Planting Bare Root Edibles

Cherry trees live 30-35 years bearing fruit in 3-6 years. The Black
Tartarian is a good pollinator for other dark, sweet cherries.

Now is the time to add ornamentals and edibles like fruit, nuts, berries and vegetables while they?re available in bare root form. They are easy to plant, economical and establish quickly.

How delicious does a Sweet Treat Pluerry sound? This is a first of its kind combination with the sweetness of a cherry and the zing of a plum resulting in colorful fruit that hangs on the tree for over a month. Or how about planting a Cot-N-Candy Aprium from a bare root? This white flesh apricot-plum hybrid fruit tree has incredible sweet and juicy flavor.

Aprium Cot-N-Candy A sweet and juicy apricot_plum hybrid available now in bare root

Shop for your plants in January or February while they are still dormant. Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell, roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing new permanent roots in their final home. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put in the ground soon. Fruit trees like pears and apples wake up later so you can wait a bit longer to plant those varieties.

What fruit tree varieties can you grow here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. Most of us get 700-900 chilling hours per winter. What does that mean? Well, many fruit trees, lilacs and peonies need a certain number of hours during dormancy where the temperature is 45 degrees or less. You can give the plant more chilling in the winter but not less. Those in coastal Santa Cruz can grow Fuji apples as they require only 300 hours of chilling but not Red Delicious. We can grow both.

What if you don?t get full sun where you?d like to grow fruit trees? Apples, pluots and plums are good choices for an area that gets some sun- at least 5 hours a day during the growing season. The ideal is full sun but these trees will still set and ripen some fruit in partially shaded conditions. With peaches, nectarines or apricots it?s a different story. These fruits need hot sun to develop sweet, tasty fruit. Too little sun and they will not deliver anything close to what you have in mind.

What?s the correct way to plant a bare root tree? According to research, amending the soil is no longer recommended. Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has a great web site with all the information you need to get your new fruit trees off to a good start including pruning, staking, mulching and care as they mature.

Don?t plant in heavy saturated soil with a high clay content, however. If your soil drains poorly it?s best to place your bare root tree at an angle in a trench, cover with soil and water in. Wait to plant until the soil is crumbly and friable with plenty of pore space. Digging in waterlogged clay soil is one of the worst things you can do for your soil?s health.

With a little planning you can have fresh fruit 7 months of the year. By growing your own fruit you’re not at the mercy of mechanical harvesters and shipping practices. You can grow fruit and harvest it when the time is right. Homegrown fruit is a world apart from agribusiness and much less expensive than the Farmer?s Market.

Controlling Diseases & Pests on Fruit Trees

Beside dormant spray, good sanitation is one of the best ways to control
diseases in fruit trees

I love it when a nice reader takes the time to call me to suggest a topic they?d like to see me write about or remind them what needs to be done at a certain time of year. Take Helen, who lives in Spring Lakes in Scotts Valley, for instance. Helen told me several years ago that she grows tomatoes in the summer and has 4 fruit trees including a satsuma plum, an espaliered apple and a tangerine. Helen battles peach leaf curl on her plum and coddling moth larvae inside her apples and would like to know exactly what to use and when to control these problems.

I know we?ve had a lot of rain which makes gardening and spraying difficult. You can prevent or control many diseases and overwintering insects by applying a dormant spray this month. This can be the most effective spray of the season. Fungal diseases such as peach leaf curl, fire blight, scab and anthracnose as well as insects including aphids, San Jose scale, bud moth, leaf roller, whitefly larvae, mealybugs and mites can all be controlled by dormant spray and horticultural oil.

There are several types of dormant sprays and all three types are considered organic. Lime-Sulfur or copper can be mixed with horticultural oil which smothers overwintering insects and eggs. This spray is good for all fruit trees except apricots which should be sprayed in the fall with copper and this month only with horticultural oil.

Apply dormant spray when the temperature is above 40 degrees. Make sure you cover every nook and cranny of each branch and trunk until the tree is dripping and spray the surrounding soil. Spray only plants that have suffered from pests or disease. Sprays, even organic, can kill beneficial insects as well. Even though they’re organic, dormant sprays can be irritating to skin and eyes, Wear long sleeves and gloves and eye protection.

Spinosad has been shown to suppress fungal diseases. Do this when the buds swell but before they open. Do not spray 36 hours before rain in predicted. Be sure to spray the ground around each tree.

Spray dormant fruit trees this month before they leaf out to control fungal diseases and insect pests. Coddling moth control starts Mid-March to early April.

Coddling moth control requires a different approach. The larvae of this particular moth is one of the few caterpillars that are likely to be found inside pear or apples. University of California Integrated Pest Management website has complete information about controlling this pest.

The website is http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7412.html

The bottom line for coddling moth control is the timing of insecticide spray applications, especially with newer, less toxic pesticides like spinosad. The coddling moth overwinters as full grown larvae within thick silken cocoons under loose scales of bark and in soil or debris around the base of the tree. The larvae emerge as adult moths mid-March to early April. To be effective your spray application must be timed for when when they are active.

Starting three to four weeks after bloom, check fruit at least twice a week looking for the first ?stings? or any mounds of reddish-brown frass. If you scrape the frass away you will see the tiny entry hole where the newly hatched larvae has just entered the fruit. Spray the tree as soon as you see the first sting after removing any fruit with stings as the insecticide won?t kill any larvae that have already entered the fruit. Coddling moths can have three or four generations per year.

According to the website, for most backyard situations, the best course of action might be to combine a variety of non chemical methods and accept the presence of some wormy fruit. Be sure to cut out the damaged portions because they might contain toxins generated by mold.

Zucchini pollination

How can I help you? Welcoming words to a troubled gardener. As summer marches on, I’m regularly asked about problems that crop up in the garden. Here are some tips and advice for situations you also may be encountering.

Zucchini squash, that fasted growing and most prolific of all summer squash, has many uses. Rather than bribe neighbors to take your giant zucchini, check the plants often and harvest them when small – the size of your finger . The flesh of these gourmet delicacies is soft and sweet at this stage.

Zucchini, as with all summer squashes and winter squash such as pumpkins, bear two kinds of flowers on the same plant. The female flower contains the ovary that will develop into the fruit itself. For every female flower, there are at least three male flowers which produce the pollen. Bees do the job of carrying pollen from the male to the female flowers. That’s why it’s important to plant flowers and shrubs that attract bees. Remember not to use pesticides ,even organic neem oil and spinosad , when bees are present.

After the female flower has faded and begins to form fruit, the role of the male flower is over. Your zucchini plant may end up with lots of excess male flowers that are edible and can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways. You may have heard of squash blossom soup or baked stuffed squash blossoms but if you go for simple recipes try making quesadillas.

After cutting the stem from the bottom of the blossoms, spread several in a single layer over half of a large flour tortilla. Top with mozzarella or your favorite cheese, fold the tortilla over and let it heat gradually and both sides. When the cheese is fully melted and the blossom have collapsed, your culinary delight is ready.
 

How to Plant a Vignette in your Garden

Most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t always know what it is- in the garden, anyway. Often when I visit a garden to help with the design, I find lots of great plants scattered about that just need to find the right spot to call home and something to tie them together.

We all do it – over the years buying plants we just have to have with no plan of where they might be used effectively. The garden becomes a collection of mismatched plants and that dramatic border you’ve envisioned just don’t come together.

Where to begin? Picture sections of the garden as separate scenes composed of small groups of plants that look good together because of their complementary and contrasting features.

Start with a strong foliage plant, then add other plants with interesting textures, forms and colors to complete the scene. Don’t simply alternate textures because that could make the garden look too controlled and predictable. Sometimes repeating a bold, course texture makes the planting restful.

Select the first plant in a vignette for its foliage. Because it serves as the main plant, it has to have leaves that look clean year round or from the time they emerge in spring until fall. Avoid plants that become discolored or tattered as the season progresses from weather, disease or pests. You can discover reliable foliage plants by observing other gardens, especially in late summer.

Examples of strong anchor foliage plants for shade include Japanese maple, hydrangeas, dogwood, pieris japonica, camellia, aucuba, rhododendron, ribes sanguineum and viburnum,. Good plants to anchor a sunny garden vignette would be butterfly bush, a tall grass like miscanthus sinensis Morning Light, ceanothus Concha, rockrose, western redbud, bush anemone Japanese barberry and lavatera.

Select supporting plants to balance the main plant in your grouping. Vary the shapes of these secondary plants to create interesting compositions. Too many plant like iris, daylilies or liriope with swordlike leaves, for instance,  would create vertical chaos. You can use one but no more than two plants to add vertical emphasis. Also using more fine-textured plants than course, large-leaved plants seems to work better. Shady medium-sized plants might include hardy geraniums, hosta, carex Evergold, ligularia, coral bells, Pacific coast iris and western sword fern. Good supporting plants for sun include salvia, penstemon, rudbeckia, yarrow, artemisia, eriogonum, blue oat grass and society garlic.

Groundcovers finish a vignette. Look for color cues from your first foliage plant and choose a low grower that complements it. Color can connect plants that differ greatly in form and color. Think of groundcovers as carpeting for your garden. Golden creeping Jenny and lamium Pink Pewter are good choices for a shady area while elfin thyme and dymondia would tie together a group in the sun.

Don’t be afraid to move a plant that is not working where its growing now. Make a note in your journal reminding yourself to transplant it sometime in the fall. Gardening is a dynamic and fluid process. Enjoy piecing  together pieces of the puzzle.
 

Fast Growing Trees for Shade

Midsummer heat can be brutal. Without shade from trees, the sun can turn a garden from an oasis into a spot not fit for man or beast.  If you need to plant a tree that grows really fast and will provide shade quickly consider one of the following. They’ll sprout 2-4 feet in a single year with good care.

Tropical looking trees not only provide shade but have a look of coolness about them. Their large leaves ripple in the slightest breeze and beg you to enjoy an icy beverage below their canopy. Catalpa’s are among the few hardy deciduous trees that can complete in flower and leaf with subtropical species. Purple Catalpa has all the bells and whistles. Their huge heart-shaped leaves are 10-12 inches long. Young leaves emerge deep blackish-purple, then turn purple-toned green in summer. Large upright clusters of trumpet-shaped 2" wide pure white flowers are lightly speckled with yellow and purple and bloom in late spring and summer. This tree grows 30-40 feet in sun or light shade and needs moderate water.

What do you get when you cross a catalpa with a chilopsis tree from the desert? You get a  Chitalpa – a rapid growing 20-30 ft. tree that combines toughness with beauty. From late spring through fall, clusters of frilly, trumpet-shaped pink or white flowers appear. Chitalpa’s like full sun and need only little to moderate water.

