and growers are scrambling to keep up, but demand — especially for specific cultivars — has caused an extreme shortage of many sought-after plants.
With most of the drought water restrictions now removed, people are rushing to replace the plants they lost in the drought.
Many people also took advantage of rebates and took out all or part of their lawns. To qualify for a rebate from the state or local water providers, the lawn had to be replaced with plants from an approved list. Each plant was rated for its water efficiency and rebate programs required homeowners to plant a set percentage of their yard and obtain a certain point value based on the plants they chose.
Plants with the highest point values were in high demand and sold out quickly. Growers have been scrambling to catch up, but the heavy, frequent rains have put local growers behind in their planting, which has significantly delayed availability.
Viktoria Gleason, Green Goods Buyer for Summerwinds Nursery in San Jose, says homeowners are driving what growers are producing.
“Now,” she says, “even national growers like Monrovia are growing California lilac, manzanita, ceanothus and even Western redbud. That wouldn't have happened 10 years ago.”
Acacias, especially ‘Cousin Itt', Chinese pistache and some crape myrtles, were at the top of the point list and are now virtually impossible to get.
If you are looking for great dry shade shrubs try Loropetalum (fringe plant), which comes in many sizes and colors. Many cultivars of Pieris (lily of the valley) offer bicolored leaves and dainty, bell shaped flowers. There are salvias in every size and color, and even one for deep shade.
Trees that should be readily available include Tristania laurina (water gum), which is slow growing with fragrant leaves; Arbutus ‘Marina' (strawberry tree), which has beautiful red bark, profuse pinkish white flowers and red edible fruit that provides interest all year; and Olea (European olive), which is well-suited for our Mediterranean climate. Options include fruiting, non-fruiting and even a beautiful weeping variety, Olea ‘HidShurtleff.'
Wendy Calhoun, Buyer for Yamagami's Nursery in Cupertino, says in addition to picking the right plant for the right area, people need to understand their irrigation systems.
“Most people apply too little water, way too often,” Calhoun says.
Plants thrive with infrequent but deep watering. A good rule of thumb, she says, is to apply twice the container size of water once a week. A 1 gallon plant would get 2 gallons of water per week. In extremely hot weather you might need to double that amount twice per week, but no more.
Proper watering is the most critical factor in growing healthy plants. Most plants, especially drought tolerant ones such as lavender, rosemary and California natives, fail in their second year, Calhoun says, because of over watering.
Curtis Ferris, General Manager at Soquel Nursery Growers in Soquel, says the drought has actually been good for growers and consumers.
“People are replacing their thirsty lawns with much better options and we hope they continue to do so,” Ferris says.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo: Rebecca Schoenenberger
This article first appeared in the May 20 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.