Master Gardener News Blog
By Andrea Peck UCCE Master Gardener
While February marks the last 28 days of winter, spring lays in wait, ready to pounce. This is not the time to neglect your garden. Redolence will not pay off. Beneath that sparse and weedy winter garden is activity and potential. Take advantage of it by planting bulbs such as amaryllis, caladium, calla lily, canna, dahlia, daylily, bearded and Dutch iris. Inland gardens can plant gladiolus and tuberose.
Early sowing has early rewards. Try alyssum, columbine, cosmos, hollyhock and lupine. A smattering of wildflower seeds will bring color and pollinators.
Foodies might try parsley, endive, leek, lettuce and turnips. Don't forget a good helping of garlic, onion and shallot sets. For coastal gardens, beets, carrots, kohlrabi and snow peas are good options. Inland gardeners might start seeds indoors or use a cold frame. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts cabbage and cauliflower are timely choices. While you're digging around, transplant artichoke crowns, asparagus crowns and rhubarb rhizomes.
Plant camellias and azaleas, just be sure to use and acid soil mix, don't plant too deeply and mulch to keep roots cool. It's not too late to plant roses and deciduous fruit and nut trees as well as berries and grapes. Prune dormant or damaged trees and shrubs that bloom in summer and fall. Trim rose bushes, grapes and berries before budding. Apply final dormant spray for stone fruit trees. Shape your fuchsia before it forms leaves. Deadhead cool season flowers to encourage bloom.
Provide nutrients by utilizing slow-release fertilizers on groundcovers, perennials, shrubs and trees. Work bonemeal, cottonseed meal or composted manure into the top three inches of soil. Citrus trees prefer a light fertilizing. Use balanced fertilizer for fruit trees. Fertilize after rains to prevent runoff into storm drains and creeks. Native and Mediterranean plants do not need fertilizing.
Perhaps most important in this time of gaining momentum is controlling weeds and pests. Set a schedule for weeding. Contain future outbreaks by yanking weeds before they seed or flower. Use strong blasts of water to control aphid populations, trap earwigs in rolled-up newspaper and keep your eyes peeled – spring is on its way./span>
By Andrea Peck
There is nothing worse than a failing orchid. I have friends who have success with them. Sometimes it's all I want – a blooming orchid. At the moment, I have one large-leafed type. I do not remember his name. It has been so, so long since I saw its flower that I couldn't tell you what it even looked like. It's a sad story.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sorrowful is in my possession. Let's look on the bright side; at least he has a few leaves, even though one is split down the center. He offers so much with those big, fat photosynthesizers that I can't bring myself to ignore him any longer.
The first order of business is repotting. I can tell that the solid glass container that he lives in has no air circulation. I know this goes against the Laws of Orchid Ownership and I should be fired immediately. Excess moisture is bad news. It may be why these weird rooty things are growing vertically up towards the sky. They are suffocating, no doubt.
Of course, I know nothing about repotting, but I figure, how hard could it be? I had a friend who used this phrase often and it got her a lot of places. I try to inhabit her attitude now and then. But, when it came down to it, I decided I'd better read a bit on the whole process before I began. I located the Orchid Society Website. The following is what I learned.
Orchids should be moved when they have outgrown their current pot. This is evident by roots growing out of the medium and exiting the container. My plant does not have this problem, but the soil needed replacing. When I extricated Mr. Man, there were a few roots that looked shrunken, okay, most looked shrunken and I really have little hope. Nevertheless, I purchased orchid specific potting soil and a new pot with holes in the sides for better air circulation. Soil mix must be fast-draining, yet moisture retentive. That's kind of a weird combo if you ask me, so I went straight to the prefabricated “orchid mix.”
Then I watered my plant. Most orchid watering instructions start by emphasizing overwatering as the main culprit in orchid deaths. The best trick is to stick your finger in the medium and describe in terms of ‘wet' or ‘dry' what you feel. If you are not sure, water the next day. I swear, this is the actual advice. But, it makes sense – when it comes to your orchid, err on the dry side. Other tricks of the trade are watering in the morning to ensure dry foliage by nightfall and watering more if your home is dry or extra warm. Some people add humidity by placing their plant on a tray or plate of water so that the plant sits on something that keeps it above the water (such as gravel, rocks or a small dish). Shriveled leaves indicate a lack of water – this can occur from either underwatering or root problems that prevent water uptake.
