- Author: Yvonne Rasmussen
Many gardeners think of winter gardens as desolate and bare. With some good plant choices, you can create a garden that is beautiful and colorful even in the dormant season.
Planting trees and shrubs with interesting shape, bark or decorative fruit in winter can create a colorful and structurally interesting cold-weather garden.
Trees that retain fruit into winter can also provide food for birds, beneficial insects and other wildlife. These creatures will provide you with some winter entertainment, too.
Some of my favorite trees with attractive fall and winter fruit include pomegranates (Punica granatum), persimmons(Diospyros ssp.) and crab apples (Malus ssp.). All of them do well in Napa County. Any pomegranates that split or fruit that is too high for me to reach stays on the tree for birds to enjoy all winter. Hanging from bare branches, the fruits look like Christmas ornaments.
California native shrubs with colorful winter berries that are good for birds and wreaths include toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), with its clusters of small red berries, and snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) which has white berries. You might also consider the eastern coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus), with white or pink berries.
Another California native tree with decorative winter fruit is the Western redbud (Cersis occidentalis). The fruits make a wonderful rustling sound in the wind, adding yet more pleasure to the winter garden. This drought-tolerant tree stays small and is thus a good choice for small yards. It produces magenta flowers in early spring, magenta pods in summer and yellow to red foliage in fall.
Look to trees and shrubs with fascinating bark or trunk shapes to provide interest in your deciduous garden. Trees with weeping or twisted branches can add a lot of drama. Some trees can be trained into intriguing shapes, while others have been expressly developed for branches that weep or twist.
I recently saw an example of a twisted black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) called 'Twisty Baby' with bright pink flowers. 'Twisty Baby' is Monrovia nursery’s trademarked name for this cultivar. It is drought-tolerant like other locusts, but because it is a dwarf, only getting 8-10 feet tall it is suitable for a smaller garden .
Maples (Acer spp.), dogwoods (Cornus ssp.) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus ssp.) come in varieties with many different bark colors and textures. Some dogwoods are not deciduous, so choose carefully. The dogwood fruit is also good for wildlife.
For white-barked trees, many people often think of white birch (Betula pendula) or alder (Alnus rhombifolia or Alnus rubra). But these trees need well-drained soil and ample water. In our heavy clay soils, they are often not long lived. A better choice would be crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia ssp.) or lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora).
Our native manzanitas (Archtostaphylos ssp.) are among my favorite red-barked shrubs with interesting forms. They come in many sizes, from low-growing ground covers to large shrubs that work as small trees. They produce clusters of small, urn-shaped flowers in late winter through spring. Later, these flowers yield small, apple-like fruits that birds enjoy.
Closely related to manzanitas are two other good garden shrubs or small trees with similar water needs, red bark and unusual red fruits: Arbutus 'Marina' and Arbutus unedo, also known as the strawberry tree.
Many trees have bark with an interesting texture. I grew up with a Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia), which has bark that falls off to leave a mottled pattern or "puzzle bark" on the trunk. These trees are resistant to Dutch elm disease and have long, arching branches, making them lovely for a patio. On the other hand, they have small leaves and produce many small fruits that can be messy.
Another tree with so-called “puzzle bark” is the sycamore (Platunas ssp.). Both the American sycamore (Platunas occidentalis) and the California sycamore (P. racemosa) are useful, attractive and appropriate trees for Napa Valley.
Melaleuca (Melaleuca ssp.), Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus) and the paperbark maple (Acer griseus) are a few examples of trees with shredding or peeling bark. Melaleucas are native to Australia. They come in various shapes, sizes and flower colors. All are drought-tolerant and have interesting bark that peels off in papery layers. The smaller shrubby species are useful as screens. The flowers attract birds and bloom in a range of colors.
Catalina ironwood has reddish, scaly, shredding bark; narrow scalloped leaves; and showy clusters of creamy white flowers in early summer. It needs good drainage, so choose its location carefully or it will not thrive.
The paperbark maple has lovely red bark in winter, showy fruit in summer and bright red fall color.
Yvonne Rasmussen is a UC Master Gardener. UC Master Gardeners of Napa County (http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) answer gardening questions Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.
- Posted by: Yvonne Rasmussen
- Author: Jane Callier
There are two types of strawberries: day-neutral varieties, also called ever bearers, and short-day types.
Ever-bearing plants are not affected by day length and have their highest production from spring through fall. Short-day types produce from fall through early spring when days are shorter. In our area, ever bearers are generally considered synonymous with day neutrals.
Your strawberry plants will need at least eight hours of full sun each day to produce well. Strawberries grow best in loamy or sandy soils. Before planting, prepare the soil by incorporating two to three inches of compost or other organic matter to a depth of at least 12 inches. Organic matter improves nutrient availability as well as the soil’s structure and water-holding capacity.
