Master Gardener News Blog
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
I would like to change my front yard to an edible garden. What can be done now? Francine, Atascadero.
This is a good time to get your front yard prepared for planting spring edibles. To start, turn off all the irrigation lines at the water source. Next, remove the drip tubing, soaker hoses etc. Now you can dig out all the scrubs and plants without damaging irrigation lines that you might want to reinstall.
Once all the plants are removed, take a soil sample and send it to a lab for an analytical soil test. The results generally come with recommendations on how to improve your soil fertility. Take the soil printout to a trusted nursery or agriculture retail supplier and stock up on soil amendments. Unless you have already a high percentage of organic matter (see test results) add some quality and well-cured compost to your soil. Incorporate amendments into the compost. In general, you will add small quantities of micro and macro minerals that are lacking in your soil. Spread a 4-6-inch layer of compost plus minerals onto the top soil. With a large garden fork or spade, work the compost into the top 6-8 inches of your soil. If the soil is very compacted, you need to loosen the soil first and then fold under the compost.
It is helpful at this stage to draw the layout of the planting area, orienting the garden towards the south. Mark pathways and irrigation lines and indicate areas that are shaded from the sun. This preplanning will help you when selecting the right plants for this area of your edible garden. Group water loving plants together, arrange herbs close to garden entrance for easy access. Check out books and garden magazines, and order seeds of edible flowers: Nasturtium, borage, calendula, pineapple- sage, tulips, scented geraniums, roses, and begonia. Trees that have edible flowers and fruit include apple, orange, elderberries, pineapple-guava. All flowers that bloom from herbs are edible and don't forget the flowers from vegetable plants. My Tip: Only plant what you and your family like to eat!
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
Please tell me how to prune different types of fruit trees? Mark, Atascadero.
Here is a list on how to prune the fruit trees that are common in your area:
Apricot: these trees have an upright and vigorous growth habit. Apricots produce fruit on short-lived spurs. It is best to cut back all the previous year's growth by ½ or more which will encourage new growth and new spurs. Apricots (and Cherries) should not be pruned in wet weather. Six weeks of dry weather assures that they don't get infected with Eutypa, a form of wood canker. It's safest to wait until summer to prune for the following year's fruit set. Prune apricots annually.
Apple: a tree with a spreading habit. Most of the fruit develops on spurs 2 years old and older. The productive life of spurs is about 5 years. Therefore, don't remove spurs. Do, however, remove all dead wood and branches which rub together. Thin out branches to let in sun light and remove water shoots. Prune annually and when dormant.
Pear: trees can be upright or spreading, depending on varietal. Fruit matures on spurs 2 years or older. The productive life of spurs is 10 years or more! Prune lightly only removing dead wood or rubbing branches. Prune annually when the tree is dormant.
Peach and Nectarine: trees have an upright and spreading growth habit. Fruit is borne on the previous year's growth. This means new fruiting wood must be produced every year in order to have good fruit production. Heavy, annual pruning is recommended. Pruning a minimum of ½ of last year's growth, mostly done by heading, is a must. Prune when dormant.
Plum: European plum is upright; the Japanese plum is variable and can be spreading. Fruit is born on spurs 2 years old and older Spurs are productive 6-8 years. Prune lightly, thin and remove dead wood. Prune annually and when dormant.
Don't forget to use tools that are sharp and clean. It is advised to disinfect all pruning tools between each tree. A solution of one part rubbing alcohol to one part water is a sufficient disinfecting dip for the blade or saw end of your tools.
For further information the UC ANR Publications website offers books such as Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees.
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Indian Walking Sticks
By Andrea Peck UCCE Master Gardener
What are Indian walking sticks and will they eat my flowers? -Donna J. Los Osos
The Indian walking stick exhibits crypsis, the ability to change color, shape and behavior to blend into their environment. Adult specimens reach up to 4 inches in length. Their long, wingless body is generally brown-colored. When confronted, this amazing creature retracts its legs alongside its body, adding to its appearance as a stick.Originally native to southern India, Indian walking sticks are a familiar attraction in elementary classrooms because they can survive on lettuce, making them an easy pet to care for. Their dramatic appearance and slow swaying motion that mimics a branch in the wind, make these bugs a conversation piece no matter where they perch. These insects became established outside of India as a result of their popularity as pets. The female walking stick is an interesting character that does not require the benefit of male attention to reproduce. Combine that with the ability to lay a significant number of eggs, which often go unnoticed as waste products and you have a recipe for easy breezy reproduction. When kept as pets, it is recommended that cage waste be placed in a tightly sealed bag and thrown away. This should limit the possibility of infestation.
