- Author: Alison Collin
The main quality of a competent gardener must surely be the skill of accurate observation. However, observations on their own do little to help us unless they are recorded in some way so that they may be referenced at a later time.
Keeping records of ones horticultural endeavors over a period of years is surely the best way to develop knowledge and experience as a gardener. I was therefore delighted, if a little daunted, to receive a very substantial ten-year Gardening Journal (from Lee Valley Hardware) as a present many years ago.
There are numerous ways to record what goes on in the garden through the year; old school notebooks, loose-leaf binders, purposely designed diaries, and even by annotating published gardening books with ones own notes. Indeed one of my most treasured books was published in 1911 and belonged to my grandfather who added copious notes in every margin, together with newspaper cuttings about the latest horticultural research, and advertisements from various mail-order companies selling obscure plants. And for those who have lost the art of using paper and pencil there are numerous computer programs offering templates, and apps for smart phones, some of which are free.
However, my 10-year version is delightfully and practically laid out so that entries are easy to make, and year by year comparisons are under each other on a page. There are separate pages for entering seed-sowing and planting dates which also include harvest dates and yields, plant inventories and plant purchases. There are pages printed with grids for planning one's garden which have proved invaluable for recording such things as underground irrigation pipes. And there are sound tips and ideas on how to grow various crops.
Each entry has a weather record with places to record maximum and minimum temperatures, and then just plain lines for the entry. I much prefer this to the types which have lots of headings such as “lawn”, “bulbs”, “flowers”, “fruit” or “greenhouse” on each page because there are many times of year when half the headings are not applicable. The only downside to my version is its substantial size, and that there is no ability to add photographs, so these have to be stored in my computer in a “garden timeline” file. I also have to store plant labels separately.
The first entries in the tome were in the winter of 2010-2011 and for several years I thought that I had made some sort of error since the temperatures and rainfall seemed to be so inconsistent with all the subsequent years which had much warmer temperatures. That is until this year which pretty well matches my earliest entries.
Taking just one day in the year, March 8, my entries show that the blossom on a Santa Rosa plum behaved as follows: 2012 “Well out”, 2013 “several blossoms out”, 2014 “Well out with some unopened buds”, 2015 “Well over”, 2016 “Well over”, 2017 “Buds just showing some white”, 2018 “Nearly out”, and 2019, “No flowers open, buds white”.
It is helpful to set aside a certain time of day to make entries so as to remain consistent. For me I find that just before retiring for the night works well, and I seldom miss a day if I keep to that time.
Just as I have enjoyed reading my grandfather's entries, I hope that someday one of my grandchildren will get pleasure from my efforts.
Link to 10-year Garden Journal: http://www.leevalley.com/us/garden/page.aspx?p=43043&cat=2,58054,46147,43043
- Author: Edith Warkentine
If you have not already done so, it is time to prune your young fruit trees!
On February 25, 2019, Dustin Blakey demonstrated how to prune young fruit trees to a group of about 25 Master Gardeners and other home gardeners at the home orchard of Kristin Ostly. This discussion covers some of the high points of his demonstration.
The primary purpose of pruning young trees is to develop structure so that the trees will be productive in the long haul. There are two primary shapes that can be chosen: the “vase,” or the “Christmas tree.” The vase shaped, or open structure, is the most commonly used in the home orchard. This method keeps the center of the tree free of large branches to allow sunlight to reach the lower fruiting wood. The Christmas tree shape, also known as the central leader system, is frequently used in commercial orchards, to allow trees to be closer together. This method keeps trees with lateral branches arranged in separate layers and branches in lower tiers wider than those in upper ones.
As Dustin proceeded to demonstrate young fruit tree pruning he moved from tree to tree and consistently: (1) removed branches that grew to the inside of his desired vase shape; (2) where branches were competing for space, chose the more vigorous branch to survive and cut back the competing branch; (3) removed dead wood and suckers; and (4) removed branches to keep the open center, removing branches that would overly shade lower fruiting wood.
For further information see Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees, Publication 8057, UC ANR.
- Author: Harold McDonald
I am a huge fan of ornamental grasses, and I've written before about their uses and a few of my perennial favorites, so I'll try not to cover the same ground in this post. It does bear repeating, though, that grasses are vastly underused in most gardens, and I think that's a shame, because they give you so much for very little investment of time and money. There is such variety in size, shape, and color that grasses can serve almost any role in the garden, and they provide year-round interest, from the brightest greens of early summer to yellows, oranges and even reds as the weather cools, colors that will brighten the winter landscape clear through until spring, when new growth starts again.
Below are a few suggestions for using grasses in your garden. Next time I'll share a few more of my favorites and some good websites for learning about and shopping for grasses.
