- Author: Nancy Forrest
With summer just around the corner thought I'd share some of the summer tasks needed for a cut flower garden. When I got rid of my front lawn a few years ago, I added rocks, and a small flower garden area. My goal was to bring a bit of color to the front yard, and have fresh flowers in vases around the house. I just didn't realize all the work that it takes to maintain it; watering, staking, weeding, pinching, deadheading and pest control.
First and foremost during the summer months keep the garden hydrated, this can be done by watering by hand, a drip system or soaker hoses. Flowing plants require regular watering of at least 1 inch per week to maintain a good healthy and steady growth.
I didn't realize they also require a support system which is key in growing long straight stems and avoiding weather damage. There four recommended methods are based on the type of plant for staking. Corralling is used when you have an entire bed of tall plants (such as cosmos). Post a stake on the four corners of the bed and then tie a string around to keep them from falling over. Netting is used for plants that have a lot of branching stems (such as black eyed Susan) basically you put stakes down and a netting attached above the stakes, this way they grow right up through the netting. For large plants (like dahlias) that need extra support, each plant gets its own stake, which you loosely tie the stems to with twine or string. Trellising also used for climbers (like sweet peas) you can buy decorative ones or make your own.
My least favorite and most time consuming task is weeding. This must be done on a regular basis, possibly daily. Try to catch the weeds before they mature, a good way to accomplish this is use a collinear hoe and lightly work the soil around the plants. What I learned recently is that in order to have an abundance of flowers on annuals (snapdragons, cosmos etc.…) I have to cut back the growth of young plants. It's a technique called pinching, which increases the plant to produce more branches thereby increasing the number of flowering stems. In order to keep your flowers at their peak you have to harvest (i.e. pick them) and deadhead (prune off spent flowers), cut off anything on the plant that is damaged.
Managing pests and disease is utmost for any type of garden especially cut flower gardens. It's heartbreaking when you go to pick flowers for an arrangement to see them damaged by bugs, or covered in spots or powdery mildew. To avoid this be sure to water, weed, and check for bugs and diseases regularly. Remove sickly plants at once and do not place in compost pile. The Master Gardeners of Solano County has plenty of information regarding pest management and can help you identify and treat problems that are common to our area. So check out our website http://solanomg.ucanr.edu, drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call 707-784-1322.
- Author: Paula Pashby
Like many of you, Mother's Day triggers many fond memories of my childhood and the deeper friendship that evolved with my Mom over the years… once I got over my rebellious teen phase. I dearly miss my Mom, but also celebrate her spirit with the love I developed for gardening. My Mom nurtured this passion in ways that only recently I have come to realize.
We always had a garden wherever we lived, and every year my sisters and I got to each pick out a vegetable plant to care for until harvest time. My choice was always lettuce to feed my box turtle. One sister loved to plant radishes to later eat, which I could not understand at that time… probably since I was the youngest out of five. Yes, I love radishes today.
When my Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and decided not to receive treatment, we endeavored to find out what would make her last days manageable. Gardening continued and brought a steady peace to the heart, with simple pleasures from digging in the dirt. It was also a time to connect with her, like never before.
So, these are some highlights to the memories that popped up this past Mother's Day.
One highlight was her continued desire to garden and get dirt under her fingernails. So, my Mom, sister and I thought it would be fun to each plant herb seeds at our homes, separated by several towns and another state. The pleasure came from sharing stories about the progress (or lack of progress, in some cases) with our plants!
Another highlight is my Mom telling me how she enjoyed the beautiful nature pictures, mostly with birds, that I always sent her. An ex-colleague of my husband is an excellent photographer and they keep in touch through the exchange of photos. Doug would send photos of all kinds of birds he took when out in nature, whether perched on a branch or taking flight from the wetlands. I would share these photos with my Mom through email and she would tell me that they always would brighten up her day.
A few years ago, my siblings and I planned a “Celebration of Life” for Mom. We met for brunch and then drove to our old neighborhood in the town of Lafayette for a walk down memory lane. We stopped at the home that we grew up in and loved so much, always a story to tell from those days. We moved away from this home many years ago.
The house had a big and beautiful backyard that blends into hills, with creeks and many oak trees to wander around in as our playground. The garden was, and still is, beautiful, and is home to many California native plants. I grew up watching my Mom tend to the plants as if they were all her precious children. I really think that is where I was able to learn to appreciate the beauty and creativity that gardening has to offer, a very positive foundation for my life.
So, we stopped up the street in the neighborhood and walked to our old house. To our surprise, the house looked so much like it did when growing up! While looking up at the house, the owner happened to be walking out from the garage and we introduced ourselves. We told her about growing up in this beautiful house and she invited us in for a peek, what fun!
Once inside, it was very surreal and childhood memories came flooding back. It was very overwhelming - but in a good way. The owners were very gracious and let us look everywhere, inside and out!
At the end of our visit, we were noticing beautiful framed photos of nature and wildlife, mostly of birds. My husband, Al, was going to ask about a stunning photo hanging over our old fireplace. Before he even had the chance to ask, the owner noticed us admiring the print and said that all of the photos were taken by her son. She said that her son, Doug, learned to appreciate nature and birds in the back yard and carries this same love with the photos he now takes. Doug?!? Yes, the same Doug, my husband's ex-colleague, the man that takes the photos that my Mom always enjoyed.
