• Gardening around new construction in the Sierra foothills

    by  • July 12, 2012 • Garden, Home Building • 3 Comments

    Starting from scratch

    Laying out garden beds in clay and decomposed granite is the way you start when faced with new construction in the Sierra Foothills.  How do you possibly begin a garden?

    Many house pads are scraped clear of topsoil and planting is not easy without replacing all the soil. Add as much mulch, oak leaves and other leaf litter to the soil that remains.

    If you don’t know what to plant, lay down a couple inches of good mushroom compost or a mixture of several types of soil amendments and pine mulch.  Pine needles and oak leaves can be used since they naturally are found here in our hills.

    2010 Mulch and inexpensive log edgings

    Mulch and inexpensive log edgings

    I marked out garden beds around the house with logs left over from firewood we cut.  This also served to mark where the weedeater was not to go.

    2006-6 Patio garden

    2006-6 Patio garden

    Learn as much as you can while your beds ‘sleep.’  Do you have deer, gophers or rabbits? Will you need a fence for a vegetable garden? Do you have oaks and pines which want little planted underneath?  Do you need shade?

    2007-1 Patio garden and deer

    2007-1 Patio garden and deer


    Sequoia sempervirens Coast Redwood 'Soquel'

    Sequoia sempervirens Coast Redwood ‘Soquel’

    Trees first

    If you need trees planted, think about whether they should be evergreen or deciduous.  Deciduous trees can offer shade in summer and allow sun when winter comes. Plant them on the south or west of your home. We planted a beautiful evergreen Sequoia ‘Soquel’ at the head of our driveway which now provides shade for parked cars. Sequoias grow fast can can solve privacy problems when neighbors are close.

    Front beds before, in 2006

    Decide where shrubs can be planted. use groupings of three or five different ones as a ‘backbone.’  Then when they are installed, you can think about perennials, ground covers and annuals. My three or five, were a Muhgo pine, a weeping spruce and Oregon grape, a holly-looking CA native.  I also planted three or four ground cover junipers in these front beds on either side of the front door.

    2006-6 Front garden bed

    2006-6 Front garden bed


    2006-6 Front garden

    2006-6 Front garden


    2007-6 Front garden

    2007-6 Front garden


    2007-6 Front garden beds

    2007-6 Front garden beds


    2008-5 Front entry

    2008-5 Front entry

    Front garden beds, just one year later

    Back entry, before in 2006

    2006-6 Back entry

    2006-6 Back entry with widely spaced plants in a mulched bed for neatness while the plants grow!

     Back entry after, in 2007

    2006-7 Back entry

    2006-7 Back entry

    Friends in our Mountain Community around Oakhurst come in the back door! I planted a Bird’s nest spruce, a redbud tree and a Wallflower, ‘Bowle’s Mauve.’ I found at Intermountain Nursery a couple six packs of Germander, Teucrium chamaedrys ‘Prostratum’, which has performed splendidly as a ground cover and filled in all the space between the shrubs.

    2011 Back entry

    2011 Back entry

    South garden beds and slope

    The bedroom end of the house faces south and also has the smallest windows for less heat in summer.  Although I did not replace the soil for these ‘close to the house’ beds, I regret that because it has delayed the growth of the plants due to compacted poor soil, filled with concrete rubble. On this side of our house one ‘Iceberg’ climbing rose is climbing and the other has just sat. I have added loads of mulch and manure to the soil, turning this over each year to slowly improve it.

    South end of the house, before in 2006

    2006-5 South end planted with wildflowers and two climbing Iceberg roses.

    2006-5 South end planted with wildflowers and two climbing Iceberg roses.


    2007-6 South end

    2007-6 South end beds filled with Rudbeckia, which crowded out all the other wildflowers

    Front Bank

    Many of us have clay banks with retaining walls, built because our house place is on a slope.  These banks are hot, dry and a big problem to get anything started!  I began by raking the native leaf litter, anything around, onto the bank to cover the bare clay. I planted manzanita, creeping sage and Foothill penstemon.  they have started slowly, but now after five years are reaching full size.  The Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’ has done especially well in hard clay. other good plants for banks are rockrose, rosemary and lavender.

    Front Bank, before in 2006

    2006-6 Bank with deer

    2006-6 Bank with deer who pass up the first lavender and rosemary planted there. These need only monthly water.


    2006-6 Bank

    2006-6 Front Bank


    2011-9 Front bank

    2011-9 Front bank, planted with a lavender field, rosemary, lavender, manzanita, creeping sage ‘Bee’s Bliss’ and foothill penstemon.


    lavender in full bloom grows well in the gravely soil

    2014 Lavender in full bloom grows well in the gravely soil


    2014 Lavender field

    2014 Lavender field

    Back garden slope

    2006-6 South garden bank

    2006-6 Back garden bank


    2006-6 Back slope

    2006-6 Back slope needs deep rooted plants to hold it and prevent erosion.  One drip line with sprayers was installed at the top.


    2008-4 Back garden slope

    2008-4 Back garden slope


    2008-4 Back slope

    2008-4 Back slope


    2008-5 Back slope

    2008-5 Back slope with lavender, rosemary, rockrose, aster, rose, Cleveland sage, santolina, atemisia and Jeruselem sage.

    Ask neighbors with what they have had success, but don’t be discouraged if they say, “Nothing is resistant to deer, or that they have ‘no luck with anything.’  It is possible to read and learn from experienced enthusiastic gardeners to have a beautiful, colorful garden for your new home.  See my deer resistant and drought resistant plant lists for a start.= to a beautiful, easy care garden.

    The back slope now, lime green Artemisia, Rosemary, Rockrose, yellow Jerusalem sage, Iris, Lavender and Butterfly bush

    2014 The back slope , lime green Artemisia, Rosemary, Rockrose, yellow Jerusalem sage, Iris, Lavender and Butterfly bush

    Many of my plants came from Intermountain Nursery. They specialize in CA native and other plants perfect for our foothills with a Mediterranean climate. Western Sierra Nursery also has many plants that are deer resistant and in our zones 6-8.  True Value Home Center in Oakhurst, where I work this summer, has a drought tolerant section with plants meant for our hot dry season.

    Nov 2013- Newsy note:  I’m finding out just how easy care my garden is this year with 40 hours cut out of my usual gardening week!  The weeding was done in a week or two on days off and now if I can keep to a hand-watering schedule for the newest plants in the lower native gardens, I believe that they will all make it through the hottest weather.

    I’m still mulching with a thick layer of pine needles, acquired free from friends in Bass Lake where they need to remove them from their roofs by law.

    *Updated August 2106


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    3 Responses to Gardening around new construction in the Sierra foothills

    1. July 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Looks like the frontback is coming along nicely, off topic but I never knew that bats act as anti-mosquito agents. Only ever heard one screech, and it was in my backyard at night during rainfall, we thought it was a cat and our dog at the time ran straight outside in the dark and would NOT stop barking and harassing the little bastard. Hahaha!

      -Carlos Hernandez

    2. July 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

      Wonderful before and after pictures. I just cleared back – again – the encroaching chaparral shrubs from the edge of our south garden – now I have about 40 feet by 12 feet of bare (except roots) dirt to play with, backed by newly – again – revealed manzanita trunks. My thinking cap is on!

      • July 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm

        Thanks, Moosie,…you really have to keep up with things, don’t you? 40×12 feet sounds like a nice area to work with,..enough space for plants to reach their natural size and shape.

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