Mulch selection makes a difference
Several years of drought have killed over a million trees in California since 2010. Most of those trees died in 2016, and more are doomed. Many local trees are not as healthy as they could be due to drought, bark beetle infestation, and disease. These trees have more dead leaves and twigs, making them susceptible to fire. Rather than allowing fire to race through your landscape, create spaces that slow or stop those flames.
California state law (PRC 4291) requires that all rural homes have a 100-foot defensible space. This space helps keep you, your family and our heroic firefighters safe. While suburban homes have different laws, fire safety is still critical and fire-safe gardening just makes good sense.
Defensible space is made up of two zones. Zone 1 is a 30-foot perimeter around any structures. Keeping Zone 1 fire safe means removing all dead vegetation from the ground, roofs and rain gutters, pruning tree branches at least 10 feet away from buildings, moving patio furniture away from trees and shrubs, and moving wood piles and other flammables into Zone 2.
Zone 2 extends 100 feet from your home. To keep Zone 2 fire safe, mow grasses to 4 inches or lower, rake up dead vegetation, and create spaces between trees and shrubs. This means removing any tree branches that are 6 feet from the ground or less, and pruning trees to be 10 to 30 feet apart, depending on the slope. Because shrubs can flame upward, they should be placed or pruned so they are three to six times their height from any trees, depending on the slope.
Mulch can add fuel to a fire, or slow its spread. The most dangerous mulches include shredded rubber or western red cedar, gorilla hair, and pine needles. Pine bark nuggets, Tahoe chips and other plant biomass from tree chipping operations create a moderate risk. Composted wood chip mulch does not create a significant fire risk.
There are no truly fire-resistant plants. Keep your home safe by planting low-growing, high-moisture plants closest to your home. When deciding where to install plants, imagine your home in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Plants should get taller, further from buildings. This helps draw fire away, rather than closer. Despite their name, evergreens are far more flammable than hardwoods.
If fire risk is especially high, remove shrubs and vines that touch your home (plant new ones later), and rake mulch at least 5 feet away from all structures.
Create a fire safety plan. Seriously. It takes 20 minutes and could save your life.
Above all else, in case of fire, get out and stay out. Everything else is temporary.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
This article first appeared in the August 16, 2018 issue of the South Valley Magazine.
Our dog, Cooper is very much loved and VERY spoiled. Not only does she have a special outdoor space, she has her own lounge chair, her outdoor area offers both sun and shade, and she has full run of our home, with doggie beds in almost every room!
So, as I said, we DO love her, and we are careful to pick up and dispose of her poop. However, her outdoor area has started to smell bad, and I am determined to see if I can fix that.
I've reached out to several Master Gardeners, done a fair bit of online research and talked to a couple of our local nurseries to see if plants can make a difference. Below are recommended options for pet owners to try.
Flowers: Phlox prefers sun but will tolerate a bit of shade; the plants are quite fragrant and come in white, pink, salmon, purple, red and bi-colored. Dianthus is low-growing, likes full sun and thrives either in containers or in the ground. It has a spicy vanilla-like scent. Try ‘Fruit Punch Sweetie Pie' (pink) or ‘Itsaul White'. Stock is quite fragrant, can grow in part shade or sun and is available in many shades of pink, purple and white.
Shrubs for full sun: Roses are good choices. ‘Mr. Lincoln' is scarlet-red with an incredible scent, and ‘Princesse Charlene de Monaco' has double light-apricot to pink flowers. Buddleia (Butterfly bush) will attract butterflies to your garden from mid-summer to mid-fall; try ‘Blue Chip' (purple) or Miss Ruby (magenta). Peonies are shrubby perennials that go completely dormant in winter, but the gorgeous spring flowers and enticing fragrance make it well worth trying. Good choices are ‘Festiva Maxima' (pure white blooms with crimson flecks), ‘Sarah Bernhardt' (medium pink double blooms) and ‘Shirley Temple' (soft pink to ivory white).
Shrubs for part sun: Viburnum is a tough spring-blooming plant with a distinctive spicy scent. Check out ‘Spice Girl' (pink),'Fragrant Snowball' (white) or ‘Spice Baby' (white). Daylilies grow in full sun to part shade, but only a few are known for their pleasing aromas — ‘Savanna Debutante' (apricot-yellow), ‘Hyperion' (lemon yellow) and ‘Chance Encounter' (rose/mauve).
Trees: Crabapples like full sun, have showy flowers in the spring and provide fruit that birds absolutely love; try ‘Prairiefire' (vibrant pinkish-red buds) or ‘Royal Raindrops' (magenta flowers with deep purple foliage).
