- Author: Debbie LeDoux
A passion for gardening inspires many gardeners to want to learn more so they can become better gardeners. This desire to learn more leads many gardeners like Gretchen Heimlich-Villalta to the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener program.
When she learned that the Master Gardener program provides trainees with a solid science-based foundation for growing plants sustainably as well as teaching their communities to do the same, she decided it would be a perfect fit to accomplish her goals. She applied and was accepted into the 18-week intensive training program, graduating in July 2014 as a UCCE Master Gardener.
Gretchen's training as a Master Gardener was also been a significant factor in her decision to pursue a degree in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) ucanr.edu/Integrated Pest Managment at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) where she also teaches IPM classes. Master Gardener training also helped Gretchen make a career change to an arborist position at the Disneyland Resort. Currently, she is a Plant Pathology PhD student at UC Riverside.
Gretchen has had the opportunity to work on many exciting Master Gardener projects. For the past two years she has been teaching UCCE Master Gardener trainees about the Invasive Shot Hole Borer. She is also excited about a recent opportunity to write Integrated Pest Management (IPM) blogs for the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County Newsletter. Gretchen is an accomplished and engaging writer, so it is no surprise that she was asked if she would be interested in writing blogs for the newsletter. Be sure to watch for her blogs in upcoming issues. I am sure you will find them interesting, well-written and informative!
Most Saturday mornings, you will find Gretchen and other volunteers working at the garden. They provide socially distanced, hands-on instruction in sustainable gardening practices to people interested in growing food in their own gardens. The volunteers and visitors help plant, manage pests and harvest food that is also consumed by them. Gretchen enjoys the social aspect of seeing people come together and eat the food they have helped produce at the garden.
Many events such as workshops, classes, Girl Scout events, food swaps, and potlucks, to name just a few, have been held at the garden.
Like many Master Gardeners, Gretchen has had an interesting gardening journey. Her love of gardening started when she tried growing vegetables in sections of her parent's yard. That was where she discovered root knot nematode. She says that pretty much everything she grew back then was eaten by beetles and slugs. She has certainly come a long way in her gardening knowledge!
Gretchen did not have any prior public speaking or presenting experience before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener. Although she is still getting comfortable with presenting, she enjoys it more as her presentation experience grows. She has discovered that attendees of her presentations are eager to learn about gardening. Their enthusiasm during her presentations inspires her to share her gardening and IPM knowledge with them. She connects with her audience in a way that makes her an engaging presenter. The realization that nearly everyone has had stage fright at some time helps her relax and enjoy presenting, something we can all relate to.
Master Gardeners continually learn new things to make them better sustainable gardening volunteer educators. For Gretchen, this happened when she attended a presentation by Yvonne Savio, retired Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County after 21 years. During the presentation, Yvonne said, "You're going to be shocked by this..." as she pulled a vegetable out of its pot and began removing the roots that had begun circling the perimeter. Seeing a plant's roots being pruned was especially enlightening to Gretchen.
After years of working as an arborist and seeing trees fail because they were pot-bound before they were planted, Gretchen has learned to be bold when pruning a tree's roots at planting time. It took Gretchen a long time to accept that pruning a plant's roots can be as beneficial to it as pruning the canopy. She says this process “helps trees know that they are no longer in a pot—and that they frequently live to tell the tale, as well!”
Gretchen says one of the best things about being a Master Gardener is that it connects one to a network of people with similar values and passions. Her many accomplishments, dedication to sustainable gardening, and knowledge and love of science-based gardening inspires us all to be better gardeners and volunteer educators. The Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County are proud to have Gretchen as part of our growing Master Gardener community!
