Master Gardener News Blog
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Milkweeds are herbaceous plants in the genus Asclepias. There are over 140 species of milkweeds.
In 1753, Carl Linneus named the plant after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Native Americans used a poultice made from milkweed to treat snake bites.
All species contain a milky sap that is made up of 1 to 2 percent latex. Both the United States and Germany attempted to use milkweed as a source of rubber during World War II.
Asclepias plants can be toxic—even fatal-- to humans and animals. The sap of some species causes skin irritations. Sensitivity to the toxin varies with a person's age, weight, health and individual susceptibility. Potency even varies within a single plant depending on the season, which part of the plant is touched or ingested, and its stage of growth. Indigenous tribes from South America and Africa used arrows poisoned with milkweed for hunting and fighting.
The milkweed species native to the western United States is Asclepias fascicularis, or Narrowleaf Milkweed or Mexican Whorled Milkweed. It is a perennial shrub with a three-foot stem and long, narrow leaves. Several five-inch flower clusters occur from the upper leaf axils. Individual flowers are greenish-white, and may be tinged with purple. Long, slender pods form in July.
Narrowleaf milkweed is hardy and easy to grow. It requires full sun and is drought tolerant. While it is commonly found in parched plains, hills, valleys, roadsides and disturbed soil, it grows well in clay and boggy soils.
Narrowleaf milkweed is well known for its value to wildlife. Leaves are a primary food source for monarch caterpillars. The plant's toxins render the caterpillars and adult butterflies noxious to predators. Narrowleaf milkweed attracts large numbers of native bees. And, in the spring, the dead stems are used by orioles for building their nests.
Bare Root Trees
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
Are there advantages to planting bare root trees? David, Paso Robles
Soon local nurseries will have bare root trees available for winter or early spring planting. One advantage of bare root trees is they cost much less than container trees. They also weigh less, they're not in a container that needs removal, and often they grow faster than container trees.
The roots of bare root plants should be kept moist until planted. Nurseries keep the roots damp by wrapping them in moist wood shavings. When you bring the tree home, soak the roots in a container of water for a few hours before planting. When you purchase a bare root tree, also purchase a tree stake, tree ties, and a bag of mulch.
When ready to plant, examine the roots and cut off any broken roots. Dig a hole larger than the root mass to allow ample room for the roots to spread. If you're planting the tree in a lawn, remove a circle of lawn, roughly three feet in circumference, to minimize competition for water and nutrients. Keep the graft union two to three inches above ground and don't add any fertilizer to the planting hole to avoid root burn. Back fill with the same soil you dug from the planting hole. Tamp down the soil to minimize air pockets. The soil around the newly planted bare root should be firm, but not compacted.
If planting a fruit or nut tree, cut off unwanted branches and trim the trunk to the height that you want the head of the tree to be. If planting a grape vine, cut off all canes, and trim the trunk to about 18” above ground level and leave two to three buds below the cut.
Pound in the tree stake. Attach it to the tree using tree ties and leave some wiggle room to avoid girdling. The trunk will get stronger faster if it has room for movement.
Create a basin around the tree and fill with mulch, but keep the mulch away from the trunk. Provide a deep watering for your new tree and make sure it continues to receive adequate irrigation, whether it's from rain or from you./span>
Family Day In The Garden
By Leslie E. Stevens UCCE Master Gardener
Are you looking for a fun, free activity suitable for the whole family? On Saturday October 15, from 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Luis Obispo County will celebrate Family Fun Day as part of its monthly Advice to Grow By workshop series, held in the Garden of the Seven Sisters. The garden is located at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo. Family Fun Day is a special open house in the garden that aims to bring families out to the garden and have some fun while learning something new about the plants that sustain us all.
The young and the young at heart are invited to explore the half-acre showcase demonstration garden and participate in the morning's special activities. Our garden features a kitchen garden, orchard, children's garden, cactus and succulents, native plants, composting area, dry farm, wildlife habitat garden, lawn alternatives, curb side appeal garden full of beautiful flowers, and many others. Many of these gardens will have activities for children.
Families will be treated to a variety of hands-on activities designed especially for them. With Garden Passports in hand, children will receive a stamp after visiting the various activities around the garden to see how food is grown, produce is preserved, or how to start their own plants. At the end of their visit, diplomas will be handed out to children for learning about Garden Awareness.
