- Author: Amy Weurdig
I'm by no means a gardening expert. I did somehow succeed in becoming a Master Gardener for the University of California Cooperative Extension here in Inyo/Mono counties, but I have so much more to learn. I still struggle with plant identification – whether or not it's a native plant, a tree, or a sad looking potato plant that I thought was a sick pepper plant.
Last year we moved into our new house in Mustang Mesa in February; but let me spend a bit describing what living on the “Mesa” means in terms of gardening. It's dry, it's hot, and our house backs up to open land filled with sage brush, oh and let's not forget the complete and utter lack of soil. However, all of that cannot detract from the unobstructed view of Mt. Tom or the White Mountains to the east. I honestly, had no idea what to expect in terms of gardening in this location - a new adventure.
It was a busy time since I had ordered bees that were due to arrive in April, gardening season was starting up, and I had so much nesting to do! Not knowing a whole lot about gardening in this area, I planted “Test Garden A” out in the garden area of the corral out back. It included 27 tomato plants (thanks to my husband), shallots, potatoes, Thai peppers, jalapeños, kale, strawberries, radishes and beets. Figured that would give me some sort of idea of what to expect. Note, this was not in raised beds or with irrigation – did I mention I live out in Mustang Mesa?
The bees get put in their hive in the corner to do what bees do and the tomatoes start their vine-y, bunching, and thicket-ing onto each other. The kales gets off to a great start, the strawberries plants are sputtering along. I finally start to see shoots of radishes and beets – oh my!
Then I start to see little nibbles being taken out of pretty much everything but the Thai chilis and the tomatoes- Like big ol' bites! Varmints have found my garden. Brainstorming ideas. I decide to start bending up bits of chicken wire we had stored away from the previous owner of the house, into cute little chicken wire cloches. I saw success for about a week, when the varmints figured out they could just push my cloches over. In came rocks of all shapes and sizes to weight down the cloches. Again, minor success was gained.
The kale that was doing so well but starts to look moth eaten – overnight. I watch and spray and watch some more. Aphids have arrived, complete with their extended families and set up camp in the Kale. They decide to make their way through whatever was left over after the rabbits, and ground squirrels had done their nocturnal dining. Only the tomatoes seemed to have any traction for survival and a few potato plants. So I surround them in their own varmint excluding netted fence, which is not a graceful thing to circumvent. I do see success in the tomatoes and am able to acquire enough to dehydrate, eat, and freeze for future consumption, but not much else was taken out of the garden.
The challenges of all the pounding sun and wind, varmints and debilitating insects led me to have a plot at the Bishop Community Garden (BCG) this season while I plan my attack on building raised beds out on the Mesa in the formal style known as a potager which I think will address my OCD tendencies and entice my darling husband to help raise some vitals.
My garden this year in the BCG has been so very much fun. I've been mentored by two wonderful friends who happen to be dual sport UCCE volunteers. They've aided me with supreme compost, seedling plants, turning over and weeding, switching out soaker hoses for drip lines, nurturing my plants during my knee repair, and have given so much encouragement! I could not have done it without them! I highly recommend having a plot at BCG. By having the plot at the Community Garden, I've learned a lot, been able to meet many new fellow gardeners and had a much better time gardening overall there rather than at at home, where all my work was spent feeding varmints!
I'm looking forward to gardening more out on the Mesa and exploring ways to enrich the experience and to learn better techniques to produce a garden that is varmint/pest resistant – I'm hopeful!
- Author: Carmen Kappos
For years I thought of garden pests as various insects and small animals but larger animals like deer can do quite a lot of damage to the gardens in our area near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has an excellent online article on deterring deer from browsing on plantings. Check the website for the full discussion HERE.
As the article says; most people enjoy seeing deer in the wild. I know I do, and I enjoy seeing them around my house as well. I also enjoy seeing my ornamental plants flower in the summer. That is a bit of a challenge; just as a favorite plant is about to bloom the tender new growth can be clipped off by this beautiful neighbor.
As the saying goes “good fences make good neighbors,” the UC IPM article states that “physical exclusion is by far the best and most reliable way to protect gardens, orchards, and ornamental plantings from deer. “ Fencing is discussed in detail, but in my small patch of a garden, a full fence is impractical. Individual plant protectors, also mentioned in the article, are a much easier way for me to enjoy flowers in my yard.
