- Author: Patricia Barni
Beat the Cheat!
Part I: Why cheatgrass is so very bad!
Each year, my number one garden task is working to get rid of all the cheatgrass that moves in. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an aggressive invasive species that thrives in disturbed soils. How aggressive? Each plant produces between 25 and 5,000 seeds which remain viable in the soil for 2-3 years. Density of cheatgrass averages 600 plants per square foot and it is not uncommon for plants to produce two seed crops in one season. Can you do the math? These plants are prodigious!! And once established, cheatgrass communities can persist for decades.
Cheatgrass is found throughout California and is the dominant annual grass on sagebrush rangelands in the Owens Valley. If you live on the edge of the wildlands, cheatgrass seeds constantly blow onto your property and present a perennial problem no matter how carefully you weed your yard.
The reason cheatgrass is so very, very bad in the garden around your home is because it presents a great fire risk - igniting easily and spreading fire rapidly. Cheatgrass has a very fine structure, accumulates litter, and dries completely in early summer, becoming a highly flammable, often continuous fuel. Cheatgrass promotes more frequent fires by increasing the biomass and horizontal continuity of fine fuels and by allowing fire to spread across landscapes where fire was previously restricted to isolated patches. And because cheatgrass loves disturbed soils, wherever we leave our mark on the land, cheatgrass soon happily follows: lots that have been cleared for home construction, areas that have been cultivated and subsequently abandoned, plots with excessive livestock grazing, areas where the native overstory has been removed, and even repeated fires can interact, or act singly, to proliferate cheatgrass.
That's the bad news. But there is hope for our landscapes. Stay tuned for part two, how to get rid of cheatgrass!
For more information:
USDA and US Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) -
- Author: Jan Hambleton
I recently returned from a vacation in Florida, and a highlight was our visit to the Florida Botanical Garden. It is located in Pinellas Country, near Saint Petersburg. It was approximately a 20-minute drive from Tampa.
The garden is on several acres of land that is separated into two sections. The botanical gardens are sited on 92 acres, and a historical village is on 21 acres. (The village section has 33 historical structures, forming a small town.) They have 2.5 miles of pathways that wind through different plots, from tropical areas, native habitats and formal settings, including a wedding garden.
We were fortunate to be greeted by Theresa Badurek when we entered the gardens. She is the University of Florida extension agent, and teaches all the local Master Gardeners. She was very gracious and answered our many questions.
The east garden includes an azalea garden, a bromeliad garden, a cactus and succulent garden, a palm garden, a vinery and a tropical walk. In the west garden there is a butterfly garden, an herb garden, a native garden, a tropical fruit garden and a vegetable garden display.
The tropical fruit garden was intriguing, especially so because you may walk so close to the plants we do not usually see in our area. I was most curious to see a cinnamon tree, of which they have several.
Throughout the area there are several ponds and streams, which led to our most interesting experience. We came across a park employee gazing across a pond and inquired what she was watching…an alligator!
This time of year is mating season, and alligators travel long distances searching for a mate. The big male jumped in the pond and came over toward our side. The ranger said she hoped he remained in the pond or they would have to remove him!! We certainly watched much more carefully for any possible creatures near us.
If you are fortunate enough to visit the botanical garden, I suggest you go when the gardens first open in the morning. Florida is very humid and hot in June. A hat, water and an early start will make the trip more comfortable.
The admission is free, and dogs are welcome if on a leash and you pick up after them.
Florida Botanica Garden
12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL. 33774 Tel: 727 5822100
- Author: Alison Collin
Many new hybrids of stone fruits have been appearing in catalogs and on supermarket shelves in recent years resulting in a plethora of new terms many of which are defined below.
The most common hybrids are those between apricots (Prunus armeniaca) and Japanese plums (Prunus salicina) or cherry plums (P. cerasifera) and are known as interspecific plums. First generation crosses are known as plumcots, a name coined by Luther Burbank, or apriplums usually based on which they more closely resemble.
Beyond these first generation crosses further hybridization has taken place resulting in a plethora of modern hybrids containing differing percentages of the original parents and resulting in certain characteristics of either of the original fruits being dominant, but with distinct benefits such as increased hardiness, less acidity, higher sugar content, or with firmer flesh making for more marketable features.