Apply liberally No matter what their size, grasses look better when they are planted in groups of at least three, and more is generally better. Consider a mass planting, where the grasses are a beautiful stage upon which your flowers perform as the season progresses. Even when your Salvia greggii fades and your Gaillardia dies back to the ground, the subdued autumn shades and graceful forms of your grasses will provide cool-season interest.
Don't cut back until spring Winter is when the grasses really prove their worth in their landscape (as well as seeds for birds). Don't cut them back in the fall and lose out on all that beauty. Grasses are generally classified as cool-season or warm-season varieties, and cleaning them up varies a bit from species to species, but there's no reason to cut them back until the end of winter when new growth begins to appear.
There's one for every spot True grasses are in the family Poaceae, many of which are drought-tolerant, but there are plenty that like regular watering, and if that doesn't provide enough options for you, consider sedges or rushes, grass look-alikes that generally like moister, shadier conditions. And from the smallest blue fescue to our own towering Great Basin wild rye, there's a size for every purpose.
Shop around Local nurseries can provide many choices, but if, like me, you really get into grasses, you're always going to be on the lookout for something new! Love that ‘Morning Light' maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light') you bought at the nursery? There are literally dozens of varieties and cultivars of that species, so there's probably another one you'd like even better that you may not be able to find easily.
Grow your own While nearly any nursery will have a few Pennisetum and Panicum grasses, you'll probably never find plants of some of my favorites like purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea) or silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides). Fortunately, these and many other grasses are easily grown from seed. That's generally a desirable trait, but given sufficient water, some grasses will reseed aggressively in your garden. Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) is one I don't recommend for that reason. Purple three-awn isn't quite as prolific, the new seedlings are easy to remove, and sometimes they pop up in a location you didn't previously recognize as just the perfect spot.
- Author: Harold McDonald
I live at the very edge of the Volcanic Tablelands in West Chalfant. Sixteen years ago, they scraped most of our acre clean of vegetation, spread decomposed granite and hauled our house in on two trailers! My plan all along had been to plant mostly California natives and other drought-tolerant plants. I brought a few with me from my previous house in Big Pine, and some we got from the old county windbreak program, but that still left a lot of empty space! We were able to purchase some plants locally from Bishop Nursery and Sierra Gardens Nursery (which unfortunately closed several years ago), but I soon realized that much of what I was looking for wasn't even available to our nurseries from the standard wholesalers—they are only available from specialty nurseries.
I still shop locally first. During the growing season, I check at least once a week to see what's come into town. Most of the backbone of my yard has come from Bishop Nursery (e.g., mountain mahogany, fernbush, and coffeeberry); I've found Cleveland sage and other star performers at High Country Lumber; and most of our trees came from our own Chalfant Big Trees Nursery. But I'm always searching for something new, and I've never been able to drive past a nursery without stopping, so over the years I have discovered a number of other sources for xeric plants. Today I'd like to share some of those with you.
In Person Only
http://theodorepayne.org A non-profit that really works to promote the preservation and use of native plants, Theodore Payne has a retail nursery in a rural setting between I-210 and I-5 near San Fernando. They have a great selection of seeds available online, but if you want plants, you'll have to visit in person. Ten percent discount (15% for members) at their fall, winter and spring sales.
https://californianativeplants.com Tree of Life Nursery, on the Ortega Highway between Lake Elsinore and San Clemente, is a fun place to visit in person. Good catalog available online, but no online ordering.
https://www.rsabg.org/grow-native-nursery/gnn If you've never been to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont, you're missing out. Spread over 86 acres is the largest selection of our state's native flora to be found anywhere. And their Grow Native Nursery has a nice selection of CA natives for sale to the public. Discounts are available for members (10%) and for individuals working for a public or school garden project (20%). If you're both of those things, you save 25%!
https://www.cornflowerfarms.com I've looked many times, but never ordered from this place. They're primarily wholesale, but you can look at their inventory list (email them for login info), choose what you want, and then pick up your order at their nursery near Sacramento. The downside: $200 minimum order. The upside: they have flats of many plants, which is a cheap alternative if you need multiples, say for a ground cover ($2/plant, 25 minimum). A good choice for a group order, maybe?
https://plantsofthesouthwest.com My personal favorite for seeds. And if you happen to be in Santa Fe, NM, they have a retail nursery with both seeds and plants that's fun to visit. And while you're there, you could also check out Agua Fria Nursery on the same street, which has lots of 4” pots (my favorite!), but unfortunately no online ordering.
http://www.alplains.com Seeds only, but if you're looking for something obscure this is a good place to look. They also have good germination information for each species.
http://www.seedhunt.com Not one I have used a lot, but a fair selection of CA natives and other seeds, including 18 species of Salvia.
https://www.dianeseeds.com OK, this one's not really a source for CA natives, but I love their catalog, prices and speedy, friendly service.