As I said, this experience was very surreal.
My love of gardening came from my Mom and started in my childhood home in Lafayette. And, my Mom was comforted during her last days, by photos from a nature photographer, who grew up in the same home and has a love for birds, inspired from wandering the same garden I had as a child, what my Mom had, many years ago.
My family met in Lafayette that day for a celebration of life for Mom and we discovered an unexpected gift, a highlight to her spirit.
I found an email on Mom's last comment about Doug's photos:
"This Anna's Hummingbird is so elegant! And the photos are so lifelike! What talent!
This is so interesting and his photography is fantastic!!!! What he did to get that wonderful Pacific Wren shot was really very special!!!
My Mom wrote a lot of poetry, and this is one of them:
until she discovers
plump snappy green bush beans hanging loose
hidden under broad leaves . . .
Syllabic: 3, 6, 9, 6, 3
- Author: Alex Russell
No one likes aphids or cucumber beetles. No one welcomes slugs to their daily feast. We talk a lot about avoiding pesticides despite the rage at losing plants and crops we love, but do we really have to do anything about those colonies of tiny creatures bent on pure, gluttony, and destruction in our gardens?
It's July in my second summer gardening and I'm not sure anymore. The more time I have spent in the garden the more I've witnessed other insects we call “beneficials,” those savage, voracious predators of garden myth perform the functions touted in the most elevated tracts on the purely organic approach to gardening.
This is not to say I haven't had my share of aphid problems. Probably the reason I garden at all is that I grew my first crop during winter when I could watch my overpriced broccoli and cabbage seedlings unfurl and swell into beautiful, lush plants almost completely without my care (it was not a drought year; I barely even watered).
Then came spring. They arrived en masse, a clump burying themselves deep into the crevices of nearly every last broccoli head I hadn't harvested. Aphids. How discouraging to see these healthy plants so suddenly and completely caked with these creatures. This was my first awakening to an unfortunate truth of gardening.
The facts of not spraying pesticides in the garden
I decided when I began gardening that I wasn't spraying poison on my food. For me, it was a simple choice. This also meant deciding how to handle my second spring, when the aphids came again.
This year it began with the artichokes that as soon as the weather warmed was covered with ants. On close inspection, I found a number of aphids the likes of which I'd never seen anywhere. Before the black aphids were thick on the tips of my fava beanstalks, their green country cousins were heavy on those artichoke plants along the fronds of the leaves, caked around the neck of the chokes, even deep inside the chokes themselves hugging the crevices inside the leaves.
Pretty gross stuff.
I wrote those chokes completely off. Then something strange began to happen. I saw a few ladybugs on the artichokes one day and then noticed a tiny cluster of yellow eggs under a leaf. A week later, terrifying black and orange creatures were crawling everywhere and eating aphids in real-time. These ladybug larvae grew up into juveniles and adults pretty fast. It wasn't long until ladybugs at all stages of development claimed that artichoke plant for their own. The rest is garden history.
Biological pest control
The other day I saw a cucumber beetle on a melon leaf and was surprised because I hadn't seen one in a while, assuming that their population collapsed back in May. This one was moving strangely, its legs twisting wildly in the air. I looked closer before reaching for it and saw that an assassin bug had grabbed it. As I moved closer to get a better look, that assassin bug was dragging it away from me.
Before heading out to hand pick and squish the pests, it's helpful to know what bugs are on your side. UC Integrated Pest Management has a page with pictures of some common ones. UC IPM recommends encouraging these ravenous beasts by avoiding pesticides but also by proactively planting flowers for pollen and nectar and shelter, and also by controlling ants that will defend colonies of aphids and scale squeezing out the honeydew they prize.
There's a wide literature on biological control of pests for commercial gardeners, and these strategies can work well in the home garden. Part of the work is planting insectary plants, which are plants grown to attract, feed, and shelter insect parasites (parasitoids) and predators to enhance biological pest control.
In my garden, I've planted yarrow, four cultivars so far, as a perennial. In every nook leftover from my main vegetable crops I've planted marigolds, zinnias, and cosmos in addition to the spaces set aside for annual native lupines. It's easy to brighten up a garden with these kinds of flowers, and in my garden, they have attracted all the pollinating and pest help I could need.
Let the beneficials have their lunch
I the garden right now I have nearly every kind of predatory insect, and I've seen them hunting. Damselflies scour my sunflowers for leafhoppers. Ladybugs are largely gone, but so are all the aphids. I have hoverflies and I have spiders. Oh, do I have spiders. I have spiders I've never seen before, that I didn't even know existed. I saw a black jumping spider the size of a dime. A dime!
Even wasps are pitching in. When I first saw them prowling I wasn't too enthusiastic about it. Then I went out and they ignored me completely. They just want the bugs, all of them. On my annual native lupin, already going to seed, I noticed a cluster of caterpillars. I thought, okay, you can have those lupins. They're about to die back anyway and besides, they're shaded out by now. The wasps were very interested in those lupins. Then I saw one dive in and drag off a caterpillar so heavy it had to drop down to the ground and get its meal right there.
