- Author: Marcy Sousa
The fall equinox (also known as the autumnal equinox) took place on Wednesday, September 22. It is officially fall and it's the time of year when we are awed by the color and beauty of trees in our neighborhood, but have you ever wondered why they change colors?
During the spring and summer the leaves have served as factories where most of the food necessary for the tree's growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its characteristic green color. Chlorophyll helps leaves collect sunlight to make food for the tree.
Leaves contain three different types of pigment: Chlorophyll (greens), Xanthophylls (yellows) and Carotenoids (oranges). Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring. The summer sunlight triggers the leaves to keep making more chlorophyll.
As the days start to get shorter and cooler, the tree begins to produce hormones to initiate leaf senescence. Senescence is the process of leaves' breaking down complex molecules into smaller soluble ones, such as sugars and amino acids. These smaller compounds are resorbed by the tree and stored over winter for use in spring. This allows the tree to store energy that would otherwise be lost when the tree sheds its leaves at the end of senescence.
Leaf senescence also includes the formation of the abscission layer, a barrier that forms at the base of the leaf stem (petiole) and severs the flow of materials between the leaf and tree.
Anthocyanins (reds) forms as plant sugars accumulate in the leaves because of the ever-constricting abscission layer. The more sunlight a leaf is exposed to, the more sugar is produced; the more sugars that accumulate in the leaf, the more anthocyanins are produced, and the redder the leaf becomes.
The autumn foliage of some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, display mostly browns. All these colors are due to the mixing of varying amounts of the chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.
The weather plays a big part in how long the fall color will stay on the trees. Low temperatures encourages anthocyanin formation which produces that bright red you see in trees like maples. Frost can weaken the vibrant colors and if it's an early frost it can cause the leaves to fall off before they've even turned colors. Drought years can also cause leaves to change color earlier than usual or fall off early.
What should you do with the leaves that fall?
Don't feel obligated to get rid of every last fallen leaf in your yard this fall. Leaves make a terrific mulch that's free, helps suppress weeds and at the same time fertilize the soil as they break down. You can convert leaves into organic matter for your garden by composting them. Some leaves take a long time to decompose. To speed up the process, chop leaves with a lawn mower before adding them to your compost pile. Chopping leaves also prevents them from matting together to form a waterproof surface, a common problem with large leaves.
Leaves that collect beneath shrubs and in planting beds provide winter protection for beneficial insects. Many bird species forage in the leaf layer searching for insects and other invertebrates to eat. If the leaves are falling on your lawn, you do want to get them raked up before they smother the grass.
Get creative. You can make a scarecrow by stuffing leaves into old clothes. Use attractive fall leaves and other fall garden treasures to make creative dining table centerpieces. Having dinner guests? Make place cards by writing guests' names on sturdy leaves using a gold or glitter pen. If you are looking to have a little fun, you can always rake them into a big pile and jump in them or have a leaf fight with the kids.
- Author: Flo Pucci, Master Gardener
Water is the most vital resource on our planet; a person can survive for nearly a month without food, but one may die without water in less than a week. Generally speaking, in every cultural ecosystem, water is heavily inscribed with social, spiritual, political, and environmental meaning, and these have a powerful effect upon a pattern of water use.
We depend upon water to survive, and we are closely entwined to tiny water molecules moving around our world. Throughout history, we have come to rely upon seasonal rain, snowmelt from mountains, and water recharging our underground reservoirs. As a result, the sites in which cities and entire civilizations have developed have been determined by the location and profusion of freshwater resources. Therefore, water is crucial for all people regardless of class and culture and the tremendous diversity of plants and animals that count on it for their daily survival.
The Earth's water cycle began 3.8 billion years ago when rain fell on a cooling Earth, forming the oceans. The rain came from water vapor that escaped the magma in the Earth's molten core into the atmosphere. Energy from the sun helped power the water cycle, and Earth's gravity kept water in the atmosphere from leaving the Planet. Consequently, the water cycle is the continuous process that connects all that water. It joins the Earth's oceans, land, and atmosphere.
