Elinor Teague past articles 2020
March 2021 MG website column
In researching invasive plants used in landscapes for this column, I was surprised at how many of those listed were common in Central Valley gardens.Bamboo (running) has been know as an invasive plant for decades, but the list of the “16 most invasive species you’ll find at a nursery”, given at www.epicgardening.com, also includes landscapers’ favorites such as Japanese barberry, Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinesi), Japanese spirea and nandina.
A quick look around your garden might just turn up several common but invasive species.And, following the descriptions of invasive plants given above, you might be able to add a few invaders you’ve identified to the lists.
In my garden, former owners (meaning, I didn’t do it) planted Japanese spirea, nandina, and Chinese privet as well as Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and Euphorbia characias. The last two plants were in a separate drought-tolerant landscape zone.Mexican feather grass has been identified as an invasive plants, but Euphorbia characias has not yet been added to the lists and is still available in nurseries and garden centers.Although the feather grass and the characias were pulled out four years ago, seeds of both still sprout every spring.The characias is particularly invasive; hundreds of tiny seedling reappear every year, the wiry stems are tough to cut with a wiggle hoe and the roots easily penetrate through the mulch into the soil making them hard to pull out if more than two or three inches tall.
I’d add California bay trees (Umbellularia california) to the invasive species list as well.There are six large mature California bay trees that surround my backyard. They produce enormous numbers of bay berries that root easily on the soil or mulch surface and, if not pulled out when very small, will quickly establish long tap roots.The berries are big enough to be slippery.The trees also produce numerous suckers on their roots which are tough to cut and which must be cut off precisely at the base in order to prevent regrowth.Lots of extra work keeping the bay trees at bay.
Xylosma was planted for many years as a hedge or filler plant.Xylosma is also a very invasive plant; the seeds remain viable in the soil for many years and unless the roots are completely removed they will continue to produce wiry, tough new branches.Many of the gardens in my older, established neighborhood have branches of long-removed xylosma shooting up through more recent plantings.
As the list of species and cultivars of species of invasive plants grows, it’s important to keep up with the most current research in order to prevent inadvertently adding invasive species to our gardens.
February 2021 MG website column
January 2021 MG website column
Guidelines for finding, identifying and listing as many birds as possible can be found on both websites.You can also enter your results on ebird.org, another bird counting site.The website, www.thespruce.com has good photos and of course the Audubon field guides and pocket guides to birds are very helpful.
December 2020 MG website column
November 2020 Master Gardener website column
November 2020 Master Gardener website column
Myoporum prostratum:grows 3 to 6 inches tall and spreads to 9 feet.The many stems are covered with evergreen narrow, long, light-green leaves.Small white flowers in spring are followed by tiny purple berries.Needs little water when established.
Cerastium (also know as Snow in Summer):plants grow as small tufts of silvery-green that are covered with tiny white flowers in early summer.Needs moderate water and some afternoon shade in summer.Plants can be mowed or sheared in winter.Cerastium live only a few years.
‘Sonoma Coast’ “White Yarrow”,a California native:Very pretty 2-inch tall dark green fern-like leaves slowly spread to densely cover the ground.White umbrella flowers shoot up on three to four-inch stalks in spring and die back in the summer heat.Considered drought-tolerant but has required more water than expected.
Verbena:there are several types of low-growing verbenas.‘Tapien” is very hardy and can be mowed or sheared several times during the long flowering season to encourage rebloom. Needs moderate water and monthly fertilizing from spring through summer.
Pratia (also know as Blue Star Creeper);an old-time ground cover (formerly named Isotoma) that needs rich, well-drained soil and some shade but does tolerate light foot traffic and is almost foolproof when grown in ideal conditions.Tiny light green leaves show off the very pretty tiny blue star-shaped flowers in spring.
Yerba buena, a California native and a member of the mint family:Plants bear evergreen dark green leaves on long stems that spread 2 to 3 feet long.Small white flowers appear in spring.
Considered to be drought-tolerant but needs more water and afternoon side during our long, dry Central Valley summers.
Violets, clover and English daises:some people consider these three ground covers to be ugly weeds when spotted in their lawns, but they are really very adaptable, hardy ground covers.Violets will die out in our extreme summer heat as do English daises, but both reappear in spring.Plant violets and English daisies in more isolated spots in the garden and just let the clover take over the bare spots in your lawn.
