- Author: Debbie LeDoux
I recently spent a delightful morning with UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Vikki Gerdes, chatting in her light-filled kitchen over coffee and cookies about why she loves gardening and the UCCE Master Gardener program. As a Master Gardener, her focus in the program has always been water-wise gardening. She believes that "with over 60% of water use occurring outdoors, it is essential for residents to learn how to use water efficiently in their landscapes."
Vikki graduated from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener class of 2003/2004. She feels lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in the training, especially since she almost missed the application deadline. Luckily for the program, she faxed in her application the last day of acceptance and, due to her background and enthusiasm, was welcomed into the program.
Her Master Gardener's final project was to introduce her classmates to the Maloof Foundation Gardens. Beverly Maloof had conceived of a water-wise garden on the site that would be in harmony with the Southern California climate and respectful of California's limited water supply. She received a Metropolitan Water District Water Wise Grant in 2003. Community members, including Vikki who led a team of volunteers including Master Gardeners, assisted with the plantings. Master Gardeners also created botanical listings of all the plants.
In 2014, Vikki was honored to be named as Featured Homeowner Grand Prize winner of the Cucamonga Valley Water District's (CVWD) 7th annual Water Savvy Landscape Contest. Open to all CVWD customers, the Water Savvy Landscape Contest promotes water efficiency by recognizing residents who have installed beautiful, water-saving landscapes. Each landscape is evaluated based on a set of criteria which includes overall water efficiency, appearance, selection of plant material, and irrigation design. Vikki and other Master Gardener volunteers and homeowners educate participants during the Garden Tour on what plants and design elements work well in California's inland climate. Participants take a self-guided tour through each garden to learn how to make their yards more water-efficient.
Vikki entered the Water Savvy Landscape Contest as a result of a complete overhaul of her landscape that included selecting appropriate water-wise plants and installation of a new irrigation system that fit the needs of her water-wise plants. Taking workshops and using the knowledge she gained through the Master Gardener program helped her in this daunting project. Vikki and her husband put a lot of hard work into their landscape to reduce their water use by 65% on their ½ acre lot. Since they wanted a water-wise garden that would blend in with their neighborhood, Vikki decided on a Water Wise Moonlight Garden, named for the water-wise plants that bloom with white blossoms.
Converting an all-turf yard into a more water-wise landscape on such a large lot was no easy feat, taking several years to complete. Attending workshops taught by UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener (and then Water Conservation Specialist at Chino Basin Water Conservation District) Debby Figoni as well as other Master Gardeners helped her gain the knowledge and motivation to see the project through to its completion.
Vikki is inspired to make a difference as a resident of the Cucamonga Valley Water District service area. Utilizing her experience and knowledge as a UCCE Master Gardener, she has been very involved with the Cucamonga Valley Water District Annual Garden Tour for several years. Recently, she has served as a judge for the Garden Tour and considers the overall design, level of involvement by the homeowner, use of water-wise plants, and appropriate irrigation system design for a successful water-wise garden in her selections. In 2019, she was recognized as a Garden Tour judge for her continuing commitment to the community and to water conservation.
CVWD greatly appreciates the UCCE Master Gardener program and values its contributions to the community. (The contest and tour for this year have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 virus.) Vikki asked me to let everyone know that the CVWD offers many landscape programs to assist customers in doing their part to save water, including landscape workshops, the free sprinkler nozzles program, educational resources, and more. For more information about these opportunities, please visit www.cvwdwater.comor call (909) 987-2591.
Like most UCCE Master Gardeners, Vikki has had a life-long passion for gardening. Her parents had a vegetable garden and Vikki's job as a child was to pick up rocks in the garden. Master Gardeners' passion for gardening sometimes “runs in the family” going back many generations, as is the case with Vikki. She developed a love for flowers from seeds and bulbs from her grandmother, who grew many different types. Through research, she was able to find out that her great-great-great-grandfather earned his degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh in 1865. After emigrating from Scotland to America, he settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he actively participated in the landscape design of Grand Boulevard, an 11-mile long thoroughfare running east to west in some places and north to south in others. It is recognized as a major civic attraction and its entire length is decorated with trees, shrubbery, and flowerbeds. Vikki's grandfather was also invited to participate in the landscape design of Belle Isle Park, known as Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park in Detroit developed in the late 19th century.
