- Author: Michael Bains
Using California Natives
By Michael Bains
True California native plants are not something you normally find at your local big box store or large chain type garden center. While the plants sold in those places will most likely do just fine in your yard, there are many reasons to use California native plants, even if you need to put in a little extra work to locate them.
Easy Soil Preparation
Most of the plants in the picture to the left have been in the ground for just over a year. They are in full bloom and have increased in size tenfold from the 4 inch pots they were planted from. They are planted just in front of a retaining wall on a gentle slope to the side walk. This area used to be lawn. The lawn was removed and nothing else was done to the soil other than digging holes and dropping in the plants.
In fact, for many California natives adding amendments to the soil can inhibit their growth as they don't grow well in very rich soils.
Wildlife Adapted to Them
Local wildlife is well adapted to our native plant species and many use them as a food source and breeding ground. Examples of this can be seen with our local butterfly species.
Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed (Asclepias L.), which is native to California. If a Monarch is unable to locate milkweed, they simply will not lay any eggs. Monarch caterpillars will feed on the milkweed as they grow. The milkweed contains toxic chemicals that make the caterpillars taste bad to birds.
Pipevine swallowtails use California Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia californica) as the host plant for their eggs. Caterpillars feed off the flowers that offer them the same chemical protection as monarchs receive from milkweed.
Lower Water Requirements
Native plants will grow well and continue to bloom well into the summer with limited water. A deep watering once or twice per month depending on how hot the weather is will keep native plants happy and performing throughout the year.
California natives are already adapted to our California climate and terrain. For this reason, there are some things they don't require that will make maintenance much less time consuming.
First, when it comes to planting, they do not require any amendments, as stated previously. The best way to plant natives is to dig a hole twice the width of the container they are in and only as deep as the level of the soil in their pot. Break up the soil for a few inches further down in the hole after you've reached the desired depth. This will help the roots expand out. Place the plant in the hole so the level of the root ball is at or slightly above the level of the surrounding soil. Before backfilling with the soil you removed from the hole take a moment to break that soil apart, especially if there are large clumps of soil in it. I use a 5-gallon bucket and break the soil down well. After that, place that soil back into the hole, lightly pressing down on it to work out as much air as you can. Then, water the new planting deeply. You want to get the water down below the root ball. It takes a bit of time to do that.
Second, natives require no extra fertilizer. They get everything they need from the native soil, if you have selected a plant that's right for your area. We'll go over that in a future post.
Lastly, natives have developed their own defenses against pests. There should not be a reason to use pesticides on natives. In my garden, I have not used a single pesticide on my ornamental plants in over ten years of gardening there. (Now, powdery mildew on my pumpkins is a whole other story.)
After letting you know what natives don't need let me add one that they do much better with. Mulch. Lots of mulch, at least a good three inches. Four is better. This will help keep moisture in the soil and keep the soil temperature down. It will also suppress weeds lowering your maintenance requirements even further. This will make your garden much happier during our hot dry summer months.
Near the end of the summer, or after blooming, prune your natives back to your desired size, keeping in mind they will burst forth again during the winter and spring.
I certainly hope I've been able to whet your appetite for California natives. Unfortunately, they don't seem to get as much love as they should. So, please hunt these natives down, if you can. You won't be disappointed.
As an aside, there are several California native plant nurseries in Southern California including the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont, the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley and the Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita.
- Author: Michael Bains
Planning Your Annual Cut Flower Garden
Being a part of this thing we call “life”, I was unable to get an early start on preparing our cut flower garden this year. Between work, holidays, kids, dogs, rain and everything else, our last frost date (it's February 15th, by the way, here in my zone 10b, Sunset zone 19) completely caught me by surprise. So, this year, I'm going to try direct seeding everything. So, the first thing to figure out is what to plant and when.
This year we've decided on the flowers listed below. These are all varieties you can buy at your local big box store (or large on-line retailer for the gomphrena).
Sweet Peas – Lathyrus odoratus
Sunflowers - Helianthus
Larkspur - Delphinium
Cosmos – Cosmos bipinnatus
Zinnia – Zinnia elegans
Globe Amaranth – Gomphrena globosa
I'm going to keep it simple this year and grow popular flower types. As you can see from the picture, I'll be planting into two beds. Each bed is 4 feet by 8 feet and about 10 inches high. That will give me 64 square feet of growing space, and I should be able to get quite a few stems from this.
