Master Gardener News Blog
By Tami Reece UCCE Master Gardener
The 9th Annual Tomato Extravaganza will feature informative workshops, a plant sale, the very popular tomato and basil tasting, and much more! The Master Gardeners will gather 15 to 20 heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties from local farmers and have grown 10 different varieties of basil for this year's tomato and basil tasting.
Heirloom tomatoes will be available for purchase, but if you want to grow your own, there are over 7,500 varieties of tomatoes on the market and they do love sunny California. However, several varieties are well-adapted to less sunny conditions. Black krim grows very well along the coastal areas of San Luis Obispo County. North County has the opposite problem - too much sun. The optimal temperature range is between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the variety. Heirloom tomatoes come in shades of red, green, orange, pink, white, blue, yellow, and purple. They can be a solid rich color, striped or mottled. They can be larger than the palm of your hand or as small as a cherry or grape which is also the name of two varieties.
There are between 50 to 150 different varieties of basil available on the market. The colors and flavors of basil continue to expand as growers cross different varieties to create new basil plants each year.
If you have only known the common red tomato and green Italian Basil, join us to experience the many flavors and colors that are available. The Tomato Extravaganza is on Saturday August 29, 10:00 to 2:00 p.m. We are located at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. The presentations will begin at 10:00 am with Water Catchment, Gopher and Ground Squirrels at 11:00, and Edible Landscaping at 12:00. The plant sale will feature Mediterranean plants, herbs, and basil, and the California Rare Fruit Growers will be on hand selling trees. Children's activities and displays will be available and a locally owned food truck will be on site from 11:00 to 1:00. Spend the day with us or stop by to see our beautiful demonstration garden. Either way you will not be disappointed!! For more information, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/files/218081.pdf or call (805)781-5939.
The Germane Geranium
By Andrea Peck
When I mentioned to my mother that I might write about geraniums this week, she paused distractedly as she crossed the road and stated, “Isn't that a bit boring?”
While there was a brief moment in which I personalized this comment, I quickly realized what she meant. The fact is geraniums don't have the most exciting reputation. Though I do associate them with attractive window boxes on the exterior of cute French homes and I think that France is definitely high on the interest scale, this is a plant that is often overlooked.
As the conversation wound on, there was a discrepancy between the how much water a geranium requires. According to my mother's neighbor, geraniums require a lot of water. I did a double- take at this and was rewarded when we glanced out into the weed-spackled lawn. On the side of the lawn, there was a section set aside for ornamental planting. Most of these plants had long died due to drought. A rectangle of barren brown earth sat empty, but for one sole survivor. No doubt the impenetrable hardpan, out of which poked one or two resilient weeds did not help nurture those long-gone plantings. But, what still survived, sturdy and blooming? Yes, of course, a nice red geranium bush.
Odd though, how you can walk past that bush and see just the dead-looking soil surrounding it. They are quite the invisible plant, able to stand, solid and stoic, all the while completely underappreciated. I have my own geraniums. They rest in two pots right outside my front door. I see the beauty that they add, the color, but my eye never really resides on their form for long.
Nevertheless, everyone should have a geranium or two in my opinion. They are quiet workhorses and unless you live in inhumanly hot weather (which some of you do, I know) then they require little additional water. A bit of a drink here and there and they will keep their form.
Geraniums are represented in such a wide variety of colors and types. From white or pink to red and purple to blue, they are a nice low-growing perennial. The great thing about geraniums is how easy they are to propagate. Simply cut off a stem and plant it. Keep it watered adequately at the beginning and it should settle in just fine. They are also deer-resistant. Geraniums flower quite a bit, so it is necessary to prune off dead flowers to keep the plant looking fresh.
My mother's parting shot, one to remember, is that she feels as if she is cheating by having a geranium. They are just that easy.
Walnut Tree M.D.
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
My large walnut tree has many dead branches this year, can it be saved? Tom in Paso Robles.
If you drive by the walnut and almond orchards in Paso Robles, many dry farmed for centuries, you will notice the same problem. The last four years of drought have left their mark by killing branches in the canopy. This “die back” is generally not reversible, especially if the trees are older. Walnut trees will near the end of their productive life after 40 years. If you see less than 20 % die back, you can prune back the dead branches until you get to the green living part of the tree. This should result in new branch growth the following spring. Most arborists advise you to prune during the dryer months of the year to prevent the spreading of fungal diseases. You can mark the dead areas by attaching some tape to it so you can distinguish the dead from the live wood once all the leaves have dropped.
Monitor the health of your trees by checking for insects; walnut husk fly and codling moths will deposit their eggs in the nut meat, scales and mites will affect the vigor of the tree. Check for small holes in branch and bark tissue to monitor for the presence of boring beetles. Contact the Master Gardener Helpline for assistance with the identifying any of these or other pests.
If you have determined that the age of the tree and the amount of die back warrants the removal of the tree, get the site ready now for next year's replant. If a total tree and root removal is not an option, cut the tree now and leave the stump to dry out for the rest of the year. You can replant a new tree in January or February when bare root trees become available. Most walnut trees in the nursery are already grafted and many new varietals are now available. Since walnuts are wind pollinated, planting just one tree is an option if there are other walnut trees in your neighborhood.
