- Author: Marcy Sousa
Winter is a time when a lot of the color of the outdoor world has faded away. The leaves have fallen and gray skies are becoming more frequent. Winter is also a time of happiness and cheer; a time that you spend with your loved ones. Having festive plants in your home is a great way to brighten the atmosphere and bring a feeling of love, laughter, and joy to your holiday gathering.
While the Christmas tree may be the plant most commonly associated with the holidays, flowers like poinsettias, Christmas cactus, cyclamens, and amaryllis are an equally important part of holiday traditions and are widely available from garden centers this time of the year. Whether you're going all out for the holidays or you like to keep things simple for your festivities, these plants and flowers are sure to add some cheer to your holiday decor. Here are a few tips on keeping your holiday plants healthy and happy all season long.
The plant you choose should have dark green foliage. Fallen or damaged leaves indicate poor handling or fertilization, lack of water or a root disease problem. The colorful flower bracts (red, pink, white or bicolor pink and white) should be in proportion to the plant and pot size. Little or no pollen should be showing oil the actual flowers (those red or green button-like parts in the center of the colorful bracts).
The key to caring for poinsettias is knowing these colorful plants are tropicals, and that drafts will often cause them to lose leaves. Keep your poinsettia where the daytime temperature ranges from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and move it to a spot about 60 degrees at night. Grow your poinsettia by a sunny window, but don't let it touch the glass, where heat or cold can damage it.
Most of all, avoid over-watering. Wait until the soil feels dry before you water, and don't leave water standing in the saucer or in any foil wrapped around the pot. If the leaves wilt, and the soil gets dry to the touch, water your poinsettia right away. But remember: wilting or dropping leaves can also be a sign of over watering. If the soil is soggy when the leaves fall, you've probably watered too much.
To get the most out of a Christmas cactus, purchase plants that have a healthy green color and lots of unopened flowers. Plants purchased that are already in full bloom will not flower as long once you get them home. Despite their common name, Christmas cacti are succulents, and aren't as drought tolerant as you might think. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, while they're in bloom. If the stems start to look flabby, you're probably over-watering. They do best in a temperatures ranging from 50° to 70°F and in bright light (but not direct sun). If the buds drop, your plant may have been exposed to a draft or sudden temperature change, or you may have let it get too dry.
These cacti also can be grown as houseplants in pots with porous, fertile soil, excellent drainage and bright indirect light. They bloom well when slightly crowded in their pots, and can be propagated by rooting a leaf segment in damp gravel or vermiculite.
When the flowers fade, move your cactus to a sunny window, or put it outdoors for the summer in partial shade. When the temperatures drop in fall, start bringing the plant back in, gradually increasing the time it's indoors to let it adjust to the lower light levels. To grow in the ground or in pots, use a rich, porous soil mixture containing equal parts by volume of coarse sand, peat moss and leaf mold.
The most important things to know about cyclamen plant care is to give these houseplants bright, indirect light, fresh air, good humidity, and moist soil without keeping the tuber so wet that it rots. Provide high humidity by keeping them on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water. Place plant in an east window or a southern exposure. Day temperatures of 60°F to 65°F and nights at 50° to 55°F are ideal. Do not let temperatures get above 70 degrees or the plant will think it's time to go dormant.
To keep the plant moist, water cyclamen thoroughly when the soil looks and feels dry on the surface, however, avoid watering the leaves or tubers in the center, which may rot if it remains too wet. A safer method is to place each pot in a saucer of water for about five minutes, or until the soil is uniformly moist.
As each flower fades, remove the entire flower stalk from where it attaches to the tuber by giving it a sharp tug. New flowers will emerge from one of the many buds waiting just below the foliage. Cyclamens will bloom near the Christmas season and continue blossoming for two to three months.
Although the amaryllis can be purchased at any stage of development, for many the real fun is growing their own plant from a bulb. Most amaryllis bulbs are sold already potted and with complete growing instructions. Once watering is started, you can expect magnificent blooms of red, pink, white, or orange in four to six weeks.
Enjoy your amaryllis for the maximum time possible by placing it in a location with diffused light and cool indoor temperatures in the 60-degree range. Keep it barely moist. When you water, be careful not to wet the portion of the bulb that sticks above the soil. If you have a large bulb, you may get two or three flowering stalks that bloom over a period of several weeks.
- Author: Kathy Grant
The rainy season can be a mixed blessing. If your home garden landscape is well designed to maximize rainwater storage, then rain is a blessing. If your landscape is poorly designed, or has too much impervious surfaces, then rain can be a curse. Whatever your situation, however, take heart! Small adjustments can be made to prepare for the next storm, though some projects will take longer and require work done in the dry season.
