Category Archives: birds

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
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.

Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener

What to Plant in Clay Soil in the Santa Cruz Mountains

              "The soil is made of butterfly wings, dinosaur teeth, pumpkin seeds, lizard skins, and fallen leaves.
                  Put your hands in the soil and touch yesterday, and all that will be left of tomorrow shall return
                                         so that new life can celebrate this day."  -Betty Peck

Soil is a wonderful thing. It grows our food, anchors our trees and provides a foundation under our feet. But it sure can be hard to work with if it’s not the soft, crumbly loam that many plants prefer. It’s amazing that anything grows in some of the soils here in the Santa Cruz mountains. Some folks garden in an ancient sea bed of sand and there are others who have such heavy clay in their gardens that you wonder how anything survives.  Recently I helped plant in the dense clay of Garrahan Park in Boulder Creek and I dedicate this column to those of you with similar inhospitable soils.

The soil in Boulder Creek required a pick ax to break up enough to plant. Sound familiar?  Although rich in nutrients it needed compost in many areas to provide the environment  necessary so beneficial microbes, worms and other critters could do their work and aerate the soil. A thick layer of mulch will be spread over the soil by The Boy Scouts to preserve the structure and prevent it from packing down again.

There are many plants that are tolerant of clay soils and plant selection is half the equation. The park chose mostly California natives that won’t need fertilization or pruning, can be eventually weaned from irrigation and will provide food for the birds and visiting children. Juncus, a type of grass, red-flowering currant, redtwig dogwood, California rose and western redbud will be the stars of the park in the wet, clay soil. The drier side of the park was planted with deer grass, toyon, California rose, huckleberry, coffeeberry , ceanothus, native honeysuckle, vine maple, native iris and California fescue grass.

I’m sure the park will be the crown jewel of the area and hopefully you will come to visit and see the progress of the plants. Kinda like a local demonstration garden in the San Lorenzo Valley.

There are plants from similar environments in other parts of the world that would also do well if you garden in heavy soil. One of my favorite trees for these conditions is the strawberry tree. Also hackberry, ash, gingko and paperbark trees work well also. Shrubs to try include flowering quince, bottlebrush, Australian fuchsia, smoke tree, escallonia, pineapple guava, mahonia, osmanthus, Italian buckthorn, elderberry and vitex. Easy perennials for clay soils are yarrow, bergenia, carex grasses, fortnight lily, coreopsis, echinacea, nepeta, salvia, teucrium and verbena to name just a few.

If you’re not familiar with some of these plants it’s easy to see what they look like by Googling images. It’s what I do to see a plant full grown and not just a line drawing or a close-up of the flower.

So you see, there are plants that will be successful even in heavy, clay soil, you just have to pick the right ones.

Attracting Birds to your Garden

Fall brings with it not only foliage color but also colorful fruits and berries that invite birds into your garden. If you’re a backyard birder you probably already have lots of plants to lure our feathered friends,

If you have room for a new tree, consider Paul’s scarlet hawthorn.  With clusters of double rose flowers and small vivid red fruits resembling tiny apples in late summer and fall that hang from the branches well into winter, this tree offers interest in more than one season.  Robins are attracted to hawthorn berries.
Flowering crabapples sport showy edible fruit relished by many birds in the winter, including black-headed grosbeaks.  Fruit color ranges from reddish purple, brilliant red to golden orange.  Crabapples are good lawn trees and their spring blossoms are stunning.  To avoid disfiguring diseases, choose varieties that are resistant to cedar-apple rust, scab and powdery mildew.   Among these is ‘Prairiefire‘, with pink flowers and dark red fruit.  This tree grows 20 feet tall.
A native that puts on a fall show is  A background plant most of the year, the white berries on this 4-foot shrub stand out when the leaves drop.  Snowberry is a good choice for erosion control on banks.

Looking like clusters of pale purple pearls, the gorgeous fruits of beautyberry ( Callicarpa ) are born well into winter.  This deciduous shrub reaches to 6 feet and takes sun or light shade.
For both bird-attracting berries and brilliant winter stems, plant redtwig dogwood.  Native along creeks and other moist spots from northern California through the Northwest, it performs well with little additional summer water once established in gardens
Other shrubs with beautiful colored berries include barberry, cotoneaster, currant, elderberry, mahonia, nandina and pyracantha.  As an added bonus many of these berries make good holiday decorations, too.