- Author: Alison Collin
I had a good patch of California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that had just finished flowering when I noticed the foliage on one of them was somewhat grayer in color than its neighbors. I did not think much of it at the time and put it down to being some sort of natural variant. As a Master Gardener I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself for not taking more notice!
The plant was suffering from powdery mildew, a fungal disease which, unlike most fungal infections, prefers dry weather. I have lived in the Owens Valley for ten years and so far have not seen much of this on my plants in previous years; even my variegated Euonymus which is renowned for its susceptibility has escaped.
Thanks to my inaction a few days later all the rest of my poppies were almost white from the infection, and then I noted the early symptoms on a previously healthy mahonia.
Many plants can be attacked by different species of powdery mildew and it is commonly seen in cucurbits – squashes, cucumbers, melons etc. as well as many fruits such as grapes, apples. Flowers such as zinnias, monarda and lupines, and roses are particularly prone.
It commonly begins on new growth, but if left unchecked can eventually distort the growing tips and buds as well as the leaves.
The fungal spores which overwinter in plant debris are spread by wind, and tend to attack plants in shady areas and also where there is not good air circulation, so avoid planting susceptible plants in those situations, and prune excess foliage to allow air circulation and sunlight to reach more of the plant.
Try to avoid the problem choosing resistant varieties when planting species known to be susceptible .
Some control may be achieved by pruning out affected areas if small, spraying with water to wash spores from the leaves, or spraying with a fungicide.
For more detailed information on how to avoid Powdery Mildew and methods used to contain or control it check out the following:
- Author: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
- Author: Alison Collin
Those plots on the south side, nearest the house, are in full shade for all of the winter months when the ground is also frequently frozen. Then as the sun gets higher and clears the house roof it becomes subject to ferocious afternoon sun for several hours a day, rendering it unsuitable for shade-loving plants, but at the same time not ideal for the sun lovers either. Since these were being solarized I did no planting here in 2019.
The plots on the north side of the area get full sun in winter, but after trees have leafed out they get varying amounts of shade during the day which is welcomed by some species but renders them unsuitable for many of the sun-loving desert plants.
The irrigation is turned off for much of the winter so plants that like a Mediterranean type climate which rely on winter rains for their main growth are not likely to do very well, furthermore since the area is very exposed to the north it is subject to some pretty cold temperatures.
I wanted the garden to look equally good from all directions – the road, the house and the patio. For best effect visuall,y and in order to entice insects such as butterflies, conventional design wisdom encourages one to plant in groups of three, to limit the different number of species, and to repeat a theme several times across the planting area. I did not keep to this since some individual plants make substantial clumps on their own, and in order to keep costs down and try out several different plants I frequently only purchased one specimen with a view to adding to them later if they did well. I had several large clumps of perennials such as coreopsis, agastache, and rudbeckia which I dug up from other areas of the garden. I had taken cuttings of sedums, which together with numerous volunteer seedlings such as gaura, echinops, and eryngiums, formed a foundation for planting.
It is all too easy to end up with a prevalence of mounding plants so I was careful to have a variety of shapes – upright (Berberis “Salmon Rocket”), spikey (pink muhley grass) and ground-hugging (Callirhoe involucrate) and mounding (Nepeta “Walkers Low”). Leaf color adds interest so I looked for plants with red (border penstemon), yellow (Agastache “Royal jubilee” and ninebark “Darts Gold”) , gray (Artemesia “Powis Castle”), blue (Festuca “Siskiyou Blue”), and lush green leaves (annual Mirabilis). And of course I wanted lots of flowers for the pollinators to enjoy throughout a long season.
In spring clumps of blue muscari and Euphorbia myrsinites with its gray foliage and chartreuse flowers are some of the earliest attractions, followed by mats of Phlox subulata, blue flax, and catmint, after which the summer flowers come into their own: Salvias, Centanthus, Cistus, Scabiosa, Echinops and Buckwheat. In fall the humming bird mints (Agastaches) and mats of California fuchsia (Zauschneria “Everett's Choice”) round off the year. Any bare patches between plants are filled with such things as spring bulbs, California poppies, four o'clocks, or red annual buckwheat.
Of course, I have made some mistakes. The yellow leaved ninebark got scorched by the sun just as it was leafing out, and I had placed two artemesias in one of the plots but by the end of the first year they had become very large and were threatening to take over. I really need more white flowers of different shapes and textures. The yarrow that I bought as an unlabeled cell pack and planted close to the front has turned out to be yarrow on steroids and will definitely be moved at the end of the year!
My decision to not use mulch has not been a problem. So far I have only had to do a minimal amount of weeding and the sandy soil is quick and easy to hoe. I also get a lot of satisfaction watching ground-nesting black wasps or native bees making use of the bare soil. However, I have seen some velvet ants which like the bare sand, a reminder that it is prudent to wear gloves when tending low-lying plants.
It became apparent that the winter season needs some attention since most of the plants became very dormant and we were back to bare soil again! I need a few more evergreen plants or grasses to add interest.
Many square feet of irrigated lawn have been replaced with decomposed granite using no water at all. The planting areas are irrigated far less often than the previous grass covering, and I hope to reduce the amount even further once the plants are more established.
It is so gratifying to see tattered painted lady butterflies finding plentiful supplies of nectar after their long migration, or seeing the many different bees – Ceratinas, sweat, cuckoo, carpenter and domestic as well as several different wasps and lots of different flies! Lizards have moved in for the feast, and it is only now that I realize how sterile our old lawn was!