Due to computer issues we have no September issue.
August 2020 Master Gardener website column
It’s still too hot to sow seeds directly into the soil but Central Valley gardeners can buy and start seeds for transplants of cool-season crops in August for planting into the garden in six to eight weeks or in late September and early October. We can also plant seeds of cucumbers and beans now for a second shot at a good crop of these two favorite summer vegetables.
Cucumbers and beans drop their flowers when temperatures are above 90 degrees. Because our Central Valley temperatures rarely fall below 90 degrees from May until September, beans of all types and cucumbers usually stop producing new fruit here in mid-May. Flowerless cucumber vines can often be nursed through the summer and will start to set flowers again in mid-September. Cucumber seeds can also be sown into garden beds or started in pots as transplants in late August. The fruit of cucumber varieties requiring fewer ‘days to maturity’ (typically 50 to 55 days) will ripen in late October and early November. Like other cucurbits (melons, squash), most cucumber varieties are pollinated only by bees so make sure that your flowering bee-friendly plants are well-watered, deadheaded and fertilized to continue to attract bees and other pollinators into your garden. There are some cucumbers that are parthenocarpic or self-pollinating and seedless. Parthenocarpic cucurbits are a good bet if your garden does not host a large bee population.
Many bean varieties suffer greatly from heat stress; stressed bean plants attract aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, mites and other pest insects some of which carry diseases including mosaic virus that will kill the plants. A fall crop of beans can be sown from seed in mid to late August which allows at least 60 days before the first frost in mid to late November knocks down the vines.
Excessive nitrogen will cause bean plants to fail to set pods. Fertilize beans monthly with a low-nitrogen granular fertilizer such as a 4-6-2 formulation. Because tomatoes are also sensitive to high levels of nitrogen in the soil and beans fix nitrogen into the soil, avoid planting tomatoes next year where beans were planted this year. Bush beans set pods for two to three weeks; pole beans have a longer three to four week flower production period. Sow a second or third crop of bean seeds every two weeks for an extended harvest.
Seeds for vegetables were in short supply this spring as home gardeners began to grow their own crops to supplement their food sources. Support our remaining local nurseries by shopping there first for seeds and, later in the growing season, for transplants. We can sow seeds for leafy greens including spinach, arugula, chards and lettuces in early September if those seeds are labelled “slow to bolt”; they’ll be less likely to set flowers and turn bitter in the fall heat. Root crops such as carrots, beets, radishes are heat-sensitive. Wait until early October to sow root vegetable seeds.
Start transplants in August of brassica crops such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbages for planting into the garden in mid to late October when daytime temperatures will be much cooler.
July 2020 Master Gardener website column
Plants and trees have strong reactions to both high and low temperature extremes. The signs of cold weather winter dormancy (leaf fall from deciduous plants, slow or stopped growth) are well-known, but not all Central Valley gardeners are aware that the plants and trees in our gardens go into a summertime state of semi-dormancy during July and August, the hottest months of the year here. This phenomenon is specific to hot, arid climates like ours.
Cool-season lawns (fescue and perennial rye) go fully dormant in summer, producing no new blades so that the lawn grasses thin out and lose some of their green color. Roses are among the hardiest of perennial flowering bushes but even roses set few new buds in mid-summer and the few flowers that bloom tend to have paper-thin petals and far less fragrance. Vegetable flowers drop in the heat before they set fruit and many plants seem stunted.
When temperatures are above 96 degrees, as they are nearly every day in mid-summer here, plants try to conserve energy and reduce transpiration or loss of precious moisture through their leaves by closing up their breathing pores (stoma). In other planting zones, plants get some relief from the heat at night, but in our extremely dry, hot climate night time temperatures seldom fall below 70 breeze less degrees. It’s our hot summer nights that stimulate semi-dormancy.
When trees, bushes, flowering annuals and vegetables, and lawn grasses are in a state of summertime dormancy, they will still require watering to maintain consistently moist soil, but they will require little or no fertilization. In fact, fertilizing semi-dormant plants and trees to try to force new growth can actually stress them further. If plants seem unhealthy, try applying homemade fresh compost to each plant instead of a commercial fertilizer. Homemade compost contains lower levels of nutrients and higher amounts of beneficial micro-organisms and fungi than commercial foods. The beneficial micro organisms and fungi attach to plants’ roots and increase the plants’ ability to draw up water and nutrients.