Frequently, Earth is called the "Water Planet," and most people usually think there is plenty of water to go around. However, it is imperative to understand that NO new water is created during the water cycle. All of our water on Earth is recycled, and there is a limited amount of fresh water available in the world. Of all the water on Earth, more than 99% is unusable by humans and many other living things. However, from all of the water present on Earth, only 3% of Earth's water is freshwater. The U.S. Geological Survey states that a large portion of the 3% of freshwater is inaccessible. More than 68% of the planet's freshwater reside in icecaps and glaciers and less than 30% in groundwater. Only 0.3% of our freshwater is in the surface water of lakes, rivers, and swamps.
So, given its tiny proportions on Earth, freshwater is a vital global issue. Indeed, it seems surprising that freshwater so essential to support life on Earth is in short supply. Therefore, with this knowledge comes an understanding that we have to utilize this resource very wisely.
According to NASA, the most severe Earth science and environmental policy issues threatening civilization are the possible changes in the Earth's water cycle due to climate change. The science community now largely agrees that the Earth's climate is experiencing changes in response to natural fluctuations, including solar variability and increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols. These changes may deeply affect atmospheric water vapor concentrations, clouds, precipitation patterns, and runoff and streamflow patterns.
A region's temperature also relies on the water cycle. Through the water cycle, heat is exchanged and temperatures fluctuate. As water evaporates, for example, it absorbs energy and cools the local environment. As water condenses, it realizes energy and warms the local environment.
How Climate Change is Affecting the Water Cycle and Water Availability in California.
California has a "Mediterranean climate," with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. For many years, this environment has remained relatively stable. However, our climate is changing; we have seen the average annual temperature increase steadily since 1895, with the rate of warming accelerating since the mid-1970s.
At the same time, freezing level elevation has risen by about 500 feet, and winter chill time, essential for many fruit trees to produce flowers and fruit, has decreased. Extreme heat events have also increased in duration and frequency. Our water resources also show signs of stress. Spring snowmelt runoff has decreased, indicating warmer winter temperatures and more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. Sea levels have also risen over the past century; 8 inches recorded in the bay area of California.
Drought "It is not just how much precipitation you get-it is also about whether or not it stays in the ground."
UC Davis states that California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of California climate.
Drought is described as a lengthy dry weather produced by the lack of precipitation, creating severe water shortages for some activity, population, or ecological systems. Drought is also thought of as an extended imbalance between precipitation and evaporation. According to the Department of Water Resources (DWR), drought is based on water users' impacts. Furthermost, people think of a drought as a hot, dry weather condition with little to no rain or snow. However, drought is not just a weather phenomenon. Drought can also happen when supplies can't keep up with demand. Drought impacts vary with locations, and it is felt first by people most dependent on rainfall, such as landowners using dryland range or rural populations relying on wells in a low-yield rock formation. Drought impact increases with the length of a drought, as surplus supplies in reservoirs are depleted and water levels in the groundwater basins decline.
Drought also causes public and safety health issues, as well as economic and environmental impacts. Public and safety health impacts are correlated with devastating wildfire risks and drinking water shortage risks for small water systems and private residential wells in rural areas. Other impacts include the cost to homeowners due to loss of residential landscaping; degradation of urban environment due to loss of landscaping; agricultural land left fallow, and associated job loss; deterioration of fisheries habitat; and tree mortality with damage to forest ecosystems.
Climate change affects California's water resources as evidenced by changes in snowpack, sea levels, and river flows. As we seek to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change, responsible management of California's water resources is essential for the long-term health of our state.
Helpful hints to help reduce water use outside your home.
Use water-wise plants, check with your local water agency on the best plants for your area. It is best to use water-wise, California-native plants. Installing drip irrigation and adding a smart controller can save 15 gallons each time you water. Use a broom to clean outdoor areas to save 18 gallons every day. Use drought-resistant trees and plants that save 30-60 gallons per 1000 sq. ft. each watering. Set your mower blades to 3", which encourages deep roots, and save 16-50 gallons per day. Adjust Sprinkler heads and fix leaks which saves 12-15 gallons each time you water.