A Vacation and a Trip
By Andrea Peck
I recently took a staycation to visit my family in San Simeon. My kids and I rode the Route 12 bus to Morro Bay where we had a layover of about an hour. We treated ourselves to a Foster Freeze ice cream and visited a thrift store before catching the Route 15 bus to our final destination. Despite our odd baggage of flip flops and scuba gear, toothbrushes and my son's innovative sock-knot on the outside of his backpack, we were a tidy threesome. Somewhere along the line we lost the orange yarn that my son makes braided bracelets with. Luckily it had only been $1.00 at the thrift shop.
The following day we spent wandering from beach to parking lot to restaurant—the town, tiny and manageable, lent itself well to a small bipedal family. The short curb-to-curb distances encouraged detail watching. My mother and I marveled at the number of cigarette butts. At some point my father pointed out the dominant landscape of Myoporum trees, trimmed to bush size. I have a particular fondness for Myoporum, somehow they remind me of my third grade year in Huntington Beach. A few years back, we had to cut down our own Myoporum trees. I felt sorry that things could not have continued on, but both trees had a horrible case of thrips and they both sat where the new sewer will someday be attached.
Seeing these decrepit, thrips-ladden trees in San Simeon brought back that same saturnine sense of loss, perhaps even more vividly than I experienced at the official tree cutting. The perpendicular passage of time seems at these moments to sharpen and focus. Amongst the interested adults, there was some discussion about thrips—my dad insisted that the use of pesticides or the relief of the drought could possibly bring the trees back to a healthy state. It made me wonder. What's happening with thrips now? Have things changed? Has someone come up with a sensible treatment plan?
If you have not been introduced to thrips, you should know that there are many kinds. They are small (about 2.0-2.5 mm long), thin and range from dark brown to black. The type we are talking about is officially named Klambothrips myopori. This type of thrips attacks Myoporum laetum and Myoporum pacificum to be specific. Thrips feed on the leaves, causing the foliage to curl and twist. Of course, this is no way for a plant to thrive, so inevitably the leaves and branches turn brown and die. Thrips can breed quickly, having many generations yearly. Warm weather brings rampant breeding. Oh, joy.
Because thrips inhabit the inner curls of the leaves, control of the pest is difficult. If you are OCD, (and have the time) monitor the plant before it becomes infested. You may be able to get to the thrips before they recess themselves in a leaf bunker. But, remember, though it may sound doable on paper, tiny insects often win those fights. There are natural predators, minute pirate bugs (Orius spp.), green lacewings (Chrysopa and Chrysoperla spp.), and several other species that help to control myoporum thrips. Nevertheless, these beneficials may be severely outnumbered.
Resorting to contact insecticides will likely end in frustration—these cannot reach the inner thrips sanctum. Dinotefuran, which must be applied by a licensed pesticide applicator, has shown some promise. Still, resorting to draconian methods in an effort to save an ornamental memento may not be the best choice. These pesticides greatly harm other beneficials and pollinators that may reside in the neighborhood.
In the end, it appears that not much has changed: thrips are here to stay and systematically destroy this coastal icon. Perhaps the most logical solution is to plant a variety of Myoporum that is not susceptible to thrips. Flexibility, we know, is often the most sensible solution.
Two plants I found that may be good replacements are Griselinia littoralis and Laurus nobili (sweet bay). These two, when viewed from a distance (particularly if your vision is aging like mine) may remind you of those youthful days. And then you can have the best of both worlds—a trip down memory lane without the tiny insects.
By Andrea Peck
If you are a fan of that little green sprite known as cilantro, you may you may have heard about the recent spate of food-borne illness in the form of cyclosporiasis has hit the news. Over 300 people in 26 U.S. states have contracted the illness after eating infected cilantro that has been traced back to a number of farms which reportedly had unsanitary conditions.
You do the math.
But, why buy it? Though it is a little tricky, cilantro can be grown at home. It is small enough that it can be planted in a container. I'd say you can even grow it in a sunny window indoors. But, the best thing about cilantro is the size of its seed. Forget those tiny seeds that all stick together like, ahem, carrots. Cilantro seeds are big enough for most people to get a good grip on them and plunk them solidly in soil.
Cilantro is a bright perky plant that is easily placed amongst ornamentals if you are so inclined. But, one source stated that giving cilantro its own area of the garden is best. Allow the plant to go to seed and it will reseed itself.
Fall is a good time to set out plants, so I'd say right now is when you want to get those seeds in the ground. Cilantro is known for its quick turn-around time. It grows – and bolts before you know it, particularly in warm weather. Catch those leaves while you can, allow some to go to seed and you should have enough to keep you in business throughout the fall. In climates where there is no hard frost, such as some of our coastal areas, cilantro may continue growing throughout the winter.
Cilantro appreciates a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. The best area to grow it is in a cool but bright area of the garden. Heat above 75°F promotes bolting and an unfortunate flavor change. This plant must be kept moist. You can extend the season by cutting for use. Our sun, even on the coast can be searing, so try a shadier spot for best results.
If you can't keep up with this rapido plant, you may be pleased to see that when it goes to seed it is quite attractive. The once edible leaves become smaller and more delicate. White flowers crown the plant. It is like a dainty ethnic visitor. The flowers turn to seed and those are what we call coriander. They can be harvested and used in cooking as well. It's a win-win.
Of course, the taste of fresh cilantro is worth the panic you feel as you run out to the garden and check for signs of bolting. Used in many foods, especially Latin and Indian dishes, you can see from the deep green color of the leaves that it is healthy accompaniment to any meal.
For more reading on the “Cilantro Scandal” see this link: