Fall is upon us, and with the changing of seasons and weather getting cooler we also have an election and are still in the midst of COVID….one sometimes wonders where peace and solace can be found. Many of us have social media that is full of nature posts, plant groups and more, but being on social media can be a double-edged sword, and “reality” seems to seep in even if you to selectively curate your content. Today I just want to remind you of what you probably already know, that the garden is a great “neutral” go to place!
No matter what your political leanings the garden just “is.” There is no political bickering to be had in the garden, no statistics about daily infection rates in the garden…..just the plants….being, existing, and turning the power of the sun into leaves, flowers and fruits (which is pretty awesome if you ask me!!). This time of year, many of us reconnect with loved ones and family, even if it is online or in a modified way and conversation can be tricky, especially this year! My suggestion? Turn to gardening! Perhaps get together some interesting gardening facts, take some beautiful photos of your plants to share, or share resources with your family members who garden, or who are thinking about gardening (for example: did they know that each county and state has a Master Gardener program that can answer their plant questions?).
Does your garden look a little rough around the edges from the summers heat, fire ash and smoke? If so it can make your “happy place” seem a little sad. Not to worry, the summer is hard on the plants just like it is on us, and this is the time to get in there in rejuvenate it! Plant those natives (in So Cal this is the ideal time to do it!), get a compost pile started or get some worms for vermicomposting! Thinking of putting your garden to bed for the fall? Maybe plant a cool season veggie garden instead! Cool season veggies are some of the most nutritious plants we can grow, and they are also so much more flavorful when grown at home. Not sure where to start? Join our class on Nov 14th “From the Garden to the Table” to learn about growing cool season veggies, sustainable landscaping and pest management and also hear from our Master Food Preservers to learn about making freezer jams. Thinking of turning your inefficient yard into a water wise garden? There is info on how to do that on the 14th in the afternoon as well.
Elections and politicians come and go, this pandemic will as well, .but keeping our sanity through it all is key to survival and the garden, small or large, is here to help with that. If you have an older family member who might not be able to get outside, or do much bending, consider getting a tv tray or table and set potted plants up on a bench for them to “groom.” Kids can be great assets in the garden, looking for pests and finding beneficial insects. They can also get drawn in to planting and harvesting their own crops so send them out to plant some sugar snap peas today! Head racing with the “what if's” that come with “adulting?” The garden can help you unpack your fears, thoughts, and concerns by giving you some quite time: just you and the plants…plants that do not judge or confront. Consider them a canvas for your mind: focus on the plants, get into a grooming, planting, or pruning task and just let your mind go. You will find yourself thinking about this and that and the other thing, but your will also start to notice the different colors of green you see, maybe a pollinator flying by or a bug you've never seen before or a flower that is only 1cm wide, but is oh so beautiful, and all of these things will help your head and heart get centered again.
See the importance of gardening, but have questions? We are here to help answer your plant questions, from lawns to trees and peas to bees! Give us a call, or send us an email and unlike social media will stick to the plants and only the plants, giving you the tips and info you need to create and cultivate your own positive space!
Do you have citrus in your yard? This is the time of year that the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) is most active in San Bernardino County when trees are sending out their fall “flush” of new growth. Asian Citrus Psyllids (also called ACP) spread the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease (also called HLB, Hunaglongbing). While this bacterium does not harm people is deadly to citrus (all types from kumquats to grapefruit and everything in between).
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure available to the public for HLB spread by the ACP. The only way to control the disease is to reduce the spread of ACP and be vigilant about removing trees that are infected or near infected trees. Keeping ants out of your trees is a great first step to protecting your trees from ACP and other pests. Since ants protect pests that excrete sugar solution from beneficial predators like lady beetles, praying mantis and syrphid fly larvae, keeping them out gives these “good bugs” a chance to help keep ACP out. Another key step to preventing the spread of HLB and ACP is to remove all stems and leaves from citrus you are going to share and to wipe fruit off to keep ACP from hitching a ride on fruit or plant material. To learn more about the ACP/HLB complex, view a map of its spread, and watch a four-minute video visit: https://ucanr.edu/sites/ACP.
Thanks to a wide array of UC ANR scientists for sharing the following photos.
Symptoms: An early sign of infection are chlorotic (yellow) leaves.
Remember that yellow leaves may also be due to nutrient deficiencies and it is important to recognize the differences. While nutrient deficiencies result in a consistent yellowing pattern on both sides of the leaf, HLB causes blotchy yellow areas that are asymmetrical (different on the right and left side of the leaves), although these symptoms can take 9 months to several years to show up in an infected tree. The delay in visual symptoms is the reason it is very important not to share any citrus cuttings with friends and family. A healthy-looking tree can still be infected. There are clean sources of cuttings (budwood) available through the Citrus Colonial Protection Program (CCPP: https://ccpp.ucr.edu/)
Later Symptoms: Misshapen fruit, with an asymmetrical midline and discolored malformed seeds. These fruits, while not harmful to us, will be bitter and inedible.
An early sign of ACP infestation are leaves that have a “notch” (indicates ACP feeding) or larvae that create waxy tubules.
ACP life stages: The adult is about the size of a half a grain of rice and feeds at a 45-degree angle which is a distinguishing feature from other common citrus pests. The juvenile (nymph) phase is golden in color, with bright red eyes and can be found on the new growth (flush) of citrus leaves.
To learn more about the ACP/HLB complex, view a map of its spread, and watch a four-minute video visit: https://ucanr.edu/sites/ACP. Want to learn more or have questions? Attend our class on Nov 28th from 10:30 to 11:30 to learn more about this deadly pest. To register: http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/?calitem=494190
There are so many expressions that are oriented around seeds: “seeds of change,” “seeds of hope,” “planting a seed in one's mind”….and one of my favorites, a proverb from Mexico (but with many other iterations from around the world and through the ages): “Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les olvido que somos semillas” which roughly translates to “They tried to bury us; they didn't know we were seeds.” I was even able to find a list of 75 expressions and proverbs that used seeds as their metaphor…..like the lesser known proverb from Japan “the miser and his persimmon seed (still trying to sort that one out).” What is it about seeds that speak to us so? I remember when we started our Master Gardener Seed Library at Chino Basin Water Conservation District linked to in-person classes on seeds with adults and families and I would talk about how to know if your seed was dry enough to store. I would use the pea seed as an example, telling people “you know that dried pea you get in the seed packets? Those dried peas you get in the store? That is how dry your seed needs to be!” It fascinated me that this little dried out ball, hard as a rock, still had life in it…..that you could plant it, and water it and from there would come food, and flowers and life. They represent hope, growth, life, food, change, regeneration and so much more.
While these proverbial seeds are a plenty, so are the seeds in your garden! When I took the time to look, I found them right under my nose! It is up to each individual to find the seeds of hope, change, happiness and growth in their lives, but I can help you find the seeds in your garden! Here are a few tips:
First and foremost, do not harvest seeds from the wild! Nature depends on these seeds to regenerate themselves and every time we have a fire, or unusually warm weather, or a late heavy freeze, nature dips into its seed bank to keep on going. Don't think you are the only one out there wanting to harvest wild seeds! You are not. If all of us actually did it we would make a dent in nature's seed bank that she cannot refill. Does that mean you can't seed save natives? No! There are lots of ways to save and grow native seeds. You can buy native plants from nurseries, or seed packets, and start your own native seed garden at your house. Fair warning: Nature doesn't make starting these seeds easy! That will actually be the topic of this month's seed saving class. If you are interested in the lengths you need to go to and the native plants that are easy to start join us using this link: http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/?calitem=492669&g=61974
- Some seeds are easier to harvest than others, some seeds are harder to start than others, and some seeds are harder to get to breed true than others (some resort to previous genetics and produce a different version than what you expected!). It is easy to get overwhelmed when you start seed saving and my advice is to start small…little by little. Pick one plant (a veggie, fruit, or flower) and learn about it. You can contact our Master Gardener helpline, join our online “Ask a Master Gardener” time or attend our free seed saving classes for help you with your questions.