In planning the cut flower garden, one of the most important things to do is to find where south is in relation to your planting bed. The reason being, you do not want larger plants, or vines you're trellising, to block the sun from the plants behind them. Larger plants should be on the north side of your planting space. In my case, both my planting beds run east to west and, looking at the picture, south is to the left. Therefore, I'm going to plant my sweet peas, which I will be trellising on the right side of the right bed, which will put them on the north side of the garden.
After figuring out where the large plants will go, I break up the rest of the space into larger blocks and assign one flower type to each of those spots. In doing so, I end up with a block that is at least 2 feet by 4 feet. Since most flowers can be spaced 6-9 inches apart, an 8 square foot space can get in excess of 30 plants in place. That's a lot of flowers! Planting in blocks rather than rows (or “here and there”) can also help with fertilizing, watering and supporting as like type flowers are grouped close together. Make these sections as big or as small as you desire. Heck, if you have memories of your grandmother's Cosmos in summer, plant two beds full of those!
At this point, you have a couple of choices. You can put out all your seeds all at once or you can sow some sections every 2-3 weeks in order to keep the blooms going as long as possible. If you're going to do it all in one swoop, then at this point just get out there and start sowing. If you would like to try and time your blooms to have a little each week throughout the summer, then succession planting is for you.
In order to accomplish this, there is only one more step. For each of the blocks of plants you created, separate each one into three sections. You're first sowing will be in 1 of those sections. Three weeks later, sow the second section. Three weeks after that, sow the 3rd section. At this point, your first section should have seedlings well on their way. When that 1st section has finally given up for the season, the other two sections should have a few more weeks of blooms. However, if this seems daunting, please DO NOT feel overwhelmed and throw up your hands. Sowing all your seeds at the same time will still provide you with many wonderful blooms for the season.
Lastly, a note on planting directly from seed. There are certain varieties where planting seeds directly into the garden is not recommended, as you don't get as good germination rates as you would starting seeds indoors and then planting the seedlings out after they've started. Gomphrena is an example of this type. I went ahead and planted them anyway in order to see what happens. I have this habit of wanting to see things for myself. And, my poor scheduling skills this year have given me a great opportunity to test this out.
Throughout the summer, I'll post updates on this particular section of my garden, along with any hints or tips I happen to discover.
Now get out there and plant something.
- Author: Janet Hartin
Until recently, about 50% of commercially-grown produce in the USA was discarded including over six billion pounds of produce rejected due to poor appearance by grocery stores (all while about 15% of Americans are chronically hungry).
Two large US-based food chains (Wal-Mart and Whole Foods) have officially joined the cause. Walmart stocks ‘weather dented' apples at certain piloted stores in the Southeast. These once considered wallflowers are popular and moving well! "We're excited to announce that after months of discussion, we're selling a brand of apples from Washington state, called "I'm Perfect," blogged Shawn Baldwin, senior vice president for global food sourcing, produce and floral for Wal-Mart U.S. He added: "We're proud to be the first retailer to bring these apples to you." The apples are being sold in 2- and 5-pound bags, he says. (My editorial comment is ‘great, but buy or grow local whenever you can as well.')
Some folks consider this trend part of the newer and cooler “No Waste” food movement while others have embraced eating imperfect looking produce for decades, knowing the health and environmental benefits of eating less than beautiful produce. And, research has shown repeatedly that we're much more likely to eat what we grow rather than toss it into the compost pile, aiding the cause.
Recent figures confirm the popularity of growing food at home with about 33 percent of households reporting growing at least one food type at home. Home gardeners are definitely part of the solution as we move into the future, from the perspective of solving major social and environmental issues related to food waste and negative impacts on food security, transport, and wate.
What do our Cooperative Extension neighbors have to say on the subject? Check out the winner of the Ugly Fruit Contest submitted by Sue Hochstein of Boothbay Harbor, Maine in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension contest in Cumberland County (tomato at the top). Read more here: https://extension.umaine.edu/cumberland/blog/2016/10/27/ugly-fruit-vegetable-photo-contest-winner/
I know I'm singing to the choir but please help spread the word!
- Contributor: Dona Jenkins
When we talk with gardeners about attracting native bees to their garden we stress the fact that bees need floral resources (pollen and nectar) all year long. Adult bees feed on sugary nectar for energy. The pollen they collect is a protein and vitamin rich source which they will feed to their young. Nectar and pollen are combined to form a “bee loaf” that females provide for their larvae to feed on. Bees have seasonal emergence patterns, which means that different species emerge from their nests at different times of the year. Some species emerge in very early spring, February and March, whereas others come out later in spring as well as in summer and early fall. Bees have timed their emergence with the bloom of native flowers they prefer to forage on, but will also visit non-native ornamental flowers that may be in bloom at the same time. Some early flowering plants that provide food for bees includes: CA Lilac (Ceanothus sp.), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), Wisteria (Wisteria sp.), and Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans).
