Bismarckia on Fire! — Eight Wonderful Years of Tree Growth


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Bismarckia on Fire! — Eight Wonderful Years of Tree Growth

Many of you who have been by my home know that I am a bit fanatical about landscaping, especially drought tolerant options (which we have written about herehere, and here). Years ago, we had a front triangle planter island with a Crepe Myrtle. This matched well with my previous house, but, when we switched to Mediterranean style, I decided I needed something more exotic.

That search led me to the Bismarckia Nobilis, also known as a Madagascar Blue Palm. The Bismarckia Nobilis is a very dramatic plant with greyish/green leaves that is very slow growing but will often reach 50 feet or more. I had a hard time finding a plant larger than very small 5- or 15-gallon containers in the local area, but, eventually, I found a 36-inch box in Chino, which was not an easy trip home. The troubles did not end there though, as we then had to dig out the entire planter to remove the old clay, 2 feet down, and amend the soil with gypsum, sand, grow power and new soil to continue breaking up the old clay in the bottom of the hole.

2011 – 36″ Box

2014 – 2′ Brown Trunk

2019 – 6′ Brown Trunk

You are probably wondering, why would I go through all this work for a simple palm? Well the result speaks for itself, and I have had several people stop by to see what kind of palm it is. Since 2011, the Bismarckia Nobilis has grown from the 36-inch box to a 6-foot-long trunk, but the best way to get a sense for the tree is to see it yourself. If you are in Rossmoor at Rush Park driving on Silverfox, you will dead end on Blume and you can’t miss the Bismarckia Nobilis.

While you are driving by, also be sure to check out the other fan-favorite: my Arbutus Marinus, also known as a Strawberry Tree, by our garage. It was one of the first planted in Rossmoor and has turned into a true masterpiece. We have seen the copycats plant their own, but I will take this as flattery of a great plant choice.

Drought Tolerant or Artificial Grass Lawn

California may be out of its drought, but there is no guarantee things will remain this way. With a lack of rainfall, California is a perfect place to have a lawn that does not rely on water. Even if you love a classic grass lawn, perfect lawns are almost impossible to achieve hence why you see yellow and brown lawns all around the neighborhood. Drought tolerant and artificial grass lawns are two great alternatives that allow you to minimize water use while maximizing aesthetic appeal.

Drought Tolerant

Variety of plants that rely on little water including:

You can ask your local nursery about drought tolerant plants as well! Drought tolerant plants go great with hardscape designs. Hardscape has a lot of flexibility and allows you to tailor your yard in several ways. Hardscape has become more and more popular due to its aesthetic appeal and practicality.

Artificial Turf


  • No watering, mowing, or feeding while still maintaining traditional front lawn grass look.
  • Life expectancy can be upwards of 25 years making investment worth it in long term.
  • New artificial grass can often fool most into looking like real grass.


  • Provide no food or habitat for local birds or insects. Biological zero meaning you are not promoting biodiversity.
  • Feel is just not the same as regular grass.
  • Often made with recycled materials but not biodegradable.

California Drought Update from a Swimming Pool Perspective

Have you noticed photos of the wildflowers blooming this spring after the amazingly wet season after the recent 6-year long California Drought? We have seen the news reports and the photos all over our social media feeds. On April 7, 2017, California Governor Brown terminated the January 17, 2014 Drought State of Emergency impacting all but Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties. California residents successfully conserved water in unprecedented levels, reducing water use in communities by 22% between 2014 and 2017.


Throughout the drought many counties and municipalities enacted swimming pool permit restrictions in an effort to conserve water; however, luckily, we weren’t affected by these restrictions in our local area.


In fact, residential swimming pool and spa owners are already conserving water compared to a conventional backyard. Swimming pools use less water than the same square footage of a lawn and if you add in a pool deck area, rather than grass, the water savings are increased.  Drought resistant/tolerant landscaping with native plants adds even more water conservation.


According to the California Pool & Spa Association, you can continue to do your part to conserve water in the following ways:


If you own a pool:

  • Install a pool cover to reduce water evaporation by as much as 90%
  • Shut off waterfalls, fountains and other water features to reduce water loss and evaporation
  • Check the pool for leaks, contact your pool service professional for guidance.
  • Minimize splashing or lower the pool’s water level to reduce “splash out.”
  • Plug the overflow line when the pool is in use.
  • Replace traditional sand and DE Filters with cartridge filters that do not require backwashing.
  • Keep your pool clean to reduce frequency of backwashing.
  • If your pool is heated, reduce the water temperature to reduce evaporation.


