By Cindy Weiner, Butte County Master Gardener, May 6, 2016.
The Chico State Herbarium's collection includes both native and naturalized plants (naturalized plants grow in the wild but are non-native). Each specimen has a label which lists the scientific name of the plant, its collector's name, the date it was collected, and information about where it was found, including elevation, geographic location and description of the habitat where the plant was growing. This information is added to an online database maintained by the Consortium of California Herbaria, a group of 32 herbaria in California plus three out-of-state institutions with sizeable collections of plants from California. After a specimen has been added to the database, it is filed in a cabinet according to its plant family, genus and species.
All it takes is access to the internet to be able to retrieve information about any of the more than 2 million specimens represented in the database without having to visit the herbarium where a particular specimen is kept. But sometimes an in-person visit to the herbarium is necessary. The Chico State Herbarium has hosted researchers from a variety of institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Washington and even a Japanese university.
Sometimes specimens are lent to other institutions. The Chico State Herbarium recently lent 148 specimens of slime mold to a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Traditionally herbaria were a resource for identification and documentation of plants, but their nature has changed in the last 50 years. The information on collection labels and the DNA contained within the plant are rich sources of scientific data about geographic range, evolution of new species, patterns of diversity, introduction and spread of invasive species, and global climate change. Past and current conditions can be compared with an eye to planning for future conditions. Therefore, in addition to botanists and other researchers, conservation and land managers find the Herbarium a valuable resource.
Biological sciences professor Colleen Hatfield is director of the Chico State Herbarium; Lawrence Janeway is part-time curator of the collection. Volunteers and student interns do the mounting, databasing and filing. A group of supporters called Friends of the Herbarium (FOH) raises money to pay for equipment and the curator's salary. FOH has a regular program of events and workshops that are open to the public. Some of the workshops are designed for botanists, but others are of general interest, such as recent workshops on botanical illustration and wreath making.
Located in Holt Hall room 129, the Chico State Herbarium is open to the public every Friday from 8-5. There are dissecting microscopes and an extensive reference library available for use. Volunteers can help identify plants, from the latest weed invading one's garden to the wildflowers in a favorite photo.
By Barbara Ott, Butte County Master Gardener, April 19, 2016.
The word Bonsai is a translation from Japanese and literally means “planted in a tray,” a definition which indicates the relationship between these miniature trees and the low pottery containers which complement them. The pot ‘frames' the tree and creates a sense of harmony, without detracting attention from the tree. This horticultural art form was first developed by the Chinese (as penjing) and then refined under the influence of Japanese Zen Buddhism over a thousand years. A bonsai tree has been subjected to a number of horticultural practices with the aim of achieving visual harmony and creating a living object worthy of contemplation. The gardener tells a story through living illusion, a representation of a tree as it lives in the elements of nature (water, ice, wind, rocks) over time.
Bonsai are created from woody-stemmed evergreen or deciduous trees or shrubs that produce true branches and tolerate having their root/food storage capability restricted through crown and root pruning as well as confinement in a pot. Full-size trees can grow roots that are many yards long and root structures encompassing several thousand yards of soil. In contrast, a typical bonsai container is usually less than 15 inches wide, and filled with between two and ten quarts of soil. Bonsai tree roots live in this small space. While regular mature trees grow to 16 feet or more, bonsai rarely exceed 4 feet in height, and many are under 18 inches.
The confined root systems of bonsai trees affect the maturation, transpiration, nutrition, pest resistance, and many other aspects of tree biology. Skill is needed to control the degree of stress that a tree will tolerate while remaining healthy. Bonsai gardeners use cultivation techniques of pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation, and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees. To maintain healthy trees, they develop the knowledge to recognize the degree to which a particular technique is required, and how much is too little. Most bonsai are outdoor plants needing some protection from severe elements. Some tropical bonsai need to be brought indoors in winter.
