By Nan Sterman
Santa Anas arrive in the long, hot days of late summer and early fall, and sometimes again in spring. These hot, dry “devil winds” blow into Southern California from the desert, bringing single-digit humidity that dries out lips, hair, skin and plants.
Though short-lived, Santa Anas can wreak havoc on the garden. Fortunately, planting and maintenance strategies can help your garden survive with the least amount of damage.
If your garden is open on the east side, build a wall, or plant a protective layer of trees and shrubs to act as a windbreak.
Plant the sturdiest plants in the background. Nestle the more vulnerable ones on the inside of the windbreak.
Avoid eucalyptus and other plants notorious for dropping brittle branches in the wind. Instead, plant trees with strong wood, such as strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and Australian tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum).
Choose plants whose leaves resist desiccation. Succulent leaves store water and have protective outer layers to help resist evaporation. Good examples include Aloe, Aeonium, and Euphorbia.
The tough, leathery leaves of Manzanita (Arctostaphylos), California lilac (Ceanothus) and bottlebrush (Callistemon) don’t have much water to lose.
Grasses that naturally flex and sway in the wind survive unscathed. I’m thinking of Berkeley sage (Carex divulsa), Miscanthus, and Festuca.
Since Santa Anas arrive with plenty of warning, help your garden by watering it before the winds start. Set your irrigation system on manual and run an entire cycle. Though we can’t stop plants from losing water in a Santa Ana, irrigating just before they start and just after they end helps keep plants hydrated, and minimizes permanent damage.