If you own spa:

  • Keep it covered.
  • Maintain the chemicals to extend water life.
  • Check the equipment for leaks.
  • Drain only when absolutely necessary.
  • Check with your pool service professional for new technology that helps keep the water clean and reduce the need to drain the spa.
  • If you drain your spa, reuse the water to irrigate plants and landscaping.


If you have any questions about the current condition of your pool/spa and landscaping, we are happy to meet and discuss your water conservation opportunities.


Wintering Up Your Yard

Christmas is right around the corner meaning we are just reaching the peak of winter, and this colder weather is here to stay for a while. With that being said, there are a few changes we recommend you make to your yard in order to prepare it for winter. In this blog, we will cover a few of those changes that we make that will just help your yard and house function properly during these next few months.

Sprinklers OffTurn Your Sprinklers off with Rain

This one seems to become more and more important every year as we get further into the drought. Depending on the amount of rain you may be able to shut your sprinklers off for a few days or a few weeks or months. However, you just want to ensure you check the weather and water your lawn and plants the minimal amount over these next few months. This will not only save you money, but will help in fighting this terrible California drought that only continues to get worse.

Flush Out Drains and Gutters

With all the leaves falling your drains and gutters can often get clogged. This is not really a problem until it starts to rain and your gutters cannot drain the water. Now we do not have heavy amounts of rain here so odds are your house may be fine without this change, but if heavy amounts of rain were to happen clogged gutters could cause damage to wood, foundation, and landscaping. Unclogging your drains and gutters is an easy process that takes a few quick minutes, and it would be a shame if your house got damaged because you forgot to spend a few minutes flushing out your drains and gutters. Don’t feel safe doing it yourself, then recruit a neighbor kid for a few extra bucks.

Put Solar Lily Pads on to Conserve Water

Even though the son is not out and shining as often your pool water is still constantly evaporating. This is why you want to put your solar lily pads on your pool in order to conserve water and prevent evaporation. In addition, these pads can help heat your pool and have it ready if you ever want to take a warm late night swim. After all, nobody wants to swim in a cold pool during the winter months. If you still do not own lily pads and are interested in what they are then check out this article. If you interested in purchasing some then simply shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to set you up.

solarlilypadsThese are just a few of the yearly changes we make to our yard and house to ensure we are ready for winter. These changes take a matter of minutes but can make a big difference in your water usage and spending. Luckily, we all live in Southern California and wintertime is not really “wintertime”. If we were on the East coast we would have to drain our pools and actually prepare for the winter. Thus, always be thankful for this awesome Southern California weather!

Selecting the Right Plants for Your Landscaping

There’s a reason landscaping is a profession – selecting and installing plants is no easy task. You can go to the nursery and pick what you think looks good, but there’s no guaranteeing that those plants will work well together and in your yard. Plant selection can make or break your yard and there are some do’s and don’ts of landscaping. In this blog, we’ll cover a few of the basic rules that come with landscaping, so keep reading if you want a few tips on plant selection.

The Do’s

drought tolerant plantsDrought Tolerance

Putting plants in your front yard used to be easy, as you could just get some nice green grass and be done, but now the drought has forced us to move on from grass and adapt to new more drought tolerant solutions. Hardscape is one of the ways to dodge the drought as brick, stone, and concrete can help cover your yard. Drought-tolerant plants like cactuses and succulents are another good option and look better in a yard than one would think.

Correct Zone

Plants are not universal – specific plants grow better in specific areas. Here in Los Alamitos we are in the 10b range, meaning the average annual minimum temperature is between 35 and 40. Once you know your zone you can then look up plants that grow in your zone. This should not be a big deal as the local nurseries mostly have plants that grow in this area, but this is much more important if you are into gardening and want to know the right plants to plant and when to plant them.

Location for Growth

Plants grow. A small bush that you planted yesterday is not going to stay a small bush forever; thus, when planting your plants, you want to ensure that you give them plenty of space to grow and not have to overlap and compete with other plants.

plants by poolCorrect Lighting

Lighting is a key element of any yard as it can determine not only how your yard looks but also which plants will survive. If a plant needs a lot of sun, then you have to ensure that it is placed in the sun rather than under a tree. You want to place eye catching plants in the sun, drawing attention, while other shrubs and bushes can be placed in the shade to fill space. Lighting is equally as important at night as you want to keep your yard lit and approachable rather than letting it fall dark and harrowing.