We can resume feeding the plants in our gardens as night hours lengthen and night temperatures begin to drop below 70 degrees, usually in the third or fourth week of August. Although daytime temperatures may remain in the high 90’s with a few late season really hot spells, the cooler, longer nights in late August allow plants to recover from heat stress overnight so that they once again begin to produce new growth and new buds.
Fertilization during this transition period should be lighter at first. Feed at half the recommended rate for the first feeding in August and increase rates as temperatures cool. Because granular-type fertilizers take longer to dissolve and be absorbed by plants’ roots than liquid fertilizers, they remain available to the roots for a longer period of time. They are a better choice for feeding plants that are coming out of dormancy. Avoid feeding with high nitrogen fertilizers (above 6 per cent) that will force rapid new green growth. (Lawn foods are an exception).
Slow and steady new growth is best for our plants in late summer and early fall.
June 2020 Master Gardener website column
June 2020 Master Gardener website column
We had our first truly hot spell of the late spring/early summer growing season this last week of May. Even well-irrigated plants will have suffered the effects of high temperatures. New transplants and seedlings will have been most affected; plants with established roots systems will have shown less severe signs of heat stress or maybe none at all.
When daytime temperatures suddenly rise above 90 degrees and night temps remain at 60 degrees or above in late spring as is common here in the Central San Joaquin Valley, plants are unable to adjust quickly to the change in temperature. The sudden onset of intense heat can severely damage or kill vulnerable plants. Pansies, spring-blooming bulb flowers, peas and sweet peas are very susceptible to high temperatures and die quickly.
Some of the symptoms of heat stress and drought stress are similar (wilting leaves, brown tips on leaves), but there are symptoms that are specific to heat stress.
On hot days, the leaves on many tender-leafed plants will wilt. If the soil contains adequate moisture, the wilting is temporary and the leaves will recover overnight. The leaves on well-watered cucurbits including squashes, melons and cucumbers regularly wilt during the day in summer. It’s normal for these plants. In the hot sun, moisture transpires rapidly from their large leaf surfaces but the wilting disappears as temperatures cool in the evening. To avoid overwatering cucurbits, check soil moisture levels before irrigating.
Many trees including citrus will drop leaves during hot spells as a means to conserve water in the tree; it’s a survival mechanism. Leaves make food for trees (and provide precious shade). That’s why it’s so important to deep irrigate all trees regularly in summer. A good practice is to deep irrigate trees in summer when the top three to four inches of soil is dry which is generally about once a week or more often during the hottest spells.
Blossom drop during the first hot spell is common on many vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. Eggplants and peppers tolerate higher heat and hold their flowers better than other vegetables. Tomatoes, beans and cucumbers will begin to set new flowers and fruit again in late August as nights grow longer and cooler. New leaves on many plants will be smaller after a hot spell and flower petals may be thinner. Flower fragrance is also adversely affected by high temperatures.
Bolting or flower set occurs on cool-season crops such as broccoli, chard and spinach in late spring in our climate. Bolting makes leaves taste bitter. To lengthen the growing time of cool-season crops look for seeds or transplants of varieties that are labelled as ‘slow-to-bolt’,’heat tolerant’ or that have Mediterranean names.
To help mitigate damage from heat stress, monitor the weather reports and irrigate before the hot spells arrive. The soil in container plants dries out extremely quickly in hot weather and the plants will need watering at least once a day. Consider moving containers into shady spots in the garden when high temperatures are predicted.
Master Gardener Column #5 May 2020
May 2020 Master Gardener Column # 5
According to the US. Drought Monitor (www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu), California and all the Western states have been experiencing a mega drought that has lasted for 20 years, from 2000 until the present. The most serious drought years were from 2014 until 2017. It has been fairly obvious to most gardeners and others who regularly check the weather that rainfall amounts have been at or below the annual average for most of the last 20 years. The website www.fresno.climatemps.com lists the current annual average rainfall amount at for the Fresno/Clovis area at 10. 6 inches, lower than the previous longtime average of 11.6 inches often still quoted.
