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!
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 email@example.com, or visit our online “Ask a Master Gardener' times!
- Author: Debbie LeDoux
This month's Spotlight Master Gardener, Valerie Kimmel-Oliva had a personal goal to complete three UCCE programs in one year which she did (fall to spring 2017-2018). She is a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener, a Master Food Preserver and a UC California Naturalist! Completing all three programs helped her achieve a better understanding of global environmental issues, desert ecosystems, sustainable gardening, plant care, and growing food.
Valerie has attended and participated in the "Agriculture in the Classroom" online conferences several times (a few with our very own UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator, Maggie O'Neil!) The conference mission is to raise awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students. The concepts presented at the conference are helpful to Valerie in the classroom. She also shares resources from the conferences with her fellow teachers and interns to teach their own students.
Valerie has been a Master Gardener since 2017, but her interest in sustainable gardening extends back many years before. Her interest in sustainability started with learning about recycling programs. Her efforts in teaching kids about the environment just snowballed from there. With a strong belief that kids are our docents for the future, Valerie teaches them how to garden appropriately. Because of what they have learned in Valerie's classes, some started their own home gardens.
Valerie has been involved with school-site and community gardens for about fifteen years. While teaching special needs students from the inner city of Richmond, California, she took on the task of re-establishing the school's neglected garden. She later joined the board for a city community garden as the teacher representative. While in the Bay Area, she also trained in the Watershed Program.
Valerie returned to the high desert in 2011. As a Special Education teacher in the Apple Valley Unified School District, she facilitated the school garden restoration at Desert Knolls Elementary School. Valerie and her students' hard work paid off in growing a wonderful garden of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. She believes that kids learn about science and math through their gardening experiences. Measuring a garden bed, figuring out how many plants to grow, amount of soil and water needed is required within the scope of hands-on science and math-based learning.
There are a lot of socio-economically disadvantaged children living in the desert communities where Valerie teaches. She teaches students who may not have adequate nutrition and all the other comorbid things that go with that. When a child grows something, he or she gets an incredible feeling of, I got something from basically nothing. Valerie believes that is a real moment of surprise for children (and for adults too.)
Valerie has worked hard to facilitate recycling practices at the schools she has taught. In 2016, Desert Knolls Elementary School was also selected as the School of the Year for Recycling at the annual Recycling and Recovery State Convention and won the Town of Apple Valley “Green Award” that same year. "It was quite an honor, as we have been establishing our program through sustainable practices. I learned many of the practices after attending MEEC-Mojave Environmental Consortium-sponsored workshops. Composting, energy, and gardens in every classroom, to name a few," Valerie said about receiving the award on behalf of the school and her students' hard work.
Valerie taught the district STEP program, grades 1-6, and was an advisor for the GATE after-school programs. She volunteered her time to take students on field trips to support service-learning and STEM activities. MEEC has provided transportation services funding for her to take students on field trips to organic farms and recycling recovery enters. She has taken students to the YELC-Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, the Showcase event, and the Annual Solar Oven Competition. She has had winning teams for several years in solar oven competitions.
In 2016, she was honored to be selected by the MEEC board as the MEEC-Mojave Environmental Education Consortium Teacher of the Year in recognition of her dedication and hard work in fostering environmental awareness in the classroom. Valerie said, “It was a turning point in my professional career and personal development!”
Valerie's dedication leads her to continue her students' environmental learning by virtual outreach. In her Google Classroom, she has a Garden Corner where she shares information with her students and their families about gardening activities that they can do at home. She shares California Teachers Agriculture in the Classroom Program fruits and vegetable cards with her students. She is working on indoor garden activities that she can take back to her classroom to share with her students and their families when COVID restrictions are lifted. She has an herb garden kit with lights and plans to get a hydroponics kit with Betta fish. She had started a similar project at Yucca Loma Elementary School with her K-2 class before in-class instruction temporarily ceased.
