- Author: Dustin Blakey
A recent project that I've been working on has made me aware that there is some confusion about how to use hardiness zones.
First, let's talk a bit about what hardiness zones are. Each plant has inherent resistance to a minimum cold temperature in mid-winter. This, more than almost any other factor, determines which plants can grow in a given climate. For example, lemons are not hardy in the Owens Valley. Nor is papaya. The cold weather kills the plants. Can't grow them here. Period.
To get an idea of how cold each locale gets, we use a system of dividing the USA into a series of zones delineated, at 10 °F intervals, by the average minimum annual low temperature for a 30-year period. This map is derived from weather data and is available here. (And elsewhere.) If you're in Zone 7, the average minimum temperature in a year will be 0 °F. Zone 6 is -10°. Most of California is fairly mild due to coastal influences, but we're quite a bit colder so hardiness is important in the Eastern Sierra.
Because of the important role of hardiness in plant selection, it is the primary criterion for plant for most of the USA and Canada. Since we have lots of data on hardiness both in terms of understanding plant species AND the local climate we often find nurseries and catalogues group plants by their recommended zones. Here's an example: One of the nation's largest nurseries, Monrovia, has a plant selection tool for their product line. On the top row of options to filter the catalogue is "USDA Cold Hardiness." There are dozens of similar resources online for woody plants and perennials that you can find on Google.
Looking at my data, the thing that seems to confuse gardeners most is how to put to use the hardiness descriptions for plants. Most catalogues and reference materials will say something like "USDA Zones 4–8." And that's where the confusion creeps in.
I found this plant description I quickly found on the Internet as an example of what's usually encountered:
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) Zones 4-8
Culinary and medicinal herb
Marjoram is sometimes used to treat minor ailments like cough and sore throat. It's also used in regional Italian and Greek cuisine. Marjoram is related to oregano.
This means the plant is grown successfully in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8. Whether you grow it in Zone 4 or Zone 8, it is still a plant hardy in mid-winter to -30 degrees F. The reason there is a range is to guide our plant selection. This plant doesn't just grow in Zone 4. It also grows well in Zone 5, 6, 7 and 8! If plants only grew in one zone, then Lone Pine would have entirely different plants than Bishop. But that's not what we see. Why not 9 and above? Well, maybe it is typically too hot overall there in those warmer zones. There's no telling why, exactly, from this. It's a guide of where the plant is commonly grown.
So when you see a plant description that says "Zones 5 to 8" that means it's hardy to Zone 5 conditions (-20°) but it can be grown in Zones 5, 6, 7, and 8. It doesn't mean there is an average hardiness of Zone 6.5 or that we're not sure but it's somewhere between the two extremes.
Generally the safest bet is to chose plant materials that are suitable for both a colder and warmer zone than your location when a span is listed. So If you live in Zone 6, a plant hardy in Zones 4 — 9 is probably a safe bet in terms of cold and heat tolerance.* If a plant just said "Zone 4" and you planted it in Zone 6 it would still be hardy.
In most of California, resources like the Sunset zones are more useful, but here in the mountains Sunset zones can be overly conservative and we have great differences due to elevation in our two counties.
Instead of Zones it would be more useful to have a statement of "Hardy to -10°F" in plant descriptions, but historically we've used this system because it's easy to convey which plants work, and most states have a more homogeneous climate than California.
Now you should be well armed to choose plants for your landscape.
*If you really like the idea of climate zones, there is also a Heat Zone Map for you to consider as well.
- Author: Alison Collin
Even minimalist gardeners acquire tools that need to be stored and maintained, and as years go by the collection gradually increases representing a significant financial outlay. However, if well cared for good tools will last a lifetime so it behooves us to make the extra effort to look after them well.
The chief requirements are that the tools be kept dry and easily accessible but not in the way, that blades should not be damaged, and that they do not present a hazard such as tipping over, or falling down and hitting someone. A dedicated garden shed is ideal for storage but if lack of space eliminates this possibility alternatives have to be found.
I keep small tools such as pruners, trowels, dandelion weeder, twine, scissors and gardening gloves in a large box of the type produced for storing patio furniture cushions. This also contains basic chemicals such as rooting hormone, Tanglefoot, fertilizers and insecticidal soap, hand sprayers, and it can be locked for safety. A fishing tackle or compartmentalized craft box makes an excellent organizer for drip irrigation nozzles, connectors, goof plugs etc.
Another idea for keeping small tools handy is suggested in the Sunset Western Garden book – a mailbox mounted on a post discreetly placed in a spot close to where these tools are most often used.
The most awkward things to store are items such as bird netting, shade cloth, weed cloth and frost cloth. It is amazing how the packs, so flat and neat on purchase, expand into a voluminous mess once the bag is opened. I get around this by folding them the best I can and then rolling them, tying the rolls securely with string and storing them vertically in a 32-gallon garbage can with a tight fitting lid.
The upper rails on the back panels of a “good neighbor” panel fence can have a series of ladder hooks screwed into them which are then used to store spare coils of irrigation tubing, hoses, watering cans, or the metal hoops from row covers. Similar hooks can be inserted into the lower rails and used to store bundles of plant stakes. Ladders can be stored horizontally on a fence or wall supported by hooks designed for the purpose.
Plant pots and seed flats are stacked by size, and kept in a 40 quart utility bucket which keeps them contained and can be used to sterilize them when necessary. Surplus ones are either recycled or donated to growers.
Pressure sprayers (empty and clean) should be kept away from direct sunlight since the UV light tends to degrade plastics. I learned this the hard way when a 1 quart hand sprayer exploded as I pumped it up, drenching me in insecticide! (It was organic, hence the stink of garlic, rosemary and worse that pervaded my being for several days but it could have been much worse).
Large tomato cages are always a bit of an eyesore when not in use, but they can be put to advantage in the winter by wrapping and securing frost cloth around the outside, placing them, with a layer of straw inside, over any tender plants. The frost cloth prevents the straw from blowing away.
Storage requirements will differ depending on circumstance, but the aim is to be able to find and easily access any tool, without taking up valuable growing space in the process.
Do you have any helpful ideas or tips? Share them below!
- Author: Dustin Blakey
In case you hadn't noticed, our region is a bit different than most of California. For one thing we have this thing called "winter" to deal with. Although we may not get as much precipitation as we would like during the winter, we still have to deal with the effects of prolonged exposure to cold. In this way we are more like Missouri than California.
Recently I was asked about overwintering dahlias and gladiolus from the community garden. These are 2 plants that should not be left in the ground through the winter. In the case of gladiolus, in some winters many cultivars will survive but why risk losing your corms? (Corms are what gladiolus "bulbs" are really called.)
I was going to write a detailed post on overwintering glads and dahlias, but since I'm lazy, I checked to see if there wasn't something out there already written that would work. Fortunately Purdue's Cooperative Extension has a good fact sheet on keeping begonias, dahlias, geraniums, cannas and gladiolus through the winter.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just point you to this good resource. ⇒ https://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-085.pdf It mentions fungicides in the fact sheet. If you're in California, you should ignore those parts.
- Author: Carmen Kappos
While thinking about rounding up and checking all my own garden tools, I quickly found several good articles on tool care. The first article I came across is found in our own local garden guide “A Gardener's Companion” by Inyo - Mono Master Gardeners. The others I located on the Internet in university extension websites. For the complete articles, please check the references listed at the end. One of the articles has a good description of tool sharpening, as well as care of tools.
There are several good reasons to make tool maintenance a routine chore. The more important reasons include:
- Tools last longer when well cared for
- Sharp tools make better cuts on foliage, allowing the plant tissue to heal properly
- Clean tools help prevent the spread of plant diseases
- Tools are safer to use when they operate properly, you check for missing or broken parts, and you make handles secure and splinter free
In order to care for tools, many good tips were provided by the articles I found, such as:
- To disinfect pruning equipment both during use, and at seasons' end; spray or wipe with Lysol® disinfectant. The active ingredients in Lysol® are less corrosive to metal than a bleach solution and easier on your garden clothes as well. There are other brands as well.
