How to Control Pests & Diseases

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 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. So this column is for you, Helen.

Spray dormant fruit trees now for fungal and insect control. Coddling moth control is in March or April.

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.

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.

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.

Oh and by the way, Helen told me she is 88 years young so if Helen can do it, you can too.

All About Bare Root Fruit Trees

I may not live where I can grow fruit trees but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. Looking over the availability lists of bare root fruit trees at our local nurseries I see several new varieties that I’m hoping to find eventually at the farmer’s market.

A new fruit combining the sweetness of a cherry with the zing of a plum

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 White Aprium from a bare root? This white flesh apricot-plum hybrid fruit tree has incredible very sweet and juicy flavor.

A friend of mine has a fruiting mulberry tree. The first time I tasted one of these juicy blackberry-looking fruits I was hooked. Black mulberries were grown near ancient temples for fresh eating in Asia, Europe and the Mideast., where the trees thrived in the heat, poor soils and drought. They can be grown as a tree or large shrub making them perfect for smaller gardens.

A sweet & juicy apricot-plum hybrid

Shop now for bare root plants while they are still dormant. Even if you want to add fruit trees or other edibles to your garden and the weather has interfered don’t delay. Once leaves emerge or flower buds start to swell the tree roots have already started growing. You want your tree to start developing permanent roots in their new home- yours. 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.

Don’t plant in heavy saturated soil with a high clay content. If your soil drains poorly it’s best to place your new bare root tree at an angle in a trench, cover with soil and water in. Then 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.

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.

What fruit tree varieties can you grow here in the mountains? Well, almost everything. Most of us get 700-1200 chilling hours where the temperature is 45 degrees or less during the dormant season. You can find out how many hours of chilling your area gets by going online to www.getchill.net and use the WunderMap from Weather Underground. You can give a fruit tree more chilling in the winter but not less. Those in coastal Santa Cruz, for instance, 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- every 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.

Don’t miss the opportunity to add a fruit tree or other edible to your garden this winter.

WINTER RX FOR HOUSEPLANTS

A happy Peace Lily

Sometimes I don’t follow my own advice. Take caring for houseplants during the dark days of winter, for instance. Some of mine aren’t looking that spiffy. I may just have to give up on having a plant in the corner in the TV room. None of the very low light plants make it over the winter in that spot. The other plants are looking pretty good. Here are some tips to help your indoor plants thrive at this time of year while they get ready for spring growth.

A typical houseplant lives in the understory of a tropical rain forest where it gets filtered light. They’re used to warm rain and perfect drainage. We put them in pots inside our homes where they have much different conditions to contend with. Most houseplants will tolerate darker conditions if you adjust your watering to accommodate the slower growth rate.

Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry allowing oxygen to move back into the root zone. Let the soil in a 4-6 inch pot dry half an inch down between waterings then water with room temperature water. Don’t let the pot sit in a saucer of water or the roots will rot. If your plant is in a larger pot let the soil dry a couple inches between waterings. A moisture meter is very helpful for larger plants.

Move plants into the best light you have. Even a table lamp will provide light for a plant growing underneath. Remove dust with a moist cloth or place the entire plant under lukewarm water in the sink. Dust blocks light from getting to leaves.

Fertilize less often skipping December and January and starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February. Houseplants are essentially dormant in winter needing fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Don’t repot a plant in winter when they are slow to grow new roots. Replant when the growing season resumes in March or April. Choose a pot only two inches bigger than the old pot each time you transplant. Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing and watering during the growing season.

Avoid placing plants in cold drafts near high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway. Ficus trees are notorious for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

Sanseviera- Mother-in-Law-Tongue- can tolerate low light

If you have medium to low light conditions in your house some of the best upright plants are philodendron, peace lIly, Chinese evergreen, cast-iron plant, schefflera, arboricola, ferns and palms. Hanging plants that grow well in low light are heart-shaped philodendron, pothos and grape ivy. Most of these houseplants grow naturally in low light areas of the jungle. Don’t overwater and they’ll be happy.