Summer gardens are just around the corner and I am so here for it!! I can't wait to harvest some fresh home-grown tomatoes! I'm looking forward to some sweet, warmed by the sun, fresh off the tree apricots and peaches. I'm delighted to see my deciduous trees leaf out. (One benefit of the dry winter is less mildew on my crape myrtle tree and roses; I'm trying to look on the bright side!). I'm in the glow of spring and don't want it to end. But, long summer days are right around the corner and I am determined to be more prepared this year. Many people planted big quarantine gardens and now the temptation of vacation and the realities of transitioning away from working at home are on the horizon.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you keep those pandemic gardens healthy and happy as we all reenter the world:
1) Did you plant lots of seedlings this spring, or were you so great at getting them to survive and thrive that you have more than you know what to do with? Share with friends, family and neighbors! I always plan to start my own seeds but time gets away from me, so I always appreciate it when friends share their starts with me. I get to follow up on my dreams of summer veggies, and my friends have someone to give some extra plants to…win, win!
2) Heading back to work, or a more normal work schedule away from home? One mistake I made when I was working away from home every day was going to work in the morning when it was cool, underestimating how hot the afternoon had been and how dry my garden plants and trees had gotten while I was away during the day. I arrived home to stressed plants. I should have been more attentive to my morning watering, and watered them all deeply before I headed out. The general rule is to water during the morning, avoiding watering in the afternoon when evaporation rates are highest. Remember that, due to physiological wilt rather than a true water deficit, many plants wilt during hot afternoons because the roots simply can't take up water as fast as the plants lose water through transpiration. Most will perk up by evening. If they haven't they may need water. I love hand watering my plants, but during the summer it's easy to get behind. You might want to consider an irrigation system that can help you out, especially on those really hot days when you don't feel like venturing outside! Soaker hoses are great choices and can be easily connected to garden hoses.
3) Heading on vacation? I know many of us are eager to get out and see the world and family and friends again! While at home for the last year you may have started an amazing garden that now is going to miss you while you are gone! A few tips for traveling: Do you have a crop that will be ready to harvest while you are gone? Consider asking a friend, relative or neighbor to come over and harvest for you. While they are there, they can check on your irrigation system too, or maybe they can help water in exchange for enjoying you harvest. If you are going to set up an irrigation system to water your plants during your travels, you should set it up a few weeks ahead of time so that you can monitor it and make sure it's delivering the right amount of water, and the water is going where it's needed (in the root zone!). Also check the timing of your irrigation and make sure the water is not running off. If it is you may need to cycle your watering system so that it runs for a shorter period of time before its run again (and maybe even a third time) until your plants get the amount of water they need. When you water cycle, the idea is to water soon enough after the previous cycle that the soil has not completely dried out again.
4) You might want to have some shade cloth to prevent heat injury on sensitive plants on days that get above about 105°F, so you don't need to run out at the last minute. You can also use a light colored, light weight sheet in an emergency. Watch the angles of the sun and plan ahead where you might need to add shade cloth on those hot days. Just make sure you have a structure to support it so that it will not squash your plants. If you'll be traveling, spend some time before you leave with whoever is checking on your garden while you're out of town to go over how shade cloth should be used.
Here's a few other suggestions for success this summer that we could all use:
1) We are going into summer dry, dry, dry!! I have been amazed at just how dry (and in some cases almost hydrophobic) my soil is. We are in a drought and that means our trees are facing severe damage if not kept adequately watered. Be sure to water your trees deeply to get them through spring/summer. Under water restrictions, remember to prioritize your trees sand edibles. Your flowers and lawn are much easier to replace.
2) Water early in the morning when evapotranspiration rates are lowest.
3) Applying mulch to your trees and landscape can help keep soil temperatures down and also help keep moisture in and weeds out. In fire-prone areas, avoid organic mulches. Pebbles or rocks are a better idea. Keep mulch away from the base of your trees 3 to 4 inches deep (organic) and 2 inches deep (inorganic).
4) Some native plants, like sages and salvias, go summer dormant to help conserve moisture, but it doesn't mean they need more water if they are well established. When in doubt reach out to our Master Gardener helpline. Our volunteers can help you figure out if your native plant is going summer dormant or if it needs assistance from you.
5) Drink lots of water! Don't forget about your plants, and don't forget to take care of yourself in the heat too!
