By Marcy Nielsen-Berruezo, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
It happens every year. There's a moment when suddenly I notice that the light has changed. Days are shorter and shadows are longer. Chinese pistache trees begin to turn color and the squirrels in my garden go nuts.
This is the time when savvy California gardeners perk up as it's prime time for planting in our Mediterranean climate. Planting in September and October, while the ground is still warm and rain is on its way (we fervently hope), allows new plantings to establish roots. By settling in now, these new plants will be ready for the flush of growth in spring.
Many California native plants are actually dormant in summer. Fall planting lets you enjoy their emergence from dormancy into winter growth and bloom.
I tend to use my own garden as a laboratory, researching plants and testing them to see how they do. As the drought lingers and we become more aware of the need to support the ecosystem in our gardens (and not just in the wild), I've been increasingly going native.
My goal: A garden that offers year-round beauty with minimal use of resources (water, fertilizer and the sweat of my brow). I also want a landscape that maximizes support for local native flora and fauna, including me.
I've made mistakes. I've underestimated how big a happy native plant can get and I've misjudged what happens when I over- or under-water a native. But I love seeing the change of seasons, the buzz of life and the splashes of color in my garden all year. All I need to do to nurture that rhythm is to clean up twice a year.
Many of us have responded to drought by reducing irrigation or eliminating turf in our landscapes. But drought or no drought, California has arid summers and probably always will. According to the Association of California Water Agencies, more than 50 percent of residential water use takes place outdoors. The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that half of that water is wasted by inefficient and unnecessary delivery.
Plants adapted to our rainfall and temperature patterns need little or no irrigation once they're established. The University of California, in collaboration with top landscape professionals and horticulturists, has developed the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. This online database is a useful tool for determining the actual water needs of the plants commonly used in California landscapes, grouping them by region and type.
The database gives most of our native plants two irrigation designations, one for the cool season and one for the warm season. California mountain lilac (Ceanothus species) is classified as M/L, for moderate water in winter and low water during the warm months. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) is classified as L/VL, adapted to low water in winter and very low water in summer.
In most settings, an established native plant needs (and wants) no additional water unless winter rain is scarce. Wet soil in summer can trigger oak root fungus (Armillaria mellea) and other soil-borne pathogens that can kill a stressed plant or shorten its lifespan.
A few native plants can tolerate or even benefit from occasional supplemental water in summer, and some enjoy a light hosing off (think summer shower in the foothills) or a deeper drink once a month or so. But don't overdo it. When planting, try to group plants with similar needs for sunlight, drainage and water.
In deciding where to place natives in your garden, picture where they grow in the natural landscape. California has a wide range of habitats and ecosystems, elevations and soils. A plant adapted to a shady streambed or redwood forest will have different needs than one adapted to open oak savannah or dry chaparral. Finding or creating the microclimate they like will help native plants live a long, healthy life.
Native plants have evolved to resist local pests and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides or other interventions. In fact, beneficial insect species have evolved along with the natives, timing their egg-laying and brood-hatching to munch on pesky invaders.
You may need to put up with a few chewed or distorted new leaves until the beneficial species tie on their little capes and swoop to the rescue. A little toleration goes a long way in letting a garden find its ecological balance. If you must intervene, use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for the least intrusive approach. Look online (http://ipm.ucanr.edu/) for the University of California's IPM recommendations.
Consider leaving some seed heads, berries and dormant vegetation to provide food and shelter for over-wintering birds and beneficial insects. You'll enjoy the life and movement in your garden and nature will thank you.
Choose plants that bring year-round interest, varying bloom times or offering winter leaf color and berries. Know each plant's mature size before planting. Less pruning means less work for you, less stress for the plant and less waste in the recycling stream.
Include a diversity of species to more closely mimic nature and make it less likely that pests will thrive. Notice what thrives in your area. If a plant is happy in nature and you can replicate that environment in your garden, you can bring the feel of nature home.
Native Plant Sale: U.C. Master Gardeners of Napa will have an information table at the California Native Plant Society Napa Chapter's plant sale on Saturday, October 15, and Sunday, October 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Skyline Park in Napa. The preview party for CNPS members and guests is Friday, October 14, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Skyline Park.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Oak trees typically grow in woodlands, in conditions ranging from shallow soils with little moisture to the deep, fertile soils of the alluvial valley floors. These trees are as diverse in appearance as the conditions they grow in, ranging from 15 to150 feet tall. They differ in shape, color, leaf texture and type of acorns, and whether they are deciduous, evergreen to semi-evergreen.