For more information please visit:
- Author: Regina Brennan, Master Gardener
No matter how old we are, when Fall comes, we inevitably hear the call of the garden: “Come, make haste, clean up, clear out and plan for next year's garden.” If we have been avid gardeners for most of our adult lives, it is an exciting pull of the heart, for Fall planning and preparation are the groundwork of our upcoming gardening season.
Before we get too far into the joy of the planning season, it is prudent to take a serious assessment of where we are from a health standpoint. Just because we may be in our 70's and beyond, we can continue to experience the joy of working with nature in the cycle of life in the garden by modifying our expectations and being honest with ourselves.
In doing research for this topic, I came across a statement in a delightful book called The Age-Proof Garden by Patty Cassidy. I will borrow her quote because I can't think of a better way to say it: “While your energy might be less and your capabilities more limited as you get older, spending time in the garden—digging, sowing, cultivating, fertilizing and harvesting—will keep you healthy, strong, positive and happy.” I choose to focus on this positive note, not just because I am an eternal optimist, but because I place a high priority on gardening activities in my retirement years. Careful planning while keeping an eye on the realities of unrelenting arthritis, along with balance and mobility issues, can result in being able to continue gardening for as long as it gives us pleasure.
Our goal as senior gardeners is to strive to eliminate stress that we experience when we set our expectations on outcomes experienced in our younger years. We can set ourselves up for stress and disappointment when our ambitions and dreams are not able to be met because we neglected to do the necessary reality checks. Seniors need the maturity and wisdom to recognize that they need to make compromises and adjustments if they want to continue having a positive relationship with gardening. There are three main areas to consider: Our garden environment, our health, and our energy level.
Downsizing and simplifying our home garden can be an adventure and an opportunity for us to become creative problem solvers. One of the things that may be difficult for some is to be able to identify areas where we need to have outside help. It can become expensive to hire landscapers to help rework a home garden into a simpler footprint that requires less care. Large fruit trees are high maintenance items requiring spraying, thinning of fruit, climbing on ladders to harvest fruit, picking up fruit off the ground ,and pruning, all of which can require more energy and balance than we have left. If hiring a professional or family member to do this for us is not feasible, it is okay to bid our tree farewell and have it removed. Ladders are not a seniors friend. Another area to consider is evaluating high maintenance shrubs and perennials that require constant deadheading and or pruning. It is perfectly acceptable to offer such a plant to a friend who has admired it. If no one wants it, the thing to do is to say your goodbye, shovel prune it, and put it in the green compost can to be hauled away. It is not always easy to say goodbye, but it is more important to put a priority on your own health and well being.
Once we have achieved level ground, eliminated tripping hazards and swapped out high maintenance for low maintenance plants, it is time to find that special place in our garden to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labors and to enjoy the memories of our garden adventures. It is even better to swap garden stories with a friend and a nice cup of your favorite beverage.
- Author: Melissa Berg, Master Gardener
Longitudinal research provides both individuals and their attending organizations essential data streams germane to very specific issues. Across the United States, pollinator decline remains a "hot button" given its impact upon our ability to continue growing food. The issue of growth/re-growth after forest fires is of particular concern given the extreme drought conditions that continue to plague the western states and invasive species are something that adversely affects both flora and fauna. Each of these issues has engendered a great deal of research over time and continues to be at the center of scientific inquiry, be it public or private.
Citizen science (also known as "community science") is the concept adopted by agencies and organizations that solicits voluntary research results collected specifically by private individuals. This line of data acquisition allows for anyone (with any background) the joyous opportunity to contribute meaningful material via a collective effort to further scientific understanding of key issues, often with a local impact.
This method of data collection affords researchers the ability to obtain large amounts of information, often across broader geographic regions, in a much shorter time span than would otherwise be possible on their own (even with an investigative team effort). In turn, the collectively acquired data illuminates larger conservation efforts as well as educating participants about an issue/species already of personal interest.
