Twelve Gopher-Proof Plants

January 12, 2015

Oh, this little critter… The gopher.


I have a love/hate relationship with this guy. I love that he keeps my dog busy for hours on end, digging and sniffing in the yard. But what I don’t love is coming outside to find a plant on its side, severed at its base. Ugh. It gives me the shivers just typing that. In the nine years that I’ve lived in gopher country, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with plants and I’ve found that there are quite a few lovely, drought-tolerant plants that gophers actually won’t touch! And the best news is that these plants are easily propagated (except for the Golden Barrel Cactus), so you don’t have to spend much money  to fill up your ornamental landscape. All of the succulent varieties can be propagated by taking cuttings and planting them straight into the ground the next day, after the cut has healed and dried a bit. The rosemary can be propagated by taking rooted pieces and transplanting them. These are all great additions to a xeriscape garden.

These are photos of plants from my property in San Diego, which means that our local gophers don’t like ’em. I can’t say if the same applies to gophers in other parts of the country.

1. Sticks of Fire – This is the king of gopher-proof plants. Not only will they not eat it, they tend to stay away from the entire area when you plant this. I have this all over my front yard, and the gopher mounds have ceased to exist. The plant makes a milky, sticky, white sap that is supposed to be very irritating to human skin. I have had it all over my hands and arms with no reaction whatsoever. I hear that my non-reaction is not the norm though.


2. Agave Attenuata – I love this particular agave because its tips are soft. I don’t know of any other agave species out there with soft tips. The rest are like hypodermic needles, so I tend to stay away.


3. Rosemary – The one pictured here is the trailing type. Of the different rosemary types, I like the trailing one most because we live on a slope and it just spills the pretty purple flowers everywhere. Gophers won’t touch rosemary roots.

4. Golden Barrel Cactus – This thing looks the same all year long. It’s always its vibrant yellow self, whether it gets rain or not. It is slow growing and adds a beautiful desert look to my yard.


5. Aeonium “Dinner Plate” – This one gets its name because the florets get huge… Like dinner plates! Gophers won’t get any dinner from this plant though.


6. Aeonium “Kiwi” – You can plant one of these florets and within a couple of years you have a small bush bursting with these vibrantly colored florets all over. Just so lovely!


7. Aeonium arboreum “Tree Aeonium” – These form magnificent clumps. They get leggy after awhile, at which point the pieces fall off the parent plant to put down their own roots. There’s a philosophy lesson in there somewhere.


8. Jade – This one is found all over the place in San Diego county. That doesn’t change my love for this versatile plant. Gophers don’t like it, so therefore I love it. Jade makes a great bonsai plant selection, if you’re into that sort of thing.


9. I don’t know the name of this plant. I used to, but I can’t remember anymore. I think it is some sort of crassula (jade), but that could be wrong. Does anyone out there know? It makes these pretty orange flowers in the middle of winter!


10. Elephant plant – This is also in the crassula (jade) family. It is great as a clipped hedge. If you let it grow naturally, it becomes a large and irregularly shaped bush.


11. Crassula tetragona – This is another plant that looks the exact same all year. There is absolutely no frying of the edges anywhere in the scorching 100+ degree summers we have here in east San Diego county. It just goes along its merry way looking hydrated somehow. I love this plant! It is quite sculptural and is beautiful potted.


12. And last but not least… Bulbine frutescens – Also known as “burn jelly plant.” You can read all about this plant in another blog post, where I discuss its virtues as a skin healer.


Bulbine Frutescens – African Burn Jelly Plant | Xeriscape Gardening

May 30, 2014

Yesterday I was frying homemade taquitos in very hot oil and, genius that I am, thought I should remove one of the taquitos with my fingers. I missed and ended up dipping two of my fingers straight into the hot oil, about halfway up my fingernails! OUCH. I yelled for my 3 year old daughter to get me some of the “burn jelly plant” from the yard. She knows what it is because she has seen me use it numerous times on other burns. She brought a piece straight back to me, I squished it with my fingers and slathered the juice all over my burning fingertips. In less than 5 minutes, the burning was gone and I actually could not remember which fingers I had dipped in the oil. I have used aloe vera in the past for burns, but this plant is much better at treating them.


This plant rocks, just for its burn healing properties. But wait, there’s more! It also is great for insect bites/stings, sunburn care, and moisturizing. I like to think of it as a more convenient form of aloe vera. You can take a small leaf of burn jelly plant, rather than hacking off a huge aloe leaf.


It is a succulent plant, native to Africa, and it will grow almost anywhere you put it. I like to plant this wherever other plants won’t grow, like in hard clay soil or south slopes that get too much sun. Don’t let its delicate looks fool you… This is one hardy plant! It’s beautiful spiky leaves give a burst of green in places where other small shrubs won’t make it. In the peak of summer, when it is extremely hot here in east county, the plant will shrivel and turn a very dark green color. It is hibernating and looks like it might be dying. As soon as it gets a few hours of rain, it bounces right back! This plant is perfect for xeriscape and rock gardens!