As always, Master Gardeners are here to help along the way! We will continue to offer our free classes online and look forward to returning to in-person events as COVID-allows. We provide education in the largest county in the continental USA, and travel distance and climate zones vary greatly across its 20,000+ square miles. We have found that offering classes via Zoom save time, energy, and connect people all over the county (and beyond!) with each other. But we also realize that conversing and being together in person is essential and we do look forward to seeing you soon! Our Master Gardener volunteers look forward to reconnecting in person with our many Farmers Market, community garden, and school partners later this summer. We will continue to ensure that our virtual and in-person classes are customized to the time of year, different climate zones in the valley, desert, and mountains and any unusual weather patterns we might have. This helps ensure that when you attend our classes you know you will learn something that will help you out that day, week or month. Check out our June free classes on our website @ http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/; we look forward to seeing you there!
Vegetables are grouped into warm and cool season varieties and there are a number of factors that decide if a plant is a cool or warm season type. Cool season vegetables are ones that do well with cooler soil temperatures and shorter, cooler days. The parts of the plant that we eat during the cool season are leaves, stems, roots, and immature flower heads. These parts of the plants are full of vitamins and minerals and are often more nutritious than warm season vegetables. The plants we put in our summer veggie garden (warm season vegetables) enjoy warmer soil temperatures, and like or at least tolerate the long hot days of summer. Most of the things we harvest from our edible garden at that time of year are fruits and are super delicious, but not quite as nutritious as our winter harvest (a great reason to try both a warm and cool season garden in Southern California where the climate is great for growing year round in the valleys and even some parts of the desert and mountains).
Timing your summer, or warm season, edibles can be a little tricky because we never know if we are going to have a cool or hot spring….or like this year both all in the same day! As gardeners, we follow local planting guides, and then we also just have to be prepared to provide frost protection for our fragile warm season vegetables if it gets too cold, or shade cloth if the temperatures get too high for your new transplants. Here are a few other tips for planning your warm season garden:
1) When planting seeds, work backwards! Think about what time of the year is best for those plants to go into the ground, and then figure out how long it will take them to sprout and then grow another 4 to 6 weeks. That will let you know when it's a good time to plant your seeds.
2) If you are trying to get another cool season crop in this spring then you should do some quick calculating! Figure out how long it's going to be from planting to harvesting and then work backwards. So, for example, if you want to harvest broccoli, and it will start bolting (going to flower) when it gets too warm, you want to plant it with enough time to grow and mature before our warm season comes (which is a little hard to predict, but generally is around May). With that in mind, usually a second broccoli crop needs to be planted around February. Another example is lettuce, which will also bolt if it gets too warm. Lettuce can be grown a little later in the season if we have a cool spring, and some early harvest varieties can be ready in 4 to 6 weeks. So, the last lettuce crop can usually be planted around the beginning or middle of April and can be harvested before the heat arrives. If you'd like to try to fit in more than one cool season crop a season, look for early harvest varieties so that they can mature before it gets too warm. That idea can also be used for summer crops if you live in an area with reallllly hot summers. You can look for an early harvest variety of your warm season crop, like tomatoes, so that you can harvest before it's too hot.
3) While nature throws us lots of variable weather if you are prepared with frost protection ideas ( or shade cloth) you can provide some protection to your fruits and vegetables during spring and fall when we are in our transition seasons.
4) Planted seeds to early? First, take note for next year, so you can adjust your planting….and two….that's just part of gardening and learning your area…..so don't give up! Sometimes we plant at the right time, but we get a late frost or early heat and it affects our planting plans. If you have tomatoes that are too tall, plant them a little deep, and for your other vegetables you can reach out to the Master Gardener helpline with photos and we can help you make the best of your plantings.
Growing vegetables can be a frustrating and exciting adventure!! There are lots of challenges, but remember it's done literally every day of the year around the world….and you can do it too!! If your out in your garden and facing challenges or have questions don't forget that the Master Gardener helpline is here for you day or night, so send your emails with your photos and we can help you troubleshoot all aspects of gardening, from planting to watering to fertilizing and harvesting….and the only silly question is the one you don't ask!!
What motivated you to be a University of California Cooperative Extension San Bernardino County Master Gardener?
