- Author: Leonard Cicerello
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
Citrus x meyeri
Planting area: Sunset zones 8, 9, 12-24.
Size: 6' to 12' tall and 6' to 10' wide.
Bloom Season: Spring.
Exposure: Requires at least six hours of sun per day. Afternoon shade is okay, but not required.
Pruning needs: Prune during first or second year after fall harvest. Prune suckers, weak limbs, crossing limbs, and dead wood. Also prune to improve light penetration. Watch for thorns.
Water needs: Allow soil to dry out only slightly between waterings.
Snapshot: The Meyer lemon was hybridized in China in the early 1900s. It is a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin orange. By the 1960s, a majority of Meyer Lemon trees in California were destroyed by a virus they carried. One stock that was deemed free and clear of the virus in the mid-60s became the source of what was named “Improved Meyer Lemon”.
The Improved Meyer lemon is self-pollinating. Plant it in well-drained soil in the right location. Fertilize with citrus fertilizer monthly between April and September. Yellow leaves indicate a need for water or fertilizer. These trees do well in large containers. For larger fruit, thin when they are marble size.
Meyer lemons have thinner rind than other lemons and has a slight orange tint. The aroma of the fruit is spicy and tropical. Its flavor is sweeter and less acidic, yet still juicier than other lemons.
Citrus does grow and fruit well on the central coast but do to protect your tree from frost if that's an issue in your corner of the county. Professional citrus growers use large wind machines for frost protection. Homeowners can cover their trees with cloth, not plastic, to maintain heat. Remove the cover during the day.
Meyer lemons brighten desserts, sauces, salads, and roasts and are highly prized by chefs. A special treat for those who love limoncello and make their own at home, is to make it with fresh Meyer lemons.
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Common Name: French Tarragon
Planting Zone: Sunset zones 14-24
Size: Sprawls to less than 2 ft. tall
Bloom Season: Mostly non-flowering
Exposure: Full sun
Pruning Needs: Trim sprigs as needed for seasoning
Water Needs: Moderate to regular water, letting soil dry between watering.
Narrative: Tarragon is a bushy, aromatic perennial that is in the same genus as wormwood and mugwort. Native to southern Europe, it has become an important garden herb in Europe, Asia and the United States. The botanical name, dracunulus, comes from the Greek word for little dragon and likely refers to the plant's serpentine root system. According to medieval folklore, plants with coiled roots were believed to cure venomous snake bites. The Romans thought tarragon would ward off exhaustion. Travelers in the Middle Ages placed fresh sprigs inside their boots before embarking on long journeys. Tarragon is no longer used medicinally but instead has become an indispensable component of French cooking. It pairs well with egg dishes, fish and chicken recipes and flavored vinegars and mustards. There are two common forms of tarragon; French tarragon, often labeled ‘Sativa,' is a sprawling, flowerless plant with slender stems and smooth, aromatic, shiny dark leaves that are widely spaced along the stem.
Russian tarragon, which may be labeled ‘Inodorous,' grows to 3 ft. tall and is a coarser plant with roughish, pale green leaves that lack the flavor and aroma of French tarragon. Both varieties die back to the ground in winter but return in spring. Any tarragon seeds available for sale are generally the Russian variety. Therefore, true French tarragon must always be propagated from cuttings or seedlings. Divide mature plants every 2 to 3 years to keep them vigorous and to prevent them from becoming woody. Divide plants in late summer when growth is minimal and mild weather causes less damage to the roots. Lift host plant from the ground, shaking off loose soil and removing dead leaves or stems. Trim off excess top-growth to minimize moisture loss through the leaves. Divide the plant into smaller pieces, replant new divisions promptly and water thoroughly.
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Common Name: Garden Sage, Common Sage
Planting Zone: Sunset zones 2-24
Size: 18-24 inches tall, 2-3 feet wide
Bloom Season: Late spring to early summer
Exposure: Full sun; afternoon shade in hottest climates
Pruning Needs: Delay pruning until new leaves begin to unfurl, then cut just above fresh growth.
Water Needs: Low supplemental water once established
Narrative: A signature plant from the Mediterranean, this herbaceous, mounding perennial is known for its culinary and medicinal value. Sage is a favorite seasoning in stuffing, sausage, pasta, fish and vegetable dishes. It is also attractive to bees and a source of excellent honey. In the 10th century, sage was esteemed for its curative properties and was associated with immortality. Aromatic leaves are oval to oblong, 2-3 inches long and gray-green on top, white and hairy underneath. Branching stems bear loose, spikey clusters of ½ inch flowers. Flowers are most often lavender-blue, but can be violet, red-violet, pink or white. Stems often root where they touch the ground. Plants are short-lived and become woody and leggy. They should be replaced every 3-4 years.
