Protect Pollinators: Don’t Plant Poison Apples

🍊🥑🍋UPDATE!!! Pollinator-safe citrus and other fruit trees can be ordered (and shipped) to you directly from Four Winds Growers! By law, they have to spray NeoNics on all the trees they send to nurseries or garden centers, but NOT on trees they ship directly to your garden. They have a great selection, too.


Metaphorically, that is. Pretty, healthy looking plants from your local nursery may have been treated with pesticides that have turned every part of them, including their nectar and pollen, into tasty poison that will either kill bees outright, interfere with their ability to fly, and/or inhibit their reproduction. And not just bees, these pesticides hurt butterflies and other pollinators and also travel up the food chain to song birds, bats, and other insectivores. As one article says, we are experiencing a “Second Silent Spring.”

A recent study from UC Riverside showed conclusively that NeoNicatonoids, widely-used insecticides introduced in the 1980s, are turning our landscape plants into poisoned apples. They may look lovely and grow well, but from their roots to their pollen, they are bad news for bees. Because of this, we will only be purchasing plants directly from growers that certify their plants are NeoNic free. I am also working with local nurseries to make sure that they are aware of this issue, and encouraging them to keep our neighborhood safe for pollinators.

The Los Angeles Times had a great article about this in their 8/19/21 issue.

And if you can’t get through their paywall, here’s a link to UCR’s coverage of this report, and another article about this in EcoWatch.

The Xerces Society has lots of great information about this issue, including safer alternatives. Here’s a link to their recommendations.

🌱💯% Neo-Nic Free, Bee Friendly Plant Sources 🎋🐝🌼🦋

You can purchase plants directly from these local growers or ask your local nursery to order from them for you. I will update this post with more Southern California plant growers as I continue my calls. Check the websites – these are not all open to the public, and those that are have limited hours.

DIY Plant Food

Compost is the best, and I love my worm bin, but I’m also a fan of the easy recycle. My coffee grounds go straight to my soil (they are high in Nitrogen, which is great for the citrus trees, onions, and leafy greens). Now that my first tomato has appeared, I hit the interwebs to refresh my tomato care knowledge. Peppers and tomatoes don’t want a lot of extra Nitrogen while they’re growing, but they do need other nutrients. It turns out that a good source of those is banana peels. I try to spend the extra pennies to buy organic, and my family eats a lot of bananas, so I’m all over this. Here’s a link to a great blog post covering how to make your own (super easy) banana peel fertilizer, and also explaining the biology and chemistry of it all. Happy Gardening!

Citrus Health

Image Source: 
4/25/2020 map of HLB infection of Citrus Trees in Los Angeles – areas in red are under (HLB) quarantine and residents in these zones are advised not to plant new citrus trees and to remove all existing citrus trees

Today’s LA Times features an article about this relatively new, untreatable bacterial disease, HLB, that kills citrus trees and is spread by an invasive psyllid. This article “Fight Bugs with Bugs” suggests protecting your trees by actively fighting ant colonies in your garden and also attracting parasitic wasps to your trees because these small wasps will kill the psyllid and thus stop the spread of the bacteria they carry. These are both great ideas, and much better than spraying toxic insecticides which will kill all pollinators, preventing pollination (and fruiting) and killing the wasps we need for protection from many pests. Alyssum, widely available and easy to grow, is suggested as a nectar source, and this will do. However, alyssum is also listed as an invasive plant in Southern California, so there are better options. Instead, try one of our many native or hybrid Salvia (Sage) options. These will stand up to the summer heat, bring lots of beneficial pollinators to your garden, and there are varieties that will be happy growing in sun or shade, under your tree canopy.

Resources + Sources

Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) will grow well in sun or shade, attracting Hummingbird and other pollinators much of the year with its bright pink flower spikes.

Happy Client

Sometimes, we start our garden design from a patch of dirt. Sometimes, we just tidy up existing gardens. We update the irrigation, add fresh plants and mulch, and maybe lighting. This garden got a makeover right before the winter holidays, and our happy client sent us the email below.

