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The Real Dirt Blog

  • Showy milkweed buds, J. Alosi

    Milkweed is a drought-tolerant and deer-resistant perennial plant named for its milky latex sap. It is a great host plant for many beneficial insects including Monarch butterflies, bees, beetles, and lady beetles (ladybugs). Of the 2000 varieties in the milkweed genus Asclepias, just 15 species are native to California. The California native milkweed species that are most commonly available commercially and grow well in this area are narrow-leaved milkweed (A. fasicularis) and showy milkweed (A. speciosa). Both these varieties are growing in the Butte County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at The Patrick Ranch in Durham. Other native milkweed species that are suitable for our climate...

  • Buckwheat - E. umbellatum, Demonstration Garden, Laura Lukes
    Three More Wild Buckwheats

    This final discussion of Eriogonum, or wild buckwheat, examines three beauties that are grown at the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at Patrick Ranch: E. nudum; E. umbellatum; and E. grande var. rubescens (previous articles in this series have looked at E. giganteum and E. fasciculatum). A quick reminder about characteristics that wild buckwheats have in common: they are tolerant of harsh conditions such as drought, rocky soil, and blasting summer heat, and are able to persist in hot desert and chaparral as well as montane environments. Most hate having wet feet, so will not grow in marshy or riparian ecosystems or heavy clay soils. All provide excellent sustenance to pollinators....

  • Sunburn tomato, J. Alosi
    Are Your Tomatoes Feeling the Heat?

    It's hot. Tomatoes like heat, right? Actually, tomatoes like warm weather, between 65 and 85 degrees. When temperatures soar past 95, tomatoes stop growing. In that kind of heat, their flowers fail to pollinate and instead they dry up and drop off, putting a pause on the production of new fruit. Tomatoes that have begun to color will halt at orange and fail to turn red. We can't control the sun, but there are a few things we can do to help tomatoes stay productive in our hot valley summers. In the first place, plant tomatoes in a spot that gets sun in the morning and filtered sun in the afternoon. If tomatoes are sitting in the blazing sun all day, create afternoon shade for them with a...

  • California buckwheat flowers sit atop slender, flexible stems, Laura Lukes
    More on Our Wild Buckwheats: The California Buckwheat

    Continuing our focus on select species of Eriogonum (wild buckwheat), this week's discussion features California buckwheat (E. fasciculatum). First, here is a quick review of characteristics common to all of California's wild buckwheats. They are hardy colonizers of tough soils and dry ecosystems, such as coastal scrub and chaparral. They can live at the edges of deserts and up to high elevation tree lines. Their blossoms are important to pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, providing them with flowering food long after other natives have gone dormant. Buckwheat flowers have tall, slim, delicate anthers that seem to float above the flower mass, creating their signature...

  • Ant trail on building exterior, Evett Kilmartin UC ANR
    Dealing with an Ant Invasion

    We often experience ants in our homes when weather conditions change. They are typically looking for food, water, warmth, and/or protection from extreme weather conditions. Ants belong to the insect order Hymenoptera and are close relatives of bees and wasps. The most common outdoor ant found in California is the Argentine worker ant. The Argentine worker ant is approximately 3mm long, dark colored and does not sting. They have no natural enemies. Their colonies have multiple queens and only the queens lay eggs. An ant's life cycle moves from egg to larva to pupa to adult. Their nests are normally found in moist soils, under debris or along sidewalks and driveways. Argentine ants are drawn...

  • Giant buckwheat leaves are soft gray green, Laura Lukes
    The Giant Wild Buckwheat of California

    An astounding number of species populate the wild buckwheat genus Eriogonum - over 250, according to the CALFLORA website. And, due to their propensity to hybridize, active speciation continues as we speak. There are species for almost every letter of the alphabet, from A (E. abertianum) to Z (E. zionis). This article will discuss characteristics common to all of the wild buckwheats, and then focus on a landscape beauty, E. giganteum, known familiarly as St. Catherine's Lace or giant buckwheat. But first, let's address a common question: do the wild buckwheats native to North America supply the gluten-free buckwheat flour used in pancakes and other baked goods? The answer is no. Although...

Gardening Questions?

Visit or Call the Hotline

Wednesday 9-12pm
Thursday 1-4pm

Call 530-538-7201

Or, drop by the Butte County Cooperative Extension Office
2279-B Del Oro Avenue 
Oroville, CA 95965

Catch us in person at local Farmers’ Markets or at one of our informational booths. Check out where we'll be on the Events page.

Email Us at mgbutte@ucanr.edu. Include a description and photos of the problem. See "Help Us Help You" below for what to include.

Help Us Help You

You never can tell what's at the root of the problem. Below are some questions we may ask when you call:

  • Name of plant
  • Age of plant
  • Soil type (loam, sandy, clay)
  • Current watering methods (drip, sprinkler, hand)
  • Frequency of watering
  • Sun exposure
  • Evidence of insects or other damage – check on both sides of leaves
  • Recent changes that may effect the plant (watering, fertilizing)

Samples and photos related to your question are strongly encouraged. Drop them by the office any time, or email them to: