By Penny Pawl, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
I was recently at the garden of one of my fellow Napa County Master Gardeners, Cindy Watter, and was amazed by her wonderful Brugmansias (Solanaceae) and their huge blooms.
Cindy has had these plants for several years and they continue to give her and her garden guests a wonderful floral display. Some are planted in large pots and others are in the ground.
Brugmansias are sometimes called Angel Trumpets for the large dangling flowers they produce. These flowers are scented and attract pollinating moths. One species is pollinated by hummingbirds that are able to reach deep into the hanging flowers
Cindy had given me some cuttings from her plants, and I was able to root them over the winter in my hothouse in a soil mixture created for that purpose. As winter nears, Cindy cuts her Brugmansia back to one to two feet tall. She also covers them with a fabric that protects them from cold winter nights.
We live only about 10 miles apart but in vastly different microclimates. She is in the middle of Old Town Napa and big trees grow around her garden. I live beside and behind open vineyard areas and frost can be fierce, damaging tropical plants. Brugmansia are native to Central and South America and will not survive frosts.
Napa has many microclimates. Conditions at a 200-foot elevation are different than on the valley floor.
Brugmansia no longer grow in their native areas, but because of their popularity, they have been introduced to many other areas. Some people theorize that the plants no longer grow in their native areas because the animal that spreads their seed is no longer in the area.
Brugmansia bloom in a variety of colors including white, yellow, pink, orange, green, and red. Most of these plants are hybrids, bred for various flower colors and other traits. When a test plant produces a bloom in the desired color, it is reproduced by cuttings to ensure its offspring have the same traits and flower colors. Plants grown from open-pollinated seeds often revert to their native types.
I was surprised to learn that Brugmansia are in the Nightshade family, which includes potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. Brugmansia are poisonous and should only be admired, not tasted. However, a tropical butterfly (Placidula euryanassa) feeds on the nectar, which makes the butterflies and their larvae taste bad to predators.
While Brugmansia are related to Datura, there are differences. Plant botanists have been debating and reclassifying these plants since the mid-1700s. Datura flowers turn up and Brugmansia blooms dangle.
Brugmansia are heavy feeders. Cindy uses a balanced fertilizer about every three weeks on the potten plants to keep them healthy and growing. Because they are native to the tropics, they also like to be kept damp. If they are stressed for water, the leaves will wilt. Plants growing in the ground don't need to be watered as often.
Planted in the garden, Brugmansia can reach 15 feet in height, but most stay under that. The flowers usually appear only on new wood above a certain height. Old wood cuttings don't flower until they have forked and reach that height. The leaves are the same size as the flowers.
Brugmansia grown in pots need to be occasionally moved to a larger container or be root-pruned while dormant, and replanted. They do well in dappled shade.
Food Growing Forum: Join Napa County Master Gardeners on Sunday, July 26, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., for a free Zoom forum on “Watering, Irrigation and More.” This forum on food growing will continue monthly on the last Sunday of every month, with future topics announced soon. To receive the Zoom link for the July 26 forum, register at http://ucanr.edu/FoodGrowingForum2020.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening, upcoming events or to submit gardening questions, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed to walk-in questions, but we are answering questions remotely and by phone or email. Submit your gardening questions through our website, by email email@example.com or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143. Master Gardeners will get back to you within a few days.
by Denise Seghesio Levine, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
In other parts of the country, people focus on inside tasks in November. Garden tools are already oiled and hung for the winter; bulbs are dug and cellared. Treasured perennials, pots of citrus and fragrant herbs have been brought inside to wait out the winter in bright, warm rooms. With the exception of raking the last leaves or shoveling snow, gardening chores in these locales are largely complete for the next few months.
A few years ago, while visiting the Department of Energy's National Laboratories in Idaho, I lunched with one of the engineers. It was October, and the quaking aspens were aflutter with glorious chartreuse- and lemon-colored leaves. The skies were a true cerulean blue and I could not imagine a prettier or more wonderful time to be there.
My host had a different view. His favorite time of year was coming, when the skies turned gray and black and the white, quiet snowflakes came down. Each year, snow buried not only his garden, but also his tool shed where he housed his lawnmowers, leaf blowers, shovels, loppers and other garden tools.
The only survivor was the family's snowmobile fleet. Until spring thaws uncovered the first flecks of green, he had a vacation from garden chores. Snowmobiling with the kids during the day, hot chocolate and puzzles at night—no wonder it was his favorite time.
Here in Napa Valley, November brings is no rest for the garden weary. The list of potential planting opportunities and chores can be just as encompassing and just as long as in spring and summer.
November in Napa Valley is one of the best times to transplant. If you have plants that have outgrown their pots on the patio or their boundaries in the garden, or are underperforming in their current spot, now is the time to rehome them.
If you use a copper spray for peach-leaf curl, the first application is usually around Thanksgiving. Start watching for frost now and be ready to toss a cover over your citrus and other frost-sensitive plants.
If you want to add plants to your garden, stroll the nursery aisles and look for new discoveries. Read the labels to make sure you are choosing a plant that will thrive in your garden. Some plants are dormant now; others appreciate being transplanted when they will have months of moisture to sink roots deep before the stress of summer.
Local nurseries have beautiful bulbs to plant now for spring bloom and annuals like pansies and violas for winter color.
Tender green crops like lettuce, spinach, orach, arugulas, mint and cilantro all do much better in the cooler months. Plant seedlings or direct-sow seeds in small amounts every couple of weeks for a steady supply into spring. Arugula can be sown liberally in the corners of your garden where it can spread. Better a “weed” I can pick for salads than an inedible weed.
