- (Focus Area) Yard & Garden
- Author: Erich Warkentine
On October 6, Inyo-Mono Master Gardener volunteer Laura Mogg presented the latest Sunday Seminar on composting. She explained the benefits and practical details of composting, and provided a handout from UC Cooperative Extension providing further details.
Laura provided a demonstration of a simple and easy way everyone can compost garden and kitchen waste. Materials are simple: a bit of fence material that is shaped into a cylinder 3 ft wide and 3 ft tall into which layers of leaves, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and animal waste from herbivores are added. An even mix of fresh green waste and brown waste is ideal, and any large or woody plants should be cut into small pieces for best results. The pile within the cylinder is thoroughly watered down and topped with a plastic cover to keep it from drying out in our arid climate.
A compost thermometer is required to monitor the temperature of the pile to see when it is ready to turn (between 140°F and 150°F) and to monitor watering and turning until its ready. The finished compost will be about 1/3 the volume of the original contents of the pile.
Bottom line: it didn't look all that hard, and the benefits to our gardens and landfills are too big to ignore.
- Author: Trina Tobey
I woke up on my seventeenth birthday to find my parent's juvenile maple tree had magically converted to a banana plant overnight and had a resident monkey…and no, I was not dreaming. My very creative friend Whitney had snuck into my yard in the middle of the night to tie bananas and a stuffed monkey from the tree limbs. Twenty years later, this “banana tree” is the most beguiling gift I have received.
I come from a family of practical jokers. My dad loves to prank my children, and they love to get their revenge whenever they can. So when my dad's birthday came around this year, my kids and I took a page from Whitney's book, and plotted the perfect gardening practical joke. My dad hates watermelon and so my daughter suggested we put a watermelon garden in his yard. We found the fake vines with leaves and garden gnome at the thrift store and new Family Dollar in town for less than $10 altogether. All that was left to buy was a few mini watermelons and voilà, we had an instant watermelon garden! We got up at 4:30 A.M. the morning of his birthday and stealthily tip-toed into his backyard planting our prank garden into the middle of his pristine lawn. Now, the most fun was his response. He took pictures and posted them on social media, texted family and friends, and grilled every suspect until my daughter finally caved under the pressure two days later. My mom said, “He really got a big kick out of that!”
Here are some other ideas for gardening pranks, but the possibilities are endless and guaranteed to make for great stories and laughs for years to come. You could decorate your friend's garden with the ugliest garden ornaments you can find at yard sales. Put a gnome, flamingo, or other figurine in a garden and move it periodically (like Elf on a Shelf) posing it to do various gardening tasks. Attach store bought fruit or vegetables to a plant of a different species (i.e. tie oranges to an apple tree). And then there is the rubber snake, always guaranteed to create a startle but not for the faint at heart.
Be creative, have fun, and, most importantly, pick the right person or they might not think it is funny.
- Author: Harold McDonald
One of the first gardening books I ever purchased was Sunset magazine's book How to Grow Herbs, published in the early 1970's. Though it had great information on cultivation and harvesting, what really drew me in was the use of herbs in landscaping. In particular I remember one black and white photo (no color back then!) of so-called wall germander. Now I lived in rainy Santa Cruz at the time, and I doubt that I had ever seen germander, but there was something about that photo that always stayed with me. From the book I learned that Teucrium chamaedrys was a major component of “knot gardens”—those very formal geometric gardens that became popular during the Elizabethan Age in England—along with thyme, marjoram, rosemary, Santolina and other herbs of Mediterranean origin.
While there are hundreds of species of germander, it's not a plant that seems to get much attention or respect. The Wikipedia entry for Teucrium isn't much more than a list of some of the species, and while Teucrium chamaedrys shows up in many nurseries, I doubt if one nursery in fifty has any other representatives from the genus. That's a shame, because these workhorses can fill a number of roles in the garden and are especially well-suited for tough growing environments like we have in the Eastern Sierra.
So it's not surprising that it was more than thirty years later, when I moved to the wilds of West Chalfant, that I grew my first germander, a prostrate form of Teucrium chamaedrys that—unlike just about anything else—seemed to thrive in this strange new land! Its evergreen character and attractive pink flowers in early summer were a bonus—a real bee magnet! The downside is that creeping germander can do just that if it gets sufficient water, so accept that aspect and plant it where it will have room to fill in. It is a groundcover, after all!
A few years later I found upright Teucrium chamaedrys, the wall germander (see photo above) I had seen in photos so long ago, and planted a few of those. Again, these are not show stoppers, but they are attractive year-round, grow to a foot or so in height, and do not spread. I have come to consider wall germander one of my go-to plants. Santolina and 'Powis Castle' Artemisia are two other sub-shrubs I count on for their pleasing shape and foliage—plants that make the colors in front of them really pop. But unlike those plants, germander never gets leggy or unkempt looking, remaining neat and green throughout the year. The only upkeep required is to cut back the spent blooms in midsummer (and hope for another show in the fall). I would characterize wall germander as one of my garden's best supporting actors!
