Ghosts! Zombies! Spiders!


fall dormancy: no need for your garden to feel haunted!

October 2021. By JT Wilkinson: You will likely encounter ghosts, zombies and spiders in your garden during autumn. Yet, there is no need to grieve or fear! Each can be managed in ways that will keep your garden from feeling haunted. Here are our tricks for supporting native plant gardens through this scary time.

Ghosts: IdealMow Meadows, Deer Grass, and White Sage

Your lush IdealMow Meadow may look more like a traditional lawn for some portion of fall and again in early spring. While they may shape-shift, they are not dead! Some California native grasses simply need a little rest from time to time. Shifting into lawn mode allows them to recover their energy.



While IdealMow lawns like a French exit, Deer Grass prefers the drama of a long goodbye. It will be the life of the party one moment, throwing up its golden wands of seeds in celebration. In the next, it appears jaundiced, dry, lifeless. It’s important for both your garden’s aesthetic and fire safety to cut Deer Grass to the ground when it reaches this state. It won’t harm him! While he may look like he is in his grave, he will rejoin the living with all the same drama of his disappearance.


When White Sage ghosts, she haunts! If unirrigated, her dried leaves and stalks still scent the air, but she’ll seem emaciated. Desiccated. In this condition, she is a fire danger. If you do not have irrigation, surgically remove dead material. Irrigated White Sage may seem like a ghost to native plant enthusiasts who expect her dormancy. The extra drink gives her the energy she needs to stay with us.

Zombies: Cleveland Sage, Buckwheats, Lilac Verbena


Cleveland Sage (Salvia Clevelandii), Lilac Verbena (Verbena lilacina) and the Buckwheat sisters (Eriogonum grande rubescens, Eriogonum umbellatum, Eriogonum fasciculatum polifolium, and yes even Eriogonum latifolium) may seem half dead in autumn. It is normal for them to operate at 30-50 percent of their full-tilt selves.

Rather than watch our friends join the living dead, we cut them back to a level appropriate to the energy they have to give. This deep ensures they maintain a form appropriate to the garden’s design… and means you can bring some hauntingly beautiful blooms inside!


Are you happy we saved you the photo? As false-webs and synthetic spiders decorate LA homes this month, there is the opportunity to get more comfortable with the real thing.

Spiders can boost the ecological balance of a garden. They do the work of pesticides and insect repellants, helping you keep your garden free of scary toxic chemicals.

Their webs also have a certain etherial, structural beauty that is completely appropriate to the season. Leaving them now may also help your Hummingbird Sage attract Hummingbirds, as webs are an important part of their nests.

More Information

For a little more reading on the topic, check out: Give It A Rest and Keep It Lit. We discussed dormancy and autumn maintenance at length during Theodore Payne Foundation’s innovative 2021 Native Plant Garden Tour. Here you’ll see an abundance of tips from foundation staff and homeowners as well as our team.