Gazania and Other Water-Wise Selections

salmon pink gazania

salmon pink gazania

There are lessons to be learned from the commercial landscape on the corner of Milbank Street and Sylmar Avenue, just east of Van Nuys Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. This landscape offers a hint of pleasant horticultural things to come in our world of shrinking budgets and increased water rates.
The plants in this landscape will do fine with once-a-week or, at most, twice-a-week, watering. Most of the plants here are native to New Zealand, South Africa and parts of Australia, places on the map whose Mediterranean climate – cool and minimally rainy winters and long, hot, dry summers – mirrors our own climate here in Southern California.
What you notice first about this landscape is the brilliant color, compliments of a rainbow selection of gazania cultivars. Starting in the 1960s and for about 20 years after that, gazanias were the kings of ground cover in our part of the world. They bloomed with strong colors and seemed to grow in almost any kind of soil as long as they got lots of sun.
But few people knew how to take care of them, and they did not last long in the garden. Also, there are trends in garden design just like there are trends in interior design, architecture and dress, and for years gazanias have just not been fashionable. With their vivid, unapologetic presentation, some would label gazanias too brash for the understated style favored by many garden designers.
As their flower form clearly shows, gazanias belong to the daisy family. Available in yellow, orange, burgundy, copper and white, gazanias flower throughout the year, especially when they are regularly cut to the ground with a string-trimmer (weed-eater) or hedge shears. There are trailing (Gazania leucolanea) and clumping (Gazania splendens) types. Trailers may have either gray or green foliage.
When should gazanias be sheared back? Just when they are looking their most glorious. If you allow flowers to remain on the plant once they start to fade, this will stop them from flowering since all their energy will be spent on forming seeds. By the same token, allowing the plants to go to seed could result in self-sowing and proliferation of your gazania garden, especially in the clumping types. Excessive leaf growth also inhibits flowering, so keep fertilization to a bare minimum and cut back foliage when it begins to run rampant.
The key to growing gazanias successfully is exercising restraint where watering is concerned. Once established in the garden, they are highly susceptible to soil fungus disease when they are over- watered.
Keep in mind that in their native South Africa, gazanias receive no precipitation during the summer. In hot weather, excessive watering activates soil fungi that kill gazanias and other plants, such as California natives, that are not used to excess moisture in the root zone during summer months. Once they are well-rooted, the life of gazanias will be extended by watering them no more than once a week.
Other plants in this Sherman Oaks landscape, together with tips on growing them, include: Australian rosemary (Westringia), a relative of ordinary rosemary (Rosmarinus) with gray green foliage and white or lavender flowers that are on display all year long; fortnight lily (Dietes), clumps of spear-shaped leaves that are frequently chlorotic and are fortified by regular application of iron sulfate or Ironite fertilizer; bronze-leafed hopseed bush (Dodonaea), a very short-lived perennial; needle-leafed and spidery-flowered Grevillea, which dies when fertilized with phosphorus; blue oat grass (Helicotrichon sempervirens), a fountainesque grass more interesting and durable than blue fescue but more water needy than the other plants in this landscape.

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