The left photo shows some scarlet penstemmon, a favorite of mine and the hummingbirds. Penstemmon in my yard is often browsed by deer but, so far, this year the plants with individual protectors are untouched. The fact that any of my plants are blooming at all is reason enough for me to celebrate. Seen in the photos, the easily constructed plant protectors are surrounding a daylily and a native Gilia blooming in the background. The Gilia got clipped by deer early in the season but after the cylinder was added I had no further damage, even though the top is open. The right hand photo shows the easily constructed plant protectors are surrounding a Day Lily and a native Gilia blooming in the background. The Gilia got clipped by deer early in the season but after the cylinder was added I had no further damage, even though the top is open.
In past years I have also made larger enclosures to surround an entire planting bed with good results. Dustin Blakey, our local Cooperative Extension farm advisor described that if the enclosure is small and tall enough that the deer would not be able to move freely inside, then they likely won't jump in. The largest individual enclosure I've made is two feet by three feet and it worked well. It also needs to be small enough or tall enough that they won't just dip their heads in and browse.
For a real challenge, grow a vegetable patch near our wild neighbors. I stopped by the community garden in Lee Vining recently and got a tour of the many ways they exclude garden pests. The perimeter fence keeps out rabbits, but is not tall enough to keep out deer. To keep the deer off their plants, they enclose the raised beds in wire mesh, and keep adding on segments as the plants grow taller. Also, as you can see from the photos, shade cloth on top of some raised beds keep the deer off and a little opening can still allow bees and other pollinators in.
The Lee Vining Community Garden is celebrating twenty years of growing this summer. Congratulations on producing food while living with and enjoying our wild neighbors!
- Author: Alison Collin
Many people become panicked and reach for insecticidal sprays at the mere glimpse of a black and yellow striped insect without realizing that it may in fact not be a stinging wasp, but rather a harmless syrphid fly, a native bee, some other beneficial insect, or even a harmless wasp mimic. There are said to be 18,000 wasp species in North America, and only a few of these cause problems to humans.
In my garden 2017 could be described as “The Year of the Wasp” with sightings of many different species, some in huge numbers, an event which encouraged me to do some research on the subject. Most wasps are beneficial since they live on a range of other insects, many of which we don't want in our gardens; aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers and crickets, and spiders and even young cockroaches.
The downside is that they are capable of stinging to various degrees, and the worst species have extremely painful stings. However, there are many which are reluctant to sting, or whose sting is not particularly painful.
Vespid Wasps are social wasps sometimes known as paper wasps since they make nests of a papery material and the two species which occur most frequently in our area are yellow jackets and paper wasps.
Yellowjackets (Vespula ssp.) are social wasps, but queens overwinter alone, and then find a suitable sheltered nesting site in the spring. The nest begins as a ball-shaped cluster of cells covered in a smooth papery cover. As further generations develop they add to the nest, layer upon layer until it may reach 1 foot across. We are familiar with these black and yellow striped wasps ruining our picnics as they try to carry off scraps of food from our plates, or fall into a glass of beer or a can of soda (where they might not be noticed). They have a painful sting which for some people can be life-threatening, are intimidating at best, and can become quite aggressive. Last autumn there was a huge influx of yellow jackets in the Lake Tahoe region to the point where the coniferous forests were humming with them, and sitting or eating outside became impossible. So, beneficial as these are for their insect eating abilities their nuisance factor outweighs the good that they do, and if they decide to nest around your home or in high traffic areas it is wise to have them professionally exterminated.
For more information on Integrated Pest Management control : http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7450.html Yellow jackets and other social wasps.
The Mud Dauber wasps, as the name suggests, make nests out of mud. These may look like clumps of mud stuck on a wall, or occasionally like carefully constructed black organ pipes stuck together in sheltered places such as garages or porches. The wasps provision their nests with spiders so are very definitely my friends! The wasps themselves are about an inch long and appear black overlaid with an electric blue color which is apparent in sunlight. Like many other solitary wasps they don't seem to be aggressive and only chose to sting if threatened.