- “Learn about that plant?” What does that mean? Ask these questions:
o Is this plant a hybrid or an open pollinated variety? Going back to school, when we learned about genetics and the purple and white pea, we need to know “are the parents of this plant the same variety or different varieties?” Many of the plants we have in our garden are hybrids to increase yield, hardiness, or disease resistance. While seeds can be saved from these hybrid plants, the only guarantee you will get is that there is no guarantee! You have no idea which genes will express themselves when you plant and grow them. Open pollinated seeds (when grown under the right pollination conditions) will give you reliable results and produce the plant that you are hoping for (breed true).
o Is this a plant I should seed save from? There are plants that we generally don't grow from seed, like succulents and fruit trees. With succulents we usually grow them from cuttings because they just do so well that way. There are several reasons we generally don't grow fruit trees from seed. One is that, due to all of the pollinators that visit those flowers and how easily they cross breed, you don't know what genetics you will get or if the tree will ever bear fruit. The other reason is that fruit trees are often grafted on a particular disease resistant root stock that will keep the plant healthy against common pests and diseases. When you plant a fruit tree from seed it gets none of the disease resistance you get from a grafted tree and it is common for them to die suddenly, even when cared for properly.
o How far does this plant need to be planted from others to “breed true” or does this plant need others to be properly pollinated (think “self-pollinated” vs needing “cross pollination”)? Some plants, like broccoli, need to be planted far apart from other plants in its family (Brassicas) to breed true. Other plants, like corn, need to be planted close, or in a zig zag pattern, to ensure proper pollination, but they also can be cross pollinated from other varieties of corn that are hundreds of feet away. One interesting way to handle spacing needs is to create “space” with time rather than distance. You can do that by spacing out the planting time of plants that might cross pollinate with negative results so that they are not flowering at the same time. This is one of tricky parts of seed saving and I recommend you start your journey with seeds that are self-pollinating and don't cross breed easily(or if they do, it has minimal impact on seeds) like tomatoes, peas and lettuce.
o Where do the seeds form on this plant? Seems obvious, out of the flower, but broccoli was a big surprise to me when I first started seed saving since seeds did not come from where I thought they were going to be coming from at all. Do a little research on that too, just so there are no surprises!
o How are the seeds naturally dispersed? There are five basic seed dispersal methods: wind, water, animals, ballistic (think: seeds shot through the air at high speed when the pod dries out enough!) and gravity. When we act as seed savers we are trying to step in just at the right moment in time: when the seeds are fully mature but before they fall (or are explosively shot!) to the earth. Ceanothus and lupine are examples of plants with seeds that are spread by explosive propulsion. Why does this matter to us? Because it will help us catch them at just the right time before they fly off into tiny seed space!
o When are the seeds ripe? On tomatoes it is when the fruit is ripe, but when we eat plants like cucumbers, or summer squash or peas we are eating immature fruits and those seeds are not viable yet. It is important to let seeds fully mature on the plant. There are some species that are viable before the seeds dry out (true of many weeds, unfortunately!) but for most plants the seeds need to fully form and at least begin to dry out on the plant.
o Was the plant that you want to seed save from diseased? The good news is that many diseases are not spread through seeds, but when in doubt don't save seeds from an unhealthy plant, or do some research to find out if the problem your plant has is transmissible through seeds.
o How do you clean them? Seeds fall into the category of “wet” or “dry” seeds. Seeds that are dry, plants like flowers, peas, and beans, need to have the chaff (plant material on the outside of the seed) removed. This helps keep the seeds mold and pest free and makes seeds easier to plant and store. Wet seeds come from plants like squashes, berries, tomatoes and cucumbers and the fleshy plant material needs to be removed from those seeds for storage. For some seeds it is just a matter or washing them off (like pumpkins) and for others, like tomatoes and cucumbers, they require a fermentation process to remove the gel like material on the outside. With “wet” seeds, make sure they are fully dry before you store them. I like to call it “snappable.” Think of how dry bean or tomato seeds are when you buy them in a packet at the nursery. That is how dry they should be, and it can take a few weeks, so be patient. Moisture is the enemy of successful seed storage and saving so taking the time to dry them will pay off. Both processes sound complicated but once you get the hang of it seed cleaning can be fun! It can be an engaging task to do with kids, and community, because you must get creative about how to get it done. You have to find the right size screen, or the setting on the fan that is just right to blow the chaff (plant material) away without blowing the seeds away. It is a great exercise in creative engineering!