Trailing option for containers or rock gardens: Sweet Alyssum, works in full sun to part shade. Consider ‘Snow Princess' (white) or ‘Dark Knight' (deep purple).
Vines: ‘Scentsation' honeysuckles prefer sun and are extremely prolific and fragrant. Birds and butterflies love this variety. ‘Sweet Autumn' clematis blooms from late summer to fall and has an intoxicating aroma; butterflies and pollinators love its dainty, white star-shaped flowers. Plant in sun to part shade.
Of course, many herbs provide a fabulous scent as well as culinary delights. Options include lavender, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, thyme, catmint, and mint.
Most of the above options can be grown in containers — a great idea since most plants won't survive (much less thrive) with the heavy concentration of nitrogen found in animal urine.
Even if you don't own a pet, the recommended plants will not only brighten your landscape but entice you into the garden with their tantalizing scents! Think about using them near an outdoor dining area, gazebo, hammock, or other areas where you like to spend time. You'll be able to take plenty of time out to smell way more than the roses.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the October 15 print issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Choose your own ‘native garden' adventure
But even after all this rain, don't think for a minute that I'm going to start taking a bath every day. Oh, I didn't mean that either. What I do mean is that even after all this rain, the water that we, and our plants, drink, is still a scarce resource. And there are no better plants for sipping that precious water slowly than some of our own California native bulbs, bushes and trees. From formal gardens to cottage gardens, children's gardens to edible gardens, you can—and should—choose your own (native garden) adventure this spring.
I planted my first California native garden in my front yard more than eight years ago, and recently I've been thinking that it's about time for a makeover. And for this new adventure, I've decided on a pollinator garden to attract native birds, bees and butterflies. Want to give it a try, too? Here's how to get started:
Choose a spot in full sun that is weed-free, with soil that is moderately well draining. No need to redo your entire yard at once. It's OK to start with one small area.
Consider adding a natural arrangement of attractive boulders and rocks.
If you are handy enough to install one yourself, or able to pay a professional, include a basic drip irrigation system (before planting.) Otherwise, give your plants a deep soak when you plant them, with additional monthly deep soaks. Watch for heat waves in the forecast, giving them additional water a few days before any hot weather event.
Plant some of the following pollinator favorites, which will provide colorful blooms and foraging habitat throughout the year:
Wildflowers: Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), Globe gilia (gilia capitata), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Shrubs and subshrubs: Foothill penstemon (penstemon heterophyllus), Gumplant (grindelia spp.), California aster (symphyotrichum spp.), California lilac (ceanothus), Oregon grape (berberis aquifolium), Silver bush lupine (lupinus albifrons), California buckwheat (eriogonum fasciculatum), and yarrow (achillea millefolium)
Once your plants are in the ground, remember to keep the weeds to a minimum or they will compete for your California natives' resources. Avoid using pesticides and choose hand weeding instead, which is a built-in opportunity to check soil moisture levels and identify pests and disease in their earliest stages. For more information about creating a pollinator garden, check out the Xerces Society's “Bring Back the Pollinators” campaign.
by UC Master Gardener Cayce Hill
Photo: courtesy of Master Gardener Allen Buchinski
This article first appeared in the April issue of the South Valley Magazine./h3>
Planting a rain garden can help prevent loss of topsoil, increase biodiversity
What is a rain garden?
A rain garden is a sunken area that redirects rain water away from buildings, driveways, lawns and other landscape features, and holds onto that water long enough to filter out 80 percent of the sediment and pollutants. Native plants are typically installed in rain gardens so that additional irrigation is not needed once they are established. These plants help hold, filter and slow the release of rainwater, allowing 30 percent more water to be absorbed. This usually occurs within 48 hours, preventing mosquito breeding.
Why have a rain garden?
If you live South County, you know our occasional rains can be disruptive. Our soils dry to the point of being hydrophobic, repelling water and causing flash floods. You may not have experienced a flash flood in your yard, but these principles can help prevent the loss of topsoil and other problems associated with urban drool. Also, most of the water that comes off roofs and driveways contain pollutants that you probably don't want in your garden. Installing a rain garden also helps attract beneficial insects and other pollinators, increasing biodiversity.
How and where are rain gardens installed?