Teucrium fruticans (shrubby germander or tree germander grows 4-6 feet high and wide) is another member of the genus I tried in my yard, but it was, for me, a real heartbreaker! In my research for drought-tolerant shrubs before moving to Chalfant, this is one that really caught my eye with its fuzzy gray foliage and transcendent blue flowers. I found a beautiful specimen at a nursery somewhere on the west side of the mountains, but it died pretty quickly. Undeterred, I had a friend buy me another one when she was in Berkeley, but it met the same fate. Though I've seen it rated as hardy to 0-10 degrees, most sources list it as zone 8 (10-20 degrees). For me, that's worth a try—Salvia greggii is listed as zone 8, for example, and it is a staple in Eastern Sierra gardens. Of course, the flip side is that plenty of zone 8 plants die! Anyway, if you've got a protected area and are willing to risk the money, you might give this one a try, because it really is a beautiful shrub.
Similar in character is Teucrium aroanium, gray creeping germander. If you have a tough, dry area you want to dress up with a unique, beautiful groundcover, you should really give these two a try. Mountain Valley Growers and High Country Gardens are good online sources for germander. If you're in Southern California, look for a bricks and mortar garden store that carries plants from Native Son wholesale nursery (who kindly allowed me to use their photos).
Living where I do, I am always searching for plants like germander: hard-to-kill, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants that look good year-round. Who isn't? I read somewhere that there are 260 species of Teucrium, and I know I'll be on the lookout for any I can find!
- Author: Alison Collin
Got holes in your leaves? Don't reach for the insecticide that is guaranteed to kill a wide spectrum of different insects or the Bacillus thuringiensis (just kills caterpillars) until you know what the culprit is, or you may just destroy a beneficial insect instead!
If bees visit flowers for nectar and pollen why on earth are they chewing on leaves? Well this particular species of bee lays its eggs in holes in wood, often using old beetle holes or bug hotels, then fills each hole with pollen and resin to provide food for the larvae and finally seals the hole with a piece of leaf or flower petal.
Generally speaking leaf-cutters do little damage to the plants that they harvest from so no action needs to be taken to control them. However, this spring I installed a pollinator-friendly garden which included a very small 'Rising Sun' redbud tree. I don't know if it was the citrus-colored leaves that appealed, but beginning in July every new leaf was quite severely damaged and our bee house was very artistically decorated, implying that my pollinator garden was a great success for at least some species.
The pleasure that I get observing the many different species of bees in the garden far outweighs any damage that they do, so no sprays will be used, and if the damage becomes severe I can put a fine mesh net over my little tree until it becomes established.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
Our dry climate on the east side works wonders to control fungal diseases. Most fungi prefer moist environments. While we still get an occasional fungal pathogen, we seem to have greater problems with insects and viruses. In many cases the insects and viruses team up to cause real mayhem in the garden.
In our area we have been subject to continual attacks on tomatoes by viruses. Our most common viral issue is beet curly top virus spread by the beet leafhopper. It is widespread from Coso Junction through Bishop. You may be familiar with its distinctive symptoms: curled up leaves, possibly with a purple tint, along with small, undersized fruit. But it isn't the only viral issue we have to deal with.
Of lesser importance in our area is tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), but this year it has had a good showing in the Owens Valley.
This virus can affect dozens of plants, but tomatoes, being so common, are the most usual victim reported.
The easiest symptom to recognize is the distinctive color pattern on ripe fruit. (See picture.) If you see this (probably with some leaf spots) there is a good chance this virus is the culprit.
In some cases the virus attacks early or is more virulent and does a number on the foliage and new shoots. The leaf symptoms start on new shoots and at first may look bronze, eventually turning into dead spots. On tomato I usually see these spots more toward the base of the individual leaflets, but this isn't always the case. Other crops respond differently. Sometimes the virus kills shoots entirely! By the time I usually get to see the plants the disease has progressed to the point where there is a mess of dead shoots, and half-dead leaves. I cross my fingers and hope there is symptomatic fruit for me to see. Viruses can be hard to diagnose by symptoms alone.
This virus is spread by tiny, hard-to-kill insects called thrips. Unless you have eagle eyes, you'll need a lens to see them. These small insects have frilled wings and rasping mouthparts that tend to tear up new buds and leaves, leading to malformed growth. While feeding, they infect the plants with the virus. Even if you kill the insects, once infected the plant is a goner.
So what do you do? First look for symptoms to confirm this is the problem. I usually check to see if there are thrips present as well with a hand lens or microscope. If I'm sure I have the virus I remove the infected plants and try my best to control the thrips population. UC IPM suggests insecticidal soap.
I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep worrying about whether my garden was going to be attacked. Some years are worse than others. Keeping weeds under control and watching for pests diligently is your best plan. Using yellow or blue sticky traps in the plant canopy is a good technique to monitor insect population.
As always, if you aren't sure what's going on, please contact the Master Gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.