The Don’ts

Running Plants

Running plants are plants that reproduce on their own and spread. The best known example of a running plant is bamboo. Some people may want bamboo and that’s okay just you should try to get clumping bamboo; otherwise, the next thing you know your entire yard will be covered in bamboo.

Messy Plants

Nothing looks worse than messy plants that look like they aren’t being taken care of – especially around a pool. Certain plants litter a lot, and, while this isn’t a huge issue for non-pool owners, these plants can be a real nuisance if their mess gets in your pool. Some plants may look amazing, but be sure to do your research before buying them and make sure they aren’t high maintenance and messy.

Poisonous Plants for Pets

There is a long list of plants that are poisonous to pets and can even cause death in some cases. If you have a pet, then you should look up any new plant you buy and confirm that it is not poisonous. You may assume your pet would never eat a plant, but you want to avoid any poisonous plants just to be extra cautious. Check out this link to see a list of poisonous plants:

Allergic Plants for Gardening

Gardening is a great way to make the most of your yard, but you want to be careful and ensure that you avoid any allergies. Allergies are a terrible thing and it seems like everyone knows someone with serious allergy problems. Thus, when gardening you want to be extra cautious and avoid any plants that could possibly lead to issues.

fountain in garden

Gardening is awesome and a fun hobby because gardens not only look good but taste good as well! Let us know in the comments which plants are your favorite and look best in your yard?

Light Up Your House with LEDs

LED lights were first developed in the 60’s, but did not become popular for almost 50 years after. Nowadays, everywhere you look you’ll see LED lights, and there’s a reason for that. LED lights are not only more efficient than incandescent lights, but also much more customizable. The various shapes and sizes of LED lights provide limitless opportunities allowing you to customize your project as you wish. In this article, we’ll highlight various benefits of LED lights and offer various options to help illuminate your house.

Benefits of LEDs

Longer Life

LED lights don’t burn out like regular lights, and, as a result, last much longer with a life expectancy of 100,000 hours. In other words, if you were to leave an LED light on for 8 hours a day it would take about 20 years before having to replace the LED light.

More Efficient

Incandescent bulbs make light by heating a metal filament that releases light and energy – the only problem with this is that 80-90% of this energy is released as heat not light. LED lights are the opposite as their energy is released as 80-90% light and not heat. This means LED lights need less energy to light the same amount of space compared to incandescent lights.

Less Heat

The improved efficiency of LED lights allows them to give off less heat than other light bulbs. This means that LEDs will remain cool and not heat up a space; thus, LED lights can save you money by lessening the need for AC or fans.

Less Expensive

Because LED lights use less energy, they therefore cost less money. People often assume LED’s cost more because their upfront price is higher, but their energy efficiency paired with their longer life expectancy causes them to actually be much cheaper than incandescent or halogen bulbs.

Environmentally Friendly

LED lights do not emit UV and infrared light causing them to be much more environmentally friendly. LEDs also do not contain any toxic chemicals and are 100% recyclable.


Design Flexibility

LED lights come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors allowing for flexibility in design and various methods for illumination. LED lights can also be individually dimmed allowing dynamic control of lighting, color, and distribution. With LED lights, you can achieve miraculous lighting effects not only for the eye but also for the mood and mind. We’ll cover a few of the places LEDs could be used in your yard to help customize your lighting and upgrade your yard as a whole.

Yard LEDYard Lights

Yard lights come in a variety of shapes and sizes from spotlights to flood lights to specialty lighting. One common use of LED lights is to illuminate a specific plant within your yard. LED lights can also light walkways or decks to emphasize them. The possibilities for lighting your yard with LEDs are truly limitless and an LED light can be placed anywhere you can imagine.

Pool LEDPool Lights

Nothing is more eye catching than a well-lit pool, and this is why pools are the perfect spots for LEDs. The large color range of LEDs is beneficial in a pool as you can illuminate the water in any color of the rainbow. LED lights can also light up water features like a waterfall or spitters. Regardless of your choice, LED lights are a must in any pool for night swimming.

Home LEDsHome Lights

LED lights work not only outdoors but also inside. Replacing any simple light from a lamp to a ceiling light with an LED will help to save you money and benefit the environment. The option to dim LEDs is especially helpful indoors and can help set the mood. So next time your incandescent bulb burns out, try upgrading to an LED light.