With no idea of when and if the mega drought will end, educating home gardeners in methods of water conservation becomes a primary focus for California Master Gardeners. Some of the steps involved in the effort to conserve water are hard work. We all need encouragement to step up.
Amending our native soils is the first and really the most important step to conserve water. Well-amended soils can retain irrigation water for much longer than unamended soils while still allowing water to drain properly. Well-amended soils are also less prone to crusting which interferes with water penetration.
Changing the water retention capability in our garden soils is not a one time process or even a once a year process. Even when turning large amounts (at least 40% by volume) of compost or humus into planting beds twice a year it will take several years for soil texture to improve enough to significantly reduce water usage. Amendments should be evenly mixed into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil in planting beds to help retain moisture in the rooting zone. Plants grown in well-amended soils will require just as much water per watering, but the intervals between waterings can be spaced farther apart.
Compost is still decomposing; humus has finished the decomposition process. Both contain small pieces of dead bacteria, root hairs and fungal threads or hyphae. These organic materials help bind soil particles together, forming aggregates that allow for small and large pore spaces between particles. Those spaces provide anchorage for roots, hold nutrients and water, and allow for gas or oxygen exchange. There’s a lot going on in good soil that we’re just learning about.
Fresh organic compost is the best choice for amending garden soil, but it’s not easy to find unless you make your own. The beneficial fungi and micro organisms in bagged commercial compost are quickly killed by the high temperatures normal to the Central Valley. Get to know your amendment supplier. Adding newly shipped commercial bagged humus, mushroom compost and earthworm castings to the compost pile in late winter can increase the volume needed to heavily amend garden soil before spring planting.
After turning amendments into your soil, avoid heavy traffic that will compact the pore spaces and also avoid frequent tilling that will cut the miniscule fungal threads or hyphae. Fungal hyphae extend many feet through the soil and attract and hold water molecules. They have a huge effect on water retention.
Sources: “The Latest Dirt”, Lecture, California Center for Urban Horticulture, October 15, 2016, UC Davis.
“Keeping Plants Alive under Drought or Water Restrictions”, ANR Publication 8553, October 2015,
Master Gardener column #4, April 2020
Master Gardener column #4 for April, 2020
This will not be a fun summer for Central Valley gardeners. We’re facing another drought year which will entail serious water conservation measures and hard decisions on what and how much to plant. And, the coronavirus crisis has shut down many garden centers and nurseries, our major sources of transplants and seeds suitable for our climate. Gardeners may have a hard time finding a good selection of healthy plants and “stay-at home” restrictions will curtail gardeners’ ability to go on the hunt for plants and seeds Secondary sources of transplants and seeds are hardware/home improvement stores, supermarkets, food co-ops and farmers’ markets. Online seed companies and growers including Burpee’s, Territorial Seeds, and Annie’s Annuals ship transplants, but their supplies are limited and shipping dates do not always conform to our early season planting schedule. Fortunately, gardeners are always ready to help each other by sharing cuttings and extra transplants and seeds.
In early April, temperatures are still in the 70’s and 80’s and we can dare to put in transplants and seeds with the hope that their roots systems have time to develop before the seedlings and new plantings are severely stressed by hot spells that can arrive in in late April and early May. Our summer planting season ends in mid-May when temperatures are just too high to risk plants’ survival.
Seeds for summer vegetables and flowering annuals will remain viable for two to three years if properly stored in a cool, dry place. Cool, dry places are hard to find in our climate. Like many Central Valley gardeners, I buy some fresh seeds every year but save and store favorites.
This March, while staying at home as much as possible, I’ve started some of last year’s seeds indoors for mini-basils (Windowbox and Spicy Globe) and a favorite tomato (Lynn’s Garnet Mahagony) and have planted stored fava bean seeds with good results. Last year’s bush bean seeds (Max’s File Bush and Roma II) and Astia and Golden Rod zucchini seeds will be planted next week. Last year’s container-sized peas (Little Snap Pea Crunch and Peas-In-a Pot) have produced very well this spring.