- Author: Ariel Bohr
This year especially, many people have been eager to get an early start on their vegetable gardens. I felt the urge to get a head start on my garden as well, but unfortunately there are many variables outside of my control that determine when I can safely put plants in the ground without fear of them being killed by a spring frost. What to do when I'm ready to begin — my starts are an appropriate size, but I'm not “in the clear” with the weather?
This year I decided to try using Wall-O-Waters, which at first glance resemble oversize freezer packs. In truth they are relatively simple structures about 18" tall and 17" in diameter which are designed to protect plants from the elements by forming a barrier to the wind and cold and extend the growing season by creating a warmer environment. While there are many materials that can be used to create a barrier between plants and the elements, the thing that makes Wall-O-Waters so special is the water.
Water is poured into vertical cells to give the Wall-o-Water its shape as well as its efficacy. Throughout the course of the day, sunlight heats up the water in the cells and warms the plants. Water retains heat very effectively and this warmth protects plants from frost damage. Counterintuitively, as water freezes it releases heat, which further protects the tender plants inside. Wall-O-Waters are most commonly used in conjunction with tomato plants because of their sensitivity to cold. This is the crop I will be using them on as well.
I found that the easiest way to set up Wall-o-Waters was with a 5-gallon bucket and a partner. The Wall-o-Water website recommends setting them up 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date in order to warm up the soil to create an optimal environment for root growth. Unfortunately I did not see this advice until perusing their website while writing this post! Rather than setting up the Wall-O-Waters in advance, I set them up just after planting my tomato starts. To do so, I put the bucket face down so that it was protecting the plant. I then slid the empty Wall-o-Water onto and around the bucket, making sure that the “open” sides of the cells were facing up. As my partner held open each individual cell, I used a watering can with a narrow spout to fill each pocket. If you're setting up without a bucket, it's a good idea to remember to create counter balance during this process so that the whole thing does not tip over. Once I was done, I carefully removed the bucket. If the Wall-o-Waters act as advertised, they should protect my plant in temperatures as low as 12℉ and give the plants an extra dose of warmth on chilly nights.
Considering the recent heat wave, this whole exercise may have been unnecessary, but extra precautions are never a bad idea in the fickle Eastern Sierra.
Here's hoping this yields some early tomatoes! Updates to follow.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
If you are just planting a garden for the first time you will, no doubt, want to grow tomatoes.
Once you tell someone you're putting in a new garden you likely will receive helpful(?) advice from friends and family.
No matter where you live there are a lot of funny rules for planting tomatoes. Some of this handed down wisdom is legitimate, but others are clearly just made up and passed along because they are memorable. When I first moved here, several people told me never to plant tomatoes before White Mountain Peak is snow-free. That's clearly too late most years, but it is easy to remember.
The thing about gardening is that every year is different. That's part of the challenge! For this year, at least if you live below 5,000 feet, you should already have planted your tomatoes. As I write this, it's April 27. If you haven't planted your tomatoes, get them in soon. It's probably about time in Coleville and Walker, too.
A good tomato for new gardeners is 'Juliet.' It's a grape tomato, but large for that type. It is good in salads and dehydrates wonderfully. Unlike some fussy slicing tomatoes, it will continue to set fruit all summer. A larger tomato that is tough to screw up is 'Celebrity.' I've had good luck with it in containers. It hasn't been a huge producer for me, but it has been very consistent all the way until fall. Many gardeners in our area raise 'Early Girl' without problems. All of these varieties are (usually) easy to find in our area. If you can't find these, just plant what you can get.
For almost everything in the garden, you should plant transplants level with the soil in the pot you get it in. That's true with tomatoes, too, but there is an exception: tall tomato transplants can be planted deeply if you pinch off the lower leaves. They will grow some new roots on their stems and survive the deep planting. You can do this to shorten the plants so your trellis has more room to support the vines. They also do fine if you don't plant deep.
Make sure that your plants are well-watered before transplanting, and them water them afterward.
For the first week or so after transplant, you may need to water more frequently than you expect since the roots are confined to a small area. Check on the plants a couple times during the day for the first week. You will see what they need.
Your plants will probably need some fertilizer. I use 1 tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water, and give each plant 1 cup of that solution within a few days of transplanting. You can use 1/3 cup of fish emulsion instead if you prefer, but it's stinky and of interest to skunks and raccoons. Repeat this in about a month or so.
Tomatoes are vines and require support. It is not a good idea to let them sprawl all over the ground. There are as many ways to stake tomatoes as there are gardeners. Anything that holds them up is fine, even a bamboo stake with the plants gently tied on works OK.
I use modified cheap tomato cages from the hardware store. Straight from the store, these things have a terrible design with the wide part at the top, so I cut off the 3 "legs" and bend them into hooks like tent stakes. I then turn the cage upside-down (small end up) and pin them to the soil with my newly made hooks. These are very secure, and hold plants well. The 2 pictures on this post show how it's done.
Whatever system you decide use is fine. Just be sure that it is secure.
The rest of the work of raising tomatoes is keeping the weeds and pests under control. If you check your plants daily, it's not that big a deal. Most tomato pests can be blasted off with water or plucked off by hand.
Hopefully you'll have a successful crop this year!
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