Did you know that the Contra Costa Master Gardeners have a Help Desk where you can have your gardening-related questions answered? Well, we do! Our Help Desk is staffed every week, Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-Noon. You can:
- Visit us during Help Desk hours at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2nd Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.
- Call us at (925) 646-6586. If you call outside Help Desk hours, please leave both your phone number and email address so that we may respond to you in a timely manner.
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use email if you want to submit photos along with your question(s).
As part of our effort to help educate the public, we are going to be sharing some of the interesting problems that other CoCo County gardeners have been having, and share the advice and solutions that our Help Desk volunteers have come up with.
Here is our first installment, on staking young trees for proper support.
The Client's Problem: Lazy Trees!
In September of 2011 the client bought three Pistacia chinesis trees. In September of 2012 the client planted the trees, but found that when the nursery stakes were removed each tree leaned over, almost to the ground. The client added two stakes to support the trees. In April of 2014, the client removed the stakes and found that two of the trees still leaned over about 45 degrees, and the third still fell almost to the ground (see pictures below).
So of course, the client's question is why is this happening? And what can be done to help the trees stand up straight and support themselves?
From the description and photos it looks like the trunks of your Pistache trees have not developed enough strength to stand on their own properly. There are a number of factors that can contribute to this condition. When you purchased the trees they were most likely staked in the pots with a single stake and closely tied to this stake, as a temporary measure. This was done by the nursery for ease in their operations and is not helpful to the tree long term.
Staking of trees is undesirable in most situations and should only be used when absolutely necessary. When staking the trees it is important to use two stakes placed on either side perpendicular to the prevailing winds and not too close the tree (just outside the root ball zone). You will need to tie the tree to allow some movement of the trunk. Tree trunks develop their strength by bending and swaying in the wind very much as we develop strength through exercising our limbs.
For more information on staking, please refer to the following University of California website: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/filelibrary/5253/16819.pdf
Your trees also look a little top heavy which may contribute to their problem standing up in their weakened condition. Often nurseries sell container trees with large tops ("lollipop trees"). These trees have usually been "headed back" and have many branches arising from the same point. This is a sign of poor branch structure for the tree in the long term. Young trees should have branches along the length of the trunk as this provides food for the tree and shade protection for the young trunk. You can thin the canopy to help reduce the load but never remove more than one-third of the branches when doing so. Take care with pruning as some types of pruning can trigger the tree to grow many more branches, especially dormant pruning.
For more information on selecting and planting landscape trees please refer to the following University of California website: http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/268-234.pdf
Another possible contributing factor to your trees not establishing themselves is their root structure. Often, when landscape trees are purchased from the nursery, they may have been growing in a small pot for an extended period of time and the roots have circled the trunk in the pot. This condition results in twisted and girdling roots which hampers the trees ability to take up nutrients and anchor itself in the ground.
Before resorting to digging up these trees, though, the client could make sure that the trees are properly staked, and continue to check on the trees' ability to stand upright every three months or so. However, in the end, the only solution to this client's problem might be starting over with new trees that were better pruned from the start, and were planted more quickly into the ground to prevent root girdling.
Editor's Note: Each month the CCMG Help Desk's Quality Assurance Team selects responses to county residents' Help Desk questions that produced informative responses that are either unique or unusual, or provided updated information that would be informative to all gardeners, or are of general interest, especially of seasonal concerns. We are highlighting these responses in the HortCOCO blog so all interested Master Gardeners and the public may utilize the information.
The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu//span>/h2>
- Author: Melissa Holmes Snyder
As we move into August, with its typical dog days of summer, we always need to make sure that the plants in our gardens, edible or ornamental, get the water they need. After back-to-back years of winter droughts in much of the west, it is more problematic this summer. Most California water districts, including EBMUD, have asked everyone to cut back on residential water use by at least 10%.
There are several things that a gardener can do that are fairly painless, and most are not too expensive, to help keep your plants, and your local water district, happy till the hoped-for rains begin later this Fall.
Saving Shower Water
Most home improvement/hardware stores carry five-gallon paint buckets. These work well when placed at the bottom of the shower, for collecting water as it is heating up for your shower.
- Bucket: You will likely go through the captured water in day or two, so you may not need more than a couple of buckets for storage.
- Trash Cans: For storing larger quantities of water, a clean 32-gallon trash with lid, is a good vessel for this. The lid is important because you don't want mosquitos to use your saved "still" water for laying larvae, and without that lid, they will. A new 32-gallon can with lid is available at home improvement stores for under $20.
- Wine Barrels: For more attractive water storage, though more expensive, buy a used wine barrel, which holds 55 gallons. You can by one on the internet or contact local wineries to purchase a barrel that they are "retiring". The wineries will usually sell a used barrel for around $40. You will need to get a plug for the bung hole, the big hole at the belly of the barrel which they use to fill and taste the wine (in the picture to the right you can see the bung hole on the right-side of the barrel). Alternatively you could make a lid out of one end if you cut the top of the barrel off. To make it even fancier, you could add a spigot near the bottom. Or put the barrel on its side, and use the bung hole to fill and syphon water, just keep the plug in to prevent mosquitos.
