Category Archives: pests

methods for controlling pests

Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon

Enter the Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon with me as I preview several gardens that will be featured on the tour this coming weekend.  While some of our gardens have a few areas with a "wow factor" , the gardens I was privileged to visit have this element at every turn. I was amazed, impressed and truly honored to spend time in each of them.

First stop was a garden that took my breath away. Looking past the lush lawn, the view takes in all of Monterey Bay. It wasn't always this way, the owner explained. When she moved to the property in 1981, she didn't even know there was an ocean view. It was only after some judicious pruning that this stunning view was revealed.

We  ambled through the many paths that took us up close and personal with perennial beds overflowing with blooming iris, spirea, weigela, succulents, hardy geraniums, coprosma and coleonema to name just a few.

Rabbits are an ongoing problem in this garden. Seems they love her Angelina sedum, coprosma, and Rose Campion as much as she does. Little 12" tall fences surround several of the beds which looks comical but apparently works as the rabbits don't like to jump over them.

Stained urbanite has been stacked by the owner to make short retaining walls and the look is quite classy blending in the flagstone and gravel paths. She explained how easy it was to stain the broken concrete from the old driveway by slapping on some concrete stain. "Piece of cake", she told me.

Other flower beds she edged with Sonoma fieldstone, stacking them herself. At every turn you can see the personal touches that make a garden unique. An old rusty mailbox was tucked into one of the beds overflowing with blooming pansies and million bells calibrachoa.  I loved this garden.

Next stop was another garden 30 years in the making. You won't believe the "before" pictures when you see this garden now. I could barely see the potential in the old pictures but the owner could and started to build up the rock hard soil bed by bed. After many years she has created  an organic garden full of flowering rhododendron, roses, viburnum, herbs, vegetables, citrus, apples and a 5 year old  Staghorn fern that measures 4 ft across.

The owner explained that deer are not a problem because they won't jump the irregular picket fence. Seems the wide pickets confuse their eyesight. Unfortunately, the gophers have decided recently that after 14 years, her camellias are now on the menu and she has lost almost all of the original 40 in the past year. Instead of lamenting her loss, she sees it as an opportunity to add new plants. She has the optimism that all gardeners possess.

Chickadees nested in a box attached to the porch. Garter snakes and alligator lizards patrol the flower beds. A bathtub, sunk into the earth serves as "the poor man's hot tub". Old metal chairs are planted with flowers and ferns and other found garden art is sprinkled generously though out the garden. This is the garden of an artist whose studio is nestled back among the trees. At every turn you feel the peacefulness of this wonderful place. This is a garden to experience not just view.

The last garden I was lucky enough to preview, was an asphalt driveway just 6 short years ago. There are occasional unplanted spots that still show asphalt. What a transformation. With the help of lots of top soil and an auger this gardener has created a spectacular space.  "Everything grows like crazy here", she explained.

The front garden is open to deer and is planted with echium, leucospermum, arctotis, barberry, thyme, rosemary and New Zealand flax. One of her favorite plants is a huge variegated holly that buzzed so loudly with bees I thought the electrical line coming into the house was making all the racket.

In the back, a small orchard edged the fence. Blooming lilacs by the deck heavily scented the air. Succulents intermingle with peony, erysimum and gaura. This gardener explained she " she is one of those people who buys whatever she likes and then finds a place for it". Having had previous experience growing grapes and olives in Sonoma, she is a hands-on gardener who does it all herself. She's a self-described  "drip queen".

A ceramic artist, her sculptures are focal points though out the garden. There is a lot of other garden art in this garden, too.

Where do these gardeners find the garden art, water features and other items that give their gardens that personal touch? One explained, she is always on the lookout for estate sales as she drives around or sees advertised in the paper. "That's were you can really find the treasures", she explained. "Little old ladies have some great plants and other wonderful finds in the back of the garden".

The Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th. Don't miss it.
 

Lindencroft Farm- a CSA part 2

Lindencroft Farm is a great example of a local family doing what they love and making a living, too. You can see it in the new crop of Necores carrots just sprouting and being watched over by the family farm cat that was sitting on the edge of the retaining wall. Linda explained this is one of her favorite carrots because she doesn’t have trouble with it forking and it isn’t bothered by summer heat. Every  crop that is grown on the farm is researched for best flavor and vigor.