I first heard about the Master Gardener program on a camping trip. A family friend's mother was a “Master Gardener” in Northern California, and I remember thinking “what is that!?” and “how cool is that?!?!?!” After that initial introduction to the program, I started meeting more and more people who had been involved with the program and UC Cooperative Extension and I needed to find out more! At the time I was caring for my grandmother and had two really young kiddos at the house, so I didn't really think I too could become a Master Gardener, I just thought it was something that I could do “one day.” My grandma lived to be 100 and just after she passed that day came! I saw an ad in the newspaper highlighting the program and saying the application was open and I thought, let me just try, I might actually get in….and somehow felt it was a sign from my grandma that “now was the time!” I had always loved gardening and grew up in a family who gardened to get fresh veggies, gardened for beauty, gardened to support wildlife and who had gardened for therapy….it was in my blood! I would always notice plants as I would travel and hike and would always find myself answering gardening questions for my friends. I had no idea there was a program out there that encompassed all I loved about gardening and science and also was focused on giving back to the community. So when I did get accepted to the program I was over the moon, and when I attended my first class it was next level exciting!! I shed a few tears on my way home from that first class because it brought together all of my life experiences in a way that made sense. I had worked for a small company in Davis and raised insects, I had worked as a scuba dive guide and lived on a small island where people still really lived off the land, and I had spent many of my grandma's last years with her in the garden, seeing how through all the loss she experienced in life the garden kept her going and renewed her soul. These jobs and roles, that didn't seem to have anything in common all became important to my new role as “Master Gardener” trainee. All of my experiences and knowledge that seemed so random, now all found uses in the program, and it made me feel complete and I knew that I had found a home in the program as a volunteer.
What were some of the projects you enjoyed as a Master Gardener (and wish you still had time to do as the Program Coordinator)?.
I really enjoyed all aspects of volunteering for the Master Gardener program but found a real liking for working information tables and presenting. It was so cool to share gardening information with people and be able to help people trouble shoot their gardening issues, but beyond that see the spark in people's faces when they started talking about their backyards, or their herbs they had growing in the window, or the plant that their great aunt gave them. At information tables people who just be passing by and I would say “Do you like to garden?” and some people would say “Oh yes” and get excited right away and others, who were not sure what my angle was, would be a little more guarded, and say “Yes” or “Maybe I do but I have a black thumb” but as I would ask them a few more questions they, too, would get animated. It became abundantly clear that no matter someone's age, or background or economic status, that gardening was a common interest, and it was always a topic that sparked passionate responses in people. They may rave about their herbs or curse gophers, but either way they were all of the sudden animated and deeply engaged in the topic of gardening, and it energized me so each and every time I could I would work an event!
Another volunteer project that I was really interested in was to help spread the word about citrus greening disease. I grew up in a small citrus grove and have many memories of the sweet smell of blossoms and fresh fruit off the trees. When I found out how citrus in Florida had been so devastated by the disease, I wanted to know what I could do to help protect our citrus trees and the best thing I could do was educate the public! The Master Gardener program gave me the opportunity to really make a difference, and just like working at information tables and presenting I could see how people got so engaged when I started talking to them about the disease and they wanted to know more about what they could do! Without the Master Gardener program I felt like I was just one person trying to get the word out about protecting trees, but as part of a larger group of Master Gardeners we worked as a team to get information out and keep the public up to date.
Seed saving is also a topic near and dear to my heart, and starting our San Bernardino Regional Seed Library as part of the Master Gardener program was another one of my favorite volunteer activities! It's amazing to see a pea go from a hard little seed to a plant and then save seeds from it. It made me feel so much more accomplished as a gardener and also made me feel connected to thousands of years of humanity since growing and saving seeds is what we have done for generations. Sharing education on seed saving with the public as a Master Gardener is such an amazing experience because you can see someone begin to feel more self-sufficient and empowered when they learn and practice seed saving. The pandemic has also highlighted why seed saving can be such an important life skill for all of us to have, and knowing how to grow a seed brings someone one step closer to food security.
What motivated you to apply for the Master Gardener Coordinator position (we're so glad you did!)
