I recently unearthed a bouquet of blue statice that I had hung to dry in the pantry, and it now brightens my bathroom, along with some ‘Moonshine' yarrow and lavender harvested early last summer.
Though I do have some star performers in my desert garden, I'm afraid nothing will ever quite compare to the armloads of easily-grown flowers I could collect nearly any day in Santa Cruz. When I saw those statice, it occurred to me that I could extend my season of color by planting even more flowers for drying. I did a little research and came across this amazing site that inspired me to expand my palette of dried flowers.
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is a super-tough little annual from South America that blooms in late summer. It is so tolerant of high temperatures that there used to be a notion that it was planted at the gates of Hades. Now that's hot! I grew it 20 years ago when I lived in west Bishop, and I remember it as a welcome—if not too exciting—addition to the flower bed. But seedsmen and plant breeders have been paying attention to this little guy, and you can now find it in oranges and reds, in addition to the white, pink and purple I remember. The colors that make globe amaranth so striking actually come from stiff, papery, leaf-like structures called bracts—the same part that makes poinsettias and bougainvilleas so attractive)—the true flowers are so tiny that they are nearly hidden within the flower head.
As I alluded to above, statice (Limonium sinuatum) has become a staple in my garden over the years. With statice, it's the flower sepals (collectively known as the calyx) that provides the color—the white flower petals fall away. Statice is super-easy to grow from seed, and they now come in so many more colors than the blue I have always grown.
And there are so many other possibilities to explore!
Many of us have grown the common annual bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus). You may also know it as cornflower, so named because it was often found as a weed in fields of corn and other grains. Another familiar plant is the aptly-named strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum). I'll bet you can guess what plant part provides this Australian import with its color! The big news with so many of these dried flowers is the new hues plant breeders have brought us.
Less familiar to me are the celosias (Celosia angentea cristata), which come not only in different colors, but in three different flower types: plumed, cockscomb and wheat! Sunballs (Crasspedia globosa), sea holly (Eryngium planum)and globe thistle (Echinops ritro) are three more to check out.
And you don't have to stop at flowers. Many grasses (bunny tails are nice) and members of the onion family are great in dried bouquets. In my own garden I discovered that the dried stalks of garlic chives are beautiful in the autumn garden, especially mixed with ornamental grasses and late bloomers like goldenrod. The problem, of course, is that by the time they are dry, they have spread their seeds far and wide!
As easy as most of these plants are to grow, drying the flowers is even simpler. Cut them when they first open, bundle them with string and hang upside down to dry. Florists sometimes use drying agents like silica gel, but my favorite method comes from a grower who tosses the flowers in the trunk of his car, parks it in the sun, and says they are perfect after 24 hours!
For more information on flowers to dry:
Select flower names in the articles to see photographs and more detailed descriptions.
- 30 of the best flowers for drying
- Grow everlastings for dried flowers
- Gomphrena—an antidote for the late summer blahs
*Brazilian verbena has become invasive in some warm-winter areas of the country, but our temperature extremes seem to prevent that here.
Desert globemallow or apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is a local favorite, brightening the roadsides and hillsides of the Eastern Sierra region dependably every year. People love the delicate globes, and thanks to our local Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and their annual native plant sale, hundreds of people now get to enjoy the show in their own yards.
The common names pretty much say it all—they do well with little water, and they are covered in spring with 1-inch, 5-petaled, bowl-shaped apricot blossoms. But let's dig a little deeper, into the scientific name. The Greek words σφα?ρα (sphaira) and αλκεα (alkea) translate to “sphere” and “mallow.” Sphere obviously describes the shape of the flowers, and mallow tells us that this plant is in the family Malvaceae—the same family that includes cotton, okra and hollyhock. If you check the leaves of each of these plants, you'll immediately notice one of the family characteristics—palmately lobed leaves (like fingers on a hand).
It's not the genus, but the specific epithet* that I want to focus on here—ambigua—the color of this species is ambiguous. Calflora lists eight other species of Sphaeralcea in California, nearly all of them orange nearly all the time. Sphaeralcea ambigua is apparently the exception. This species comes in three different botanical varieties: ambigua (our local variety), rugosa and rosaceae. It is especially among the rosaceae populations that colors can vary. I learned of this some years back, when I bought a plant in Tucson. In that area, this species comes in a range of pastels, from white to mauve, peach, pink, lavender, and occasionally deep wine reds.
