- Author: Stephanie Erskine
- Editor: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
The Hummingbird: A Universal Symbol of Joy and happiness
Hummingbirds are indigenous to North, Central and South America but they have become important to people in many other parts of the world. While each culture has its own unique interpretation, these tiny birds are universally revered as positive symbols of life, healing, bringers of good luck and hope. With so much to be worried about these days, attracting more hummingbirds to our gardens could be just what we need.
There are three main species of hummingbirds in the coastal Bay Area: Anna's (Calypte anna), Allen's (Selasphorus sasin) and Rufous (Selasphorus rufus). Of the three, Anna's are the most numerous and widespread. The deep rose-red head and throat of the male Anna's hummingbird make them easy to spot. Allen's hummingbirds are slightly smaller with orange-red throats, iridescent green backs and reddish-brown tail feathers. Rufous hummingbirds are similar in color and size to Allen's but lack distinctive green feathers on their backs.
All species of hummingbirds have the same requirements; food (nectar, insects & spiders), fresh water and cover. Anna's is native to the area and due to the mild climate and year-round availability of food and water, most Anna's hummingbirds do not migrate.
Bay Area hummers like to live in the openings and edges of forested areas/groves of trees and are also drawn to gardens with a wide variety of plants, especially natives. A blend of tall trees, shrubs and open patches of meadow or groundcover creates a habitat that will be attractive to hummingbirds. Originally from Australia, Eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in Northern and Southern California and although problematic in fire-prone areas, they provide food and nesting sites for Anna's hummingbirds and other birds.
Favorite Blooms: Colorful and Shapely
Red tubular flowers are especially attractive to hummingbirds because the shape and color usually signal a rich source of high-octane nectar. Consequently, hummers will also visit orange and pink tubular flowers but find paler yellow and white blooms less appealing. Red, non-tubular flowers such as roses and geraniums may lure hummingbirds with their color, but they offer little nectar, so the birds quickly leave to find something else. Flowers that rely on sweet scents to attract insect pollinators usually do not provide a nectar source for hummingbirds.
The Ultimate Hummingbird Garden
The ultimate hummingbird garden is one full of native plants chosen for the specific growing conditions of the site and one that is designed for year-round seasonal blooms.
Although it might sound daunting at first, adding just a few plants can make a big difference. Here are a few examples of plants that attract hummingbirds:
- WINTER: Manzanitas, Chaparral Currant, Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry.
- SPRING: Pink-Flowering currant, Black sage salvia, Monkeyflower, Hummingbird sage.
- LATE SPRING: Penstemon centranthifolius
- SUMMER: Scarlet monkeyflower, California fuchsia, Red flowering current, Channel Island snapdragon.
- FALL: Aster
- WINTER: Tobacco plant, Grevillea, Australian fuchsia
- SPRING/SUMMER: Salvia spp, Agastache spp, Penstemons spp, Zinnia, Thyme leaf fuchsia, Aloe, Echeveria.
- FALL: Salvias ssp.
Although flowering plants are the best source of nectar for hummingbirds, adding to what's available in the garden provides extra food during the nesting season, migration and winter months.
Feeders should be filled with a solution made of one part refined white sugar to 4 parts water. Important: use only white sugar. Do not use honey, molasses or artificial sweeteners which, when mixed with water are breeding grounds for potentially fatal bacteria. Red food color is not necessary since natural nectar is clear. Bring the solution to a boil, let cool and fill the feeder. Store the remaining solution in the refrigerator and let warm to room temperature before refilling. When empty, wash hummingbird feeders thoroughly then refill with fresh solution. Monitor feeders and keep them filled with clean solutions. Solution that has become contaminated with dead insects, fungus or bacteria will kill hummingbirds.
A stationary birdbath is nice for songbirds but hummingbirds love fresh moving water. A small fountain or mister will attract them to your garden.
HUMMINGBIRD FUN FACTS
- Hummingbirds can hover and fly backward
- Hummingbirds move their wings in a figure-eight pattern
- When resting, a hummingbird breathes approximately 150 times per minute.
- A human with the same metabolic rate as a hummingbird would need to eat 300 hamburgers a day to survive.
- Hummingbirds are powerful pollinators. As they move from plant to plant, drinking nectar (up to 2X their body weight per day) they carry pollen.