When times are tough as they are now, I’d suggest concentrating your efforts on growing food crops, but also suggest adding a few flowering annuals or perennials that will attract pollinators to your vegetable garden. Coreopsis, echinaceas and scabiosa are three good perennial choices; all tolerate our summer heat well and will rebloom throughout the summer and into fall if regularly deadheaded. Zinnias are a good choice as a summer annual.
Keep your kitchen waste or regular compost pile active this summer. With supplies of commercial fertilizers and soil amendments becoming scarce, the fresh organic compost from your own pile will provide nutrients, micro organisms and beneficial fungi for your summer garden. Home-made compost is also one of the best soil amendments. Well-amended soils can retain up to 80 % more water than
unamended soils. Dig a half bucket of fresh compost into planting beds for each new transplant and add a cupful of compost monthly as a fertilizer.
Master Gardener column #3, March 2020
March 1, 2020 Master Gardener website column
As promised in last month’s column, here’s a brief overview of the spring through fall fertilization schedule for the Central San Joaquin Valley.
Lawns: cool-season grasses including fescues and perennials rye are fertilized monthly in spring and fall when they are actively growing. Cool-season grasses are dormant in winter and during our hot summers and do not require feeding those months.
Warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass are fed monthly from March/April until late October when they become dormant.
Both types of grasses should be fed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Ammonium sulphate is cheap; specialty lawn foods often contain iron and other minerals including sulphur. Lawn foods with added iron and sulfur can be applied to treat for iron deficiencies on other trees, bushes and plants. They work well to correct yellow leaves on gardenias, for example.
Roses: roses should receive their first feeding of the bloom season when new growth is about ½ inch long. The Fresno County Master Gardeners’ handbook “A Gardeners’ Companion for the San Joaquin Valley” gives Bill Welzenbach’s excellent recipes for a first-feeding of a spring tonic for roses as well as a planting formula. Healthy, virgorous roses can do well with a monthly feeding from February till late September of an all-purpose (15-15-15) fertilizer or the same low-number granular food (such as a 4-6-2 formulation) you use to feed your summer vegetables and flowering annuals. Roses reliably bloom 4 to 6 weeks after fertilization. Good to know when planning a wedding in the backyard.
Azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas and other shade-loving plants: most flowering shade-loving plants are fed monthly from February/March until September. Shade plant fertilizer formulations usually contain additional sulfur (3 to 5 per cent) that helps to lower our high soil pH levels here in the Central Valley. Applying additional sulfur in the form of sulfur granules or soil sulfur with an all-purpose fertilizer replicates the shade plant formulation.
Fruit and nut trees: fruit and nut trees do well with two fertilizations per year-a spring feeding just before fruit set and another feeding after harvest. A mature fruit or nut tree, backyard size, will need a cup or two of a high nitrogen food such as ammonium sulfate or a good quality lawn food per feeding.
Citrus: citrus need three feedings in spring of a high nitrogen fertilizer. The first is given in late February, the second at fruit set and the third in late May. A mature citrus tree requires about 5 pounds of ammonium sulfate divided into three for the three annual feedings.
Mature landscape trees seldom need fertilization. Non-flowering landscape shrubs rarely require fertilization unless they are showing signs of nutrient deficiencies such as yellow leaves with green veining, yellow blotches on leaves, or stunted growth and leaf development.
Composts and humus are important soil amendments. Compost is still decomposing; humus has finished the decomposition process. Fresh composts, mushroom composts and earthworm castings contain large numbers of beneficial micro organisms and fungi that aid plants roots’ in drawing up water and nutrients. Adding humus regularly to planting beds increases water retention and improves soil texture and drainage
Master Gardener column #2, February 2020
What to do in your garden this February
Here in the Central San Joaquin Valley we stop fertilization for trees and bushes, annual and perennial ornamental plants and lawns in October and resume feeding them after the end of our brief dormancy period, usually in early to mid-February when new growth begins to appear. Regular, consistent feeding of plants and lawn grasses is crucial to maintaining their health and vigor. Here is a brief overview of fertilizer types and their use in our gardens.
You’ll see a very large selection of fertilizer types and formulations on nursery and garden center shelves. Granular fertilizers break down more slowly in the soil than liquid fertilizers so that nutrients remain available to plants’ roots for a longer time and are delivered at a slower rate. Liquid fertilizers tend to contain higher percentages of nutrients than granular because liquid types leach out of the soil more quickly. Foliar fertilizers can be used to provide a quick boost of micronutrients to correct nutrient deficiencies, but are not recommended as primary fertilizers.
