All posts by Jan Nelson

I am a landscape designer and consultant in the Santa Cruz mountains in California. I write a weekly gardening column for the Press Banner newspaper. I am also a Calif. Advanced Certified Nursery Professional and managed The Plantworks Nursery in Ben Lomond, Ca. for 20 years.

Why Prune in the Summertime?

Pruning is a good way to spend a couple of hours in your garden. I’m not talking about trimming plants into little balls but the kind of pruning that makes for a healthier and happier plant.

Sango kaku Japanese maple- summertime

If you grow Japanese maples now is the time to remove dead branches and train your tree to look like one of those specimens you see in the magazines. Thinning cuts build your ideal tree limb structure. If yours is a young tree, though, don’t be tempted to head back long branches too soon. As these mature they give your tree that desirable horizontal branching.

This principle is important to keep in mind when you train any young ornamental tree. Lateral buds grow along the sides of a shoot and give rise to sideways growth that makes a plant bushy.

Summer pruning of fruit trees controls size by removing energy-wasting water sprouts. Summer is also a good time to remove leafy upper branches that excessively shade fruit on the lower branches. Winter pruning is meant to stimulate the tree. Summer pruning uses thinning cuts-where the branch is cut off at its point of attachment instead of part way along the branch- and these cuts do not encourage new growth but control the size of your tree making fruit harvest easier.

Summer pruning also can control pests like coddling moths, mites or aphids. Just be sure to dispose of these trimmings and don’t compost them.

Espalier apple tree

If you have apricots and cherries, summer pruning only is now advised as they are susceptible to a branch killing disease if pruned during rainy weather. Prune stone fruits like peaches and nectarines after harvest by 50%. They grow quite rapidly. Apricots and plums need to have only 20% of their new growth pruned away.

Be sure to thin the fruit on your trees. That’s another good reason to keep them smaller so you can more easily reach the branches. The best time to do this is when the fruit is still small. Thinning fruit discourages early fruit drop and improves the quality of the remaining fruit. It helps to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load. Also it stimulates next year’s crop and helps to avoid biennial bearing. Left to their own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year and then light or not at all the next year. Some types of fruit trees like peaches and Golden Delicious apples are likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

While I have the pruners out I’ll be shearing back early flowering perennials to encourage another round of blooms. And I’ll add some more mulch to areas that are a little thin. I’ll be checking the ties on my trees to make sure they aren’t too tight and remove the stake if the trunk is strong enough to support the tree on its own.

Also I’ll be looking for any pest problems so I can do something about them before they get out of hand. I’m OK with a few holes here and there but a heavy infestation should be trimmed off or sprayed with an organic insecticide. I also inspect the tips of my fuchsias regularly for fuchsia mites and clip off any distorted growth. I hate to spray even organics on them due to the hummingbird activity.

Most importantly, enjoy your time outdoors. If a task is too big to do at one time, break it down into smaller sessions. As they say, take time to smell the roses.

 

Plants that Hold up in the Heat

What happens to a plant when the thermometer tops 100 degrees like it did a couple weeks ago? Planning for more hot weather this summer is a requirement for a successful garden. Are there some plants that can survive tough times more easily?

Bees Bliss salvia

Photosynthesis is one of the most remarkable biochemical processes on earth and allows plants to use sunlight to make food from water and carbon dioxide. But at temperatures about 104 degrees the enzymes that carry out photosynthesis lose their shape and functionality. A garden that provides optimum light and water but gets too hot will be less vigorous. Tomatoes, for example, will drop blossoms and not set fruit if temperatures are over 90 degrees. Plants that endure hight heat can be stunted, weakened and attract pests and diseases even if water is available.

Plants do have natural systems that respond to heat problems. Some plants are better at this than others. Plants can cool themselves by pumping water out through the leaves for a kind of swamp cooler effect. They can also make “heat-shock” proteins which reduces problems from over heating. All these strategies do take resources away from a plants other needs like growth, flowering and fruiting.