Drip Irrigation, particularly a with "Smart" Controller is ideal for conserving water for vegetable gardens, perennials, shrubs and young trees. But if the smart controller proves too costly, you can create a drip system that you use manually.
Fertilizers and Mulch
- Use organic fertilizers rather then synthetic fertilizer. It improves the quality of the soil, enabling the water to better move through it to the plants where it is needed.
- Adding mulch around shrubs and trees will help prevent evaporation of water from the soil, requiring less frequent watering.
- Author: Eileen Linn
In celebration of the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' 30th Anniversary, we came up with 30 (plus 1) signs that you might be a gardener.
Hope you enjoy them!
- Argues constantly that compost smells sweet.
- Delays vacation travel until after the harvest.
- Dirt! In your house, in the trunk of your car, under your fingernails and on your shoes, even the good ones!
- Every vacation has a nursery and /or botanic garden involved.
- Favorite color is green.
- Gets at least a dozen catalogs in the mail - and they send you into a state not experienced since teenage dating.
- Gives zucchinis to friends and co-workers (and sometimes the postal deliverer and UPS driver).
- Home Depot and nursery's know you by your first name.
- Mountain of plastic pots squirrelled away.
- Own one too many floppy straw hats.
- People share all their plant problems with you.
- Pruning clippers in your back pocket.
- Seed collecting materials, plant holders and coffee grounds from the coffee shop in the car.
- The yard is in better shape than the inside of your house.
- There are plants waiting to be added to your garden.
- Trays of seedlings on top of your refrigerator/Cuttings in the refrigerator.
- Use Latin words in public.
- When you tour a garden you first look for their composting set up.
- Won't let anyone else prune the fruit trees.
- You drive by any lawn and think, that could be a garden.
- You have more pairs of gloves than earrings.
- You live in your Carhartts.
- You look at vehicles based on how many tools and how much soil/compost/amendments they'll hold.
- You stop talking mid-sentence when you see a plant you don't recognize.
- You try to save every puny little plant that should have gone into the compost.
- You wake up in the middle of a cold night and wonder if you should go out and cover your succulents.
- You water other people's plants when out for a walk from your own water bottle if they look thirsty.
- You'd give up a movie to trim and weed the garden.
- Your fingernails are the shortest they've been since birth.
- Your own garden book collection rivals Barnes & Nobles.
- You're in a national park and you have to resist the urge to pull weeds.
- Posted By: Molly Wahl
- Written by: Molly Wahl, Master Gardener
I love this time of year and all of the promise and excitement that it holds. Secret plans are being drawn up, lists are being made, and visions of plum tomatoes dance in my head. Is it the cold, wintery weather that’s got me in a tizzy? No. Is Christmas and New Year’s festivities that have my heart feeling exuberant? While I do love the holidays, that is not it either. All of you vegetable gardeners know, don’t you? Yes, it is the season of seed catalogs.
I received my first one in the mail about a week ago, and it is an old favorite- The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog. Wanting to postpone the bittersweet excitement of opening it (and eventually finishing it), I have just laid it reverently on my bedside table. Every night my eyes gently caress the cover as I wonder about the untold delights between its covers. Occasionally I will flip it open to a random page and gaze agog at the endless collection of eggplant varieties, but for now, I am holding off on reading it from cover-to-cover. Before long, the catalogs from Baker Creek, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Trees of Antiquity will join the ranks on my bedside table. If you haven’t yet discovered the excitement of seed catalogs, then I suggest you treat yourself this season. I swear that wine writers have stolen a page from the folks who do the writing for these catalogs; each description contains such luscious descriptions and fascinating history that I am determined to try and grow the described variety (even if it requires climactic conditions quite outside the realm of possibility for the Richmond Hills.) Let me give you a taste! In the FIVE pages dedicated to different types of corn seeds, the writers describe the Floriani Red Flint variety of corn as follows: “[A] family heirloom from the Valsugana valley of Italy near Trento, via William Rubel. Originally brought to Italy from America, it evolved over hundreds of years to become the staple polenta corn of the valley….Cornmeal has a pink cast, and makes a polenta with a remarkably rich, complex flavor” (19).
The names alone of many of these varieties are enough to induce vegetable colored daydreams. Imagine being able to tell your gardener friends that you are not just growing garlic, but instead you have German Porcelain, Inchelium Red, and Nootka Rose varieties! And maybe you thought that bibb leaf and looseleaf lettuce were as much variety as you needed, but then when you flip to the lettuce section your mouth starts watering over the Yugoslavian Red Butterhead and the Drunken Woman varieties. Before you know it all of this dreaming leads to another favorite winter-time activity for gardeners everywhere- reimagining garden spaces.
