Choose your own ‘native garden' adventure
But even after all this rain, don't think for a minute that I'm going to start taking a bath every day. Oh, I didn't mean that either. What I do mean is that even after all this rain, the water that we, and our plants, drink, is still a scarce resource. And there are no better plants for sipping that precious water slowly than some of our own California native bulbs, bushes and trees. From formal gardens to cottage gardens, children's gardens to edible gardens, you can—and should—choose your own (native garden) adventure this spring.
I planted my first California native garden in my front yard more than eight years ago, and recently I've been thinking that it's about time for a makeover. And for this new adventure, I've decided on a pollinator garden to attract native birds, bees and butterflies. Want to give it a try, too? Here's how to get started:
Choose a spot in full sun that is weed-free, with soil that is moderately well draining. No need to redo your entire yard at once. It's OK to start with one small area.
Consider adding a natural arrangement of attractive boulders and rocks.
If you are handy enough to install one yourself, or able to pay a professional, include a basic drip irrigation system (before planting.) Otherwise, give your plants a deep soak when you plant them, with additional monthly deep soaks. Watch for heat waves in the forecast, giving them additional water a few days before any hot weather event.
Plant some of the following pollinator favorites, which will provide colorful blooms and foraging habitat throughout the year:
Wildflowers: Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), Globe gilia (gilia capitata), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Shrubs and subshrubs: Foothill penstemon (penstemon heterophyllus), Gumplant (grindelia spp.), California aster (symphyotrichum spp.), California lilac (ceanothus), Oregon grape (berberis aquifolium), Silver bush lupine (lupinus albifrons), California buckwheat (eriogonum fasciculatum), and yarrow (achillea millefolium)
Once your plants are in the ground, remember to keep the weeds to a minimum or they will compete for your California natives' resources. Avoid using pesticides and choose hand weeding instead, which is a built-in opportunity to check soil moisture levels and identify pests and disease in their earliest stages. For more information about creating a pollinator garden, check out the Xerces Society's “Bring Back the Pollinators” campaign.
by UC Master Gardener Cayce Hill
Photo: courtesy of Master Gardener Allen Buchinski
This article first appeared in the April issue of the South Valley Magazine./h3>
Planting a rain garden can help prevent loss of topsoil, increase biodiversity
What is a rain garden?
A rain garden is a sunken area that redirects rain water away from buildings, driveways, lawns and other landscape features, and holds onto that water long enough to filter out 80 percent of the sediment and pollutants. Native plants are typically installed in rain gardens so that additional irrigation is not needed once they are established. These plants help hold, filter and slow the release of rainwater, allowing 30 percent more water to be absorbed. This usually occurs within 48 hours, preventing mosquito breeding.
Why have a rain garden?
If you live South County, you know our occasional rains can be disruptive. Our soils dry to the point of being hydrophobic, repelling water and causing flash floods. You may not have experienced a flash flood in your yard, but these principles can help prevent the loss of topsoil and other problems associated with urban drool. Also, most of the water that comes off roofs and driveways contain pollutants that you probably don't want in your garden. Installing a rain garden also helps attract beneficial insects and other pollinators, increasing biodiversity.
How and where are rain gardens installed?
Since most of the water for your rain garden will probably come from rain gutter downspouts, select a location that allows for a path (read decorative trench) from those downspouts to a low area in your yard. Areas with full sun are preferred over shady areas. Rain gardens should be at least 10 feet from the home or other buildings and not over a septic field. Once you have a location, use these steps to create your rain garden:
1. Calculate size — South County's heavy clay soil requires a drainage area 45 to 60 percent of the size of your roof or driveway — sandy soil only needs 20 percent and loam uses 30 to 35 percent. Any size rain garden can have a positive impact. This may be more space than you have or are willing to dedicate, but it may help you realize why certain areas of your landscape seem plagued with fungal diseases. Since most homes have multiple downspouts, smaller rain garden plots can be created for each downspout.
2. Design the shape — Once you have determined how much area you are dedicating, use a rope or garden hose to lay out the design. This lets you play with different ideas before you start digging. A Google Maps satellite image of your property can also help you select the best location and shape. Consider where any overflow might end up, just in case. Once you have selected a location and shape, contact the local utilities company (call 811) to make sure you won't run into something you shouldn't.
