How to Sow Wildflower Seeds

Gardeners who sow wildflower seeds in the fall may envision a springtime scene of brightly colored blossoms billowing in the breeze with butterflies and bees dancing from bloom to bloom. but sometimes when spring arrives, weeds-not wildflowers steal the show.

The most common mistake when planting wildflower seeds is not getting rid of the existing weed and grass seed that is in the soil and germinate along with the wildflowers. These fast-growing weeds smother the slower growing wildflowers. For a more successful planting, take time to eliminate the competition.

First, choose a site in full sun, To get rid of existing weeds, cultivate the soil 3-4" deep and remove all the weeds. This the the method with the least environmental impact.

The next step is crucial. Soak the soil thoroughly, then wait for the weed seeds to germinate. When they do, lightly cultivate the soil to a depth of not more than 1 inch. Deeper cultivation exposes more weed seeds that will germinate along with the wildflower seeds.

Before sowing the seeds, rake the soil to form shallow grooves. Ensure even distribution of seed by mixing with 4 times its volume of sand and broadcast by hand. Rake the seed lightly into the soil and tamp it for good soil contact. Wait for fall rains to germinate the seeds. You can water to keep the soil moist if rains don’t come.

Next year, when the plants have dried and dropped their seed, .  Be sure to take pictures of your meadow in the spring with the butterflies, bees and birds enjoying it.

Fall Planting ideas

It’s always exciting for me to see the first fall colors of the season. we may not have a show like they do in the the hardwood forests of the east coast but we’re still barbequeing and they’re not. If your garden cries out for a something that you can put a table and chairs under and still have room to play, consider a red maple. Autumn Blaze maples spread to 40 ft. wide and you’ll be enjoying their brilliant orange-red fall color long into the fall season. They need an occasional deep watering like a fruit tree but little pruning.

Take advantage or fall weather to plant cool season flowers.  October is a great month to plant as the plants will have time to become established and start flowering before winter sets in. You’ll be amazed at how much color your plants will produce when you start early. Good choices for this area include iceland poppy, snapdragon, chrysanthemum paludosum, calendula, stock, pansy, viola, primrose and cyclamen.

Citrus & Avocado for the Santa Cruz mts

Late September and you can feel autumn in the air. While our days are still beautiful and warm, nights are getting cooler with less daylight hours. Perfect weather for transplanting or adding new plants to your garden.

Why is this a good time? Cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an excellent environment for new root growth. In the fall many plants and trees ( even broadleaf evergreens ) are entering a period of dormancy. With no need to allocate resources into foliage, plants are transferring all their energy into roots and storing nutrients for the cool months ahead. By spring, the roots system should be well established.

So take advantage of fall planting weather. Decide what changes or additions you want to make in your garden.
Perhaps it’s time to remove lawn from banks or slopes where water runs off instead of soaking in. Replant with more drought tolerant ornamental grasses or perennials.  Picture hummingbirds feeding on beautiful variegated autumn sage, their creamy white and green leaves topped with brilliant red flowers from summer until frost.

If you have a small lawn on flat land and want to improve water absorption and reduce water waste, rake out the thatch that accumulates at the base. Then aerated your lawn in a hollow-tine aerator or power aerator from a rental yard.  This brings plugs of soil to the surface, then rake compost over the hoes and water well.

Now is a good time to plant citrus and avocado. They will fair better during the cold winter months if roots are established.  Remember to give older citrus a good soak every week or so or the fruit will be dry.

If you’ve always wanted an avocado tree there are several varieties that do well here.  The Bacon avocado is hardy to 24 degrees. You can harvest medium sized fruit from November-March. They even produce at a young age and grow to 30 feet tall. Fuerte avocado have excellent flavor. This tree is large and spreading, hardy to 28 degrees and the fruit ripens from November-June. Zutano is another good variety for this area. Mexicola varieties are also very good.
 
These avocados are self fertile for the home gardener. You can expect your tree to live for about which is a lot of guacamole.

If you receive frost of consecutive night during the winter you can easily protect a young avocado or citrus by erecting a simple frame of 1×1" stakes that extends above the height of your tree.  Then drape with a frost blanket or beach blanket on cold night. Don’t use plastic- the cold will go right through it.

Take advantage of this great fall planting weather. Bon appetit !

Landscaping in the Early 1900’s in San Lorenzo Valley

Our gardens reflect who we are. Some of us plant edibles while others fill their gardens with fragrance. Some concentrate on native plants, attracting hummingbirds and wildlife while others have a bit of everything.

Our area is rich in history. I love to look at old photos and try to identify what the early settlers planted around their homes in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s.  Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country.  Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brushland to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebes from New Zealand were all the rage.  The brochure for this world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …" a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled."