Linda Butler  starts all her vegetables from seed, and grows year-round. Some are started directly in the beds while others are started in flats and transplanted later. Cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, would get eaten by bugs and birds would eat them as fast as they germinated so these are started in flats.

Walking around, I saw many Italian names as she specializes in Italian peppers. She gets seed from organic seed companies in this country, Italy and France.  Some of her favorite vegetables are Rosa Bianca eggplant as it is almost never bitter. She also likes Red Russian and Lacinato or dinosaur kale.

Tat soy and bok choy are favorites in the CSA boxes. She grows beans of all types– french filet, romano, shelling. Golden beets ( my personal favorite ), all kinds of potatoes- fingerlings, Russian banana, red thumb, German butter, red lasoda and other heirlooms. The beds overflow with life.

I tasted the last of the cherry tomatoes. Rosalita, a red grape type, was good but the white cherry tomato was the best. Herbs grow in several boxes and the farm can’t seem to grow enough asparagus to satisfy the demand.

Insect control is easy,  Linda said. If fungal diseases persist she plants a crop of beans and that seems to solve it. Occasionally aphids or spider mites get the upper had, but rather than spray even with organic soap she finds she has better results by monitoring the plants often and spraying with a hard blast of water or cutting or pulling out infested plants. For fava beans that seem to always attract big black aphids, she harvest the beans and flowers while very young before aphids get a hold.

The farm is entirely powered by 78 solar panels. Recaptured rainwater is stored in a rainwater basin that holds a half a million gallons and is filtered twice before using. They collect this from just 2-3 good winter storms. Water from their own deep well is used in the beginning of the year with the rainwater used in the hot summer months.

I asked Linda if the cool spring this year impacted her plants and she said yes, ‘"Everything is three weeks late."  Our early October rains caused her tomatoes to get fungal diseased so they had to harvest them all, while some of the squash now has powdery mildew and has to be pulled up early. As we were talking she told some workers harvesting squash in another part of the farm to cut out the growing tips so the remaining squash would receive all the energy of the plant to ripen before the weather turns cold. The sunflowers being visited by a flock of chickadees was looking a bit bedraggled, too.

We watched some workers putting up frames for plastic hoop houses that will protect peppers crops from the rains and extend the harvest this year. Even potatoes benefit from this cover as overly wet soil contributes to fungal diseases. Lettuces, chard, kale and other leafy greens would get tattered by the rains if not covered.

Walking and talking, Linda would reach down and pick a sprig of bronze fennel or hyssop for me to enjoy. it’s clear that she is gentle on the earth and a good steward of the land. The entire farm is surrounded by redwood forest and oak meadowland, teaming with wildlife. Her philosophy of farming is to gently coax the best produce by creating as natural an environment as she can. Each year, the farm is healthier, most robust and more beautiful than the last.
 

A Community Supported Agriculture Farm in Ben Lomond

My friend, Janie, shares some of the vegetables she gets in her weekly Community Supported Agriculture box with me. I like leafy greens while she devours the peppers, lettuces, potatoes, beans – whatever is in season and harvested fresh and delicious that week.

I’d heard about a fabulous place in the Ben Lomond hills, so called Linda Butler, the owner of Lindencroft Farm, to arrange a visit. I learned so much from Linda who took time out from running the farm to show me around.

Linda and her husband, Steven, started the farm in 2007. Their 90 acres is zoned mixed agriculture but since some of it encompasses rare Ben Lomond sandhills habitat, they farm just a couple of acres. They have even installed a wide deer corridor separating the growing areas to allow the deer access to their feeding and watering places.Tall fences protect the beds from other critters but they encourage the birds and bees by planting flowers that seed, attract beneficial insects and produce pollen.

Linda has recently installed a couple of bee hives. She became interested in bees when native bees swarmed for 3 years in a row. She put up boxes one year hoping they would set up housekeeping on the farm, but they failed to come again. Undaunted she bought some bees and the hives are doing well. She doesn’t plan to harvest the honey, she just likes bees.

The Ben Lomond sandhills are an amazing ecosystem and the native plants have adapted to the pure white, fine sand. Vegetables, however, like rich soil to thrive. The Butlers solved this by building special raised beds. First they excavated 3 feet of the sandy soil, lined each bed with steel hardware cloth for gopher control and refilled them with a mix of organic compost, aged and composted horse manure and native soil.