LED lights are better than incandescent bulbs in almost every way, and in our eyes there’s no reason not to make the switch. However, be careful not to go overboard and light up your yard like it’s Christmas; light placement is an art and sometimes less is more.

Water Wise – How to Save Water with Your Landscaping

We here at Sunset pride ourselves on being as water efficient as possible, so we thought it would be best to share some of our landscaping water savings wisdom with our clients and friends.

When looking to conserve water you need to look at the total water consumption of a residential property.
Everybody seems to know that landscaping consumes a majority of a household’s water, yet people are hesitant to get rid of their grass and lush plants because they fear their yard will look barren without it. In actuality, restructuring your yard to make it more drought tolerant is simple and often times the ‘Outdoor Living’ will end up looking better than it did before. If you need an example just check out my house below and if you want to know what drought tolerant solutions are available for your yard just give me a call at (562) 881-6000. If you still aren’t hooked on remodeling your ‘Outdoor Living’ then check out a few simple tips below that will help to save water without a major reconstruction of your yard.
Water Savings Tips for Landscaping
  • Reposition and Re-time Your Sprinklers
    • How often do you walk by a house and see their sprinklers on in the middle of the day? You should water your lawn in the early morning or at night in order to prevent excessive evaporation and thus conserve water.
    • How often do you walk by a house and see the water from the sprinklers draining straight into the gutter? Sprinklers should be positioned so that the water lands on the plants and not the hardscape and paved areas.
    • Try slowly cutting back on the number of times you water a week or the duration of each watering to see which plants thrive and which ones do not. It’s up to you to decide to keep the delicate ones or replace them with something more drought tolerant.
  • Add Organic Matter and Mulch Around Trees and Plants
    • The addition of mulch or organic matter can help slow evaporation of moisture from soil and plants. It also allows these plants to better retain water.
    • This also adds the needed nutrients for the plants to thrive on less water.
  • Recycle Water from Other Areas of the Household
    • Try watering your plants with that half drunken glass of water or putting a bucket in the shower to collect the cold water.
    • If you’re really persistent you can try putting a barrel underneath your rain gutter to collect rainwater and use it at a later, during a more arid time.
  • Install Artificial Lawn
    • I’m not much into plastic anything these days; however, I will say that artificial turf as improved drastically. It looks more real than ever with various heights, textures and colors.
    • An artificial lawn will greatly reduce the overall water usage of a property based on how much lawn you removed.

JZ’s Plant Spotlight: Pincushion Protea

Leucospermum (Pincushion Protea) is a genus of about 50 species of flowering plants in the family Proteaceae, native to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where they occupy a variety of habitats, including scrub, forest, and mountain slopes.

They are evergreen shrubs (rarely small trees) growing to 0.5-5 m tall. The leaves are spirally arranged, tough and leathery, simple, linear to lanceolate, 2-12 cm long and 0.5-3 cm broad, with a serrated margin or serrated at the leaf apex only. The flowers are produced in dense inflorescences, which have large numbers of prominent styles, which inspires the name. (Ref: Wikipedia)

Drought: Water, Use it Wisely

There is no doubt that Southern California is in a severe drought. We rely on water coming mostly from other places and some from our local artesian well water. We are big consumers of water and it is a problem during this current situation.

With the drought and water conservation in mind, I decided to remove my lawn and not replace it with plastic artificial turf. Although artificial turfs have gotten better, I’m sorry but it is still plastic and not how I like to do things. I have continued the drought tolerant theme of the landscaping into the lawn area of the yard.

The lawn area now has primarily rock and stone to cover the ground with no requirement of water. I then placed sporadic drought tolerant plants and succulents that once established will live off of a very, very low consumption of water.


Ironically, the day we were first killing the lawn and preparing for this transformation we saw the park across the street watering the lawn. As you can see, they are going absolutely nutty with the amount of water needed to keep that grass alive. I am sorry to say it but it seems that for every gallon of water I save, the park across the street is wasting 20 gallons. We all still have to put in our part.


If you would like some assistance with making your yard drought tolerant and head in a fun and different direction, we are here to assist you. Call John directly at (562) 881-6000.

JZ’s Plant Spotlight: Tuxedo Agave

Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’, which is gray-and-cream striped, and grows to about half the size of the others (to four or five feet tall and as wide), is hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This elegant, midsized agave is perfect for smaller gardens and also does well in pots. Because of its formal silhouette and coloration-and since its botanical name is unwieldy-I have given it the common name “tuxedo agave.” Learn more the San Diego Floral Association.