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Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Posted by meplant 92692 (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 15, 07 at 18:50

Hi There! I'm new to this site & looking for as much hillside info as I can get. We recently moved to a property
in So. California Mission Viejo(zone9)with a hill in our back yard which is a 30 degree angle & aprox. 50feet up.
It's been unkept for many years and we're trying to decide what to do with it. Want to keep it as natural as possible.
On that note:... What does the term Switchback trails mean?
I read it on one of the other posts & have no idea.Could someone fill me in?
Thanks. :)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Switchback trails go back to the days of mules/horses pulling heavy loads up steep hillsides. It was not possible for the animals to pull straight up hill for any distance so zigzag trails were constructed that allow them to move up an incline at a less steep rate. Also, switchbacks were used for the early trains in mountain area around the gold fields. The practice of building switchback roadways continued during the early days of automobiles to prevent car radiators from boiling over as they climbed great heights. Not a problem these days but it used to be. The road up to the Hearst Castle is an example of one. Ditto the mountain roads around Palm Springs.

So,...if you were to build a switchback walking trail on your slope it would start at the base and move slightly upward to the right. Then it would move toward the left, then to the right continuing in a zigzag pattern making the climb easier.


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Thanks Nandia,
That's kind of what I had in mind to do but the zig zag pattern I didn't think of. That whole reply was really quite interesting.That would really make my life alot better for trying to plant & to tend to caring for the plantings on the hill. This hill stuff is something I never thought i'd have to deal with. Yikes,What A Job! Like "Little Thomas Train" I KNOW I CAN, I KNOW I CAN!!! Thanks so much for your reply and if there's anyone out there who has any planting
suggestions for a Clay Hill in Southern Calif (Zone 9). I'd sure appreciate it.I want to plant something for the birds as well. Not the hummers(I have plenty for them) Nothing seems to grow even when I ammend the soil with all combinations of topsoil, compost, pummice etc.... I'm trying them all. Oye, Yoye, Yoye!!! :O


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Hi, I live about 25 miles east of LA in zone 9 (Walnut), have a clay slope in the back yard and have grown all sorts of plants on it. Our in ground pool is being bulldozed in October (Yay!!) and will be replanting the slope soon after. I'm considering terracing with the broken deck cement, but the switchback trail sounds interesting. I would recommend NOT planting Plumbago. It's invasive and seems to overwhelm everything. Any form of ice plant is heavy and may slide down the hill in heavy rain. We have California natives in the front yard and all they require is to be 'made smaller' about twice a year. They need water only when first planted and an occasional watering in the winter if there is no rain. There's a California Native forum right here on Gardenweb. There's a huge variety of drought tolerant plants, native and non native and are all listed in the Sunset western gardening books. Succulents are nice too and come in a wide variety. There's a 'cactus and succulents' forum here too. If you plant these types of plants on your slope, a sprinkler system is not necessary. The Fullerton college arboretum, LA County Arboretum (Arcadia) and the Huntington Library (San Moreno) all have great drought tolerant and cactus gardens. There are probably some around MV also. Hope that helps. Linda


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Thanks Linda, I really appreciate any helpful suggestions especially about the Plumbego, I wasn't aware of that. As for the Ice plant no problem there because my husband "HATES" ice plant.I've been dealing with this hill for over a year now & nothing seems to grow on it even the Rock Rose which is supposed to be drought tolorent. Also My Mexican Sage is just sitting there looking just the same as when I first planted it. No bigger & no flowers even thought I've been doing all the ammending of the soil, etc, etc... Yikes! I'll check out that form here on the California Natives. Cactus isn't the look I'm going for. I'd really like a more Tropical look but we don't always get what we want do we??? At any rate I'm so happy to see that there are people here on Garden Web that are willing to take the time to help a fellow gardner out. We all have our own different set of garden problems. Thanks Again Linda! :)


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Where you are, you need plants that can handle a lot of heat and very little water. Not all plants that fit that description are cacti, but unfortunately plants with lush foliage ("that tropical look") generally require water. Go for a hike in a state park near you--whatever grows there is probably what your garden is ideally suited for. A few suggestions for you that I think might handle your climate but are a little more leafy. Most of these are also very fast-growing:

-fremontodendron. This is a gorgeous, fast-growing plant with maple-like leaves and huge yellow flowers.