If you are preparing to plant an oak tree (or an acorn), you need to know the soil type, sun exposure and available water at the potential planting site. The valley oak (Quercuslobata) flourishes in the deep, fertile, well-drained soil typical of floodplains and valley floors. The scrub oak (Q. berberidifolia), black oak (Q. kelloggii) and coast live oak (Q. agrifolia) all thrive in Mediterranean-type climates characterized by mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. These species want no summer water. If you are looking to plant an oak tree in a dry habitat, on shallow, rocky, infertile soil, your best choices would be blue oak(Q. douglasii), canyon live oak (Q. chrysolepis), Oregon oak (Q. garryana), interior oak (Q. wislizenii), or the humble leather oak (Q. durata).
There are many reasons to keep an existing oak tree.They increase your property value, prevent soil erosion, provide shade and shelter for wildlife and are beautiful to boot.
To keep an oak tree healthy, take care to protect the sensitive root system. Roots can extend beyond the tree's drip line by at least one-third of that distance. Do not dig, grade, trench, compact, asphalt, concrete or pave around your oak tree. These activities may fatally damage the root, trunk or crown.
Changing the grade, trenching, mounding or creating a swale may also lead to changing the natural drainage. If a mature oak gets more water than it is accustomed to, it will decline.
Keep thirsty plants and plantings out of the root zone. Irrigation from agriculture plays a big role in the decline of the valley oak. Choose compatible plants to site under and around your oak.
Many California native plants cohabitate happily with oaks. Here are some great resources for suitable plants:
The only fertilizer an established oak needs is its own organic leaf litter for mulch. Keep leaf litter in place, just not up against the trunk. Mulching conserves water, helps moderate ground temperature, improves soil structure and increases organic matter.
If you must prune an oak tree, follow the Tree Care Industry Association guidelines, which you can find online. Pruning improperly can lead to wounds that attract insects and promote decay. Poor pruning may also stimulate rapid shoot growth that increases the potential for powdery mildew. It will also compromise the natural beauty of the tree and may make the tree structurally unstable. For the best results, consult a local arborist.
Many organisms have symbiotic relationships with the oak tree. Lichens flourish on oak trees where there is sufficient moisture, taking nothing from the oak. Many creatures find the acorns a carbohydrate-rich and fatty addition to their diet. Acorns are appreciated by deer, squirrels, woodpeckers, livestock and boar. Oak trees also shelter many nesting birds, arboreal salamanders, invertebrates and insects.
The most complicated relationship the oak tree has is with mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi live in and on the roots and extend way beyond the root system. The oak provides carbohydrates (food) for the fungi and brings up deep water that the fungi can't access. In return, the fungi break down minerals and nutrients and make them available to the oak. In addition, they produce chemicals that inhibit bacteria, thus protecting the tree from disease. With some attention, we humans can also be among the organisms that live symbiotically with the oak tree.
Tree Walk: Join the U.C. Master Gardeners of Napa County on Monday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., for aguided tree walk in Napa's Fuller Park. The walk is free but pre-registration is strongly recommended as space is limited to 20 people. The walk will repeat on Monday, November 2, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Both walks start in Fuller Park at the corner of Oak and Jefferson Streets in Napa.Online registration
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “California Oaks” on Saturday, October 10, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the Martha Walker Garden in Skyline Park, 2201 Imola Avenue, Napa. Stroll around Skyline Park and the Martha Walker Garden to view oaks in their native habitat. Discover what grows alongside and underneath oaks. Learn about planting under oak trees in your own garden, how to care for oaks and about Sudden Oak Death and other stresses on oaks. In case of rain, the workshop will move to the University of California Cooperative Extension office,1710Soscol Avenue, Napa.Online registration (credit card only)Mail-in registration (cash or check only)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
For most of my life, I have not been an edible gardener. Flowers and shrubs were my interest. But when I became a Napa County Master Gardener, I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about, so I purchased a single tomato plant at our yearly tomato sale.
I found a happy spot for it in the garden and just stood back and watched it grow and grow and grow. I had no clue how much one plant would yield. It was not unusual for me to get a large bowl of tomatoes every other day at peak production.
By the end of the season I was completely overwhelmed with tomatoes. So now I understand the locked-doors story. To my surprise, my husband recently found a use for the surplus yellow tomato slices that I had stored in our freezer. He announced that the “lemon slices” were just the ticket in his iced tea.