If you want a good lawn tree that casts light shade, I have two suggestions:  Silk Tree and Golden Honey locust. Albizia – aka Silk tree- aka Mimosa grows fast to 40 ft. tall with a wide canopy. Often it is kept pruned to 15 or 20 ft so it’s pretty powder pink flowers that appear in summer can be enjoyed up close. Birds are also attracted to the flower clusters. Silk trees are especially beautiful when viewed fro an upper deck or window.

Golden Honey locust has beautiful fern-like golden-yellow new foliage which is showy against the deep green of the more mature leaves. Foliage casts filtered shade allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath its canopy. Fast growing to 35-70 ft. This variety has few or o seed pods and is thornless.

California pepper trees are beautiful in the right spot with gnarled trunks and light, graceful branchlets. Give them room to spread away from paving and other plants. This is a great tree to shade a play area or gravel patio. Fast growth to 25-40 ft. This tree requires little to moderate water.
 
Other fast growing trees are Raywood ash, Evergreen ash, Purple Robe locust and Chinese evergreen elm.

Remember, most trees grow fast when young, then slow down as they mature. Encourage this growth spurt with deep watering and regular fertilizing.

Layering Plants for Wildlife

I confess , I’m a lazy gardener.  In July, my idea of working in the garden consists of removing seed pods from the fuchsias and trimming a few parsley and basil springs for dinner. I don’t have to spend time spraying for harmful insects and diseases because the birds and other creatures I encourage in my garden provide natural pest control. Having wildlife in the garden saves time and money, too.

A wildlife garden doesn’t have to be messy. It just requires the right balance between form and function. Areas close to the house can look more refined because they get more attention. Spots farther away from the house can be a little more relaxed because they are seen at a distance.

Plant in layers, providing a canopy or tree layer, a shrub layer and a ground cover layer. This provides the greatest range of sheltering, feeding and nesting sites for birds and other creatures. Towhees, black-headed juncos and robins like to stick to the shrub layer but are frequently found foraging in leaf litter on the ground where they find insects for food. Warblers and chickadees tend to search for insects in the canopy layer. 

Many native plants provide essential food and foraging areas for wildlife. Plants from similar climates like the Mediterranean region also have benefits for wildlife.

Coffeeberry are a favorite for many birds. This native grows in full sun or partial shade and aren’t fussy about soil. Established plant need no irrigation but will accept regular gardening watering unlike many other natives. They make up for small inconspicuous flowers with large berries than turn from green to red to black as they ripen. Use this 4-8 ft. shrub for your middle layer.

If it’s summer color you’re after, look to Vitex agnus-caste. This large shrub can be trained as a multi-stemmed small shade tree if you like. Fragrant lavender-blue flower spikes cover this plant summer to fall. Even the leaves are aromatic with handsome lacy, fanlike leaflets. Vitex thrives in heat with moderate water and is deer resistant.

Pacific wax myrtle is another shrub to use in your middle layer as a screen.  This 10 ft evergreen can also be trained as a small 30 ft tree. It’s one of the best looking native plants for the garden with aromatic glossy dark green leaves. Clusters of tiny berries are a favorite food source for several species of birds, especially warblers.

Other natives for the middle layer include Howard McMinn manzanita, Ray Harman ceanothus, bush anemone, western redbud, snowberry, pink-flowering currant and philadelphus. Native plants for the ground cover layer would also include Emerald Carpet manzanita and Yankee Point ceanothus.

You don’t need a lot of land or a huge garden to use the layering principal. Even the smallest yard can have all three layers that offer beauty and shade for us and nesting sites, food and foraging areas for wildlife.

Watering, Fertilizing and Weed Control

Whether you grow a full-blown vegetable garden or a few herbs and edible flowers in containers, celebrate this Fourth of July by serving a menu created with produce harvested from your own garden. It may be too early for your corn or tomatoes to be ready but peas served with a touch of basil would be delicious. A fellow gardener recently told me that she loves steamed baby zucchini cooked with a small pinch of lavender flowers. I haven’t tried this myself but it sounds interesting, maybe garnished some some edible nasturtium or viola flowers.

Actively growing vegetables and flowers need a boost from They use a lot of nutrients, especially nitrogen, at this time of year. Add water soluble fertilizer to your drip irrigation system or apply it through a hose-end sprayer. Sprinkle dry fertilizers over the soil around the plants or apply in trenches next to the rows. Water deeply afterward.

Remember that weeds compete with vegetables and flowers for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Weeds can also serve as alternate hosts for disease and pest problems. You can prevent weeds from getting out of control by using the "half-hour" rule. Weeding for just half an hour every couple of days will save you hours of hard work in the future. By staying ahead of the weeds, you’ll grow more healthy produce and flowers.

If you battle dandelions and don’t want to use chemical weed killers around pets and children, get out the white vinegar from the cupboard. On a hot sunny day spray straight white vinegar directly on the weed. This method will kill whatever it touches so direct the spray carefully. If the dandelion is in the lawn, wait a week, pour some water on the dead spot to dilute any lasting effects of the vinegar. then pole a bunch a holes and drop in some grass seed. Sprinkle a bit of fertilizer where the seed is planted and keep the area moist. In three weeks you won’t remember where the dead spot was and the dandelion will be long gone.

Trees are the most important living asset on your property. They cool your house and offer shade and protection for your plants. They provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Summer heat can take a toll on trees. Fruit trees, citrus and flowering trees need a deep irrigation every other week. Less thirsty established trees like Chinese pistache and strawberry tree need irrigation about once a month. Newly planted trees need water regularly. Gradually reduce frequency after a year or so.

There are ways to maximize the efficiency of the water you apply.  Drill several 4" wide holes about 24-30" deep around the drip line of the tree, being careful not to damage large roots. Fill the holes with compost and water.   Or you can use a soaker hose on the surface to slowly water the tree.   Mulch heavily all planting beds. Do not use rocks or gravel as a mulch because hey add heat to the soil and moisture evaporates faster.

Happy Fourth of July.

Drying Herbs

Many people are growing their own vegetables these days and probably have some favorite herbs growing in the garden, too.  There’s nothing like fresh herbs to bring flavor to a favorite recipe.  Out in the garden, few things beat the wonderful aroma of basil, rosemary or thyme as it infuses the air as you gently rub the leaves between your fingertips.  When your herb plants grow faster than you can use them, it’s time to harvest some for drying. Regular pruning encourages new growth.

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom. That’s when the leaves are at their peak flavor. Pick a sunny day and harvest in the morning when the oils are strongest and morning dew has evaporated.

is easy- either hang them in bunches or lay in a shallow basket or on a screen in a well-ventilated place out of the sun.  If you’re drying on screens or in baskets, remove large-leaved herbs from their stems and spread them out.  Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on their stems to dry. Depending on the weather, it may take a few days to a few weeks for your herbs to dry fully.

A dried herb should crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Once the herbs are dry, gently strip the leaves and pack them into clean, dry jars with tight fitting lids. Pack the leaves whole to retain the best flavor. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils, so don’t do that until you use them. Store away from light and heat. They are best if used within a year.

Give True Geraniums a Chance

I feel sorry for them. They are the wallflowers of the nursery. Shoppers barely glancing their way before moving on to attention getters like dinner-plate dahlias. In the garden, though, they shine. They are the work horses of the perennial border. I’m talking about true geraniums– those hardy, versatile, long blooming plants for edgings, borders and ground covers.

Most people use the common name geranium to describe what is actually a pelargonium. Ivy geraniums, Martha Washington pelargoniums  and zonal geraniums and are all pelargoniums. , also called cranesbill, look very different. Leaves are roundish or kidney-shaped and usually lobed or deeply cut. Flower colors include beautiful blue, purple, magenta, pink or white and often completely cover the plant with color. I’ll bet if you visited a garden on a tour or admired a picture in a garden magazine it contained true geraniums.
Here are just a few strong performers available among the dozens of species.

Geranium maderense grows best in shade. This dramatic native of Madeira is the largest geranium with huge 1-2 foot long leaves shaped like giant snowflakes. Clusters of thousands of rose tinted flowers form on a 3 foot trunk. This perennial is short-lived but self sows freely. Add some of these architectural plants to your border for color and structure.

Blue flowers in the garden are always a hit as they combine so well with other colors. Geranium Orion‘s abundant clear blue flower clusters bloom over a long season. Use this 2 foot spreading plant in sun or part shade in a mixed border or as a groundcover.

Another fast growing variety is geranium Incanum which covers itself spring through fall with rosy violet flowers. Cut back every 2-3 years to keep neat.  This variety endures heat and drought better than other types but needs some summer water. It self seed profusely which might be exactly what you want as a groundcover in a problem area.

If pale pink is your color, plant geranium Biokova. This excellent groundcover spreads slowly. The numerous one inch flowers are long lasting and cover the plant from late spring to early summer. Their soft pink color is indispensable when tying together stronger colors in the border and the lacy foliage is slightly scented.

Give a hardy geranium a place in your garden.

Pacific Dogwood & Plants with Seasonal Interest

Driving east to Yosemite recently, I was reminded of how diverse botanically and geologically is the state of California.  Leaving the redwood forest here, I passed tawny grasslands and oak studded foothills to a mixed evergreen forest up in the Sierras. Many of the same plants grow here- buckeye, solomon seal and western azalea. I was hoping the native Pacific dogwood would still be blooming and was not disappointed. Huge white flowers, resembling butterflies, covered these small trees. I last saw them a couple of years ago when they wore bright red fall foliage. This got me thinking. What other plant are interesting in more than one season?

    

 

                            Here is a table of trees and shrubs to add to your garden

name flowers? fruit berries? Fall color? interesting bark?
Dogwood yes yes yes yes
Golden Raintree yes yes yes yes
Maple no no yes yes
Crape Myrtle no no yes yes
Redbud yes no yes yes
Fringe tree yes no yes yes
Katsura yes no yes yes
Crabapple yes yes no no
Persimmon no yes yes yes
Nandina yes yes yes no
Japanese barberry no yes yes no
Smoke bush no yes no yes
Blueberry yes yes yes no

Other plants that make a bold statement in the garden are big-leaved perennials. If one of your garden beds or borders need something to quickly enliven the scene, look to giant leaves to give contrast. Often a planting will have too many similar flower or leaf sizes and end up looking fussy, overly detailed and chaotic. That’s when large architectural plants come to the rescue.

Ligularia dentata form 3 ft. clumps in partial shade. From midsummer to early fall, 3-5 ft. stems bear 4" wide orange-yellow daisy-like flowers. Their leaves are the most striking feature. Othello has deep purplish green, kidney-shaped leaves almost a foot across while Desdemona has leaves with purple undersides and green upper surfaces. Ligularia clumps can remain undisturbed for years and stay lush and full from springtime through frost.

