- Author: Tina Saravia
About a couple of years ago, a volunteer plant started growing next to the back fence line, inside the retaining wall. By the time I noticed it, it was looking interesting so I let it grow, pruning it occasionally so it grows flat against the fence, not quite an espalier, more two-dimensional for privacy screening between the two yards.
I suspected it to be a Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis), a common landscape tree that requires little to no water and is resistant to oak root fungus. It has good fall color that turns luminous orange to red (sometimes a shade of yellow). The summer leaves sure look like it.
Unfortunately, I don't recall what it looks like in the fall, nor could I find pictures of it in the fall.
I decided to do some research online. I used various websites,
The Arbor Day Foundation - https://www.arborday.org/trees/whatTree/;
The Sacramento Tree Foundation - https://www.sactree.com/pages/251 and a host of others. But none of them identify my tree as a Chinese Pistache, even though the plant is in their database.
I recall my brother showing me a free app that does plant identification. It's called “Picture This.” I downloaded the app and started taking pictures around my garden to test the app.
I tested it on 12 plants. It accurately identified 8 plants, there were 2 plants that were within the same plant family. I have tree collard and it identified it as a cabbage. My holy basil is supposed to be sweet basil. It incorrectly identified the Tagetes lemonii as a Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) without the yellow flowers, maybe it could not tell the difference.
Last, but not least, the app says I have a California black walnut (Juglans californica), which requires no irrigation and is resistant to oak root fungus. I'm disappointed that I was wrong about its identity, but excited at the same time because it works perfectly with my food forest garden.
For now, I will let the plant keep growing and “reveal” itself. If it is a Chinese Pistache, I will get nice foliage color in the fall. If it's a California black walnut, I will eventually get walnuts from it.
Either way, it's good.
As for the app, I'll have to play with it some more, it's a nice and fun app to have, but I wouldn't rely on it as a primary tool, especially for people with a lot of “specialty” (or obscure) plants.
- Author: Kathy Ramirez
Spending days in the garden and finding treasures within!
Everyone loves a ladybug! I find myself spending hours watching them do their thing!
I happened to notice a couple of containers of Ladybugs on sale at our local nursery, Morningsun Herb Farm, and what the heck, I'll buy them! The key was not to release them in the middle of the day. I spritzed the screened lid with water making sure there was no water pooled in the container and put them in the fridge until the early evening. I took them out 2 hours before and with my finger spread a little honey over the screen to give them some energy not knowing how long they had been in their container. Apparently that was quite the treat because they crowded the lid before I opened up the container to set them free into their new world.
Fortunately, I learned in the UCCE Master Gardeners program the appearance of the larvae and then to my amazement! Look what I have right in my back yard! There were Ladybugs all over and why hadn't I seen them earlier? I released my prisoners to find their own way and help out the locals. I figure this way, they will also keep my vegetable garden safe while they look for plenty of aphids in and out. Or fly away which would be typical if there's not enough food. Whether my home or my neighbors, I learned that it's all about balance and I'm enjoying the journey!
The use of pesticides kills my enemy and therefore kills my friend.
- Habitat or environmental manipulation is another form of augmentation. This tactic involves altering the cropping system to augment or enhance the effectiveness of a natural enemy. Many adult parasitoids and predators benefit from sources of nectar and the protection provided by refuges such as hedgerows, cover crops, and weedy borders. Natural controls are important and need to be conserved and considered when making pest management decisions.
- When a natural enemy is successfully established it rarely requires additional input and it continues to kill the pest with no direct help from humans and at no cost. Okay, so I spent 6 bucks for 2 containers when I already had so many ladybugs but I was happy to have more and they'll go off and help someone else...I'll share!
The ladybug uses the part of its body which gives it its color for more than just protection from predators. The elytra on its back are actually a modified forewing. Instead of using it to fly, the ladybug uses it to protect its hind wings, which are positioned underneath. Ladybugs also have one other trick up their sleeve. They ‘play dead'. They pull their six legs up so they cannot be seen and do a ‘reflex bleed'.
Ladybugs winter hibernate in California's mountains where they gather in clusters. They rely on winds to carry them to valleys where they might find abundant amounts of aphids to eat, 1 ladybug can consume 5000 insects in their lifetime of 1-2 years.
There are more than 400 species in North America. A female might lay anywhere from 250 to 500 eggs in her lifespan.
With little spikes on their backs to protect them, larvae spend most of their lives eating nearby insects. Constant food ingestion makes a larva so big that its skin falls off several times.
- Author: Kathleen Craig
Gardens and garden art are such a personal expression of creativity! One could argue that the plants themselves are works of art and why should we try to “guild the lily”, and others embrace the use of garden art wholeheartedly, to create a garden oasis of beauty and memories. Some of us aspire to all of the above! I am going to share some of our projects with you and give you some ideas for easy projects using inexpensive or found items to embellish your garden.
A few years ago the “repurposing” and “trash to treasure” trend became very popular as the DIY (Do It Yourself) crowd became active. Those of us who had always embraced antique and vintage items and used them in our home were glad to be on-trend. I want to share a few of the projects that have given us great satisfaction and enjoyment. Not only has hoarding old junk been productive, but we can claim to be environmentally friendly as we repurpose things that would surely have been sent to the landfill.
My favorite find and upcycled project is an old iron bed frame that my husband and grandson made into a garden bench. The piece cost $20 at a garage sale, and we spent a few bucks purchasing an 8 X 12 redwood board and some big lag bolts to fasten it to the bed legs. They cut the side rails short, attached the legs to the front of the board, and were finished in no time at all. The grandkids loved building things with Gramps and working in the garden with Grandma Kathy, so we cherish the memories of those fun times whenever we see the little bench that graces a corner of our garden. Over the years we added slate paving stones and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) in on the ground in front of the bench to make it a more pleasant place in which to sit. It is a hardy groundcover but does attract bees, so allergies must be considered.
