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Nursery and Floriculture Alliance

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Got to Kill to Live

A camouflaged praying mantis dining on a bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Some folks dislike photos of praying mantids snagging, killing and eating their prey. Well, often the "eating" part comes before the "killing" part. Still, they have to kill to live. We all do.  Or someone does it for us. We've been seeing...

A camouflaged praying mantis dining on a bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A camouflaged praying mantis dining on a bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A camouflaged praying mantis dining on a bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Can you find the ootheca or egg case of the praying mantis in this birdhouse photo? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Can you find the ootheca or egg case of the praying mantis in this birdhouse photo? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Can you find the ootheca or egg case of the praying mantis in this birdhouse photo? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2015 at 4:53 PM

Can I have a Glass of Water? Please, Please, Pretty Please? No! Now Go to Bed: Tough Love for Your Plants During Drought

There is an emotional connection to our plants. We plant them, feed them, water them, clean-up after them and worry about their growth and development - sometimes it seems a lot like what we do for our children or our pets, although to a lesser degree.  There is definitely an investment of time and resources that goes into gardening.

It is tempting to pamper our plants through frequent fertilizing and watering to ensure that they grow big and lush.  It understandably gives us a lot of pleasure and sense of accomplishment to see our plants thrive and bloom, or produce a bounty of fresh juicy fruit and vegetables. But, with a drought situation, now is not the time to pamper your plants. Now, is the time for tough love.  Your plants might not like it much.  They might become "petulant" by withholding their lushness, not flowering like before or not producing as much. But, they will survive.

Most of us unknowingly over-irrigate our plants, so its ok to reduce the water you give them.  In fact, the amount of water given to plants can often be reduced by 20-40%.  Most established landscape trees, shrubs, and groundcovers, regardless of the species planted, perform acceptably well with 20-40% less irrigation than they are typically given.

To reduce irrigation with the least harm to your plants, water infrequently and deeply.  Do this by increasing irrigation runtimes and extending the number of days between irrigation events. I know this seems contrary to the idea that you should reduce the irrigation runtime and keep the same frequent irrigation interval, but this will work.

Schedule slightly longer irrigation runtimes so that the entire root zone of plants is rewetted at each irrigation; then gradually increase the interval between irrigation runtimes over a few weeks. This practice will allow you to save water while allowing your plants to adjust to a new watering regiment.  After extending the interval between irrigations, the water budgeting or seasonal adjust feature found on many sprinkler controllers can be used to fine tune runtimes and achieve optimum water conservation.

When watering, consider the root systems of your trees, plants, shrubs and lawns:

  • Tall fescue lawns normally have roots 6 to 12 inches deep
  • Bermudagrass and other warm season grasses are normally at least 12 inches deep
  • Trees, shrubs, and groundcovers are normally found within 12 to 24 inches of the soil surface
  • Vegetables vary in depth from 6 to 48 inches (a chart that shows the root depths is linked below for you)

In order to fully wet the soil without creating runoff or puddling of water, it will usually require scheduling 2 to 4 relatively short irrigation cycles of 5 to 15 minutes on each irrigation day, depending on slope, soil type, output of the irrigation system, and how much water is needed.  Splitting up the watering like this give the water a chance to really soak into the soil instead of just running off the dry surface.

Adjust the runtimes in your irrigation controller every month to account for changes in the average weather conditions.  This alone can reduce landscape water use by up to 10%.

It is important to gradually reduce the water over a few to several weeks so the plants can adjust to less water.

Try to irrigate during the very early morning hours (between 2:00 am and 6:00 am) because evaporation is lower and usually there is little, or no, wind to disrupt the pattern of sprinklers during these hours if you are watering lawns.  In addition, water pressure is a little better for irrigation systems during this time.

Night time watering in dryer areas does not normally cause greater incidence of plant disease because the humidity is relatively low.  And, contrary to common belief, midday irrigation does not harm plants.  However, It isn't effective in conserving water.

To find out how deep the water is going into the soil, take a long screwdriver (or similarly shaped tool or soil probe) and probe the soil in several spots an hour or so after an irrigation. The depth that the screwdriver or tool can be easily pushed into the soil is the depth that the water has penetrated. If deeper wetting is needed to wet plant roots, then additional irrigation cycles are needed. If the soil is wet beyond plant roots, then the runtime should be reduced.

Checking the soil moisture each day during drought - or really hot, dry days - with this technique and watching the plants for signs of wilt or water stress will enable you to see how long it takes for soil to dry to the point where water must be replaced. This is the maximum interval between irrigations for the current season.  Ideally, irrigation is applied just prior to the onset of plant stress, so schedule irrigation about one day shorter than the maximum interval.

Note: Established small shrubs or groundcover are those that have been in the ground for a period of one year or more. A tree or larger shrub must be in the ground for at least 3 years to be considered established.

To determine the root depth of your herbs & vegetables, go to: Herbs & Vegetables Root Depth Chart

 

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2015 at 6:00 AM

Ever Seen a Honey Bee Cleaning Her Tongue?

A honey bee cleaning her tongue. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

We humans brush our teeth, and we sometimes brush our tongues. But have you ever seen a honey bee cleaning her tongue? Bay Nature contributing editor Alison Hawks recently asked two of our UC Davis bee experts why bees clean themselves.  Their...

A honey bee cleaning her tongue. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee cleaning her tongue. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee cleaning her tongue. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 4:22 PM

It Suits Them to a 'T'

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It suits them to a "T." And the "T" is for Tithonia. Many species of butterflies frequent our Tithonia, also known as Mexican sunflower. Like its name implies, it's a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae. On any given Sunday--not to...