- Store your seeds in a cool dry place. If they have any moisture inside them (which they probably will unless you dry them under climate-controlled conditions) they might crack if you put them in the freezer. Like a soda can blowing up, the shell of the seed can crack when the water inside expands. Storing them in the refrigerator is also not recommended. Store them in a cool dry place in your house and do not forget to label them! You might think you will never forget those special seeds you saved, but 7 months later you will wonder what in the world those are?!
- Have some great seeds? Don't save them for too many years! Plant them every year or every other year. Each year the chances that they will germinate decrease, so by planting them each year and growing new seeds to save you will keep that plant's genes alive and healthy.
- Don't give up! When I first learned about seed saving, I was so in love with the idea and philosophy behind it and wanted to learn all about it. Then, I started to learn all about it, and I freaked out! So many things to learn, each plant with their own set of needs, different sized seeds, different precautions to take to get them to breed true. I was overwhelmed and thought “how in the world can I do this on at home?!” Just like so many things in life, the answer was “little by little.” First, I learned about one plant (tomatoes) and then about another, and then about plant breeding, and little by little I am learning more each day. Every time I feel like it is too much, I think about how we, as humans, have been doing this for thousands of years and it is done every day around the world. This is an activity that we have been doing for generations and it's our job to keep on learning, keep on failing, keep on trying, and keep on teaching the next generation how to do it….and like always, Master Gardeners are here to help you with your journey! Call us on our helpline, send us an email, attend our free classes. You can become a part of our seed saving community so that you can create your own seed saving community at home, in your kiddo's school, your church, local farmers market, or community garden.
In these last few months, it is with that seed of hope that I carry on with optimism. The optimism that what I cannot see can still be in there; that despite all that is going on in our daily lives and around the world, a kind, safe and healthy world still lies beneath…just waiting for the right time to sprout.
Does seed saving speak to your soul, but still need more info on how to actually do it? Are you an avid seed saver but want to share with like-minded community members? Check out our free monthly Seed Saver Series classes! Right now, they are online, and they are always free. Each month we explore a topic related to seed saving and we would love to have you join us. If you are a beginning seed saver or seasoned seed saver, there is a place for you in our classes! Check out our website to find a list of upcoming classes and we hope to see(d) you there!
In closing, I would like to share a paragraph from a previous blog posting written by Master Gardener Debbie LeDoux that appeared in our May 2020 Master Gardener newsletter highlighting two of our ‘Seed Saver Experts' , Master Gardeners Jillian Kowalczuk and Adam Wagner. “Way to Go” Jillian and Adam!
“Adam and Jillian's pet project as part of theUCCE SanBernardino County Master Gardener program is theYucaipa seed library that they started as a satellite of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District seed library. They are proud of what they have accomplished through the seed library and have enjoyed making it the success that it has become. Though the seed library is temporarily shut down due toCOVID 19 restrictions, they are ensuring that the work they started at theYucaipa seed library continues through the support of the local community. Jillian received permission from theUCCE to donate the seeds to a group that she and Adam started called Seeds ofYucaipa. Seeds ofYucaipa was started with the Oasis Botanical Sanctuary inYucaipa and Unity Church ofYucaipa to help facilitate getting the donated seeds out to the local community WithCOVID 19 restrictions currently in place, they believe people need access to gardening resources such as seeds, soil, and pots now more than ever.”
- Author: Debbie LeDoux
In today's world, we have too much information, too much pressure, and too much to do. Many people would like to contribute to their community. Still, they cannot find time in their busy schedules to volunteer. When UC San Bernardino County Master Gardener Michael Bains first became a Master Gardener in 2017, he wanted to volunteer. He was unsure how he could find the time while working full-time and raising two young children with his wife.
His love for gardening and passion for the UC Master Gardener program inspired him to find creative ways to manage his time to contribute to the Master Gardener program. He saw a need for volunteers to work on the UC San Bernardino County Master Gardener helpline and thought it would be interesting to learn more about it. Michael realized he could research callers' gardening questions and provide answers on his lunch hour or after hours while home with his family. So, he thought he would give it a try. That one small step evolved into Michael's providing consistent helpline support to the local community for several years.