- Hummingbirds can be identified by the sounds they make, either “twitters” or “squeaks.”
- Hummingbirds recognize the humans who take care of them.
- Some male hummingbirds dive up and down in the air to impress potential mates. In doing so they experience gravitational forces 10X normal. (Fighter pilots do not exceed 7Xg.)
Stephanie Erskine is a UC Master Gardener who welcomes hummingbirds in her pollinator garden. The article was edited by Maggie Mah and Cynthia Nations, UC Master Gardeners.
- Author: Jamie M. Chan
- Editor: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
Attention all gardeners: how much do you know about the insects that inhabit your landscape? Can you tell which ones are beneficial and which are potentially damaging? Insects are considered the largest biomass of all terrestrial animals and with 10 quintillions (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) alive at any one time, it's good to know that only between 1 and 3 percent are considered pests.
As to the other 97-99%, many “bugs” are actually very helpful. Some of them keep other pests in check by dint of their spot on the food chain. Others, such as our native bees, honeybees, butterflies, moths and others help to fertilize our food and flower-producing plants by spreading pollen.
In the natural world, there are truly no “good” or “bad” bugs, but as gardeners, our goal is often to protect crops and ornamental plants from insect damage. To that end, UC Master Gardeners practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a holistic long-term strategy that employs biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and the use of resistant varieties instead of reliance on pesticides and other means of chemical control.
A key component of IPM is the use of “Natural Enemies,” which are defined scientifically as organisms that kill, inhibit reproduction or otherwise reduce the numbers of other organisms. In other words, “Natural Enemies” act as our allies by controlling the less desirable bugs that do damage to our gardens and crops.
Here are some examples of “Natural Enemies” and what they do:
- Predators: spiders, many beetles, flies, true bugs, lacewings and other bugs who make their living by eating other insects.
- Parasitizing insects: while it may sound like a sci-fi movie, parasitic insects, such as small wasps, lay their eggs inside other insects or their eggs. Also called “Parasitoids,” these insects can make a dramatic reduction in the numbers of undesirable insects.
- Insect-eating animals such as birds, bats, amphibians and certain reptiles are also considered “Natural Enemies.”
Once you get to know the “Natural Enemies” in your garden, you'll also want to learn how to recognize their different life stages. This is important to know because they eat different things at different life stages. For instance, only the larval forms of insect
predators such as lady beetles, hoverflies, lacewings, and parasitic wasps consume pests whereas the adult forms feed primarily on nectar or pollen.
Garden stores often sell certain types of beneficial insects but you can recruit your own and keep them in your garden by creating conditions that support their complete life cycle. Such a garden is often called an “insectary.” Here are ways to create an insect-friendly habitat in your garden:
- Plant a combination of perennials and annuals for greater insect diversity.
- Grow plants of varying heights in both sun and shade to provide food and habitat for different insects and life stages–eggs, pupae, larvae, and adults.
- Make sure to include plenty of plants with small or compound flowers such as asters, alyssum, small sunflowers, yarrow, cosmos, mints, basil, thyme, lavender, parsley, dill, borage, and other herbs--a majority of beneficial insects prefer them.
- Remember that the unwanted pest in your garden is food for your natural predator friends. You may need to accept some level of plant damage to sustain your allies.
- Use chemical pesticides only as a last resort and seek out less toxic alternatives. Too often, beneficial insects are killed just as effectively as the pest species and can make a problem worse.
At the end of the day, we all want beautiful, thriving gardens. By focusing on providing proper nutrients and water and creating a welcome home for our insect allies, we can create healthy, resilient plants that will survive any insect invasion.
- UC IPM Natural Enemies Gallery
- UC IPM Pest Notes, Biological Control and Natural Enemies of Invertebrates
- How to Attract and Maintain Pollinators in Your Garden
- Less Toxic Insecticides
This article was written by Master Gardener Jamie M.Chan and edited by Master Gardeners Maggie Mah and Cynthia Nations.
