As we head into the hottest and driest part of the year, drought is at the forefront of many conversations at TPF. In my last blog post, I described the very existential reality of our current water situation, and how this could play out in terms of Southern California landscaping. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of planning with TPF board, staff and stake holders, media outreach, and many discussions with industry leaders, water agencies, and the general public. I’m happy to say that the nuance and depth of the 2022 drought conversation is pretty consistent across the board. People realize that we need to change our ways when it comes to outdoor water use, and that native plants play an important role in saving water while also creating habitat.

I’m excited to share some of my thoughts on the drought in a free public zoom on Thursday, July 14th at 6:00 PM.  As I do research for the upcoming talk I’m struck by the complexity of water issues in California. Where else does so much intersect? Natural watersheds, extensive infrastructure and delivery systems, farms, gardens, homes, businesses – they all flow together (no pun intended.) I won’t nearly be able to do justice to this topic in an hour, but I look forward to talking about the drought, and the possible future outcomes for Southern California landscapes.

One question we are getting a lot recently is a big one: What should I do with my outdoor space? This is a difficult question to answer because it’s different for everyone, but there is a rule of thumb that can help guide: Spend a bit of time making a plan. That might mean a formal landscape design plan (I encourage taking one of our three part design series where you can work with a professional landscape architect to do just that), or it could mean coming up with a very simple plan such as ‘I’m going to remove my lawn in August, install a new path in September, purchase plants in October and plant in November.’ Doing some upfront thinking will help make the transition easier. Summer is the perfect time to make plans, because it’s not the perfect time to garden. It’s hot and dry, and plants are difficult to establish. If you’re planning a transition from lawn to native landscape we recommend using the summer to think ahead, pick up books, take classes, and check out our planting guides and video content.

There are some major caveats (milkweed, cacti, warm season grasses, container plants, and riparian plants to name a few), but in general, planting is much easier and more successful in the cooler rainy season. If you do plan to buy plants over the summer it will probably be easier to water by hand in containers rather than planting them in the ground. This way, they can be moved to shadier spots, checked for moisture more easily, and watered more efficiently. Once it cools down (usually October-November) the containers can be planted. On that note, for those looking for a deal, and willing to tend to containers over the summer, we’ll be discounting many of our plants by 25% for members and 15% for non-members for the whole month of July. We are growing a whole new crop for the fall and need to clear out space in our nursery. We’ll also be having summer sales on select book store items and clothing.

Outside of home gardens, I’m heartened by the outpouring of enthusiasm for large scale landscape change that I’m seeing throughout the industry, and amongst land managers and leaders. Our California Native Plant Landscaper Certification Program has been moving along nicely. Since its launch in 2020, we’ve delivered the 18 hour course 14 times, and now over 450 professionals are certified native plant landscapers. While the focus during the past two years has primarily been on smaller private landscape businesses, we are working directly with larger organizations to train landscape workers as well and will be ramping those efforts up in the coming months. The LA Dodgers landscape crew received certification, and the entire UCLA grounds crew is taking the training this summer. We’re in conversation with a number of other universities and organizations to help train landscapers on native plant horticulture. Along with that, we’re hard at work on a new web portal for the Southern California landscape industry, which will have some great features for the general public as well. Stay tuned for an upcoming launch.

Back at our headquarters, there’s a twinge of irony in the fact that just as we ramping up our drought related programming and offerings, our irrigation system failed. The old concrete and galvanized steel system has always been finicky, and a month or so ago, it delivered its final watering to our production fields. Our horticulture team, led by Tim Becker and Elmer Luna are hard at work as I write this on a new, more efficient and modernized irrigation system. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience you may experience in the nursery as we replace this critical bit of our own water infrastructure here at TPF. I’m very impressed by the team’s ability to juggle this project, the huge crop of plants they are growing for fall release (currently being watered by hand with garden hoses!), and a whole new production site at Deb’s Park which is under development (stay tuned for more to come on that exciting collaboration with Audubon Center!)

This time of year is usually our slow season, but we are staying very busy. Still we are trying to find time to reflect. Summer in the native plant garden is a great time to slow down, look ahead, and make plans for when the rains return. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing here at TPF during the next few months. I’m excited for all sorts of new endeavors, and especially to continue working with our community to use the drought to leverage a more biodiverse, beautiful and sustainable landscape in Southern California. In the meantime, stay cool, and see you in Sun Valley!