After coffee, Vikki treated me to a tour of her prize-winning water-wise garden. Each plant was specially chosen and planted by Vikki for viability in a water-wise garden. Vikki made an eloquent comment: “Wherever blooms are, people will be initially attracted to that part of the garden.” As Vikki tells me about each plant, the love and care that she has put into the garden are evident. From the story about the California bluebell that she planted by the curb (which then decided it liked a different location better and reseeded itself accordingly) to the three different species of oak trees that she hand-planted from acorns 18 years ago (more about these below!), her attention to the concept of ‘right plant right place' is clearly evident.
People may think that a water-wise garden means a garden with just cacti and agave. Vikki wants people to know that you have other choices (unless, of course, that is what you want.) She has planted a wide variety of water-wise flowers, shrubs, and trees in her garden. The extensive list of plants includes white California poppies (one of my favorites), Chinese redbud and western redbud trees, and a white crepe myrtle tree. There is a beautiful ‘Stellar Ruby' magnolia tree, which buds when there are no leaves. After the buds drop, the leaves start growing. And, of course, her beautiful oak trees!
Vikki attended a presentation several years ago by the Mystic Lake Iris Garden (famous for their award-winning irises). where each attendee received one complimentary iris. That one bearded iris Vikki received many years ago has since been divided by her to number at least 100 beautiful irises!
While we were touring the garden, I spotted several bees pollinating the California bluebells. Vikki told me that her garden attracts many pollinators, including the hummingbird moth, a brown moth that approaches flowers exhibiting the same pattern of flying as hummingbirds. Vikki described this moth so eloquently that I was intrigued enough to find out more information. The US Forest Service says it is “perhaps one of the most delightful insect visitors to your garden is the hummingbird moth. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. Often inexperienced garden visitors notice what they think is a tiny hummingbird fleeting among flowers such as bee balm (Monarda).”
She showed me the three varieties of oak trees (cork oak and a beautiful coastal oak in the front yard and a holly oak in the back yard) that she planted from those acorns about 18 years ago and shared with me how to tell if collected acorns are viable and will grow. After soaking in water overnight, viable acorns will sink rather than float. She suggested that when planting acorns, plant them sideways, and a seedling will start to appear in a few months.
One of Vikki's water-conserving successes was to install a drip irrigation system with low flow sprinklers. The entire property gets watered for no more than10 minutes three times a week including summer. I was surprised to learn that approximately ½ of the front garden area is not irrigated. Vikki explained to me that once plants in the area got established, they were able to sustain themselves. I have to admit that all the plants looked healthy and thriving! Plants in that area include coast rosemary, trailing lantana, drought-tolerant red fescue, two rock rose plants, and white sage (one of Vikki's favorites) used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.
Vikki also has a vegetable garden where she grows beautiful purple artichokes as well as other vegetables like green onion and lettuce. She finds that the purple artichokes are more flavorful than the Globe variety we buy in our local supermarkets. After discussions with Northern California artichoke growers and through her independent research, she was able to find purple artichoke seeds from an online distributor in Italy.
Vikki has found the UCCE Master Gardener program to be very rewarding. Near the end of the garden tour, she proudly told me that she has 1000 hours of volunteer time as a Master Gardener volunteer and is looking forward to receiving her Master Gardener Gold Badge, a rare and highly acclaimed accomplishment in the program! She encourages anyone interested in joining the Master Gardener program to apply, stating that “the Master Gardener program is a great place to meet people, make friends, and learn a lot about sustainable gardening." The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are fortunate to have Vikki Gerdes as a member of our community. Her dedication and many years of volunteer service to the program are much appreciated!
Winter months are an important time in the garden. The shorter days bring a regeneration period for plants and the pollinators that will also emerge in spring. As we tend winter gardens or wait for the spring thaw, there are things we can do now to encourage healthy wildlife, come spring. Here are a few facts and tips gleaned from Master Gardeners across the state.
