Tag Archives: bulbs

November Tasks in the Santa Cruz Mountain Garden

Outside my window, the Forest Pansy redbud has started to display its spectacular orange fall color. There’s a suet feeder hanging from the branches so I get to enjoy the antics of the Pygmy Nuthatches, Purple Finches and the Chestnut-backed Chickadees all day long as I watch the changing colors of the foliage. Other than watch the birds and the changing foliage colors what should I be doing out there in the garden?

hedge_parsley_weed
Hedge parsley aka Torilis arvensis

Light weeding is easy now that the soil is soft and moist. The dreaded hedge parsley has germinated early with our October rains. With it’s spiny-ball seeds that stick to your dog’s fur and your socks it is not welcome on my property.  It’s invasive and a native of Europe. They’ll be easy to pull now.

Maybe I will plant a few more bulbs. The ground is cooling and there’s still plenty of time for them to receive adequate winter chilling. Come spring I’ll be happy I did.

california_poppies
California poppies

I just planted wildflower seeds on my hillside. I hoping for more California poppies. I see some of last year’s wildflowers have reseeded. Nature knows when the time is right. I spread the new seeds in swaths and worked them very lightly into the soil, first hoeing off some early weeds that would compete with them.

What not to do in the garden now? I don’t need to prune trees and shrubs at this time of year. Other than clipping a few well placed branches to use for holiday decorations, I’m off the hook for this task. Deciduous trees are still in the process of losing their leaves and are not fully dormant. Evergreen shrubs and conifers can be trimmed lightly but most shaping is done when they start growing in late winter or very early spring. 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 next year.

hakonechloa_winter
Japanese Forest grass in winter

The growing season is pretty much over for me except to enjoy what’s left of fall color and the ornamental grasses waving their seed heads in the wind. A lot of perennials are dying back but I’m not in a hurry to neaten things up. The seed heads left in the garden supply food for birds and other creatures while the foliage provides shelter for the plant in the cold and frost. Remove anything that has turned slimy or just plain unattractive but leave berries and seed heads for food and winter interest.

At this time of year my garden is visited also by Lesser goldfinches and warblers who will spend the winter and I’m doing them a big favor by not cutting back brown foliage containing nutrient-rich seed heads. Some of the reliable seed producers that I won’t have to clean up this weekend include artemisia, aster, coreopsis, penstemon, sedum, lupine, salvia, black-eye Susan, coneflower, phlomis, monarda, agapanthus and grasses.

Used to be the first frost in our area came about the first or second week of November but not anymore. Be prepared whenever it comes by moving frost tender plants under overhangs if possible or having frost blankets ready to cover frost tender plants.

October Tips for the Santa Cruz Mountains- Squirrels & Cover Crops

Continuing in the spirit of all things fall it's prime time to plant tulips and other spring blooming bulbs, If you're like me and have squirrels scampering up every tree, checking out planting beds and planters for choice acorn planting spots, you are undoubtedly aware of how difficult it is to keep them from digging up and eating the bulbs. Yes you can plant the bulbs surrounded by chicken wire or hardware cloth but there's an easier way that's just as effective.

Dig the hole and plant the bulb as you normally would, but instead of caging it, cover the bulb with poultry grit, which is make up of crushed granite, shale or oyster shells and is available at feed stores. The squirrels don't like trying to dig through the sharp grit and quickly give up.

Next spring if they have the nerve to eat the flower buds right when they emerge from the soil you might just have to plant the types of bulbs that squirrels won't eat such as daffodils, snowdrops, chionodoxa, hyacinth or fritillaria.

It's also time to plant a cover crop in your vegetable garden to improve production next year. Fall cover crops include legumes such as fava beans, peas, vetch and clovers which germinate and grow quickly but not so fast as to harm late season or overwintering vegetable crops. Oat grass can be sown to hold the soil and protect it from erosion.

Cover crops also protect the soil from pounding winter rains which compact the soil surface and leach out nutrients. They are thick enough to choke out emerging weeds and their root systems break up and aerate hard soil. Members of the pea family gather nitrogen into their roots to further benefit the soil.

In the spring you can tun the cover crop into the soil and allow it to decompose in place or pull the plants and compost them separately. That way you can plant right away and add the compost back into the garden later when it has finished decomposing.

Seeds germinate best when the soil is in the 50 degree range so don't delay.
 

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.
 

Fall Tips for Gardeners

Halloween is just around the corner and besides deciding what your or the kids are going to be this year, it’s time to bring in any plants that you plan to overwinter in the house. Whether they’re the houseplants that you put out on the patio for the summer or frost tender plants that you want to save, this is the .

 Although our nights are still well above freezing,  plants need to acclimate to the indoor environment before you start turning on the heater regularly. Be sure to wash them thoroughly and inspect them for any insects that may have taken up residence while they were vacationing outside. Usually you can dislodge any hitchhikers with a strong spray of water but if that doesn’t do the trick, spray them with a mild insecticidal soap or one of the other mild organic herbal sprays like oil of thyme.

If you want to decorate for Halloween there is a lot of plant material you can harvest from your own garden or nearby woods. Manzanita branches can often be found on the ground and make great arrangements combined with nandina or other berries. Some of the trees have started to turn color and their leaves can also be used for wreaths.  The leaves of New Zealand flax last a long time and add fall color in bouquets.

Mums are the classic fall flower.  They come in nearly every color except blue and the flowers have many shapes from daisy to spider mums.  They are perennials and make good additions to the garden. Best of all they make excellent cut flowers.

This October has had the perfect weather  allowing fall color to develop in our trees, shrubs and perennials.  Warm days, cool nights, not a lot of wind or heavy rain all help plants to attain and keep those bright reds, oranges and yellow colors we love. Here’s a short list of small plants that you can easily find space for even in the smaller garden.