Start by observing your garden during rain events, looking for ways to prevent rain, or stormwater from leaving your property. Study your garden's watershed. The goal is to keep all rainwater onsite. Healthy soil full of organic matter, properly mulched landscape beds, disconnected downspouts, swales or rain gardens, permeable paths and surfaces, rain barrels, rain chains, trees, trees, and more trees, will help slow the flow and saturate your soil with rainwater, without flooding or creating messy muddy areas.
Healthy Soil is Key- If you are a serious gardener, then you already know the importance of organic rich soil,
“Organic matter (OM) comprises a small percentage of most soils by volume, however, it plays a crucial role in soil health and ecosystem services because of its interaction with many other soil properties. Soil OM increases the soil's water holding capacity, cation (an ion or group of ions) exchange capacity, fertility, microbial abundance and diversity, and soil structure. … Soil OM is the largest pool of terrestrial carbon, containing 77% more carbon than above-ground vegetation, playing a significant role in climate regulation.”
Which simply said, means soil's organic matter is key to a healthy garden, and a healthy planet.
Watch Gabe Brown, author of the book, From Dirt to Soil: One Family's Journey into Regenerative Agriculture on YouTube, “Regeneration of Our Lands-A Producer's Perspective”- if you want to learn more about pore spaces, water retention, and regenerative ag. Let the revolution begin at home!
Downspouts- Surprisingly, for every inch of rain that falls on a rooftop area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons of rainwater. So, recent October rains in Lodi, where 5.5 inches of rain fell in one 24-hour period, you could say that 3,300 gallons, or 4.4 cubic feet of water fell from 1,000ft rooftops in a day. It's no
Rain Gardens and Swales- A typical residential rain garden averages from 100-300 square feet, and is 4- 8 inches deep, depending on soil type, percolation rate, and the amount of water which will drain to the site. Placing your swale or rain garden near a downspout is an easy way to capture water till it percolates and is banked in the soil. Keep the garden at least 10 feet from your house and consider carefully which plants are planted in this rain garden. Learn more about creating a rain garden.
- Other rainy day thoughts:
Pesticides and Fertilizers- Always store in a dry place. Runoff from our gardens often carry toxic pesticides and herbicides to nearby waterways.
- Monitor Ground Moisture- Especially under eaves, and patios.
- San Joaquin Valley Planting Chart
Remember, every drop of water soaked into your garden's soil, is a step towards drought recovery.
If you have gardening questions, contact the Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112 or visit our website at ucanr.edu/sjmg.
Photos courtesy of Kathy Grant
- Author: Kathy Ikeda
An acquaintance recently told me about a favorite and once thriving shrub that was in serious decline. The problem: over time, branches from a nearby tree had grown and spread so widely that they were shading out the sun-loving plant. The only viable options: severely prune back the mature tree and destroy its structure, or risk digging up the mature shrub and transplanting it to a more favorable location. A major change was needed.
As ambulatory beings, we human beings are fortunate. If an environment is unhealthy or not to our liking, we generally have the option of walking away and putting ourselves in a better place. Not so with plants. They are permanently rooted to one spot—unless we move them—and they must adapt and thrive or wither and die.
In a natural setting, plants are completely at the mercy of environmental factors, living to old age only if conditions are favorable. On the other hand, plants growing in a garden setting rely on their human caretakers to provide for their needs: proper sun exposure, healthy soil, adequate water and nutrients. We must be vigilant over time, watching as plants grow and conditions change, because a landscape (like a growing child) is a living, dynamic, ever-evolving thing.
Commercially-grown plants have been raised under optimal conditions, with carefully scheduled watering and fertilizing, precisely engineered soil mix, efficient pest control, and constantly monitored air circulation. Once they make their way from grower to nursery to home, they must usually contend with less than ideal circumstances.
Annual plants—with lifespans of only a year—usually manage to complete their life cycle even if we mistakenly plant them in a poor place. But other plants—long lived trees, shrubs, and other perennials—need to be monitored to ensure that they remain healthy over the long term. It's an approach equivalent to an annual medical exam.
To ensure that your garden thrives, begin by following the principle of “right plant, right place.” Each species of plant evolved in its own niche in the world, and thus has its own preferences for soil type (loamy, sandy, clayey, rocky), sun exposure (full sun, partial shade, full shade), water needs (low, moderate, high), heat and cold tolerances, and more. If you duplicate these conditions as much as possible and choose a planting location carefully, your chances of success are high.