My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at a friends family photographs from the turn of the century. His family had a resort with a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths close to Hwy 9 in south Felton. This was very near the Big Tree Grove resort ( now Toll House ) that opened in 1867.     I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown back but at that time there was lots of sunshine, a by product of clear cutting.   I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Landscaping in the Santa Cruz mountains in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could be lush or sparse depending on the location and logging activities. A picture from the 1880s of the Harmon cabin off Hwy 9 shows many palms that look like Canary Island date palms. Perhaps they were imported from a nursery in San Francisco and brought down here by railroad. The landscaping is lush and full of plants.

Pictures of the Locatelli barn in 1892 near the grammar school in Boulder Creek, however, show the hills nearly clear cut. Railroad tracks at that time ran right through downtown.  Simple houses with picket fences were located very near the tracks and these yards had no trees, shrubs or flowers at all. It must have been quite hot for them in the summertime.

By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms, and hollyhocks in their yard. Out on Bear Creek Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs.  Most likely they originated from the deserts in the southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.

California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns.  Black locust trees planted for their fragrance and flowers are still seen here today where they have naturalized.  Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

The 1915 Panama Pacific Expo introduced more plants to the public. In 1916, construction of a home in Brookdale featured timber, flooring and doors shipped from the expo to this area by Southern Pacific railroad. When the house was finished in 1926, photographs show a beautiful home surrounded by hollyhocks, roses and wisteria.

Also in the museum archives are the scrapbooks of the Valley Floral Club, later called the Valley Garden Club. Dating back to 1947 they contain old newspaper clippings as well as the minutes of monthly meetings, details of various speakers and pictures of plants and members. One old clipping from 1928 shows as ad for "Calif. Redwood Burl Ferns " for 75 cents that were a ..".guaranteed curiosity in any home for several years".

That’s my trip down the memory lane of horticulture. Many thanks to Linda Phillips and Maya Caldwell from the SLV Museum for their help in researching this information.

If you have any of these plants in your garden, remember the early settlers enjoyed them also. You might even plants a for the fun of it.
 

Summer pruning for Fruit trees

Here’s some advice for those of you growing fruit trees. August is the best time to do summer pruning. If you haven’t already done so, thin out shoots and crossing branches. This allows more air and light into the tree, reduces disease and promotes earlier ripening of the fruit. Remove most water sprouts. These are the soft, fast growing shoots usually growing straight up. Cut them back to a main branch. If you need to fill in a spot in the tree and there’s a water sprout growing there, cut that one back to about 2" and it will promote a fruiting spur.

Pruning fruit trees this month controls the size of the tree and can also prevent rampant sprout growth next spring. That’s because pruning removes many of the little food factories ( leaves ) that supply energy to the plant  and store it,  to be used for growth in the spring.

Prune to maintain a vase shape. By promoting upright limbs high in the tree and pruning hardest in upper and outer portions, fruiting wood is maintained throughout the tree. Also eliminate limbs growing inward. Remember never to prune more that 1/4 of the total mass of your tree at any one time and no more than 1/3 per year. Better to space out corrective pruning over 4 years if your tree has gone too long since the last pruning.

One last thing, fertilize your trees one more time. Most established fruit trees need their first application when the tree begins to emerge from dormancy in the spring, another after fruit set and the third immediately after harvest. For young trees in the first, second or third growing season, apply at half the rate.

Feed your trees and they’ll feed you.

Plants for the Senses

With students going back to school, my thoughts turn to young people and how to peak their interest in the plant world.  Many schools have life lab gardens and families growing vegetables and fruit trees have a head start.  What better way to learn how plants grow? It’s a big horticultural world out there, filled with plants to taste, smell and touch. Kindle a child’s curiosity early and you create a gardener for life.

Pettable plants are a sure hit with kids. Usually we tell them, "Don’t touch", so to actually have someone encourage this is a rare treat. If your own garden doesn’t have plants that look and feel so soft that you can’t resist petting them, consider adding one of the following:
    ⁃    lamb’s ears
    ⁃    scotch moss
    ⁃    fiber optic grass
    ⁃    lotus Golden Flames
    ⁃    coleonema Sunset Gold
    ⁃    artemisia Powis Castle
    ⁃    red fountain grass

Fragrant flowers teach us to stop and savor our surroundings. I always love it when I can introduce a youngster to the different plant smells. They never forget the experience and will go back again and again to a fragrance they like. Some common plants I enjoy at this time of year are:
    ⁃    chocolate cosmos
    ⁃    sweet alyssum
    ⁃    heliotrope
    ⁃    chocolate mint
    ⁃    nemesia

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