-western redbud (cercis occidentalis). Heart-shaped blue-green leaves, covered in pink flowers in spring. Slower-growing than my other suggestions, give it time.

-salvia clevelandii and salvia apiana. The hotter and drier, the better, as far as these sages are concerned. They also smell wonderful if you plant a bunch of them.

-ceanothus. Nice bright green leaves and unbelievable display of blue flowers. Zillions of varieties and very available.

-lavatera assurgentiflora. Light green, maple-like leaves and hibiscus-like flowers all year long.

Consider some grasses as well: festuca californica and nassella pulchra are good for erosion control and might help "round out" your garden.

Plant natives in the fall, let the winter rains do most of the watering in the winter, and then water occasionally through the first summer ONLY--then you're done and they're on their own. Sometimes in midsummer natives will start looking a little frumpy, given the total lack of water this isn't really surprising...but they'll be fine and they'll perk up in the fall.


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Wow, What a world of information! I know what I'll be doing this weekend & that's looking up all those plants that you've suggested to me. :) Yipee! I'll get to learn more about drought tolorant. The only ones that sounded familiar were the salvias. Thank You Sooooooo Very Much
Mlevie, I really do appreciate the time you've taken to try & help. Hope you have a Great weekend!


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Hi, Here's a couple pictures of my Redbud tree, a California native. It's in my front yard, but I may plant a few on my slope. Any plant likes some water when it's new, but this tree hasn't been watered for about 4 years, except for rain. The leaves fall off in winter, then it blooms with reddish pink flowers before the leaves come back. It resembles a silver dollar eucalyptus and can be grown as a single trunk tree. The Cal Native Plant Society, website below, has plant sales. I went to one in your area a few years ago. A lot of natives and other drought tolerant plants are available at regular nurseries. It's easy to resesrch attracting birds to your yard on the internet. Linda





Here is a link that might be useful: California Native Plant Society website


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Hi Linda!
Thanks for the "Great Pictures" and info. I just love the looks of that tree but always thought the Calif. Redbud had red leaves.I always thought they were those purple leaved trees(which I don't really care for) that I see everywhere along the roads where I live. I also do love the multi trunks on your tree. If this is what they look like I'm deffinately interested...I just love yours! :) Thanks for the California Native plant site too, I'll check it out. I'm so very happy that I joined this website.... I had my doubts that it would be very helpful but it's nice to see that I was "Very Wrong". Everyone is very helpful, What a great experience this has been! Thanks A Bunch Linda! :)


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Hi, This redbud has never turned red. There are lots of dark purple flowering plum trees and dodonea(?) is a purple/brown leaved shrub. Both are common around So Cal. I thought my tree was supposed to turn dark red, but never has. I've seen red ones at nurseries, but don't know if there are different types, or if it's a tempurature issue, like not getting cold enough in the winter. Someone on the Cal native forum probably knows. A lot of people comment on this tree. They always try to guess what it could be. Linda


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

It's called a redbud because of the flowers--Western Redbud always has green leaves, but there is a cultivar of Eastern Redbud (cercis canadensis) called "Forest Pansy" which has purple leaves.

Forest Pansy's not particularly drought-tolerant, though--I've seen it used as a street tree up here in the Bay Area, but I don't think it would do well south of here without an awful lot of pampering.


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RE: Please, What are Swtichback trails??

Hi, Thanks for clearing that up. I saw a purple leafed redbud at a nursery here a few years ago and thought it was the same as mine but had been grown somewhere with a different climate. The green one is very nice. I have California natives, but haven't taken time to learn much about them. As long as they're happy with no care at all, I'm happy, lol. Linda


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