Dig in some balanced fertilizer as well. Strawberries may still need to be fed several times during the growing season. Poor vigor or light green leaves tell you that it’s time to fertilize. Heavy clay soil hampers strawberry growth and vigor and encourages disease, but you can succeed with clay soil if it is well drained. If possible, plant strawberries in raised beds to improve soil drainage and aeration.
When planting, remove any dead leaves, spread the roots out in the planting hole, and firm the soil around the plant. The crown of the plant — the area between the roots and the leaf stems — should be even with or slightly above ground level. Water the transplants well. Strawberry plants have shallow roots and need to be kept moist during the growing season. Use drip irrigation to keep moisture away from the fruit, minimizing fruit rot. Strawberries don’t compete well with weeds, so be a vigilant weeder to extend the life of your beds.
Think about your strawberry bed as a temporary structure. Relocate plants after three to five years to prevent buildup of soil-borne pathogens. Avoid planting them in areas where you have recently grown other members of the Solanaceae family, such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and okra. They are all subject to the same soil-borne diseases.
Napa County Master Gardeners recently completed a year-long field trial of three markedly different strawberry varieties. We grew two day-neutral varieties, Albion and Quinault, and one short-day variety, Sequoia. Trial participants planted bare-root seedlings in January. Some gardeners planted in containers, which work well because of the plants’ small root systems.
Following common practice, we removed runners the first year to strengthen the mother plants. Some gardeners also removed the first flush of blossoms and consequently harvested a meager amount of Sequoia berries, if any. Most of us used straw mulch to retain soil moisture and keep fruit off the ground, away from earwigs, sow bugs, snails and slugs.
Birds pecking at ripe fruit were among the most annoying pests; some gardeners used netting to control them.
Fruit production varied. The Sequoia plants produced some huge, sweet berries but finished production before hot weather began, leaving us with the impression that its growing season was too short.
The Quinault plants yielded smaller, very soft fruit that needed to be eaten almost immediately. A few growers complained about having to throw away so many Quinault berries because they were too soft.
Albion berries were by far the best producers, yielding large, sweet, conical fruit on upright stems. Currently, the Albion is one of the most popular strawberry varieties in California. It was developed at the UC Davis and introduced only a few years ago.
Our group kept yield records through Oct. 31. However, several gardeners, as well as their children and grandchildren, succumbed to temptation and ate some of the juicy crop before it had a chance to be weighed.
Consequently, our results are not rigorously scientific.
Roughly speaking, Albion berries accounted for 67 percent of the total yield, Quinault berries 25 percent and Sequoia berries 8 percent. Most of the participants intend to keep their plants going for another year.
For more information on growing strawberries and strawberry pest information see the UC integrated Pest Management website http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/FRUIT/strawberries.html
Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) are available to answer gardening questions Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 253-4221.
- Posted by: Yvonne Rasmussen
- Author: Susanne von Rosenberg
November 09, 2012 • By SUSANNE von ROSENBERG UC Master Gardener Napa County
Do you love onions and garlic? They’re easier to grow than you might think, and now is the time to plant them.
Onions and garlic are in the allium family, along with leeks and shallots. You can plant onions from now until January for harvest from May through July, depending on the variety.
Onions can be planted as seedlings from six-packs, transplants (available at local nurseries now or soon), or sets (baby onions). Sets are not recommended for California because the varieties are typically not adapted to our area, and they will bolt rather than form bulbs. Planting at the wrong time will have the same result.
Sweet onions are ideal for eating raw. American onions are better for cooking and will keep longer. Yellow onions typically store better than white strains of the same type, and red onions fall somewhere in the middle.
Leeks are also easily planted as seedlings. You can start onions and leeks from seed as well; consult Napa County Master Gardeners for information on the best time to start seeds, as timing depends on the variety.
Onions need a minimum number of daylight hours to start to form bulbs. Intermediate-day onions and certain strains of long-day onions do best in our area; local nurseries will carry appropriate varieties.
Onion and leek seedlings and transplants are hardy. You may not believe that these tiny plants will survive transplanting, but as long as you provide well-amended soil and adequate water, they will thrive. Keep them well watered and weeded initially, then maintain a regular watering schedule through the spring.
Onions do not need a lot of fertilizer. Feed lightly before planting and again in early spring. When the leaves become less firm, the bulb is mature, and you can taper off the water. The bulb is fully mature when the leaves fall over. (They will still be green.) The first time I saw these prostrate leaves, I thought some animal had trampled my onions.