Orchid experts suggest diluted (1/4 strength) weekly feedings of a balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20. Feeding less, on a more regular basis seems to keep orchids at their best. Water first to prevent burning of roots, then feed.
Location, location, location. According to the Orchid Society, lack of light is the main reason a healthy orchid does not bloom. Where you place your orchid is key to its ability to flower. Most orchids prefer an east or south facing window. West facing windows are too bright, while windows that face north are too dark. However. After utilizing my son's compass keychain, I placed Mr. Doomed-To-Bloom in an east facing window. Three days later old Leather Leaves was really looking up to his name. He had significantly aged and was slightly burnt, dried out and sort of Marlboro-manish.
I could have opted to cover the window in a sheer curtain, but I did not want to emasculate my man any further. So, I gave him a cool drink and moved him to a more suitable locale. Interestingly, I did read that orchids that are receiving adequate light will have leaves that are light to medium green. Dark green indicates more light is necessary for blooming.
The major insight I gained occurred somewhat viscerally. You must be laid back with your orchid. Get Zen with it. Despite their delicate carriage, these plants are tougher than they look. Don't baby them too much – it takes the jungle out of them.
Before I sign off, there was one last thing that I learned. And actually, it surprised me. Orchid species are becoming extinct. Threats occur with loss of habitat and collecting. Make sure you purchase only artificially propagated orchids. And of course, in my case anyway, attempt to keep the ones you have alive!
By Kim McCue UCCE Master Gardener
What exactly is a dormant spray and how is it used? Nancy N., Creston
Generally speaking a dormant spray is any pesticide, including fungicides, highly refined horticultural oils, (often called insecticidal or narrow range oils), or oils in combination with pesticides, which are applied during a plant's dormant period. Depending on the type of spray being used, the application period ranges from the onset of dormancy all the way into the appearance of bud swell.
Dormant sprays are ideally used as one piece of an integrated pest management (IPM) program in the home landscape and fruit orchard. They help reduce populations of certain over-wintering insect pests, such as scale, mites, aphids, and some borers. Dormant sprays are also effective in limiting infection and spread of bacterial and fungal diseases, such as leaf curl, shot hole, brown rot, fire blight, and powdery mildew.
In our area, dormancy typically occurs in December and January and is signified by the total loss of leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs. Some sprays can be applied in late November if leaves are already gone. One reason to spray post leaf drop is to maximize coverage on bark and small branches that are otherwise blocked by leaves. Complete any necessary pruning prior to applying spray to avoid wasting material, which can be costly, on leaves and branches that will eventually be pruned and removed with other garden debris.
Taking a proactive approach to pest management with dormant sprays during winter, before insects hatch in the spring, helps reduce the use of more toxic pesticides that are sometimes necessary to combat an infestation later in the year. Plus, the timing of the application and the type of pesticide used makes dormant sprays less disruptive to the life cycles of beneficial insects, making them more environmentally friendly than some other, more toxic pesticides used during the growing season.
Again, dormant sprays are used as part of an IPM approach to garden health. For an excellent publication that outlines an entire winter pest management plan please go to:
By Andrea Peck
I was out pretending to jog last week when I spied a poinsettia hiding behind someone's trash can. It lay on its side, its under-leaves exposed to the hot California winter sun. Probably, it had fallen the great distance from the top of the trash can. It's a wonder it survived considering the tumble and the fact that it's potting soil was dry as a bone.
Based on its prone position, geographic location and the fact that this is San Luis Obispo County, land of the free pile, I assumed it was searching for a forever home. And because my mom had been asking me for a portion of the New York Times that was red and I couldn't find it, I decided to rescue the poor plant. It is red, after all.
I brought it home and watered it carefully, thankful for its redness and the excuse to stop that jogging nonsense. Now it is night and it is stuck outside. Should it be outside or inside? What does one do with a poinsettia?
The great thing about poinsettias is that they are disposable. Okay, that's not the great part. The GREAT part is that they are plants that are challenging. Your first challenge is keeping it. Spare the landfill one more live item and hold on to your little Red.