Many plants commonly grown as yard trees, bushes, or hedges are suitable candidates for bonsai. Once selected, the chosen tree or plant is then trained and shaped over time to stay small and to meet the aesthetic standards of bonsai. Once the bonsai nears its planned final size it is planted in a small complementary display pot. From then on throughout the year the bonsai is shaped to limit growth, redistribute leaf vigor to areas requiring further development, and meet the gardener/artist's design.
The art of bonsai is a horticultural pastime requiring basic garden sense, some artistic ability and plenty of patience. Indeed, patience is an important attribute for bonsai gardeners, because the growth process takes time, and there are no shortcuts. In this way, practicing the art of bonsai requires one to slow down, observe carefully, and appreciate nature on a small scale – all of which are attributes we might all benefit from cultivating.
To get started with bonsai, the Sunset Bonsai book (2003) is a good beginning reference. Meetings of the Chico's own Bonsai Society are held at the Butte County Library (1108 Sherman Avenue, Chico) at 10:30 a.m. on the second Sunday of the month. For further information, see
Photo credit: Ginkgo Bonsai by Sharon Rico, Solano County, Master Gardener
By Brent McGhie, Butte County Master Gardener, March 18, 2016.
Late March is the time to start thinking about thinning the fruit on peach, nectarine, plum, pluot, apricot, apple, and pear trees.
To produce fruit that is large and healthy, fruit trees need plenty of leaves to feed the developing fruit. Since trees often set far more fruit than their leaves can adequately support, it is generally a good idea to remove a percentage of the developing fruit. Thinning fruit improves the leaf-to-fruit ratio, which results in improved fruit size and quality. Thinning also reduces the overall weight of fruit, thus decreasing the possibility of overburdened limbs splitting or breaking. In addition, over cropping can trigger alternate bearing, with significantly less fruit production the following year. Thinning can also limit the spread of diseases such as brown rot of fruits that are touching one another.
Fruit should be thinned when it is about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Thinning is usually done from early April to mid-May, depending on whether the fruit is an early-ripening or late-ripening variety. Fruit should be thinned when it is about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. If fruit is smaller than this, it may be too hard to see, but if thinned when the fruit is larger than this part of the advantage of thinning will be lost. The larger the fruit is when it is thinned, the smaller the ripe fruit will be at harvest. In other words, it is best to thin fruit early -- but not too early. Thinning also provides an opportunity to remove small, misshapen, or damaged fruit, and these should be the first ones eliminated by thinning. Retain the largest fruit whenever possible.
Rather than pulling it from the branch, fruit should be hand thinned either by 1) twisting it off the stem, 2) pinching off the stem between the fingernails of the thumb and index finger, or 3) using clippers. Peaches and nectarines should be thinned to about five to eight inches apart on the branch. Plums and pluots are smaller, so they can be slightly closer together, about four to six inches apart. Apricots are smaller still and can be thinned to about three to five inches apart. Apples and pears produce clusters of flowers and fruit from each bud and should be thinned to one fruit per cluster. However, if the crop is light, two fruit per cluster is acceptable. If the apple or pear crop is heavy, the fruit should be spaced no less than six to eight inches apart. Since the stems of apples and pears are relatively thick and tough, it is best to use clippers to thin them.
Most home fruit growers do not thin enough fruit from their trees. While it may be hard to thin off that potential fruit, if thinning is done properly both the harvester and the trees will reap the benefits.
For more information on fruit thinning, see
"May in the Garden." Butte County Gardening Guide and Three-Year Gardening Journal (2015): 38.
By Barbara Ott, Butte County Master Gardener, March 4, 2016.
Humans have been observant students of nature for millennia. Over time we have selected grasses that produce heavy-headed grains and we've turned tiny bright flowers into large garden show-offs. The development of seeds by hybridization can be done by anyone willing to selectively move pollen by hand from plant to plant within a plant family. Learning how a plant grows, when it reproduces, and if it is an annual or perennial will aid anyone who wants to experiment with propagating seeds to make new plants.