Garden sage and several of its cultivars are frequently planted in gardens, along pathways and in containers. ‘Aurea,' Golden Sage, has variegated, creamy gold leaves. ‘Berggarten,' is compact (up to 16 inches high) and dense, with rounded leaves and fewer flowers. It may live longer than its counterpart. ‘Compacta,' is a smaller, mounding variety that grows to 12 inches tall, spreading to 2 feet wide. It has narrow, close-set leaves. ‘Icterina,' is low-growing and bloomless with gray-green leaves with wavy yellow margins. ‘Purpurascens,' is similar in size and has leaves that are red-violet when new, maturing to pale green. ‘Tricolor,' is petite (up to 12 inches tall) and has new purplish pink growth; mature leaves have white margins. Plants do best in coarse, well-drained soil with minimal moisture through warm summer months. Salvia officinalis is readily propagated once established by mound layering. In the spring, mix soil with equal parts peat and sand, then pile over the plant. Replace any soil that washes away. By late summer, roots will have formed along many of the stems. The rooted layers can be removed and potted. Discard the old plant.
by Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Common Name: Common Thyme
Planting Zone: Sunset zones 1-24
Size: To 1 ft. high, 2 ft. wide
Bloom Season: Late spring, early summer
Exposure: Full sun; light shade in hot inland climates
Pruning Needs: Cut back to keep compact; trim as needed for culinary purposes
Water Needs: Low supplemental water once established; needs a little more watering inland
Narrative: This member of the mint family is a low-growing, shrubby perennial from the Mediterranean region. It is a welcome addition to any herb garden. Its tiny, aromatic leaves can be used both dry and fresh, and make tasty additions to Thanksgiving stuffing, soups, seafood and vegetable dishes. Masses of diminutive, white to lilac flowers bloom in late spring and early summer that are attractive to bees and other pollinators. ‘Argenteus,' called silver thyme, has silvery, variegated leaves. ‘Hi-Ho' has even more silver variegation and compact growth. ‘Italian Oregano Thyme' has a strong aroma of oregano. ‘Orange Blossom Thyme' has slim leaves that smell like orange. Common thyme is frequently planted in borders around flower and vegetable gardens; it is also ideal in rock gardens and containers.
The name thymus is derived from the Greek word for smoke or fumigate. Sprigs of the herb were reportedly burned indoors to cleanse the air in hopes of offering protection from the plague. Thyme can be readily propagated in late summer, after flowering. Select a vigorous, mature plant. Lift from the soil with a garden fork, taking care not to damage the roots. Shake off loose dirt and remove any dead leaves and stems. Clean the roots in a bucket of water or with a garden hose. If the parent plant has ample top growth, trim back to 4 inches to minimize moisture loss through the leaves. Divide the plant into smaller pieces, ensuring each segment has a strong root system and foliage. Cut with clean, sharp clippers or pull apart by hand. Replant divisions at the same depth as before, spacing them sufficiently far apart to allow for new growth. Firm the soil and water thoroughly.
- Author: Polly Nelson
- Editor: Noni Todd
by Polly Nelson UCCE Master Gardener
Epiphyllum, family Cactaceae
Planting area: Sunset 8-9, 14-24
Size: blooms up to 10-inch diameter
Bloom Season: Spring-early summer; daytime-blooming flowers
Exposure: Partial shade, bright indirect light
Pruning needs: Minimal
Water needs: Regular
This nondescript plant with flat, segmented stems (leaves) produces amazing flowers, in colors ranging from white and yellow to reds and purple. Originally from the Central American tropical rainforest, it is a cactus, but similar to an orchid, it sustains itself by absorbing nutrients from the air. It grows well in hanging baskets and containers, indoors or outdoors and in the ground. Honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to the blossoms, which last from 1-4 days. This plant is easily propagated from stem cuttings.
Plant in soil that holds moisture but drains quickly. Allow the top one-third of the soil to dry out between waterings; about once a week spring through fall, less often in the winter. Soft black tissue near the soil line is a sign of too much water.
Light to dark green growth with slightly red edges indicate the plant is getting the right amount of light. If the leaves are sunburned or have yellowish wilted growth, it is getting too much light; weak leggy leaves suggest insufficient light. Plants grown indoors need to have no light after sundown or blooming will be delayed. Orchid cacti do not tolerate freezing temperatures, preferring 40-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fertilize monthly during the growing season (February-November) with a low nitrogen fertilizer (2-10-10) following label instructions. Generally, this plant likes to be root-bound before it will bloom, but it should be repotted one month after blooming at least every 7 years. Shake off excess soil to repot, but do not remove all the soil around the root ball. Withhold water for a week after repotting, then water lightly for a month before returning to a regular watering schedule.
Fungus gnats are one of the few pests of this plant. Snails and slugs can do a lot of damage if they gain access to the plant.
Orchid cactus plants grown in the right place require little effort, and reward with spectacular blooms!