- Author: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
Oranges, lemons and limes—oh, my! They are the basis of our favorite refreshing drinks and what's a platter of seafood without plump wedges of lemon or lime? Citrus fruits are practically synonymous with sunny climes so it might seem like growing your own in our fogbound coastal climate could be an exercise in frustration. Not so! Here's how:
Look for citrus cultivars that are higher in acid, such as lemons and limes. These varieties will do better in cooler coastal areas because temperatures are normally too low to develop the sugars needed for the sweet flavors of oranges and mandarins. Improved Meyer Lemons (a lemon-mandarin hybrid) do well in cooler climates and if you want something orange, discover the fun sweet-tart flavor of kumquats. They are great in salads with pecans and goat cheese.
Location, location, location:
Citrus trees need plenty of sun and also need protection from the wind. If you decide to plant your citrus in the ground, identify the spots in your garden that get the most hours of sunlight and if necessary, provide a small structure to buffer the wind. This might be in an area that is sheltered by your house or other structure or against a sunny wall. Caution: mature trees can get quite large so be sure to factor that in when selecting your location.
If space is an issue, consider dwarf trees: they produce full size fruit and yield 50- 60% of full sized trees. Young citrus trees can also be trained as espaliers on a trellis or fence. Eureka lemons and Nagami kumquats are good choices for espaliers.
Citrus trees and fruits are frost tender so coastal gardeners do have one advantage over their inland counterparts: the danger of frost is less on the coast than in other areas farther inland.
Citrus trees require well-drained soil for healthy roots so if you have trouble finding a spot that meets all the above criteria, planting in containers is a great alternative. Read on!
If you cannot find a permanent location, consider planting your citrus above ground. Properly cared for, citrus trees can do very well for years without repotting. Unglazed terra cotta pots are generally best for controlling moisture since citrus roots like to dry a bit between watering.
Setting the pot on a wheeled caster will allow you to move it and maximize sun exposure. If you have a spot inside your home that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight, you can even move your citrus indoors. After all, the L'Orangerie in Paris was built to maintain precious orange trees through harsh northern European winters. One word of caution: provide adequate moisture protection for indoor flooring!
Much Ado About Mulch
Citrus trees are evergreen so they need adequate amounts of moisture and nutrients year round. One of the very best ways to maintain the right amount of moisture and feed your citrus at the same time is by maintaining high levels of organic matter in the soil. Organic mulches help to hold and improve the tree's ability to utilize water in the soil. Mulches also provide a slow, continuous release of essential nutrients such as nitrogen and also help preserve the tree's natural resistance to fungal diseases. What might look like “yard waste” is actually a feast for your citrus. So mix up wood chips, leaves and some grass clippings in roughly equal amounts and spread out around your plants. They will thank you!
Nothing perfumes the air like the heady scent of citrus blooms and healthy trees are usually covered in blossoms. But many a gardener has looked on in dismay at the site of flowers dropping to the ground followed by a number of tiny incipient fruits. Citrus typically produce far more blossoms and fruits than can be supported to maturity so dropping is the tree's own way of thinning down the number of fruits it can viably produce. Unless the tree shows other signs of stress (yellowing, curling, dieback, etc.) due to other factors, there's no need to worry.
For more on citrus: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/FRUIT/citrus.html For help identifying diseases and disorders of leaves and twigs: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/C107/m107bpleaftwigdis.html
This article was written by Maggie Mah, a University of California Master Gardener. The article was edited by UC Master Gardeners Cynthia Nations and Maggie Mah.
- Author: Cynthia Nations
- Editor: Maggie Mah
Flowers: they're not just for centerpieces anymore-
If there's a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it's that many of us turned to cooking and gardening to cope with many more hours at home and enforced isolation. With plenty of inspiration from foodie TV shows and Internet sites, we gained expertise and became more adventurous with meal preparation over the long months of lock down. Now, with daily life returning to some new version of normal, we may be spending less time in the kitchen but making everyday food and beverages a bit more special is something we want to keep on doing. Edible flowers, which have been used for centuries and in many different cuisines, are a great way to add color and flavor to all kinds of dishes. It couldn't be simpler and you might even have the ingredients right outside your kitchen door. Getting started is easy, educational and fun.
Safety first: Do your homework
- Not all flowers or all the parts of an otherwise edible flower are safe to eat and some are poisonous and, if ingested, could cause serious illness. Doing a bit of research up front will help you determine which flowers are safe to consume. Edible flowers can also cause problems with your digestive tract if eaten in large amounts.
