Master Gardener News Blog
Fire Safe Landscaping
By Kim McCue UCCE Master Gardener
Protecting your home and the people in it during fire season is all about creating what CAL FIRE terms a “defensible space”. This involves removing all combustible materials within a certain distance from your home and maintaining a fire safe landscape. CAL FIRE recommends contacting your local fire department for specific fire prevention requirements in your area as those details do vary from city to city. For example, Paso Robles issues very specific weed abatement guidelines depending on the size of your lot, whereas the Five Cities Fire Authority says all combustible, noxious or dangerous weeds need to be no taller than 4 inches.
A fire safe landscape consists of fire resistant plants and/or some native plants, green lawn, or noncombustible materials such as rock or stone. Plants and shrubs within the first 30 feet or more from your home should be irrigated and low growing. Cal Fire actually suggests the first 100 feet from your home should have no trees or shrubs over 18 inches in height. If there are already trees and shrubs within that area, branches should be at least 10 feet from the roof and chimney, trees should be spaced at least 10 feet apart, shrubs should be well spaced, and all should be pruned regularly. The goal is to prevent “fire ladders”, which are continuous paths of vegetation that carry fire from plant to plant and then to your home.
When selecting plants for the fire safe landscape, look for those that are low growing and high in moisture content. Good examples are yarrow, alyssum, lavender, creeping rosemary and of course, succulents. Plants to avoid are those high in oil or resin content, those with papery or peeling bark, and plants that retain a lot of dead or dry material. Examples of plants that fall into this category include pine, eucalyptus, manzanita, California sagebrush and juniper.
An excellent, easy to read, yet detailed resource on this subject is University of California ANR Publication 8228, “Home Landscaping for Fire”, which can be found at: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8228.pdf.
A Simple Plant: Dusty Miller
By Andrea Peck
Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria) comes with a plain name and at the point-of-purchase, a plain demeanor. I'm not sure why I bought the six-pack two years ago—I think I had been swayed by an article about white plants or maybe it was fall and I thought oh, these may look wintery in a few months.
Two years later I couldn't be more pleased. The diminutive seedlings are grown and lush. Tiny yellow flowers top their wooly grey foliage. They are so large now that they completely cover an entire corner around a plum tree (that is badly in need of pruning, I might add). They are quiet in their exuberance, but if you look closely, that is them leaning happily into the pathway.
I can attest to the fact that Dusty Miller is easy to grow. I can be stingy with water and sometimes my life takes precedence. The garden does not come first. But, this little trooper stuck with me. In some areas, where frost and cold are extreme, Dusty Miller is considered an annual. On the coast, it can grow perennially—after the second year, the plant will flower. Dusty Miller prefers a sunny spot. It is drought tolerant, but like most plants, you'll need to send it a little drink when circumstances border on parched (currently we are using laundry water in that area). They prefer rich, well-composted soil. Depending on the varietal, this plant can grow up to 2 feet high and spread up to 12 inches. Often you see Dusty Miller in industrial or commercial settings—here they are groomed to maintain a prim form.
Interestingly, I have read that many gardeners pinch back the little yellow flowers. In fact, this plant seems to have an overabundance of articles devoted to pruning it. Personally, this formal approach confuses me. I did read that the flowers take energy from the “lovely silvery foliage,” but don't flowers take from all “lovely foliage?” Grown hippie-style these are fun, rumbling plants that are only better large and flowery.
Dusty Miller does not appreciate soggy soil. But, at this stage of the game, who has any of that? The plant requires light feeding; 10-10-10 fertilizer is sufficient. Because the Dusty Miller does not like to be over-fertilized, a dose of compost at regular intervals is another option. You may have gotten the feeling that I am opposed to cutting this plant back, but if it starts to look leggy and ungainly, by all means prune it down. You will be rewarded with a bushier plant.
Dusty Miller is resistant to both deer and fire (and fiery deer, I suppose). Best of all, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees are attracted to this unusual plant. It is possible to propagate Dusty Miller from stem cuttings. And who couldn't use more of this easy and appealing plant?
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
What can I do with all the tomatoes that I have coming besides make salads? Heather, Los Osos
The UCCE Master Food Preserver (MFP) Program of San Luis Obispo County will be offering a workshop on how to preserve whole tomatoes by using a water bath canner to help demonstrate a variety of ways to use your homegrown tomatoes. Have you ever made herbed tomato juice? If not, they will show you how. For those of you who buy jars of spaghetti sauce, you may be confident enough to make your own after attending this workshop.
The MFP program is part of the UCCE and extends UC research-based information regarding home food safety and preservation to the public. The upcoming workshop will be held in the UCCE auditorium at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo on Saturday, June 27th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
The MFP program also conducts classes on topics such as pickling, drying, freezing, fermenting, and canning fruits and vegetables. We often regret not using or giving away all of the fruits and vegetables that we have grown. It's gratifying to take the time to learn how to pickle, freeze, dry, or can our bounty. Many of us have wonderful memories of delicious foods that we enjoyed as children that our parents and/or grandparents pickled, canned, etc. By preserving seasonal tomatoes, we can enjoy the fresh taste of summer's tomatoes throughout the year and take great pleasure in sharing food or drink that you have grown or made with appreciative friends.