While the Indian walking stick is generally not a major pest, it has become more of a nuisance in recent years. Springtime is typically the time when the most damage occurs. This is because the nymphs hatch and search for small-leafed varieties of ivy and privet. They will also enjoy azalea, bramble, camellia, geranium, hawthorn, hibiscus, jasmine, oak, pyracantha, rose and of course, your veggies. In some locations defoliation of plants and significant damage to valued specimens has occurred.
Control of the Indian walking stick is limited. Pesticides are not recommended. Hand removal, though it can be a challenging game of hide and seek, is the best management strategy.
The MG's Are Here!
By Jackie Woods UCCE Master Gardener
The main role of a UC Master Gardener (MG) is to educate and help the gardening public by sharing science-based information. There are several ways MGs can share this information: via the internet, helplines, and social media as well as in demonstration gardens.
UC Master Gardeners of San Luis Obispo have an extremely informative website which can be found here: http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/. Missed out on a newspaper article? Find it here! Want to join the UC Master Gardener email list to get monthly announcements on events and workshops? You guessed it! It's all here.
Do you have a weed or bug that needs identification? Visit http://ipm.ucdavis.edu. The Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program is an awesome resource for helping solve pest problems with minimum risk to people and the environment. The weed gallery is incredibly detailed with color pictures of all stages of the weed's life – a must see! Ever wonder what an adult Asian citrus psyllid actually looks like? Great pictures and everything you wanted to know about it and more can be found under ‘Exotic and invasive pests.'
Prefer email? Email your questions to the Master Gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you find technology overwhelming at times and you just want to get answers in person? Bring a specimen in and visit with a Master Gardener at one of 3 helpline locations: Templeton, San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.
County Agriculture Commissioner's Building
350 Main Street, Suite B
Templeton, CA 93465
Wednesdays 9:00 am to noon
San Luis Obispo (805) 781-5939
University of California Cooperative Extension
2156 Sierra Way, Suite C
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Mondays and Thursdays 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Arroyo Grande (805) 473-7190
County Agriculture Commissioner's Building
810 West Branch Street
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
Wednesdays 10 am – noon
SLO Master Gardeners are on social media, too! Follow us on Instagram (@slo_mgs) as well as on Facebook (UC Master Gardeners – San Luis Obispo). Interested in water conservation? Visit the water retention plot – one of 20 educational plots - in demonstration garden, The Garden of the Seven Sisters. The demo garden is open to the public every third Saturday of the month from noon to 1:00 pm at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. UC Master Gardeners of SLO County – we're here to help!
By Andrea Peck UC Master Gardener
My hibiscus plant is covered in red bugs, should I be concerned? Rosa M. San Luis Obispo
If It's Not An Ornament, It May Be Red Bug!
While an infestation of red bugs may appear threatening, these fellows are nothing to lose sleep over. Relatively new to North America, red bugs (Scantius aegyptius) were first spotted in Southern California in 2009 and have been making their way to our neck of the woods ever since. They are more nuisance than threatening, though their attire may have you fooled. Scantius aegyptius attract attention with their red-orange coloring offset by contrasting jet-black head, antennae and legs. This aposematic scheme is intended as a warning of indigestion—or worse--for those who may view the insect as a tasty treat.
One flashy creature may not turn heads, especially considering that the average length of the bug is 7-9 millimeters. But, when these pests congregate in party numbers, the creepy-crawly redness may have you thinking you've somehow encouraged guests from the underworld.
Scantius aegyptius is native to the eastern Mediterranean region. They have a particular interest in plants in the Knotweed (Polygonum spp.) and Malva (Malva parviflora) family such as buckwheat, hibiscus, mallow and hollyhock. Generally, S. aegyptius subsist on seeds and seed pods. Often this insect is seen “brightening-up” weedy lots. You may be concerned that a swath of red-wriggliness may set its sights on your backyard. Despite this morbid thought, experts do not see this insect as worthy of heavy consideration.
Should you find a family taking up residence on your favorite plant, eradication is the same as that of the Bagrada, boxelder, or jadera bug which have a confluence of annoyingly similar habits. Believe it or not, this pest can be removed with a hand-held vacuum. Weeds that attract red bugs should be removed and disposed of to prevent infestation. Exclude entry by using floating row covers or screening material with a fine mesh. Pesticides are not recommended.