Right plant right place for Southern California landscapes

What Should We Plant in Our Landscape?

By |2019-10-23T08:54:09-07:00October 23rd, 2019|Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education|

Wondering what plants to choose for your associations renovation? Register here for our seminar focusing on landscapes for HOA sites!

Topics include plant choices for specific areas, risk management in the landscape, landscape specifications and maintenance contracts, and a landscape walkthrough on site with Tiffany Faulstich of Botanicon and Brad Brown of Tree Life Consulting.

Fri. Nov. 15 11am-4pm at Stonecrest Village Recreation Center, 3110 W. Canyon Ave., San Diego CA 92123. See you there!

What Size Container Stock Should I Plant in my Landscape?

By |2019-10-10T12:59:59-07:00October 10th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Trees|

Bigger Plants Are Not Always Better

Because we are coming upon the best planting season of the year, fall, let’s talk about container plant sizes. Plant material comes in a range of container sizes, 1, 5 or 15 gallon, 24″, 36″ 48″ boxes and up, and some species come bare root in the winter.

The natural human instinct of instant gratification leads many clients to ask for larger sized container plant stock at initial installation. I can see why, you get an instant landscape without the wait. Many think, why plant a small tree when I can just get a more mature one installed without having to wait for it to grow?

For sites I consult on, I encourage clients to use the smallest container size possible. Here’s why…

  1. Establishes a supportive root system in native soil early on. Plant roots will leave the initial planting hole and seek water and nutrients in their permanent environment a lot faster and more efficiently from a smaller sized container.
  2. Research has shown that plants and trees from smaller container stock establish quicker and their growth outpaces larger container stock in a matter of 2-3 years.
  3. Less foreign material (potting soil) which is of different texture and moisture holding capacity than native soil.
  4. Less root circling and girdling from growing in a container for too long. These common maladies of container stock often spell a slow, painful decline and eventual death of the plant or tree.
  5. Easy to inspect the root systems in order to accept or reject the plants selected.
  6. Pruning and training plants and trees from a young age to develop a strong form, structure and shape. Nursery pruning of container stock often leads to growth defects and necessitates corrective or restorative pruning.
  7. Initial installation costs are much lower. Plant replacement cost years down the road are much lower from decline and death. And who does not like to save money in both the short and long term?

I have inspected many sites where I can just pull out the plant from the ground, where the roots never left the planting hole. Or sites where the tree just wiggles back and forth in the planting hole, with no structural or supportive roots venturing out into the native soil. These were all plants of large initial container size.

On the other hand, I have also planted bare root and 1 or 5 gallon trees and their growth 3 years after planting is far superior to any larger plant.

So, choose your species wisely to match the soil conditions of your site and plant the smallest plant possible. Be patient, your efforts will be rewarded with healthy, aesthetically pleasing and well shaped landscape trees and shrubs!

Fall is the Best Time for Landscape Planting

By |2019-09-14T17:38:10-07:00September 14th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Callistemon - white

Establishing new landscape plantings is most successful if timed right

Here in San Diego and Southern California, we are coming up on the best season for planting landscape trees, shrubs, perennials, turf and ground covers. On large homeowner association, estate and municipal sites, it is difficult to have a good new plant establishment rate without extra care like additional watering and monitoring. That extra care takes time away from what the grounds staff is already responsible for maintaining on site.

If your property is investing in landscape plant upgrades, be sure you have a plan and schedule in place for fall planting. It will save your site money in plant replacement costs, extra water usage, and staff time devoted to plant “babysitting.”

Why is fall the best time for landscape planting?

  1. The days are shorter. Plants have less time to loose water via transpiration through their leaf surfaces, and soil moisture loss is decreasing.
  2. Temperatures are cooler. Plants will require less water less frequently than during hot days to maintain health and vigor.
  3. The angle of the sun is lower. Plant stress from direct, overhead hot sun rays is minimized.
  4. The soil is still warm. Plant roots will establish more rapidly in warmer soil vs. cool soil.
  5. The rain is coming (hopefully). Plant watering on a large scale is more efficient and of higher quality when provided by nature.