Being a Master Gardener has helped Valerie expand her gardening knowledge and interests. She loves everything about gardening from pest control to the importance of trees. One of her favorite gardening activities is experimenting with methods to grow new things in the desert. She likes to grow flowers from bulbs. For the past six years has been experimenting with different types of bulbs to see which ones grow best in the desert. The most unusual thing she has grown is Loofahs. She grew so many that she and her daughter packaged them in spa gift baskets to give to friends.
Valerie said, “The Master Gardener program is a great community to learn, network, volunteer, and share meaningful experiences with people who have common interests. The learning is ongoing, and everyone comes with different levels of expertise or strengths. It is a great way to help share what you learn and do with others in your community.”
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are proud of Valerie Kimmel-Oliva's commitment to promoting environmental awareness and positive change within schools and communities. We celebrate her many successes and are honored to have her as a member of our community!
It feels like spring is here! It might not stay, as we sometimes have a few false starts here in So Cal, but the birds are singing, the trees are sending out blooms and summer veggies are getting seeded and about ready to be transplanted. Things always seem so much easier in the garden in the spring. The weather is mostly on our side, with a few hot or cold days, but usually nothing really extreme. We have the hope of periodic rain to help our plants along so we are not alone in watering, getting a little help from nature. While many pests that have slowed down in the cooler months are just emerging and starting planning their takeovers in our garden, optimism is high! We have grand plans for successful vegetable and herb gardens.
Here are a few tips to help turn your grand plans into successful gardens:
1) Keep it reasonable (or don't, just be prepared): In the spring, with weather on our side and soooo many seeds coming in one packet, it's easy to get a garden going that might be bigger than you want to maintain in the summer. Big expansive gardens can be great! Just make sure that for each crop you plant, you think about the water, shade, space, and protection the plants will need in the summer, and what to do with any extra produce!
2) Keep your garden close to a water source: Be sure your garden is set up so you have easy access to water. While it might not need very much supplemental water now, inconsistent watering can cause fruit and veggie bitterness and fruit split. Make sure you plan ahead to supply water through an irrigation system or with a hose or, for smaller gardens, a watering can, keeping in mind that your plants can need about three times the water in the heat of summer than in early spring.
3) Check early and often for pests and diseases: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest management approach that combines several “best practices” with the use of pesticides as a last resort. These practices include: Proper identification of your pest (and the damage they can cause); early monitoring and detection before populations or disease are widespread; and treatment that is based on your pest or diseases life cycle and behavior to get a treatment that is effective and also reduces harm to non-target animals and plants. When IPM techniques are used, many problems in your landscape and garden can be avoided before harmful chemicals are needed. In practical terms: check for things like aphids, earwigs and blight often so that you can catch the infestation early and only need to treat or manage a small outbreak; make sure when you see a bug that it was the bug that actually did the damage to your plant, or find out if it's a pest that doesn't cause much harm and can be left alone. (It may actually be a beneficial insect since there are more of those in our gardens than actual insect pests.) If you see a weed, pull it out before it becomes a huge pest in your garden. Keeping your plants weed free keeps them from competing with other plants for nutrients and water, and keeping weeds out early helps keep them from taking over your yard!
4) A great resource for all things IPM is: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html
Another great resource is the UC IPM diagnostic tool where you can go to trouble shoot your pest problems: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu Don't forget that our Master Gardener helpline is also here to help you trouble shoot all of your pest problems too!
5) Use “best practices” when caring for your plants: Part of a successful integrated pest management strategy is to keep your plants healthy and well cared for. Just like when we exercise, eat right and get enough water and rest to avoid getting sick, we can do the same for our plants. Start by adding generous amounts of organic matter (compost is great!) into your garden soil, mixing it at least 6 inches deep for non-root crops and a foot or deeper for potatoes, carrots, and other root crops. Overwatering is one of the main causes of mature plant failure and underwatering is one of the major causes of newly established plant failures (including recently planted vegetable seeds and transplants). Both overwatering and underwatering put extra stress on plants and makes them vulnerable to pests. Also, apply the right amount of fertilizer. Both too little and too much impact the health and production of vegetables. Applying mulch on top of the soil around your vegetables is another best practice that can buffer soil temperatures and keep spring weeds from germinating in your garden.