Plant onions four inches apart; they need room to form bulbs. Alternatively, you can plant your seedlings or transplants closer together and thin them for use as green onions or spring (immature) onions. They are edible at all stages of growth.
Plant garlic now through February. Garlic is planted in the form of cloves. Be sure to buy certified disease-free seed stock from a nursery, catalog or certified grower to avoid spreading disease in your garden. Consider trying an unfamiliar variety. At the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa in September, one grower had more than 100 varieties of garlic on display. Soft-neck varieties keep better than hard-neck types, but hard neck varieties.are easier to peel. Grow soft-neck varieties if you want to braid your garlic.
Plant individual unpeeled garlic cloves, pointed end up, about one inch deep and four inches apart. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Like onions, garlic plants are light feeders. In May or June the leaves will begin to turn yellow, even with adequate watering. Taper off the watering, and when the leaves are at least 60 percent brown, the garlic will be ready to harvest.
Plant the smallest cloves from your seed garlic closer together and harvest the leaves for green garlic. These leaves have a mild garlic flavor and will be ready long before your garlic bulbs have matured.
Garlic and onions must be dried if you plan to store them. Lift them from the ground with a garden fork. Wait until onions are completely dry in the ground before lifting them, then put them in a warm, dry place away from direct sun for a week or two. Garlic will take two to three weeks to dry enough to store. After your onions and garlic are sufficiently dry, bush off the dirt, trim the roots to one inch, and either braid the tops or cut off the tops about two inches above the bulb.
Napa County Master Gardeners (cenapa.ucdavis.edu) answer gardening questions Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 253-4221.
- Posted by: Yvonne Rasmussen
October 27, 2012 - By Pat Hitchcock, U. C. Master Gardener
Lovely October! Nighttime temperatures are dipping into the forties, daylight hours are shrinking, and the tomatoes we adored in August are just not as tasty now, if in fact there are any left on the vines. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to get some winter vegetables in the ground so you will have something fresh to eat in the cold months to come.
Among the easiest vegetables to grow are cool-season greens. You can eat them at any stage, from just barely sprouted to large and mature. Some greens, like lettuces and chicories, can be served raw in salads, and most of them can be boiled, steamed or braised. Many greens not only prefer the cooler temperatures of fall and winter, some of them actually improve in flavor if they experience light frost.
The easiest lettuces to grow are the loose-leaf types. If you are starting lettuce from seed, look for varieties labeled as cold-hardy. Local nurseries have many types available as seedlings, to give you a head start. Some nursery six-packs include a mix of types, a good choice if you like variety in your salad.
Chicories are related to lettuces and include endive, escarole and radicchio. Appreciated for their crunch and pleasant bitterness, these greens need to be grown in cool to cold weather to keep that bitterness in check. These hearty greens can be braised or enjoyed raw in winter salads with sliced persimmons or pears and toasted walnuts.
The Brassica family includes greens related to turnips and cabbage, such as arugula, collards and kale. Leafy mustards, bok choy and napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage) also belong to this family. Leaves from these plants add a lot of flavor to salads when picked young and tender. As plants mature, the greens are better suited to cooking. Brassicas are hardy and easily withstand the frosts of typical Napa Valley winters.
Also consider planting chard, beet greens and spinach this fall. These vegetables grow well in cool to cold weather. Ideally, you should start them in late summer to get them launched in warm soil, but you can still plant seedlings until the end of October. Place them in the sunniest location you have; winter days are so short that your vegetables will need as much sun as possible.
Before planting, add two to four inches of compost to your garden bed, digging it into the top few inches of soil. The organic matter in compost improves soil drainage and texture.
Consider adding fertilizer of some sort, especially if you grew summer vegetables in the same bed. Most compost is low in nitrogen and the other nutrients that growing plants need. If you are not sure what to add, go with an all-purpose formulation labeled for vegetables, and follow package directions. Too much fertilizer can harm seedlings and add unwanted chemical salts to your soil.
When transplanting seedlings, follow the recommended spacing on the plant tag. Consult a garden book if you aren’t sure. In general, place seedlings far enough apart so that they will touch only when full grown. Place leaf lettuces, arugula and spinach 8 to 12 inches apart; more vigorous greens, such as chard and cabbage, will need 12 to 18 inches between them. Handle plants carefully to minimize trauma to them, which can stunt them and reduce your yield. Plant them in moist soil, and do not let them dry out.
Water regularly until rain arrives. Often the first few storms do not bring enough moisture to wet the soil deeply, so monitor often and water as needed. Assuming a typical wet winter, your greens should not need watering unless we get a dry spell lasting more than a couple of weeks.