Anyone interested in inspiring children to learn about their natural environment and how to grow food in a sustainable way are encouraged to attend this special event. So moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles or favorite neighbors, don't miss this opportunity to bring your children and join us as we celebrate Family Day in the garden. Don't forget the sunscreen and water bottles!
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
Can you tell me what options I have for combating the ferocious Bagrada bug?
The Bagrada bug, from the stink bug family, is a ¼ inch in size. They're black with orange and white markings with a shield shaped body. And it is an eating machine. The bagrada bug hails from Africa and the Middle East. It was first discovered in the USA at a Los Angeles port in 2008 and it made its way to SLO County by September 2012.
It overwinters on hillsides of mustard or pepper weeds and becomes active when temperatures rise to 85⁰F or warmer. Its preferred diet includes plants in the brassica family such as broccoli and cauliflower, but will also feed on radishes, alyssum, nasturtiums and others. You can easily identify the star shaped lesions that result from their feeding on plant leaves. They also feed on seeds, flowers and stems.
This stink bug family member has no effective natural enemies in the USA. It lays eggs mostly in the soil where parasitoid wasps can't easily get to them. Some spiders may feed on them, but birds detest the foul smelling liquid the Bagrada secretes when attacked.
So what can you do in your home garden? Because Bagrada bugs are active during the warmer part of the day, check your plants during that time. Unfortunately, by the time Bagrada adults are spotted, or its red colored nymphs, the population may be too high to pick them off by hand. One effective “mechanical” control method is vacuuming the bugs. Put cardboard or plastic under the affected plant, shake it, and use a hand held vacuum to suck them up. If the plant is already defoliated, dispose of plant and bugs using a large garbage bag tightly secured. You can also buy a stink bug or pyramid trap. But instead of the chemical lures, which will not work for Bagrada bug, use crushed sweet alyssum to lure the bug into the trap. Spraying insecticides is not very effective because the adults are able to fly off without injury and the eggs are safe in the soil.
A reliable method to control almost any insect infestation is exclusion to prevent the problem. Use small screened growing tunnels or floating row covers to protect your seedlings and young plants, tucking in the edges so no Bagrada bug can intrude.
Attract Bees to Your Garden
By Jackie Woods UCCE Master Gardener
The honey bee population has been in decline world-wide for several years, a result of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). While scientists search for answers, gardeners and bee enthusiasts can help our pollinator friends by providing them a safe haven in the form of a bee friendly garden. Planting bee friendly plants, providing a water source and avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides are just a few small ways to make a big difference in saving the lives of bees.
Bees are incredible, magnificent creatures. Do you like to eat? Thank a bee! Bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat but they need our help. What do bees need? Flowers! Here are a few of their favorites:
Annuals – clover, marigolds, poppies, snapdragons, sunflowers, zinnias
Perennials – cosmos, dahlias, Echinacea, geranium, mint, roses
Shrubs – blueberry, butterfly bush, honeysuckle, lavender, rosemary, thyme
Trees – alder, eastern redbud, fruit trees, magnolia, maples, poplars
Many insects get water from their food. Bees, however, need to drink water; they like it clean and fresh. If they can't find it close to their hive, they'll seek it out elsewhere. It's easy to create a water source for bees: place small stones in shallow bird baths or containers for the bees to perch on while they drink. If you build it, they will come!
Herbicides and pesticides can be toxic to bees and other beneficial insects. Insecticides can kill bees by either direct or indirect contact. If possible, avoid using harmful substances in a bee friendly garden and instead encourage natural insect control by incorporating plants that attract birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects like ladybugs and syrphid flies.
Without bees and other insects, pollination of crops does not occur. No crops, no food. So, let's all pitch in and help our pollinator friends by planting bee friendly flowers, provide a modest water source, and forgo using pesticides in the garden.
Interested in building a bee house for your garden? A workshop will be held Tuesday, October 4, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. The first half of the workshop will be a presentation about native and Mason Bees. The second half will be building your own insect or bee house. Insect house kits are available for $10.00 or bee house inserts for $2.00 (if you would like place an insert in your own item at home).