Plants that form a mass (such as day lilies) can be divided, usually in the early spring, by using a sharp shovel to dig into the mass and separate it into parts to form new plants.
Plants that can be propagated via leaf cuttings (like African violets) can be started at any time by taking a leaf, setting it into soilless plant medium (such as perlite) and keeping it moist, but not wet.
Hydrangeas can be propagated in the spring by pruning off five- to six-inch sections of nonflowering shoots that have two to three pairs of leaves (take your cuttings from close to the bottom of the plant, as woodier cuttings generally produce more roots). Remove the leaves directly above a node (a leaf-growing bump on the stem). Clip the remaining leaves in half, to help increase root production. Fill five-inch pots with rooting medium; and press the cuttings into the medium, keeping the leaves above the soil surface. Water and place under plastic or glass to make a humid environment. Old cracked aquariums can serve as “greenhouses” for cuttings. Place the Hydrangea cuttings in bright filtered light. Once roots develop, a new hydrangea is ready.
To propagate salvia from basal stem cuttings (cuttings near the plant's base), clip in early- to mid-spring. Strip leaves from stems and snip off the shoot tip. Make sure you have a node near the bottom of the stem. Place the stem into a small pot filled with a 50/50 measure of sand and perlite, and keep it warm and moist. The resulting plant will bloom that summer. To make a soft stem tip cutting from salvia, make the cutting in early autumn following the procedure described above. Autumn cuttings need to be wintered over in a warm environment, and then planted in the spring.
Keep in mind that warmth from an electric seed pad will help cuttings root and grow readily.
If you want more plants but don't want to purchase them, make some of your own!
By Barbara Ott, Butte County Master Gardener, February 19, 2016.
References to the plant genus Dianthus go back as far as the Greek botanist Theophrastus. He named these plants from the Caryophyllaceae family “divine flower” (dios = divine plus anthos = flower). The Romans brought Dianthus to Europe and England, and from there these plants were eventually brought to the New World. As it moved to new places, this world-travelling plant acquired a variety of names, including sweet William, pinks, gillyflower, cottage pink, carnation and clove pink.
Dianthus can contribute to garden design in many ways. Use dwarf and mat-forming varieties as edging for a border, in containers, in rock gardens, among patio pavers, as ground cover, or along rock walls. Medium-to-tall varieties are effective in flower borders, in gardens for cut flowers, and in front of shrubs. Combine Dianthus with plants that harmonize with its foliage and colors; good companions include coral bells, feverfew, lamb's-ear, larkspur, lavender, hardy geraniums, petunias, poppies, sage, and floribunda and shrub roses.
Dianthus is a culinary flower. Crystallized petals are used for decorating cakes, while fresh petals can be used in salads, pies, and sandwiches. It is important when using dianthus for culinary purposes to remove the petal base, which is quite bitter.
These varieties of Dianthus do well in our area:
- Sweet William is biennial. It is covered with spicy-smelling, bi-colored flowers in late spring and grows 12 to 18 inches tall. This flower seeds freely. If you don't want seed set, conscientiously deadhead after bloom. But if you love a spontaneous surprise in the garden, sweet William's freely-seeding behavior can provide new plants year after year.
- Cheddar and cottage pinks are perennial forms of Dianthus. Their foliage is blue-gray or green. Some varieties grow as low as 2 inches, others as tall as 16 inches. The low-growing varieties work well in rock gardens.
- Dianthus (D. chinensis), while technically a biennial, is used as an annual. It is low- growing with green foliage, and flowers for up to 8 weeks in the spring.
- Among the taller Dianthus, D. caryophyllus is the best known. This species includes the florists' carnation as well as border carnations.
All forms of Dianthus were characterized by short blooming seasons until 1971, when a breeder began to grow varieties that didn't set seed. These varieties typically bloom from May to October.
Whether you grow old fashioned pinks, sweet William, or hybrid Dianthus, know you are planting a water-wise plant that has graced gardens around the world for millennia.