3. Start digging — After you've been cleared and your soil has dried out from all the recent rain, you can start digging. Begin by removing 6 to 8 inches of soil from the rain garden site, sloping downward away from the trench. Next, dig the trench. The trench will need to slope for the water to go where you want it. The trench can be covered, like a French drain, or it can be filled with decorative river rocks. Finally, amend the planting area by digging in 2 or 3 inches of aged compost.
4. Select the plants — Native grasses and flowers are the best choice for a rain garden. They have already evolved to handle south county rain, temperatures, and soil. U.C. Davis Arboretum All Stars, the CA Native Plant Society's Plant Lists, and your local Master Gardeners are always available for plant selection advice.
5. Install the plants — While still in their pots, try placing plants in various locations to see what looks the best, keeping mature sizes in mind. Grouping plants in odd numbers often looks the best, but leave at least one foot between each plant. Once you have the layout you want, put your new plants in the ground using a hand trowel.
6. Mulch and water — Contact a local tree trimming company for coarsely shredded wood chips. This highly useful mulch is almost always free, just make sure that it is disease- and palm-free. Apply a 2 to 3 inches layer to keep down weeds and make it look nice. Water the area every other day for the first couple of weeks, unless it rains, until your new plants are established. They may need additional watering during their first summer, but that should be about it.
This is a big project, but it is one that will improve soil and water quality in your South Valley home's landscape for a very long time.
You can learn more about garden design at the South County Teaching and Demo Garden at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno Way, Gilroy. Classes are regularly offered to the public. For more information, check our events page or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: Stacey Parker, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden GATEways horticulturist, points out the new rain garden feature of the Davis Commons Shopping Center parking lot. Guests learn how the feature will improve stormwater management. From publicgardens.ucdavis.edu website.
This article first appeared in the March 29 to April 11 issue of Morgan Hill Life./h3>
Plus: Two native plant tours will show you what's possible in your own yard.
Area Master Gardeners have spent the last several months seeding, transplanting and nurturing tens of thousand of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Each variety and been trialed and selected based on its ability to do well in our various microclimates.
They also have tasted hundreds of tomatoes and peppers to ensure that each is worthy of a place in your garden. Not only will there be options you can't find anywhere else in the Bay Area, there will also be experts on hand and demonstrations on growing great tomatoes, pest management, sustainable gardening and more.
You will find tomatoes in almost every color of the rainbow –purple, green, orange, yellow, white, black, and of course, red. Pepper offerings include bells so sweet you can eat them like candy and super hot ones that might make you put your doctor on speed-dial. There will be traditional purple eggplant, but how about trying a white or rose-colored one as well?
If you aren't adding edible flowers to your salads, you are missing out. The sales will have a variety that will also encourage bees in your garden.
Santa Clara Master Gardeners‘ Garden Market is the oldest and largest in the Bay Area. There will be more than 20,000 plants, including 75 varieties of tomatoes and nearly 100 peppers; dozens of sunflowers, herbs and eggplants.
Ask about the Romanian Gogosari or the Cullarici, two unique peppers you won't find commercially available anywhere else in the country.
If you love succulents, you will be delighted with the array of choices — individual plants, sampler packs and beautiful arrangements, artfully potted in clever containers.
- 9 a.m. to 2p.m., April 8. History Park at Kelley Park, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose
San Mateo/San Francisco
Along with an array of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, the San Mateo and San Francisco Master Gardeners will be offering strawberries, herbs, microgreens and pumpkins. They will help you select varieties that do well in cooler climates as well as the small spaces of city-gardening.
Look for Patio Baby, a miniature eggplant that is perfect for containers, and other varieties developed for smaller gardens.
- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 1, San Mateo County Event Center, Sequoia Hall, 2495 Delaware St., San Mateo
The Contra Costa Master Gardeners really want to get the East Bay gardening. This year they are hosting three markets on different days and locations to make it easy for folks to attend.
Beyond the most sought-after options, they will be offering unique selections such as the Pomodoro Canestrino di Lucca, a robust and flavorful roma tomato that produces prolific, deep orange fruit.
They are also will have tomatillos as well as peppers, eggplant and herbs.
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 1, Our Garden, 2405 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek.
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 8, Richmond Civic Center Public Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22, Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, 1201 W. 10th St., Antioch
Native plants tours
If vegetable gardens aren't your only interest, check out the Going Native Garden Tour in the South Bay, and the Bringing Back the Natives tour in the East Bay.
