- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
- Author: Debbie LeDoux
I recently enjoyed taking a “virtual garden walk” with UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Betty Richards (class of 2016) while chatting on a Zoom call with her.
I came away from our meeting with the distinct impression that the gardening world is a better place with Betty in it. She has always had a deep interest in our environment and what individuals can do to protect it and make it a better place to thrive.
With increased awareness of the importance of native plants to birds, bees, butterflies, and our environment, Betty has become more active in promoting California native plants in home gardens. With her science background (she is a retired physician), coupled with a passion for sustainable gardening and protecting the environment, she has a winning combination for success.
Betty not only believes in the UC Master Gardener mission of sustainable gardening but exhibits her beliefs through her actions and participation in numerous volunteer activities. Volunteering for various Master Gardener activities has allowed Betty to meet people and find out about other projects that interest her. She has successfully and tirelessly led many Master Gardener projects.
Betty and fellow Master Gardeners designed the native plants demonstration garden at the historic Asistencia on Barton Road in West Redlands. The Asistencia was acquired by the Redlands Conservancy to teach about the history of Redlands, the history of native Californians, and as a place to demonstrate the importance of incorporating native plants in neighborhood landscapes. In November 2019, Betty worked with a large group of volunteers from the UC Master Gardeners and the local community to plant the demonstration garden. She continues to be involved in the Asistencia project by educating the staff about caring for the native plants. She is currently working with fellow Master Gardeners Heather Ross and Heather Nichol on designing and implementing the main front garden area and a cactus/succulent garden at the Asistencia. We look forward to seeing the changes that Betty and the UC Master Gardeners team and other community volunteers make to the Asistencia gardens.
Betty is the main organizer of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners' presence at the Redlands Farmers' Market. She coordinates volunteers, makes sure the Master Gardener information table is set up, and that printed gardening materials are available to give out to people who stop by. Betty says it is fun to talk to the folks who visit. Working at the Farmers' Market is an excellent opportunity to get to know fellow master gardeners working at the table and trade gardening tips. Betty is looking forward to COVID restrictions being lifted so the Master Gardeners can get back to providing research-based answers to gardening questions!
In early 2020, Betty started organizing a quarterly series of talks by Master Gardeners at the Redlands Community Center on Lugonia Avenue. This was begun, as an educational activity for gardeners from the city's community gardens and attracted many community members. Betty hopes to continue these well-attended talks when COVID restrictions are lifted and the community center reopens.
Last spring, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners Betty Richards, Linda Richards (no relation to Betty), and Brenda Spoelstra got together with the California Native Plant Society's local chapter and planned a tour of their local native gardens. Each of the three yards was in different lawn replacement stages with low water-use plants – Brenda Spoelstra's new drought-tolerant space, Betty Richards' maturing (3-5 years) garden, and Linda Richards' mature garden. When the COVID 19 pandemic made the tour impossible, they made virtual tours of the gardens and posted them online https://ifnaturecouldtalk.com/youre-invited-to-virtually-visit-three-california-gardens.
Gardens such as the three featured in the native plants video take time and care. The transition of Betty's lawn to a native plants garden has evolved over the past 3-5 years, and continues to evolve. In 2015, she decided she would begin the process of transitioning the water-thirsty lawn at her home to California natives and other low water use plants. She started the process by learning all she could about which native plants to grow in her garden. She took a class on how to grow native plants at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden (now California Botanical Garden) in Claremont, California. The 86 acres garden is a non-profit organization dedicated to California native plants. Events and classes are offered throughout the year.
Betty also researched native plants on the California Native Plant Society Calscape website https://calscape.org/. She recommends the website to anyone interested in making the transition to a native plants garden. It is an excellent source of information about which plants are native to any location in the state. It helps people figure out which plants to use, where to buy the plants and how to grow them.
When Betty started to work on the transition, she decided to leave a group of existing White Alder trees that thrived in the well-watered lawn space. She added an extension to a pre-existing drip irrigation line to continue to give the trees the irrigation they needed. After putting in a path of decomposed granite she planted a group of three desert willows and added other low-water-requiring native shrubs and perennials. Every year she adds a few more plants and throws out some wildflower seeds before the first winter rains.