If you do find insects on your plants, a spray of mild insecticidal soap for houseplants usually does the trick if you do a follow up spraying a week later. Horticultural oil works well, too, by smothering insects and their eggs. If you have tiny black fungus gnats flying over the soil, you are watering too frequently. They feed on the algae growing on moist soil. Scrape off the surface, spray with insecticidal soap and let the soil dry out.

Dark corner= not so happy plant. This one declined slowly but surely.

I’ve been known to advise fellow plant lovers and clients to “do as I say, not as I do.” but I’m turning over a new leaf this year -no pun intended.

Adding Color to the Garden

Seems there’s a rumble between Pantone Color Institute who has designated Living Coral as their 2019 Color of the Year and Sherman Williams who has chosen Cavern Clay. Benjamin Moore also chose a gray color they describe as “stylish and understated.” While I’m not pushing any paint company over another I do have to say that I’ll be incorporating more coral and other warm colors in gardens I design this year. Gray and silver foliage complement bright colors so I’m not really ignoring them.

A while back when all things were growing under warm sunshine I came across a garden filled with coral, apricot, papaya and orange toned flowers along with various shades of blue and violet. We all dream of a garden consisting of just 2 or 3 colors and this palette of strong colors pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t be afraid to play with color even if you don’t get it right the first time. Just learn from your mistakes and make adjustments. Whether it’s a pastel Monet garden or a hot Samba garden you want to create, here’s how your own garden can draw oohs and aahs in every season.

Warm colors tend to be more stimulating, dynamic and noticeable from afar than cool hues which are more calming and understated. Warm colors advance visually, cool ones recede. So to make a small garden appear larger use cool blues and lavenders in the back with just a touch of scarlet, orange or yellow up close for contrast. Do the opposite to make a large space more intimate – position warm colors at the back, cool colors in front.

Garden colors aren’t static either. They vary with time of day, the season, the weather and the distance from which we view them. Also color perception varies among people and not all people with normal vision see color the same way. Since color and light are inseparable, white, yellow and pastels seem more vivid in low light. In overcast or fog, soft colors like pink, creamy yellow, pale blue and lavender come alive. As night approaches and the earth is bathed in blues and violets, those colors are the first to fade from view.

Have fun with color. Try new combinations. I often hear people say “I like all the colors except orange”. Orange naturally combines with blue as these ‘sunset’ colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Think how nice bright orange California poppies look with blue marguerites or peach poppies with blue violas. You might not think of linking orange with pink but it’s a pleasing combination. It works because pink is analogous with purple. Try combining orange calibrachoa in a planter with pink arctotis and lavender Silver Sky bacopa to harmonize with the pink and contrast with the orange.

Foliage is a rich source or garden color. You can find plants with yellow, red, purple, blue or gray foliage as well as shades of green with variegated, marbled or streaked leaves. Rose Glow barberry has rich marbled bronzy red and pinkish hew foliage and looks sensational next to coral Grosser Sorten pelargoniums.

And don’t forget white, cream and silver flowers and foliage to brighten up the night garden. White combines nicely with both warm and cool colors so it’s easy to place. It’s an effective peacemaker between colors that would clash if placed side by side. In shady gardens, plants like white bleeding heart, wavy cream-edged hosta, white browallia, white hydrangea, lamium and white calla lily pop at night. Gardens in more sun can plant Holly’s White penstemon, silvery bush morning glory, dichondra Silver Falls, fragrant Iceberg roses, white sweet alyssum and Whirling Butterflies gaura for the butterflies.

Plants grow and gardens change over time. Realize that you’re embarking on a journey that may take many years. Have fun getting there.

Thoughts for 2019 from the Mountain Gardener

It’s always hard to me to get my head around the fact that not only has the calendar turned over to 2019 but with days getting longer a new gardening season is upon us. I’ve already seen magnolia soulangeana blooming. Those huge tulip shaped purplish flowers would get anyone’s attention.