That original plant has given me three new plants, two pinkish and one apricot. As a bonus, that plant and its descendants seem to have a more vigorous revival in the fall than the plants I have purchased locally. Because Tucson gets a summer monsoon season, many plants bloom in both the spring and the fall, so I'm assuming my plants share that characteristic more than the plants from summer-dry California.
‘Childerly' is a hybrid developed in England
You can see some other colors here
A search of “mallow” at High Country Gardens gives you some closely related plants that will also do well in our area
Seeds from the Tucson area may be more likely to give you shades other than apricot
- Author: Alison Collin
In the last few years there has been an interest in “no till” methods of gardening that propose numerous benefits such as increased yields, less physical work, and much healthier soil cited as reasons we should stop digging our soils. However I wonder if this method of growing is really suited to the environs of desert areas? Here are some thoughts of mine on the issue.
Let's start with what “no till” growing is, and how does one go about doing it.
There is more than one way to accomplish a "no-till" garden but the most commonly advocated method is sheet mulching. (It goes by many names.) As the name suggests, the soil is not dug in preparation for growing food or ornamental plants but rather the top of the soil is regularly amended with organic matter which works its way down into the soil to feed the roots of the plants from above. To start a new growing bed using this method, a layer of cardboard is put over the surface of the ground in order to suppress existing weeds. Then a deep layer of well-rotted compost is laid over the top and crops are grown in this. Plants are mulched to retain moisture, and over time the cardboard rots and worms take the compost down into the native soil. This is considered to be closer to how plants and soils interact in the natural world.
By contrast, hand digging or rototilling disturbs the natural profile of the soil by destroying earthworm burrows and bringing the natural and beneficial mycorrhizae to the surface where ultraviolet light and drying conditions kill these fungi. It also interferes with the natural drainage of soil so dug soils drain poorly compared to the compost in no till beds and soil loss by wind erosion is increased.
There is a lot to be said in favor of the no till method. However, is a no-till method like sheet mulching suitable for desert situations with a very low natural rainfall? Most of those who advocate this method of growing and have the greatest success live in high rainfall areas where precipitation is regular throughout the year, and often the rainfall each month is as much as our desert area receives in a year! We also have very dry air with a relative humidity often less than 10%, with frequent, quite strong, drying winds. Our natural vegetation is sparse and prickly as a result of the climate, and things decompose very slowly.
Beneficial to the soil as “no till” might be, some arguments in favor do not hold up in our area. Supposedly it is less labor intensive since one does not dig, but to produce the amounts of compost needed in our area for this method to work, one either has to constantly turn compost heaps, or else buy compost in bulk (assuming that you can find a local source), pay for it to be delivered and then barrow it to the growing area! Our environment makes it hard to even acquire something to make compost from in sufficient amounts.
Then there is the tremendous water usage, both for keeping one's compost heap working and then keeping the applied compost damp enough for these benefits to occur in the garden. Everything dries quickly in our wind, sun, and heat.
Mulch such as wood chips takes a long time to rot down in the desert but without some protection our desert winds can certainly remove loose topsoil. In my experience they are equally efficient at removing the finer particles of mulch, leaving only the sticks behind. Often I have put a deep layer of shredded leaves around plants and on top of the drip irrigation tubing but this fine mulch, far from rotting down or being taken into the soil by accommodating earthworms has rapidly vanished into the next county during our high wind events. This does not happen so much if the mulch surface is kept wet, but can we afford to use that much water when facing a serious drought?
When digging I always incorporate generous amounts of compost or manure or any remaining surface mulch into the ground where it will not get blown away and will be in close proximity to the roots of my crops. I dig in winter when earthworms are very deep in the soil but by spring I have an extremely healthy population.
In many places in the desert where the soils are sandy and alkaline, earthworms are a rarity - if present at all, so in these cases the downward movement of organic matter placed on the surface is not likely to happen for several seasons, and indeed where I have raked several year's accumulation of leaves from under shrubs, even the bottom layer hardly shows any evidence of the leaves breaking down.