It’s no surprise that many California natives are adapted to high temperatures. In my own garden I grow several plants that are doing quite well without irrigation and handled the heat wave just fine. One is Bees Bliss Sage, a low groundcover that can reach 6-8 ft wide draping over rocks and walls. It has an extended bloom time from mid-spring to early fall with whorls of lavender-blue flower spikes. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all find it attractive.

salvia clevelandii

Another plant that can handle high temps is salvia clevelandii. Right now it has just started its blooming cycle of electric blue-purple flowers. They will last through the summer. This salvia survives without any supplemental irrigation but if I give it an occasional deep watering and wash off the foliage every so often its much happier.

mimulus arantiacus

Who doesn’t like color in their garden? Mimulus or Sticky Monkey Flower blooms are showy and the hummingbirds love them. The Jelly Bean series has added bright pink colors in addition to white, orange, red and yellow but the traditional aurantiacus types are the most tolerant of drought.

As summer comes along the California fuchsia will provide the color in the garden. I like it that they spread by underground rhizomes and self sow. Free plants are always welcome. I have them planted on a slight slope where they tumble over a rock wall. My bees and hummingbirds find this plant irresistible.

penstemon heterophyllus

Other California native plants that can handle the heat with little water include eriogonum, manzanita, artemisia, California milkweed, ceanothus, mountain mahogany, bush poppy, bush lupine, native penstemon, monardella, mahonia nevinii , fremontodendron and holly-leafed cherry.

Other well adapted plants that are known to be more tolerant of heat include butterfly bush, germander, rosemary, smoke tree, rudbeckia, coreopsis, lantana, plumbago, gaillardia, lilac, sedums, oregano and verbena.

These plants can be the rock stars of your garden. Some natives can survive with no water after 2 years many look more attractive with a few deep waterings per summer. And don’t forget the organic soil amendments and wood chip mulch to encourage the soil microbes and keep the soil cool.

Cut Flower Tips

Don’t have much space to devote to a cutting garden? No problem. Although we all dream of a dedicated spot in the garden set aside for growing masses of flowers and foliage for bouquets, it’s not a necessity. Many great plants for cutting can just as easily be grown in raised beds, containers and between shrubs. So whether your prefer formal floral bouquets or casual, deconstructed flower and foliage arrangements let your imagination run wild and grow plants that make either easy to put together.

Mixed bouquet at Filoli Gardens

While just about any plant material that strikes your fancy will work in a mixed bouquet there are four types of plant forms that naturally look good together. First are the spires for height and architectural properties. Flowers like liatris, snapdragon, gladiola, salvia, Bells-of-Ireland as well as the strappy leaves of New Zealand flax or cordyline fall into this category. Secondly are plants and foliage with a round form for focus such as roses, dahlias, long-stemmed marigolds and peonies. Last are the lacy accents for fillers- ferns, baby’s breath, dill and foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, smoke bush, Japanese maple and ornamental grasses. Grapes and other vines and herbs are also good as accents.

A deconstructed arrangement separates each type of flower into their own vase or container instead of grouping them in a mixed bouquet. Vary the size and shape of the vases and containers and group them together to create a unique vignette.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub that provides interesting variegated foliage as well as flowers. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans blooms smell like apricots. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets.

Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos)

For sunny spots grow penstemon and kangaroo paw. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets.
Perennial coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow are good as cut flowers. Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula.

Native flowers that last for a week or more include Clarkia and Sticky Monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days.

Mixed spring bouquet

To make cut flowers last, pick them early in the morning before heat stresses them. Flowers cut in the middle of the day will have difficulty absorbing enough water. Cut non-woody stems on a slant for maximum water absorption. Woody stems can be cut straight across but smash the ends. Plunge immediately in a bucket of tepid water. Indoors, fill a container with cool water and recut each stem under water so an air bubble doesn’t keep the water from being absorbed.

Pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. Fill a clean vase with 3 parts lukewarm water mixed with 1 part lemon-lime soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar and a crushed aspirin. Another recipe for floral food is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water. The sugar helps buds open and last longer, the acid improves water flow in the stems and the bleach reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus. Change the water and recut the stems every few days to enjoy you bouquets for a week or maybe even two.