Provide Cover and Places to Raise Young
Other garden visitors need places to raise young as well. Bird and bat houses are easy to build and can provide protected areas for nests and roosting. Bat houses should be mounted 12-15 ft. above the ground and protected from the wind and are most successfully colonized if you live close to water. Birdhouses can be mounted anywhere from 5-30 ft. above ground. Not all birds have the same nesting preferences so set up many houses in different parts of the garden to have the best success. Plants can also provide places to raise young for insects like butterflies. Butterflies need larval host plants for caterpillars to feed on, like milkweed (Asclepias spp.), if you want to attract Monarch butterflies to your garden. Research the wildlife you see in your garden in order to pick the right plants and provide the best nesting requirements. Cover can be provided in the form of thickets and brambles, as well as with log or rock piles.
Garden design is also important when planning your habitat garden, especially with the goal of attracting native bees. We have found that large patches of one single plant type are the most attractive to bees as well as butterflies. If you have the space, a patch size of at least one meter by one meter should be designated for each plant species. The patches provide more resources (nectar and pollen rewards) and allow bees to forage in one spot for a long period of time. If plants are scattered it means bees have to spend a lot of energy flying from one plant to the next making them less efficient pollinators and harder to observe at work in the flowers.
As well as having large patch sizes of flowers, diversity is also important. Native bees are more likely to forage on native plants, so the more diversity of plants the better. We have repeatedly observed that the more varied gardens contain more diversity and abundance of bees as well. There are many attractive non-native plants, but selection of these should be careful. For instance, roses are not good bee plants because they have been bred to produce many showy petals replacing anthers, the reproductive parts of the flower, which is where bees get pollen.
Providing all these resources for the wildlife in your garden will all be for naught if you aren't employing sustainable gardening practices. Having a healthy garden will benefit the soil, air, and water, which will then in turn benefit all the critters in your garden. The use of pesticides will be harmful to all the animals and especially insects that you are trying to attract. There are natural home-made remedies that can be used to help rid your garden of pests. Some insects that you may consider pests, like wasps, are actually beneficial because they feed on some of the damaging caterpillars, hornworms, and flies. You can even purchase ladybugs to feed on the aphids in your garden if you have a bad infestation. Some other sustainable gardening practices that should be considered and practiced include: composting, limiting water usage, capturing rain water, using native plants that are adapted to your area, and using organic fertilizers. Consider getting your garden certified as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and join us in becoming one of over 100,000 certified habitats!
Bee Garden Plants
Flowers that provide both pollen and nectar are a necessity for your bee garden (see above in Habitat Gardening section for explanation). Plants in the Asteraceae (Compositae) family provide both resources and there are numerous native and non-native flowers to choose from. Imagine a sunflower (Helianthus annuus), this is a typical Asteraceae flower that is made up of both disk flowers (the tiny flowers in the center) as well as ray flowers (the larger petals on the edge of the flower). The center of the flower is where the bee gets nectar and pollen. If you see a bee inserting its' proboscis (tongue) into the disc flowers, it is most likely collecting nectar. If the bee isn't taking a drink it may be “dancing” around on the flower collecting pollen, which it will pack onto its' hairy legs or abdomen (some bees even ingest pollen to be regurgitated later). After watching bees drinking and dancing on flowers it will become more evident as to the resource they are after. Flowers in the Asteraceae family are good for bees because they don't have to work too hard to get what they want. The flower presents its resources on a pedestal and even gives the bee a nice landing area.
One family of plants that provides a good source for nectar is the Lamiaceae (mint family). These flowers, made up of five fused petals, are usually irregular in shape, have square stems, and are usually quite fragrant. Bees will hang on the outside of the flower and insert their proboscis inside to gain access to the sweet nectar. Many of the herbs that we like to cook with, like basil and lemon balm, are in the mint family, so not only do they provide us with food, but the bees as well.
The following graph provides the home gardener an idea of the time of year when certain plants (pollen, nectar, pollen/nectar) should be available to bees. It is based on findings from our experimental bee garden at the Oxford Tract in Berkeley. Please note that our garden is larger than most home gardens, at 16ft. x 185ft. We also have the ability to plant a wide variety of species, both native and non-native, in our garden, ~120 species to date. Make adjustments as to the size of your garden, but try to incorporate at least 15-20 different species even in the smallest of gardens. As you can see the peak time in which most flowers should be available is in late spring and early summer. This also corresponds to when the highest diversity of bees can bee observed. California natives tend to flower more in early spring and summer, whereas non-native ornamentals bloom mainly in late summer to fall, so a combination of both would be ideal for attracting the highest potential diversity of bees. Pollen/nectar plants and nectar plants are the most abundant all year while pollen only plants represent a small, but important, percentage of the flowering plants.
