The University of California Master Gardeners was begun in 1980 to help home gardeners with science-based advice on horticultural practices. The Napa County chapter was formed in 1995.
Today's members have diverse life experiences and interests, but all have curiosity and the desire to learn as prominent personality traits. We all have different approaches to gardening: Some of us have exhibition-quality landscapes, while other gardens are definitely works in progress.
The membership is heterogeneous and (politely) opinionated, but I have observed that most of us follow some similar rules. I have adopted these guidelines myself, and my backyard is the better for it. I call them “The Five Rules of Gardening.”
The first rule, from which all else flows, is "Put the right plant in the right place." Let's imagine you have seen an irresistible rose that you know would be perfect in your yard. Let's also imagine that your yard is mostly engulfed in shadow, because you have a handsome stand of trees there.
Unless that rose receives six hours of sunlight a day, it will not prosper. Even roses that survive in shade would do much better in full sun.
Other examples abound: the Japanese anemone in my front yard that shriveled when the utility company pruned my camphor tree, exposing it too much sun, especially in a heat wave; or the salvia that likes well-drained soil but gets planted near a bog. Read the planting instructions on your seed packets and the tags on your plants and follow them.
The second rule is "Compost." You can buy compost from Napa's waste management service, but Napa County Master Gardeners offer several compost workshops throughout the year to show you how to turn your own kitchen and garden scraps into compost and improve your soil quality.
Adding compost to the soil reduces compaction, so nutrients and water can reach the roots and you can water less. It also improves soil health overall. I repot my container plants once a year using a mix of soil and compost, and the results are immediate. The plants look fuller and healthier.
Compost supports the micro organisms that transform it into humus, the dark organic matter that results from decomposition. Humus enhances the health of your garden, and you can make it at home for free.
"Mulch, mulch, mulch" is the third rule. Your mulch can be as simple as leftover compost, grass clippings or dead leaves that will eventually rot into compost You can also buy mulch, but it's surprising what you can find in your yard, especially if you are a gardener who doesn't mind a little clutter here and there.
Mulch keeps plant roots cool during a heat wave and reduces water evaporation. It suppresses weed growth (and I know a weed is just a flower in the wrong place, but weeds compete for nutrients). Mulch prevents erosion, and it can even enhance the appearance of your garden.
The fourth rule is "Do not be afraid to prune." Many people are timid about pruning. They are so thrilled to have grown a plant that is lush and green, and they are afraid they will harm it.
Most plants benefit from judicious trimming. I once let an apple tree run amok, resulting in falling branches and less fruit. Fixing the problem cost me more than following a regular pruning schedule would have.
You can find directions for pruning your plants on the UC Master Gardeners of Napa County website, under Healthy Garden Tips/Pruning. A healthy tree enhances your property value; sensible pruning protects your investment. If the task seems too daunting, call a professional.
And here's the fifth and final rule: "Plant natives whenever possible." California native plants are adapted to our climate, generally require less water and attract native pollinators. They are hardy and usually pest resistant. The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds they invite add to the pleasure of being in the garden. If you plant native milkweed (Asclepias californica), you can help save the monarch butterfly from extinction.
I should probably add a sixth rule: "Resist the landscape inferiority complex." I once had a neighbor whose garden was so immaculate and lovely that I suspected she told any shrubs and flowers that refused to put forth their best efforts, "If you don't shape up right this minute, I am sending you over to Cindy's."
On the other hand, I know another gardener whose yard is hardly a model of tidiness, but she has a wonderful plant selection in various stages of development. There is always something going on in her landscape, and isn't that the main reason we garden? It's fascinating and fun, and the results are beautiful.
Food-Growing Forum: Join UC Master Gardeners on Sunday, January 8, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a forum on pruning fruit trees. Knowing how, when and why to prune your fruit trees will help you reap bumper crops and keep your trees healthy and long-lived. Learn how to prune apple, pear, plum and peach trees. Participation in this free workshop is limited. The location will be provided after registration. Register at https://ucanr.edu/2023FoodForumJan
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Winter Rose Care & Pruning” on Saturday, January 14, from 10 a.m. to noon via Zoom. Learn how to prepare your roses for the upcoming growing season and how to choose the right rose for the right place in your garden. Attendees will be invited to join a hands-on pruning workshop at Napa's Fuller Park rose garden on Thursday, January 19, from 10 a.m. to noon to practice pruning one-on-one with a Master Gardener. Register at https://ucanr.edu/2023WinterRoseCare
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Garden - Garden Ergonomics: Using the Right Tool the Right Way,” on Saturday, January 28, from 10 am to noon, at Las Flores Community Center,4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Learn proper body mechanics and how to avoid common gardening habits or activities that are risk factories for injury.
Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description of the problem. For best results, attach a photo of the plant. You may also leave a voicemail message with the same information at 707-253-4143.