Japanese barberry turn yellow, orange or red. They get red berries and are deer resistant.
Blueberries not only are good for you and their foliage turns beautiful yellow-orange in the fall.
Oakleaf hydrangea leaves take on burgundy hues.
Crape myrtle shrubs explode with brilliant red and orange color.
Pomegranate bushes turn bright yellow
Spirea foliage varies from red, orange to yellow.

Squirrel wars
If you are at odds like me with squirrels that dig up everything while burying acorns for the winter, delay planting your bulbs until Thanksgiving when they’ve finished stocking the pantry.  Store you bulbs in the frig or a cool place until then.  If you just have to plant some on a beautiful autumn day, cover the area with flat stones or chicken wire.

Don’t prune now
One last thing and you’ll be happy to hear this.   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.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or  late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature. 

Autumn crocus for Fall Flowers

There’s nothing like a couple of to remind you that all things are possible with a bit of imagination. Recently I visited several inspiring gardens on the tour hosted by the Monterey Bay Master Gardeners here in our area and also saw some spectacular landscapes on the peninsula with APLD ( Association of Professional Landscape Designers ).  So many ideas-so little time. Here is just a sampling to get you started.

At one of the awesome gardens I visited, I was tickled to see a clump of autumn crocus blooming beneath some trees. This look alike of the true crocus provides a burst of brilliance in the fall just when you need it. Spring crocus are actually members of the iris family while autumn crocus or colchicum autumnale are members of the lily family. Native to the Mediterranean area and parts of Asia, they make dazzling patches of amethyst, mauve or white flowers in partial shade or full sun. The blooms last for a couple of weeks in late summer and early fall and the bulbs naturalize easily. These bulbs are also called meadow saffron but it is from one of their close relatives that expensive saffron spice is harvested.

Several months from now strap-like leaves will appear, growing to about a foot high, then die back- similar to naked lady bulbs.

Autumn crocus can be enjoyed outdoors or brought inside to grow in pots while they are flowering. You can even set bare corms in a saucer of pebbles like narcissus bulbs to enjoy the splendid flowers that quickly emerge.
Corms of these beauties are only available now during their brief dormant period. They make a fine addition to any garden.

At another garden, I saw a design trick that turned a mulched hillside into a path with just a couple of steps added. Paths not only get you from point A to point B, they can be part of the journey itself. In the upper part of this particular garden, the soil was mulched around the raised veggie boxes and the hillside below. A formal path with edging wasn’t needed here so a few flat stones installed as steps in just a couple of places directed you to a lower patio. The stone steps weren’t really needed but they gave the illusion of a path. Cost: maybe nothing if you can find some flat stones around the yard.

Everybody’s growing vegetables and herbs these days but not everyone wants to water and take care of a large vegetable garden. Enter the container gardening solution. In most of the gardens I visited, there were either raised beds or containers happily growing every herb and vegetable imaginable. Even the McMansion had a raised bed for growing edibles and flowers to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, Think small, pick only your favorites to grow and enjoy the fruits of your labor with out all that much work.

There were so many wonderful ideas that I got from each of the gardens.  Where I met the owners, they were happy to share their ideas, techniques and even some cuttings.
 

Shade Gardening ideas

Many of us garden in the shade year round. Other have sun in the summer but shade from fall through spring as the sun’s arc becomes lower. Here are some encouraging tips for you if this describes your garden.

If you’re new to growing vegetables you may be discouraged that your tomatoes are still green. Fear not ! Tomatoes don’t need direct sunshine to ripen , they only need warmth. That’s why green tomatoes will ripen on a kitchen window sill. Don’t be tempted to prune leaves out of the way so whatever sunshine you do get can hit your tomatoes. This can sunburn the fruit if we get a hot day and the result will be a white spot that eventually turns black, hard and inedible.

What about bulbs in the shade? If you dream about drifts of colorful flowers under you trees in the spring but didn’t think they would bloom in the shade, think again . Some bulbs manage to grow just fine beneath trees-even evergreen trees. Many from the daffodil clan, including jonquils and narcissus will grow, bloom and naturalize year after year under tree canopies or other lightly shaded areas. Common ones to try are Golden Harvest, the classic, large yellow King Alfred daffodil and Dutch Master with pure gold flowers. Barret Browning has a soft. butter-yellow corolla and a pumpkin orange frilly tube.

To make sure your bulbs stand out in the landscape, figure at least 20-40 bulbs per drift. Be sure to pick up a sturdy, foot-operated bulb planter to better dig through surface roots and hard ground. In a time when money is short, naturalizing daffodils is an affordable way to grow more flowers and they’ll come back every year without losses from deer and gophers.

Squirrels, mice and moles, however, are observant and crafty. Once they discover newly planted bulbs, they’ll assume it’s food. Just disturbing the earth is a tip off for them. Daffodils and narcissus bulbs are unappetizing but if they dig them up and leave them exposed with just a nibble taken from them, so much for any spring flower display. Protect your bulbs with wire baskets or spray them with foul tasting repellent, letting the spray dry before planting. You can also bury the bulbs with ground up shells.

Planting bulbs along side a path makes for a beautiful look come spring. If you installed a flagstone or stepping stone path or sitting area this fall, now is the best between. Low, sturdy types that can withstand some foot traffic include blue star creeper for regularly irrigated area and creeping, woolly or elfin thyme for drier spaces. Make sure you have enough planting mix between the pavers for the plugs to grow. Fill the largest spaces first and allow them to spread into the little cracks. Mixing groundcover types looks great as long as they have the same water requirements. Low growing pennyroyal and corsican mint smell wonderful when you walk on them as does chamomile, although you need to mow this one occasionally to keep it neat and tidy.

Whatever you choose for your project this fall, you will love the look come spring.