Michael enjoys interacting with the people who contact the helpline. Everyone he has met through the helpline has been appreciative of the information provided by all the volunteers. He says it is a good feeling knowing that he has helped other gardeners. Callers realize the helpline's value delivering research-based and practical gardening and horticulture answers to their questions. San Bernardino County residents are invited to contact Michael and his fellow helpline colleagues with their gardening questions via telephone (909.387-2182) or email email@example.com. Please leave a message with your name and contact information along with specific information about your gardening or landscaping question(s).
Michael learned through the UC Master Gardener program how easy gardening can be. In the class on fruit trees, he learned about the variety of fruit trees grown in San Bernardino and that many trees can be espaliered. Michael had a property section at his house where he wanted to create more privacy from his neighbors. He decided that a couple of espaliered apple trees might multi-task as a privacy screen and provide fruit for his family's consumption. Michael says the process for espaliering trees is not complicated and that anyone can do it. His first step in the process was to embed three posts in the ground 8 feet apart. In step 2, he ran a metal wire across the posts at 18 inches and 36 inches above the ground. Step 3, he planted the apple trees between the posts. Step 4, he attached individual branches of each of the trees to the nearest wire. As each tree branch grows, he continues the process of connecting limbs to the closest wire. Michael enjoyed his first experience with espaliering trees so much that he is espaliering some peach and nectarine trees in his front yard. What Michael likes best about the UC Master Gardener program are the people he meets.
He says that gardeners are some of the nicest people he has ever met and that he has “never met a grumpy gardener.” UC Master Gardeners are just a further example of that! If you are interested in becoming a UC Master Gardener, Michael encourages you “to go for it!” The 3-month research-based UC Master Gardening training takes time; however, it is rewarding. You will learn a lot about home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices. (While the current class is full, if you are interested in next year's class, please leave your contact information with the MG helpline to receive information when the application process opens again).
Michael developed an interest in gardening when he took a vegetable class in 2015 at the Loma Linda Library. He learned a lot about vegetables and realized that he enjoyed gardening. At the time, he thought, "Hey, I can do this!" Taking the vegetable class helped him grow a vegetable garden in his side yard. His gardening interests have taken off from there.
Michael's Native Plants Garden
In learning about sustainable gardening and the importance of native and well-adapted non-native plants, Michael and his wife developed a strong desire to remove the lawn at their home and replace it with native plants. In 2017 he took out the family's front yard. I have heard many different approaches to taking out a lawn, from simple steps to more labor-intensive methods. Michael was so motivated to replace his yard with native plants that he removed it the old-fashioned way with a shovel and hours of backbreaking labor. Michael has been a member for several years of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), now known as the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. He has always enjoyed and appreciated native plants but thinks people sometimes do not fully appreciate them. They see native plants in their natural, wild habitat during the hot summer months when their beauty might not be at their peak. Michael decided he wanted to demonstrate that native plants can be an attractive addition to gardens in all seasons with some TLC, and they are easy to grow. Michael did not need to use any soil amendments; “you just plop them in the ground” and let them grow. Michael posted an excellent article on the UC ANR website about using native plants https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24031.
He replaced one side of the yard with an olive tree and under plantings. He created a courtyard with native plants on the other side of the yard leading to the front door. Michael says it takes work (removal of whatever was there, adding irrigation, mulching) to start a native plant garden. Still, it is a good feeling of accomplishment! In April 2017, Michael decided to transition one of his raised bed vegetable gardens to a cut flower garden.
Michael's Cut Flower Garden
His decision to transition was because he fought a losing a battle with the “Squirrel Hoards of Chino Hills.” Michael found the transition easy because vegetable gardens and cut flower gardens require the same things - rich, loose soil, fertilizer, and regular watering. Be sure to read Michael's helpful article on the transition he made https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=25189.