She has recently added a birdbath to encourage birds to stop by and visit the garden. Over the years, she has seen an increase in native bees, butterflies, and birds. Her water bill has even decreased significantly! The evolution of Betty's garden continues with plans to add keystone species of plants to the landscape. Keystone plants for our local area such as live oaks, ceanothus, coyote brush, and black sage are especially important in supporting a diversity of life.
For the past year, Betty has been working as a volunteer at Caroline Park in Redlands. The City of Redlands 16+ acres park is planted with California native plants. On Tuesday mornings, a small, dedicated crew works to remove invasive non-native plants, prune, and maintain the plants and trails. If you have the opportunity, take a walk in Caroline Park to see which California native plants are blooming. The park is primarily a great example of the dwindling Coastal Sage, although it also showcases several habitats, including woodlands and various chaparral plants. Betty would love readers to view the beautifully produced video she made to spread the word about this local native plants gem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7FQAb0AuOI. She hopes that the video will inspire people to plant some natives in their home landscape. I have viewed the video several times and am always touched by the “visual poem” created by Betty to the park.
In the summer of 2018, Betty and fellow UC Master Gardeners Anita Matlock and Trisha Fitzgerald participated in transforming a grassy area in the front yard of Micah House into a lovely drought-tolerant garden. Micah House in North Redlands is an after-school educational program for children and youth from 1st through 12th grades. It provides homework help, tutoring, literacy education and character-building themes and extracurricular activities, including gardening, art, music, and bike restoration.
Master Gardeners removed the existing lawns and replaced them with drought-tolerant plants watered by a new drip irrigation system. They partnered with Micah House staff, families of their after-school program, and the community. On planting the day, they worked with volunteers from Trinity Church and children and staff from the Micah House program to put the finishing touches on the water-wise garden. The project was made possible through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD). (Betty also serves as an advisory committee member for the IERCD/UCCE Master Gardener partnership which helps UCCE programs reach over 35,000 county residents each year.)
Betty has always been interested in outdoor activities such as gardening, birding, hiking, and camping. She has done some vegetable gardening in raised beds and some planting of “this and that about the yard.” So, when she heard about the UC Master Gardener program through a friend who was applying to Riverside County's class, she applied to the UC San Bernardino County course. The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful that Betty took that step and joined.
Betty says that what she likes best about the Master Gardener program is meeting new friends who love to garden and share their gardening knowledge. She encourages anyone interested in becoming a Master gardener to apply. “There are many opportunities to try different gardening areas. It doesn't matter whether you are a very experienced gardener, an enthusiastic beginner, an introvert, an extrovert, no matter your age or abilities. You can start a community garden, present at gardening events, or even help provide research-based information to people calling in on the Master Gardener Helpline. There are many opportunities to utilize your current skills and strengths and develop new ones and develop confidence.” Working on the Micah House project gave Betty the confidence to jump into designing the Asistencia project.
Through the Master Gardener program, Betty has become more aware of the many ways people in our communities are working toward a sustainable future for our region and our planet.
Here is some "food for thought" that I came away with from my time spent chatting with Betty. Birds are an excellent indicator of the health of the environment. 29% of the population of birds in the United States and Canada have disappeared since the 1970s. Many songbirds require insects to feed to their young. Caterpillars are especially important to birds. Betty is a natural teacher, illustrating concepts through storytelling that non-gardeners and gardeners can understand. “Think of a caterpillar as a little sausage full of good nutrition for a baby bird. Most caterpillars (not just the Monarch butterfly caterpillars) require particular native plants. As we lose our wild areas to development, we are losing our birds and butterflies. This is because the ornamental plants we have used in our gardens for so many years do very little to support them. We can do something about this by planting native plants and avoiding the use of pesticides. We don't have to have 100 % of natives to make a difference."
GALLERY OF SOME OF THE NATIVE PLANTS IN BETTY'S GARDEN.
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