Renowned arborist spreads low cost, high reward gardening strategies in the Antelope Valley

Low Cost, High Reward Antelope Valley Gardening

A renowned arborist, Baal is a guru to the hapless horticulturists who plant trees and shrubs in the desert climate of the Antelope Valley. The retired county forester preaches a gospel of low cost, high reward gardening strategies.

Palmdale’s claim to fame includes Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base). Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier there, and actor R. Lee Ermey, of Full Metal Jacket and Mail Call fame, is a local.


Tony Baal likes to talk about the hapless horticulturists who plant trees and shrubs at their new houses in the Antelope Valley, only to see them wither and die. The retired county forester preaches with almost religious fervor that this desert boils in the summer and freezes in the winter, making it an uncooperative environment for landscape plantings.

Located in northern Los Angeles County and south-east Kern County, the Antelope Valley is part of the western Mojave high desert ecosystem. Its 3,000-square-mile closed basin includes the communities of Lancaster, Palmdale, Rosamond and Mojave, with residents including the test pilot Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier at Edwards Air Force Base in 1947; R. Lee Ermey, star of Full Metal Jacket and Mail Call; actress Tippi Hedren; and musician Frank Zappa. The AV is also home to Scaled Composites, the firm that built the SpaceShipOne and Voyager aerospace vehicles. Grass is the dominant vegetation in the area.

Ornamental Plants

Ornamental plants include annuals, perennials and woody shrubs and trees. Annuals complete a full flowering and seed-producing cycle in one year or one growing season, while perennials may go through many annual cycles or grow for several years. Woody plants are classified as vines, shrubs and trees according to their form. Vines trail along the ground, shrubs are short upright-growing plants with multiple stems and trees are tall upright-growing plants with a single stem.

Join the Lancaster “Love Your Mother Earth” Weed Pull at the world-famous Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve on Saturday, May 7. Help remove invasive weeds from this beautiful public space and give future poppies a chance to thrive.

Flowering Shrubs

The elegant cluster-lily boasts beautiful, funnel-shaped flowers in shades of violet or blue-violet from late spring through midsummer. This native flower to the mountainous regions of California and Oregon, thrives in full sunlight or partial shade. A spot with well-draining soil that is dry to medium in consistency is ideal for this low-maintenance flower.

The cobwebby thistle is a biennial or short-lived perennial herb that is native to various parts of California. It grows upright stems that feature a beautiful display of bright red, spiky flowers during the summer. Its flowers are a favorite among hummingbirds and adult swallowtail butterflies. Sowing this plant is best done in early spring, with a location that receives full sun exposure.

Baal quips with almost religious zeal about the hapless horticulturists he encounters in the Antelope Valley, who plant trees and shrubs they believe will grow well in our unforgiving climate only to see them wither and die. Whether he is educating backyard gardeners or helping to pull invasive weeds at the world-famous Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, his advice is adamant.


In spring, snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) bloom in abundance at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. These annual flowers offer a welcome burst of color, but they don’t accept summer’s heat well and are susceptible to six foliar diseases and three soil-borne fungi. They’re also prone to pests and snails and are easily undone by too much water, so drip irrigation is recommended if you want them in your garden. Other flowering perennials that are drought tolerant include penstemons, monkey flower and nemesia. Another good choice is the drought-tolerant native Galvezia californica, better known as island bush snapdragon. All of these plants are available at the reserve.

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