 

When You Need to Screen

The first “landscape emergency” call came from a homeowner in the Felton Grove neighborhood. She lost 100 feet of fencing this winter during four separate floods. ” I need plants to screen the new wire fencing from the road and I need it fast,” she said.

The next call came from Boulder Creek. A row of pesky acacias had recently been cut down exposing the house to road traffic. This homeowner wanted plants that would fill in quickly, be low maintenance and have low water requirements. Every landscape situation calls for a different solution and there’s one for every garden.

Coleonema- Pink Breath of Heaven

When you plant new shrubs that you plan to turn into a hedge, know what to expect and then let each plant develop in its own way rather than trying to make it into something its not. Any plant can be pruned and trained into any shape but that creates more work than if you selected shrubs than naturally grow into a form that pleases you.

Good shrubs for screening that naturally stay between 6-15 feet include California natives such as ceanothus ‘Concha’ or “Julia Phelps’, California coffeeberry and mahonia. Other good performers are westringia ‘Wynabbie Gem’, New Zealand tea tree, oleander, pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’, purple hopseed and escallonia.

Many times a screen may start in the sun but end up in mostly shade. For your sunnier spots why not mix in a few dwarf fruit trees to enjoy, ceanothus and Pacific wax myrtle for the birds, barberry for the beautiful foliage and fall color, spirea, rockrose, escallonia and quince for their bright flowers and fragrant lilacs for cutting in the spring?

Prostanthera o, ‘Variegata’

The shadier side can include Oregon grape for fragrant, yellow winter flowers, snowberry for those striking white berries in the fall, oak-leaf hydrangea, viburnum and native mock orange for blossoms in the spring. Loropetalum have beautiful flowers and burgundy foliage while variegated mint bush ( prostanthera o. ‘Variegata’) sport lovely purple flowers and fragrant foliage. Mixed hedges appeal to bees, butterflies and songbirds while also providing flowers, berries and color throughout the year for you to enjoy.

Bare spots in a hedge are caused by old age and repeated shearing without allowing the hedge to grow. The problem can be alleviated by cutting away dead twigs, branch by branch and then shearing outside the last cut next time you prune.

To keep down maintenance, mulch around your plants and install drip irrigation. There won’t be any pruning to do if you choose plants that grow to the height you want.

Purple hopseed

How close should you plant a mixed hedge? Depending on the mature size of the plant, spacing could be from 3-5 feet part If you want a quick, thick screen.This gives them room to breathe and develop their own shapes. Fast growing plants can be space 5-6 feet apart or more and will usually fill in within 5 years.

Provide the best growing environment for the fastest results. By this I mean amending the soil at planting time if your soil is not very fertile. Cover the soil with mulch and fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer. Water deeply when needed especially during the first three years when young plants put on a lot of growth. Formal hedges are fine for some gardens but think of all the added benefits you’ll get planting a mixed hedge.

 

Enchanting Gardens in the Valley- A Garden Tour for Locals

I’ve seen my share of spectacular gardens and always come away with new ideas and inspiration. It’s part of the fun to imagine how one might incorporate a unique type of path or a water feature into your own garden. Maybe a particularly breathtaking plant combination would look just right next to your patio. It’s even better when the beautiful gardens are in your own neck of the woods. What could be better than to see what fellow gardeners have created nearby?

English cottage garden

Recently I was able to preview several local gardens that will be featured on the Enchanting Gardens in the Valley garden tour on Saturday, June 24th from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. As a fundraiser benefit for nonprofit Valley Churches United there are seven beautiful, unique and inspiring gardens in Felton and Ben Lomond that shouldn’t be missed.