“I’m sitting in my little office which looks out on the garden, and it is just so beautiful I had to write.  The sights and smells out there are divine, and yesterday we were visited by a mob of butterflies that I think are Painted Ladies!
I put in some Mister Lincoln roses, who seem really happy here, and I’ve pruned the guava “tree” down to large-bush size, which will suit the garden better.  The Anna apples look wonderful and both the Redbud and Pomegranate seem to be thriving.
I will send pix around Eastertime when all is in bloom.  Meanwhile, thanks again for a lovely job!
Warmly, Susie

Mid-Summer view, plants filling in and full of flowers (also hummingbirds and butterflies).
Terraced garden, after cleanup, irrigation update, and winter planting
(Summer view, from the other side)
Rain Gardens, yes

Rain Gardens, yes

Lots of rain this year in Los Angeles! We’ve been installing rain gardens all over the Eastside for several years now. It’s been fun watching them fill during the storms.  Instead of rushing into the city storm drains, and then straight to the ocean, this nitrogen-rich, chlorine-free storm water is harvested in the gardens. It is quickly absorbed into the garden soil, where it will be available to the surrounding plants and trees as they need it for months to come. Here are photos of some of the rain garden swales we’ve installed…

All three gardens, above, harvest water from the roof gutters. We connected downspouts to the swales via underground drainpipes. Now the water is dispersed and absorbed. Extra water will filter through the soil into aquifers.


To calculate how much water you can harvest, estimate the square footage of your house footprint. Divide that by 12 to determine cubic feet of rain, in a 1” rainstorm. Then multiply that number by 7.48 to get the number of gallons of water falling on your whole roof in an average 1” storm. Note that LA gets between 5” – 30” of rain/year, averaging 15” annually. You can also divide the roof into the sections that feed each downspout to calculate the number of gallons per downspout.

Here’s a link to the City of LA LID codes and instructions:

Garden Bats

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 4.26.35 PM

We found this little Mouse-Eared bat sleeping outside a garage in Seattle, a few summers ago.

Recently, a client requested a bat-friendly garden. We’ve designed kid-friendly, dog-friendly, bee-friendly (and un-friendly for bee-allergic), and certainly bird & butterfly-friendly. Bat-friendly was a new one!

Bats are helpful predators, eating insects we don’t want in our gardens. They eat mosquitos and other pests, including scorpions and roaches. They are also effective pollinators.

Adding bat boxes, a water source, keeping big healthy trees and shrubs for perching all encourage bat visitors. Plants that bloom and/or release fragrance at night are enticing, as are plants with pale blooms and broad open flowers. Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet) is topping my plant list, followed by California Evening Primrose. I’ve seen one in my garden, visiting my large Solandra maxima (Cup of Gold Vine) flower

Also avoid pesticides and herbicides, of course.


Dog-Friendly Garden Tidy-up

statsky before&after 2statskybefore&after3statskybefore&after 6statskybefore&after 4

Starting with: bare dirt, wild vines, and existing decks.

What did we design? First, we worked out the grade change by adding a short garden wall and steps and cleaned up the vines. Next, drip irrigation, concrete pavers and a fossil-fuel-free EcoSmart firepit created outdoor living spaces, which needed some new outdoor furniture (we love Pot-Ted!).

Plants make the garden, so we started a soil party (by planting Myco-Packs with each plant), planted climate appropriate, low-water, dog-proof plants, and topped it all with a thick, healthy layer of mulch to feed the soil, limit evaporation, and keep everyone clean.

Ending: No! Now the fun starts for our clients, their dog, and their healthy new garden.

Here’s what the garden does:

    + Captures and infiltrates stormwater, eliminating site run-off and the need for imported water.
    + Produces lemons, apples, shade, habitat, flowers, and year-round color.
    + Requires limited maintenance: Paths, decks and stairs should be swept weekly, with all leaf debris spread around on existing mulch. Minor weeding will be required as everything settles in, and after seasonal rains. Trees and vines will need yearly pruning.
    + Requires limited inputs: Efficient drip irrigation is required to establish new plants, and then provide supplemental water in drought years, just twice a month. Light fixtures are LED and both super efficient and dimmable (with an app!).
    + Dog playground! Mulch keeps paws clean, limits flees, and provides a safe landing for rolling and frolicking. Plants are all sturdy and can stand an enthusiastic pit bull running into and through them.