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The Backyard Gardener Blog

This a round-up of our most recent blog posts.

You can find all of our blog posts at this site: The Backyard Gardener.


We also have a 2nd blog that covers our project at the Eastern Sierra Visitors' Center. You can access it at this link. If you like Owens Valley's native plants, you will like this blog!


Recent Posts
  • Add Color to Your Garden with These Low Growing Plants

    Oct 11, 2023
    When planning a low-water use garden it is sometimes desirable to use low growing plants either as foreground features or to fill spaces between taller plants such as sages, gaura and agastaches. The following five plants have performed well in my garden in the Owens Valley for quite a few years, covering what would otherwise be bald patches and adding extra splashes of color at different seasons. Although none of these perennial plants are true "desert" plants, they can all cope with some drought. These species will certainly need less water than a correspondingly sized lawn.




    One of the first to flower is Phlox subulata, the needle-leaved phlox, sometimes referred to as a moss pink, which makes dense mats of green leaves through the summer, goes dormant during the cold weather and then erupts into a brilliant carpet of either pale or dark pink, or lavender blue. A hybrid, 'Candy Stripe,' is more drought tolerant than the species. It grows about 6” tall and up to 2ft wide. It is not a desert plant but seems to cope with less than average water and is happy in a lean soil. The only down side is that it becomes brown and dead looking in the winter.







    The Delospermas (shown at the top of the article) are low-growing small leaved succulents which are surprisingly hardy, forming dense mats 1-2” tall and up to 2ft or more wide. The daisy-shaped flowers come in a variety of colors, magenta, purple, salmon and yellow. I grow one called 'Firespinner' which is a striking orange/yellow combination the petals of which glisten in sun. These plants like a regular, moderate supply of water through the summer, giving them just enough to keep them green and healthy looking. My plants were covered in snow for a long time last winter, but were unscathed when the melt exposed them.

    Tubular red flowers growing past the edge of a bed.


    For fall color Zauschneria 'Everett's Choice' ( also known as Epilobium, California fuchsia, or hummingbird flower) is hard to beat. This native plant produces a profusion of bright red flowers from late summer well into fall. It grows 2-4” tall but will spread 3-5' wide, and as its common name suggests, it is loved by hummingbirds. It does best with summer water and a little afternoon shade in the hottest areas but is also drought tolerant, hardy and usually trouble free apart from occasional infestations from sphinx moth caterpillars. Other Zauschnerias grow taller and can become rangy without some pruning, but still have the striking tubular flowers.




    Teucrium, or germander, comes from the Mediterranean and is at home in poor, rocky soils. T. majoricum is low growing to about 2ft wide, with narrow gray leaves and a steady production of pinkish-purple flowers on the end of its stems. It is easy to grow as long as it is planted in a sunny spot, has free draining soil, and is not over watered



    Convolvulus sabatius is a member of the Morning Glory family but is nowhere nearly as invasive as the large flowered varieties.  It is a low-growing, spreading plant which is hardy to Zone 8, although my plant came through last winter in spite of being covered with snow for several weeks.  It is a little slow to get going in the spring, but then produces a steady stream of flowers until the first frosts. These are violet-blue in color.  Unlike some of the previously mentioned plants the stems do not root to spread, but arise from the crown of the plant which makes it easy to control.

    These plants aren't the only options available for low-growing color, but they are a good place to start.


    (All photos by author.)

  • The Sneezing Season

    Like many of you, I have been a walking sneeze these past couple weeks. There is a fair chance that I'm single-handedly keeping the antihistamine industry afloat! We're past the elms, grasses and pine pollen season so what's going on?

    Although in late summer we like to blame rabbitbrush and goldenrod for our allergy woes, the most likely culprit is ragweed. With all the rain this year, the ragweed is plentiful. It thrives on disturbed ground which flooding has created more of beyond the usual roads and trails that it's usually found near. I've seen it this year in places I seldom encounter any.

    Ragweeds are found across the USA, but California has its own set of species. There are several species in Inyo and Mono counties, but the one I'm seeing most right now appears to be Ambrosia anthicarpa: annual bursage. 

    All ragweeds are prolific pollen producers. A quick brush against them near Horton Creek covered me (and my dog) in pollen. Sneezes soon followed. 

    At this point, ragweed isn't really controllable. It can be managed earlier in the season with herbicides, but the plants are too far developed for that option. Even if you did manage to control yours, the immense population this year will still release enough pollen to make life difficult for another month.

    My advice now is to try to avoid getting close to it and try to keep your pets out of it if they're the type that likes to snuggle up to you. If you're out hiking around and see some growing, I'd suggest moving to another spot. 

    By Dustin W Blakey
    Author - County Director / Farm Advisor
  • The Grapevine Sphinx Moth: A Guest, Not a Pest!