- A good practice is to grow your own or purchase from a reputable store. Either way, ensure they are grown without pesticides and other chemicals that could be harmful to ingest.
- Don't take a chance on flowers that are growing in the wild or on the side of the road. The plant that appears to be Queen Anne's Lace could actually be the extremely poisonous Wild Hemlock.
Next: A few easy steps
Treat flowers as you would delicate salad greens by submerging gently in a bowl of water. Swish lightly and allow the flowers to drain before spreading out on a dry kitchen towel. Some flowers, such as nasturtiums and pansies can be eaten whole. For others, you may need to remove the petals from the pistils and stamen because these parts are often very bitter. It's fun to do a bit of tasting ahead of time to get to know the flavors of each edible flower and which will work best in a particular dish.
Most edible flowers are best eaten as soon as possible after picking, preferably fresh from your own garden. If you won't be using them right away, wrap the flowers lightly in a damp paper towel and place in the produce section of your refrigerator where they will keep for 2-3 days.
How much to add and at what stage in the preparation process depends on the type of dish, the variety of flower and your own particular preference. In general, tender blossoms are added to cold foods or as a finishing touch to hot dishes while more fibrous varieties (such as lavender) can withstand longer cooking. Edible flowers also tend to be subtler in flavor so using them in combination with milder ingredients will allow their unique qualities to stand out
A bouquet of choices:
There are many varieties of edible flowers you can grow in your own garden and retail options are on the increase. Here are a few for starters:
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) - You can eat the entire brightly colored Nasturtium plant cooked or raw. They are easy to grow on the coast even in the worst clay soil, and they return year after year. The leaves provide a pepper flavor, but the blossoms are milder. The orange, red, or yellow leaves can be used in salads and as garnishes on cakes and pastries.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Light purple chive blossoms lend a delicate onion flavor in salads, and egg dishes. Garlic chives have white flowers, which are stronger in flavor than the green chive leaves. Sprinkle both over hot baked potatoes with dollops of sour cream.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – Purslane is one of the most common garden weeds in the world, and even though it is frequently pulled and discarded, it has historically been regarded as a valuable edible and medicinal herb. The small leaves, red stems, seeds, and flower buds of Purslane are all edible. It has a slight salty and sour taste similar to spinach or sorrel and can be used in salads and sandwiches.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) - The small, daisy-like flowers grace gardens during spring and summer growing seasons along the coast. Historically, chamomile has been known for it's curative qualities, and many drink Chamomile tea to relax. The leaves and flowers are safe to eat, but use care if you are allergic to ragweed. The bright yellow centers have a mild, apple-like flavor.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Often called “poor man's saffron,” calendula has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes and in culinary dishes. The daisy-like orange and yellow flowers have a complex spicy flavor while the leaves are rather bitter. The petals are often used in teas and syrups, added to salads or used as a garnish or seasoning.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – Anise Hyssop has a mild licorice flavor and can be used in salads, cold soups, with fresh fruit and in cold drinks. It is a great pollinator plant for both bees and Anise Swallowtail butterflies!
Borage (Borago officinalis) - Blue star-shaped borage flowers produce showy blooms for many dishes. They have a sweet, mild flavor similar to cucumber. The flowers and leaves are edible and are a nice addition to cold sandwiches, salads and drinks.
Pansies (Viola V. x wittrockiana) - Due to their many color combinations, pansies are a popular choice for adding visual appeal. They have a mild, fresh flavor with subtle wintergreen notes and are often used as dramatic toppings for cakes and other desserts as well as a contemporary garnish for drinks in place of the old standby umbrella.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) - When sunflowers are first budding, they taste like artichokes. When in full flower, you can pull the leaves off to provide a yellow pop of color in salads and other dishes. Humans and birds love the seeds!
Man has been experimenting with and eating flowers for as long as we have been eating berries. The varieties and uses listed above are just a tiny sample of what we have to choose from. As you explore the world of edible flowers, be sure to check for plants that might cause allergic reactions or cause other health issues before adding these colorful delights to your dishes. Enjoy and bon appétit!
Cynthia Nations is a UC Master Gardener experimenting with all types of edibles that can be grown on the coast. This article was edited by UC Master Gardener Maggie Mah.
