- Author: Gail Nieto
As I wander around my yard, I am seeing many flowers that have bloomed and are now starting to look "dead." They are actually ready to go to seed. So I pinch off the spent flowers or "deadhead" to cause the plant to flower again. Deadheading is very simple. As plants fade out of bloom, pinch or cut off the flower stem just below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Repeat with all dead flowers on the plant. The plant will flower again in a week or two. Most annuals and many perennials will continue to bloom throughout the growing season if they are regularly deadheaded.
The plant's purpose is to seed and reproduce so when you pinch off the spent flowers, it will re-flower to produce more seeds. I cut or pinch off "dead" flowers on snapdragons, dianthus, violas, pansies, roses, and sometimes columbine. Other plants that will re-flower with this process are bleeding heart, phlox, delphinium, lupine, sage, salvia, veronica, Shasta daisy, yarrow, and coneflower to name a few. I usually let them seed out after one deadheading, but this can be done more than once during a growing season. I spread the seeds after the second flowering after the seeds pods have dried on the plant so they will return next year in more abundance.
Although some people might consider this to be a tedious task, I enjoy being in my yard and “communing” with my plants. I encourage you to get outside and extend your summer flowering with deadheading!
Used coffee grounds are abundantly available for the asking at your local coffee shop. But just because the item is free, is it beneficial for composting?
Compost your coffee -
Coffee grounds add nitrogen to the compost, but as fertilizer they do not add nitrogen immediately to the soil. About 2% nitrogen by volume, used coffee grounds are a safe substitute for nitrogen-rich animal products. A study at Oregon State University showed that when composted, coffee helps sustain high temperatures in compost piles, in contrast with manure, which doesn't sustain the heat as long. When grounds made up 25 percent of the volume of a compost pile, temperatures stayed between 135 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two weeks. High composting temperatures help reduce potentially dangerous pathogens and kill seeds from weeds and vegetables that have been added to the compost. In the OSU study two weeks was sufficient time to kill a significant portion of both pathogens and seeds. When composting coffee, remember that grounds are considered green material, so balance your mix by adding an equal amount of brown material, like dried leaves, shredded cuttings, or paper.
Using coffee as mulch -
Fresh coffee grounds are acidic, but used coffee grounds are neutral when added to the soil. The acid in coffee beans is mostly water soluble, so it leaches into the coffee we drink. After brewing, the grounds are between 6.5 and 6.8 pH, so they won't affect the soil acidity. Coffee grounds can be used as mulch. Adding this organic matter to the soil improves drainage, water retention and aeration. Coffee grounds also help keep slugs and snails away from plants.
An additional benefit of composting grounds is diverting them from the landfill. And recycling coffee shop grounds fosters interactions between community residents and local businesses.
For more on composting, and the benefits of recycling coffee grounds see UCANR Master Gardener Tip Sheet, Composting is Good for Your Garden and the Environment, and the links used as reference, below:
Composting With Coffee Grounds – Used Coffee Grounds for Gardening, from gardeningkowhow.com
Coffee Grounds Perk Up Compost Pile with Nitrogen, from Oregon State University
- Author: Michele Martinez
In the Americas, chiles are a traditional staple, along with corn, beans, squash, potatoes, and protein-rich grains, like quinoa. The Capsicum fruit is packed with nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin. It's also rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium. An additional benefit comes with the spice; consuming chiles increases enzyme production and helps the body digest fats. This condiment is not only a flavor-booster – it's good for the heart! Chile connoisseurs have their favorites, which range from the super-spicy (Scotch Bonnets, Habaneros) to the mild and tasty (Sweet Cherry and Banana Peppers). California nurseries are expanding their selection of both chile plants and seeds. Treats like Shisitos (East Asia) and Pimientos de Padrón (Spain), once only found in high-end restaurants, can now be grown and grilled at home. Whatever variety appeals to you, all peppers grow well in sunny Southern California.
Capsicum annuum (chile) has three basic needs: full sun; warm weather; and well-drained soil. If you're planting from seed, it's best to start indoors by March or April. Don't worry about missing this year's germination time. Local nurseries stock ready-to-plant peppers of all kinds, and seeds can be gathered at harvest. First, choose a healthy plant, and then select a locale – either in a container or the garden plot. Be sure to separate chiles by variety, as they are notorious for cross-pollinating. This year's Serrano chile may wind up next year's Serrano/Pequín! The following are some basic tips for the chile gardener:
Transplanting – Chiles love sunlight. They prefer temperatures of up to 80 degrees in the day and not below 60 degrees at night. Seedlings can be transplanted once they have developed their true leaves. Transfer plants outdoors once night time temperatures have reached a consistent 50 degrees. Chiles prefer growing alongside other plants. Space them 14 to 16 inches apart, and stake plants if you expect winds.