For borders in the sun, cannas add drama. They stand bright and tall with huge leaves on 4-6 ft. stems. Some like Pretoria and Tropicana have striped leaves and others have bronze leaves like Wyoming and Sunburst Pink. Flowers range from orange, red, pink, yellow, cream and bicolor. Canna leaves are useful in flower arrangements but the flowers themselves do not keep well. In the garden border, canna foliage, backlit by sunshine, positively glows.

Red bananas are grown for the impact of their beautiful leaves which range in color from deep claret brown to re-purple to green. Plant them in full to part sun in an area protected from the wind to avoid shredded leaves. Ornamental bananas grow fast to 15-20 ft and make a bold tropical accent in any garden.

 

Pruning Japanese Maples

MId-June and everything in the garden is full and lush. Your Japanese maples might be getting a little too full for your taste-outgrowing its space, crowding the neighbors, looking like a boring blob. Take the fear out of pruning with these easy steps.

Pruning any plant is necessary for several reasons-to control size or shape, to remove dead or diseased branches, to improve structure or to stimulate new growth. Pruning also can improve the health of a plant by increasing air circulation, allowing more light into the center and reducing disease problems.

Japanese maples do not need a lot of pruning. June is the best time of year to prune them as the leaves have become full size. The least favorable time to prune would be early to mid fall just as it is sending nutrients and energy to store for the cold months. Bring out your tree’s personality by symmetrically thinning out about a third of the small twigs throughout  the tree and any dead twigs. Japanese maples less than 15 years old are prone to put on new growth that looks like a buggy whip: unattractively skinny with no side branches. Shortening or removing the buggy whips only stimulates more of the same. Be patient. You will be surprised to find that, as the whips age, they fatten up, develop lateral branches, and turn into nice-looking scaffold limbs. Make sure not to thin to much on the sides of the tree if they are exposed to sunlight as that could cause sunburn. Use the "1/3 rule" when deciding where or how far back to cut a branch – that is prune to an upward or outward growing branch that is at least a third as big as the one you are cutting.

Avoid attempting to restrict the height of a Japanese maple. It won’t work. The tree will simply grow faster with thin, unruly branches. You can reduce the height of the tree a bit by removing branches that grow in an upward direction to a lower branch. The width of these trees, on the other hand, can be somewhat modified. Trim side growth and foliage that is hanging too low by cutting to branches farther back in the tree. It’s time consuming to prune a little, then stand back to decide where the next cut will be, but when you’re finished, your new tree will have an airy, delicate appearance allowing you to see into the tree and admire the

 

Orange and Peach color in the Garden

Enjoying a spectacular sunset on a warm evening in the summertime is one of life’s simple pleasures. Peach and orange tones bounce off the bottom of gauzy cirrus clouds as they streak across the sky. Combine these warm colors with varying shades of blue sky and you have he perfect color combo –opposites on the color wheel. We can’t help but ooh and aah,? we have an emotional response to this particular pairing of colors.

If you don’t have a vignette or section of your garden with peach, orange and blue yet, now’s the time to create one. All the tints and tones of orange warm and cheer up our gardens, no matter what the weather. And orange flowers set off every color of foliage, from blue-gray to lime to copper.

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Canna ‘Pretoria’

  • Here’s a short list of my favorite peach and orange flowers and foliage:
    ???? Orange hummingbird mint ( agastache aurantiaca ) a drought tolerant, summer-blooming favorite of hummingbirds.
    Crocosmia – an old garden favorite with long blooming flower spikes that make good cut flowers.
    Kangaroo paw Tequila Sunrise ( anigozanthus ) – another long blooming hummingbird favorite
    Canna Pretoria – beautiful variegated gold foliage and orange flowers make this perennial a classic
    Yarrow Terra Cotta ( achillea millefolium ) – drought tolerant, carefree, generously blooming perennial attractive to both butterflies and their larvae
    Flowering Maple Tangerine( abutilon )- favorite year-round bloomer of both hummingbirds and yours truly.
    Fuschia gartenmeister – the orange fuchsia that needs no cleaning. May still be blooming at Christmas time for your hummers.
    Orange New Zealand sedge ( carex testacea ) – widely arching clumps of beautiful rusty grass

Other inspiring orange flowers your sure to want in your garden are calibrachoa Sunrise or Terra Cotta, gazania, lantana, dahlia, coprosma Evening Glow, orange tuberous begonias and orange daylilies

Combine with blue flowers, stir well and stand back to enjoy your own garden sunset.

Landscaping Tips for Great Gardens

By this time of the year, you probably have planted some new perennials for color in your garden. But if you look around and still feel something is missing the answer may be that your landscape needs more than color. As a landscape designer I am often called upon for ideas to create richer landscapes that provide four seasons of interest. Here are some tips I pass along.

A more sophisticated appeal and enduring quality in your landscape can be achieved if foliage color is used to complement, or contrast with, other plants within the design. This technique unifies the overall look while offering appeal throughout the season. One plant that would make this happen is Rose Glow Japanese barberry. Their graceful habit with slender, arching branches makes a statement by itself but it’s the vivid marbled red and pinkish foliage that steals the show until they deepen to rose and bronze with age. In the fall, the foliage turns yellow-orange before dropping and bead-like bright red berries stud the branches fall through winter.

Abelia Confetti is another small shrub that can be used to unify your landscape. Growing only 2-3 ft high and 4-5 ft wide with leaves variegated white, their foliage turning maroon in cold weather. Abelias are adaptable plants, useful in shrub borders, near the house or as as groundcover on banks. White, bell-shaped flowers are plentiful and showy during summer and early fall.

Texture in foliage is very important in good garden design. Varying the size and shape of leaves creates diversity and variety among neighboring plants. Striking visual interest can even be achieved when working with two different plants with similar shades of green.

An example of this would be combining Gold Star pittosporum tenuifolium with grevillea noellii. The first has dark green oval foliage on 10-15 for dense plants while the latter is densely clad with narrow inch long glossy green leaves. Clusters of pink and white flowers bloom in early to late spring and are  a favorite of hummingbirds.

Using the same plant shape throughout a landscape can create and tie the entire design together. Forms and shapes of plants and trees can be columnar, conical, oval, round, pyramidal, weeping, spreading and arching. A loropetalum with its spreading tiers of arching branches could be repeated throughout your garden to create visual interest and balance. A dogwood tree could also repeat this same form as their branches grow horizontally.

Consider also layering plants to create a beautiful garden. From groundcovers all the way up to the tallest tree, natural looking designs mimic nature.

Don’t forget about focal points. This could be a Japanese maple cloaked by a wall of dark evergreens or a statue or pottery at the end of a long, narrow pathway. Focal points draw attention and even distract the eye from an unsightly view.

There are many solutions to make your garden complete. Consider using some of the above design elements to make your landscape beautiful. 

Unthirsty Plants

Our summer unofficially kicked off with Memorial Day weekend. What better way to start the season than to spend some time outdoors and do a little gardening?

Plant some new water efficient plants for color and to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Afterwards spread  fresh bark or compost to mulch the soil. This insulates and protects shallow roots from the heat of the summer sun. While keeping the soil cool, mulch slows the evaporations of water from the soil so it stays moist.

Some of my favorite plants are survivors– easy to grow with minimal water use once established while also attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden.

Ceanothus is one plant that does it all.  Brilliant blue or stark white flowers in spring provide nectar for both hummers and butterflies.  Ceanothus also provide food for butterfly larvae. A new ground cover variety with gold and deep green variegated foliage can bring color to the garden year round. Growing 3-5 feet wide and 2 feet tall this perennial can survive with only occasional summer water.

Everyone should have some lavender in their garden. Hummingbirds and butterflies both favor this plant and there are new introductions every year from growers. Elegance Purple forms a bushy compact mound with sensational purple flowers in early sumer. Goodwin Creek is an old stand-by that blooms from spring to late fall with deep violet blue flowers. For midsummer bloom plant Grosso which is a widely planted commercial variety in France and Italy. It’s possibly the most fragrant lavandin or all. Spanish lavender blooms spring into summer if sheared. By planting an assortment of lavenders you can have a succession of flowers throughout the season.

Penstemon also lure hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. They come in a wide range of colors and varieties from native species to garden hybrids. Another long blooming, tough plant is achillea Moonshine (yarrow). Butterflies love to alight on their yellow flat landing pads. The dense flower clusters make good cut flowers and the gray-green foliage blends with all color in the garden. Yarrow need only routine care once established. They can take some watering although they endure drought once established. Cut them back after bloom and divide when clumps get crowded. 

There are so many salvias to choose from and all are great additions to a tough love garden. Autumn sage blooms summer through fall in colors ranging from deep purple through true red to rose, pink and white. Purple Pastel is especially beautiful covering 3-4 foot plants with blossoms filled with nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies.

Those who seek true blue flowers for their gardens might try planting salvia chamaedryoides. This elegant front-of-the-border plant has silvery foliage which sets off the brilliant blue flowers. Heaviest bloom is in late spring and fall. Deadheading encourages rebloom.  This salvia is drought tolerant but blooms longer and better with a little summer water.

Three more un-thirsty bloomers that even beginner gardens can’t kill are . All attract hummingbirds.  Coreopsis also make good cut flowers.
 

A White Garden with Fragrance

Gardens are living things-changing over time. One year everything in the garden seems to bloom in April and May. Other years different plants reach maturity and provide color and structure during the summer. If your garden needs a few plants that will "pop" in the landscpe why not add a white bloomer that you can still enjoy after the sun goes down?

A great looking native plant for the back of the border is philadelphus lewisii or wild mock orange. Fragrant, white, satiny 2" flowers attract butterflies in late spring and early summer. Goose Creek is a doulbe-flowered selection that forms a fountain shape 4-10 ft tall and is fairly drought tolerant. Not fussy about soil type but it must have good drainage.

Another sweet-scented, white flowering Ca. native is carpenteria californica or bush anemone. Although this plant needs little water once established it can also accept ordinary garden conditions making it valuable closer to the house in the "lean, mean and green" zone that the fire dept wants irrigated more to retard flames. Clusters of fragrant 2-3" white blossoms with yellow centers appear at the ends of the branches. This shrub grows slowly to 4-6 ft tall and would be beautiful along a path or next to the patio where you could enjoy it’s fragrance in the evening, too.

Roses are among the showiest fragrant flowers you can grow in your garden. Sure they need a little extra water but the pay back is spectacular. Place them in areas with other plants that need regular water. Here are my favorite white roses.

Full Sail- a medium upright hybrid tea rose with large bright white flowers and a strong honeysuckle fragrance.
John F. Kennedy- Huge, full greenish white buds open to rich white and smell like licorice. This rose stands up well to hot weather.
Iceberg- One of the top ten roses of the workls and the best landscpe white around. It also comes as a climber. Honey scented rose clusters are borne in great profusion. This rose is extremely disease resistant and needs little care.  Looks great as a hedge or in mass plantings. This the the part I love, they have very few thorns.
Stainless Steel-  A rose that is so close to white it would shine in a moon garden. With pale silvery lavender flowers and a fragrance stronger than Sterling Silver it’s easier to care for and grow. Flower size and color are best with cooler temperatures or in a bit of shade.

