- Author: Harold McDonald
Some years back, I toyed with the idea of starting my own wholesale nursery business. We're not talking acres of palm trees in huge wooden planters here, just a few kinds of natives, wildflowers and grasses. I even got a business license and came up with a name, but eventually decided it was more work than I wanted to invest. I did sell a few dozen plants to Steve at Chalfant Big Trees, but that was it. Little did I know it at the time, but taking the beginning steps toward my own nursery was to transform my own gardening!
One of the first things I did when I began to entertain the idea of my own nursery business was to set aside an area on our acre that I would use to field grow the plants. I rototilled, removed rocks, incorporated compost and laid out drip tape to this area. Though I never followed through with the business plan, I now had a nursery plot, and I have used it as such ever since. It is filled with dozens of types of plants, but the only customer this nursery is serving is me!
The beauty of this is that I nearly always have an appropriate plant “in my inventory.” I am constantly working at perfecting my landscaping, trying to match my plantings with the conditions of each location. Dustin Blakey's wise words form Master Gardener training always come to me: “Right plant in the right place.” That's the way I see my job as caretaker of the landscape. Especially in the challenging conditions here at the edge of the Volcanic Tableland, I have to be like a coach. I don't get to choose my dream roster, but instead have to find a way to maximize the potential of each of the players I have been given. There is nothing in my nursery plot that will not survive in my yard given the right conditions. When I'm evaluating different areas of my yard, thinking of what plants would complement the existing plantings, I nearly always have something that will work a few feet away in my nursery garden.
I suggest you give this strategy a try. It's not necessary to set aside a separate area in your yard. You can plant babies temporarily near existing plants, taking advantage of the irrigation that is already in place, and move them when the time comes. You can even repurpose a big pot—say maybe one you bought a tree in—and fill it with garden soil for a portable nursery.
It's so great to have a ready, year-round custom nursery at your disposal. Rather than having to search time after time at the local garden store, you'll have just the plant you want right in your own yard!
- Author: Alison Collin
If you enjoy pomegranates you may be delighted to know that they will grow in the Owens Valley. They originally come from areas such as Iran and the Mediterranean areas. There are many varieties available, each with its own characteristics – some are sweeter, some more acidic, some have soft edible seeds and others have harder ones, some are better for juicing while others are delicious eaten fresh. The fruits are high in polyphenol anti-oxidants, and flavonoids.
Here is what you need to know about growing conditions:
- Zones: 7 -10 but must have long hot summers and if growing in the colder zones some protection from the north is advisable. If they get cut down by severe frosts most will sprout again from the base.
- Exposure: Full sun.
- Chill hours: Most need only 150-200 hours which our area easily provides.
- Soil: Any good, well-drained soil, even if alkaline.
- Irrigation: Regular watering is needed, but most can withstand some drought.
- Pollination: usually self-fertile so only one need to be planted.
- Form: Pomegranates grow as large bushes which can be pruned to 8'-10'tall and about as wide, but they can also be trained into a tree form. Some varieties are upright while others have more lax arching stems. There are some varieties that are dwarf.
- Harvest time: Late summer for earliest varieties through fall. Once ripe they will split open after rains. If harvested at its peak fruit will store in a cool dry place for several weeks.
Pomegranates have small leaves, and a twiggy habit so can be used as a screen. They have quite large reddish/orange flowers and look attractive in bloom, while the fruit generally comes in varying shades of red, from brilliant to a rich dark red, or even pink.
They do take time to become established, often not even flowering for a few years, but then are reliable so long as there are no adverse climate conditions. The only variety that I have experience with in the Owens Valley is 'Eversweet' which was chosen because it needed the shortest season for the fruits to mature. It took about five years to begin to fruit and then presented us with grocery bags full and consistently cropped since, although this year it had only a light crop (shown). So far it has generally been pest and disease free. There are some varieties which are claimed to begin fruiting earlier.
Many newer varieties have been introduced so it pays to read the descriptions in the specialist fruit catalogs to ensure that you are getting the features that you want.
Finally we can be successful with a plant that does better in our hot summers than in the gardening Eden of the Pacific Northwest!
For pest and disease information on pomegranates see: http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/fruitnutproduction/Pomegranate/Pomegranate_Pests_Deficiencies/Pomegranate_Insect_Mite_Nematode/
- Author: Harold McDonald
Though it's been hard to tell with the fire/weather we're having during this craziest of all years—September felt pretty summery—the plants in my garden have been telling me for a number of weeks now that summer is finally ending. The mornings are cooler, the days are shorter, and the garden is responding.
Salvia greggii is a star in the garden all year, but their show this time of year has given them their common name—autumn salvias. And so many colors! Purples and other shades are becoming easier to find, expanding the palette beyond the pinks and reds. The New Mexican sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is finally showing that its bloom is worth waiting for. The spindly but strong stems looked so close to withered during the long, hot summer it hardly seemed worth the water they cried out for. The Gaillardias, who rarely seem to miss a beat, are gloriously responding to the more moderate temperatures and longer nights fall brings to our hemisphere.