Since most of the water for your rain garden will probably come from rain gutter downspouts, select a location that allows for a path (read decorative trench) from those downspouts to a low area in your yard. Areas with full sun are preferred over shady areas. Rain gardens should be at least 10 feet from the home or other buildings and not over a septic field. Once you have a location, use these steps to create your rain garden:
1. Calculate size — South County's heavy clay soil requires a drainage area 45 to 60 percent of the size of your roof or driveway — sandy soil only needs 20 percent and loam uses 30 to 35 percent. Any size rain garden can have a positive impact. This may be more space than you have or are willing to dedicate, but it may help you realize why certain areas of your landscape seem plagued with fungal diseases. Since most homes have multiple downspouts, smaller rain garden plots can be created for each downspout.
2. Design the shape — Once you have determined how much area you are dedicating, use a rope or garden hose to lay out the design. This lets you play with different ideas before you start digging. A Google Maps satellite image of your property can also help you select the best location and shape. Consider where any overflow might end up, just in case. Once you have selected a location and shape, contact the local utilities company (call 811) to make sure you won't run into something you shouldn't.
3. Start digging — After you've been cleared and your soil has dried out from all the recent rain, you can start digging. Begin by removing 6 to 8 inches of soil from the rain garden site, sloping downward away from the trench. Next, dig the trench. The trench will need to slope for the water to go where you want it. The trench can be covered, like a French drain, or it can be filled with decorative river rocks. Finally, amend the planting area by digging in 2 or 3 inches of aged compost.
4. Select the plants — Native grasses and flowers are the best choice for a rain garden. They have already evolved to handle south county rain, temperatures, and soil. U.C. Davis Arboretum All Stars, the CA Native Plant Society's Plant Lists, and your local Master Gardeners are always available for plant selection advice.
5. Install the plants — While still in their pots, try placing plants in various locations to see what looks the best, keeping mature sizes in mind. Grouping plants in odd numbers often looks the best, but leave at least one foot between each plant. Once you have the layout you want, put your new plants in the ground using a hand trowel.
6. Mulch and water — Contact a local tree trimming company for coarsely shredded wood chips. This highly useful mulch is almost always free, just make sure that it is disease- and palm-free. Apply a 2 to 3 inches layer to keep down weeds and make it look nice. Water the area every other day for the first couple of weeks, unless it rains, until your new plants are established. They may need additional watering during their first summer, but that should be about it.
This is a big project, but it is one that will improve soil and water quality in your South Valley home's landscape for a very long time.
You can learn more about garden design at the South County Teaching and Demo Garden at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno Way, Gilroy. Classes are regularly offered to the public. For more information, check our events page or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: Stacey Parker, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden GATEways horticulturist, points out the new rain garden feature of the Davis Commons Shopping Center parking lot. Guests learn how the feature will improve stormwater management.
This article first appeared in the March 29 to April 11 issue of Morgan Hill Life./h3>
A few sheets of paper and a garden book or two can help you create a year-round garden design. Begin by drawing a rough draft of an area. Next, pencil in existing perennial plants, structures, lawns, and walkways. Everything else is fair game. Color code the garden design to include sun and wind exposure, access to water, mature plant height, and color to create a workable garden design. This will also help select the best plants for each spot. Also, water use can be significantly reduced by planting varieties with similar water needs together. Put taller plants against a fence, medium-height plants in front of those, and then shorter plants closest to walkways. This makes full use of available soil without blocking anyone's view.
Garden books, online resources, and your local Master Gardeners can help you select plants that will provide flowers, food, and greenery for each season. As one season's plants wind down, the next season will be coming in, providing year-round food and color. Containers, vertical gardens, and raised beds offer extra growing space and extend the growing season.
Edibles and Ornamentals
Morgan Hill weather makes it possible to grow edible and ornamental plants year-round. Cool season greens and cruciferous vegetables prefer our winter and spring. Potato plants offer greenery in the landscape from spring to summer, and potatoes in the fall. Perennial edibles, such as asparagus, fruit trees, bramble fruits, grapes, kiwi, and rhubarb are excellent anchor points in a landscape. Ornamental plants can provide many different shades of green, along with other colors.
Planting it Forward — For Others
In honor of Lily Hardy Hammond's 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight planting it forward also means adding plants that can be gifted to others. Succulents are durable in drought-prone Morgan Hill and they nearly propagate themselves. Cosmos and marigolds go to seed easily. Those and other seeds can be collected and planted as gifts to family and neighbors. They also make welcome gifts to individuals in hospitals and retirement homes. Melon and squash seeds can be started in small pots and gifted to neighbors and local charities.
Learn when to plant edibles for year-round food for your family in Morgan Hill. For more information and classes, check our events page or call 408-282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
This article first appeared in the August 17 issue of the Morgan Hill Life./h2>/h2>/h2>