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Superstars of the Garden

Superstars of the Garden

by Carolee James

Although we are still in winter mode, many gardeners are planning new additions to their gardens this spring. With the possibility of lower amounts of rainfall than average, choosing plants that are drought tolerant and that enjoy our dry, hot summers can be a real challenge. The UC Davis Arboretum has tested and now provides a list of one hundred plants that thrive in the Central Valley. They would also be successful in the Mother Lode. These plants are the Arboretum All-Stars.

To become an Arboretum All-Star a plant must: be attractive for most of the year, thrive in Central Valley conditions, and be tested in the UC Davis Arboretum. Many of the All-Stars are also low maintenance, drought tolerant, or attract beneficial wildlife. The All-Stars are plants that are easy to grow, don´t need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases and have outstanding qualities in the garden.

So how do you find these All-Stars? The Arboretum staff has created a very user friendly website at: Arboretum UC Davis.edu On the home page, select Arboretum All-Stars, located on the lower right side of the page. Once on the All-Stars page, the user has several options to choose, including browsing through types of plants, using a database to choose the right plant for your garden situation, and downloading the All-Stars booklet.

The All-Stars database allows you to search for a plant by name or by type (perennials, groundcovers, vines, shrubs and trees), size (small, medium, large), exposure (full sun, part shade, shade), and California native. There are also additional options, such as water needs, flower season, flower color and wildlife value. The search will show all the plants that fit your criteria, including a picture and a brief description. Clicking on the link ´more details´ will provide the following information: Latin and common name, type of plant, size, California native, description, pruning needs, sun exposure, water needs, color, bloom season and wildlife value. Using this search options allows you to find the right plant for the right place in your garden.

If you choose to browse the Arboretum All-Stars, one hundred plants will be available in alphabetical order by Latin name, with a picture and brief description. Clicking on ´more details´ will bring up detailed information about each plant.

The 24 page All-Stars booklet can be printed as a PDF file and provides all the same information, with colored pictures of every plant. The booklet can also be printed by section: Perennials, Groundcovers and Vines, Shrubs, Trees, etc. The booklet contains the location in the Arboretum where the plant is growing. If you choose to visit the Arboretum to see exactly what the plant looks like in a garden setting, the booklet is a must-have as a guide.

There are three other selections to choose from on the All-Stars home page–California natives, water miser plants, and wildlife attracting plants. However, these pages are currently under construction.

Since most of the All-Stars are drought tolerant plants, they help to conserve water, which, in turn, helps reduce run-off from your garden. Runoff can cause erosion and can carry toxic pesticides and other pollutants into storm drains, creeks and rivers. Using mulch around the All-Stars will further conserve soil moisture and reduce run-off. All-Stars can also help you use fewer pesticides because many of them are naturally pest free and provide pest control by attracting beneficial insects that attack pests. When you use fewer pesticides, you decrease the potential for toxic chemicals to reach our local waterways, resulting in better water quality for fish, other wildlife, and people. The California native All-Stars also support native birds, bees and insects.

If you find All-Stars from this website that you wish to plant in your garden, but cannot locate them at local nurseries, the Arboretum holds sales throughout the year where the All-Stars (as well as other uncommon plants they are testing) can be purchased. The first sale in 2009 is on March 14th at the Arboretum´s Teaching Nursery. For a map and directions to the nursery, click on ´Plant Sales´ located on the All-Stars home page.

The Arboretum folks are working with plant growers and nurseries to label plants with an All-Stars flag so they can be easily identified by the gardening community. Staff hopes to have the plant signs in place sometime this year, so be sure to look for Arboretum All-Stars at your favorite nurseries.

Enjoy the localized gardening information made available to us from the UC Davis Arboretum. Their web-site is one that every gardener should visit; it´s sure to become a favorite.

Carolee James has found several All-Stars that she will be looking for at the March sale!