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The June Garden

With the soil warming and more daylight hours everything in the garden is growing like crazy. Some of that growth is welcome and some is too much of a good thing. Here are some things to tackle before they get out of hand.

Cooke’s Purple wisteria

There are few vines that rival wisteria for beauty. But at this time of year, those long new vines seem to grow a foot a day. Summer pruning of wisteria is a necessary task to keep these vines under control. Cut new growth back to within 6″ of the main branch. If you want to extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new streamer-like stems and tie them to a support in the direction you wish to train the plant.

While you have the pruners out shear back early flowering perennials to encourage another round of blooms. The season has just started and you’ll be enjoying lots more flowers in the months to come if you deadhead regularly. To keep them compact, prune shrubs like erysimum, lavender, euryops and pink breath of heaven.

Apply the second fertilizer application of the year to your citrus and fruit trees. The last one should be immediately after harvest. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around the drip line of the tree where feeder roots are located and scratch into the surface. Water in well. As with all fertilizers, make sure the trees are moist before you fertilize. Young trees in their first, second or third growing season should receive half the rate of established trees.

Pruning is a good way to spend a couple of hours in your garden. I’m not talking about trimming plants into little balls but the kind of pruning that makes for a healthier and happier plant.

If you grow Japanese maples now is the time to remove dead branches and train your tree to look like one of those specimens you see in the magazines. Thinning cuts build your ideal tree limb structure. If yours is a young tree, though, don’t be tempted to head back long branches too soon. As these mature they give your tree that desirable horizontal branching.

This principle is important to keep in mind when you train any young ornamental tree. Lateral buds grow along the sides of a shoot and give rise to sideways growth that makes a plant bushy.

Summer pruning of fruit trees controls size by removing energy-wasting water sprouts. Summer is also a good time to remove leafy upper branches that excessively shade fruit on the lower branches. Winter pruning is meant to stimulate the tree. Summer pruning uses thinning cuts, where the branch is cut off at its point of attachment instead of part way along the branch, and these cuts do not encourage new growth but control the size of your tree making fruit harvest easier.

Summer pruning also can control pests like coddling moths, mites or aphids. Just be sure to dispose of these trimmings and don’t compost them.

If you have apricots and cherries, summer pruning only is now advised as these trees are susceptible to a branch killing disease if pruned during rainy weather. Prune stone fruits like peaches and nectarines after harvest by 50%. They grow quite rapidly. Apricots and plums need to have only 20% of their new growth pruned away.

Be sure to thin the fruit on your trees. That’s another good reason to keep them smaller so you can more easily reach the branches. The best time to do this is when the fruit is still small. Thinning fruit discourages early fruit drop and improves the quality of the remaining fruit. It helps to avoid limb damage from a heavy fruit load. Also it stimulates next year’s crop and helps to avoid biennial bearing. Left to their own devices, a fruit tree may bear heavily one year and then light or not at all the next year. Some types of fruit trees like peaches and Golden Delicious apples are likely to bear biennially if the current year’s fruit crop isn’t thinned.

While out in the garden add some more mulch to areas that are a little thin. And check the ties on your trees to make sure they aren’t too tight. Also remove the stake if the trunk is strong enough to support the tree on its own.

Most importantly, enjoy your time outdoors. If a task is too big to do at one time, break it down into smaller sessions. As they say, take time to smell the roses. And be sure to visit VCUM.org or their Facebook page to enjoy this year’s virtual garden tour and fund raiser.

Take a Virtual Tour of 5 Enchanting Scotts Valley Gardens

The Vineyard Garden

I never miss the annual garden tour sponsored by Valley Churches United. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by strolling through a beautiful local garden? Plus the proceeds from this fund raiser stay here to provide food and other services to our neighbors in need. This year’s tour is being presented as a virtual video tour and I can assure you it’ll be the best 30 minutes of your day. Enjoy these gardens online at VCUM.org or Valley Churches United Missions Facebook page and please donate to help this worthy cause.

I’ve watched this year’s virtual garden tour several times already. Each time I come away with another great landscaping idea, new tree variety, gardening tip and fresh inspiration. I’ve visited two of the gardens before so I have first hand knowledge of how special they are but the other three were new to me and are fabulous, too. The photography is excellent in the video and I especially enjoyed the aerial photography.

The Vineyard Garden

The first garden on the tour is Corbett and Sheri’s Vineyard Garden. This couple, over the past 25 years, have transformed their property into a plant lovers dream. They are truly plant connoisseurs including trees in their garden such as Shishigashira and Full Moon Japanese maples which are trained to show off their exquisite foliage and shape. Among the other beautiful trees that are featured among the different garden rooms are Chinese Fringe tree and the unusual Dove tree which is also called the Hankerchief tree. You’ll see why this tree is so named when you watch the video. This garden is filled with color from exbury azaleas, smoke bush, roses and Plum Delight loropetaum as well as a generous serving of white flowering shrubs like doublefile viburnum. Sitting areas, patios and water features abound amidst the veggie garden and the vineyard. This garden and the others will be featured on next year’s actual garden tour in May so don’t miss it.