When I became the Master Gardener Program Coordinator for the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program, it took my love of the program to the next level. To watch our group of volunteers come into the program I could see the same life changing transformations going on in them that I recognized in myself. So many people talking about growing up in a family who gardens, or that had turned to gardening when they had losses or health issues. I could see that these groups of people, who on the surface seemed to have very little in common, end up having so much in common: their real love of gardening, their wanting to make the planet a better healthier place for generations to come and their drive to elevate the community. Every one of the Master Gardener volunteers in the program inspire me because here they are, working, raising families, caring for loved ones and, with all of that going on in their lives, they also want to make time to share what they know in their heart: that gardening, growing some of your own food, creating habitats for pollinators and wildlife and making sustainable gardening choices all lead to a sense of joy and fulfillment that I think only gardening and growing can bring.
Being a volunteer before I was the Coordinator really helped put me in the shoes of the volunteers. I knew what it was like to be nervous about an upcoming presentation; I knew what it was like to spend a Saturday working an event and what it was like to answer gardening questions (or say “That's a great question! Reach out to our helpline so we can do some research for you and get you an answer!”). I knew what could cause volunteers anxiety and also what parts of volunteering were so rewarding. This helps me coach them through their struggles, and also helps me remind them about how good it feels to help someone with a gardening question that they haven't been able to solve, or to do a presentation and see people get excited about gardening! Since I remember my first days of class and that feeling of all of my random jobs and experiences came together, I could also help volunteers who would not be sure if they were really up to the task of being an official “Master Gardener” see how their diverse experiences (that on the surface might not seem like assets to the program) were really part of the key to them successfully teaching and sharing gardening with the public.
Do applicants to the Master Gardener program need to have a strong background in gardening to be successful volunteers?
While having gardening experience is a great thing as a Master Gardener, it's really not the most important part of being a Master Gardener. Learning to garden well is a life long journey, so the Master Gardener program, with all of the training it offers, will help you grow your skills as a gardener, and teach you many different aspects of gardening. What volunteers really bring to the program is themselves. Their mish mash of life experiences, talents and interests. We have many volunteers who are great at organizing or program development and administration, so when trainees share their “non-gardening superpowers” we say “Great! we have jobs for you!!” We do lots of public facing events, presentations and demos, but without those behind the scenes folks it couldn't happen. We also have trainees who share how gardening helped them overcome loss or a serious health issue. For those folks we say “Great!” because they can show people how gardening can heal their heart and help them find joy and health in life. Then we have those folks who come into the Master Gardener program with a love of community and want to “be the change they want to see in the world,” and to those people…you guessed it…. we say “Great!” because that is one of the cores of our mission as Master Gardeners, to take peer reviewed research and information and get it out to the public in ways that can create positive and lasting outcomes for families and communities. We also have those people who have a skill level to present research and scientific topics in a way that makes it seem doable and relatable…..for those members of the public who think “I want to do that but it's too hard, or “I have a black thumb” we can help share vital information in a way that doesn't seem intimidating or out of their reach.
What are some non-gardening ways Master Gardeners impact people?
The UCCE Master Gardener program really brings in all aspects of humanity in a way that has such a positive outcome. We all need to eat, and wouldn't it be cool to know how to grow some of your own food? We all want to live on a healthy planet, so would it be great to know how we can make a difference in our yard or home for a healthier planet? We all experience anxiety and struggles and wouldn't it be great if there was a garden coach there to help those who are struggling see that the garden can heal them too? Well, that's what we are as Master Gardeners…….people who can help the community with all that! I always say “We are like batman waiting by the phone” to answer all of your questions about pests and watering and growing, and it seems kind of silly to say that….but really we are there for the public, waiting to support them in all of their gardening efforts, and ready to help them find success in their gardens!