Common pest problems include aphids, slugs, snails, imported cabbageworm and cabbage loopers, as well as birds and deer. Watch for aphids and spray them off with water to keep them from establishing colonies. To minimize the caterpillar pests, protect your young plants with row cover. This lightweight garden cloth allows air and water through but keeps flying insects from reaching plants and laying eggs. Monitor for slugs and snails; pick them daily when they first appear to reduce their numbers and minimize their damage. Exclude birds and deer with row cover or bird netting.
Most greens grow relatively fast. In ideal conditions, lettuces and arugula reach full size in four to six weeks. But with the cold weather and reduced daylight of late fall and early winter, growth will be much slower. Pick outer leaves at any stage and leave the inner ones to keep growing to extend your harvest.
If your plants seem to grow slowly, don’t give up on them. Roots will still be developing
underground. These laggards may surprise you with a burst of growth in January or February after other plants have finished producing.
I can’t promise that you will enjoy your sweet and spicy winter greens as much as your summer tomatoes, but your harvest will be fresher and more nutritious than any greens you can buy.
Workshops: Napa County Master Gardeners conduct workshops throughout the year see our wesbite for details and registration information. http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu
- Posted by: Yvonne Rasmussen
- Author: Denise Seghesio Levine
Every year, I try to grow something I have not grown before. Loofahs were my experiment this year.
Some people mistakenly think that these scratchy, buff-colored scrubbers are a cousin to sea sponges. Often found in natural food stores and spas, loofahs are actually a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with squashes, cucumbers, melons and gourds. “Sponge gourd” is a common name for loofah (also spelled luffa).
Six species of loofah have traditionally been used for food and sponges. Although all species have edible blossoms and fruit that is edible when immature, before it becomes fibrous, only two species are generally cultivated. Luffa acutangula, sometimes called Chinese okra and occasionally seen on Asian menus, is long and ridged.
For the table, it is harvested young, like a summer squash. Maybe next year I will try that one.
But this year, I grew Luffa aegyptiaca, the sponge loofah, because the seed packet intrigued me. It showed a beautiful green vine with small, shiny, dangling melon-like fruits. An image of the harvested loofahs made them look like they would easily fit in your hand, just the right size for scrubbing dishes. Visions of homegrown loofahs tied with bright bows for holiday gifts filled my imagination.
The size of the seeds should have given me a clue. They were shiny and dark, like extra-large watermelon seeds. For one of the loofahs growing in my garden to fit in my hand, I will have to cut it into five pieces.
Loofahs need a long growing season, so I started the seed in April. I soaked the seeds for a day, then planted them in small pots rather than directly in the ground as I knew these heat-loving plants would need a jumpstart. I watered them every few days to keep the seedling mix moist but not soaking wet.
When the first true leaves appeared, it was time to transplant. I took care to be gentle. Although the plants are still small, their roots can be up to six inches long and do not like being disturbed.
In early May, I chose a spot in the garden that got full sun and worked compost into the soil there. I erected a tall wire cage and planted the seedlings about a foot apart all around the cage. I mulched with compost and installed drip emitters. I protected the seedlings from slugs and birds until they were established, but after that, the plants were relatively pest-free.
Loofahs grow quickly into rambling vines with rapidly developing leaves and tendrils. Large, bright yellow blossoms soon appear. Our garden pastime this year was watching the shiny black bumblebees and carpenter bees diving into the golden pollen in the center of the abundant loofah flowers. With so much pollinating activity, we were surprised that it took so long to finally see a baby loofah.
That first loofah quickly grew to resemble a long cucumber. The surprise was that, unlike a firm cucumber, this fruit was squishy and soft.
Like their cucurbit relatives, loofahs are annuals. They perform much better supported by high trellises or cages than sprawled on the ground. Trellising keeps them cleaner and away from some pests, and the loofahs grow straighter than they do without a trellis.
Over the next few months, my loofah vines continued to fill in and flower abundantly, attracting more and different bees, wasps and flies. But it took a long time before more fruit appeared. Just a few weeks ago, we started noticing more “babies.”
Now that the weather is turning, we have several mature loofahs, a good selection of probably harvestable sponges, and a bunch of babies that are clearly not going to mature before the season ends. Maybe we will cook a few of those.
Loofahs are harvested when the peel is easy to remove from the spongy skeletal fibers beneath. Pick them when they start to feel light and turn from green to tan or yellow. The skin should feel loose and thin and peel off easily. Shake out the seeds. Leave sponges whole, or cut them smaller. If you harvest them before the autumn rains arrive, they will be a lighter and more regular color. Rain can darken and discolor them.
I plan to grow loofahs again next year, but for now, I am looking forward to peeling the skin from this year’s fruits and revealing the sponge within.