Now in its 15th year, the Going Native Garden Tour showcases waterwise, low-maintenance plants that are attractive, require little care and encourage and support our native birds, bees and beneficial insects.
The tour includes a variety of designs and plant selections at homes in the South Bay and on the Peninsula. For more information and to register on the website.
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 22 and April 23
Registration is now open for the Bringing Back the Natives annual plant tour that offers visits to 45, mostly native gardens throughout the East Bay. The tour is designed to let gardeners see how they can incorporate native, low-water plants in there own gardens.
The tour is free although there is a $10 fee for a program. Register early.
- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the March 23 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
All that rain was a little too much for some plants
Many plants have become waterlogged, showing signs of stress through their leaves, which might have twisted and turned yellow or brown. Water stressed plants also might have darkened veins and midribs. The plant often will lose its leaves and new shoots might wither and die.
The symptoms of too much water mirror those of too little water, and there's a reason for that. In both conditions, the plants are robbed of oxygen and nutrients.
Fortunately, the time of year might save many plants. During the winter months most plants are in a dormant or slower state of growth so less damage occurs versus summer floods or monsoons when the plants are actively growing and taking in oxygen and nutrients from the soil.
If you have water-damaged plants, here are some things to do, and not do:
• Stay off wet soil as much as possible. Compaction will only increase the risk of damage.
• Wait until all chance of frost has passed, then trim off damaged branches, shoots and leaves.
• If you are growing in containers, make sure to elevate the pot a few inches off the ground so that water can drain through and away from the roots. If possible, remove the plant from the container and place it on cardboard or newspaper overnight to let it drain. Clean the pot and replant with fresh potting soil and slow-release fertilizer.
• If you are in an area that has flooded, it may be best to discard edible plants that have been submerged in water. According to research from North Carolina State University, flood water may carry pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, Hepatitis A and norovirus. The water can spread contaminants throughout the entire garden especially if there is livestock, a pet area or compost pile nearby.
• Produce that is consumed raw, including soft fruit like berries, should definitely be discarded. Plants that were in flower during the flood might be safe, but it's probably best to throw them away as well.
• Root crops that have four or more weeks left before harvest should be OK, but they need to be washed and rinsed thoroughly before eating. Canning produce is not advised.
• Add compost and mulch in late spring or early summer to help reestablish nutrients in the soil.
• If you lose some plants or trees, plant new ones on mounded soil that has been well amended to improved drainage.
• If you are concerned about a tree coming down, consult with a licensed arborist.
• Don't be too quick on the draw with those pruning shears and shovels. Plants are amazingly resilient and may make a full recovery once the rain stops and we get more sunny days.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the March 5 issue of the San Jose Mercury News./h3>
Sheltering fragile plants this winter
In the Bay Area we are also fond of some non-native but wonderful plants. Some are particularly susceptible to frost injuries. So this winter, as you reach for that big soft blanket folded up at the end of our couch, don't forget those beauties in your garden that need a little warming up as well. If you have citrus, bougainvillea, succulents, avocados, or fuchsias in your garden then I'm talking to you. And, unless you're willing to share your blanket (answer: no) then you should have a frost plan. An ounce of prevention for your plants will keep you warm and cozy on the couch. So, take a few minutes to prepare for the next time you find Jack Frost nipping at your rose (couldn't help it…and, side note, roses are very hardy and do not need protection):
- Water the ground around your plants thoroughly to moderate the soil temperature and protect the root zone.
- Wrap (non-LED) holiday lights around the branches of your shrubs and small trees. The small amount of heat they give off is often just enough to ward off the cold. And they're just so darn festive!
- If you haven't yet thrown out your Christmas tree, cut off the branches and pile them up at the base of your plants to keep them cozy. Any other spruce/pine boughs will do.
- Purchase floating row cover from a garden supply store or forage burlap sacks from your local coffee roaster. Wrap and/or drape either of them lightly over your plants. Then enjoy a cup of coffee.
- Bring potted succulents or other tender plants up on the porch where they can bask in the radiant heat of your house.
- Build an elaborate PVC or wood frame around your plants and drape plastic over them. No, on second thought, don't do this. Choose plants that are more suited for your area and you can avoid this all together!
And now, grab that blanket on the couch and sing with me…baby (kale) it's cold outside…
by UC Master Gardener Cayce Hill
This article first appeared in the January 20 issue of the Morgan Hill Times.