- Author: Cheryl A Potts
I love pouring over seed catalogs and gardening magazines. I greatly enjoy picking my sweet peas and harvesting my chard and lettuce. I relish writing about gardens and sitting at our Master Gardener's table at the Vacaville Farmers Market on a sunny Saturday morning, talking with home gardeners about their plant problems and chatting with fellow Master Gardeners.
What I do not love has been trying to learn the technical side of gardening--the chemistry, the science of what makes it work. I got as far as biology in high school, but became turned off to science at the dissection of that poor frog.
However, as an adult Master Gardener, it is time I looked reality in the eye, planted my feet firmly on my nutrient-poor soil, and learn some science.
I have decided to to start with nitrogen. Why? Because it is the first number listed on fertilizer labels, and I really want to understand what that means.
Researching nitrogen, I discovered it is the 5th most common element in the universe and makes up 78% of the earth's atmosphere. Bringing it down to more useful information for a gardener, nitrogen is an essential nutrient that is a naturally an inert gas which needs to be "fixed"or drawn out of the air and converted to a form usable to a plant. Simply stated, plants without sufficient nitrogen display poor or stopped growth and/or pale green or yellowing leaves due to the fact that they are not able to make sufficient chlorophyll. Therefore, photosynthesis cannot occur.
One can recognize nitrogen deficiency by noticing spindly stems, the pale or yellowing of leaves, especially of the most mature ones, and wilting of sufficiently watered plants, even if the weather is not overly warm. It is good to know which plants are most commonly are effected by nitrogen deficiency so as to keep an eye out. These are fruit trees, vegetable plants, and broad leafed evergreens.
The good news is that gardeners can manage the nitrogen content of their soil several ways. One method is adding organic materials by actually planting crops in the fall or very early spring that fix nitrogen. These would be legumes used as a cover crop, including alfalfa, clover, hairy vetch, or peas, as these plants actually work the bacteria in the soil to absorb nitrogen from the air and place it in the tiny root nodules. This is called "nitrogen fixation". These plants, when mature, are to be chopped up and dug into the soil.
Another material to get nitrogen into the soil is manure from grass eating animals. Let the manure age at least 6 months before using to prevent burning of your plants. Poultry manure is also a good source, but let it air out for 4 months before using. Bone meal is a fast acting fertilize, but can also burn plants. Mix with water or dig it lightly into the soil. Crab meal, feather meal, alfalfa meal, soybean and cottonseed meal are all also recommend. Just be very sure to do a little research, know what your plant needs, and follow directions exactly.
So what does all this have to do with that first number on the fertilizer bag? There are always three numbers, and those numbers simply tell you what the percentage is of each of the three main nutrients found inside the box. The first number is for nitrogen, represented in chemistry by a capital "N". The second number is for phosphorus, represented by a "P", and the third number, represented by a "K" , tells you the percentage of potassium. So if you are wanting a deep green lawn or lush, green kale, you would use a product with a high first number.
So what would be the reasoning for looking for a higher second or third number? To find out, read my blog next month as I explore phosphorus. Meanwhile, work on memorizing N-P-K along with me, and you will be a tad closer to being a real science type.
- Author: Patricia Brantley
It’s as if during the transformation of summer to fall, that the earth (substitute here whatever you like, world, universe, creator, etc.) is being philosophical. It’s expressing its grasp on the understanding that all things change. We get to see the explanation of that lesson through the changes that we see around us. Sometimes the beauty of the change of a season is magnificent and awe-inspiring. The leaves change colors and some plants flourish. Sometimes the reality of the change hits us as we look at bare trees or blackened plants after a hard freeze. We are left only with the memory of what once was or the joy it brought us. With that thought, I decided to root around (pardon the pun) for some quotes that might express more clearly what many of us gardeners and non-gardeners feel during this thoughtful time.
“He plants trees to benefit another generation.”—Caecilius Statius
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”—May Sarton
“I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation.”—Phyllis Theroux
“If a tree dies, plant another in its place.” –Carolus Linnaeus
“Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.”—Robert Browning
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”—Albert Camus
- Author: Betsy Buxton
I was reading an article in my latest issue of YANKEE MAGAZINE about invasive plants in New England. I know that you’re wondering why a Native Californian would be reading a “foreign” magazine like that. Interesting articles, good recipes, and, of course, problems we don’t have in California – except for some of invasive plants! Right off the bat, I didn’t recognize some of the plant names: Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum), but others were quite familiar. Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), any one, or how about Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is quite the pest back East and is a pest here – plant one tree and some you can have your own forest! Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) doesn’t have many enthusiasts anywhere and how about Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)?
Why are these plants considered as pests; the answer is very simple: all of these are plants which are not fussy about soil, location or water needs. They would grow in concrete as my mother used to say. They crowd out the native plants and trees which have their own niches in the eco-system and thus eliminate the variety in the landscape.
“They” say that a “weed is a plant which is growing where it’s not wanted”, but again “what is a weed is in the eye of the beholder”. I find it rather pathetic that the Porcelainberry (Ampelposis brevipeduncluata) that I baby and carefully nurture in a pot in my front yard is considered to a rampant, out-of-control monster in New England. I wonder if somebody back there would trade me a Cotoneaster (a real pest out West) for a Mile-a-minute Weed (Persicara perfoliata or Polyonum perfoliatum) – I’d like to see if their Knotweed is faster than ours!
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
Just two more days until the Master Gardeners hold their annual Public Plant Exchange. They have been working hard at home propagating plants, gathering seeds, digging up bulbs, and collecting their books. This will all be shared with you-the public.
The event is this Saturday, September 8 from 9am until noon. The location is the UC Cooperative Extension office, 501 Texas Street, Fairfield.
Today, we began sorting through our own library collection of books and will be giving away a large assortment of those as well.
If you don't have any plants to exchange it's not a big deal. We hope that you come anyway. See you Saturday!
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
Now that planting the Solano County Fair gardens is history, we can begin focusing on the upcoming Plant Exchange. This will be held on Saturday, September 8th at the Cooperative Extension office, 501 Texas Street, 1st floor conference room, Fairfield, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The plant exchange is open to the public and is a busy, enthusiastic time where everything is FREE. We ask participants to bring a plant to share. Some do and some don’t, but we let everyone join in the fun.
If you haven’t been to the plant exchange in the past, this is the time to come. Many of the Master Gardeners are busy planting seeds, dividing plants, propagating and collecting unwanted or unneeded garden paraphernalia. Anything you want to clean or clear out will work. In the past, I have asked my friends to check for unused items and some have contributed containers, yard art, books and other “hot” items. Remember the saying, “One persons trash is another's treasure”?
You may be good at growing herbs that can be shared. Pot up a few. Do you have winter vegetables started yet? Set some aside for the plant exchange. My yard is getting full of ‘garden art’, so I plan to downsize and bring a few metal fence hangings. My sweet peas were a huge hit this year, so the harvested sweet pea seeds will be placed in envelopes to share. Our two Hibiscus syriacus have volunteer baby trees underneath. These have been potted and labels will be added . It helps if you can provide photos or information on the items you donate. As Master Gardeners, we are there to share and to educate.
Just had to add this, too. Some of my favorite items from previous plant exchanges? The magnificent Ginkgo biloba bonsai (a real treasure), a small green ceramic pot with a frog, reference books and some goofy, unique garden books. Oh, almost forgot; a funky little fork that I use to groom bonsai and succulents planted in small containers. You can find the unusual and the ordinary. So mark your calendar before you forget. See you there!