No till's proponents admit that slugs and snails are common problems in the compost-grown vegetables, although I doubt whether that would be much of a problem here, but I did mulch heavily with straw one year and consequently had the worst European earwig infestation that I have ever experienced.
Our desert soils certainly need a lot of help in the form of organic matter if they are to produce crops, but it is difficult to know which is the best way to achieve that. As with most horticultural endeavors there are pros and cons to both methods but it pays to think of different options, and perhaps do a trial bed before embarking either method on a large scale.
Editor's note: Another consideration is the population of weeds present. At least in the Owens Valley, our perennial weeds, especially Bermudagrass, emerge through the cardboard layer quickly since it is insufficient to stop them. A gardener would have to eliminate perennial weeds first. Our wind also brings in fresh seeds of wind-dispersed annual weeds that grow well in the rich, organic layer.
- Author: Trina Tobey
It's spring again! Time to start preparing your garden for planting. Read on for some tips to make this year's garden your most successful yet.
The first step in planning a garden is to select a site and amend the soil. Pick a site with good drainage, full sun, access to water, and low traffic. Leave walking room between rows. Never walk on the soil in your garden beds.
Prepare your soil three weeks before you plan to plant. Weed your garden and turn under any cover crops, if you grew any. You will want to loosen the soil 10-12” deep and break up big clods of soil to make it easy for the roots to grow. Do not till very dry or wet soil; soil should be dryish but still able to loosely clump with some effort. You can learn how to double dig your soil by watching the video on YouTube made by our own Master Gardeners: https://youtu.be/KHvgDUd0VS8 .
Next, you can mix in amendments if needed. Soils throughout most of Inyo and Mono Counties are derived from sources in the Sierra. Most soils in our area are well-drained, do not have accumulated salts, and have a good pH for growing plants. However, some communities in our area, such as Chalfant, have soil that is derived from other mountain sources producing alkaline soils that require amending with sulfur before planting. See our local soils page for more information about your local soil.: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Soil/Your_Local_Soil_487/
Garden beds should be amended with compost annually. That is especially true here because our desert soils drain water excessively and hold few nutrients. Organic matter, such as compost, improves both the fertility and the texture of the soil. Inorganic fertilizers aim to feed plants and do not affect tilth or the holding capacity of soil. Mix 1-2” of compost or high-quality organic material into the top 4” of your soil with a hoe or a spade. If using manure, make sure it is fully composted. After mixing in the compost, water the bed evenly. Then, let it rest until planting.
If you have terrible soil, you can make raised beds and bring in external soil. Soil in raised beds should be composed of about ½ topsoil and ½ organic matter (mostly compost) by volume. No need to be exact! For more information on raised gardens, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Vegetables/Raised_Beds/
For best results, many plants require an additional fertilizer. The three primary nutrients plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Too much fertilizer can affect growth, so only add enough to meet the feeding needs of your plants so be sure to carefully follow directions for application.
Have an irrigation plan before planting. Soil needs to remain evenly moist during germination and throughout the growing season. Soil will dry out to a depth of a few inches in the sun. Below that, only plants can remove the moisture. Insert your finger into the soil to determine if the soil is moist or dry and adjust your watering accordingly. For water efficiency, irrigate at the base of the plants early in the morning or late in the evening. Drip irrigation is best. For information on irrigation, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Irrigation/
Remove weeds as they arise because they compete with your plants for resources. Usually, weeds can be easily controlled by pulling. If not, you can hoe or possibly use herbicides. Be extremely careful when spraying. Never spray when it is windy because most herbicides will kill your plants too. Always read the label and follow the directions when using herbicides. Most gardeners in our area are able to control their weeds with pulling and hoeing, however.
Now you are ready to plant!
Start warm season crops indoors six weeks before planting. You will want to plant as soon as possible for the longest growing season but after the danger of frost, since frost can kill your plants. As a general rule of thumb, transplant when the soil 4 inches deep is 60 degrees at 10 am.