A single zucchini plant can yield three to nine pounds of squash. I have seen zucchini in my mother's garden that seemed to double in size overnight. Considering that a single zucchini plant can cover six feet of ground, I wonder why anyone would ever want more than one.
A tomato plant can grow five feet tall and just as wide and produce 10 to 15 pounds of fruit in a season. A study done by Purdue University Cooperative Extension found that 25 strawberry plants could yield 25 to 50 quarts of berries between mid-May and late summer. A standard-sized apple tree can produce 10 to 20 bushels of fruit.
A single family can eat just so much produce. What can be done with the surplus?
For people of my parents' generation, who experienced the Great Depression and World War II, preserving food was de rigueur. They learned how to do so early in their lives and continued to can, freeze, pickle and sometimes dry their excess produce throughout their adult years.
But at least in my circle of acquaintances, folks don't seem to enjoy these activities as much anymore. Over the years, I have frequently seen large canning pots, preserving jars and accouterments for canning in secondhand stores. Not recently though.
We seem to be experiencing a resurgence of interest in food preservation. Two years ago, my niece quit her job to stay home and raise her two boys. She and her husband turned their entire yard into an edible garden. She cans, dehydrates and freezes fruits and vegetables all year long. She and her family reap the rewards on so many levels.
If you are interested in food preservation but don't know where to begin, you can find some resources online. Sacramento County has a Master Food Preserver program. Check the web site (http://cesacramento.ucanr.edu/Master_Food_Preservers_181/) forthe schedule of workshops and classes.
When you are planning your fall garden, make sure to have a strategy in place to preserve your excess. Otherwise you just might be that person in stealth gear leaving overflowing bags of produce in the cars or on the front porches of your neighbors.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will lead a workshop on “Drought-Tolerant and California Native Plants” on Saturday, August 1, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at Martha Walker Garden in Skyline Park in Napa. Enjoy a walk around the garden to observe drought-tolerant and native plants, and discover the elements that help them thrive in our Mediterranean climate. Learn how to use them in your own garden to replace some of those water-hungry ornamentals.On-line registration (credit card only) Mail-in registration (cash or check only)
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Some homeowners diligently establish an organic landscape using no pesticides or herbicides. They carefully select low-care plants that thrive in their climate and attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects.
But most of us aren’t quite such purists. We try to encourage the creatures we like or the ones that benefit the garden. We welcome owls that reduce the plant-eating rodent population and bees that pollinate our vegetables and fruits, but we regard yellow jackets and mosquitoes as pests.
Some gardeners may not mind yellow jackets too much. Others are severely sensitive to their stings. Most of us want to use (and be exposed to) as few chemicals as possible, yet we still want an attractive and comfortable yard with reasonable upkeep.
Napa Valley offers a promising climate for achieving most gardeners’ dreams. By selecting California native plants, we can minimize water use, chemical inputs and labor. Creating or restoring natural habitat on our property can enhance our enjoyment of the land and its inhabitants.
Most people “inherit” plants when they buy a property, and typically they keep some, especially the trees. Occasionally, a new homeowner starts with a clean slate. Either way, having a plan is crucial. Good landscape design marries beauty with functionality. You may want a play area, a sitting area, a vegetable garden, and a habitat for birds and butterflies. These desires are all compatible.
If you like to hear songbirds early in the morning, place feeders by the bedroom, bath or kitchen. A welcoming habitat for birds would also include moving water, plants that provide cover and shade, and food sources (often just trees with furrowed bark that hides insects). A shady sitting area that offers a view of a bird feeder or birdbath is a great asset to a yard and a pleasant place to relax in the evening.
Trees of all sizes attract birds. Consider dogwood, oak, mulberry, or any nut or fruit trees. Native shrubs such as coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) and common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) provide shelter and food.
Cedar waxwings love mistletoe berries and dogwood berries, and these birds are among our most beautiful.
The following plants are all good hummingbird hosts. The starred plants on the list attract butterflies.
Abutilon (flowering maple)
Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree)
*Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed)
*Buddleia (butterfly bush)
Campsis (trumpet vine)
*Ceanothus (California wild lilac)
Cercis occidentalis (Western redbud)
Correa (Australian fuchsia)
Crocosmia crocosmiiflora (montbretia)
Heuchera (coral bells)
*Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon)
Kniphofia uvaria (red-hot poker)
Mimulus (monkey flower)
Monarda (bee balm)
Penstemon (beard tongue)
*Ribes (currant and gooseberry)
Many of these plants are California natives. Others are drought-tolerant plants from Australia, which has a Mediterranean climate similar to ours.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on “Cool Season Veggies” on Sunday, August 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Grow your own vegetables even when days are short and nights are cold. The key is starting while weather and soil are still warm. Learn which vegetables will thrive in cooler temperatures, how to protect them from heat when they are getting started, and how to time plantings for months of harvest. Register through Town of Yountville, Parks and Recreation: Mail in or Walk in registration (cash or check only).
