- Author: Sheri Pueblo
A Living Mulch vs a Traditional Mulch Approach
Adding mulch to a garden is an efficient and easy way to improve your garden's quality and drought tolerance in our dry hot summers with low precipitation. Benefits of mulch include helping to prevent excessive evaporation and dryness by holding and maintaining moisture, keeping the soil underneath cooler for beneficial organisms, and reducing weed growth.
When spreading mulch material such as straw or wood chips, use a depth of 2-3 inches over the soil but keep a clear perimeter of 4 inches around the base of the plant so that the mulch won't rot or mold at the crown and possibly introduce disease. You may want to compost or fertilize the soil with slow release nutrients per treatment recommendations and water in prior to mulching.
A “living mulch” involves growing “fill in” plants either as a ground cover, cover crop or low growing plants that provide several purposes. A mixture of plants can grow longer depending on seasonal and zone (USDA or Sunset™)appropriate plant choices which can promote the overall health of the soil.
Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and small amounts of these exude from the roots back into the soil. This process draws and concentrates microbes around the roots providing better access to nutrition for the plant, and can also improve soil structure and ability for rain permeation, deeper root growth, better water holding capacity, nutrient forming capacity and hummus formation, all which contribute to overall healthier long term soil building.
Of course weeds are weeds and you may still have to do some pulling, especially before they go to seed. However there should be much less weeding and you will have a nice variety of plants, edibles, soil builders and color.
You can find out more on several You Tube videos about living mulches if you're interested, but remember to use plants appropriate for the Great Basin and not coastal California for the best success.
If you have questions about mulch, living or otherwise, please contact our helpline at email@example.com./h3>
- Author: Dustin Blakey
Since the Eastern Sierra is very dry, we don't usually get fungal or bacterial diseases in the garden. Normally viral diseases affect our tomatoes and peppers instead. This year that trend continues. I've already encountered beet curly top virus, tomato spotted wilt virus, and at least one other unidentified virus on tomatoes.
We may be in for a spell of fungal diseases, however.
Due to high temperatures, we've been getting afternoon bouts of elevated humidity and sometimes even rain. This creates excellent conditions for the growth of fungal pathogens.
Who knows what—or if—we'll end up getting in terms of diseases as a result of the recent weather!
Here's what to look for: most of our usually fungal pathogens tend to create leaf spots of some sort. I find that all plants of a variety may be affected and have the same symptoms. It could be all your tomatoes will be affected. :-(
Viruses on the other hand tend to hit individual plants at random without respect to their variety. Growth will look weird, probably stunted, perhaps with weird fruit. There is no treatment for viruses. You need to remove the plant.
There are treatments for fungal pathogens, but it's best to try to avoid diseases altogether. Here are some tips to prevent diseases.
- Water in the morning, not evening
- Prune out suckers on tomatoes to improve airflow
- Remove infected tissues (usually leaves) or dead plants as soon as you see them
- Keep the garden free of weeds to improve airflow
- Check plants often for early symptoms
If you decide to use a fungicide, know that most work to prevent new infections. They don't really cure existing problems.
- Author: Trina Tobey
When most people think of hydroponics, they think of growing…well, cannabis. However, hydroponics is a great method for growing all kinds of herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Hydroponics involves growing plants in a water and mineral nutrient solution without soil. The roots are held in place by an inert substance and grow into the water solution.
Hydroponic gardening has multiple advantages compared to growing in soil. For one, you do not have to deal with weeds, pests, and disease-infested soil when growing indoors. This means reduced need for pesticides or herbicides. It is easy to apply just the right amount of nutrients. The moisture level remains consistent making germination easy and preventing over and under watering. In fact, hydroponic gardening saves a significant amount of water compared to conventional gardening. You can place your hydroponic garden at counter level, so you do not have to bend over or kneel. Hydroponic systems can be programed to be low maintenance and take up less space than conventional gardening. Plus, you can grow fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
My husband and I have owned an AeroGarden for over 10 years now. We are frequently asked if we grow marijuana in it. The answer is no, we haven't. We grow our family addiction…basil! We tried tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and lettuce over the years with poor results. I believe our AeroGarden pod is just too small. But basil grows great. Basil is expensive to buy in the store and has a very short shelf life but our whole family loves pesto. Hydroponics is the solution. Our family of five eats pesto about once a week year-round from the basil we grow indoors. The best thing about having a programmed hydroponic system is we can travel for a week or two without needing to tend to the plants. In fact, we only tend to them about once every two weeks when we are home.
If you want the benefits of growing fresh produce but not the hassle, you might consider growing plants using a hydroponic system. You can make your own system or buy a pre-made system online. All you need is a container, a light source, an inert substance to support the roots, water, and nutrients. There are multiple websites and YouTube videos that will guide you through the process. Not only will you have delicious fresh produce year-round, but you will help the earth by conserving water and decreasing pesticide use.
And your back and knees will thank you.
Brand names mentioned in the this article are provided as a convenience to readers. No endorsement by UC is implied or intended. Use at your own risk.