Another element of the “right plant, right place” concept involves space. Each type of plant grows to a specific size when mature, so you should take this eventual size into consideration when formulating a planting plan.
A well-planned landscape should look somewhat sparsely planted in the first year or two. Once plants are well established, they will soon grow to fill in the empty space. Plants that aren't given adequate space at the outset soon become overcrowded, and this leads to a host of problems: a need for excessive shearing or pruning, which stresses and destroys the natural form of plants; poor air circulation, which can encourage rot or pest infestations; and competition for limited soil nutrients, which results in sickly looking plants or a need for too-frequent fertilizing. (Many commercial landscapes suffer from such overcrowding; they're planted densely to avoid any bare look from the outset, and that initially pretty appearance steadily declines in subsequent years.)
One approach is to think of a garden as a metaphorical neighborhood. Gardens tend to be at their best when plants are grouped with others that have the same or similar growing conditions, and when they are given space to be themselves. Would you choose to live in a crowded area with aggressive, hostile neighbors? (Wrong place.) Or would you rather be in a place with some space, with like-minded and/or respectful neighbors? (Right place.)
People and plants are alike in many ways. An outdoorsy, sun-loving person won't thrive in a dark and gloomy office. Someone who prefers cool, shady climates will wilt if relocated to a hot place. Those from dry locales can quickly become depressed when spending time in a rainy, soggy environ. Such comparisons can be extended to the plant world. All living things have specific and very individual needs in order to flourish.
Before you choose a plant, consult a reputable source such as the Sunset Western Garden Book, a knowledgeable nursery professional, or a horticulture specialist. If the size of your site and the planting zone and conditions coincide with the plant's needs, chances are it will be happy once it's in the ground… and it will be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
- Author: Kathy Ikeda
Have you ever wondered where to go for advice about landscaping or vegetable gardening? Does a pest problem have you stumped? Do you need guidance on how and when to prune your favorite specimen plant or fruit tree? Master Gardeners
The Master Gardener Program is administered by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), and is part of the University of California, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR). Our mission is “to extend research-based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California…”
Master Gardeners go through an extensive training program and background screening, and once certified, they must also complete annual requirements for volunteer hours and continuing education. In other words, when you enlist the help of a Master Gardener, rest assured that you're receiving top-notch assistance.
One of the primary ways San Joaquin Master Gardeners help county residents is through our Help Desk, which is open from 9:00 a.m. to noon from Monday through Thursday. For general gardening questions, you may contact the help line at (209) 953-6112. If you need help with identification of a pest or weed, or diagnosis of a plant disease or problem, it's best to contact our volunteers by email (email@example.com), or to visit our office in person at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Blvd., Suite 200 (off Arch-Airport Road in Stockton). When using email, it's helpful to send a few clear photos along with a description. If coming to our office in person, please bring an intact insect or a large plant sample in a tightly sealed clear plastic bag or jar, to prevent potential spread of a harmful condition or invasive pest.
Our “UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County” website is another key part of our outreach, with countless articles, helpful links, and other garden-related information appropriate for our area. The information available is far too extensive to list here, so set aside some time to visit our site and explore its many resources.
Your local Master Gardener volunteers also participate in many local community education projects. These currently include:
- The Learning Landscape, our volunteer-maintained demonstration garden at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center (address above). This garden is open to the public year-round, and its six miniature landscapes—All-Stars, California Native, Edible, Foliage, Mediterranean, and Pollinator—are designed to inspire and educate visitors. Plant specimens are labeled with both scientific and common names; informative signage explains the garden's sustainable design elements and irrigation system. Visit the landscape on your own, or look for notice of our biannual public event: Open Garden Day, held in both the spring and fall.
- Garden Notes, our quarterly newsletter. Both current and prior issues are available online; visit our website and click on the newsletter link on the home page.
- The “What's Growing On” blog—of which this article is a part—which is a series of weekly articles on a wide variety of garden-related topics. The full series of articles is available at http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/gardening/.
- Monthly workshops in Stockton and Manteca. Check our online “Calendar of Events” for locations, dates, and times.
- The annual Smart Gardening Conference, which is next scheduled for March 3, 2018. Specific details and registration information will soon be posted on our website.
- The School and Community Gardens Committee, with expert consultants that can help your organization establish and properly maintain an edible or ornamental garden. We currently work with the Boggs Tract Community Farm, the Stockton Emergency Food Bank garden, the garden at the LOEL Senior Center in Lodi, the Black Urban Farmers Association, and many other school and community sites throughout the county.