Weeping Atlas cedar near pond

Dappled by the morning sun the pond and waterfall in the first garden I visited was even more enchanting after the owner, told us an interesting story. Seems that one spring she looked out her office window and saw a live blue heron strutting and displaying, trying to get the attention of the metal heron sculpture. “He was really doing his thing”, she laughed. The pond is surrounded by grass-like plants like lomandra and carex that provide movement in the wind while the upper bed where the waterfall originates features flowers of bright orange, red and magenta along with the blue foliage of a weeping Atlas cedar and blue oat grass.

Other highlights in this garden include raised veggie beds, a rose and cutting garden and a special fire hydrant garden for the dog. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Antique baby’s bed planter

Several gardens on the tour allow visitors to walk through the main living and kitchen areas. It’s a treat to see how the outside reflects the interior design from a gardener’s perspective. Under massive native oaks one such garden will keep you exploring for hours. With red as the primary color accent along with touches of yellow and blue every nook and cranny has been tastefully decorated with hand made glass collectables. An antique baby’s bed has been converted to a planter, a vintage stove overflows with ferns, ivy and begonias. The English cottage look is complete with mature boxwood hedges and a large white pergola with wicker furniture. There are sitting areas at every turn throughout the garden, however, the owner confesses she sits for about 15 minutes before the urge hits her to trim or re-arrange something. Sound familiar?

Rainwater catchment system

Another garden on the tour features a Newport Fairy rose as big as a van. A rainwater catchment system designed by the owner/engineer waters his orchid greenhouse with pure rain water. The rhododendrons in this garden are 20 years old and all the hydrangeas are from cuttings his wife has propagated. There are many great tips and ideas to take away from this garden.

Edible garden

A study in sustainability and permaculture, one of the gardens is a mega food source for the owner’s family. From grapes to vegetables to recycled wood arbor and decks with fancy railings, this garden is a certified wildlife habitat and pollination garden for bees and beneficial insects. Using organic practices and water conservation techniques it’s brimming with life.

galvanized water tank pond

If your space is small, you’ll want to visit a garden nearby, Designed by a landscape architect and her creative husband the garden rooms surrounding the compact home feature a koi pond, meditation garden, galvanized water tank with wall fountain, outdoor dining table re-purposed from old deck and vegetable garden. The outdoor experience connects to the interior with large open doors at both the front and the back.

So whatever type of garden appeals to you there’s sure to be one to please at the Enchanting Gardens in the Valley garden tour. Tickets are available at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, several other local nurseries and from Valley Churches United office in Ben Lomond. Contact them at 831-336-8258 for more information.

June in the Garden-What to Do?

I didn’t get everything done in May that I had on my to-do list. Who ever does? Anyone who tends a garden knows how fast plants grow with the longer, warmer days and nights. So this month I continue to work on my own garden tasks as well as help others renovate their gardens to look great, support native pollinators, wildlife and habitat.

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 poke 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.

Many plants, both vegetable and ornamental, are bothered by aphids and other sucking insects as well as foliage and flower eating bugs. From cucumber beetles, flea beetles, stink bugs, weevils, curculios to borers, the list of trouble makers is endless. To help deter them mix up some pepper spray in your kitchen.
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart warm tap water
Let stand I hour, strain and spray plants either in the morning or evening.

Pink rhododendron.

When the last flowers of your rhododendron, azalea, camellia, weigela and spirea have finished it’s time to prune them. If you prune too many months after flowering your risk removing the flower buds forming for next year. Basically it’s best to prune lightly each year to shape plants that have become too leggy. The rules apply to most plants. Prune to the next whorl or set of leaves. To increase rhododendron bloom next year, break off any faded flower trusses just above the growth buds being careful not to damage the new buds.

Swallowtail feeding on lemon

Apply the second fertilizer application for the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The final one for the season should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water in well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.

Another garden to-do this month includes summer pruning of wisteria. To increase flowering next spring and keep these vines under control cut new growth back to within 6″ of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.

Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’

Another maintenance tip is to shear spring blooming perennials to keep them full and compact. Candytuft, phlox subulata, aubrieta and other low growing perennials benefit if you cut off spent bloom and an inch or two of growth. Other perennials and shrubs that benefit from the same treatment to keep them compact are erysimum, lavender and Pink breath of heaven.