Fall Lawn Care & Candlestick Park

I attended the first Forty Niner home game of the season thanks to my Aunt Rosemary. I'm a Niner "Faithful" but it sure is fun to be on the winning side after so many years. At the football stadium everything seems really bright and colorful. I'm always amazed at how lush and green the field looks. How do they do that?

If you have a small lawn you can appreciate how the caretakers at Candlestick Park accomplish this. Be grateful you don't have 110,000 square feet of grass that is replaced annually. In some years, due to inclement weather of abnormal wear-and-tear, the sod may be completely replaced a second time near the end of the football season. The grounds crew mows the field every day to encourage the grass to continue growing and remain vigorous and they fertilize approximately every 10 days. The sod they use is called Tiffway II Bermuda which is a hybrid of bermuda with perennial rye.

The Forty Niners will be moving to the new Santa Clara stadium next year and it also will have a natural grass fieldGreen technology will be a top priority. The landscape and field will be irrigated with recycled water and a green roof constructed on the roof of some of the suites. I don't know now which type of turf they will plant but it'll be interesting to see what they choose.

At your own home, fall is the best time to feed your lawn for winter hardiness and robust growth come spring. Grass stores nutrients in the roots to carry it over the winter months, so apply a generous application of organic lawn fertilizer.
Your lawn will need the phosphorus to encourage deep, strong roots for winter.

Over time, soil becomes compacted, especially is areas that get heavy use. Consider aeration that opens up the spaces in the lawn to allow water, nutrients and air to get to the roots, making it thicker and healthier. It also helps drainage and water runoff. There are aerators for every size job just make sure it's a core aerator that removes the core of soil rather than just punching narrow holes in the ground. Once aeration is complete, it's the perfect time to top dress the lawn with a half inch of organic compost..

If you can see patches of bare soil in your lawn, it needs to be over-seeded and fall is the perfect time to do this. Over-seeding helps make lawns full and dense, keeps weeds down and helps prevent disease. First remove any thatch- that layer of dead grass and debris that settles on the soil. To loosen the thatch, use a stiff-tined rake or rent a power de-thatcher for large jubs. Then simply rake it up and recycle it.

Just before over-seeding, mow the lawn at the mower's lowest setting and rake the surface clean. This allows the new seed to have better contact with the soil for good germination. Water often and never let the seed dry out. After the new grass blades have had a while to grow, you can mow the lawn at the mower's highest level. This minimizes the stress on the young grass blades as they settle in. Also keep debris off the area so the new blades can absorb as much light as possible.

This is also a good time to plant a new lawn either from seed or sod.  There really is no other surface that kids can play on that is as durable. There are lots of choices for low water types, including the variety that Candlestick park uses. Other common grass mixes are blends of dwarf tall fescues.  If you train your lawn in late spring to encourage deep roots most lawns don't need as much water as we think come summer.

Be sure to amend your soil first with plenty of organic matter rototilled 6-12" deep. Skimp on this step and your new lawn will look great usually only for the first season. Like sowing wildflower seeds, you need to first get rid of existing weeds and their seeds.  Also incorporate a pre-plant fertilizer raked in the top few inches of soil to get your new lawn off to a good start.

If you need a small lawn, take care of it this fall and make it as healthy and drought tolerant next spring as possible.

Gardening with Children

The other day a young girl asked me, "Are you the lady that writes the flower column in the paper"? I was thrilled to know that my readership includes middle schoolers.  Our conversation soon turned to vegetables. Which are good to plant at this time of year and how late can they be started. Gardening can be a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us but especially for children.

In a garden, children can breathe fresh air, discover bugs and watch things grow. And, of course, a garden offers kids and everyone else fresh, tasty homegrown food. What better place for kids to play than in a place where they can use their hands and connect with the earth? Where else can they make a plan for a plot of land and learn the lessons of hope and wonder, suspense and patience and even success and failure? In a garden you can have conversations about life and even death in a way that doesn't seem so sad.

With the school year just starting, now would be the perfect time to encourage your child to grow something, keeping track of the progress by pictures and notes. Their daily actions really can make a difference for a sustainable future. Maybe what they learn could even be used for a school project. Here are some ideas.

September is the perfect time to start cool season vegetables. Carrots are fun to start from seed as they can be harvested even when small. For flavor it's difficult to beat a Nantes.   Nantes Coreless or Little Finger are two popular varieties.  They're not a carrot you'll find in the grocery store because they're difficult to harvest commercially and don't store well.  Both are juicy and sweet.  Nantes coreless grows to 6-7 " long, is blunt-tipped and fine grained.  Little Finger is unmatched for snacks, pickling or steaming.  It grows to just 3-4" long and is ideal for container gardening. too.

Red Cored Chantenay has broad shoulders and strong tapered tips.  This wedge-shaped carrot is also rarely grown by commercial growers.  For the home garden it produces 6" long carrots that keep well when left in the soil, store well after digging and are sweet and crunchy.  They perform well in heavy soil, too.

Danvers Half Long are another variety that are tasty raw, cooked, or juiced. They are one of the best carrots for storage as they stay crisp.  Carrots found at the super market are usually Imperators just so you know.

You can still start peas, beets, spinach, arugula, mustard and radish now from seed but it's better to start other veggies like lettuce, chard, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, onions, leeks and brussels sprouts from starts. If your veggies haven't gotten a good start before the soil cools, they'll just sit there until spring. Remember to rotate your crop locations so insects  and diseases don't cause problems. Also be sure to amend your soil with compost to replenish the nutrients that have been used by your summer veggies and flowers.  

Flowers in winter are always welcome so I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas at this time of year. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer's at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can't go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.

If you grow roses fertilize now to encourage another round of blooms.  A well-fed rose not only rewards you with beauty and fragrance but can stay healthy and resist attack from insects and diseases.   Roses grown in sandy soil or containers need more frequent feeding than those grown in loam or heavier soil.  Make sure the soils is moist before fertilizing and water well afterward.

Whatever you grow, include the kids in the garden. It's a free and fun activity.

Good Shrubs for Erosion Control in the Santa Cruz Mtns

You know fall is just around the corner when you hear thunder. Seems like summer just started but now plants like lilac, rhododendron and dogwood have already set flower buds for next year. We don't know exactly what winter will bring. Will we receive lots of rain or a meager amount?

The latest from the Climate Prediction Center for the San Francisco Bay Area 2012-13 rainy season is that a mild El Nino event may be setting up. There has been a  weakening of the positive sea surface temperature in the Pacific. El Nino has been known to come with plenty of rain for our area. We are still in a wait and watch mode.

Long range outlooks for the fall from the CPC run from equal chances for above or below normal rainfall to a slight tendency toward below normal. For the November through January period the probabilities start to shift and a slight chance of above normal rainfall creeps up along the coast from the south.  By the time we get to the December through February period, the outlook is for above normal precipitation for the whole state with significant above normal chances for the Bay Area.

This is not a forecast but an outlook for the probabilities of above or below normal precipitation. If we do get heavy rains in January or February you should be prepared. Do you have a slope that might have an erosion problem?  Now is the time to start planning and planting. The nights are cooler, the days shorter, the soil still warm. Everything that a new plant needs to get a good start.

What plants are good for controlling erosion in our area? When choosing plants to cover a bank for erosion control, assess the conditions of the area you want to plant.  Is it in the sun or shade?  Is it a naturally moist area or dry?  Do you intend to water it or go with our natural cycle of wet in the winter and dry in the summer? Matching the plant to the site conditions will ensure success.

When designing a plant layout I consider whether I want a sweep of the same plant or a tapestry effect with a variety of plants.  Using more than one type of plant allows me to work with contrasting foliage adding pattern to my composition.  To create a stunning combination choose 5 or 6 styles and repeat them in small drifts to carry the eye through the composition. Add grasses for linear texture.

If the area you need to stabilize is large and mostly shade, consider Ribes viburnifolium aka Evergreen Currant which grows 3-6 ft tall spreading to 12 ft wide. It needs no irrigation when established. Another plant that tolerates shade and needs no irrigation after 3 years is Mahonia repens aka Creeping Mahonia. It grows 1 ft tall by 3 feet wide spreading by underground stems that stabilize the soil.

Symphoricarpos aka Common Snowberry or Creeping Snowberry can hold the soil on steep banks. They tolerate poor soil, lower light and general neglect. Philadelphus lewisii aka Wild Mock Orange tolerates some aridity and partial shade. This beautiful, fountain shaped, fragrant flowering shrub grows about 8 ft tall by 8 ft wide and is not fussy about soil.