- Author: Harold McDonald
Aggressive—the word has negative connotations, both in everyday life and in the gardening world. But aggressive, along with self-seeder, are words I now look for in plant descriptions. It says to me that they might be tough enough to thrive out here in the wilds of West Chalfant.
Of course, one definitely wants to avoid plants that might be invasive—escaping from the garden and spreading outside their native range. Fortunately or not, that's not an issue for me—nothing survives out here without supplemental irrigation!
The definitions can be a bit confusing, but maybe naturalized is the word I'm looking for. The USDA defines a naturalized plant as one “that does not need human help to reproduce and maintain itself over time in an area where it is not native,” but that naturalized plants “do not, over time, become native members of the local plant community.” Now doesn't that sound like a plant that any of us would welcome into our garden?
The key, of course, is that location, exposure, watering and other variables all affect a plant's behavior. Plants that were obnoxious in west Bishop hardly stand a chance out here. I've tried without success to grow those little violets that used to spread everywhere in my yard. No longer do I have to deal with sprouts from the neighbor's cottonwood tree coming up 30 feet inside my yard. And God has finally delivered me from periwinkle!
Now that's not to say that there are no plants that can get out of control in my yard. I fell in love with the graceful sway of Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) when I first moved out here, but soon found out how prolifically they reseed. I now allow only a few plants in inhospitable sites and relentlessly remove any volunteers. Fortunately, the seedlings are easy to pull out.
I have replaced the feather grass with purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea), a California native that is easy to grow from seed, super tough, drought tolerant and beautiful all year round. It is a prolific seeder, but not nearly the nuisance that Mexican feather grass is. One caveat is that its seed heads are very poky, so it's unfortunately not a good choice for pet owners.
My other go-to grass for tough conditions is silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides torreyana). This native to the southern half of the US is also easy from seed. One of the prettiest sights in my yard is the setting sun lighting up its white, fluffy seedheads. Like many other grasses, beardgrass has fabulous color during the fall and winter. It's not nearly as drought tolerant as purple threeawn, but it really deserves a place in your garden. It will reseed prolifically if given abundant water, and though it's a bit harder to remove than purple threeawn, its volunteers survive transplanting much more readily. It constantly amazes me that ornamental grasses are so underutilized in most people's gardens. For more on grasses, see my earlier posts on some of my favorites.
I'm always on a quest for yellow daisy-like flowers. Gloriosa daisies and coreopsis were dependable standbys in Bishop, and though I keep trying, they just don't seem to thrive out here. Fortunately, I have found two natives that I can always count on to perform—Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata). Mexican hat comes to us from the prairies, so though it's drought tolerant, it's also fine with regular watering. It comes in two colors: yellow and red, and if you're growing both you'll get beautiful bi-colored offspring that substitute nicely for the similarly-sized gloriosa daisies. Between the previous year's plants and the new volunteers, they will bloom from late June through September.
Desert marigold is found in the desert Southwest, is extremely drought tolerant, and is covered with the cheeriest yellow daisies you could ever hope to find. To keep this little plant (12”) looking neat, I snip off the spent flowers, and Baileya rewards me with a great yellow accent that lasts from May through at least October. Though it's a short-lived perennial, it will readily (but not too readily!) give you seedlings to replace it with. It's happiest with little or no water, so I use it to soften the transitions between watered and unwatered areas. If I have a bare spot in the yard where I want some yellow, I'll transplant in volunteer seedlings of these two plants—Baileya if it's a dry spot, Ratibida if it will get a bit more water.
All four of these plants are aggressive—but in a good way. They are easy to grow from seed, they thrive with little care, they look fabulous, and they will give you plenty of volunteers to leave in place or move where you see fit. That is, they are easy to naturalize. You can order seed of all four online from Plants of the Southwest.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
If you have cats (and you like them) chances are you've tried giving them a sniff of catnip to see what happens. Of my last two cats, only one seemed to notice. Many cats don't respond at all to catnip's fragrance. But that's probably fine with the catnip plant (Nepeta cataria). You see, cats probably aren't the plant's target.
In this video, you'll learn a bit about how catnip works and what scientists think its active ingredient (nepetalactone) is for and its relationship with common garden pest. Even if you're not all that interested in catnip, the video features lots of clips of cats. Isn't that why we have the Internet?