Master Gardener News Blog
By Nancy Hartwick UCCE Master Gardener
What are the advantages of landscaping with California native plants? Mary, Atascadero
Native plants can be quite liberating. They free the gardener of the work and expense of fertilizing and watering. Natives need no fertilizer because they work in partnership with bacteria in the soil called mycorrhizae. These partners help the plants absorb water and nutrients and fix nitrogen in the roots of some species.
Watering is required when the plants are first put in the ground. But once they are established, usually after the first year, little or no water is needed, except in times of extreme drought. Some species of plants, such as Ceanothus and Arbutus will weaken and die if overwatered.
Coastal California has a Mediterranean climate, with normal rainfall occurring from fall through spring. Summers are dry and watering established natives at this time is a definite no-no.
The gardener will have little or no use for insecticide as these plants are adapted to live with our naturally occurring insects. Forgoing insecticide may allow more beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies to thrive in the native garden.
Soil amendments are also not recommended. Rather, choose plants according to the type of soil you have, be it sand, sandy loam or clay. You may find several types of soil on different parts of your property. So work with it, rather than against it.
Also, study the needs of the plants you want with regard to environmental factors such as sun exposure, drainage and wind. Plants that do well in the north part of the county may not thrive at the beach or in south county. Furthermore, what grows in your front yard may not thrive in the back yard due to differing microclimate conditions.
Your garden may look a little sparse in the beginning, as many of the plants are slow starters. But make note of the estimated size of the mature plants, and plan carefully to avoid crowding.
For an extensive list and descriptions of California native plants, visit laspilitas.com. There you'll find information about the plants as well as planting and maintaining your native garden.
Let's Talk About the Weather
By Andrea Peck
After last week's impromptu rain shower I thought that I would address the issue of excessive rain.
Some may find that hilarious. I mean, one downpour and we're running around with silly grins on our faces or getting hit by lightning. It's California, Land of the Perfect Weather, what is there to even talk about?
Look at us. Just as we started to figure out the details of utilizing our greywater we are besieged by record breaking, monsoon-like rain. The most shocking thing, besides the amount of rainfall, was the temperature. I checked my own thermometer and it was 82°F inside my house. Should I be outside sweeping in my bathing suit? Yes. By all means. Did I mention it was midnight?
But, I need to clarify that this was the second night of the two-day siege. The first night was a horse of a different color. It all started with a thunderous clap at around 1:30 a.m. The sound, a booming explosive crash led my mind to one thought-- clearly we have been invaded and the house is falling apart. I leapt from the bed and ran to the room of all things disruptive—the living room. My legs traveled with a quickness that I can only say was half-flying. The dogs, who were second on the scene, looked at me somewhat quizzically. Their fur covered noggins were either amazed at my superior speed or embarrassed by me. They are laid-back California dogs after all.
Quickly realizing the source of the fracas –thunder and lightning-- I headed back to bed. Not long thereafter, a drizzling rain started. This turned into a moderate fall and then I realized I had better get up again and check our drains. Our home is located in a particularly low spot that in 1964, when the home was built, probably caused little problems for the owners. However, as time wound on, further development created runoff that leads through many streets and passes along the sides of my home. The owners at one time had to create sizeable drainage that cuts along the length of the property. “The drains” as we call them are four feet wide and about 8 inches deep. In a heavy storm they fill to capacity and run like a little river. It is a pretty exciting exhibition. Problems can easily arise if objects interfere with this flow.
I should have known better. Call me complacent but we have become accustomed to this drought. My drains have become storage for the detritus that explodes from the confines of my home. Well, punishment comes in the wee hours of the morning when lightening threatens your life and water threatens your home. Nevertheless, I am happy that this onslaught besieged us. Now, we have no excuse. The forecast this winter is an El Nino which brings a lot of rain and warmer temperatures. I have seen the temperatures. I have seen the rain. Now I am a believer. Time to get ready.
A few things to think about:
- Start at your roof. Make sure the roof is in good condition. If we do receive wet weather this year it will not be fun trying to patch the roof in the rain. Move to your rain gutters. I'm sad to say this is something that we have neglected in our home. What a shame! This year I vow to have existing gutters cleaned and inspected. I would love to get rain barrels all around. Don't forget downspouts. There are great extension pieces that you can connect to the end of your downspout and direct the water to plants or lawn. Divert runoff from concrete, roads and your front door. My lovely neighbors had a problem with their garage flooding until some smartie found a leak in the roof gutter directly over the garage. Problem fixed! So easy.
