Now is a great time of year to consider replacing your lawn with native or non-native ground covers
Lawns are a sign of wealth and prosperity. They come to us from English nobility. It ends up that lawns grow easily in England, and sheep like to keep them nicely trimmed (and well-fed). Gilroy summers are nothing like English summers and our lawns pay the price. What looks beautiful now is bound to end up brown, brittle, and prone to erosion. Otherwise, you will have to water it every few days and still, most of it ends up sunburned. There are other options that maintain property values and usefulness.
Gilroy ground covers: native and otherwise
Instead of ill-suited lawn grasses, you can install yarrow, mint, or oregano to make lovely edible ground covers that your children can still use to play ball. If you prefer the advantages of going native, you can grow Ceanothus thyrisiflorus, creeping buckwheat, or many species of salvia.
The California Native Plant Society can make dozens of other suggestions for ground covers and other lawn replacement options with plants that have evolved to thrive in the Gilroy area without a lot of effort or water on your part.
Lose the lawn to edibles
Instead of weeding, feeding, seeding, watering, and mowing a lawn, why not invest a fraction of the effort for some edibles? Many food plants, besides garlic, grow in Gilroy.
A single fruit or nut tree can provide the same shade as an ornamental tree, but they will also provide several pounds of food each year for a decade or more. You can also opt for traditional row gardening, artistic raised beds, or you can think up something really creative.
Of course, some communities frown on front yard gardens, so be sure to check on the rules in your city ahead of time.
Zero effort yards
If you are like many people today, time is at a premium. You simply do not have any to spare on gardening (and what a shame that is). If this sounds like you, you can eliminate yard work altogether with a stone garden or a xeriscape. Stone gardens are exactly how they sound, an artistic arrangement of stones of various sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Xeriscapes use plants that generally do not need watering or other care. Succulents and cacti are common examples.
If you are ready to replace your lawn with something better, learn more about the Santa Clara County Lawn Replacement Rebate program or call (408) 630-2554. This program is a great way to recover the costs associated with replacing your lawn with something easier, more productive, and easier on the environment.
You can learn more about lawn care and replacement at the South County Teaching and Demo Garden, found at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno, in Gilroy. Classes are regularly offered to the public.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: Allen Buchinski
This article first appeared in the December 27 – January 9, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
Pruning fruit and nut trees in winter is one of the best ways to share with your South Valley friends and neighbors more delicious crops next summer. With fall over, it's also a lot easier to prune without all those leaves blocking your view.
Winter pruning lets you improve the structure, size, and overall health of your fruit and nut trees. The only exceptions are cherry and apricot. Those trees are susceptible to a fungal disease called Eutypa dieback and should be pruned in August.
Before you start pruning, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can about your trees. Different trees have different needs in Gilroy than in, say, Minneapolis. Also, each species has its own needs. Some trees produce fruit on new growth, while others produce fruit on second year growth.
Most fruit trees should be pruned by 15 to 20 percent, while peach trees should be pruned 50 percent. Learning the details about your particular trees can make a big difference in how and where you make pruning cuts. Before you make those cuts, you'll need the proper tools and safety gear.
Putting on long sleeves, boots, gloves, and eye protection before pruning for safety is always an excellent idea. One little piece of flying bark can feel like a jagged boulder in your eye. It's not worth it. Also, make sure your tools are clean and sharp. It is easy to sharpen your tools with a file. You can see how at the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners YouTube website.
There are two basic types of pruning tools: bypass and anvil. Anvil cutters have one sharp blade and one flat blade, which can crush plants rather than make clean cuts, so they should be avoided. You will need hand pruners, loppers, and a curved pruning saw. Also, have a 10 percent bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) or disinfectant bathroom cleaner handy. You will use this to sterilize your tools between each plant and after cutting off any diseased plant material.
Regardless of the species, diseased, damaged, and crossed limbs should be removed first. Next, prune for size and structure in ways that allow for good sun exposure and air circulation. Keep in mind that vertical branches tend to be more vegetative (leaf producing), while horizontal branches produce more fruit, and your tree needs both. You will use two types of cuts when pruning: thinning and heading. Heading cuts shorten branches, stimulating new growth where you want it. Thinning cuts are the removal of unwanted branches. When making thinning cuts, avoid damaging the branch collar without leaving nubs. Branch collars are areas of raised bark where a limb emerges. These living cells help a tree to heal itself.
These pruning tips can help you get the most out of your efforts (and your trees):
• Make cuts ¼-inch above nodes that are facing the way out want new growth to go.
• Prune for a size that will be easy to maintain and pick fruit.
• Aim to distribute sunlight evenly throughout tree.
• Most of the pruning should be done at the top of the tree, to allow more sunlight to reach the lower branches.
• Remember that one big cut can prevent several smaller cuts.
• Keep in mind how the tree will grow over the next few years.
• For heavy producers, remove excess fruitwood to prevent broken limbs.
• Sealants are not needed. Trees know how to seal themselves.
• Be sure to pick up and dispose of any rotting fruit or mummies.
As you prune, take the time to step back and look at the tree from several angles to make sure you are getting the shape you want. While you're at it, January is the best time to prune roses in the Morgan Hill area. Keep three to six strong, healthy canes per plant, leaving three to five buds on each cane. Make diagonal cuts ¼-inch above an outward-facing bud. To learn more, the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden offers free hands-on rose pruning classes in January and February.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
This article first appeared in the Dec. 21, 2016 to Jan. 3, 3017 issue of Morgan Hill Life and Gilroy Life./h3>