Soil and Nutrients – Chiles require well-draining soil, and a slightly acidic environment (pH 5.5 – 7). If the planting mix is loamy or moist, adding sand will make for better drainage. A typical tomato fertilizer (5-10-10) can be applied, but chiles don't require much. In fact, too much nitrogen can damage the plant, and inhibit the fruit's growth, so fertilize sparingly. The best strategy is to start with a mineral-rich soil, high in phosphorous, potassium and calcium. Prepare your plots with nutrients before the seedlings go in, then fertilize again lightly when the fruit begins to appear.
Water – Water deeply, and infrequently. Adding warm water will prevent root shock. Do this when the soil surface dries, but don't allow the area to dry completely. Be careful not to over-soak the roots.
Special Care – Unlike zucchini or pumpkins, peppers are self-pollinating. In times of stress, however, hand-pollinating the flowers helps ensure a good yield of fruit. In the afternoon, when pollen levels are highest, use a soft paintbrush or cotton swab. Gently touch one flower center, then another. The fruit is ready to harvest when it comes easily from the stem, about 70 to 80 days from planting, depending on conditions. Chile season can go from July through September. Some types can be treated like perennials, so look for grower's instructions on over-wintering.
Seed Saving – To save seeds, remove them gently from the fruit. To prevent mold, allow them to dry slowly. Store seeds in a paper bag or envelope. When spring comes around, rinse and soak seeds for a few hours, then place in loose planting soil, about ¼ inch deep. Set seed trays in a warm place and moisten regularly. They'll be the start of next year's tasty crop.
- Author: Susan Campbell & Michele Martinez
They're everywhere in Spring, and they're beautiful: Daffodils (genus narcissus). There are countless species, and thousands of hybrids. These perennials multiply in two ways: by bulb division (asexual cloning), where the resulting flower is an exact copy of its predecessor; by seed (sexually), developed in the seed pod behind the petals, where different new flowers will result. Few seeds will naturally pollinate and it can take about five years for a bulb to form and the first flower to bloom. Daffodils are toxic and non-edible. Squirrels avoid eating daffodils, as should pets, because of poisonous crystals in the bulbs and leaves.
Bulbs are one of the first flowers to appear as temperatures slowly increase. Daffodils will generally last three weeks before they begin wilting and dying back. After the flower has wilted, the flower can be deadheaded. This helps focus the plant's energy on re-building the bulb for next year's flower, rather than sending energy to the seeds.
Don't cut back the leaves until they've totally died back. Bulbs need time after blooming to gather and store energy for next year's bloom. Bulb experts encourage watering the withering plant in dry conditions. This will help the bulbs draw in nutrients needed for the next season. Once the foliage is completely withered it's safe to trim back to soil levels. If the flowers did not perform well, consider applying a low-nitrogen, high-potash (potassium) fertilizer after flowering. Otherwise, add bone meal.
Bulb growth includes the production of smaller bulbs. It's a good idea to separate the bulbs every three to four years, providing them with the needed space to encourage larger, healthy blooms. After the leaves have died back, dig up the bulbs and gently pull the clumps apart. Remove dirt and debris and allow them to dry in a cool ventilated area. Save them for autumn planting. While smaller bulbs may not produce for a couple of years, larger bulbs will provide new flowers next season.
During this time the bulb stores the energy it has gathered and lies in wait for the next growing season. As summer comes to a close, local garden centers begin carrying one to three different varieties of daffodil bulbs. Consider buying bulbs directly from daffodil growers -- either through mail catalogues or the internet. Here you'll find countless amazing varieties. Daffodils come in a many colors, including yellow, orange, white, pinks and corals. Similar to a brown onion, newly purchased bulbs should be dry but not shriveled. A bulb should not have any sprouting leaves or roots, nor have moldy soft spots.
Autumn is bulb planting time. Plant bulbs two to four weeks before first frost. Check packaging for planting instructions. In general, daffodils do best when planted in well-draining soil, in full or partial shade. Plant bulbs two to five times their own depth, three to six inches apart. Add a scant amount of bulb fertilizer to the soil, if needed. Wear protective gloves to avoid possible skin irritation.
During winter, the bulbs chill. This chill time is needed for the flower to bloom. With the advantage of cold winters, mountain gardeners can count on great daffodils each year. At lower altitudes, bulbs must be cured to experience the necessary chill time.
Bulb Curing Tips: Bulbs do best when cold-cured at 60 to 65°F, for 6 – 8 weeks. Gently separate clusters, trim roots, and allow bulbs to dry away from sunlight, about a day. A paper bag or other breathe-able wrapper is recommended. Refrigerator storage can work, but bulbs must be kept away from produce. Apples and other fruits emit ethanol gas that may kill dormant flowers. Bulbs kept cool and dry are ready for re-planting in late fall.
And the cycle begins.
- Author: Michele Martinez
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