Michael likes to use drip irrigation systems in his garden. He has converted nearly all his yard to it. Michael has practical advice to anyone interested in converting to a drip irrigation system. Use a drip line and prepare a grid system to cover the whole bed. Don't use a drip line that you will need to punch into and then add emitters. As the plants grow, you will need to move the individual emitters further from the plant. You will also have to go to the trouble of adding more emitters when you plant a new plant. They also seem to break more often. Michael enjoys container gardening as well as in-ground gardening. He likes to grow plants that do not do well in Chino Hills' heavy clay soil in containers. He has dahlias growing in containers this year with an underplanting of pansies, basil, mint, parsley, tea roses, and some clipped boxwood. Michael has a tip for gardeners who are interested in container gardening. The rabbits and squirrels eat those plants too, so be prepared to keep the critters out. They can reach higher than you think.
The UC San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful for Michel's dedication to the helpline. He has extensive practical gardening knowledge that he shares with anyone who contacts the helpline. He also shows us how we can manage our time effectively to fit volunteer activities into our busy lives!
With these cooler temperatures and shorter days come cool season gardens. Cool season gardens that grow in the fall and winter are sometimes less celebrated than spring and summer (warm season) gardens, but they can be just as fun and yield more nutritious produce than our warm season garden.
Our warm season gardens yield lots of delicious and wonderful fruits (the part of the plant that has the seeds), and they are yummy for sure! Our cool season gardens give us lots of edible leaves and stems and roots packed full of vitamins and minerals that we don't get from our warm season garden. So, if you are skipping your cool season garden and waiting until next spring, you are missing the most nutritious gardening time of the year! Here are some tips for success for your cool season garden, and don't forget we offer lots of free classes online (http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/) each month and our helpline is just a call or email away!
- Select the right location: Most veggies take at least 6 hours of sunlight, so check your spot and make sure they will get enough light. The sun starts to go south in the winter, so the shadows in your yard and on your patio change. Track the sunlight for a day in the area you want to plant, watch for shadows and see if there are trees or fences on the south side that may cast a shadow later in the year, in the middle of winter. Veggies can thrive planted directly in the soil, in raised beds or in pots so you do not need a lot of space to have a cool season veggie garden. Don't forget as you are planning your spot to think about vertebrate pests like gophers….they love your cool season veggies just as much as you do, and are often very active in the spring and fall. Plan ahead and contact our Master Gardener helpline if you have questions on how to protect your crops! Remember that having accessible water close by is also very important unless you have the time and energy to carry buckets full of water back and forth since you can't always count on Mother Nature.
- Deciding what to plant: Plant a rainbow of color, plant what you and your family like to eat, and try a few things that you and your family don't like to eat since home grown veggies have a completely different taste than veggies from the store! They are often sweeter and more flavorful, so if you don't like it but have never tried it home grown then give it a try. Some cool season veggies are: carrots, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, radishes, cauliflower, celery, chives, endive, fava beans, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, spinach, swiss chard and turnips, just to name a few! Herbs also grown year-round. Fall is a great time to start cilantro along with many other herbs to compliment your edible vegetable garden. If you live in the mountains you have a really short cool season veggie window, so be sure to select varieties that are “early ripening” so you can get them harvested before the really cold weather comes.
- Preparing your soil: When it comes to growing veggies, you want to have nice and fluffy soil. Many root veggies like a soft soil so they can grow correctly, and the rest of the veggies don't mind it either! Amend your soil with compost to help improve drainage in heavy soils and improve water retention in sandy soils. Add at least two inches of compost and dig it in to the first 6” or so of soil. Don' forget that while compost is great and adds lots of wonderful microorganisms to the mix, it is pretty low on nutrients, so it's not a substitute for fertilizer!
- Fertilizer: Veggies in general are heavy feeders and should be fed regularly to produce a good crop. Generally it's a good idea to fertilize the soil when you plant them. (This isn't usually true of fruit trees, flowers or ornamental landscape plants though so don't do that to all of your plants: more is not always better). Then fertilize approximately every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on your soil and the crop you have planted. A good rule of thumb for growing veggies in pots is to fertilize them half as much twice as often since they are more susceptible to burning than in-ground plants.