In Bishop, the last frost occurs after May 5 50% of the time and after May 14 25% of the time. Most years the soil is warm enough to transplant well before the end of frost season.
If there is a frost after you plant, protect your plants by covering them. For more information on starting your vegetable garden, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Vegetables/Getting_Started/
Have fun with your new garden!
Yarrow is a plant that people have used for thousands of years. Indeed, Linnaeus, the father of plant taxonomy, gave yarrow the genus name Achillea after the great Greek warrior Achilles, who supposedly carried common yarrow with his army to treat battle wounds. It goes by many other common names, most of them related to its use on the battlefield: herbe militaris, knight's milfoil, staunchweed and soldier's woundwort (the latter from the US Civil War). Native American nations across the continent used yarrow for everything from toothaches to menstrual cramps. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is found in every California habitat except the Mojave and Colorado Deserts; the Miwok used the plant as an analgesic and head cold remedy. Indeed, it would be hard to find a plant with such a long and varied history of uses, but my objective here is to focus on this often-overlooked plant simply as an ornamental!
Between the soil, the wind and the varmints, I have challenging growing conditions in my yard, to say the least. Yarrow is virtually pest-free—even deer and rabbits avoid it. It's pretty drought tolerant once established, and it prefers sandy, poor to average soil. Indeed, very fertile soil will cause too much top growth, and the leggy stems will flop over. In other words, it's just the plant for me!
Now, your past experience with yarrow may be different. Many yarrows spread by rhizomes, and in well-watered locations they can get out of control. But out here where even weeds don't prosper, I prefer my plants to be a bit aggressive! And if you choose the right yarrow and put it in the right location, you'll earn a lot of garden interest for almost no investment.
There are about 80 species of yarrow worldwide, but nearly all those found in nurseries come from just two of those species: Achillea millefolium and A filipendulina. Nearly everyone is familiar with the tall (2-3') yellow yarrows. ‘Coronation Gold,' ‘Moonshine,' and ‘Cloth of Gold' (my favorite) are three that are widely available. These are Achillea filipendulina hybrids and cultivars, and while they are hard to beat for a spectacular early season display, by July they are looking pretty bedraggled. I harvest many of the stems when they are first opening for dried flowers, and when the remainder start to fade, I cut them back to encourage a second bloom in fall. Best to place these vigorous growers near the back of the bed, because they're a bit drab after this shearing!
But beyond these most commonly seen cultivars, there is a whole world of tough, attractive yarrow to fit most anywhere in the garden. Woolly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) is grown chiefly for its gray, fuzzy fern-like leaves. This spreader has yellow flowers and stays 6-12” high, the perfect plant for edging stones at the front of your beds. You can sometimes find this among the ground covers at local nurseries. ‘King Edward' (Achillea x lewisii) is similar, with beautiful butter-yellow flowers, but so far I've only been able to find it available one place online. Achillea ptarmica is unique, the flowers borne more singularly than the umbel typical of the genus. Some people use this more sophisticated yarrow as a substitute for baby's breath. Like many of the others listed here, you're not likely to come across plants in a nursery, but all yarrows are easy to grow from seed, so if you can wait a few years, you'll have plenty of flowers down the line.
Easier to find in nurseries, sometimes even in 6-packs, are intermediate-sized yarrows in all shades of pink, rose and cream colors. Most of these are cultivars of Achillea millefolium (common yarrow). I found ‘Paprika,' ‘Red Beauty,' ‘Island Pink' and ‘Summer Pastels' all in local nurseries this past summer, as well as a new dwarf cultivar of ‘Moonshine' and the russet tones of ‘Terra Cotta.' High Country Gardens is one of many places to find plants online, and if you're willing to grow your own, there are even more options available from places like Swallowtail Seeds.
I'm going big on yarrows this year! I planted seeds of ‘Colorado Mix,' ‘Summer Berries,' red, rose and white, and they all sprouted in less than a week, with germination rates of nearly 100%. Between the newcomers and all those I've already planted, I should have carefree blooms throughout the summer. And—since yarrows make great dried flowers—they will brighten the cool season.
Note: Links to sources in this article are provided as a convenience to the reader. No endorsement by UC Regents is implied or intended.