Then they surrounded the beds with a redwood frame. From that point on, the beds are never tilled, compacted or otherwise disturbed by machines or feet. They are refreshed between crops with organic compost.

Asked why the beds are all so deep, Linda explained that she rotates crops regularly and wants to be able to plant deep rooted vegetables, like tomatoes, anywhere she wants. There are now 200 beds in production.

For the first couple of crops in a new bed, she grows leafy greens to establish beneficial microbes in the soil. Larger veggies come later and as she doesn’t till the soil, the microbes aren’t disturbed in any way. Liquid kelp and compost tea are also used for foliar feeding and soil drench. Fish bone meal, not fish meal, which is too high i nitrogen, is also applied to crops.

Starting with just a few play group moms, the farm now grows for two restaurants and harvests enough for a limited number of CSA boxes. A chef from one of the restaurants uses chicory, a bitter green   braised and used under rich meats.  Another chef makes sausages from grass fed beef and sweetens them with bronze fennel tops and young, fresh seed for flavoring. Those who subscribe to a weekly CSA box enjoy a different mix -lettuces, chard, cole crops, peppers, tomatoes herbs – to name just a few.

Next week in Part 2, I’ll talk about how Linda grows all this wonderful produce and which varieties are her favorites.
 

Squirrels Control for Sustainable & Interesting Bulbs

My resident squirrels are busy burying acorns for the winter. On the go from first light in the morning until dusk they scurry up the oak trees to collect this prized food source and then deposit them in the ground and in the pots on my deck where they will surely forget where most of them are. Their antics are frustrating because I want to start planting bulbs sooner than Thanksgiving this year. I usually have to wait until later in the season when the squirrels have finished loading up their pantry to get them in the ground. Daffodils and narcissus are safe but what would spring be without  all the other gorgeous bulbs to welcome in the season?

This year I’m going to try some different varieties of bulbs and to foil the squirrels I"m going to plant them really deep in areas that have excellent drainage. Squirrels rarely dig far under the surface so they aren’t likely to reach the bulbs. If you have less than stellar drainage, your bulbs will rot if you plant them deeply, so use chicken wire cages or gopher baskets when you plant them. Next year when they emerge from the soil, if the squirrels start eating the tops of the stems, spray the buds daily with hot pepper spray. All mammals except humans hate hot peppers. I’ve also heard that paprika and egg shells deter them.

I love those huge, showy tulips as well as the new colors of daffodil and narcissus coming out each year. Can’t live without them. But I want to add to the show next spring. Maybe I’ll plant Spring Starflower or Ipheion. Their starry white flowers bloom over a long period in spring and they naturalize easily. Spring Snowflake ( leucojum vernum ) will also naturalize in the garden. The flowers are small and bell shaped, white with a green or yellow spot and have a slight fragrance. And I want to include some species tulips. They will rebloom year after year just like they do in the wild in Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Another bulb I’ve wanted to grow for a long time is Ixia viridiflora. They need to be completely dry in summer so planting in pots will be perfect for this most striking and unusual bulb. Few plants can beat it for sheer brilliance of flower. Each flower is a brilliant turquoise green with a purple-black eye in the middle. The dark eye is caused by the deep blue sap of the cells of the upper epidermis. The green color is due to the effects of light being refracted from the cell wall and granules embedded in the pale blue cell sap. Amazing flower.

I think tucking several huge allium bulbs among clumps of summer-flowering perennials will make quite a statement next year and the deer generally avoid them as they are in the garlic family. The flowers from in clusters and are best known in the round pom-pom form, but they can be star or cup-shaped or nodding pendant-shaped. They look great with foxglove, monarda and hardy geraniums. The flower heads can be left on the plant to dry as they look attractive in the garden and can be cut for arrangements.

A bulb native to our area that I’m also interested in trying is Tritileia or Triplet Lily. There are several species of this brodiaea bulb found here in grasslands and serpentine soils. They are undemanding plants and make good cut flowers, lasting for 7-10 days in water.

Other interesting bulbs that I want to try include  hyacinthoides, hermodactylus tuberosa and bellevalia. All of them are beautiful. Don’t let October and November go by without planting a few bulbs to enjoy next spring.
 