- Clear brush and prune large plants and trees. Excessive amounts of water can weaken the root of susceptible trees and bushes causing them to fall over. If you live in an area like I do where water moves from one place to another it may behoove you to keep those areas clean and free from excess leaves, twigs and skateboards in order to prevent a buildup of water
- For those who live in soggy spots it is a good idea to have sandbags ready. Make sure that they are accessible and that you can lift them quickly and easily without injuring yourself. One year my husband filled the bags and I could barely lift the things. After that I swore that I would fill the bags myself. A lighter bag is better than a bag you cannot lift. Also, sandbag material (the plastic bags) tends to degrade very quickly so make sure you won't be lifting a bag that is ready to fall apart. If you have one area that consistently floods, consider purchasing a little submersible pump.
- In case of emergency, have car keys, belongings, and medication handy. Make a plan with family members. If you have pets, add food, water and bedding, including pet crates, to your list. But, please don't risk your life—while discussing the threat of fire and creating a plan with my two kids, my son insisted that he would rescue the gecko. And the gecko's food. It took quite a bit of convincing to dissuade him from this plan of action. Keep important papers handy. We have our important papers in a portable file box. Of course, knowing myself as I do, I will forget that box. Nevertheless, it is there and ready to go.
- Friends. Figure out who they are. I would put this at the top of the list because in my recent experiences I discovered quite by chance how important reliable social connections are. Know your neighbors, particularly the ones who are home, able-bodied and helpful. They may just save your life one day.
- Finally, do not underestimate the power of water. It does not take much water (two feet or less) to move your car. Remember water and electricity do not mix. Never go out in a lightning storm. According to our local expert John Lindsey, many are killed and injured each year due to lightning strikes. It is not the stuff of myths. In fact, if you haven't heard, a white truck was struck by lightning in the last storm here on the Central Coast.
Note: I realized I have not included instructions on caring for your poinsettia! Here are the recommendations for June and July:
During June you should have moved the pot outside in a shaded area and continue with water and fertilizer. (You can use a water soluble fertilizer).
During July, pinch an inch from each stem. Continue care as in June.
If you have not changed pots you still have time to do so. Use a soilless mix and a pot that is 4 inches larger in diameter than the existing pot.
For the full post with details go to this link: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=16505
Stone Fruit Trees
By Andrea Peck UCCE Master Gardener
Money may not grow on trees, but stone fruit certainly does. The luscious fruit of summer, so sweet and drippy, lends credence to the notion that health food can be tasty. Stone fruit (genus Prunus) include the favorable bunch of fruits and one nut that grow on trees: apricot, sweet and sour cherry, nectarine, peach, European plum and prune, Japanese plum and almond. The oddball of this group, the almond tree, is included in the roundup based on its botanical qualities. Named because of the mouthful of a hard pit that accompanies the heady fruit, stone fruit is commonly grown throughout most of California. Growing your own tree may seem too dreamy to be true, particularly if you live in a compact Central California-style abode. But don't despair; they do come in temptingly small varieties.
Selection of your fruit tree is important. Stone fruit trees require a certain number of winter “chill” hours, or hours below 45°F, in order to fruit properly in the summer months. Be sure to purchase a tree with a chill requirement that is appropriate for your area. Trees range in size from dwarf and semi-dwarf to standard-sized. Dwarf trees grow up to 12 feet, semi-dwarf reach 20 feet, and standard trees may top 35 feet. Placement matters. Look for a sunny, spacious and low-wind location that is accessible for pruning, watering and harvesting.
Adequate irrigation and fertilization are critical in maintaining a healthy tree and producing a bountiful harvest. Fertilization requirements differ by tree and soil quality upon planting. Most trees require less fertilization during the first year and more as they mature. It is beneficial to keep a fertilization schedule that is appropriate for the needs of your tree. Pruning, perhaps the thorniest element of caring for your tree, should not be ignored. Learn how to prune correctly or have someone do it for you.