Barry’s Garden is called the Forest Garden although the redwoods are just a part of this lovely garden. Barry bought the Tudor house in 2000 and has transformed it into a wonderland filled with beautiful paths, a formal garden in the front, a pond, 71 tree orchard, potting shed, green house, vegetable garden, shade pergola, gazebo and many other features that make this garden user and loved by his two dogs.

Bearded iris among the antiques.

Jim and Irene Cummins Iris Farm is one of those places you could spend all day and never see everything. I’ve spent a bit of time painting in this garden. Beside the stunning bearded iris the Cummins grow and propagate, this couple have collected an impressive collection of farm implements and tools. The property was originally a turkey farm owned by Irene’s family back in 1949 but the old barn dates back to the late 1800’s when it was a stop for the stagecoaches to change horses. This property is filled with hundreds of bird houses which Irene collects and everywhere you turn there are blooming irises among vintage collectibles.

Just one of the beautiful vignette’s in Robby’s garden.

Robby’s Zen Garden is another garden I’ve had the pleasure to visit often. This talented gardener is eager to share his vision and techniques to keep it mole and gopher free. As a deer resistant, low maintenance gardener Robby has created a soothing space complete with a hand made Japanese garden arch called a Tori. His shade garden is filled with tree ferns and the sitting area under the oaks beckons you to stop and enjoy the birds. There is a fire pit area plus a tree swing to enjoy before you head up to the rock garden and the cactus garden. This year round garden features tough but beautiful plants and there is something to admire everywhere you turn.

The last garden on the virtual tour is the Pool Garden of Robert and Monica. Some interesting facts about this garden include how the existing rock was jack hammered out for the pool and patio area. Heavy equipment scarred the rock and the rock that remains, which serves as a retaining wall, looks like it came straight from the Sierra. Filled with lavender, lantana, red hot poker, Monica’s grandmother’s bearded iris and other hummingbird attractors this garden beckons you to stop by the pool under the vine covered pergola and enjoy a cold beverage.

This is just a snippet of inspiration and ideas you’ll glean from these gardens on the virtual tour. Please donate what you can to help the food pantry of Valley Churches United.

The Magic of Butterflies

Western Tiger swallowtails are attracted to nectar-rich flowers like those of butterfly bush.

I was watering on the patio the other morning watching a pair of Western Tiger Swallowtails as they fluttered together in a dance among my plants. Although a Goldflame honeysuckle, filled with nectar, was in their path they were more interested in each other. This was their one flight as adults before the female lays her eggs and I was lucky to see it. You can get swallowtails and other local butterfly species to come to you by creating a “butterfly garden”. It’s a simple and rewarding way for anyone to create vital wildlife habitat in their own backyard.

We have about 90 species of butterflies in the Monterey Bay area. Many of these occur only in our mountains, forests and chaparral environments. Butterflies are less efficient than bees as pollinators but have their place in the ecosystem. They do not pick up much pollen on their bodies. Still they visit a variety of wildflowers and other plants to probe for nectar adding beauty and color to the garden. Did you know that butterflies taste with their feet?

Swallowtail drinking nectar from lemon blossom.

To attract the species of butterfly most common in your area, a butterfly garden should include plants that accommodate all stages of the life cycle – egg, larvae, pupa and adult . When both adult nectar and larval host plants are available, they will attract and support a butterfly population. In addition to the right plants, your garden should also have sun, a water source, protection from wind and plants in clusters. When maintaining your garden avoid the use of insecticides, including BT.

As adults, most butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers. Some local butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral, feed primarily on rotting fruit or tree sap for moisture and nutrients while the California Sister feeds on aphid honeydew.

In the larval stage, most butterfly species are limited to a single plant family and occasionally a single genus. To attract more Western Tiger Swallowtails, for instance, provide larval host plants such as willow, sycamore, alder, Big Leaf maple, sycamore, plum and ash. Common Buckeye lay their eggs on mimulus and verbena while California Sister use the coast and canyon live oak. Planting a variety of grasses and shrubs like ceanothus, buckwheat, coffeeberry, bush lupine and manzanita and perennials like redwood violet, California aster and wallflower will attract a variety of local butterflies. If your garden is near a wild area that naturally supports the caterpillar stage, you can plant just the nectar plants to attract butterflies to your garden.