- Mulch…mulch and more mulch!! Adding a mulch layer on top of the soil around your garden plants is so important during the summer to retain soil moisture, conserve water, and keep soil temperature cool but it is also important in the cool season, too. Mulch helps keep weeds down when you add at least 3 to 4” and will help keep the soil temperature from getting too cold in the cooler parts of the year. Be sure to keep your mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunks of your trees and away from the stems of your veggies by at least an inch or two. Don't forget if you are going to much and you want weed control that you need to apply a thick layer (3 to 4”). A thin layer can actually encourage weed seed germination. Mulch is not just for plants in the ground either! It can be used in pots as well and has all the same benefits. Just be sure if you have a nice layer of mulch on the ground or in your pots to keep in mind the type of fertilizer you are using. A granular or pellet fertilizer should be applied to the surface of the soil, a liquid fertilizer can be applied over the mulch as long as it is watered in well. When in doubt, pull the mulch back, or call our helpline and we can help you decide how to best apply your fertilizer.
- Watering: Water is just as important to cool season crops as it is to warm season crops, especially since many of the cool season crops we enjoy are water-filled leaves. Though it is just as important, there are a few different things to think about. The humidity is often higher in the winter, so you need to keep moisture off leaves to prevent the spread of pathogens like molds and mildews. This can be done by using drip irrigation systems, or carefully hand watering, and by watering in the morning to prevent moisture from sitting on the leaves of your plants for too long. You also need to think about how hot it is and how much rain we have had, so it is a dynamic situation! Not sure if you need to water? When in doubt, stick your finger in the soil or dig down a bit for deeper rooting veggies and see if the soil is wet. You can always contact our Master Gardener helpline if you have watering questions or concerns.
- Thinking of seed saving? That's great!! There are lots of reasons to save seeds, from saving money, to creatinglocally grown variety, to preserving special or favorite varieties of veggies, and we are here to help! We offer monthly seed saving classes to teach you everything you need to know from the basics to advanced plant breeding techniques. Many cool season veggies cross breed easily so you must plan a little when you are seed saving. Tune into our “Planning your Cool Season Seed Garden” class to learn more….and if that sounds intimidating, don't worry! There are many cool season veggies that are easy to seed save from, like lettuce, radishes, and peas.
- Don't forget about our bugs! The good ones and the not so good for us ones alike (I hate to use the term “bad bugs,” since they are just doing their thing, even if we don't like it!)! There are many cool season (fall and winter) flowers that will do well and provide habitat and food sources for our beneficial insects that help us keep the bugs we don't want in check in our gardens. Don't forget to stop and properly identify your problem before you spray for “pests” as well! Ask yourself “is this pest going to damage my crops? Is it from an actual insect or disease or is it more likely due to watering issue or a change in the weather? Most garden problems are not from insects or diseases. Always remember to use cultural management practices and avoid chemical pesticides in your home garden. Visit our UC ANR Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site to learn more about how to identify and handle your problems: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/. You can search by pest or by plant and they have lots of great photos. Some pests might look “bad” but will cause little damage, and might actually be beneficial for the environment, so investigate before you treat. That helps reduce pollution, saves you money and helps keep your home ecosystem balanced and healthy. Lastly, the pest that caused the damage may be long gone, making proper identification of pests and abiotic (non-living) disorders key!
- Fruit trees? This a good time to be thinking about planting new deciduous fruit trees such as low-chill apples, plums, pears, and cherries since bare-root specimens are best planted in late December to early February. (Citrus and avocados are best planted in spring or fall.) There are many varieties of deciduous fruit to choose from based on the number of chill hours they need and how many chill hours your location has. Check out this website to find information on chill hours for your area: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/chilling_accumulation_models/. You can also choose varieties that ripen successively throughout the year so you can extend your harvest season and you can look for varieties that do well in your specific soil conditions and climate.
- Last, but not least? Natives! Fall is the time to get your native plants and seeds in the ground! This is the time of year they would start coming up naturally and when planted in the fall they will have a much better success rate next summer!
These are the basics you need to think of when planning your cool season veggie garden, and with a little bit of thought and planning, it can be just as delicious, colorful and rewarding as your warm season garden! We are always here to support you through your journey with our monthly free classes, our online “Ask a Master Gardener” time, and our helpline, which is just a call or email away! We will answer your questions and give you moral support when you have challenges. Let us be your cheerleaders and champion and guide you to create the best cool season vegetable garden ever…and don't worry, mistakes will be made….failures will occur…but just like in life, that is how we learn and grow😊