What else can you grow in a white garden? If I had more room, I’d have a Longissims Alba wisteria with pure white fragrant flowers that cascade in spikes up to 4 ft long. Or I’d grow a Krasavitsa Moskvy lilac whose lavender-rose tinted buds open to full, double, creamy, fragrant white flowers.

I also like the also called mock orange because it’s flowers really do smell like citrus blossoms. Their green and white foliage can lighten up a dark corner in any garden and scent the air. Tuck some sweet alyssum along a path and your white garden is complete.

Permaculture and You

We all want to do the right thing for the environment by reducing our carbon footprint and becoming good stewards of the land. We want to build our landscapes with green products and incorporate sustainable practices in the garden. A good way to do this is to create gardens that offer food and beauty for people while providing habitat and other benefits for the rest of nature.

Permaculture is the fancy name for this approach to garden design. When you garden using organic fertilizers and organic pesticides ( when necessary ) you reduce pollution in the environment. When you plant edibles like beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs in your yard, you create a more natural landscape that takes better care of itself while yielding a plentiful harvest of plants for food.

You can put these ideas to work in your own garden by using water more efficiently and carefully selecting and siting plants. Deep rooted trees like fig, mulberry, peach and plum help break up heavy soil and shade the plants beneath them. Planting drought tolerant trees creates shade which in turn slows the evaporation of moisture from soil and prevents erosion.

Group plants with similar water needs. Grow thirsty plants in the lowest areas of your garden where more water collects. You might install a rain garden in an areas like this. A rain garden is simply a planted depression designed to absorb run-off from areas like driveways, walkways, roofs and compacted lawn ares. The rain garden acts to replenish ground beds while preventing water from running into storm sewers, streams and creeks.

Plant dry climate plants like lavender, rosemary and sage in open, sunny areas and drought tolerant ground covers like oregano and thyme to shade the soil and conserve moisture. Use less turf grass and more walkable ground covers where possible.

Place hardy perennials like artichoke, butterfly bush and rhubarb under tree canopies to conserve moisture. In general, use deep-rooted, low maintenance perennials that provide food and also shade for plants underneath.

For food, plant fruit trees, berries, nuts, herbs and vegetables. To create habitat, plant fennel, spearmint and yarrow for beneficial insects; butterfly bush and sage for pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds; ceanothus and other native shrubs and trees for birds and other wildlife.

To , plant deep rooted plants to break up heavy soils and add organic matter. You can plant rhubarb, bear’s breech or other large leaf plants for a living mulch. Using wood based mulch on garden beds helps contain moisture in the soil, too.  To provide soil with nitrogen, plant ceanothus, clover, legumes like beans, and peas and lupine. To supply minerals as compost or mulch plant chives, comfrey, garlic and white yarrow.

Sustainable landscapes do not have to look like a weed patch. With a little planning your garden can be beautiful and productive.

Taking Care of your Soil

Gardening is all about dirt-its care and feeding, its microbes and fungi, bacteria and earthworms. So whether you’re planting your vegetable garden or a border of perennials, feed the soil- not the plants. Start by using organic fertilizers and pesticides. Here’s why.

Most of a plants energy goes to producing substances that it drips out through the roots to attract bacteria and fungi. These in turn attract good nematodes and protozoa to the root zones. To make a long story short, the protozoa eat bacteria and the nematodes eat not only the bacteria but also fungi and other nematodes to get carbon. What they don’t need they expel and this feeds the roots much like earthworm castings.

It gets even more interesting down in the soil. If the plant needs different foods it can change what is secretes. Different substances will attract different bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa. This huge diversity of soil biota helps the good guys keep the bad guys in check.

A common way to destroy the microbiology of the soil is to add salts ( non-organic fertilizers). The salts kill the bacteria and fungi by dehydrating them. Then the plant can’t feed itself and becomes dependent on its fertilizer fix. Without the good bacteria and fungi in the soil other parts of the food chain start dying off as well.

The soil food web is also responsible for soil structure. Bacteria create slime that glue soil particles together. Fungi weave threads to create larger soil particles. Worms distribute bacteria and fungal spores throughout the soil and create pathways for air and water.

What can you do to bring your soil back to life? 

  • Add 1/4" of compost on top
  • Mulch around perennials, shrubs and trees with dried leaves and grass clippings for annuals.
  • Use aerated compost tea
  • Apply mycorrhizal fungi, especially in a new garden that’s been rototilled or chemically fertilized. You can find this in most organic fertilizers and some organic potting soils.
  • Try to avoid walking on the root zone of plants. This kills fungi in the soil. Install stepping stones to preserve soil structure.
  • After employing the above suggestions if you’re looking to add something new to your newly revitalized shady border consider planting a flowering maple that bears lilac blue flowers. Abutilon vitifolium grows to 6-8 ft in partial shade. Gray green maple-like leaves reach 6" or longer. Flowers grow singly or in clusters on long stalks. Abutilons need good drainage.

    As a ground cover underneath them, grow . Vivid periwinkle blue flowers bloom spring through summer. Campanulas are a large family of perennials. Some are low groundcovers like Get Mee’s to 3 ft tall peach leafed campanulas. Both are easy to grow and are choice plants for borders.

Veggies & Fruit trees for Small Spaces

You know that growing your own fruit and vegetables can supply your family with fresh tasting and nutritious food. But what if you don’t have much space for a big garden or an orchard of fruit trees. Now days there are lots of available for smaller yards and containers. Here are some good ones to try.

Tomatoes are always popular to grow whether in the ground or in pots. Bush types don’t grow as large as vines. If you like large size tomatoes, plant Bush Beefsteak and you’ll be harvesting clusters of delicious 8 oz. tomatoes in just 62 days. A half wine barrel can house a taller tomato like the ever popular Sungold . Small gold-orange cherry tomatoes ripen early and are oh-so-sweet. You’ll plant these every year after you’ve tasted one.

Zucchini lovers might try the semi-vining Raven variety which won’t take up as much space as a traditional type. These plants bear black-green, white flesh fruit with a mild sweet flavor and are very tender. If you have a little space to spare grow the round French heirloom squash, Ronde de Nice. Jade colored zucchini produce over a long period. Harvest the fruit when they reach golf ball up to baseball size. They are sublime grilled or try them stuffed. They are unique in the garden and wonderful in cuisine.  A tip to encourage pollination when squash or melons bloom is to pinch off leaves covering the blossoms in order to give pollinators a clear path to the flowers.

Herbs make good additions to the smaller garden, too. They can be kept compact with frequent pinching as you harvest sprigs for cooking. They also attract beneficial insects to the garden. Oregano, chamomile and fennel are good insectary herbs.

Dwarf fruit trees can also find a place in the smaller garden. They can be grown in large pots or half barrels on the deck, too. Dwarf Garden Delicious apple is self-fertile and bears at a young age. Greenish-yellow skinned fruit with attractive red color ripens in late September into October. They grow to 8-10 feet at maturity.

Compact Stella cherry is also self fertile and is a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries. The fruit is large, dark red or nearly black. Firm, sweet, dark red flesh has good flavor and texture. Stella cherries grow 10-12 feet tall and bear at a young age.

If it’s almonds you crave for your patio or mini-orchard, plant a Dwarf Garden Prince almond. This compact 10-12 ft tree blooms mid-season with beautiful pale pink blossoms. Dense attractive foliage and good quality sweet almonds make this tree a nice addition to any garden.

A patio-sized peach for smaller yards is the Dwarf Southern Flame.  Large, yellow, aromatic freestone peaches are firm, crisp and melt in your mouth. Tree height is just 5 ft and the fruit ripens early to mid July.

Don’t let lack of space stop you from enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables this year.

Citrus in the Garden

There’s always so much to do in the garden in early spring.  It can be overwhelming deciding what’s important and what can wait. This is how I tackle my garden to spruce things up in a hurry.

First, I decide what problems stand out and choose what to do based on which areas will be the most noticeable. Which improvements will have the most impact?

Focus your attention where family and friends gather- the patio, a shady spot if it’s hot or a sunny area if it’s cool in your garden. Clean up what catches your eye like dead limbs, tall weeds or clutter. Sweeping the deck or patio will make the whole garden look better.

Flowers attract the most attention. Focus on the beds closest to gathering spots and those places you see outside the windows.  Enhance what you have. Blooming or bright foliage plants can fill in gaps in beds.

Perk up your entry with new plants. Group several containers filled with plants you love.  The bigger the plant you use, the more immediate the effect. Combine shades of all one color like blue, purple or red for a more dramatic look.

What else can you do to spice up your landscape?  Plant a dwarf citrus. They grow to only 8 feet so fit into small spaces. Plant in a spot that gets full sun and has well drained soil. Citrus are slow growing and do great in containers, too.

A favorite lemon variety is Improved Meyer. It a actually a cross between a lemon and an orange and tastes slightly sweeter than a true lemon  such as the Eureka. The fruit is very juicy and holds well on the tree, increasing the sweetness.

If your’e looking for an ornamental specimen for a patio container, consider a Nagami kumquat. Small reddish-orange fruit hang on the tree nearly year round and you eat them whole-peel and all. This small symmetrical tree is Japan’s most popular kumquat.

Another very attractive citrus is the which is also known as the Clementine. Its weeping form, dense, dark foliage and fruit that is held toward the outside make this a very showy specimen either in a container or in the ground. Sweet and juicy fruit hold on the tree for several months. This is the variety you see in the market from December to May. Wouldn’t  it be great to have one in your garden?

Companion plants for the Vegetable Garden

Many of us are growing our own vegetables this year. Homegrown vegetables taste better and can be picked fresh from the garden preserving valuable nutrients. We can reduce our carbon footprint as our own produce doesn’t have to be delivered by truck. It’s also a good way to get the kids involved and spend time together.
And there’s nothing quite like picking a warm tomato or raspberry from the vine while you work in the garden. 
Whether you’ve started your garden already or are still in the planning stages, here are some useful tips.

Group vegetables together that have similar watering needs. A good guideline is to group plants by how big they get and how fast they grow. The bigger and faster growing they are, the more water they will use. Corn, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and squash, for instance,  all grow rapidly and use similar amounts of water.   Deep rooted  melons, beans and tomatoes, however,  can get by with a deep soak (down to 4 feet) after they have flowered and started to set fruit.

Growing companion plants with your vegetables is one way to avoid problems with pests and diseases. Companion plants that repel pests or attract beneficial insects work best when planted from 1-6 feet away. Plants, when attacked by pests, exude chemicals and hormones that actually attract nearby beneficial insects.