`Last year we made an Earth Day video and my opening line was “I am proud to be part of a program that celebrates Earth Day everyday” and it's so true! For those of you out there considering reaching out to the Master Gardener program to ask your plant questions, but you think they might be silly questions, or you don't want to bother us, just know the only silly question is the one you don't ask! We are excited to help you with your growing and love a challenge, so no question is too basic or too complicated, so send an email! Also, for those of you considering applying to the Master Gardener program but aren't sure if its right for you, this is my advice: if the program seems interesting, then it's already right for you! The skills you don't have yet as a gardener you will develop in time, and seeing that spark in people who have shared something about their garden with you, or who have had gardening questions answered, is one of the most rewarding things I have experienced
Coming from the role of passionate Master Gardener volunteer into a leadership role has given me a unique perspective on what it takes to get projects in the community done, and what it takes to provide guidance for volunteers. First and foremost, having been a volunteer for several years makes me feel a deep appreciation for the commitment volunteers make to the training course to become a Master Gardener, and also the commitment it takes for volunteer's families to support those efforts. While we do what we can to make the class work with the students, it's still an 18 week course, and that's a definite time commitment! Once trainees finish the coursework, it takes some time to figure out how to “Master Garden!” While many of our Master Gardeners have been teaching their friends and families for years, it is a little different to lead gardening presentations and projects. And yet, despite all of the things Master Gardeners need to learn to teach and empower the community, our volunteers do it with pride and commitment. To say I am proud of our volunteers would be an understatement! The wealth of knowledge that they bring from their previous jobs and life experiences make their contributions unique and diverse. The volunteers in our county (and I'm sure other counties too!) show their heart and selfless dedication to improving the environment and the community every day and it is really remarkable to watch!
In San Bernardino County we are always listening to the needs of county residents and trying to see how we can help improve food security and environmental, physical and mental health through gardening. We have begun teaching monthly classes in Spanish to expand our outreach and look forward in the next few years to expanding beyond Spanish into other languages as well. We feel it is important that when you are learning you have access to information in the language you are most comfortable with. While many community members do speak English it's important that we meet them where they are comfortable so the learning can be most effective. We also try to encourage all interested members of the public who think it's a good fit to apply to the Master Gardener program so they can represent the communities they live in, and let us know how we can bring gardening in all its forms into their local neighborhoods. Representation matters and we want communities to see their fellow community members as gardeners and garden teachers so they can see themselves in their teachers.
What are some of your current passions to move the program to the next level?
My dream is to get gardens into every school in the county and to support community gardens that might one day be in every neighborhood. It has been wonderful to see the number of community gardens that have started going into the county during the pandemic and I hope this trend continues! Our Master Gardener volunteers are at the heart of our outreach, supporting our efforts behind the scenes to being the face of our program, and we also have our many community partners to thank as well. Our community partners include various County departments and Inland Empire Resource Conservation District. Other deeply valued partnerships are with the many water districts in the county, school districts, “Healthy Communities” initiative staff, city staff, teachers, principals, church leaders, parents, non-profit organizations, business leaders, farmers market managers and community members that connect us to projects they vision. We couldn't help people make all the positive changes and impacts made through the Master Gardener program without them!
I look forward to continuing to build relationships with our local communities throughout the county so that we can get everyone to grow a little of their own food, whether it be in small spaces or big; save resources and improve the environment though sustainable gardening practices; and have improved mental and physical health through gardening…..because I can tell you there is nothing better then poking around with my plants after a long and stressful day!! The relationship we can build with plants, the care we give them and the way they make us slow down and observe will make us better parents, better children, better community advocates and better community members over all! If you are able to get out and garden in anyway, I say “Go for it,” and if you need our support, our wonderful Master Gardener volunteers are here to help! Just email the helpline at email@example.com
Coordinators Corner: Getting to know your Sunset climate zone and growing space!
When we do presentations on growing fruit trees and vegetables and herbs, one of the first things we cover is how important it is to know your soil conditions and climate. Soil and climate are the also two things we ask gardeners about who contact us as Master Gardeners. These two things will help us determine what might be wrong with your tomatoes, your apple tree, or your lavender plants. Spending time to get to know your soil and climate will really help you understand where to place different plants, and also help you trouble shoot issues.