I did fulfill a few goals I had for last year by adding more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects. They’ll keep the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like. I’m going to count this as two resolutions.

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it– not jumping up to rearrange containers or deadhead. This one was easy.

I accepted a few holes in my plants and walked around the garden regularly to identify if a problem was getting out of control and I needed to break out an organic pesticide.

You, fellow gardeners, are unique. I can’t imagine any group of people more diverse and feisty and independent than gardeners. Yet we have such a connection. We love and are fascinated with nature. We find our deepest satisfaction in coaxing plants from the earth, in nurturing their growth. We are enduring pragmatists.

Enjoy your garden. Set realistic goals. After all, who cares if there are a few weeds here and there when you’re sitting under a shade tree next July? Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will still be there tomorrow.

Allow some empty places for new plants, transplants or garden art. It makes a garden your own. Add whatever makes you happy and your heart soar when you’re in your garden. Pay attention to the size that a plant will attain. It will save you lots of problems later. Weed often but not when you’re enjoying a beverage.

Dreaming is more than an idle pursuit. It’s good for you and improves the quality of your life over the long haul. We gardeners are eternal optimists. Why else would we plant a tree, a seed or a garden?

New Years resolutions for gardeners should be mere suggestions. Don’t worry if you don’t get to everything you hoped to accomplish. It’s all in the baby steps. Your wish list will serve you well during the cold, wet days of winter even if you don’t get them implemented. Sure planning a landscape that conserves water will benefit the environment and your budget and ordering seeds for the spring garden is great therapy for winter blues but there’s always next year or next month or the summer after next.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning.

Plant more edibles if you can. Edibles in the garden feed both the body and the soul. More than just vegetables and fruit, growing food connects us to the earth and to each other.

When you grow something you are being a good steward of the land as you enrich the topsoil using sustainable organic techniques. You connect with neighbors by trading your extra pumpkins for their persimmons. Knowledge of how and what to grow can be exchanged, seeds swapped. Do your best even if you only have a few containers to grow an Early Girl tomato or some Rainbow chard.

Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.

Happy New Year to all of my fellow gardeners from The Mountain Gardener. May your tomatoes be sweet and your roses as fragrant as a summer’s eve.

Twas the Night before Christmas – A Poem for Gardeners

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garden,
The creatures were stirring, the deer got a pardon.
The hummingbird feeders were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the Anna’s soon would be there.

The flowering cherries were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of spring glory danced in their heads.
The summer vegetables were harvested and beds put to nap,
The compost’s a brewing so next year’s a snap.

When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I ran into the garden to see what was the matter.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a big flock of chickadees and eight black-tailed deer.

They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
The chickadees devouring aphids with amazing teamwork.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the deck,
Prancing and pawing, the deer making a wreck.

A hydrangea here, an abutilon there, this garden’s a feast,
With edibles and perennials at the very least.
We love this garden, they whispered to themselves,
With any luck, they’ll think we’re the elves !

Beautiful flowers and nectar and fragrance abounds,
We’ll include this forever on one of our rounds.
The birds can sing and fly in the skies
But we have the charm with huge brown doe-eyes.

We get a bad rap, it’s not all our fault,
Most of our feeding grounds are covered with asphalt.
Just give us a sleigh and we’ll make you proud,
We’re good for more than eating roses, they vowed.

Call us Dasher and Dancer and Comet and Vixen,
Or Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
Then maybe you’ll forgive us for our past mistakes,
We can’t help that we eat plants, we don’t eat steaks.

Now if you’ve been good this year, do make a wish,
And then when you see us- welcome, don’t banish.
All of us creatures will give our best shot,
To nourish your garden with nary a thought.

So everybody listen carefully on Christmas Eve,
And maybe you’ll hear and then you’ll believe.
You may even hear us exclaim as we prance out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

My thanks to Clement Clark Moore who wrote the original poem in 1822 in New York. I’d like to believe that he would enjoy my version for gardeners everywhere. Happy Holidays from the The Mountain Gardener.

Sherman & The Mountain Gardener in front of their Christmas tree

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