- Author: Alison Collin
Even in the best managed gardens, as soon as the soil warms up weed erupt and need to be controlled before they get the upper hand. Different soils and conditions produce differing unwanted species and it pays to be able to identify them in order to know what is growing in your garden and how to manage them.
It is best to deal with weeds as they germinate and before their roots get a hold, and certainly before they flower and seed or there will be an even worse problem the following year. The most efficient and least labor intensive way is to use a hoe.
I keep a hoe in readiness close to the vegetable plot and use it almost daily during the growing season as soon as I spot an invader. My personal favorite is the Hula hoe which is stirrup shaped with a blade sharpened on both sides so it can be used to cut through young weeds just below soil level on both the push and pull strokes. It is very efficient on cultivated soil so long as the plants are small. It will not work to remove weeds from turf, neither will it cope with thick clumps of established Bermuda grass or any woody plant that has a thickened base. It is not wise to hoe plants that increase by rhizomes such as nut sedge or bindweed since the hoe is liable to chop the roots into pieces that readily form new plants making the problem worse. Those plants are best dug out individually, getting as much of the root removed as possible.
A hoe will not remove a dandelion root in entirety but at least regular removal of leaves will prevent flowering and seeding until such time as it can be dug out.
For areas where the Hula hoe cannot reach, my favorite tool is a Japanese hand hoe which has a sharp triangular blade and very useful sharp corners. Plants with long tap roots such as dandelion and salsify can be removed with a forked device, the prongs of which are placed at the neck of the plant, while an angle in the handle increases leverage. However, for weeds growing very close to plant stems or in places where there are surface roots that may be damaged by hoeing one just has to get down on ones knees and hand weed.
Reduce the possible spread of seeds by immediately discarding any weeds that may have already set seeds. Spotted spurge is able to produce seeds on quite tiny plants and a mature specimen can shed thousands of them so it is important to put any removed plants directly into a container or bag, and don't be tempted to shake the soil from the roots since this will result in seeds being scattered far and wide! Don't leave piles of weeds in heaps waiting to be collected later, since dandelion seeds will quite cheerfully manage to blow off into other areas. The bottoms of lawnmowers can deposit grass seeds onto surfaces as they are moved from place to place and these can then be blown back onto the garden.
If you are not sure of the identification of a particular weed in your garden the following link should help you. Once you have identified the culprit select the page for a description of that particular plant and then go to the bottom of that page and select “Pest Management Guidelines” http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/weeds_intro.html
These are some common weeds in our area and links on how to identify and manage them:
Spotted spurge: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7445.html
Field bindweed: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7462.html
Russian Thistle (Tumbleweed): http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7486.html
- Author: Dustin Blakey
I always like to grow some flowers in my garden. I usually grow cosmos, zinnias, or marigolds, all of which do great in the Owens Valley.
This year I had a great plan to try to have my garden mostly done by July. It didn't work out, but before I abandoned that goal, I planted bachelor's buttons. These annual plants flower quickly, and I had hoped they would be ready in time for graduation day in June. And they were. Sort of.
Bachelor's buttons—also called cornflowers—are in the same genus (Centuarea) as many thistles that do great in California. Some in fact are terrible weeds like yellow star-thistle: C. solstitialis.
I've never grown them here myself, but bachelor's buttons are about the world's easiest thing to grow. Just maybe not in the desert when it's blazing hot. (In my defense, I suspected they wouldn't like our summer. I was trying to finish up the garden before the heat was unbearable in my back yard.)
Some Centaureas do like our climate. Centuarea montana, a similar looking perennial plant, looks nice in the Owens Valley. Centuarea cyanus, at least when direct sown in the garden, was a disappointment for me.
Here is what the flowers look like in the seed catalog:
In my past experience growing them, that's a fairly accurate representation of what to expect.
Here is what I ended up with:
As you can see in the picture, the flowers don't look so good. What's happening? Well, my garden is too hot. As soon as the blossoms open, they immediately desiccate. I suppose if I wanted to dry them that would be fine.
Bachelor's buttons like cool weather, and I planted these in early March. I had no issues with germination. They quickly popped up just like the weeds they're related to. Everything worked as planned, and my first blooms began Memorial Day weekend. (Hooray for planning ahead!) But then they just fried on the stems.
It could just be this particular mix. I'm sure it did fine in Oregon where the seeds came from. In my garden every day, even with ample water, these plants get a bit wilted in the afternoon. Other cultivars may do better, but I don't think I'll experiment again to find out which those may be. (If you have good luck with one, post in comments.)
From this experience, I'd recommend one of these strategies if you want to grow bachelor's buttons:
- Plant the perennial relative C. montana
- Start the seeds indoors in February and transplant to finish sooner
- Pick a cooler part of the yard and not in a hot corner like I have, or use a light shade cloth to lower the temperature
Higher elevation gardeners would probably be much happier with bachelor's buttons than I was. For my part, rather than moving up the grade and trying again, I think I'll stick with zinnias next year.