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Landscaping in the Lower Foothills

By Mark S. Olson of GardenCrafters Landscape & Design

The climate of the lower foothills is similar to that of the Sacramento Valley. The differences are that here in the foothills it is colder in the winter, it receives more precipitation and it is slightly cooler in the summer.

The main factor that influences the localized climate is the topography. Does your house sit on a south or west-facing slope? Is it at the bottom of a ravine or at the top of a hill? These and other questions must be considered when selecting plants for your landscape.

If you are on a south or west- facing slope you probably can grow most of the hardy sub-tropical plants  that you are accustomed to in the valley. If you are in a ravine or on an east or north-facing slope, you would want to be more careful in plant selecting, as your site will experience more total hours of freezing temperatures. If you are at the top of a hill you could experience potentially damaging winds and may want to incorporate wind breaks into your landscape plan. And if you are at a high enough elevation you could get occasional snow!

In addition to climate considerations, soil factors will influence your landscaping choices. The soil here tends to be poor and rocky in nature. This not only makes it difficult to work with, but effects what you might plant. For irrigation you may
want to consider a drip system as this would eliminate large amounts of trenching. Because of the poor nature of the soil, you may want to amend it if you plan to grow shallow-rooted plants such as Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons. We would highly recommend the use of an organic mulch. Not only does it improve the soil as it breaks down, but it helps to retain moisture and keep the weeds under control.

Water is a precious commodity in El Dorado County and is metered. It is recommended that you choose drought resistant plants when designing your landscape. There are dozens and dozens of beautiful species to choose from. It is best to view your lot with “zones” in mind whereby plants closest to your home and patio areas would be comprised of the more water thirsty plants. As you move away from the house, the “zones” become more progressively drought resistant. Don’t feel that you will be unable to have a lawn. Just keep it small and practical.

When selecting your plants, drought resistant ones or others, it is important to know the climate restrictions for this area. The New Western Garden Book by Sunset Magazine is an excellent resource. Planting zones for our area are 7 and 9 but there are transition areas between the two so don’t be afraid to experiment. Ask your neighbors and local nurseries for tried and true favorites.

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