Erosion and You

 Now that we’ve had a bit of rain, it’s time to get serious about planting wildflowers for spring color and to attract bees,   cover crops to renew your soil,   and erosion control seed and plantings to hold your slope during the winter rains.

 Let’s start with the fun stuff- wildflowers.  Picture your meadow or garden filled with beautiful wildflowers, attracting all sorts of songbirds, hummingbirds, dragonflies and other beneficial insects.  If this is your goal, first get rid of existing weed seeds that in the soil and can smother out the slower growing wildflowers. The rains earlier this month will have germinated those pesky weed seeds so you can hoe them off now.  Be careful not to cultivate over 1" deep or you will bring more weed seeds to the surface.

Next, choose a site with at least a half day of sun.  Rake the soil lightly and spread the seed at the recommended rate.  It helps to mix the tiny seeds with 4 times as much sand or vermiculite so you don’t spread the seed too thickly.  Rake the seed very lightly into the soil and tamp it down for good soil contact.  Then you can wait for the next rain or water the area by hand.  It’s important to remember that after your wildflowers have germinated they must remain moist.  If mother nature doesn’t cooperate , you will need to hand water a for a while- a small price to pay for all that beauty in the spring.

What’s a cover crop?  These are grasses or legumes that grow during the fall and winter and then are tilled into the soil in the spring.  They help prevent erosion when planted on slopes and energize the soil when planted in the garden.   Preserve you topsoil and nutrients by planting a pretty cover crop like crimson clover. 

Crimson cloverCrimson clover has beautiful magenta glowers, but its primary benefit happens below the ground- the soil gains nitrogen, a better structure and greater biological activity.  Growing a legume, like clover, will "fix" nitrogen in the soil.  You can reduce the amount of fertilizer you use in the spring by 1/3 to 1/2,  especially in areas like the vegetable garden that need a lot of nutrients to produce all those good things to eat.   If you’re going to be growing peas or beans as the garden’s next crop, though, don’t use a legume cover crop in these areas.  You may end up with all vine and no peas or beans to harvest.  Heavy feeders like corn or squash will really respond to the extra nitrogen.

How do they do this?  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 in the garden bed, that nitrogen remains in the soil to feed the leafy growth of other plants.

 Besides reducing erosion a cover crop like crimson clover  can reduce soil compaction and their tap roots break up clay soil.
    To plant, rake the bed, sow the seed by hand and rake again.  Water to help germination if rains don’t do it for you.  Next spring, chop them down when they begin to flower.  Early spring is the best time to dig the clover into the soil because that dose of green manure is at it’s peak before the plant matures.  After a few weeks of decomposition, you energized soil is ready for vegetable seeds and starts. 

 Another way to prevent erosion is to plant native grasses, herbaceous and woody plants.  If you haven’t started planting a steep slope yet, you may need to use jute netting to stabilize the slope while the permanent plants are becoming established.  Santa Cruz erosion mix is a quick growing grass especially suited for our conditions.  You can also plant crimson clover under jute netting.

Whatever you choose, take steps now to prevent . 

To do or not to do in October

This weeks to do or not to do:SterlingRed Cyclamen

Wait to prune all your trees until late in the dormant season or in late spring after leaves and needles form.  Fall is not a good time to prune.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don’t prune when leaves are falling or forming.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature.

Plant cool season annuals and perennials for fall, winter and spring flowers.  The sooner you get them in the ground, the faster they get established.  Planted too late, they may just sit until spring.  Good choices for this area are cyclamen, primroses, calendula, pansies, violas, Iceland poppies, snapdragon, stock, chrysanthemum paludosum, ornamental cabbage and kale, alyssum and English daisy. 

Planting Fruit Trees in the fall

 We all know fruit is good for us and it tastes so yummy, too.  I love it when a plan comes together !  I’m still enjoying juicy, late nectarines, plums and pluots in addition to newly ripening apples and pears.  Can persimmons and pomegranates be far behind?

Trees are an essential part of every garden so why not have some that produce something good to eat, too?  A large apple or plum can serve as a shade tree if you prune the lower branches so you can walk under it.  A dwarf fruit tree would make a good focal point in a garden bed.  Consider adding a fruit tree now to your garden.  The trees available now are now more mature that those sold bare root in January.  Many are already producing fruit.  

If you have fruit trees in your garden already, look to add late ripening varieties that can extend your season.   Goldmine nectarines ripen in late summer where most other varieties mature earlier in June and July.  Their juicy, sweet white flesh has excellent flavor.  Needing only 400 hours of chilling in the winter – this refers to the # of hours below 45 degrees during the dormant season – they are good for mild winter areas like Pasatiempo.  A great late peach ripening in August is Late Elberta.  You’ll love its large, delicious yellow fruit.

And many apples, like my favorite, the Fuji, ripen in the fall.  With firm, crunchy white flesh Fuji apples can’t be beat for eating right off the tree.  They also keep well and bear in mild winter areas.

So what should you be doing to keep your trees healthy?

  • Water:  A trees network of roots generally extend to the drip line, which is as far as the branches spread from the trunk, so set your sprinkler or soaker hose to cover the entire area.
  • Fertilize one last time for the season to replace the potassium and magnesium that have been leached out of the root zone.
  • Weed:  Young trees especially will benefit from careful weeding around their trunk which can be a hiding place for rodents in the winter. Girdling can be fatal for a tree if the bark is chewed away. 
  • Cleanup:  Practice good sanitation by cleaning up fallen fruit , especially if it has signs of pests and diseases that can come back to haunt you next spring.