The next step of starting your habitat bee garden is the design. Where and how do you arrange all the plants that you have? First you must consider the size of your space, do you have a small area in your front yard, or a much larger space in which to freely plant as you'd like? The types of plants you will incorporate into your garden will depend on the size of your garden. Investigate the plants you want and find out how large they will become at maturity before placing them in your garden. If you have a small space you may want to stick to small/medium perennials with open spots for small annuals. If you have more room you can plant larger shrubs and even some small trees that will not only provide food resources but cover and nesting resources as well. Most of the plants we recommend do best in full sun, with the exception of a few shade tolerant plants like chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla) and hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea).
The following is an example of what you can do with a front yard 30ft. x 30ft. garden space. Plants are a combination of native and non-native and selected to provide flowering throughout the “bee year”, March-October. Taller and larger perennials are on the edges of the garden so that the smaller perennials and annuals are not hidden from view. A bird bath provides water for all the critters. Bee nest boxes could be hung underneath an overhang or some place where they can be protected from the elements. Place large rocks or stones in any bare spots to provide a landing spot for butterflies to warm themselves. Try not to mulch and leave bare soil exposed for ground nesting bees.
Consult the following references for more information on the above species as to their size, flower color, water, and possible soil requirements: Sunset's Western Garden Book, Annuals for Northern California by Bob Tanem and Don Williamson, Trees and Shrubs of California by John Stuart and John Sawyer, Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region by Linda Beidleman and Eugene Kozloff, Introduction to California Spring Wildflowers of the Foothills, Valleys, and Coast by Philip Munz, Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California by Nancy Dale, the California Native Plant Society (www.cnps.org), and Cal Photos for pictures of native plants.
Also, the above plants will also attract other flower visitors besides bees. For example: Rudbeckia spp., Aster spp., Coreopsis spp., Ceanothus spp., Collinsia heterophylla, Erigeron glaucus, Eriogonum spp., Monardella spp.,Scrophularia californica, and Epilobium canum are all butterfly plants. Hummingbirds will visit hummingbird sage (Salvia spathecea), CA fuschia (Epilobium canum), Salvia ‘Indigo Spires', Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans), and Salvia ‘Hot Lips' (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips'). A number of beneficial flies and wasps also visit many bee plants, especially all the different kinds of native buckwheat's (Eriogonum spp.). Have fun experimenting with different plants and flowers and enjoy watching all the wildlife that will soon be visiting your garden!
Good luck and have fun!
- Author: Michele Martinez
Mistletoe, Friend or Foe? Holiday Cheer and Tree Health
The holiday custom of a kiss beneath the mistletoe comes to us from England. During the twelve days of Christmas, the English traditionally decked their halls with kissing boughs. Made of evergreens, apples and mistletoe, a kissing bough signified both goodwill, and romance. Anyone standing beneath the mistletoe surrendered a kiss. With each kiss, a mistletoe berry was picked, and when the berries were gone, kissing time was done.
With its velvety green leaves and pearly, translucent berries, mistletoe has long been a curiosity. It is the source of many traditions. Both Native American and European healers have used the plant for its medicinal properties. For the Celtic Druids, mistletoe was a symbol of protection, and peace. In Norse folklore, it is associated with the god Balder, the son of Odin and Frigg, and a favorite of his parents. As the tale goes, Frigg foresaw her son's death in a dream. To protect him, she enlisted the help of every plant and animal on earth, but she forgot about poor mistletoe. When Loki, a trickster, learned of Frigg's error, he used a small twig of mistletoe to strike down the young god. The devastated parents wished to resurrect their son. With help from the goddess of the underworld, and many tears shed in his honor, Balder, the light-bearer eventually returned. With him he brought brighter days, and the first signs of spring. Mistletoe's translucent berries were said to symbolize the tears of the gods, reminding the people of the cyclical nature of life, from loss to renewal.
We know mistletoe is a symbol of holiday cheer, but is the parasitic plant harmful to trees? Mistletoe Warriors is a
For more information on mistletoe management, visit the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources Integrated Pest Management Program (UC-IPM) page on mistletoe management: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7437.html
by Michele Martínez, Mountain Master Gardener