Fertilizer labels now list the percentages of the macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) as well as micronutrients, minerals, microorganisms and beneficial fungi. It’s important for Central Valley gardeners to check fertilizer labels for two things: the percentage of nitrogen in the product and the presence and percentage of sulfur.
Sufficient plant-available nitrogen is often deficient in California soils. But that doesn’t mean that we should feed all plants with high nitrogen fertilizers on an increased feeding schedule. Lawn grasses and fruit and nut trees do require feeding with higher nitrogen fertilizers to replace nitrogen that is removed by mowing (lawn grasses) and crop harvesting. For most of the plants in our gardens, applying high nitrogen fertilizers (above 10 per cent) to ornamental flowering plants and trees will actually encourage overly vigorous foliage growth at the expense of flower production. A low-number granular fertilizer (say 4-6-2 which contains 4% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus to encourage flower production and 2% potassium which promotes root development and health) applied on a regular monthly schedule should maintain sufficient levels of macronutrients. This type of formulation can be used successfully on all sun-loving flowering plants including roses and vegetables.
However, our alkaline water and soil in the Central Valley have higher pH levels than the neutral pH levels that most plants require. High soil pH levels interfere with roots’ ability to absorb micronutrients such as iron and zinc. The most common signs of iron and zinc deficiencies include interveinal chlorosis (younger leaves are yellow with green veining). Lowering soil pH levels is a key step in growing healthy plants here. Sulfur helps lower soil pH levels so that plants’ roots can draw up iron and other micronutrients. Shade plant fertilizer formulations (i.e, azalea and camellia fertilizers) and citrus foods usually contain additional sulfur, at least 3 to 5 percent, and they can be applied to correct micronutrient deficiencies on all plants. Adding sulfur granules to native soil when planting roses and other pH sensitive plants and reapplying it bi-annually also helps lower our high soil pH levels.
Next month’s column will cover our Central Valley fertilization schedule.
ET January 2020
Master Gardener column #1, January 2020
What to do in your garden this January
The weather in January is cold and damp, but there’s a lot to do in our gardens this month. Pruning and weed control are tops on the list. Make sure to sharpen your pruning tools and have your weed hoe, trowel, spading fork and a long screwdriver handy before starting to work in the garden.
Try to finish up pruning chores by the end of January when deciduous trees and bushes begin to come out of winter dormancy. Not all plants will come out of dormancy at the same time. Many varieties of sycamores and Chinese pistache trees tend to enter dormancy earliest in our climate and show new growth earlier in spring than other trees. They should be pruned in late December or early January. Japanese maples and crape myrtles (depending on variety) can be among the last to lose all their leaves in fall and the last to show new growth in spring. They can safely be pruned in late January or even early February. Spring-blooming trees and bushes including dogwoods, deciduous magnolias, bridal wreath spirea (white flowers on arching branches) and yellow-flowered forsythia are pruned right after bloom has finished, later in spring, just before their new leaves appear. Observation and a little research can help you identify the plants in your garden and their pruning schedule.
In the Central San Joaquin Valley, weed seeds begin to germinate as soon as soil temperatures warm again in mid to late January. Oxalis (yellow flowers, clover-shaped leaves) and poa annua or annual blue grass (small, dark green tufts of grass with fluffy white seed heads) are common springtime weeds. Both are prolific seed producers. Control for both entails removing the weed before it sets seed heads.
Oxalis is best controlled by hand pulling the weeds’ roots when the plant is small and the ground is soft. This is a tedious job. A spading fork can be used to gently loosen the soil around and under the roots before trying to pull out the entire root. Use a trowel or a screw driver to dig out small clumps of poa annua.
Use your wiggle hoe to cut down any other weed seedlings as soon as you spot them-before they can set seed. A 3 to 4-inch thick layer of mulch, compost or humus applied over bare spots will keep sunlight from reaching weeds seeds and prevent germination . Develop a regular routine of washing off your rakes, hoes, mowers and gardening shoes after every use to prevent weed seeds from being carried throughout the garden.