A few of the groups that have embraced the public in their conservation efforts are the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Xerces Society. Each of these groups has adopted and created projects drawing upon community science. CNPS uses the iNaturalist App in their "Fire Followers Campaign” which tracks emergent and recovering plant species in the aftermath of forest fires. Xerces Society has created separate projects spanning multiple states in an effort to spotlight invertebrate issues such as the Monarch Butterfly count in California as well as the Bumble Bee Atlas projects specific to the Pacific Northwest, Iowa, California, Nebraska, and Missouri. California Department of Fish and Wildlife is home to the "California Invasive Species Action Week" which goes far beyond target dates to include activities throughout the year around the state for both adults and children as well as spawning both live and virtual events to inform and engage the public about invasive species and its toll on our natural resources.
Events and Projects:
A number of apps and sites exist solely to engage and promote community involvement in issues that someone may already hold dear. Research is not something that many individuals may consider as a parallel to their own specific interest. The University of Arizona created SciStarter as a bridge between science and citizen.
Each of these organizations not only recognizes but embraces the need for public engagement in order to assure that conservation efforts become a part of the public consciousness moving forward.
- Author: Constance Starner, Master Gardener
Although spring is a wonderful time to see many native plants in bloom, each season has its own beauty, and a visit to a native plant garden now can provide inspiration for the fall planting season. California fuchsias (Epilobium spp.), asters (Aster spp.), California buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.), and desert willows (Chilopsis linearis) may still be blooming, and toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries are starting to color. The seed heads of native grasses provide interesting texture, and the leaves of deciduous trees like maples (Acer spp.) are beginning to color.
The San Joaquin County Master Gardeners' Learning Landscape includes six distinct but interconnected gardens: The All-Stars Garden, the Foliage Garden, the Edible Landscape, the Mediterranean Garden, the Pollinator Garden, and the California Native Garden which showcases a variety of native plants adapted to our region. It is sited on the grounds of the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center and maintained by Master Gardeners volunteers.
Learning Landscape: https://ucanr.edu/sites/sjcoeh/The_Learning_Landscape/
Open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day at no charge. Address: 2101 E. Earhart Avenue, Stockton, CA 95206
The Sacramento Master Gardeners' California Native Garden at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center within Fair Oaks Park. The California Native Garden is one of six gardens within the Water Efficient Landscape demonstration area, with plants that were chosen because they work well in residential landscapes and are suited to the Sacramento area. Visitors will also learn about water-efficient landscape techniques such as the use of drip irrigation, compost, and mulch.
The Water Efficient Landscape Gardens website, which includes a plant list which can be found here.
The Mary Wattis Brown Garden of California Native Plants is one of over 20 gardens spread over 100 acres at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Gardens. Here, visitors can see an extensive collection of natives that work well in home landscapes, including a native meadow for those who are considering replacing their lawn. If you wish to purchase plants, the Arboretum Teaching Nursery holds plant sales in the fall and spring. The sale starts this year on October 19 for members, and after that for the public. More information will be published in their newsletter, The Leaflet. Subscribe online here.
The Arboretum and Public Gardens are open to the public 7 days a week, 24 hours a day at no charge. Parking is free on the weekends but $1.50 per hour or $10 per day in the visitor lots during the week. Click here for more information about visiting.
The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden is worth a visit to see not only plants native to California, but a wide range of plants from all over the world—nearly 17,000 plants in all—one of the largest and most diverse collections in the US. The plants in the California area are grouped according to their communities, which include alpine fell-field, chaparral, coastal beach and dune, desert, oak woodland and pine forests, pygmy forest, redwood forest, riparian, serpentine, freshwater marsh, and vernal pool. Here is their website to help plan your visit.
Open from 10 am to 5 pm for general admission, but a reservation is required. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for seniors. Parking is limited and costs $1 per hour. Address: 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720
And if you can't visit in person, you can take a virtual tour by clicking here.
For extensive information on nearly 8,000 California native plants—plant descriptions and growth requirements, areas where they grow naturally, the species of wildlife they support, and even where to buy them—the California Native Plant Society's Calscape website provides a wealth of information.
And for finding places to view native plants in the wild, a planting guide, and help identifying native plants you observe, the Calflora website is another excellent resource.