Flowers make great companions in the vegetable garden

  •  Dahlias repel nematodes.
  • Geraniums repel cabbage worms, corn ear worms and leaf hoppers.  Plant them by grapes, roses, corn and cabbage. 
  • Marigolds discourage beetles, whiteflies and nematodes. They act as trap plants for spider mites and slugs. Don’t plant them by cabbage or beans.
  • Nasturtium act as a barrier trap around tomatoes, radishes, cabbage and fruit trees. They deter whiteflies, and squash bugs and are a good trap crop for black aphids    ?     
  • Herbs that help deter pests include:
  • Catnip/catmint which repel mice, flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils
  • Chamomile improves the flavor of cabbage, onions and cucumbers. It also accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. It also hosts hoverflies and good wasps and increases productions of essential oils in herbs.
  • Summer savory repels bean leaf beetles and improves the flavor of beans. All beans enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. They are good for planting with all of your vegetables except onions, garlic and leeks.

Your garden may be one raised bed or a few containers on the patio. Whatever the size, plant some of these colorful and useful combinations and you, too, will be bragging about how many vegetables you grew this year.

New Plants for the Garden

Every season new varieties of colorful flowering annuals and perennials are introduced by hybridizers. These new plants are field tested and bred for better performance, disease and insect resistance, flower size, color and heat tolerance.  Where does this happen?  What goes into that gorgeous vivid red geranium you see on the bench at the nursery?

Over 30 breeders of flower seeds and perennial starts each spring showcase their new varieties in trials held throughout the state.  Professional growers visit the trials to choose which new varieties they will grow this year and offer to local nurseries and garden centers.  Goldsmith Seeds in Gilroy is one of the locations that hosts the colorful spectacle.

Fragrant, wisteria-covered arbors shade paths that wind throughout the landscaped grounds . The grounds are open to the public to enjoy throughout the summer.  Also on site are the greenhouses where breeders work on creating new and better flower varieties.  It was interesting to see several acres planted with fava beans as a cover crop. Soon the fields of this flowering legume will be cut down and tilled into the soil to add nitrogen. Legumes attract soil dwelling bacteria that attach to the plant’s roots and pull atmospheric nitrogen out of the air and soil, storing it on the roots as nodules.  When the plant is cut down and chopped up to decompose that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed new plants. After a few weeks of decomposition the energized soil will be ready for planting test flowers that Goldsmith seeds will further evaluate.

All of the seeds are actually grown in greenhouses in Holland and Guatemala. Cool season flowers like primroses, cyclamen, violas and pansies are produced mainly in Holland while warm season flowers like dahlias, geraniums, gazanias, and verbenas are grown at different elevations in Guatemala. I learned Goldsmith Seeds has been developing and growing seed in Guatemala for 40 years.

What new cultivars really impressed me at the trials?  There’s a new geranium that combines the best features of ivy and zonal geraniums. I liked the amazing color of Calliope Dark Red but all the colors were show stoppers. They would be perfect for baskets or beds in full sun or part shade. And you should see all the colors that calibrachoa now comes in-light blue, dark blue, deep yellow, peach, orange, even white with rose veins. These have now been bred to bloom earlier in the season which is why you’re seeing them in nurseries now.  There were many fragrant flowers like . I always looks forward to them when they arrive at the nursery. 

Try something new in your garden this year. There are so many good choices.
 

Fragrant Plants for Spring

Spring is busting out all over.  Huge saucer magnolias and dainty flowering cherries adorn trees everywhere you look.  Many spring bloomers are deliciously fragrant, too. Whether you’re planting edibles in the vegetable garden or containers on the deck include plants that entice you to linger and enjoy their sweet scent.

Old fashion lilacs will be blooming soon. Nothing ways "Spring" like the legendary scent of these shrubs.  Give them a spot in full sun with enough room for them to spread 6′ wide. While most plants accept slightly acidic soils, lilacs are an exception.  Dig lime into your soil at planting and side dress yearly if your soil is acidic.

Looking for something in vanilla? Evergreen clematis vines make a great screen with 6" long, glossy leaves and creamy white, saucer shaped, vanilla-scented flower clusters.  Provide study support for them to climb on. They are slow to start but race once established.

Outside the veggie garden, citrus blossoms can scent the air.  Plant lemons oranges, mandarins, kumquats, grapefruit and limes in full sun areas.  Established trees need a good soak every other week so keep them on a separate watering system from your other edibles.

Inside the veggie garden, include scented plants that attract beneficial insects.  Fragrant lavender and sweet alyssum are good choices.  For sheer enjoyment, plant perennial carnation and dianthus for their intense clove fragrance.  Cinnamon Red Hots grow to 15", are deer resistant, bloom all spring and summer and don’t need deadheading.  Velvet and White border carnations are among the least demanding and most satisfying perennials in the garden. As cut flowers they are long lasting and highly fragrant in bouquets.

Another fragrant perennial to tuck among your other plants or veggies is Berries & Cream Sachet nemesia. Intensely fragrant blossoms are purple and white, just like blackberries covered with cream.  They bloom for months without any special care but if flowers decline, cut plants back to stimulate new growth.

Fragrant shrubs that are easy to grow are osmanthus, bush anemone, choisya, philadelphus, butterfly bush, and daphne.  Scented perennials include sweet violets and chocolate cosmos.  Plant several chocolate cosmos for the strongest effect. They really do smell like dark chocolate on a warm day.  Vivid purple heliotrope don’t winter over around here but their vanilla and licorice fragrance make them worth replanting each year.

Plant for fragrance. It’s your reward for all the care and tending you give your garden.
 

Plant Communities of the Santa Cruz Mtns

Knowing which type of plant community you live in can make the difference between success and ho-hum results in your garden. Choose the right plant for the right place. 

Plant communities have evolved over time with geologic changes in climate, topography and soils. We have several district areas here- mixed evergreen forest and redwood forest, chaparral and the sandhills.

If you live in a mixed evergreen forest you garden with trees like coast live oak, tan oak, madrone, bay and buckeye. Understory plants include ceanothus, coffeeberry, hazel and poison oak.  Your soil contains serpentine and granite. Many other unthirsty plants like salvias, lavender, santolina, society garlic, needle and giant feather grass and rockrose also do well here. Another plant to try that will also flourish in your garden is a native of New Zealand called Coprosma.  There are many colorful varieties now available like "Evening Glow".  All are valued for their colorful variegated foliage especially in the cooler months when the leaves turn orange red.  Many coprosmas grow to 4-5 ft but Evening Glow is just 14" tall. They need little water and can be happy in full sun or partial shade.

Mixed evergreen forest may also be found along canyon bottoms near streams where bigleaf maple, white alder, cottonwood, and western sycamore trees grow.  Most plant grow lush in this deep soil.  If you are looking to add something new to your garden here consider brunnera which blooms now with tiny clear blue flowers that freely self-sow without being invasive. It has large heart-shaped leaves that are showy, too,

Chaparral areas are the hottest, driest slopes of these mountains. Dense thickets of manzanita, coyote brush, chamise, coffeeberry, ceanothus, monkey flower and sage are native here. These plants are adapted to little water and often have tiny, thick, waxy,  light green or grayish leaves. Soils tend to be rocky, shallow and overlaying rock or a subsoil that is mostly clay. Plants here need to have an extensive root system that reaches widely and deeply for water. If you live here be sure you have the spring blooming western redbud and Julia Phelps or Dark Star ceanothus. The combination of magenta and electric blue flowers is unforgettable.

The sandhills near Quail Hollow and Bonny Doon around Martin Rd. are part of an ancient sandy sea floor that was uplifted, eroded and exposed. These sandy soils lack organic matter and nutrients and their white color magnifies the temperature of the summer sun. Unique, native plants include silverleaf manzanita and Ben Lomond wallflower live here.  When you plant in these soils amend with compost to provide needed nutrients. Lewisia, a pretty little plant native to northern California, thrives in sand and gravel soils with good drainage. This 8" tall hardy perennial blooms from spring to early summer with extremely showy flower clusters in colors ranging from apricot to pink, rose and bright cherry red.  Mulch these beauties with gravel or crushed stone.

Remember right plant-right place.

It’s Spring – What do I do?

Yes, we need more rain but the recent sunny weather has been good for both people and plants. I remember many years ago when we had "The Miracle March" as a local meteorologist called it. It rained for 30 days straight. This was great for the watershed but drowned new emerging roots, starving them of oxygen and causing lots of fungal problems.  Let’s hope Mother Nature spreads out the remaining precipitation keeping everyone happy.

Spring begins today. This year, especially, think of gardening as therapy.  Every moment you put in your garden is paid back with fresh vegetables and fragrant flowers.  Think about it- stir up the soil, plant some seeds and you have flowers and vegetables in a few months.  The satisfaction you get from cultivating living things is priceless.

Get started on this free therapy by tending to your garden this week:

Plant low water use plants in place of those that have been struggling. Use your precious time, space and sun to grow the plants you most want to look at, pic or eat.  As a reminder, never work with soil that is very wet and keep off your lawn the, too, as this can compact the soil.

Cut back deciduous shrubs and vines except those that flower now in the spring. Don’t prune rhododendrons, camellias, or azaleas until the last flowers have started to open and green growth has started.
Prune frost  damaged shrubs if you can tell how far down the die back goes otherwise wait until growth starts in the spring.  For your shrubs, test bark for viability by scraping with a sharp knife.

If you are interested in being less of a slave to your lawn, consider reducing the size. If you’ve decided that you don’t need a traditional grass lawn anymore at all, replace it with a sustainable alternative.

Check for early aphids and blast them off with a hose or use no-tozic sprays like horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Check for snails and slug damage and apply organic iron phosphate bait. Earwigs and sowbugs can be controlled by organic spinosad. Reduce their numbers by eliminating hiding places.  Clean out leaf litter and garden debris and use organic iron phosphate bait.  Copper pennies in your containers can also deter them.

Get weeds out of the garden early and you’ll save yourself a lot of digging later. Weeds rob your plants of precious moisture and nutrients.

Plant cool season vegetable like peas, chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, onions and other greens.  You can also sow seeds of beets and carrots. The soil is still too cold for tomatoes and other warm season vegetables. 

Grow the sweetest strawberries this year by planting them in a bed that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun at midday.  Don’t water too much.  This can dilute their flavor.  You want the soil to be moist but not wet. Don’t apply excess nitrogen fertilizer which causes overly lush growth at the expense of berry production. Also keep beds free of weeds and space each strawberry plant about a foot apart.

Plant a spring flowering tree such as a flowering cherry, dogwood, crabapple or plum or a native western redbud to welcome the new season and make your spirits soar.
 

Planning this Summer’s ‘Staycation’

Picture yourself this summer with your family outdoors  during your  "staycation" – relaxing, cooking on the barbie, entertaining, playing with the kids or maybe just reading in the shade. Maybe you need to make some changes to truly have a relaxing backyard.  Now is the perfect time to plan while the yard is still a bit bare and you can see the space for what it really is.  Here are some ideas to get you started on your backyard makeover.

Make sure you have enough shade in your garden to keep everyone comfortable in the hot summer. We usually get a heat wave in May so be prepared early.  National Arbor Day in the last week of April but each state sets its own day of celebration. California celebrates this week, March 7-14, as the week to plant a tree.

There are so many good choices for our area.  First, determine how wide and tall you want your tree to grow. Next, know your soil and growing conditions.  Those who live in sandy areas might consider a strawberry tree, chitalpa, crape myrtle, Grecian laurel, fruitless olive, Chinese pistache, Purple Robe locust, California pepper tree or native oak.  Good choices for those who live with clay soil are arbutus ‘Marina’, western redbud, hawthorn, gingko, Norway or silver maple.  If you have quite a bit of shade but still need a bit more for the patio area, think dogwood, strawberry tree, Eastern redbud or podocarpus.

What would entice everyone out to the backyard after dark when it’s cooler? How about a simple metal fire bowl set on gravel, with brick or pavers?  If a piece of crackling firewood throws any sparks, they fall on the the gravel and expire.

How about a hidden getaway to read or just sit and relax? All you need is a quiet nook carved out of the larger garden.  Place a comfortable chair or love seat on some flagstone pavers, add a table and a dramatic container planted with flowers or colorful foliage and your retreat is complete.

After you’ve planted your tree and planned your hidden getaway take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden .  Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start.  If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time.  Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time. The last frost of the season is approximately March 15th.  Spring is on its way.
 

Houseplants that Fight Indoor Air Pollution

Areca palm- one of the best houseplants to fight indoor pollution.

It’s amazing how many potential pollutants can be found in a home. For most of a winter day, our homes are closed tight with no windows or doors open to let out pollutants and let fresh air circulate. Toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene can be released from furniture upholstery, carpets, cleaning products, paint, plastics and rubber. Carbon monoxide from the incomplete burning of wood and nitrogen oxides from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and smog can also be present in indoor air.

Then there are airborne biological pollutants. These include bacteria, viruses, animal dander and dried cat saliva, house dust and pollen. House mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp warm environments. Mold and mildew grow in moist places like central heating systems and are just one more source of indoor pollution.

Bromeliads clean the air inside your home and are safe for pets

Many common houseplants help fight pollution indoors. They are able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. The first list of air-filtering plants was compiled by NASA as part of a clean air study published in 1989 which researched ways to clean the air in space stations. As well as absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, as all plants do, these plants also eliminated significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. Other studies added to the list of chemical pollutants and the best plants to remove them.

NASA researchers suggest that the most efficient air cleaning occurs with at least one plant per 100 square feet. Even the microorganisms in potting soil remove some toxins. Yikes, who knew all that was going on right under our noses?

Easy to grow pothos

Some of the easiest houseplants to grow are some of the best to have in the home. Just about all the potted palms are good. Also rubber plant, dracaena ‘Janet Craig’, philodendron, Boston fern, ficus, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, snake plant, pothos, English ivy and phalaenopsis orchids are high on the list of plants that fight indoor pollution.

If you have a cat of dog that you share your home with most of the above plants aren’t safe for them if they are chewers according to the ASPCA website. While all plants clean the air only ferns, spider plants, areca and parlor palms and phalaenopsis orchids from the above list are safe.

Other houseplants toxic for dogs and cats according to the ASPCA are asparagus fern, lilies, cyclamen, jade plant, aloe vera, azalea, begonia, ivy, mums, coleus, sago palm, kalanchoe and rubber plant. Keep your pets safe by keeping toxic plants out of reach.

There are many houseplants that are safe for cats and dogs and every plant photosynthesizes and cleans the air to some extent. Some of the common ones include African violet, aluminum plant, bromeliads, peperomia, areca palm, polka dot plant, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, chenille plant, creeping Charlie, false aralia, Tahitian bridal veil, wandering Jew, goldfish plant, piggy-back plant and the succulents, donkey’s tail and hens and chickens.

With a little planning you can clean the air in your home while keeping the pets safe.

Planning the Garden

As you plan this year’s garden, whether it’s a new vegetable bed, un-thirsty perennials,  shade trees , or anything in between, think of how they will affect your surroundings. Will they take up less of the earth’s resources and not too much of your own time and energy? Changing weather patterns make it smart to find new, more sustainable ways to garden.  Downsize your garden’s neediness without sacrificing beauty or productivity.

Start with a smart design.

  • Does your garden utilize permeable paving like gravel or pavers that help manage runoff, giving the soil more time to absorb rainfall and recharge the ground water?
  • Have you considered installing a rain garden or small, planted basin to catch and filter rainwater and keep it onsite?
  • Have you grouped plants in your garden according to their water needs? Do you have some plantings that can survive on rainfall alone after their second season? Have you chosen plants that are locally grown and adapted to our climate?
  • Do you have an irrigation system that is efficient without being wasteful?  Do you water slowly, deeply and infrequently so there is no runoff? Do you water in the early morning or evening to maximize absorption?
  • Do you have deciduous trees to provide cooling shade in the summer and allow sunlight to warm the house in winter? Do you have trees and shrubs to clean the air of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide? Trees also breathe in carbon dioxide ( a major greenhouse gas) , use the carbon to build mass, then exhale oxygen. They retain more carbon than they lose so every tree you plant helps reduce your carbon footprint on the planet.
  • Does your garden feed and shelter birds, butterflies and other wildlife? Do you have perennials such as echinacea, lavender, penstemon or salvia to attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds? Have you planted flowers that attract beneficial insects to help control harmful insects? Do you use organic pesticides?
  • Do you make your soil a priority by adding compost each year? Do you mulch your soil to keep down weeds and conserve water?  Do you use natural fertilizers like manures or fish emulsion that feed the soil? Do you compost the green and brown waste your garden produces-fallen leaves, weeds without seeds, grass clippings, spent flowers and vegetables?
  • Do you stay ahead of weeds , pulling them before they set seed and spread?

       
Take steps to make your corner of the world contribute to the larger landscape around you.
 

What Zone Are We?

Spring is coming. Like me, you’re  probably anxious to get started in your garden. We’ve gotten some much needed rain and hopefully there is more to come. As you’re thoughts turn to gardening, though, make sure those new plant choices are the right ones for your area.

Notice how much sun or shade an area gets during the growing season- from April through September. Knowing  also which Sunset climate zone you are in is equally as important to make sure your garden thrives. Every year I get asked which zone the areas of Scotts Valley, San Lorenzo Valley, Bonny Doon are in. It’s confusing in Sunset Western Gardening Guide as our area has many microclimates and their map is not detailed enough to reflect this. They even show Felton as being on a ridge top instead of on the valley floor. Here are some tips to help you determine in what zone you garden.

Zone 7  has the coldest winters in our area.  Very high ridge tops like the Summit area and the most northern portions of Bonny Doon lie in this zone.  My records show average winter lows ranging from 15-25 degrees based on 20 years of input from gardeners in these areas.  This does not apply to other areas of zone 7, just those around here.   Record lows have occurred during freezes in 1990, 1996 and 2007 but as gardeners we rely on average highs and lows to help guide our planting times.  Spring weather comes later in this zone with the growing season mainly from April – October.

Zone 15 – this zone encompasses most of our area.  Winter lows average 20-30 degrees. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call "a cold 15".  Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus while gardenias and tropical hibiscus need extra protection.There are warmer parts of this zone, though, where the growing season starts in March and ends in November.  These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15th or before Thanksgiving.

Zone 16 – those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this "banana belt". Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone.  Light frost can occur during the winter but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay above freezing. Lucky you.

 

How and Why to Mulch

We never stop learning. No matter how much we think we know about a subject, there is always more to learn. 


Take mulching, for example.  Mulching is simply covering the soil around plants with a protective material, organic or inorganic.  This helps maintain moisture in the garden, decreases soil compaction, modifies soil temperatures and adds nutrients and humus to the soil as they decompose. 

It’s that time of year to mulch existing perennials, shrubs and trees. While a little chicken manure is good worked into the veggie garden, composted horse manure works better as a mulch for the rest of the garden.  Chicken manure is high in phosphates and too much can inhibit beneficial microbes in the soil.  It also feed the weeds.  They love it.  A better method would be to cover a layer of compost or  composted horse or steer manure with a thick 4" layer of wood chips.

Wood chips offer additional benefits: They’re local, free from arborists, and affordable from the transfer station in Ben Lomond  . Any disease in the chips doesn’t transfer to healthy plant roots, as long as you don’t dig the chips into the soil.  You can also buy clean chips from landscape supply yards or in convenient bags from nurseries.

To make the most of , learn what kind of soil you’re working with.  The University of Massachusetts at Amherst  ( www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/ ) offers a basic standard test for $9.  It includes  pH, buffer pH, extractable nutrients (P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B), extractable heavy metals (Pb, Cd, Ni, Cr), and extractable aluminum, cation exchange capacity, percent base saturation. 

Our local soil testing laboratory in Watsonville, Perry Laboratory, offers a comprehensive test.  Their web site is  www.perrylaboratory.com.  The landscape package they offer includes basic fertility, micronutrients, salinity, alkalinity, texture, organic matter content and lime content. The main difference between the two labs is that Perry’s  will give you  specific recommendations based on your results to improve your soil. 

Make sure you get fresh mulch spread over your garden plants soon.  You’ll be amazed at the difference in your garden this season.  A mulched garden is a happy garden. 

Start your cool season veggies

Plants and trees know when it’s time to bloom and begin growing for the season.  Driving around our area I’ve seen the huge flowers of the saucer magnolias starting to unfurl. Many plum trees look like pink clouds they have so many blossoms. It’s time to start planning and planting the vegetable garden.
 
Towards the end of this month start your tomato and pepper seeds indoors so they are ready to transplant outdoors in 6-8 weeks. Meanwhile, begin sowing seeds of cool season vegetables outside. Prepare the soil by amending with compost and plant seeds for carrots, peas, spinach, beets, chard and lettuce. You can get a jump on your spring harvest by setting out starts of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and green onions.

If you don’t want to wait even that long to start eating your own healthy vegetables, try growing micro greens inside your house like houseplants. It’s similar to sprouting alfalfa, cress, sunflower and buckwheat seeds in a jar and eating them before the second set of leaves emerge. Micro greens, however, can be grown in soil, sprinkled on sponges or fine textured fabric. Because they won’t be around long enough to flower or fruit, they don’t need much light. . It takes about 30 days for micro greens to set their first leaves and be ready to harvest. When the first leaves appear they are at the peak of their nutritional concentration.

