- Author: Linda Lewis Griffith
- Editor: Noni Todd
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.
- Author: Linda Lewis Griffith
- Editor: Noni Todd
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!
- Author: Leslie Stevens
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Leslie Stevens UCCE Master Gardener
Planting area: Sunset zones 7-10, 12-14 and 18-21 (Note: mildew-resistant varieties also grow well in Zone 15)
Size: Varieties of single or multi-trunked trees run 25 – 30 feet tall and wide; shrubs 6 – 20 feet; and dwarfs from 3 – 6 feet.
Bloom season: Summer
Exposure: Full sun
Pruning Needs: Prune annually in late winter or early spring before buds appear to maintain an open center. Also nip off previous year's dried blooms to promote greater flowering in the summer.
Water needs: Low to moderate. Prefers infrequent deep soakings.
Snapshot: Crape Myrtles have been popular in southern states since they were introduced from China in the early 18th Century. They also are planted extensively throughout Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.
Their widespread popularity is well earned for several reasons. Crape Myrtles' modest size, well-behaved roots, and low water needs fit neatly into small yards, street medians and public spaces.
But they're loved for their beautiful smooth bark and stunning summer flower displays—pendulous clusters of purple, red, pink or white blooms that last for at least a month.
This deciduous tree also puts on a second spectacular show in late fall when its leaves turn shimmering shades of red, orange and yellow. Once the leaves have fallen, crape myrtles show off their marble-like bark in shades of tan or pink-tinged beige.
While crape myrtles are relatively problem free, they are susceptible to aphids. Also, if you are planting in areas with warm and moist climates, make sure to choose varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew and sooty mold.
- Author: Sara Arana
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Sarah Arana UCCE Master Food Preserver
I want to make homemade sourdough bread for the holidays, but it's so intimidating. How hard is it to make a sourdough starter? Evelyn B. San Luis Obispo
Think you can't bake sourdough at home? Think again! Sourdough bread is unique because it does not require commercial yeast to rise. It's made with a live fermented culture developed using flour and water, known as a starter. Sourdough is known for its characteristic flavor ranging from mild to strong, chewy texture, and a crisp crust. Nothing beats fresh bread right out of your oven. This might seem like an overwhelmingly detailed process. With practice, you may have enough confidence to experiment on your own. Try using different flours. Work a little less or a little more water into the dough. Let the dough sit a little longer, try fewer or more stretch and folds. Each adjustment will give you a slight variation in your bread. There is no good or bad here, just a beautiful loaf of homemade sourdough waiting for you.
NPR's Kitchen Window contributor, Sharon Vail, writes “Early settlers in the West, especially those adventurers who traveled north to Alaska, relied on sourdough to leaven bread before commercial baking powder and yeast were readily available. 'Sourdough' even became the nickname for California Klondike miners at the turn of the last century because they carried starter in their backpacks to make bread without having to find a town, let alone yeast. Vermont's King Arthur Flour offers a history of sourdough, including notes from the son of an Alaskan miner. The son writes that every miner's cabin had a ‘tin full of fermented dough, used in place of yeast in making bread, biscuits and flapjacks' hanging over the hot stove.” (www.npr.org) It seems sourdough starter has been a part of the American West's history and continues to be influential through to today!
It's important you have a starter established and fed before you make sourdough bread. Starter takes at least 48 hours but has better flavor the longer it develops. You can get complete instructions with a demonstration, tastings and recipes by attending our Simply Sourdough class to be held on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10am-12pm at the UCCE Auditorium, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Class fee is $15. Pre-registration is required. Register: http://ucanr.edu/sourdough