If you wish to attend the workshop, registration is required and there is a $5.00 materials fee. Please bring exact change or a check. Call Christine Nelson at 805-781-5944 to register.
Mark your calendars for the UCCE MFP's upcoming classes:
Saturday, July 25: What is fermentation?
Saturday, August 22: Pressure canning your summer bounty!
By Andrea Peck
At this time of year everyone is gaga for tomatoes. There are many types and you may not be sure what kind to purchase, so if you're like me, you probably opt for a few different varieties. Your garden is a test grounds. This week, I've decided to increase my knowledge of tomato growing and extend that to you. Here's what I found:
- Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They like a rich compost and manure mix. If we could go back in time to fall, we would have organized our yard to include our future tomato bed and left a whole lot of manure in there to rot. Many of you out there have chickens; their manure if great, as is horse, rabbit and steer manure. If you are planting now and did not prepare a bed last fall (oops!) use compost – manure, particularly in large amounts, needs to have time in the soil to break down. Fertilize with a side dressing of compost once monthly during the growing season.
- Tomatoes require a sunny location. Now, if you grow plants in the hotter inland areas, you may find that you do not need to put your tomato plant in the absolute sunniest part of your yard because it is likely that your garden gets plenty of nice, warm sun on most days. On the coast, the story is different. For example, as I am writing this, it is about 65° and foggy where I live. I'd bet that Paso and Atascadero are sunny and at least 20° warmer at this very moment. For my little microclimate, it's best if I place my tomatoes in direct sun with no shade-producing obstructions. Use your best judgment. To generalize, tomato plants need 6 hours of sunlight per day. The other element to this is the type of tomato. Some varietals of tomato, such as Stupice and Early Girl are better in coastal environments. One tip I gleaned from an article based in Santa Cruz, is that the smaller the tomato (think cherry tomatoes) the better they do in cool, foggy environments. Big Beefsteak tomatoes are best grown in warmer climes.
- When planting, most experts recommend clipping off the bottom stems and planting deeply. Submerging the stem an inch or two when planting will create a more stable plant. Keeping leaves from touching the ground will help prevent fungal diseases. If plants grow too bushy, you may prune the plants for better air circulation.
- I've always thought of tomatoes as needing less water. But, this is not true. Imagine your tomatoes dried up like raisins and you'll understand that they need adequate irrigation to produce plump and juicy offspring. When first planted, your start will need extra water to get established, but after a week or so, a deep watering once weekly should do. Water only at the base of the plant –not only does this save water, but it reduces the chance of fungus. If your soil is rich, it will hold in water and don't forget your best friend “mulch.”
- Trellis, stake or cage your tomatoes. Keeping tomatoes off the ground and up towards your grubby hands is the name of the game. Many tomato plants are “indeterminate” which means that they will grow and grow and grow. Leaving them to their own devices can make for a tangled architecture that invites pests and has you crawling around on your hands and knees looking for those red prizes. I remember my first tomato plant vividly. At that time I had no idea what “determinate” (grows only “so” big) and “indeterminate” (think infinite) meant and I blithely planted that tomato plant only to grow somewhat frustrated with its Jack and the Beanstalk proclivities. It just kept growing. The funny thing was that I ran into an older man who showed me his tomato plant and he was equally disturbed. I look back and think how funny that interaction was.
- Finally, keep an eye out for pests such as the tomato horn worm. This beast is large, spring green and it has a pokey thing on its rump. He's not good for your plants—throw him to the birds.
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
I moved and have inherited several fruit trees that are huge. Can I prune them now? Edwin, Atascadero
Yes, summer pruning to reduce the overall size of a tree can be done now. Studies have shown that next year's shoot growth, flowering, or fruit is not affected by summer pruning, even if up to 30 % of foliage is removed. Before you start summer or winter pruning, sharpen your tools and have a container with a 25% diluted bleach solution ready. Disinfect tools between cuts and between trees to prevent the spread of cankers and bacterial diseases.
Since your trees have been neglected, concentrate this summer on reducing the height of the tree and getting light into the center of the tree. This is done with thinning cuts to the center of the tree and by removing up to 30% of branches and foliage from the top and sides. If your summer pruning leaves some branches overexposed to the sun, beware of sunburn. Mix a 1:1 solution of white interior latex paint and water to seal the exposed branches and protect them from sunburn and invading beetle borers. Cherry and apricot trees are only pruned in the summer because they are prone to Eutypa dieback, a branch killing canker disease that spreads with moisture. Pruning in the summer will ensure 6 plus weeks of dry weather after the pruning cut.
If you did not thin your fruit earlier in the season, shorten extra-long fruiting branches to prevent a heavy fruit load and possible breakage, a method often done with peaches. If your goal is to reduce the height of your fruit trees to better fit your needs, several seasons of winter and summer pruning on large trees will be necessary. Once the trees are that perfect “you” size, there is nothing more satisfying then reaching that nectarine from a top branch; no ladder necessary!
To learn more about summer pruning and to see a live demonstration on different fruit trees, visit our Advice to Grow By workshop on June 20th from 10 am -12 pm in the Garden of the Seven Sisters in San Luis Obispo. The garden's docent hour will immediately follow from noon to 1:00 pm./span>