It’s too late for light summer pruning and too early for dormant pruning.  However, there are a couple of things you can do now before leaves drop.  Assess the tree.  A main pruning goal is to allow light into the central part of the tree so the lower branches aren’t shaded by those above.  Also look for weaker branches, those with fewer leaves or less fruit.  You might even put a piece of yarn on those branches to mark them for later pruning. 

If you have a fruit tree that is just too large for your space, despite pruning, consider replacing it with a smaller variety.  Many types of fruit trees are available in dwarf varieties as well as semi-dwarf.  It depends on the root stock.  Remember: right tree, right spot.

Early October to-do’s

Early October to-do’s

If you have planted cool season veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli or brussels sprouts be on the look out for small holes in the leaves, which are signs of cabbage worms or diamondback moth larvae.

Cabbage worm adults are the white butterflies frequently seen around cabbage plants in the daytime.  Their yellow, bullet-shaped eggs, attached to the undersides of leaves, hatch into 1 1/2" long green worms with a light stripe down the back.

Diamondback moths fly in the evening.  Their larvae are tiny 1/4" long green worms that feed on the undersides of leaves and when disturbed, wriggle rapidly and often drop from the plant on a silk thread.  Adult moths spend the winter hidden under plant debris.

Clean up after harvest and cultivate the soil thoroughly to expose and destroy overwintering moths and the pupae of cabbage worms.  In the meantime, treat your current crops, when leaves show feeding damage, with organic BT while the worms are still small.

Happy October. 


How to Plant a Garden that will look like it’s been there forever


 I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like "How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend"   or   "This Front Yard in Just one Year".  If you’re like me you think  " Can I really do that " ?   There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them.  Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden.  A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas.  Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build off of.

If you want your garden to fill in quickly choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions: sun exposure, soil type and water availability.  Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly.  Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas.  Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter.  Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust.  Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.  Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18" tall spreading 2-3 ft wide.  They look great in wide swaths across the garden or  along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing.  This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2" periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall.  Catmints are easy to care for.  Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade.  They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space. penstemon, crocosmia, cardinal flower, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow all put down deep roots and mature quickly.    

Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months. 


 Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quicky, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time. 


Indian Summer in the Santa Cruz Mountains

We tend to think of September and October as ‘Indian Summer‘  because the weather is balmy,  even on the foggy coast.  The actual definition from the American Meteorological Society describes  ‘a time interval, in mid or late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights.’
Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost or freeze.  And while we may expect wintery weather to arrive in November or December, here in this part of the world we consider this time of year our Indian summer.

The term ‘Indian Summer’ dates back to the 18th century.  A Frenchman named John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1778 about  ‘an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, it’s characteristics… a tranquil atmosphere.’   No one know if is has anything to do with Indians, either.  It has been speculated that cargo ships in the 1700”s did much of their sailing over the Indian Ocean during the fair weather season in ‘Indian Summer’.  No one theory has been proven and since it’s been centuries since the term first appeared, it will probably rest with it’s originators. 

One thing we do know, fall is the best planting season of the year.  The soil is still warm encouraging root growth, the nights are cooler and days shorter which helps to conserve water, too.  This is a good time if you’re looking to add a new tree to shade the south side of your home, or perhaps start a hedge to screen the road.  If you want to add perennials to a border or start cool season annuals this is the time.

There are lots of deciduous trees to choose from that provide shade in the summer while letting the sun warm the house in the winter.  At this time of year trees with fall color come to mind. 

Maples like October Glory, Autumn Fantasy, Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze have gorgeous crimson red, magenta pink, or scarlet fall foliage,  Growing fairly fast to a mature height of 40-50 ft, they are large enough to provide that much needed summer shade.    Provide them with occasional deep watering and periodic feed to help keep roots deep. 

What about a hedge that screens the neighbor while also producing fruit?  Strawberry guavas can be grown as a 20 ft. single trunk tree, or a 10-15 ft multi-trunked tree , but are more often seen as a shrub 8-10 ft high.  Their 1 1/2" fruit is dark red or nearly black when ripe, with whiteRose of Sharon Red Heart flesh that is sweet but tart.  It can be harvested green and ripened at room temperature and is good eaten fresh or used in jellies, purees and juice drinks.  Even the bark of this evergreen shrub is a beautiful reddish to golden brown.  If you’re looking to add more edibles to your garden this is a good candidate.

Another shrub that would make a good addition to your garden is Rose of Sharon.  This hardy member of the hibiscus family blooms from mid summer until frost.  When dry summers have taken a toll on the rest of your border let this tough plant provide you with spectacular flowers.

There are dozes of varieties from double flowering forms to those with a contrasting eye.  Some reach 10 ft tall but can be pruned to shape.  One smaller one that I particularly like is called‘Red Heart‘.  It blooms with large white flowers with a burgundy eye, grows only 3 ft tall and looks beautiful when combined with the wine red flowers of chocolate cosmos.  Another favorite is ‘Blue Bird’ , a rich lavender blue variety with a deep red eye.  This one grows 3-5 ft tall and fits into the smaller garden, too.  Hibiscus syriacus are easy to grow.  They prefer full sun and tolerate some drought.  They are hardy to -10 degrees so our winters are a picnic for them.

Take advantage of Indian Summer to plant something new.

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