What do they taste like? Well, carrot greens, after they set their first true leaf, taste exactly like a carrot. Emerging radish leaves are spicy, cabbage is mild, while sunflowers are nutty. The first swiss chard leaf tastes like spinach, beets have an earthy flavor and kale is slightly sweet. The most intense flavor comes when that first leaf opens as they begin to manufacture energy from light.  Think of them as chia pets you can eat.

Fruit & Flowering trees from Bare Root

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to get a bare root plant off to a good start in your garden.  Over the years I’ve planted Floribunda crabapple, Autumnalis flowering cherry, Eastern redbud, Purple Pony and Blireiana flowering plums and Jacquemonti birch all from bare root.  They’re soooo easy to plant this way.  If I had more roomand sun these are some of my favorite trees that I’d add to my own garden this year. 

If you want a tree that’s both highly ornamental and produces great tasting fruit as well, try Saturn flowering and fruiting peach.  The fruit is large, yellow, freestone and delicious.  As if mouth-watering flavor isn’t enough the tree produces masses of large, double, pink flowers making a spectacular show in the spring that rivals the most ornamental cherry tree.

I love flowering crabapples not only for their spring blossoms but for the small fruits that attract birds in the fall and winter and Prairifire is one of the best.   Red buds open to bright pinkish red single flowers that cover the 20 foot tall tree.  Purple foliage follows which turns bronze green by summer.  Fruit is deep red, only 1/4" in size, and hangs well into winter on the tree.  This crabapple has excellent disease resistance to scab, cedar-apple rust, mildew and fireblight which sometimes plagues some crabapples.  It would make an outstanding ornamental tree in your garden.

I eat a lot of almonds.  One handfull is only 160 calories and is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and a good source of fiber and phosphorus as well as protein, potassium, calcium and iron.   I’d plant a compact Garden Prince almond if I had just a little more sun.  They grow to 10-12 feet and can be pruned easily to 8 feet.  Soft-shelled, good quality sweet kernels ripen in late September to early October on self-fertile trees that set large clusters at a young age.  Dense, attractive foliage follows showy pink blossoms. 

Looking for a tree to provide shade for the patio table?  How about a drought tolerant Golden honeylocust? Fast growing to 40 feet tall with a 35 foot spread this beautiful tree’s leaves emerge a bright, golden yellow at the tips contrasting with the deep green inner foliage making it look like a flowering tree bursting with bloom.  Seedless and thornless, this tree has spreading arching branches and casts filtered shade, allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath the tree’s canopy.  It’s tolerant of acid or alkaline soils, drought, cold, heat, and wind.

Another good shade tree to consider is the Golden Rain tree.  Enormous panicles of golden yellow flowers drape from the branches in the summer when you spend more time outdoors.  Fat, papery fruit capsules resembling little Japanese lanterns last well into autumn. Growing about 30 feet tall,  open branching casts light shade underneath,  perfect for a hammock on the lawn but this tree would also be a good patio or street tree.  Very adaptable to different soils as long as drainage is good.

This last suggestion is just plain fun.  If you have the room and enjoy putting together flower arrangements, why not plant a ?  Long silvery catkins covered with pink caps are very showy in the winter when the plant is dormant.  The mature height is 15 feet tall with a 10-15 foot spread but can be kept to shrub size by cutting to the ground every few years.

Remember that while these trees and also the pussy willow need six hours or more of sun during the growing season they are dormant in winter and don’t mind being in shade for that part of the year.  So if you live where winter sun is scarce you can still grow edibles and ornamentals successfully.

Planting Bare Root

At first glance,  bare root trees,  shrubs , vines and berries don’t look very inspiring.  It’s hard to imagine that those dormant branches harbor a bounty of fruits, flowers and vegetables.  It can all be yours, however, by planting from bare root stock now available in nurseries.

What exactly are bare root plants and why do they make a good choice when you want to add to your garden?  Bare root plants are carefully dug up at growing grounds  with their roots bare, meaning that most of the dirt around the roots has been removed.   One of the largest growers harvests 2 million bare root plants iSyringa chinensis
n a 30 day period, usually in December.

One of the primary advantages of bare root plants is that they tend to have an extensive, well developed root system as a result of being allowed to develop normally.  When the trees are handled well, the root system is left intact, and the tree, shrub, vine or berry will have a better chance of rooting well and surviving when planted.   Bare roots don’t have to adapt to any differences between container soil and your garden’s.  Bare root trees are also cheaper to ship because the lack of a dirt ball makes them much lighter, and this lightness makes them easier to handle, too.

Shop for your plants in January or February while they are still dormant.  Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell your tree or shrub’s roots have already started growing and they won’t do as well.  With this in mind be wary of spring sale bareroot stock.  Also trees or shrubs in packages may have had their roots pruned to fit inside or the packaging material may have dried out or become soggy.  Better to see the roots for yourself before you bring your new addition home.
   
The age of bare root trees and shrubs varies. Generally they are between a two and three years old.  You will not be able to see much when you purchase a bare root plant, as it will be leafless  since it is in a dormant state, but in the spring, it will come to life and transform the garden.

There are several steps to planting bare root trees.  It’s important to plant your new arrival soon after you bring it home to insure the roots do not dry out.  If you’re unable to plant right away, lay it down and cover with moist soil or compost. When you’re ready to plant,  first trim any roots that are broken with sharp pruners.  Broken roots can rot but cleanly cut ones will heal and grow. Then soak the plant in a tub of water for an hour , while you prepare the soil for planting.  Loosen the soil in a wide radius around the area where you plan to plant.  Then, dig a big hole much larger than the root ball of the plant and as deep as needed to accommodate the roots  so that the roots will have room to stretch out, rather than being compressed in the planting process. 

Next, wrangle an assistant if you are planting a large tree, shrub or vine like a wisteria.  While one of you holds the plant in the hole, making sure that if it has a graft this is above the level or the soil.  The other should gently shovel in dirt, trying not to pack it down too hard. You want the soil to be loose enough to filter down among the roots.  Make sure that the assistant holds the tree straight and in such a way that the roots are suspended in the hole, rather than pressed against the bottom. If your soil is extremely sandy or clayey amend it with 20% compost.

As you shovel in soil, make sure that the roots are spread well apart.  Fill the hole halfway, gently shake the plant up and down to let soil sift down, then tamp lightly and fill the rest of the hole. The soil should fill in the air spaces around the roots and when you water it in the first time, use lots of water to eliminate the air pockets and settle the soil.  Making a watering ring around the plant makes watering easier and you’re assured that the root zone is thoroughly watered.  When the planting is finished, mulch the tree, leaving  a few inches of unmulched soil around the trunk.   Don’t water again until the soil is dry an inch or two down.  Winter rains hopefully will  take care of this for you for a long time.  Dormant plants need much less water than actively growing ones and their roots develop poorly in soggy soil.
 
Only stake your new tree if you live in a windy area.  A trunk will attain a larger diameter if it’s allowed to move slighly in the wind.  Usually it’s not necessary to prune a young tree much while it is trying to grow new roots. Trimming a long branch or leader by a third is OK if necessary.  You can start limbing up a shade tree after a couple of years if you wish.

There are many fruiting , flowering and shade trees to choose from.  Also shrubs like roses, lilacs and pussy willows are available bare root.   Wisteria vines are especially easy to plant  bare root as are .  Don’t miss this opportunity to add to your garden’s bounty.    

 

Benefits of House Plants

That beautiful Christmas tree is now a pleasant memory and you’ve put your houseplants back in front of the windows and on the end table under the reading light.   Do they look a little tired?  Dusty?  Yellow and leggy?

How can you make  houseplants thrive in the winter when the level of light is lower and our houses are dry and heated by wood burning stoves or central heaters?  What are the easiest plants to grow inside?  Can they really remove pollutants from the air inside my home?

If these questions and more have you up nights in a quandry,  this column is for you.  You can have the interior of your house looking like the tropics in just a few easy steps.
 
Allow your plants to absorb as much precious light as possible by dusting off the leaves.  You can do this by using a moist cloth or paper towel to wipe each leaf or place the entire plant under lukewarm water in the sink. Running water through the soil a couple of times will leach out accumulated fertilizer salts, too.  Although you do want to reduce water and fertilizer during the winter months, your plant will enjoy their bath.

If you’ve had a regular watering plan, scale back.  Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry.  Poke your finger about an inch down into the soil for a typical six inch houseplant.  If it’s dry,  water.  Be sure to dump excess water out of saucers  after 15 minutes to keep roots from rotting.   If your plant is in a larger pot,  allow the soil to dry two inches down from the surface before watering.  It’s not unusual for a plant of this size, if in a cool room, to go 2-4 weeks between waterings.  Plants that need water once a month or less in winter include anything resembling a succulent  ( jade plants,   echiums, cactus).  I water mine lightly every six weeks
.
Here in the Santa Cruz mountains many of us live under trees that block available light during the winter and  cloudy days can further lower the amount of light your plants receive.   Move plants into the best light. you have.   If a plant  is sitting in a dark corner, move it closer to the window.  You may have to choose how many plants to overwinter based on available window light.  To avoid unnecessary trauma, don’t repot a plant in winter. If you’ve acquired a new plant, it’s best to put it inside the next size pot for the time being and replant it when the growing season resumes in March or April.  Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing during the growing season.

Plain green leafy types do best when there’s less light.   Scheffleras, arboricola,  philodendrons like heart-leafed , selloum and split-leafed,  pothos, Chinese evergreen, peace lily  and ferns look good even in dreary conditions.  They come from the under-story of jungles and grow naturally in low-light areas. 

Fertilize less often.  Some houseplant growers skip fertilizing in December and January, starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February.  Think of your houseplants as essentially dormant in winter.  They need fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Avoid cold drafts.  Most houseplants can handle slightly cooler temperatures at night but detest blasts of chilly air.  Avoid placing most plants near drafty, high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway.  Ficus trees are famous for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

Many common houseplants  help fight pollution indoors. They’re reportedly able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. Some pollutants are also absorbed and rendered harmless in the soil.  Plant physiologists already knew that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process. Now researchers have found many common houseplants absorb benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, as well.

Some houseplants are better at removing from the air, while others do a better job on benzene; none is much help when it comes to tobacco smoke. But there are enough known plants that do a good job of removing pollutants from the air we breathe to cause us to view houseplants as more than just an attractive feature in decorating the interior environment.

If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty, you may not need to worry about "sick-building syndrome."  But if you live in a newer, energy-efficient home with windows and doors tightly sealed, or you work in a building where the air feels stale and circulation seems poor, the liberal use of houseplants seems like an easy way to help make a dent in the problem.

One is the common succulent, Aloe vera (now renamed Aloe barbadensis), also known as "medicine plant." Many people already have one in a bright kitchen window because of the soothing, healing properties its viscous inner tissue has on burns, bites and skin irritations.

