Hybrid Crepe Myrtles & Barn Owls for Gopher Control

During the sort of heat wave we have experienced this summer, the idea of creating a garden where the focus is on perennials, shrubs and trees, as opposed to water-guzzling lawns, easily gains traction.
In the Valley, however, many of the plants you will want to grow — from salvias to roses, from gardenias to alstroemerias — must have good light. But even when recommended for “full sun,” these will bake without sun protection. In my own front yard, which faces west, I have found that the `Fauriei’ crape myrtle hybrid is the perfect tree for heat mitigation. Planted in the parkway strip between sidewalk and street, this tree does a wonderful job of blunting the edge of the afternoon sun.
At the same time, `Fauriei’ has a growth habit that is open enough to allow sufficient light penetration to keep everything planted nearby in bloom. `Fauriei’ varieties, unlike the more common and dense-canopied crape myrtle types, are mildew- resistant and are usually seen in pink, lavender or white. A white-flowered variety called `Fantasy,’ with smooth, breathtaking bark in cinnamon, orange and red, is also occasionally encountered.
When the temperature reaches triple digits, it may be necessary to soak certain plants with a hose. Where sprinkler coverage is truly uniform throughout the garden, however, extra watering should not be needed. Water twice every morning, at 4 and 8 a.m., for example. Each area should be watered for five to 15 minutes at a time (for a total of 10 to 30 minutes), depending on whether spray or rotary sprinklers are in use.
Q: For the last 10 years, my backyard has had lots of gopher mounds. I have done everything possible to get rid of them, but nothing works. We have decided to redo our backyard this year, but I don’t want to pave the whole yard to get rid of the gophers. My backyard is on a small hill. What should I do before I install new flower beds and a new lawn?
— Sophia Barkhoudarian,West Hills
A: You may succeed in overcoming this problem by digging up the entire area you wish to plant to a depth of 2 feet and then laying down half-inch mesh poultry wire or hardware cloth before putting the earth back in place. Make sure that you bend the outside edge of the wire so that it extends up to ground level. While gophers can dig as deep as 6 feet, roots that sustain lawn grasses, annual flowers and many perennials are found within the top foot or two of the soil profile. When planting individual shrubs or trees in gopher-infested terrain, you will need to create a wire basket or cage around the root ball of each.
If you have an enormous expanse to landscape, and putting a wire barrier under everything is impractical, you might consider creating lawn or planter islands rather than covering the entire area with vegetation. Planted areas can be separated by swaths of decorative gravel, pebbles or mulch. You might even consider the botanical garden approach, where individual or small groups of plants, whether exotic or simply pleasing to your own eyes, are combined in a harmonious design.
Irrigation is achieved with bubblers or drip emitters that discretely water your selected species and nothing more, rather than by sprinklers that throw water all over the place.
Where you would otherwise plant lawn or ground cover, put down decomposed granite, crushed brick or cedar mulch.
In nature, gophers are active in spring and fall when the soil is easiest to dig. In irrigated gardens and landscapes, however, they are active throughout the year. It makes sense that a sparsely watered garden of specimen plants, with bubblers, drippers or mini-sprinklers in place, would be less attractive to gophers than a heavily irrigated landscape.
I do not know if you have dogs or cats, but there is evidence that suggests that these pets — especially when you have several of them roaming the yard — may provide a significant measure of gopher control. You can also encourage barn owls, which are always in the vicinity searching for gophers and other rodents, to take up residence in your backyard by building a nesting box for them. Find instructions for doing so at www.rain.org/

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