- Author: Stephanie Erskine
- Editor: Maggie Mah
- Editor: Cynthia Nations
What is a Pollinator?
Bees are famous for spreading pollen from flower to flower but just about anything that helps distribute pollen from one plant to another can be called a “pollinator.” The list of pollinators includes wind, birds, beetles, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and even humans!
Why do we need pollinators?
Imagine a world without chocolate, blueberries, or coffee—unthinkable, right? But that's what would happen if pollinators disappeared. Without pollinators, many flowering plants would not be able to reproduce. In fact, 75% of the world's flowering plants rely on pollinators. A vast majority of the fruit, vegetable, nut and seed crops grown around the world for human consumption depend on pollinators. Unfortunately, bees and other pollinators are having a hard time maintaining their populations due to disease, parasites, loss of habitat and other factors.
What is pollination? It really is about the birds and the bees
Pollination occurs when pollen grains from the male part of one flower (the “anther”) are transferred to the female part (the “stigma”) of another flower. Pollination sets off a chain of events that leads to fertilization and ultimately, to the production of seeds, which enable the plant to reproduce and/or to form fruits, vegetables and other edibles.
Hummingbirds, those colorful, ethereal garden visitors, also have a practical side: they are very good pollinators and are even referred to by some as “feathered bees.” As they flit here and there searching for nectar, the pollen inside the bloom attaches to the bird's feathers and long, slender bill. The hummingbird then transports the pollen to the next flower, repeating the process with each plant it visits. Pollen also gathers on the legs of beetles, bees and other insects. As they go about their business, pollen is distributed from plant to plant, helping to create genetic diversity and a healthier ecosystem.
Our unique and important pollinator habitat
We, along with our pollinators, live in an area known as “The California Floristic Province,” one of only five areas in the world with a Mediterranean climate, which is characterized by warm, dry summers and relatively mild winters. The area adjacent to the Pacific Ocean is called the California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province. Our hospitable year round climate supports a wide range of diverse ecosystems and many endemic species of plants and animals. Thanks in large part to hard working pollinators, the California Floristic Province also generates half of all the agricultural products used by U.S. consumers. Despite this abundance, the entire California Floristic Province has been designated a biodiversity “hot spot” due to the number of species that are lost or threatened with extinction from loss of habitat, pollution, pesticides and other impacts caused by human activities. Pollinators help to preserve biodiversity but they could use some help.
How you can help your local pollinators:
- Select a wide variety of plants that will flower in overlapping waves from February/early spring to October/late fall to provide food sources for much of the year.
- Guide pollinators to your garden by planting in groups rather than single plants spaced farther apart.
- Bees and other pollinators like to visit flowers in the sun so use the shady areas of your garden for plants that are less attractive to pollinators.
- Provide a source of clean water, preferably shallow or with a place for pollinators to land and drink without drowning. A few rocks or a “bee raft” made by connecting 5 or 6 wine bottle corks with a bamboo skewer will turn any vessel into a pollinator-friendly drinking spot.
What plants attract pollinators?
Plants that are native to the Bay Area, especially those plants that are native to the particular climate zone of your area, are well suited to our local soil and rainfall amounts. There are also plenty of non-native plants to choose from including a number of plants that do well in containers. Get started, and enjoy your pollinator garden!
Aster (Aster) Native and non-native perennial - Excellent nectar plant
Beard Tongue (Penstemon) native perennial
Bee Balm (Bergamot) non-native perennial
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia) perennial
Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyirchium bellum) native grass
Borage (Borage officinalis) herb
California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) native perennial
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) native annual
California Buckwheat (Erigonium) native perennial, important nectar plant for butterflies, bees, and other insects
California Wild Lilac (Ceanothus) native perennial – all bees love this plant.
Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) herb
Cosmos (Cosmos Bipinnatus) annual
Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) native shrub
Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa) native perennial
Fennel (Foeniclum vulgare)
Lantana (Lantana) non-native perennial
Lavender (Lavandula) non-native perennial
Red Flowering Current (Ribes Sanguineum) native shrub
Salvia (Salvia) native and nonnative perennial
Stephanie Erskine is a UC Master Gardener who enjoys habitat and permaculture gardening, and hiking the coastal trails. This article was edited by UC Master Gardeners Maggie Mah and Cynthia Nations.