- Community outreach. San Joaquin Master Gardeners volunteer their time and talents at various special events throughout the County: farmers' markets in Stockton and Tracy; AgVenture programs in Lodi, Manteca, and Stockton; Arbor Day events throughout the county; Stockton's Earth Day Celebration at Victory Park; the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi; and many more.
The statewide Master Gardener program also has a tremendous selection of online resources and other valuable information for the general public. Visit their website (http://mg.ucanr.edu) and click on the “Gardening Resources” icon to access a page with links to:
- The California Garden Web, a portal to UC's collection of garden-related research.
- The California Backyard Orchard, with guidance on growing fruit and nut trees at home.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM), on how to cope with garden problems while minimizing impacts to the human and natural environs.
- ANR Publications, with a wealth of UC-published books and pamphlets.
Master Gardener volunteers throughout California have donated nearly five and a half million hours of their time—and San Joaquin Master Gardeners have donated almost 49,000 hours in the last ten years— to help people like you with garden-related questions and issues. We're always glad for opportunities to serve you, because gardening is our passion!
If you have any questions about the San Joaquin Master Gardener programs mentioned above, need help with gardening-related questions, or would like to become a Master Gardener yourself, please call our office at 209-953-6100, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website.
- Author: Lee Miller
A friend asked me recently if there are modest sized trees to plant for shade. Her recent experience was removing a Magnolia tree which had cracked up her driveway. The back-hoe operator, who took out the root-ball, said it was the largest he had ever removed. We have to be wary of planting trees that grow too large for their space or so large that they are very expensive to remove them when their expiration date comes around and all living things do have an expiration date. Recently, I removed three large, old evergreen conifers from the backyard of my new home to make room and sunshine for growing dahlias and vegetables. It was costly and made me aware that planting trees that grow to a large size can be a financial loser.
When it comes to planting the right size tree and a beautiful one there is a tree that fills the bill and that is Autumn Blaze Maple. It is a patented hybrid of red and silver maples. Whereas red maple (Acer rubrum) is a large tree to 120 feet in nature, the hybrid ‘Autumn Blaze' (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred'), has a maximum height of 50 ft. It has brilliant eye catching red color, dense branching and rapid growth. It is fast growing, disease resistant, tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, doesn't drop seed pods and is resistant to car exhaust pollution.
Another red maple cultivar is Acer rubrum ‘columnare'. It grows in a more column like manner, elliptical in form but spreading more in maturity. There is a beautiful pair of red maple trees across the street from my home and I think they have the ‘columnar' appearance. Unfortunately, they were planted a bit too close to the house, but the current owner didn't plant them and when he discovered how attractive they are in the fall, he decided not to remove them. For more information on Red Maples, click here.
When it comes to selecting smaller trees that work for areas under power lines, PG&E has a list of recommended trees that are under 25 feet for you. You can find more about this and order a brochure from this website .
One smaller tree that will not exceed 25 feet is crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). There are a variety of cultivars and the National Arboretum has released over 24 hybrids selected for cold hardiness, resistance to powdery mildew and other pests, and for varying heights, vigor, habits, flower colors, fall foliage colors, and bark characteristics. All U.S. National Arboretum cultivars have Native American names. Powdery mildew commonly infects older varieties.
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood' is a good small tree for the Central Valley as it handles heat better than some Japanese maples. It will do better if afforded some afternoon shade, but it can handle full sun. It needs moist soil, so is not a drought tolerant variety, but will appreciate mulching to conserve moisture. Its maximum height and spread is about 20 ft.
Easter Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a beauty when it blooms in the spring. My country home was named Redbud Farm because the original owner had planted several redbuds on the property and they are now very mature trees. They bloom a gorgeous pink for about 3 weeks in the spring before leafing out and they attain a height of about 30 feet and 20 feet wide. Monrovia has a cultivar of the Eastern Redbud that is better adapted to the southwest named ‘Mexicana' and for other small trees, click here. The Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is a native and more drought tolerant than its
Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) is an evergreen tree of 15 ft. height and as wide with edible flowers and edible fruit. They are deer resistant, if you live in deer country, and seem to be generally pest-proof. Once established they are drought tolerant and although self-fruitful, I have never had any fruit on my solitary tree so better to plant more than one if you want the fruit. They can tolerate some shade and require only light pruning to shape them. They make a good screen plant and can be pruned into a hedge though not recommended.
Whatever tree you plant, may it be beautiful, small and tidy.