6) Keep an open mind and learn from your struggles! Gardening can be so rewarding when you sit down to eat your first summer tomato (if it even makes it into the house) or can be so frustrating when you go to pick your first tomato and you find it's hollowed out on the back side!! Arggggg! It's important to remember that gardening is a journey not a destination and all of the best gardeners will tell you they learned more from their failures than their successes. When things aren't going right in your garden, don't be shy to reach out to your local Master Gardener helpline and let us help you (firstname.lastname@example.org)! The sooner you reach out to us to have us help troubleshoot your challenges, the more likely it is that the problem can be resolved without total loss of your plant or crop…..and don't be shy, the only silly question is the one you don't ask, and the Master Gardeners loooove a gardening mystery or challenge!
Right plant, right place, right time: That is what we learn early when we go through our Master Gardener training program to become volunteers. The right plant (meaning it's well suited for your climate and the microclimate that you are planting it in at your house) put in the right place (given the right amount of sun or shade as needed, placed in a soil that it is suited for, placed in a place where it can grow to the height it needs, etc.) and planted at the right time (e.g. warm vs. cool season veggies) will be a plant that is healthy and productive!
With these tips, and regular “check in's” with your garden, you are well on your way to taking your spring dreams into summer success.
If you need more help with your vegetable garden, check out our ABC's of School and Community Garden Workshop on March 13th where we will go over our new veggie guide: From Asparagus to Zucchini for all the San Bernardino County climates! Register here for this free Zoom class: http://ucanr.edu/u.cfm?id=265
Remember that the Master Gardeners are here to support you along the way with free online gardening classes, our monthly “Ask a Master Gardener” time, and our helpline!
Interested in developing or participating in the school and community food garden movement? Want to learn more about the benefits of these gardens and how to get started? Or find gardens already up and running to link to? What about accessing our new UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County ‘From Asparagus to Zucchini Guide' which includes tips for growing bumper crops of nutritious vegetables in all parts of San Bernardino County. You're in luck! Register today for the ‘ABC's of School and Community Garden' workshop via Zoom on Saturday, March 13, from 9am – 4pm: http://ucanr.edu/u.cfm?id=265
The ‘ABC's of School and Community Gardens' workshop will highlight how to create and sustain successful school and community gardens, with presentations by UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and other horticulturists from all geographical areas of the county. Learn from experienced gardeners what works and what doesn't. Resources from the Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver volunteer programs will be shared and you will be able to connect with local partners who are here to support your success. This is a participatory workshop! We will have breakout sessions where you can share your experiences and learn from others involved in school and community gardens in all areas of the county from the valleys (Montclair to Yucaipa and Chino Hills to Rancho Cucamonga and Highland!) as well as mountain and high desert regions.
With our “ABC's of School and Community Garden” workshop and our local growing guide in mind, and spring almost here I can hardly contain my excitement to get outdoors and get into the garden! In most parts of Southern California we can garden year round, growing delicious and nutritious cool season vegetables in the winter and great fruits and vegetables in the summer. But spring is still a special time of year, where the sky's the limit on what we can grow and plant and everything outside seems new and fresh! Each year many home gardeners start out with excitement and with a little planning and support your excitement can turn into success! In addition to our regular free online classes we offer each month, we will be offering extra classes to help you get your summer growing off to a great start! We are hosting several free online workshops on transplanting and seed starting, giving you tips on soil and seed/plant selection, and helping you get your soil just right to produce a bumper crop. Also, don't forget we will be there to troubleshoot your seed and transplant challenges with you through our “Ask a Master Gardener” times and email and telephone helpline, being sure to also provide support for those gardening and landscaping in the deserts and mountains, where timing and conditions make growing a little different than in the valley. We are now offering several of our classes in Spanish so that we can continue to support our diverse community of gardeners. Check out our online classes at http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/, and reach out to our San Bernardino County Master Gardener Helpline with all of your growing questions by phone: 909-387-2182 or email: email@example.com