This is probably a long way of saying it's probably all right to lose a few heads of broccoli. Right now I harvest more snap beans and tomatoes every day than I can eat. My garden is not perfect, but I'd argue there's a kind of balance that wouldn't be there if I sprayed pesticides on everything. For me, there's no point. For all of us, there's plenty.
- Author: Tina Saravia
The first plants that come to my mind when I hear “nitrogen fixers,” are beans and peas of the legume family. Their roots have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that gathers nitrogen from the air and converts it into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. Proof of that nitrogen shows up as little white bumps or nodules on the roots.
But there are also plants outside of the legume family that fix nitrogen. I happen to have one of them in my drought-tolerant bed by the mailbox, next to the driveway. It's a California lilac or Ceanothus spp.
It belongs to the Buckthorn family and is one of the 50-60 species of nitrogen-fixing shrubs in that family. it's a prostrate form that stays low to the ground, has light blue flowers in late winter and the leaves remain dark green the rest of the year. This plant has been in the ground for about 5 or 6 years and has not needed any watering, except the first year it was planted, even In the heat of summer. It's one of my favorite landscape plants.
There are plants in other plant families that can also fix their own nitrogen. But what I found most Interesting was an article from “The California Aggie” website about nitrogen-fixing corn.
“In the mountainous region of Sierra Mixe in Southern Mexico, a particular type of corn grows and feeds an entire community — without fertilizer. According to the article “there has been speculation for decades that this corn might be able to naturally fix its own nitrogen from the atmosphere, researchers at UC Davis have finally been able to gather conclusive evidence supporting this rare and bizarre phenomenon.”
It's a very recent finding and the “UC Davis team is still in the beginning processes of testing whether this corn has the capabilities to be commercialized.”
Here's the link to the article:
This will be an interesting development to follow.
- Author: Kathleen Craig
Have you ever wondered how to respond to gardening myths? Have you ever been giving a Master Gardener presentation and encountered the odd questions about a myth or worse yet, been awkwardly obliged to explain that helpful hints from an audience member are quite unscientific?
For me, yes to the above! There are so many sources of unproven information on the Internet, and unfortunately, most garden myths are not supported by science. We certainly don't want people leaving our presentations believing garden myths that they picked up from another attendee.
Here are some examples of garden myths and the science that debunks it:
Myth: Buried banana peels provide potassium to your plants.
Yes, bananas and their peels contain potassium which stimulates plant growth and flower production, however, the amount of nitrogen needed to break down the peel will mean less nitrogen is available for greening plants. What would be beneficial of course, would be to compost the banana peels and top-dress plants with compost instead.
Another garden myth recommends spreading crushed eggshells in the vegetable garden to cure blossom end rot with all that calcium that they leach into the soil. I did that before becoming a master gardener, and those eggshell chips are in the garden, unchanged, 3 years later. It turns out that unless the eggshells are ground into a fine powder and are put in an acidic solution, the calcium stays intact. Archaeological digs have actually found eggshells that have not decomposed. Also, in general, plants tend to not be calcium deficient in the first place
Myth: It is beneficial to use “natural” weed control mixtures such as baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap. While this recipe doesn't have traditional herbicides in it, it doesn't really kill weeds satisfactorily and adds a lot of sodium to the soil which is toxic to plants.
But wait…there's more! Put gravel in the bottom of your plant pots so the soil will drain better. Or better yet, put a sponge in the bottom of the pot! (This was a hint I saw in the Handyman magazine). What better way to keep your plant's roots moist and encourage root rot! Now I'm getting downright sarcastic!
The best way to get your plants to drain properly, of course, is to use well-draining soil and to water deeply and not too often according to the plant's water requirements. (The jury is still out on whether it's ok to line the pot with a coffee filter, or screening to prevent soil from being washed out when the plant gets watered. When surfaces change, it tends to disrupt the wicking action of water through soil, thus raising the water table and slowing the drainage.
Again, before I attended the Master Gardener training, I was game for trying some of the gardening hints I read. One of the worst ones that I fell for was putting ice cubes on your orchids in order to give them the “right” amount of water. The idea is that the ice cube melts slowly so the water drips into the soil medium and doesn't over-water the plant. This did nothing to improve my orchids. After reading up on the subject, I learned that since orchids are tropical plants and are unlikely to encounter an ice storm in their natural growing environment, putting ice on them would be a shock to the plants. One of my orchids survived, but now I water it deeply and less often, use fast-draining planting media.
The existence of gardening “experts” who follow old, unproven customs and continue to spread misinformation so frustrated some horticultural experts that they formed a group called the “Garden Professors”. They provide science-based information regarding the efficacy of garden myths. The group includes Fred Hoffman, and Linda Chalker-Scott and others. Their website is very helpful.
There are many, many web sites that cover this topic, but I have narrowed it down to just a few resources for you. When you encounter a question or opinion about garden myths, here are some quick and reliable references:
The Informed Gardener and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again by Linda Chalker-Scott