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Tithonia. (PHoto by Kathy Keatley Garvey
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Tithonia. (PHoto by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Tithonia. (PHoto by Kathy Keatley Garvey

A skipper (family Hesperiidae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A skipper (family Hesperiidae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A skipper (family Hesperiidae) on Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 9:04 PM

How I Converted My Yards to Drought-Tolerant Plants and Shrubs, Part 1

This segment will discuss remaking our back yard.  We also took on the project of replacing our front lawn once the backyard renovation was mostly complete, but more on that in the next post! 

In late 1996, my husband, two children, and I moved from Montana to San Ramon. In Montana, we had tried to make a living in a rural setting, but “You can't eat the scenery", I learned too late.  When we moved to San Ramon, for a variety of reasons, we needed to find an empty house read for immediate possession. The house we bought came with a big backyard pool. We certainly enjoyed having the pool for many years, but once the kids were out of the house, we didn't use it much. The solar panels used to heat the water meant the pool was only hot enough to swim in from mid-May through September. While the maintenance costs weren't astronomical, we spent plenty to keep it in good condition. Other swim venues were very close at hand – San Ramon's huge swim complex is right over the creek at California High School – and I belonged to 24 Hour Fitness so I could swim there in an indoor pool any time of day.

Deconstruction of Pool Begins
In 2013, we got a couple of bids to repair the pool and decking, and found out it would cost more to fix it than to take it out completely. We decided to take out the pool.  Beginning in December 2013, our contractor began work to completely remove all evidence of a pool. Because we got rid of the pool all together, we received a $13,000 reduction in our property taxes. In other words, we pretty much paid ourselves back for turning the backyard into a living space for families.

At the time of the pool's deconstruction (as I like to call it) I was in the midst of my Master Gardener training through Contra Costa County and University of California County Extension Program (UCCE).

I knew from my MG training I wanted to have raised vegetable beds and to plant easy-care plants and shrubs. Since we live near the entire spectrum of K-12 schools, we also decided to add lawn for salability purposes. Many parents would want to have a play space for their children.

Our house is a typical tri-level suburban house that sits on a 70' x 100' sf. lot. In my Soils class, I learned our house sits on clay soil with no nutritive value, suitable only for supporting a 1500 sf. house. I would have to bring in lots of good stuff if I expected anything to grow! Because of San Ramon permit requirements, we had to replace our pool, and concrete decking with the same type of soil our house sits on. We had a soils engineer overseeing the placement and compaction of soil trucked in from the East Bay Hills. Only the final 12 inches could be ‘living' soil we could plant ornamentals and trees in. We were assured the soil was decent, though we might want to add compost and other amendments to attract worms and the like.

Filling the Pool up with Filf Dirt
As you can see from the pictures, the pool and required concrete decking really did take up 80% of the arable yard. (I love the one of the diving board to nowhere!) Once this contractor was finished, we needed another contractor to bring in ‘good' soil for our two 8' x 3' raised beds, the hillside where the giant date palm tree and a large cypress bush reside, and the rest of the yard that did not need fill that met permit requirements. Before this work was done, Bill spent countless hours building a paver patio and yards of French drains to carry water away from our house. Handy husband Bill also put the two raised beds together. For good measure, he tacked on landscape wire to the bottom to keep rodents out.

Pool filled in and beginning of Backyard Grading
Our landscape contractor brought in ‘good' soil and compost, created the irrigation system for the lawn and the raised beds, and laid warm season fescue grass sod. He moved agapanthus plants and removed some palm trees that we did not want (though one grouping has since grown back and it is easier to keep them now). Much of the perimeter's plantings pre-existed this renovation work. Lined against the house, three types of geraniums (that I have propagated more than once), and agapanthus (that I had moved from elsewhere) have thrived with very little direct sun. Both of these plants are extremely low maintenance and are rarely watered. You can get cuttings or corms from friends that will fill in your planting area in less than a year, guaranteed! Along this same wall, I took out a bed of geraniums and replaced them with half a dozen nearly dead Abutilon plants in 4” pots. Happily, for me, all but one of these plants are flourishing and have put out many yellow, pink and red colored blossoms in abundance! Oleander bushes cover another side along a neighbor's fence.

The hillside at the back of the property was covered with mulch, which was easy to live with and easy to replenish as necessary. The landscaper first moved the mulch to the level surface around the grass and the raised beds, and then added soil to the hillside. I have since added a lime tree, two miniature agapanthus plants, and three pittosporum bushes to the hillside, and creeping rosemary and white yarrow against the date palm behind a stone wall barrier. The fourth side, along our other neighbor's fence, now has agapanthus, two rhododendrons someone gave me, a transplanted ornamental onion set, and in the corner, a leafy grape plant that so far does not bear fruit but turns a lovely red on the fall. My neighbor's vinca minor has been creeping into that corner as well, and I am doing my best to encourage it.

Backyard leveled out

My two planter boxes hold a mishmash of plants. Last year's crop of heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, various peppers and artichokes were a wash-out due to the lack of enough hours of sun. Now I am using the beds as a nursery of sorts, to grow small plants and seedlings for re-planting elsewhere. I also have one artichoke that is blooming, and some red onions and garlic that I expect will make it and be edible 

Finished backyard

I have barely touched the surface of my efforts, but I am happy to know that every plant is there because of me. It's okay if some die, because I know where I can get more. I have to admit I did not enjoy the work initially because I had so little confidence. I thought I had a ‘black thumb.' Now I know that is not true. Although I have a long way to go to become a ‘master' master gardener, I know I can accomplish what I set my mind to achieve. And boy, oh boy, is that a great feeling!

Next chapter: My front yard conversion: a lot more work that continues to this day!

Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at 1:02 AM

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