The San Francisco Bay Area’s Unique Growing Conditions
Healing Spirit Plants is located in the “inner” San Francisco Bay area, where we experience a mild “Mediterranean” climate: nonfreezing rainy winters, with cool and foggy dry summers (2 seasons). From a 4 season perspective, we have 3 springs (Nov – July: “winter”, “spring” and “summer”), and then finally, “summer” comes in August, September and October.
These temperately moderated conditions permit plants from everywhere in the world to find a niche here. We are blessed with the opportunity to be able to propagate and realistically expect to grow (and have survive) medicinal plants from nearly all cultures whose peoples have found a living here. We can create hot sunny conditions on our south facing areas, while maintaining cool shady conditions on our north facing areas. We can maintain dry conditions, or moist ones through prudent use of water.
Most plants prefer better SOIL “DRAINAGE” (soil porosity allowing water and air circulation) than dense “clay.” In general, you can always add more water; but it is really difficult to take it away (especially if the soil is like a sponge). Our soils, are predominantly clay (heavy, non draining, and difficult to work), but can be amended with plenty of “lava rock” or “scoria” to drain adequately for most plants. Because sand and clay combine to create “cement,” it will be necessary to also add 1/3 compost to help break down the clay. A good ratio would be 1/3 finely chopped clay, 1/3 “Scoria,” and 1/3 compost. Compost should have minimal chicken manure, because chicken manure is too strong for most drought tolerant plants, as well as containing unhealthy steroid hormones.
Growing your plants in pots avoids having to deal with the clay, but requires increased attention to watering and fertilizing. Unless you are growing aquatic species, always be sure that your pots have plenty of drainage holes, and adequate escape for excess water. If you are using a saucer or dish underneath, be sure to put three 1 inch diameter stones under the pot to lift it up out of the water that collects in the saucer. If it is on a patio, use the stones to lift the pot up off the floor; also prevents your deck from rotting.
Plants generally like either “FULL SUN” (at least 4 hours a day); “PART SHADE” (either filtered or afternoon shade during the heat of the day); or ”SHADE” pretty much all day (especially during the “burning sun” hours).
WATERING is best done in the early morning for several reasons:
- It ensures that the plants actually have the water during the heat of the day when they most need it; and so alleviates stress which invites disease.
- It ensures that they are going into the cool of the night dried off instead of damp and prone to mildew.
- It makes them much less inviting to snails and slugs when they are not wet at night.
WATERING is also best done THOROUGHLY (3-4 times in a row, and allowing enough time for each dose to soak in); and LESS OFTEN (perhaps twice a week, depending on the weather: less in the winter, more when it is very hot and dry). A good rule of Finger/ thumb is: before watering, stick you finger in the soil (3 inches deep), and IF THE SOIL IS WET: DON’T WATER IT!! Most domestic plants die from over zealous/nervous over watering. Make time in your mornings to be with your plants, giving them each the loving attention you would your child, so that you really get a feel for how it is feeling regarding soil, water, heat, sun, fertilizer, wind, bugs, etc. I guarantee the time you spend with the plants will improve your day! It is really great to start the day in a peaceful and tranquil way. You will find that you have more time if you do it, than you have when you don’t. This is why we have plants; this is how they heal us; and this is how we tend our “garden.”
Pay attention to the nighttime temperatures: TROPICAL AND SUBTROPICAL PLANTS DON’T LIKE COLD FEET! When nights get cold, it is best to either put them under a cover, or bring them inside.
Tropical plants also generally require HUMIDITY (what we don’t have here in California). Therefore, it is helpful if they can be placed in a location of afternoon shade, and surrounded by lots of water loving foliage plants that hold and give off lots of humidity.
What To Expect
It is always helpful to have an idea what to expect from your plants during the “winter.” Some are ANNUAL; come up from seed in the spring, bloom all summer and fall, then set seed, and die in the winter. BIENNIALS are “winter annuals,” in that they come up from seed in the summer of fall, last through the winter, and then bloom in the following spring, set seed, and then die. PERENNIALS may be “herbaceous” (fleshy, not “woody”), generally growing up from the root or basal rosette of leaves in the spring, blooming during a specific season, setting seed, and then dying back (becoming “deciduous”) to seemingly nothing in the winter, prepared to re-emerge again in the spring. Plants with “bulbs” also fit into this category. Some of our annuals, and most of our “house plants” are actually tropical perennials, which either freeze to death in our winter, or continue year-round when mild and protected. Plants with woody stems and branches may become “deciduous” (lose their leaves in the winter), or remain “evergreen” (such as a Rhododendron, or pine tree). Most Tropical and subtropical plants remain evergreen, because their native and preferred climate is warm or mild permitting year-round growth. Generally, “ground-covers” trail across the ground, reaching heights of no more than 1 ft. Herbaceous, fleshy plants only reach a height of 3 to 6 feet in a season before dying back for the winter; those that persist year –round, become “woody.” Vines may act as “Ground-covers” when they have nothing upon which to climb. If there are other plants near by, they may climb up over them, and suffocate them. If your plant will become a tree, it is good to plan enough space (above and around) for it.
Please pay close attention to the specific growing requirements for each of your medicinal plants. Being with them helps us to tune in to their needs and general happiness. They also increase ours: They are our teachers.