Some of these I use more for info and dreaming, because shipping is such a killer, but it's cheaper than going and getting it in person!
https://www.laspilitas.com A huge catalog and a great resource for learning about CA natives. You can visit the nursery in Santa Margarita, which makes for a great spring trip if you combine it with a wildflower expedition to the Carrizo Plains!
https://www.highcountrygardens.com Another Santa Fe, NM, nursery, and one nearly everybody knows about, with a beautiful catalog of plants adapted for the high and dry West.
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com The focus of this nursery near Fresno is more on herbs than CA natives, but I always get in on the great deals at their fall sale in September. Their (all organic) plants come in 3” pots and are always beautiful, and their packaging for shipping is by far the best I have encountered anywhere.
https://www.fbts.com Again, shipping can be expensive, but if you're looking for a Salvia (and I always am!), Flowers by the Sea in tiny Elk, CA, is the place to find it. Good catalog with lots of filters and photos, and the plants themselves are reasonably priced.
Editor's Note: there can be some restrictions on bringing in plants to California from out-of-state without a certificate. Many nurseries can provide this. Most mail-order sources take care of this for you.
Mention of a business is not an endorsement, but only for informational purposes to obtain hard-to-find plants.
- Author: Alison Collin
When we relocated from Silicon Valley to the Owens valley the very last thing to be thrown into the moving van was a rooted piece of a Brown Turkey fig. We had enjoyed wonderful, large, lush figs from the parent tree for years, and knowing that figs grow in Bishop I dreamed of the tradition continuing. I should have known better since my daughter in West Bishop already had a start of this fig and it had died almost to ground level every winter. I thought that I could do better!
Soon the cutting was installed in a prime spot on the south facing wall of our house. It rapidly became established and grew very well in its first year, but being rather naïve about high desert winters I did not give it enough winter protection and it died down to the ground.
In spring several nodes produced shoots from the base of the original stem, grew well, and having learned my lesson I mulched thickly with straw in the fall. Although this protected the base of the plant, once again all the exposed shoots died back to where it had been protected, and the next growing season my garden was infested with earwigs that had enjoyed the winter protection of the straw. A local grower told me that once the main stem got to a 2” diameter it would do better.
In desperation I bought a Hardy Chicago fig, which certainly lives up to its name, and produces a prolific crop of rather small and not very flavorful figs.
In 2017 I wrapped all the main branches of the Brown Turkey with strips of quilting fleece, put frost cloth around the outside of the cage as before and draped a quilted mattress cover over the whole thing. It looked awful, but he plant came through a fairly mild winter unscathed, it grew vigorously, and I picked my first fig in the middle of August, and from that point on I could harvest a couple most days, but in spite of the tree now being 8 feet high, I never got to the point when I could pick a basketful and once again the stems were clothed in immature figs at the end of the season. Being an optimistic gardener I will undoubtedly try it “for one more year”. Meanwhile I have visited gardens in Wilkerson that have very large and productive fig trees.
So what do figs need? Figs originated in Western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean areas, and in general require prolonged high summer heat and regular water to bear good fruit. There are many hundreds of varieties each of which may be known by several different names! Hardiness varies, but most will suffer twig damage below 12°F resulting in them becoming more shrub-like. Many are capable of producing an early crop on older growth (if it survives)- known as the breba crop - and then a later crop on current season's growth. It may be prudent to avoid late cropping figs which may not mature before the first frost which can be very early here.
The fig which seems to do best around Bishop is a green one, Kadota, which grows in numerous local gardens and produces crops twice a year under favorable conditions. It has a fairly thick skin, and mediocre fig flavor.
The following varieties have been grown in areas with a climate similar to that which we experience, and most of these should do well in the milder, more southerly areas, so when choosing remember to take our various microclimates into consideration.
• Brown Turkey
• Celeste is hardy here but main crop is late some years. Excellent flavor.
• Hardy Chicago is also hardy in Bishop.
• Violet de Bordeaux is marginally hardy, but delicious.
• Marseilles (Lemon) and Italian Honey (Lattarula) should both survive in town. They are fine in Wilkerson.
• Kadota should do fine. Often has successful breba crop. It is good for jam and spreads.
New Mexico State University recommends Celeste, Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Desert King, Kadota, and Violette de Bordeaux.
Colorado Master Gardeners suggested Brown Turkey, Brunswick, Danny's Delite,and Blue Celeste.
The following is a l database of hundreds of fig varieties with photos and cultural requirements of each: http://figs4fun.com/Varieties.html
General information on requirements of figs, although not specific to the Owens Valley: http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/Fruits_&_Nuts/Fig/