Most of the plants  evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received light filtered through the branches of taller trees. Because of this, their leaf composition allows them to photosynthesize efficiently under relatively low light conditions, which in turn allows them to process gasses in the air efficiently.

Soil and roots were also found to play an important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Micro-organisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these materials as a food source, as they were exposed to them for longer periods of time. Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible.

NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they’ll do for you.

The best indoor pollution fighters are:

    * Hedera helix   English ivy
    * Chlorophytum comosum   spider plant
    * Epipiremnum aureum   golden pothos
    * Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’    peace lily
    * Aglaonema modestum   Chinese evergreen
    * Chamaedorea sefritzii   bamboo or reed palm
    * Sansevieria trifasciata    snake plant
    * Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’   heartleaf philodendron
    * Philodendron selloum   selloum philodendron
    * Philodendron domesticum    elephant ear philodendron
    * Dracaena marginata   red-edged dracaena
    * Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’   cornstalk dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’   Janet Craig dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’   Warneck dracaena
    * Ficus benjamina  weeping fig

Planning for Extreme Weather

Drought one year,  rainy the next.  How do you plan for these weather events in your garden?

CLIMATE-PROOFING used to mean tossing a little mulch on the garden, hauling pots of tender plants indoors or under an overhang.   But global warming and cyclical climate change has caused weather to grow so volatile that these traditional practices just don’t cut it anymore. Our gardens need year-’round help to deal with the new weather realities, including increasingly rain events in the winter and dry springs and of course our usual dry summers. . If you doubt the significant effects of climate change on our gardens, think about all the plants you consider hardy that may have died off in a really cold spell or the usually drought tolerant plants that didn’t like our dry spring last year.   The list varies by microclimate, but might include escallonia, abutilon, verbenas, Melianthus major, phormium and yuccas. Have you noticed birds returning earlier in the spring and lilacs blooming two weeks ahead of when they flowered 30 years ago?

We need a fresh arsenal of garden strategies, and it will help if we better understand the changing weather where we live and garden.  Our climate is influenced by the Santa Cruz mountain range and moderated by the Pacific Ocean.  Sixty inches of rain is "normal" for us but it’s been a few years since we’ve had this much.  While there is great year-to-year variability in our weather,  we need to be prepared for the worse case scenario.  You can lose both precious plants and trees as well as all the money and work you put into the garden.

How to deal?

• Begin by choosing tough, sturdy, self-reliant plants that need less water and fertilizer. Healthy plants are naturally resistant to pests and diseases when put in the sun/shade/water situations that suit them.

Compost-enriched soil provides the foundation for thriving plants that are more resilient to disease, drought or insect damage. Healthy soil absorbs water like a sponge and also stores carbon from the atmosphere, helping reduce greenhouse gases.

Reduce water consumption by using drought-tolerant and native plants, and by grouping plants with like water needs. Water with drip systems or soaker hoses; use tools like watering bags to keep new trees healthy. Remember to check whether your soil is dry before irrigating, and make sure you are watering more than just the surface.

Weed regularly so you aren’t wasting water on nuisance plants. To keep weeds down and water in, mulch garden beds at least once a year in late winter.

Global warming is creating what climatologists call "heavier rainfall events." This means more runoff and more stormwater problems. We can help by avoiding chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and using porous surfaces like pebbles, gravel or pavers for patios and driveways rather than solid concrete. Install rain barrels and cisterns to capture rainwater to use for irrigation. Consider taking advantage of low-lying or boggy spots in your garden to create a rain garden, planted with moisture-loving natives, to slow down the passage of rainwater through the soil.

• Nurture the birds, bees and insects in your garden that are also confused by climate change. Make your garden a healthy habitat for all living things by eschewing chemicals. Plant a diverse array of flora that blooms early and late to encourage pollinators. Add natives and plenty of berried plants to feed and attract creatures.

• And finally, a few ideas on saving energy: Solar garden lights are the smart way to go; cut energy use on other outdoor lights by putting them on a timer. If you aren’t yet lawn-free, at least get rid of your gas mower, blower and weed eater, and use rakes and hand clippers; you’ll be rewarded with blessed quiet as well as energy efficiencies. You might consider arbors and pergolas for shade in summer and rain protection in winter. And it might not be a bad idea to invest in a rain barrel.

Hardy Winter Plants

    PROMISE YOURSELF  to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
    To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. 
    To make all of your friends feel that there is something in them. 
    To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
    To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. 
    To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. 
    To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
    To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
    To give so much time to the improvement of yourself, that you have no time to criticize others.
    To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of        trouble.
                                             Christian D.  Larson

   
 Sure has been cold the past few weeks.  Many of the perennials in my garden have suffered from frost and will need to be cut back later in February or March.  After strolling through Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco recently, I’m newly inspired for the coming season.


At the arboretum you can experience unique gardens created with California natives or drought tolerant plants from Australia.   Other gardens have plants from New Zealand or So. Africa.  Meandering paths bisect each garden.   It is a marvelous place to explore and discover what plants appeal to you as each is clearly labeled.  Be sure to take your camera.  It’s a great way to see what a mature specimen of a plant or tree looks like. Those descriptions on a nursery can don’t compare to seeing a plant in person.

While you’re up in Golden Gate park  don’t miss the new museum of natural history, planetarium, tropical rainforest and aquarium.  Green technology is used and explained throughout, including the green roof.  Last summer I wrote about visiting Rana Creek nursery in Carmel and talking to the grower of the native plants that cover the roof.  The  plants selected, eight drought tolerant California natives, include  prunella, armeria, stonecrop, goldfield, lupine, poppy,  plantain and beach strawberry.  I didn’t see seedlings of the spring wildflowers on the roof when I visited but the stands of prunella and beach strawberry were thriving.  Also beach asters seemed to be doing well although they weren’t listed.  Seeds may have blown in.  If you’re thinking of replacing your traditional lawn in the spring with drought tolerant ground covers, consider these plants.   They are not only survivors but will flourish under adverse conditions. 

As I write this, I’m spending the holiday in the Seattle area near Lake Washington.  Here you can really see plants that know how to survive the elements.  Actually, it’s hard to identify most of them as they are totally covered with snow.  It snows everyday.  Beautiful white powder blankets the trees and landscape. My sister’s  perennial planters will not be joining her this spring.   So pretty to look but not that great when you venture out  to get last minute presents.  Snowplows are scarce up here.

What plants bloom in the winter where we live?  A little color at this time of year is always welcome.   Native mahonia are just coming into full and glorious yellow flower.  The hummingbirds love their flowers as well as hellebores, sasanqua camellias and strawberry trees.

Oregon  grape ( mahonia ) are deer-resistant shrubs with large, prickly leaves.  Long sprays of fragrant, yellow flowers rise above the foliage in January and February.  Blue fruit follows which is also attractive.   Mahonias grow best in partial shade but will take full sun if given occasional, deep watering in the summer.

Sasanqua camellias are valuable for their massive display of large flowers in fall and winter.  If you’re driving along and see a shrub covered with dark pink, white, lilac or red flowers, most likely it will be this plant.  They are often called the roses of winter.  Many are fragrant and can be espaliered on a trellis.  Sasanqua camellias are easy to grow in partial shade and need only moderate water. 

Another wonderful plant for winter color that I saw so many of at the arboretum is winter heath.  Heaths and heathers love acidic soil so combine well in sunny areas near rhododendrons and azaleas.  Ground cover types are smothered with lilac, pink or rose flowers starting in December and last into April. 

Don’t forget Iceland poppies, violas and cyclamen for small color accents.  Happy New Year  from The Mountain Gardener and may your garden flourish this year. 

 

Armchair Gardening

Realizing that no one wants to actually work outside in the garden the week after Christmas, this column is devoted to something you can do from the comfort and warmth of an arm-chair or while looking out your windows.

Make an entry in your garden journal  (If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to start.) 

 Record what did well this year in your garden.  Were the fruit trees loaded with fruit as you’d hoped?  How many times did you fertilize them?  Did they flower well?   How many bees did you see pollinating them?  Should you add more plants to attract them?  Insect or disease problems?   Room for more?  What kinds would extend your harvest season?

Make notes of what other edibles you want to include in the garden next year.  Bare root season starts in January making it easy to plant grapes, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, artichokes and asparagus.
 
How productive were the tomatoes and other veggies?  Did you add enough compost to the beds to really feed the soil and the microorganisms?  Did you rotate your crops to prevent a build up of insect and fungal problems?

Think about how the perennials in your garden fared – the successes and not so great results.  Make a note if there are any higher water usage plants among the drought tolerant ones.  Come March, move them to a spot you’ve allocated a bit more water. 

While you still sitting in that comfy chair,  think about what changes you want to make to your garden.  Here are some tips for successful garden design:

    Take inventory
        How do you want to use your garden?  What activities do you want for outdoor living?  Examples include outdoor dining, a play space for the kids, watching wildlife, or a cutting garden that can be enjoyed form the kitchen window.  Look out your windows and decide if what you see needs  a little enhancement.  Use this list to lay out your design or improvements.

    Know your site
        Just as important as knowing your needs is exploring what your site has to offer.  You can call it site analysis but it’s simply observing your garden over time.  Where does the sun rise and fall as the seasons change?  Which spots are hot and sunny and which are shady and cool?  Put the terrace for morning coffee where you’ll be warmed by the morning sun and that relaxing retreat for reading where you’ll be shaded on a hot summer afternoon.

    Choose a style

        What feeling do you want to express in your garden?  Do you like the look of an Asian garden or maybe a country garden like those in Provence?  Maybe your ready for the clean look of a contemporary garden.  Choosing a theme helps pull the design together.  Think of the difference in feeling between a terra cotta pot overflowing with herbs and a modern water fountain.  Find inspiration in garden books and magazines and turn to them when shopping for materials for a path, furniture for the patio or plants for the beds.

    Add a framework
        Whether it’s the stone patio that gives the garden structure or the curve of a path , the bones of your garden are created by all of the elements in it.  Mark the boundaries of your garden.  Add privacy with screening from fences, arbors or informal hedges.  Create garden rooms- distinct areas using plaints or a change of grade.
    Sometimes a garden can seem larger if you block out what’s beyond it, drawing the eye inward.  On the other hand, know when to borrow scenery like a view of the mountains or a neighbors tree.

    Select the right plants
        Choose plants that support your design and meet your time available for maintenance.  Plants bring life to the garden.  They provide seasonal change, abundant bloom and bring wildlife.  Keep in mind how much time you want to spend taking care of your garden.   All gardens require maintenance.  A combination of shrubs and ground covers requires the least amount of work.  Perennials take more work- deadheading, trimming and dividing.  Native plants need little summer water and minimal care once established.  Whatever the size of your property, consider devoting a portion of it to native plants to create a wildlife area. 

Take stock of your garden from the comfort of your home and be ready for action when spring arrives.