This swallowtail butterfly won’t find any nectar in a mophead hydrangea but that doesn’t keep it from checking it out.

Filling your garden with nectar producing flowers is the fun part. Adult butterflies rely on sugar-rich nectar for their daily fuel. Different species have different flower color and shape preferences. Many butterflies produce scents that attract the opposite sex and many of these scents smell like the flowers that they are attracted to and visit. The scent of these butterfly pollinated flowers may have evolved as an adaptation to ensure their survival.

Butterflies typically favor flat, clustered flowers that provide a landing pad although larger butterflies can feed on penstemon and salvias while hovering. Butterflies have good vision but a weak sense of smell. Unlike bees, butterflies can see red and are attracted to brightly colored flowers. Pink, red, orange, yellow and purple are the most attractive nectar source flower colors but they also use blue and white.

Consider the blooming time of each plant. Having plants blooming in the sun for many hours in the day will lengthen your viewing time. Nectar rich flowers include yarrow, aster, verbena, scabiosa, buckwheat, toyon, salvia, erysimum, zinnia, lantana and coneflower.

In addition to nectar, butterflies need a source of water and salts. A patch of mud kept wet year round or a shallow depression lined with pebbles and kept moist will work fine. Also provide some flat rocks for them to bask in the sun in an area protected from the wind by shrubs.

Having your own butterfly garden will enable you to witness close-up the wonder of butterflies and the flowers on which they feed.

Trouble in Paradise

Aphids on butterfly weed.

Spring around here doesn’t bring a late snow or severe tropical storm that can wreak havoc in a garden. Still we have our own problems that can dash the hopes of even the most optimistic gardener. Is your veggie garden getting attacked by every type of insect and fungal disease lately? Are your beautiful roses looking a bit bedraggle? If your piece of paradise is being devoured or disfigured by insect pests or fungal diseases here’s what can you do about it.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it’s the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend whose rose shrubs were really hit by these. It’s discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

Rose slugs can skeletonize your leaves in a short time. Treat right away so your roses will look like this.

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have up to 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too. During the winter rose slugs pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil any time will break up the cocoons.

Keep checking for aphids. They can suck the plant juices from tender new leaves in a short time. They are incredibly prolific. Female aphids can produce 50 to 100 offspring. A newly born aphid becomes a producing adult without about a week and then can produce up to 5 offspring per day for up to 30 days. Yikes, that’s a lot of aphids if you don’t keep up with control. You may be able to dislodge them with a strong spray from the hose. If they persist, spray with organics like insecticidal soap, Neem or horticultural oil. As with all pesticide sprays, do this early in the morning or later then the plant is not in the sun. Be sure to test first to make sure the spray doesn’t burn new growth.

Ants can also bring aphids up into trees and shrubs such as camellias, citrus and roses. The ants feed off the honeydew secreted by aphids, scale and other plant-juice sucking insects. Ants also protect these pests from natural predators. To keep them off, wrap trunks with a 1-2 inch wide strip of masking tape and coast with a sticky barrier like Tanglefoot. Keep the barriers free of dirt and replace when necessary.

A client of mine has a photinia hedge that is not doing well. At first I suspected fireblight as this species is prone to this infections but on closer inspection I found the problem to be leaf spot. The majority of leaf spots are caused by fungi but some are caused by bacteria. Either should be treated with an organic fungicide like Serenade which is non-toxic to bees and beneficial insects, Neem oil, copper or sulfur spray to prevent and control spreading. Affected leaves should be discarded. Many plants get various leaf spots and late spring showers are perfect for them to take hold.

There are so many things that can grow wrong in the vegetable garden, too. Between fungal and bacterial problems, insects, slugs, deer, birds, rodents, rabbits- the list is endless. Keep your eyes open and don’t let a problem become a bigger one with time.

Flowers Make Good Companions

This simple bouquet features smoke bush and phlox.

If you’ve stood in line at a nursery lately you know everyone is doing more gardening these days and that’s a good thing- a very good thing. In addition to growing more edibles be sure to add flowers. Scented flowers attract pollinators to the vegetable garden plus they’re beautiful and lift the spirits during these crazy times.
Last year I was able to purchase huge mixed bouquets from a neighbor. She posted on Facebook when she and her daughters put together lovely arrangements and sold them on the honor system along with eggs in a cooler by their front fence. Whether you have limited sun or lots of it, here are some suggestions to add beauty to your garden.

Roses and alstroemeria in this bouquet.

For starters it’s always good to grow perennial plants that come back every year but self sowing annuals are also great so don’t forget to plant some of those also. Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula. Zinnia, snapdragon, statice, lisianthus and marigolds also make good cut flowers.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub that provides interesting variegated foliage as well as flowers. Sweet olive (osmanthus fragrans) flowers smell like apricots. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus. Our native shrub philadelphus (mock orange) has blossoms that smell like oranges. It will grow in some shade as well as sun. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets.