    Aug 18, 2023
    The cooler weather lately had me performing overdue maintenance in my garden.  Cutting back some flowers on a perennial arugula plant the other night, I came across this stunning moth. Who is that? And the other all-important question I ask of all animals in my garden, no matter their good looks: friend or foe?
    Turns out this one is a friend. Grapevine or Achemon Sphinx Moth, Eumorpha achemon, is fairly uncommon but a native to North America.  It is in the family Sphingidae, the hawkmoths, which is also the family for white-lined sphinx moths and tomato hornworms that are so common in our landscapes and gardens.  It has brown, pink and cream markings that make it look sort of like a dried leaf - a stunning and symmetrical dried leaf!  Adults are nocturnal and live for an average of one month.
    The University of California reports that the huge 3 to 3 1/2 inch caterpillar eats both cultivated and wild grapes - leaves only - and is never common enough to be considered a pest. Its caterpillars look a little like tomato hornworms, and can sometimes be green but are usually a brownish pink color. When fully grown, the caterpillars burrow underground and form a reddish brown pupa the size of a short cigar.
    Apart from this particular moth being beautiful, why should we create habitat in our yards and gardens for moths, even if this means putting up with some holes in our grape leaves? Moths are important, though often overlooked, pollinators for flowering plants. They pollinate flowers that are not visited by bees and can pollinate the same flowers as bees but do so at night. Moths are also an important food source for birds, bats, owls and lizards. 
    Grapevine Sphinx moth is a welcome garden guest - it won't harm your prized tomatoes and will provide you with something beautiful to look at while you weed away the afternoon. 
    A moth on a plant
    For more information: 

  • Now What's the Problem with My Pear?

    Jul 14, 2023


    As winter turned into spring and the 'Bartlett' pear tree flowered and leafed out, I celebrated my great gardening success.  In fact I was jubilant because it looked as though I had finally won the battle against fire blight! For the first time in four years there were none of the telltale signs of this disease - no blackened leaves or "shepherd's crook" stem tips. For a time it looked as though I would never win, but careful pruning and rigorous attention to hygiene had finally paid off.

    My only problem now was how to restore the tree into something that would justify my title of Master Gardener.

    The tree had put on a lot of growth last year, and in typical pear fashion, all the new growth was fastigiate, shooting skywards with nothing but weakly attached, narrow crotch angles around the trunk and vertical stems emanating further out from the old, lateral branches. It looked a complete mess, and in spite of studying this problem over several months I had no idea how to tackle it. I became paralyzed with indecision and did nothing.

    This spring, the tree was covered in flowers and set a good crop, which for once were not damaged with frost rings, and there was still no sign of fire blight. However, as I thinned the fruits I noticed that some of them were distorted, and a few of the leaves were developing blisters and brown spots suggesting that the tree had a new problem: pear blister mites.

    Blister mites are tiny arthropods that overwinter in dormant buds then migrate to the developing leaves which form blisters around the mites, thus protecting them from the effects of sprays or beneficial insects. I had hoped that this infection would be confined to just one or two branches, but this was not to be, and it rapidly spread over the whole tree.

    By this time of year there was no hope of getting any control by spraying, so my next chance will be after harvest, in October or November when the mites travel away from the leaves and take up residence in the developing buds for the winter where they are again protected from the effects of sprays.

    There is a small window of opportunity during this migration, and I will check for mite activity by sampling buds at various intervals and looking at them under a strong magnifying lens in order to monitor mite activity, and then spray to control. In order to comply with organic growing principles the chief methods of control available are either oil sprays or sulfur sprays. Some pears such as comice or Anjou are damaged by sulphur which cuts down on options for those varieties.

    I think that I would rather deal with fire blight!

    Maybe next I will be luckier.


    For more information:


  • Shrubby Cinquefoil: A Plant at Home in High Elevation Gardens

    Jul 10, 2023

    If you want an easy care, hardy addition to your garden, then shrubby cinquefoil is great to consider. It's a tough garden plant that keeps producing its carefree flowers all summer long. The species name was updated to Dasiflora fruticosa, but it is still sold under an older name of Potentilla fruticosa. A native plant to northern United States and Canada as well as Europe and northern Asia, it's well-loved with many cultivated varieties. Shrubby cinquefoil is easy to grow, even in poor soil. For high altitude gardens it tolerates very cold temperatures and handles crushing snow well.

    The masses of single flowers on shrubby cinquefoil are described as cheerful blooms that resemble buttercups.  While plants with bright yellow flowers are often easier to find in garden centers, there are also flower colors ranging from the bright yellow mentioned, to light yellow, white, cream, apricot, coral, pink, and a yellow flower that's tinged with orange. Its flowers are about an inch across, and the shrub produces an abundance of cheery blooms usually from late spring into the fall. Flowering is best when planted in full sun but in the Owens Valley sites with some afternoon shade may be beneficial. Numerous flowers and a long bloom time make this shrub a pretty backdrop to a pollinator and butterfly garden. With low amounts of waxes, oils and resins, shrubby cinquefoil is considered a fair choice in fire prone areas. Any plant will burn so annual pruning of dead branches and removal of dry material is recommended. Pruning to maintain shape or height is best done in spring before flower buds develop.

    Here's a list of features for this hardy shrub that works well in borders, as a foundation plant, or in mass plantings.

    Plant Facts:

    • USDA Hardiness Zone 3 – 7
    • Once established is considered “water wise”
    • Grows well in poor soil
    • Low maintenance
    • Medium fire resistance
    • Easy to grow
    • Few pest problems
    • 3' tall to 6' wide, can be pruned to height
    • Rounded growth habit
    • Dark green, soft pinnate leaves
    • Deciduous
    • Cold hardiness
    • Handles crushing snow
    • Long summer blooming
    • Non-toxic to dogs and cats
    • Cultivated plant flower color choices: bright yellow, light yellow, white, cream, apricot, coral, pink or yellow tinged with orange.



    White cinquefoil
    White cinquefoil

    Four different flower color specimens may be seen at the pocket park at the base of the Mammoth Lakes entrance sign. There you can see bright yellow blooms, light yellow blooms, pink blooms and white blooms during the summer months. To visit, park in the lot for the Police Department and courthouse and walk over to the small water-wise demonstration garden created by the local water district.