Our second favorite object is a potting shelf that was made from an old French door that came from my parents' neighbor's home. The door was replaced with a more substantial one, and it was going to be disposed of. I just couldn't say goodbye to that old door that I had slammed so many times while running in and out with my best friends next door. I designed the shelf/bench with found objects: we had an old Early American coffee table that had gotten singed in a fire that was made of solid maple, so that was just the right size for a work surface. Then we scrounged some tongue and groove boards to make upper and lower shelves for storage. One of the panes of glass was broken in this old door, so we covered that with chicken wire to give it a “farm” look, and to have a place to hang hooks for tools. The table legs were purchased new at the hardware store (they were unfinished newel posts) for around $20 each. We added a few more touches: decorative shelf brackets, varnished the raw wood pieces, and painted the rest of it white. Whenever I use the shelves to display plants, pots, or do actual re-potting of plants, it makes me happy to see that old door and coffee table being useful and pretty! It replaces a plastic outdoor storage cabinet that had no decorative appeal at all, and since plastic breaks down in the sunlight, wood was a better choice.
Other small projects we have enjoyed working on have been: mounting a birdhouse on an old turned stair post for visual interest, when our mirror ball column broke, I decided to sink the upper column into the soil and use the broken part to look like a ruin with flowers growing around it. I chose Heronsbill (Erodium corsicum) and Sky Blue Lobelia (Lobelia erinus) to enhance that little spot.
Another idea: We have an abundance of shells, so I made a shell mirror with the grandkids by gluing shells around the edges of an old mirror. The kids arranged the shells as they wanted them and I applied the stinky glue because they told me it causes cancer and their mom didn't allow them to use that kind of glue. Yes, the vapor is harmful. We were outside in the fresh air. (Nice to have such smart grandkids with good safety awareness!) Since hanging it on our fence a few visitors have commented on the whimsy of having what looks like a “portal” through the fence.
Another kid-friendly project was making stepping stone mosaics. It makes a great Mother's day project, and kids are so proud to create something that will be in the garden every time they visit. I purchased the kit at a local craft store, which included cement which had to be mixed with water, a mold for the stepping stone, some glass pebbles, and directions. We had a beautiful blue and white plate that had been my grandmother's but it had cracked, so we broke it into smaller pieces, bought a yellow/gold plate at a thrift store, smashed that, (Kids weren't involved in that part. I placed the plate in a heavy canvas bag and hit it with a hammer. I suggest wearing safety goggles and long sleeves for this activity) and placed the wet cement in the mold and pressed the pieces into it in a pleasing pattern. (The wet material is cement, the finished product is concrete). It solidified quickly and came out of the mold easily, and has graced our garden for years now. We made several more stepping stones with glass pebbles and stained glass pieces.
Whatever you do to decorate your garden, I hope these ideas have been interesting and inspiring, and that you will look at those found or saved objects with new eyes to create something intriguing for yourself or others.
- Author: Karen Metz
I have had a Joseph's Coat climbing rose at my house for over 25 years. Last year it began looking worn out as if it were on its last legs. I cut the trunk back almost to the ground and held my breath. Since I hadn't seen any graft lines, I was hoping that the rose was growing on its own roots and would send up a new cane.
Luckily that is what did happen, and all was right in my gardening world. Then one day I saw this damage on the leaves and petals. Now the leaf damage was nothing new. I knew leaf-cutter bees were the culprits and had made peace with them over the years knowing the damage wouldn't harm the plant. But I had never seen petal damage before.
I decided to hit the books and see what I could find. The family of insects that contain leaf-cutter bees is Megachilidae. Some bee books mention only the genus Megachile as containing leaf-cutter bees. However, in Field Guide to the Common Bees of California, Gretchen LeBuhn calls the Megachile genus, large leaf-cutter bees, and the genus Osmia, small leaf-cutter bees. Of note Osmia is also the genus that contains mason bees. She also mentions several species in the Ashmeadiella genus as being leaf-cutters.
Most leaf-cutter bees tend to appropriate existing long cylindrical spaces as sites for their nests: old beetle tunnels, wall crevices, and large hollow canes or stems. They then wall these areas off into separate chambers by lining and capping them with leaf or petal material. The cylindrical cuts you see on leaves is for lining the walls while the circular cut-outs are for capping each segment. The bee lays an egg in each chamber and places a pollen ball there for the larva to feed on once it has hatched.
Leaf-cutter bees are excellent pollinators. They carry pollen in a collection of stiff hairs on their abdomens. Most other bees carry pollen in special hairs on their hind-legs.
Now with all the damage, I saw on the leaves, I was surprised I had never seen a leaf-cutter bee at work. But Professor LeBuhn may have provided an explanation. She noted that it only takes 2-3 seconds for a bee in the Megachile genus to make her cut. Also, before her job is complete, she has already begun to beat her wings so that she is already flying by the time the cut-out is finished.
Still, at the end of the day, there is still that very visible plant damage to contend with. I decided to focus on the advice given in California Bees and Blooms which was co-authored by Professor Robin Thorp. “Consider it a good sign that your garden is providing necessary materials for important pollinators nesting nearby.”
Over the years I had gotten used to the leaf damage. But it was the petal damage this year that really gave me pause. How could I mentally re-frame the shape of the damaged rose blossom? I realized that if this shape was on a new variety of dahlia or passionflower, I would think it was very exotic and embrace it. So, I've decided to embrace it on my rose as well.