A bank in the sun would contain a different plant palette. Some of my favorite plants to control erosion in this situation include Ceanothus in all its forms. Groundcover types like Centennial, Anchor Bay and Maritimus are not attractive to deer like the larger leaved varieties. Rockrose such as Cistus purpureus also provide large-scale cover for expansive sunny areas.  Their dense strong root systems helps prevent soil erosion. Choose from white, pink or magenta flowers on plants varying from 1-5 ft. high depending on which variety you choose. This Mediterranean native is fast growing, drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Smaller plants for color that control erosion are lavender, California buckwheat, salvia leucophylla, California fuchsia, deer grass, needle grass, mimulus, yarrow, Pacific Coast iris, bush poppy, penstemon and artemisia.

These suggestions are just a few of the plants that control erosion. Every area is different and every situation unique. Email me if you would like help with your area.

The Gardens of Poland- Part 2

Poland is a country nearly as big as California so it stands to reason that gardening styles would vary over such a large area. Settled as a recognizable entity about the middle of the 10th century, Poland has had a lot of time to develop although it's borders have fluctuated with Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Germany,

Mostly I saw neat, red or green roofed houses surrounded by a large flower garden, a few apple trees and a robust vegetable garden in full production. Whether the house was brick, mortared granite, wood or stucco everything was tidy around the property with nary an abandoned car to be seen. Brightly colored ivy geraniums tumbled from boxes attached to windows. Sometimes the vegetables were grown in larger plots for sale and these areas staked with wire strung tightly between the posts. Every 10 feet or so pieces of plastic bags attached and these waved in the breeze. Surprisingly  this keeps the wild boar, roe and red deer at bay, I was told.

Closer to the Slovakian border and the city of Krakow some of the houses employed a vary different style of landscaping. Unlike the wild perennial flower gardens I had seen, these gardens were austere with square lawns surrounded by an arborvitae hedge. In the middle of the lawn were planted 8-12 dwarf conifers planted like chess pieces on a grid. Everything was green in these yards. The house was usually 2 storied with very small porch and no flowers.

Whatever the style of house, the Polish people love their dogs. I saw mostly small dogs with the occasional German shepherd but all were well cared for and anxiously awaited their owners return if left behind in the yard.

In the southeastern part of Poland the farms are smaller and more numerous.  Not being able to afford baling tractors, hay is stacked into tall piles and sometimes covered at the top with plastic for rain protection. The soil here is a mixture of fine sand. clay and silt. Called loess it is rich in minerals. Poland grows most of the apples for concentrate for all of Europe with the help of this soil.

Red currants, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are commonly grown. Fields of sunflowers surround farmhouses.  Brightly colored bee hives find a home in many orchards. Pigs are kept in barns but dairy cows graze in the meadow. Geese, chickens and goats are common.

Here's what I learned in Poland.  Be sure to give swans who are protecting 7 young, fluffy grey cygnets a wide berth while kayaking down a river. Tobacco fields are beautiful when covered with spikes of pink flowers. Millions of migrating geese, swans, ducks and waders stop by the northeast corner of Poland in May .A quarter off all migratory birds who come to Europe for the summer breed in Poland.  A White storks will eat anything that fits in its mouth. Cobblestone streets can be made from rounded cobbles, small squares of granite set in beautiful patterns, brick, basalt or random pieces of stone. Gas costs about $7.00 per gallon although it is bought by the liter. Around any hole with a worker at the bottom there usually are several in orange vests standing at the top just watching.

I also learned that Polish people eat very large breakfasts consisting of many types of cold cuts and sausage, several kinds of cheese, many styles of eggs, bread, rolls, butter, jam,  tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and salad. Dairy farmers in small villages can use a bicycle to bring two cans of fresh milk to the collection barn while others use small carts, a tractor or a horse. Close to the Belarus border, the last stand of original forest in all Europe is thriving and is home to bison, wild boar and the occasional lynx, bear and wolf. The last Russian tsar in the 1800's had most of the predatory animals killed so he could hunt more bison when he came to his summer castle. I did see a red fox checking out a vole early one morning and fresh badger and marten tracks in the mud on the trail.

Poland has more than 3500 species of mushrooms and hunting for them is a traditional past time. I enjoyed many soups and other recipes made with wild mushrooms. Two million private farms grow most of the potatoes and rye for Europe and is one of the worlds largest producers of sugar beets. and triticale, a self-pollinating hybrid of wheat and rye, leading Poland to be called the future breadbasket of the European Union.

I'd love to go back to Poland.  It's a beautiful country rich in history and the gardens are spectacular.