Here is one of many Bulbines growing on my property, on a sunny south slope

In the winter and spring, an added bonus are the yellow spike flowers that burst up from the plant and sway in the wind. If you dead-head the plant, you’ll get more flowers.


And one last thing. These plants are EASY to propagate, due to their clumping habit. Just remove a clump and replant where you want. If you can get a few roots with the clump, your propagation success is almost guaranteed. Happy xeriscaping!

DIY Kids Seesaw on the Cheap!

August 8, 2012

The seesaw is the dinosaur of the playground: extinct, yet still held in awe by kids the world over. No longer available to the public in its original form (due to a whole host of safety and liability issues), the original seesaw is the perfect DIY project.  My older daughter had been asking for one for a couple of years, and after finding the plans on Ana White’s website I was able to build one cheaply for about $50 in wood and screws.  This was the perfect weekend project, and I was able to use up some leftover paint and fabric to create this nice addition to our yard.

Before we get started on the details, here is my disclaimer: this seesaw is not tested for safety. Get the right two kids on this and there will be bums and brains jarred from the impact created by the ups and downs. Other injuries can occur. Be cautious with fingers in the lever area. Adult supervision is necessary at all times.  I do not have a full materials and cuts list on this post.  For that list, you will need to visit Ana White’s website here.  I modified Ana White’s plans so that all lumber used was 2×6 (no 2x4s were used) to increase durability. I also modified the upright piece height to 3′ (rather than 2′ in the plans) so that the seesaw can accommodate adults (!).

Here we go:
I started with 4 2x6x8 pieces of Douglas Fir lumber and cut them down to the sizes indicated on the plans.

Next, I screwed and glued the uprights to the horizontal pieces.

Fast forward…  I added the remaining horizontal supports to the base, drilled a hole in the uprights, and sandwiched the handlebar supports between the two longest 2x6s to create the seesaw body.  The seesaw body was attached to the uprights using a 10″ bolt with a nut and washers.  I used a piece of copper pipe as a bushing in this hole to minimize stress on the wood of the seesaw body.

Here it all is, taken apart and painted with primer:

We have been enjoying our seesaw every day since we made it!

Ornamental Gardening: Beauty From the Inside Out

May 2, 2012

When I see an ornamental garden that many people would consider beautiful, I pause to think of the inputs required to achieve that exterior beauty.  The more inputs required to achieve and maintain its appearance, the less beautiful the garden becomes to me.  As I tour through someone’s garden, I ask myself these questions:

  • Does this garden, for the most part, sustain itself in the environment?
  • In a year of drought, how would this garden fare?
  • Do these plants need fertilizer?  If so, how often?
  • Does this garden need a weekly (or monthly) “mow & blow”?
  • Could this garden be maintained solely by its owner, or does it demand a crew of workers?
  • That grass right there: could I walk on it with bare feet, or is it so doused in chemicals that I’d get itchy?
  • How far off are these plants from their ideal environment?
  • During a rainstorm, how much toxic run-off would this landscape produce?

Excessive maintenance and inputs detract from a landscape’s inner beauty.  This is why I choose plants that are native to my area, or as close to it as possible.  Native plants require nothing more than what is given to them by the sun, rain, and soil already present in my landscape.  In my area of California, there are various plants from other parts of the world which will also thrive.  Australian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and South African natives do extremely well with just a touch of added care.  This diversity in choices gives me the opportunity to produce a landscape that is beautiful from the inside out.

I know that my landscape is not as well-manicured and orderly as some…  But I feel so good about the way my plants contribute to my land.  A landscape that fits its environment provides food and habitat for native birds, bugs, and critters.  And it provides food for soul as well.  Happy ornamental gardening!

Lavender-Infused Herbal Oil

April 6, 2012

Aaaahhh, lavender….

Lavender is in full-bloom right now in San Diego, so it is a great time to pick the flowers and make an oil infusion.  This post will give you step-by-step instructions on how to make your own homemade lavender-infused almond oil (you can also use olive oil, grapeseed oil, or soybean oil.  Just be sure they are cold-pressed).

  1. Harvest your lavender in the morning before the sun has had a chance to hit it.  The plant will be more lush and vibrant in the morning.
  2. Give it a light rinse, if you feel it is necessary.
  3. Spread the plant material out for two days on a towel to allow it to dry some.  You don’t want it to be crusty-dry.  Ideally, it will be free of any water droplets or excess moisture that could cause mold growth later in the oil.
  4. Fill a glass jar nearly to the top with your lavender.
  5. Pour the almond oil in to completely cover the lavender.
  6. Cap it and let it sit near a window that does not get too much sunlight.
  7. Shake the jar vigorously every day or two.
  8. After 2-3 weeks, pour the contents of the jar through a fine-mesh strainer.  Squeeze out any oils left in the lavender.
  9. Enjoy your new lavender-infused almond oil!  You can use it as a body and facial oil or as a base in lip balm, body balm, and body lotion recipes!

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