Besides the seed catalogs that start to congregate on my bedside table, I also begin gathering graph paper, pencils and rulers at this time of year. As I think back over what did and didn’t work the previous year, and I drool over all the different plants I want to fit in the following year, I begin to plot out the new shape of my garden. Usually I am trying to squeeze just a little more planting space out of an area, or I am figuring out how to rotate my crops, but this year I am going for even larger revamping. I have drawn out a completely new bed configuration that will (hopefully) provide for greater ease of movement and more bed space. Now, I just need to get out there and move the soil around!
Happy Holidays to you and your garden!
- Posted By: Molly Wahl
- Written by: Molly Wahl, Master Gardener
In my little part of the county, winter weather is finally touching down. Just last week we started to drop into the lower 40’s at night and in the mornings everything is often covered with a heavy coat of dew. Rain is beginning to fall with more regularity, and the trees are becoming leafless skeletons against a backdrop of awesome October sunsets.
So, what’s a gardener to do? The soil it often too wet to be worked, and while the summer harvest is definitely over, the winter crops are still too young to bear much besides greens and baby lettuce. Might I suggest that you spend some time discovering a whole new kingdom of delights? May I introduce you to the exciting and colorful world of fungi?
This is the time of year to start learning about mushrooms. I am endlessly enchanted by Mother Nature’s sense of timing. Just when we are beginning to suffer from the ennui of late fall, she sends us something new and altogether different. Along with the first fall rains, mushrooms begin to fruit all across our lovely county. Amongst the eucalyptus stands, in the thick duff of bay and oak forests, and in mixed pine groves, mushrooms are poking their unique heads up from the ground. Most people are hanging up their hats and putting their hiking shoes in the closet at this time of year, but if you can withstand a bit of rain, there is a whole world out there that is just waiting to be discovered. And if you are a gardener, that whole world could be located within the confines of your own backyard.
Raising your own mushrooms is a trend that is spreading quickly amongst the urban homesteading, DIY folks. Fungi-philes order logs, boxes filled with chips, or sawdust that has been inoculated with mushroom spawn, and within a couple of months they often have their own edible mushrooms right at their fingertips. Last year at this time, I decided that I wanted to try growing mushrooms directly in my vegetable garden. From what I could tell, there were a couple of benefits to this idea. First, if it worked I could harvest edible mushrooms along with lettuce, greens, or whatever else I was growing at the time. Second, mushrooms help grow stronger plants. Fungi create large mycelial networks underground that help spread water and nutrients to their fruiting bodies (the actual mushrooms that we see.) Some of these mycelia form partnerships with the roots of plants thereby helping to secure additional nutrients for the plants.
So, I ordered three varieties: Stropharia rugoso-annulata (recently renamed Psilocybe ruguso-annulata), Hypsizygus ulmarius, and Coprinus comatus. Each of these three mushrooms needed a different type of strata. The Coprinus needed compost and manure, the Hypsizygus needed straw, and the Psilocybe needed hardwood chips. I got their respective beds prepared and mixed the mushroom spawn in. I allowed Mother Nature the honor of doing the watering over the winter and spring and then I sat back and waited. Sporadically, I received a few cute Psilocybe babies with their red wine colored caps, but besides that--nothing. I had hoped that this fall and winter I would be getting a lot more, but I suspect I will not. First of all I think that I did not keep the mushroom beds watered enough during the summer. I am really bad at watering things regularly especially when I can’t see that anything is happening (maybe this is why I have such a high seed failure rate!). Also, I realize now that two of my spots get too much sun. In general, mushrooms do best when they are part of an understory with shrubs and tree canopy above. I have very little shade in my yard, and so if I want to grow mushrooms, I will have to design a landscape that provides ample foliage cover. The last factor that I believe has contributed to the failure of my mushroom experiment is my chickens. I love them dearly, but with all of their hunting and scraping, they really disturb the top layer of the soil. Great for weeds and bugs, not so good for mycelial growth which typically happens, you got it, underground.
Nonetheless, it has still been a good year for mushrooms so far. A couple of our mushroom logs in the garage have started fruiting, and I am dreaming of homegrown shitake mushrooms as far as the eye can see. We have also had some luck with foraging mushrooms in the wild. While we haven’t found many chanterelles yet, we have harvested a number of King and Butter Boletes (Boletus edulis and Boletus appendiculatus respectively.) Boletes are commonly dried and known as porcini mushrooms for those of you who enjoy cooking with mushrooms.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoy mushrooms. I encourage you to start paying attention to the entire kingdom below your feet! If you are new to hunting mushrooms, you should be collecting them for identification purposes only, not for consumption. If you are interested in learning how to find edible mushrooms, you should take classes on mushroom identification though places like Merritt College or attend mushroom forays with the Mycological Society of San Francisco. Happy hunting!