Peas, both pole and bush varieties, can be planted now, as can sweet peas. Wildflowers and many annuals can also be sown now and will germinate when the weather warms in spring.
Keep your flowering sweet peas and edible peas apart. While munching sugar snap peas and petits pois right in the garden is a delight, all of the ornamental sweet pea flowers and pods are toxic. Remind your young children: ornamental sweet peas are eye and nose candy only.
Garden and salad crops like each other, so it is easy to get the most out of a small winter garden patch. Green scallions do well when planted alongside lettuce and carrots. Pole peas enjoy a frilly bed of lettuce along the base, and I have never seen a radish that did not like being near lettuce. Always check seed packets to make sure the variety you have in your hand this month does well from fall to winter.
Your favorite nursery will have vegetable and flower seedlings for planting in November. Expect to find a variety of onion sets and seeds, broccoli seedlings, kohlrabi, rutabaga and perennial herbs.
Seeds can be planted directly outside this month as well. Read the seed packets and look for lettuces that thrive in the cold months. Other good options for winter include spinach, chard, Asian greens, mesclun, sorrel, miner's lettuce and cabbages.
If you have hopes of blooming amaryllis for Christmas, this is the month to pot up heavy, blemish-free bulbs. They will burst into bloom in time for the holidays. Follow the directions that come with your bulbs, and maybe by Christmas we can take some time off.
Library talk: Napa County Master Gardeners will give a talk on “Beyond Peaches and Apples: Unusual Fruits for your Backyard” on Thursday, November 7, at 7 p.m. at the Napa Library, 580 Coombs Street, Napa. Attendance is free.
Next workshop: “Holiday Décor Gifts with Succulent Plants” on Saturday, November 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. For more details & online registration, visit http://napamg.ucanr.eduor call 707-253-4221.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
By Cindy Watter, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
One of the attractions of my house, when I first saw it for sale some decades ago, was a fragrant, lush Meyer lemon tree, abloom in the side yard. Unfortunately, by the time I moved in, the Great Blue Norther of 90/91 had transformed it into a blackened mass of lifeless twigs and shriveled leaves.
The previous owners had neglected to cover it at night, and the unusually cold weather that winter had done its malign work, killing the tree. It actually looked as if it had been scorched, not frozen. I learned that the plant cells had solidified in the cold, which meant that the nutrition cycle had been blocked. The lemon tree appeared deflated, which was exactly how I felt at the time.
The best way to protect your plants during an unusual cold spell is through preparation. Assume it will freeze sometime this winter. (It only takes one night to do major damage.) Pay attention to weather reports. Identify which plants need protection. Assemble a collection of old sheets, blankets, towels, burlap, cardboard boxes, baskets and/or buckets. Do it now to avoid the horrid midnight rush to save the avocado (when it's probably too late anyway).
What plants will need attention? Young fruit trees with thin bark, avocado trees and citrus trees are the main candidates in Napa Valley. Certain tender shrubs, such as brugmansia, fuchsia, mandevilla, daphne and bougainvillea should be covered. Some cacti and succulents need protection. If you have plantings in a lower elevation of your yard, these plants should certainly be protected, as those parts of a yard are always a few degrees colder than the rest of it.
Water the plants before you cover them, which should be before dusk (except for succulents). Some of the water will evaporate during the night and warm the surrounding air.
For small plants, you can fill old plastic milk jugs with water, which will insulate the plants a bit, and then use those vessels to support a draped cloth.
Small plants will do fine with an overturned bucket, cardboard box or basket for protection. If you have a lot of small potted plants, move them to a protected spot or next to a wall. You can also protect small plants by covering them with mulch.
If you use a sheet or a blanket as a cover, it shouldn't touch the plant. You can build a frame to support the cloth, or create your own supports with lawn furniture, clothes drying racks, trellises or bean poles. If the cloth touches the plant, it can transmit cold, so use a frame. Make sure the cloth reaches the ground, for better insulation. Remove the cloth in the morning, after the air warms up.
You can wrap young tree trunks with burlap or old blankets or towels for insulation.
Nurseries sell plant covers in all sizes and shapes, including row covers. They are made of a nonwoven synthetic, and they allow light to penetrate so you can leave them on during the day. This fabric—similar to the interfacing used by home sewing enthusiasts—can touch a plant's leaves without doing harm.
If the worst happens and your plant freezes, don't lose hope. It just might recover. I thought I had killed two large brugmansia shrubs last winter. A surprise freeze had left them drooping and shriveled.
I consulted Sunset's Western Garden Book and learned that, instead of hacking the shrubs down to the ground or throwing them out, I should wait until spring to see if any new growth occurred. And it did!
At that point, I pruned the brugmansia down to the green leaves, put them in large pots (so I could move them near the house in the winter) and saw them put forth spectacular peach-colored trumpet-shaped flowers in late summer. They are so sturdy they even survived a walnut limb landing on them and being blown over by the windstorm that preceded the October wildfires.
When spring returns, rethink some of your plant placement. Perhaps you have citrus trees in planters. You could put the planters on wheels and roll the trees to a sheltered spot during cold spells. Maybe you should move plants that are in sunken areas of your yard.
A fragile plant can be placed against a south-facing wall, and the warmth that radiates from the wall will help the plant get through the winter. I have noticed how many bougainvillea are trained against south walls in Napa Valley. That's where my new lemon tree is, and it has survived several cold spells.
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.