A mixed bouquet with roses, gerber daisies, carnation, crabapple branches and leather fern.

For sunny spots grow kangaroo paw with their unusual fuzzy tubular flowers. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets. Coneflowers attract butterflies. The showy flowers of alstroemeria attract hummers and butterflies. Dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow also make good cut flowers. Penstemon are good for cutting and the tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.

Native flowers that last for a week or more in a bouquet include clarkia and sticky monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days in a vase. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun. Lewisia bloom spring and summer, California poppy and Pacific Coast Iris are beautiful in a mixed bouquet as well.

The secret to a fabulous bouquet is not just the flowers but the interesting foliage and that is something we all have in our gardens. Foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, California. bay, ornamental grasses, grapes and other vines, herbs, woody tree branches like smoke tree and Japanese maple also look handsome in a bouquet.

A Filoli Garden bouquet photographed a couple years ago.

To make cut flowers last, pick them early in the morning before they are stressed by heat. Pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. Fill a clean vase with 3 parts lukewarm water mixed with 1 part lemon-lime soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar and a crushed aspirin. Another recipe for floral food is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water. The sugar helps buds open and last longer, the acid improves water flow in the stems and the bleach reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus. Change the water and recut the stems every few days to enjoy your bouquet for a week or even longer.

What’s Not to Love about Ceanothus?

Ceanothus growing near the Covered Bridge in Felton

They grow quietly for most of the year – their seed feeding many kinds of birds, their flowers providing nectar for hummingbirds and bees and their foliage offering good nesting sites. They’re fast growing, fragrant, beautiful and they’re in full bloom right now.

If I had to choose one plant to grow that would provide the most benefit for all wildlife it would be ceanothus. Hands down, it’s the best and here are some of my favorite varieties.

Ceanothus ‘Heart’s Desire’

The groundcover varieties I have in my landscape are Anchor Bay, Carmel Creeper, Heart’s Desire, Centennial and Diamond Heights. If deer frequent your landscape you should stick with Anchor Bay, Heart’s Desire and Centennial but the others are great in protected areas. And maritimus ‘Valley Violet’ is another great looking deer tolerant groundcover, too. Most of these types grow quite wide and are good for erosion control.

One of the upright types I have is ceanothus thyrsiflorus. It’s one of the earliest native shrubs to bloom in our area, is fragrant and self sows. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus grow along a narrow band close to the coast from Monterey to southern Oregon. I also grow Julia Phelps with those electric blue flowers and Ray Hartman.

A friend of mine grew a new cultivar – ceanothus ‘Celestial Blue’ – with flowers that looked like blueberry sherbet. With a light fragrance, described as grape tart, it made a good screen. This cultivar is probably a hybrid of Julia Phelps and Concha. A horticultural cultivar is simply a plant variety that’s been selected specifically for gardens. Celestial Blue flowers 9 months a year especially in the summer when it explodes with rich purplish blue flowers.

Another cultivar I often use when designing a garden is Ceanothus ‘Concha’ because it will accept summer water more forgivingly than most, tolerate clay soil more than other species and is possibly one of the most beautiful species you can grow in your garden.

Carmel Creeper ceanothus

But are “nativars” as good for wildlife as wild types for the ecosystem? Well, it depends. More on this in another column. It’s complicated.

Joyce Coulter ceanothus also tolerates clay, summer irrigation and shearing better than other cultivars. It”s a good bloomer, drought tolerant and is covered in spring with wildly fragrant, blue three-inch flower spikes.

Ceanothus is often said to be short lived. Most varieties need good drainage, little summer water and don’t need soil amendments. In their wild conditions ceanothus plants have a natural life cycle of 20-25 years although some live longer. There are some on my property that are older. These receive no summer water although I have some that are at least 15 years old that get occasional summer irrigation, so go figure. I’ll keep you posted when they pass.

Members of the ceanothus family can form a symbiotic relationship with soil micro-organisms and fungi, forming root nodules which fix nitrogen. This is a reason why fertilizing is not normally recommended and they grow so fast. Adding fertilizer kilsl off the good micro-organisms. Ceanothus are better left fending for themselves.

Ceanothus provide excellent habitat for birds and insects. They are good for attracting bee and fly pollinators and are the larval host plants for the beautiful ceanothus silkmoth. Ceanothus seed is readily eaten by many local birds. Planting a ceanothus is an important step to attracting more birds and wildlife to your garden.

Early California Indians used the fresh or dried flowers of some varieties for washing, lathered into a soap. it has been said to relieve poison oak, eczema and rash.