- To protect metal tools from rust, clean, dry and give a light oil coating. During gardening season wipe off excess oil, or dirt will cling to the surface.
- Make an “oil sock” to rub metal parts and keep them clean. Stuff a sock with sand or wadded rags. Tie a knot and apply vegetable oil. Store the sock in a zip-lock plastic bag. Vegetable oils work and are less toxic than the engine oil that's often recommended
- A “dip bucket” of sand can clean shovels and trowels of clinging dirt. Master Gardener Alison Collin has observed that the older version dip bucket with oil in the sand is hard to dispose of since it is considered hazardous waste.
- Dedicate a plastic kitchen spatula to scrape off dirt and mud from tools after each use.
- Murphy's Oil Soap or a multi-purpose hand cleaner removes plant sap from tools, and as Alison also pointed out, is less toxic to use than turpentine which is recommended in older articles.
- Lubricate moving parts of tools, “3-in-1” oil is an effective joint lubricant.
- Use a wire brush, putty knife and /or steel wool to clean large amounts of dirt or rust from tools.
- Always wear safety goggles when cleaning and sharpening tools.
- A heavier coating of oil on tools not being used in winter protects the metal during storage.
- A tool storage rack will “help prevent mutinies in the garden shed,” by keeping tools organized, and may keep you safer from accidents.
- Use saw guards to keep saws sharp and yourself safe from accidental cuts.
- A bucket caddy corrals small hand tools.
- Drain hoses and allow to dry before hanging up at the season end.
- If you have multiple hoses, prior to storage, label where they are used in the garden.
- Before storing, check for and replace missing or worn washers from hose end couplings.
- Repair hose leaks with hose mending couplings.
Near the end of my garden season, I especially loved finding this quote from "Caring for Your Tools":
The most important tool in the garden is you. When you're feeling rusty and dull and not too sharp, you should take care of yourself. The same is true of your garden tools. They'll be more productive if they're well cared for [Jim Child (1999) Garden Gate, Issue 30.]
As I check over my tools for storage, and give them a little tender loving care: I've decided to do the same for myself with a little T.L.C., loafing in my yard and imagine what the next garden season will produce.
“A Gardener's Companion for the Eastern Sierra, Topaz to Tecopa,” Presented by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Inyo and Mono Counties. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Master Gardener Program.
“Take Good Care of Hard-working Garden Tools” http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/node/498 contains several good reminders on caring for garden tools.
“Caring for Your Tools” can be found at fyi.uwex.edu/cwas/files/2013/01/Caring_for_Your_Tools.pdf A detailed article including tool sharpening information.
“How disinfectants compare in preventing transmissions of fire blight”, Teviotdale, Beth L., Wiley, Monica F., Harper, Dennis H. (1991) California Agriculture. 45(4):21-23.
- Author: Alison Collin
- Remember to winterize irrigation systems before the heavy freezes start. If you have a “frost free” faucet attached to the wall of your house, make sure to disconnect any hoses from it, especially those with a pressure nozzle attached. The mechanism is inside the house wall, and the stretch between the mechanism and the actual faucet is prone to bursting in cold weather if water cannot drain from it. The same applies to “splitters” or Y connectors – either remove completely or make sure that the nozzles are in the open position.
- If you banded trees with Tanglefoot for insect control, remove the bands for the winter.
- Check any plant ties to make sure that they have not become too tight over the summer and loosen or reapply as necessary.
- If you did not harvest bush or climbing beans when fresh, leave them to dry on the vines and then harvest them as dry beans for use in soups. Put them in the freezer for a couple of days after shelling them to kill off any bugs.
- If you are planning to use straw mulch over the winter, make sure that you buy straw and not hay. Hay contains seeds of grasses, oats or alfalfa and although these are nutritious for stock they will rapidly grow in the garden – and who needs all that weeding?