The ultimate challenge, should you decide to sign up for it, is getting your little baby to display its red leaves by next Christmas. That includes a little bit of Tom Foolery, a box and some scheduled attention.
The beginning of the year involves basic houseplant-style care. Keep your poinsettia moist, but not sopping wet. Remember, you are dealing with a picky plant. Your plant likes a south, east or west facing window with lots of bright light. Don't let it touch cold windows or set it near warm or cold drafts. This may cause premature leaf drop. The ideal spot hits 65° - 70°F during the day. At night, it prefers 55° - 60°F temperatures.
Now, get your calendar.
Water until the beginning of April and at this point begin watering with less frequency so that the plant dries in a gradual way. Don't let the plant dry severely – it should not have shriveled branches or walk a tightrope between life and death. You are simply cutting back on water.
After this drying period, place the plant in a cool (about 60°F) location that has plenty of air circulation.
Around the middle of May, cut all stems down to 4 inches above the soil and replant in a pot that is one to two inches larger in diameter. You may opt to keep the plant in the same container, just be sure to change the soil. Use a soilless mix that is not finely textured. Garden soil is not recommended as it may introduce disease. Once replanted, water thoroughly, allow to drain and then water again. Place the plant in a sunny window and keep it around 65° – 75° F. When new growth appears, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer, following the manufacturer's directions for flowering plants.
In early June, move the plant outdoors to a shady location. Continue to water and fertilize.
In July, pinch an inch from each stem.
Between August and September, pinch each stem again. This time, cut so that only 4 leaves remain on each stem. Now, that Red is bald, it's time to bring her back inside to avoid embarrassment. Place near a sunny window that remains at a temperature of 65° -70° F at night. She may not want visitors during this time, so be sensitive to her location. As mortifying as it is, this second pinching is necessary as it allows the plant to grow fuller and less gangly. After all, who wants a Skinny Minnie poinsettia staring you down as you eat your holiday turducken?
Now, for the interesting part. Poinsettias are short-day plants, meaning they flower after daylight decreases to less than 12 hours per day. In order to mimic this, you will need to expose your plant to sun during the day and complete darkness at night. The extended darkness forces the plant to bloom. Possibly the best schedule is as follows: Beginning October 1st through Thanksgiving, place an opaque box around your plant from 5:00p.m. until 8:00 a.m. When “unboxed,” the poinsettia should be in a sunny location. Continue watering and fertilizing.
When mid-December hits, you can throttle back on the fertilizing and start the whole crazy process again.
Next season, your once-humble plant will take center stage while you fade thankfully into the shadows.
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
“I am new to this area and used to gardening in a different climate. Where can I find good resources?” Nina, Atascadero.
You came to the perfect organization. The MG mission is to educate the public. One of our most popular outreach events is the free Advice to Grow by Workshops or ATGB which are held every 3rd Saturday of the month located in the Garden of the Seven Sisters, at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo. The seminar topics vary from month to month. We aim to have our topics correspond to the season, current pests, diseases and relevant research. In the spring, we often have seminars for starting a vegetable garden or, during the drought, many of the topics included tips on how to deal with the drought. Popular seminars include starting seeds, Mediterranean plants, gopher control, pesky pests and pruning. For example, on Jan 16th, the Winter Pruning Workshop is a hand on demonstration in our fruit and nut orchard in the Garden of the Seven Sisters, starting at 10 am. The garden provides ample seating and lots of shade under a pergola for those extra sunny days. Besides offering terrific free education, we as MG's, love to hear questions from the audience, which are always good learning experiences for all involved. The seminars last for 2 hours and often cover multiple topics. After the presentations are over, there is time to take a tour of the garden; guided tours are available with prior notice. Besides the speakers, we have many MG volunteers who attend and help with set up and clean up. These helpful folks can be spotted by their name tags and they can answer your questions while touring the garden.
Because we are here to educate and serve the public, we also hand out a questionnaire after the workshop and welcome your input. We want to offer topics that are the most important to the San Luis Obispo County gardeners. So why not make a New Year's resolution that will benefit you and your garden by attending our monthly ATGB seminars in 2015? See you in the Garden!/span>