So time your landscape upgrades for fall, preferably after the first measurable rain to help flush salt accumulation from the soil. Your plants will establish roots better and suffer less stress if you plan ahead. Need a planting plan, consultation or project monitoring? Just ask!

Want to Learn More About Plants?

By |2019-07-02T18:57:51-07:00July 2nd, 2019|Plant Selection, Training and Education|

I’ll be teaching OH 170 Plant Materials: Trees and Shrubs again Fall Semester at Cuyamaca College. Class starts August 21. We will be having some of our class meetings at Balboa Park, the best place in San Diego to learn about woody plants!

OH 170 Informational Flyer
Please email me with any questions. We hope to see you there!

5 Takeaways From Our Garden Tour

By |2019-07-02T18:29:40-07:00July 2nd, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Training and Education|

Botanicon leads tour of the Water Conservation Garden

A couple weeks ago Botanicon led a tour of the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, CA. Our focus was educating HOA Board members and Property Managers on low maintenance, water wise plant choices for their communities. And who doesn’t like to get outside and look at beautiful plant specimens? Thank you to all who attended and sponsored our event.

  • Weeping bottlebrush
  • Protea flowers
  • Toyon
  • Mesquite tree
  • Pink melaleuca
  • Grevillea cultivars
  • Acacia 'Cousin Itt'

What is Wrong With My Plant?

By |2019-07-10T14:48:57-07:00June 8th, 2019|Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education|

Diagnosing Landscape Plant Problems

All landscapes have plant health issues which arise. A question I am often asked is what is going on and how do I fix it? Some landscape plant health concerns are easy to identify, an aphid infestation for example. Often times issues have more than one causal agent. Abiotic factors many times will lead to biotic issues. Right plant, right place is applicable here.

An abiotic factor is a causal agent which is non-living, such as watering, soil conditions, chemical use, aeration, mechanical damage, etc. Biotic causal agents are living organisms, such as whiteflies, oak root rot, bacterial leaf scorch.

In order to fix the plant problem, it is critical to have an accurate diagnosis. Just like a medical doctor would do during a patient visit, many questions need to be asked and answered for us to be confident about what is going on. Ineffective treatments arise from inaccurate diagnoses.

Because plants and trees can not tell us what is going on, like a medical patient would, we need to ask lots of questions and look for answers to determine a diagnosis. What are the symptoms? A symptom is the plants reaction to a causal agent – stunting, chlorosis, spots, tissue death. Are there signs? Signs are a physical presence of a pest – excrement, casings, mushrooms, frass.

Questions about the plants location, species susceptibility, care, environment, irrigation, planting methods, etc. need to be answered. We are investigators looking for clues to point us towards a diagnosis. Then a treatment plan can be formulated.

Using a systematic, methodical, question based approach is the only way to approach diagnosing landscape plant problems with confidence. Here is a slide show I presented at a recent seminar which outlines the process. Need a consultation and diagnosis? Just ask us!

Nice Plant Selection #2

By |2019-05-14T19:26:37-07:00May 14th, 2019|Plant Selection, Trees|

A Great Small Tree Selection for Spring Blooms

Tired of seeing the same trees being used over and over again? Tree species diversity is important to the urban forest, so let’s mix up the planting palette. Chionanthus retusus, or Chinese fringe tree, is blooming here in San Diego, and what a show! I took these photos about a week ago when I hit the brakes at the sight of these blooms.

This tree is useful in the landscape because of it’s small size at maturity, less than 25′. Although it is not drought tolerant, it is useful for patios, lawn and garden settings. It’s striking show of fragrant white flowers in spring-summer is followed by yellow fall color and small red berries which attract birds. Chinese fringe tree grows in clay to loam soils in full sun or part afternoon shade in warmer areas. Another tree I love to see growing and being planted!