How to Combat Moles and other Critters in the Garden

There’s a gentle guy among us with a beautiful garden in Scotts Valley who’s a serial killer – a killer of moles, that is. "The first one’s the toughest"  he said while showing me around the other day. Caddyshack has nothing on this determined gardener and from the look of his landscaping he’s definitely winning the battle.

This mild mannered vegetarian started planting trees 20 years ago when he moved to the property but says he became serious about gardening only 5 years ago. He has created lush-looking, low water landscaping in his extremely sandy soil, watering some areas only once per summer. And oh, did I mention, he shares his garden with deer, too?

Many of us battle some of these same issues. How does he win the war while watching his garden grow? He used to have gophers, too, but after using cinch and Macabee traps for the past couple of years there are not too many left on the property. The moles are a different story. They have the ability to learn testing our mental prowess in the process.

He has found that one of the best ways to keep moles from destroying his garden is to install perimeter fencing around the beds. Gardening by exclusion he calls it. Cinch traps are successful, too, and he’s killed 16 so far this year. It’s not that the moles eat the plants but their burrowing dislodges roots and the plants will die the next time it gets hot. He digs down 24" and sinks a gopher wire barrier, one area at a time.  Paths are left bare so he can see if they are encroaching. Moles can tunnel 17 hours a day and ruin an area in just a couple of hours so he has become ever vigilant.

Deer control comes from plant selection and a product he gets on the internet that contains a bittering agent found in antifreeze, anti-nail biting and cleaning products among other household items.  Having used other taste and smell repellents containing rotten eggs, garlic, blood meal, citrus, ammonia, hot pepper and coyote urine, he swears by this product. His garden contains many plants he considers "bullet proof" like lambs ears, lions tail, hot lips salvia, breath of heaven, tagetes, armeria, asteriscus, carnations, dietes, Little John callistemon, mimulus, westringea and society garlic to name just a few. He plants "what works".

What hasn’t worked with his deer population is vinca that used to grow under the oaks. Wandering jew has successfully taken over and he’s OK with that. "Why fight it?" is his mantra. Plants he protects with Bitrex are daylily flowers, star jasmine, correa, penstemon, some sedums and the flowers on the aloe. He grows lots of different aloes, yucca and agaves, rescuing many from garbage piles and propagating others. He has 4 acres to cover.  There’s also a huge Angel’s trumpet under the oaks that he started from a cutting 4 years ago.

In one garden a huge Breath of Heaven has grown 9 ft tall. Nearby is a handsome small tree from So. Africa, Podocarpus henkelii or Long-leafed Yellow-wood. Eventually it will grow to 25 ft but is only half that size now. The foliage is distinctive and dense with heavy, shiny, dark green drooping leaves, giving it a weeping look. It is truly a specimen tree. His euphorbia collection includes a variety that looks like an azalea with chartreuse flowers. A very large stand of crocosmia was started from a 4" pot. Fortunately it’s planted in the right spot.

So much to see, so little time. Everywhere I looked was another beautiful vignette- accenting a dry river bed in one area, a fire pit with log seating in another. I learned so much from this gentle, determined gardener.

Spider Mites

That’s a good question
If you notice the leaves on some of your plants appear stippled or flecked with pale dots and have fine webbing, especially on the undersides, you have a spider mite infestation. These pests thrive during dry weather and their populations can get out of hand by August.

Mites puncture plant cells with their mouthparts, then suck the plant fluid. The tiny areas of leaf tissue that have been killed appear as tiny dots on the the leaves. Mites often go unnoticed because they are tiny and natural controls such as weather and predators frequently keep their populations low. Severe infestations often result because these natural controls have been disrupted by pesticides and excessive dust.

Control spider mites on fruit and nut trees, azalea, fuchsia, maples and rose by regular, forceful spraying of plants with water to rinse dust and dirt off both sides of leaves. If you do have to spray to control an outbreak use insecticidal soap or a light spray oil. Sulfur is effective in reducing populations of some spider mites but this dust can disrupt beneficial predaceous mites.

Avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides which disrupt biological controls. When applied for other pests during hot weather, these can cause dramatic outbreaks of mites within just a few days even though their label may say they control mites.

Although a young or weak plant may not survive a severe spider mite infestation, it is not usually fatal to a vigorously growing tree or plant. The best defense is a good offense – periodically spray your plants with water in the morning to keep them clean and dust free.