While Luther Burbank experimented with early hybridization of plums and apricots, we have Floyd Zaiger, a family fruit farmer and a truly remarkable hybridizer in Modesto, California to thank for most of these newer, interesting hybrids. He has devoted his life to painstakingly hybridizing stone fruits by hand pollination, creating hundreds of new varieties. Out of all the hundreds of crosses that he grows each year only a very select few go forward to further trials to become new named varieties. Selections of these are now marketed by Dave Wilson Nursery. See links below.
Pluots are characterized by a smooth plum-like skin and a complex flavor where the plum dominates."Pluots" were created in the 20th century by Floyd Zaiger.
In Apriums the apricot dominates both in the external appearance of the fruit and the flavor and texture. Like apricots they tend to be early ripening, but are generally firmer and have a rosy glow overlaying the orange skin. Like pluot, aprium is also a trademark of Zaiger's.
Color-cot interspecific apricots are complex hybrids between apricots and plums where the apricot dominates.
Nectaplum is a cross between a nectarine and a plum. There is only one well known variety of this “Spice Zee” which has the appearance of a nectarine with very intensely flavored, sweet, white flesh.
Peacotum is a peach/apricot/plum hybrid. The current offering in this class, 'Bella Gold' is a home garden cultivar, whose main parent is apricot. There is another interspecific cross that is more peach-like: Tri-Lite, but it lacks apricot in the cross.
Pluerry is a hybrid between a cherry and a plum.
There are now hundreds of varieties of interspecific crosses with names like 'Dinosaur Egg', 'Flavor Queen', 'Splash', 'Dapple Dandy', but sadly, in supermarkets they are often just labeled as plums or apricots which is not very helpful for taste testing.
Growing interspecific hybrids. Some of these hybrids are now available in catalogs or from specialist growers, but a word of warning: look very carefully to see which specific varieties will pollinate each other and make sure that you choose those which are compatible otherwise you may end up with a tree which grows well, flowers well but has no fruit set! This does of course mean that you will in all likelihood end up with two trees, so make sure that you have enough space for them. Many of these crosses have low chilling requirements and flower too early for Owens Valley. (See this link for chill values.) If you're not in Wilkerson, you'll probably have frequent crop loss. Do your homework.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
It's always fun when clients bring insects into the office to be identified. Although I'm pretty good at recognizing common pests, I'm not an entomologist. That makes it a little more work to figure out what I'm looking at.
This insect was recently brought in:
(Photo by Aaron Schusteff on BugGuide.net)
Usually I cringe when someone brings in a beetle because there are so many kinds; fortunately I was able to figure this one out! I've seen this insect out in the Tableland every year so I at least knew where it likes to live. I also recognized it as a blister beetle. The rest was just figuring out what I had from a greatly narrowed list of options.
This insect is Tegrodera latecincta, the iron cross blister beetle. It is found from Mono Lake to Antelope Valley in L.A. County. It has close relatives in nearby deserts.
Blister beetles have a defensive chemical called cantharidin that is pretty nasty stuff. It causes blisters to skin. It's not a good idea to handle blister beetles with your bare hands. Crushed up blister beetles can end up in hay, which can be dangerous to horses if eaten.
Apparently native species of Eriastrum are favored hosts of the adult beetle, but I'm sure I've seen it on other things. It is unknown what the immature stages eat. Maybe wasps or ants?
It's probably not a problem for your garden, but you never know if this will be on Jeopardy!
- Author: Dustin Blakey
I know you'll be glad to hear that there is a new garden pest in the Eastern Sierra. Well, it's native and so not technically new, but as far as I know, gardeners haven't had to deal with it in recent memory.
This insect is a stink bug with the gnarly name of Chlorochroa kanei. Don't try to say it quickly! As far as I know there is no common name for it. Characteristically it has a single dot on its back and a light border around its body. The color, at least this year, has been black, but dark green and brown variants are known to exist.
It normally feeds on the Great Basin plants in the desert, but this year it has shown up in gardens. We have seen it so far on English peas, artichokes and possibly potatoes. I tried to find a preferred host list for this pest and there wasn't really information. Other species of Chlorochroa do have preferred hosts figured out, but not this one.
If you encounter this pest, please let us know in the comments, and tell us which plants you found it on so we can better know what to look for.
Probably the best control in the garden will be to physically remove them and their eggs. UC IPM has some general information about stink bugs online here, but nothing on this particular pest. Information for those other species will apply here as well.
Chances are we may not see it again in the garden, but you never know!