I'd round this off with a few suggestions on how to handle your harvest, but I'm guessing you may have some ideas of your own. For in-depth information on trees, fertilization, pruning and harvesting visit this link: http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/.
Black is the New Radish
By Andrea Peck
Despite their bright color and spunky taste, radishes (Raphanus sativus) scream for recognition. For too long they have been relegated to “that plant that is easy for children to grow.” Maybe their easy-growing nature puts them on the bottom of the list when it comes to serious garden discussion. Let's face it; you never catch anyone discussing their bumper crop of radishes. Radish sharing is unheard of. It is as if the poor root is invisible.
When the idea of radishes began to germinate in that fallow soil that I call my mind, I too thought that the lowly radish, globey and reddish, was a bit of a snooze. But after delving deeper into the subject I see how little I knew.
Let me first mention the color. Certainly the average radish is a visual feast with pinks and purples that tint their bubble-shaped bodies. They are spicy, but not excessively so. Sure, kids can put the fat seeds in the ground and wait for them to grow (which happens quickly) but most under the age of 12 do not appreciate the peppery taste.
Not all radishes come cloaked in festive reds and purples. Nor do they all grow like an orb. The daikon is one famous radish that drapes its long body in white and plunders ghost-like into the soil. When growth is complete, the daikon may weigh up to two pounds. Then there is the Japanese version of the pumpkin, the Sakurajima radish, which averages around 13 pounds, but has been known to reach 100 pounds.
Did you know that there is a yellow radish? Oh, hello? I had no idea that yellow was in the radish's color box.
The most astounding, however, is the black radish. From dark brown to black, these radishes are large and turnipish. Did I mention they were black? And when I say black I do not mean pretend black either. I mean deep, dark, otherworldly black.
Radishes of all sorts can grow year-round if temperatures are right. They will germinate in a matter of days if temperatures hover between 65°F and 85°F. They grow best in temperatures that range from 50°F to 65°F. Summer bolting can be problematic, so the general rule is to plant in spring and fall. Because the radish germinates and grows so quickly, it is a good idea to plant weekly in order to maintain a continual harvest. This root prefers moist, loamy and loose soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. This is slightly acidic so by all means use your leftover coffee (no sugar, no milk please) to water.
The radish, it is true, is known as an easy-to-grow vegetable. Nutritionally, the radish is high in vitamin C, folic acid and potassium. They also contain vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper and calcium. It is most common to eat the root, however, all of the radish is edible.
But, of course we all know the radish is for eating—this is no new news. It is the rich varieties that lurk, those that beg for more than just a spot next to the parsley and orange slice, which intrigue me.
It's time they were unearthed.
Citrus And Avocado Workshop
By Lee Oliphant UCCE Master Gardener
I'd like to grow a citrus tree and avocado tree in my yard but don't know if they need special care to produce fruit. Mary. San Luis Obispo
Citrus and avocado trees grow well along the coast and in areas of the county that receive little frost. They are beautiful year-round and produce fragrant blooms and healthy fruit for you and your family. They are easy to grow, need little pruning, and with basic knowledge about their nutritional and water requirements, you'll be rewarded with a bountiful harvest from your own yard.
Citrus and avocados are not drought tolerant. They are both hungry and thirsty plants. The primary nutrient required by citrus trees and avocados is nitrogen. It's important to understand their very particular watering and fertilization needs to support flowering, fruit set, and overall health of the tree. For example, avocados are sensitive to drought stress and are very sensitive to excess water. With citrus, it's very important that they receive adequate irrigation during fruit development to keep the fruit from drying out.
For more details, the Master Gardeners will present their Advice to Grow By workshop on growing citrus and avocado trees in SLO County. The workshop is on Saturday, July 18, from 10 am to noon at the Garden of the Seven Sisters, located at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo.
At this free seminar, you will learn about the care and maintenance of citrus and avocado trees, including when to plant, when to prune, insect and pest management, proper watering and fertilization, and the specific cultivars that thrive in our climate. Our presenters will also provide an update on the current status of the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), the number one threat to California's citrus industry.
Join us on Saturday to learn from fellow gardeners in your community. Wear a hat, dress in layers, and bring your water bottle!
Master Gardener docents will be available in the garden immediately following the workshop from noon to 1:00 pm to answer your gardening questions. See you in the garden!