SelecTree. “Chionanthus retusus Tree Record.” 1995-2019. May 14, 2019.
< https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/chionanthus-retusus >

Costs of Over-Planting

By |2019-05-07T08:20:35-07:00May 6th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Sidewalk with adjacent ornamental grass plantings

People love lush landscapes and instant gratification. Clients of landscaped sites want that full garden look from day one. Property owners, contractors and landscape architects achieve this by densely populating the ground with plant material, regardless of species size at maturity. It sells and leases properties, plain and simple.

But what are the long term costs? And is this sustainable? When asked to review site planting plans or conduct turnover inspections, we regularly advise clients to reduce planting density or remove plants which are already in the ground. Gasp!!!


  1. Maintenance: Costs of constantly pruning plants to contain their size at maturity is a waste of resources. Over-planted sites require multiple pruning visits each year, even forcing contractors to use the dreaded hedge trimmer where it does not belong.
Ornamental grass cut back
Miscanthus sinensis (silver grass) annual pruning Feb. 2019
Ornamental grasses
Same Miscanthus sinensis May 2019. This species at maturity is at least 3′-4′ tall and wide. A reduction in the number of plants used would not have even been noticed.

2. Water: Plants compete for water resources. An over-planted site requires more water, much of it wasted by plants blocking the sprinklers.

Sprinklers throughout this site are blocked by plant material. Note the two different sprinkler heads. Both situations lead to issues with water distribution uniformity=WASTE

3. Soil: Plant roots compete for soil space. More roots, less soil, more water use, more fertilizer use.

4. Waste: Clippings from pruned plants must be raked up, removed and hauled away, as most large landscapes do not have their own composting operation on site (we wish they did). Labor and fuel resources are wasted, even if the eventual destination is a municipal compost facility.

The long term costs for maintenance, water and waste removal get passed along to the end user – the property owner, municipality or community.

Dietes grandiflora (fortnight lily) looking normal for the species Feb. 2019. Size at maturity 3′-4′ tall and wide. There must be at least 600 of these on this site.
Same fortnight lilies after they are cut back. The landscape contractor is really left with no other option. Horticultural recommendations call for this species to be dug up and divided every 4 years or so. Not with +600 plants!

Comparison of planting densities and maintenance costs over time for the Miscanthus sinensis (silver grass) planted in late 2013



  • 250 ea. of species planted from 5-gallon stock
  • Cost per 5-gallon plant installed $35
  • Cost per 1-gallon plant installed $14
  • Time per plant to cut to the ground, clean up, and haul debris once per year: 5 minutes/5-gallon plant
  • Time per plant to cut to the ground, clean up, and haul debris once per year: 3.5 minutes/1-gallon plant
  • Maintenance labor rate per hour: $25

As you can see, costs over time for a less densely planted site using smaller container sizes saves money and resources. The costs indicated are for maintenance alone, not including water wasted, plants dying for lack of irrigation coverage or root competition, composting, etc. Many plants actually establish and grow better when a smaller container size is used at planting.

An aesthetically appealing, resource friendly landscape is within reach if we formulate planting plans and densities with species selection, growth rate and size at maturity as the main driving force. This is a more sustainable landscape approach. Properties will still sell and lease if done thoughtfully.

Nice Plant Selection!

By |2019-04-03T12:05:39-07:00March 22nd, 2019|Plant Selection|

Pink Trumpet Trees Are Starting to Bloom

I love seeing this tree being planted. This is a great street, courtyard or park tree for frost free landscapes. Handroanthus heptaphyllus produces pink flowers in the spring before its canopy leafs out, a nice early season accent to a landscape. Best of all, this tree tolerates most soil types as long as they drain well, likes sunny warm locations, its roots are not invasive and it is not bothered much by pests. Have these trees pruned lightly for good structure when they are young, giving them good branching and directed growth as they mature. A great plant choice!