Frequently Asked Questions

In general, snow and moisture protect plants from freezing. Water freezes at 32 degrees which keeps a ‘protective’ ice barrier in the roots and the snow on top insulates top growth and roots. Once a perennial has lived a year in our environment it’s been ‘hardened off’ – meaning it has acclimated to our climate.

Yes, native plants need supplemental water until their roots have become established enough to support the plant – which usually takes from 2 to 3 years. In the wild, a native plant has a root system that is at least 10x as big as its above-ground stems. Native plants grown in a nursery have spent their young lives fully provided for, so their root systems have not needed to spread far to find sustenance. Once planted, it takes time for their roots to spread far and deep enough for the plant to take over its own care.

Local lore is to put your seed out after the first snow. The subsequent snow will keep it in place and, as snow melts and the ground warms, the seed will germinate. Of course, in a light snow year, that probably isn’t going to happen. From a water wise perspective spring to early summer is best, before it gets too hot.

There are several USDA Hardiness Zones within the Tahoe Truckee area. Generally speaking, most of us are zones 3-5. Areas in Truckee are much colder and drier than at the lake.

After the last freeze, historically Father’s Day or mid-June.

Instead of using one type of plant, or line of plants, to block out a neighbor or other unsightly view, a staggering of plants of various heights, textures, and colors is an interesting alternative. It attracts the eye as a distraction, rather than a wall, and will grow into a lovely landscape collage.

First, you’ll need to rake the area to remove any dead grass or thatch. Water the area well. Then you will sow a thin layer of seeds over the area, and cover with about 1/8” of topsoil or Topper. Water both morning and late afternoon daily until you see signs of germination, and then reduce watering to once a day until grass reaches a height of 2”. At this point, you can water every other day. When the grass reaches 4” in height, you can mow.

Butterflies are a wonderful addition to your garden because of their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers. Attracting butterflies involves incorporating plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. The insects need places to lay eggs, food plants for their larvae (caterpillars), and places to form chrysalides and nectar sources for adults.

Plant native flowering plants – Many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for survival and reproduction, it is particularly important to install native flowering plants local to your geographic area.

Plant type and color are important – Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.

Plant good nectar sources in the sun – Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed only in the sun. If sun is limited in your landscape, try adding butterfly nectar sources to the vegetable garden.

Plant for a continuous bloom – Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span. Try to plant so that when one plant stops blooming, another begins.

Say no to insecticides – Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are marketed to kill insects. Don’t use these materials in or near the butterfly garden or, better yet, anywhere on your property. Even “benign” insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies (while caterpillars).

Where there is no one native plant in the Tahoe basin that flowers continuously, there are many native varieties and hardy perennials that when planted in combination will bring a succession of colorful blooms to your garden from spring through fall. Depending upon how much sun or shade your garden receives, you can choose plants that will bring color through blooms and/or foliage from May through September.

It depends on the length of our summer season, but as a rule, if you have a southern exposure spot that receives 6 hours or more of direct sun daily, you can grow (some) vegetables on the West shore of Tahoe. Tahoe City has an average of 71 frost-free days- with July often the only frost-free month! A raised bed or wine barrel can use a smaller space and allow you to better manage sun exposure, irrigation, and creating protective covering options for birds and summer hailstorms. Some shorter time to maturity vegetable options to consider are herbs, cherry tomatoes, Mountain Strawberry, De Cicco broccoli, snap peas, kale/chard/lettuce mixes.

Vine maples’ long, multi-stemmed structure requires pruning to maintain an attractive shape. You should plan on annual maintenance pruning to promote new growth while preventing overgrowth in areas where old branch growth is thick. The best time to prune a vine maple is during the winter dormant months or in early spring before the new growth appears to promote a flush of growth. You should avoid pruning from late summer to early winter as it may induce a flush of new growth that may be damaged when the temperatures cool in winter and reduce new growth in the spring.

  • Make sure to inspect your vine maple throughout the growing season and remove all dead or damaged branches, cutting them off with a clean, sharp pruning clipper at the joint closest to the damage. Remove dead and damaged wood to promote new growth in the areas the branches were removed.
  • To shape your vine maple, you’ll want to cut off all the superfluous branches, starting from the base and working upward. If you want a single trunk, choose one main shoot and cut away all others at the base. Always remove the major branches or shoots first, and work upward to the smaller ones.
  • You’ll want to thin out the smallest branches if you want to force growth upward and outward. Maples have leaf and branch buds that are directly opposite each other, so when you cut above a node (the place where the buds sit) the buds on both sides are forced out, giving you two branches for one cut. To keep the tree open and airy, remove one of these buds, directing growth into the other.
  • You can shorten the longer branches if you want to encourage the tree to be broad and bushy. When you cut back to a node, keep both buds, giving you twice as many branches. Or keep some as double buds and some as single.

Perennials are plants that go dormant during the winter and then “come back”
or re-bloom in the spring or summer.

Generally, yes. If you plant an aspen and water it well, it will eventually spread, as new trees sprout from the roots. Aspens love water and will seek it out, so be thoughtful when planting one near your lawn, as it will find that to be its favorite new home!

When planning for plants around your house always remember that the 0-5 foot area from your home is the most restrictive of all the landscape zones. Fire districts, insurance companies, and county ordinances prefer no vegetation in this area. If you do plant in this area it is wise to only choose herbaceous ground covers with rock mulch. Ground covers are low-growing, spreading plants usually less than 6 inches in height. If planting, only choose native and adapted ground covers with drip irrigation. This is not a location for woody plants, shrubs, or trees.

Beyond the 5 foot range, some of the native plants considered to have a low fire danger are:

Creeping Snowberry

  • Thimbleberry
  • Wood’s Rose
  • Blue Elderberry
  • Sierra Gooseberry
  • Sierra Currant
  • Wax Current
  • Bittercherry
  • Western Serviceberry

This guide is a great resource for Fire Safe Landscaping in the Tahoe Basin.