The grasses have been recast from supporting actors to leading roles. The light of the sun, now lower on the horizon, suffuses the flower stalks of silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides), deergrass and its smaller cousin (Muhlenbergia rigens and M. dubia), and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis and its named variety ‘Blonde Ambition' are both fabulous). And as the warm season fades, they will begin to shine more brightly. No group of plants can compare to the grasses in terms of solid year-round interest. Yes, they don't look great after their annual late-spring haircut, but by the time you cut them back, they should be very actively growing, so the awkward phase doesn't last long! After that, they provide a great green backdrop for the bloomers, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. Fall and winter is their time!
Some of your new plants may not look too happy, but don't get discouraged—the transplant success rate for many natives is not good, so just know that you are doing the best you can. Spring is normally the time natives look best, so focus on how gratifying it will be when you see fresh, green leaves after a long winter's sleep!
These are some of the plants I am moving right now in my yard. Not all of them are Inyo County or even California natives, but all can deal with the tough environment the Owens Valley serves up:
- Salvias - S. greggii and S. clevelanii (marginal this far north, but worth the extra care!
- Young native grasses that are not yet blooming
- Pine muhly
- Grama grasses
Though I buy a lot of plants locally (I found goldenrod and a lot of other great stuff at High Country Lumber last week), other than the Native Plant Society's August sale, it can be tough to find native plants here, so I am always on the lookout for sources for plants when I travel. I've listed a few of my recent favorites below. But the best thing to do is to develop your own nursery stock. Watch this space for an article on that soon!
Online (links to these from plants above)
- Mountain Valley Growers
- High Country Gardens
- Annie's Annuals
- Digging Dog Nursery
- Plants of the Southwest (seeds only)
- Tree of Life Nursery, San Juan Capistrano
- Theodore Payne, Sunland
- Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, Claremont
- Miner's Ace Hardware, Morro Bay (and other locations), carries plants from Annie's Annuals and The Growing Grounds
Links and sources posted are for information purposes. No UC endorsement is implied or intended.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
It's now October so that means that we're now in the time of year where we start to wind down our gardens for the season. If you're at all like me and refuse to plan for the eventual coming cold weather by pulling out plants, a killing frost will force the matter.
For most of the Eastern Sierra, at least places where gardening is feasible, October brings us our first frost of the season.
I am often asked about first and last frost dates for various communities. The good news is I have that information. The bad news is that there is wide variability in the actual date. That means it's important to keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Average First Frost Dates
There are two ways to think about frost dates. Here is the first and conceptually easiest to understand: Average first frost date along with an estimate of the spread of when that might happen. The table below shows the average first frost of fall and a range of dates that shows where there is about a 70% chance the the real frost date will fall.
First Fall Frost Dates
Typical Frost Window
|Independence & Lone Pine||11/3||14||10/20||11/17|
Big Pine is about the same average date as Bishop—maybe a little later—but it varies much more. We don't have any data, but that's a observation from gardeners there.
It's also worth noting that the data for Topaz Lake isn't that great, and the station isn't in the best location for predicting effects to your garden. That said, the whole area has a lot of variation every year, making predictions hard. This data is a good place to start.
A Probability Approach
The other way to look at frosts is to consider some level of risk that you are comfortable and then check which date corresponds with that risk level for your location. The Western Regional Climate Center has extensive data and risk projections for many locations in California. (Here is the data: https://wrcc.dri.edu/summary/Climsmcca.html )
Below is an example for Bishop, California.
- Follow the link to WRCC's page
- Choose a station from the list
- On the left side you will see various reports. Fall 'Freeze' Probability will generate a report like above. Scroll down some to see it. It's under the Temperature heading.
- Author: Edie and Erich Warkentine
We are trying to continue our tradition of exploring the many wonderful public gardens located in the western United States. Recently, we made our first visit to the South Coast Botanic Garden, an 87-acre garden located on the Palos Verdes peninsula, near Los Angeles.
The entire garden is designed with walking paths and has a large circular trail so that visitors can cover the major gardens in about an hour. You could also spend the day! It is a popular location for weddings and other celebrations. (One of the highlights of the garden is a lake, which is currently being reconstructed. If you want to see that area, it will be done in another year or two.)
The end of the summer may not be the best time to visit — although some roses were blooming, there weren't a ton of other flowering plants. We were fortunate to view a special exhibition, “Hide and Seek: Art Meets Nature,” featuring eight sculptures (six contributed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), carefully placed throughout the garden as a way to encourage nature exploration “with an artful game of hide and seek.”
For some reason, many people have not yet discovered the South Coast Botanic Garden (Edie went to high school and lived in Palos Verdes and didn't know the garden was there!) Now that we've found it, we definitely plan to return to enjoy other (and more flowery) seasons!
Visitor Information: The garden is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, notwithstanding the pandemic, but has added several requirements for a visit:
- online reservations at scheduled time;
- visitors must always wear masks; and
- mandatory physical social distancing from other groups.
More information and reservations are available at their website: https://southcoastbotanicgarden.org/
* Apparently, not really a secret.