For more information on soils, register for our free Zoom class on April 26th ‘Getting to Know your Soils” http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/?calitem=502732&g=61974
UCANR Soil resources: https://ucanr.edu/sites/soils/Soils_for_Homes_-_Gardens/
Knowing your soil will help you determine how often and how long to water, how well your plants will grow in the location you put them in and also what types of plants will do best in your yard. Even if you are planting in pots, understanding the soil you use will help you keep your plants healthy and happy! For a quick rule of thumb about “how often should you water,” no matter what type of soil you have check the soil water retention before you add water. Dig down a little below the root zone and make sure it's as wet or dry as you think it is to avoid overwatering, a common cause of plant death in established plants (underwatering is a common cause of death for newly planted plants, that haven't established themselves yet).
Back to our climates! In California we encourage gardeners to use “Sunset” climate zones rather than “USDA” climate zones since Sunset zones focus on heat and other important factors rather than just how cold a given climate is. If you live in the mountains where you get really cold weather, either work well and it's useful to know the estimated “last frost date.” For gardeners living in the deserts and valleys the Sunset zones better reflect the weather conditions we have here in California and the different factors that influence proper selection and care.
Why does knowing your climate zones matter? Weather patterns in your area are a determiner of what species of edibles and ornamentals are suitable and can save you time and money having to start over if the wrong species are selected.
San Bernardino County alone covers at least 5 Sunset zones:
7: Lake Arrowhead
18: Chino, Ontario, Redlands
19: Upland, Montclair
These zones can be found at: https://www.sunsetwesterngardencollection.com/climate-zones/
What do these zones tell you about the area you are growing in? These zones look at factors like time of the year of rainfall, summer and winter temperatures, and also factor in things like the temperature of continental air flow. Climate zones also help you determine when you can start planting your summer edible garden and what is the best month to plant things like native plants. One other factor you should know about if you are growing fruit trees is how many “chill hours” you get in your area. While Sunset zones help you determine your growing climate, chill hours are not reflected in the zone. The number of hours you get will help you determine what types of fruit trees will do well in your area. For “chill hour” calculators check out this website: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/Chill_Calculators/
Beyond knowing your Sunset zone and chill hours in your area, there is still more to know about your growing space to really maximize your gardening experience. It is good to spend some time to get to know your microclimates. Microclimates in your yard are affected by some of the following, just to name a few: sun exposure (is your garden or space getting morning sun or afternoon sun?); wind movement through your property; radiating heat from buildings, roads/driveways and types of material used for ground cover; low spots in your yard that might allow cold to settle, and more. In my yard I have fuchsias growing in one area and a few dozen feet away I have cactus growing. By taking advantage of slightly different microclimates I am able to grow a more varied selection of plants in a small space. You do not need a big yard to have microclimates! Your porch will have different microclimates depending on which side of the porch your plants are on, getting the morning or the afternoon sun, or none at all if it's facing north for example. Your house even has different microclimates, with different sun exposure at different times of day, and different airflow depending on where your heating and cooling vents are located.
Lastly try to “hydrozone” your plants by placing your plants in groupings according to their water needs for accurate irrigation and water savings. Hydrozoning for plants in the ground can make a huge difference in the survival and success of the plants so that some don't end up overwatered and some underwatered (examples: fruit trees in a lawn, or roses with native plants). This technique also helps with potted plants as well, since groups of pots with similar water needs can be on a similar watering schedule. One note about hydrozoning: newly planted plants will need more frequent watering than their established plant buddies in a hydrozoned area. If you have a native garden with established buckwheat, and you plant a new buckwheat, remember that the newly planted buckwheat will need more water to get established then the other plants that may have been there for a few years. Supplement water applied through your irrigation system with regular waterings with a hose or watering can the first season. While that new buckwheat is properly hydrozoned, it will just have different water needs for its first season.
These many microclimates and hyrdozones can seem overwhelming, but once you get to know them you can use them to your advantage by finding “just the right spot” for your plants! When I have visited amazing home, or public botanic gardens, one of the things that makes them amazing is that they utilize microclimates to find spots around their growing space that will be well suited for their plant selections. With a little research on the needs/likes of your desired plants, and a little time getting to know your yard you can find the perfect match for the things you want to grow…..and the Master Gardeners are always here for you to answer your plant questions, and through questions we can ask, help you find the right plants for your yard! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our online “Ask a Master Gardener' times!