Garden Tour: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a self-guided garden tour, “Down the Garden Path,” on Sunday, September 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit seven unique gardens in and around downtown Napa, all maintained by Master Gardeners. Tickets: $25 advance/$30 day of event. Purchase tickets online at http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa. For more information about the tour and tickets, visit our web site (address below) or call 707-253-4147. Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension
In general, larger plants and trees need less frequent but deeper watering than smaller annual plants. Avoid watering by hand. Most people don’t do it thoroughly or deeply enough. Set up drip systems, soaker hoses and sprinklers for specific areas. If you use an automatic controller, check it regularly to be sure it is working correctly.
Water plants early in the day so any wet foliage has time to dry before evening. Don’t water during the hottest part of the day or when the wind is blowing or you’ll lose a lot to evaporation.
Mulching around perennial plants and trees helps conserve moisture and discourages weeds. Keep mulch a few inches away from tree trunks and woody stems to prevent crown rot and other fungal diseases.
If you are growing California native plants, research their water needs before irrigating. Some California natives appreciate a bit of water during the dry season, but many are dormant now and will fare poorly if irrigated.
In the vegetable and annual flower beds, deep-rooted plants like tomatoes should be watered well at least once a week. Shallow-rooted plants require shorter but more frequent watering, two or more times per week.
Fire danger is high in July. If you haven’t already done so, consult the Napa Firewise website (www.napafirewise.org) for tips on making your home and property as fireproof as possible. Mow weeds and grass regularly until they stop growing. Remove dead and dry material from shrubs and trees, and dispose of this flammable debris in your yard-waste bin. Stack firewood away from structures, and trim tree branches away from your roof. The Napa Firewise website has many other suggestions for creating defensible space around your home.
To promote more blooms, deadhead flowering plants regularly. Clean up all fallen fruits, vegetables, clippings and flower petals to eliminate homes for insects and snails and to discourage disease. Add this debris to your compost pile.
This month you should be reaping lots of fruits and vegetables. Depending on your spring planting, you might be harvesting basil, beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, leeks, chard, cilantro, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, kale, parsley, peas, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos. In the orchard there may be figs, peaches, nectarines, plums, prunes, apples and pears. Keep up with harvesting to have the best-quality produce for your table. If you have more than you can use, share with a neighbor or the food bank.
With the vegetable garden growing so well, now is a good time to fertilize. If you are using a commercial product, follow package instructions. Granulated fertilizers can be sprinkled around plants, scratched into the top inch of soil and then watered in well. Liquid fertilizer such as compost tea is easy to apply and gives your plants a much needed boost this time of year.
While you’re at it, give citrus trees a feeding, too.
There is still time to plant marigolds, petunias, sweet alyssum and zinnias. Check with a local nursery for more ideas to brighten your flower beds.
In the vegetable patch you can still sow seeds of beans, corn, lettuce, summer squash, cucumbers, cilantro and dill. Set out basil, lettuce and chard seedlings. When in doubt about whether there’s enough growing season left, check the “days to maturity” on the seed packet or plant label. We typically have warm weather through the end of September or middle of October, enough time for many vegetable seeds to sprout and produce a crop.
You can also begin planning now for the fall and early winter garden. If you like to grow vegetables from seed, late July is a good time to start broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.
With so much to do in July, it’s a good thing that the days are long. Pause often to enjoy what grows in your garden. Make notes on what’s doing well and what you want to do differently next year. When planning the summer garden next winter, you’ll be glad you did.
Vegetable Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will lead a workshop on “Cool Season Veggies” on Sunday, August 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Grow your own vegetables even when days are short and nights are cold. The key is starting while weather and soil are still warm. Learn which vegetables will thrive in cooler temperatures, how to protect them from heat when they are getting started, and how to time plantings for months of harvest. $15 per person ($10 for Yountville residents). Register through Town of Yountville, Parks and Recreation: Mail in or Walk in registration (cash or check only). For additional information, call (707) 944-8712 or visit their web site.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?