Pollinators need visual cues
As you plan your spring garden, try to imagine it from a bird's eye view. Pollinators are attracted to large swaths of color. Arrange butterfly and bee-attracting flowers in clusters. Introducing a mix of ground-level and taller plants helps provide shelter and wind-screen for beneficial insects. Cut out the pesticides, if possible, and opt for California native plants. An important example is narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). Researchers have found that the brightly colored tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) can carry a debilitating parasite that endangers native monarchs. Migrating species, especially monarch butterflies, are best adapted to native flora: https://monarchjointventure.org/.
Leave some “litter” for the guests
Though we can't observe them, many native bees spend the winter dormant in the garden. Both mason bees and bumblebees nest underground. Carpenter bees and other insect allies burrow in wood during colder months. With this in mind, it's a good idea to keep some areas of “leaf litter” and dead wood on the property. If well managed, small brush, tree stumps and snags (dead trees) can be a benefit, rather than an an eyesore or hazard.
Butterflies need TLC
Butterflies are with us through four cycles of their lives: egg; larval; pupa/chrysalis and adult. Many species over-winter in the garden, hidden amid the foliage. If you've discovered a chrysalis in the garden, you've seen an example of nature's delicate processes. Adult butterflies need water, but because they can't drink from an open water source, gardeners will sometimes create “mud baths” by irrigating the soil near their flower beds. A more contained water source can be made of a bucket, filled with sand. Bury the bucket to the rim, and top-off with water. In springtime, add some sticks or leaves that the butterflies can use as perches, and watch who comes to drink.
Do hummingbirds stick around all winter?
Recent studies show that some varieties of hummingbird stay in Southern California, rather than flying south, in winter. Experts who once advised that we remove nectar feeders around Labor Day, now say it's okay to provide food all winter. Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds now stay year-round, and they may even nest in the colder months. To fill feeders, boil and cool a 4:1 mixture of water and sugar (skip the dye). To keep feeders mold-free, clean them weekly with white vinegar, or warm, soapy water. Citizen science projects help researchers track bird migration patterns. Gardeners can join these efforts, like the Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, set for February 15-18: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.
Thirteen Ways to make a Pollinator Garden: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=27516
For more on native plants, including milkweed, visit Theodore Payne Foundation: https://theodorepayne.org
Seeds are ripe when they shake in the pod, are easily removed from the plant, and/or are turning dark in color.
-- from Seed Collection Guidelines for California Native Plant Species, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, by Michael Wall, Seed Conservation Manager
Fall is seed-gathering time in the mountains. Over the past few years, San Bernardino Master Gardeners have begun to highlight seed-sharing, both as part of the Master Gardener mission, and our service to communities. With its hub at Chino Basin Waterwise Community Center, in Montclair, the San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library (SBRSL) also has satellite libraries in Yucaipa and the San Bernardino Mountains. The mountains seed library, still in its infancy, was created with the idea of connecting mountain residents through a shared love of wild-scape gardening.
Native Seed Propagation Propagating native plants can be tricky, because special conditioning is sometimes required to mimic nature's processes. Some plants, for example, need weeks of cool weather before germinating. Others require fire. Some plants prefer being ingested by birds, bears or other critters. A process called stratification is needed for some varieties. This involves storing seeds in a damp, refrigerated environment (33 - 38°F) for 60-90 days, before they're ready to go into the soil. Other seeds require scarification, or the breaking down of husks by acid-washing, hot water baths, sandpaper rubs, or other processes. In talking with Master Gardeners I've heard both success stories, and mixed reviews when it comes to propagating native seeds. Master Gardener/ROWIA member Cori Edwards, of Crestline shared a plan to use pine needles as kindling over a container of fire-start seeds. Mountain gardeners' seed-germinating experiments can be off-beat and interesting, and they always make for good storytelling.
If you are hoping to collect and propagate native seeds, look to the advice of RSABG and the California Native Plants Society and follow some simple guidelines:
- identify plants first (if possible, use both common and Latin names)
- make a note of the conditions in which each plant thrives (what type of soil, sun, and other conditions do you find?)
- always have permission before harvesting seeds
- be sure there are plenty of seeds left on site – use the 5% rule
- do your research to know what special treatments may be needed (should I stratify, scarify, or just go ahead and sow?)
- share! (don't forget to pass on some seeds, along with tips on how to get them started)
San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library (SBRL Facebook Page) https://www.facebook.com/sbrseedlibrary/
Rancho Santa Ana Seed Conservation Project https://www.rsabg.org/conservation/seed-conservation
California Native Plants Society, “California Native Plant Propagation,” by Matt Teel, Jan, 2018 https://www.cnps.org/gardening/california-native-plant-propagation-4014
Heaps Peak Arboretum, Rim of the World Interpretive Association https://www.heapspeakarboretum.com/
Encouraging healthy bee populations has long been part of the Master Gardener mission. In our study of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), we learn that chemical pesticides can do harm to entire food chains, from plants to insects, and other wildlife. With bee colony health very much in the news, many gardeners are surprised to learn that in addition to the European honey bee, California is home to hundreds of species of native bees, many of whom reside in solitary nests, hidden in plain sight around our gardens. On a recent walk through a local apple grove, I was excited to identify four – maybe five types of native bee hovering in the blossoms alongside the honey bees. We know that plants and bees rely on one another for their existence. Recent studies published by the UC Cooperative Extension can help us recognize our native species, and help raise awareness about preserving bee habitats.
How do we identify native bees in the garden? The 2009 report Native Bees are a Rich Resource in Urban California Gardens presents findings of a UCANR study done in collaboration with the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the Xerces Society. Over three years, scientists surveyed bees in seven urban areas across the California, including La Cañada-Flintridge, near Pasadena. Of an estimated 1600 native species currently known in California, 60 to 80 species were observed, along with the plants that attract them. The study shows which native bees are likely to show up in our gardens.
Of the species counted, the most common was the ultra-green sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus). To spot this bee it's important to look closely. With its smooth green body and slender shape, the sweat bee can be mistaken for a fly. The photos from the UC study by Rollin Coville (©2009) show a female ultra-green sweat bee (above) and a male (below) as they feed on native blooms.
Another common visitor, the leafcutting bee (Megachile perihirta) has a distinctive mandible designed for chomping stems and leaves.
The digger bee (Anthropora edwardsii) is prevalent in Southern California and is specifically adapted to the tiny flowers of the native manzanita (photo at top of article) (Arctostaphylos sp.). Like many native bees, the digger bee is solitary. The female prefers dark quiet places to lay her eggs, and makes her nest in dead wood, or in the ground.
Unlike the male of most bee species, females have specially formed hind legs made for gathering pollen. During springtime's brief blooms, native bees can be seen going from flower to flower loaded up with the golden powder. This solitary bee (Svasta obliqua expurgata) is a muli-tasker, as she simultaneously sips nectar and collects pollen on a coneflower (Echinacea pupura).
The native bees to look for in our gardens this season include those counted in the study: mining bees (Andrena angustitarsata); digger bees (Anthrophora); and three bumblebee varieties (Bombus), California, black-tip and yellow-faced. Others bees found include carpenter bees (Ceratina); gray digger bees (Habropoda depressa) and long-horn digger bees (Melissodes), as well as squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa); cuckoo bees (Xeromelecta californica); large carpenter bees (Xylocopta tabaniformis incompletes); leafcutting bees (Megachile); mason bees (Osmia coloradensis); and the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria propinqua).
Learn More About Bees
The Xerces Society's The Citizen Scientist Pollinator Monitoring Guide was created to help communities as they survey pollinator populations at the local level. The user-friendly guide (see link, below) helps gardeners learn the basics about bees, identify different varieties, and track their activities, over time:
The UCANR publication, Native Bees are a Rich Resource in Urban California Gardens is available online. It details some of the native plants that attract native bees, and help them thrive (California Agriculture 63(3):113-120 (2009)):
All photos are by Rollin Coville (© 2009), used by permission of the Regents of the University of California.
Information on Native Bees:
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation