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2023 past articles Elinor Teague

Elinor Teague

Elinor T 2021
A note from Elinor Teague to the readers:

After writing gardening columns for the Fresno Bee for 18 years, it is a pleasure to be able to continue to offer readers gardening advice and tips here on the Fresno and Madera County Master Gardeners’ website.

Thank you Elinor for your support of the Fresno/Madera Master Gardener programs. 

See the 2023 articles below. 


  • (Photo: PxHere)
    Winter in the Central Valley garden

    A few observations on a rainy day when there's time to check on the winter garden. Many varieties of citrus and other fruit trees have set a bumper crop of small fruit this season. Alternate bearing or the setting of fewer fruit every other year or two is normal for fruiting trees, but this year's bounty of mini fruit is unusual. The cause could be last season's long, cool, wet spring weather that delayed blossom set and pollination. Or it could be that the immature heavy crop of fruit should...

  • Trees may need irrigation or pruning in the fall to prepare for winter. (Photo: Jeannette Warnert)
    Care for landscape trees before winter sets in

    Last season's torrential winter rains provided a much-needed relief from 20 years of drought. However, Central Valley home gardeners deal with the effects of drought every summer because, even with regular irrigation, extremely high temperatures during our long, rainless summers create drought stress conditions. Large mature shade-producing landscape trees and bushes have been weakened by years of drought. Summer drought speeds up the normal fall process of slowing vegetative growth and also...

  • There's no need to rake all the leaves that fall on garden beds. They can be used as mulch. (Photo: Jeannette Warnert)
    Leaves dropped by trees can be an effective garden mulch

    The look of neighborhood yards has changed radically these last years. Landscape designs that feature highly-manicured, constantly trimmed, raked, and groomed lawns and planting beds are disappearing, by necessity. Traditional formal plantings (visualize rose beds inside boxwood hedges) are being replaced by drought and heat-tolerant California native and pollinator-friendly plants and trees better suited to our Central Valley climate and better able to survive extreme heat spikes as well as...

  • An atmospheric river lashes California in 2023. (Photo: NASA)
    Take time in September to prepare for future weather extremes

    Preparations for severe weather and damage control in home gardens and orchards have become a major focus for Master Gardeners during the last 10 years. California Master Gardeners are helping home gardeners deal with drought, with atmospheric river ‘bombs' that bring high winds, heavy rains and flooding, with heat spikes and with wildfire smoke and ash. This year we also experienced extended cold spells with night time temperatures near freezing until April.  Here's a brief review...

July 2023

July 2023 Fresno County MG website column

*file386342*The recent sudden rise in day and nighttime temperatures was a shock to plants that had flourished in cooler-than-average and longer-lasting springtime weather conditions.

The typical summer weather pattern in the Central San Joaquin Valley begins with the formation in late April or early May of a high pressure ridge or dome that traps hot, stagnant air and lowers humidity.  This year dangerously high temperatures and dry conditions did not develop until the Fourth of July holiday.  Some weather forecasts are anticipating high temperatures with very hot days and nights to be continuous for at least the next two to three months; heat spikes with several consecutive days of extremely high temperatures can also be expected.

Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.’ Central Valley gardeners struggle to mitigate the effects of heat stress, low humidity and air pollution on plants every summer growing season.  Some of our practices will need to change or be modified in order to keep plants alive and healthy as overall temperatures rise and weather patterns change.  Water conservation is always a concern.  

Deep, infrequent irrigation to encourage root development at deeper levels in the soil is still advised during periods of less intense heat.  We’ll still need to keep automatic sprinkler systems on the mandated schedule but increase watering times.  However, we now need to begin deep irrigation of vulnerable plants several days before heat spikes are predicted to arrive.  Use soaker hoses, bubblers on a hose or small oscillating sprinklers to slowly irrigate the soil under the most vulnerable or productive plants to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Test soil moisture levels frequently with the goal of keeping the soil consistently moist.  Most plants will need to be watered in summer when the top inch or two of soil has dried.  That maybe a daily or even twice daily occurrence during heat spikes.   

Plants that produce crops (fruit and nut trees, summer vegetables, roses) need replacement nutrients as crops are removed.  Fruit and nut trees should be fed after harvest with high nitrogen fertilizers.  Harvest of fruits and nuts may come sooner than usual as temperatures rise and crops ripen quickly.  Summer vegetables are another story.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and squashes will stop producing flowers when temperatures are above 90 degrees. Mediterranean varieties of those plants tend to be more heat-tolerant.  Heat-loving peppers and eggplants will continue to produce and hold flowers at higher temperatures.  

If your plants are holding their flowers and the fruit continues to develop feed lightly with a low-number, low-nitrogen fertilizer once a month.  Stop feeding summer vegetables and annual summer-flowering plants if all the flowers or the immature fruit have dropped and resume feeding them when new buds begin to show.  Some gardeners continued to put in transplants in May and June, well after the end of the normal summer planting season.  The new transplants with immature root systems will be unlikely to survive the first heat spike of July even when well-watered. 

June 2023

June 2023 Fresno County Master Gardeners website column
We usually advise home gardeners in May is that it’s too hot in late May to plant anything, but the very unusual weather pattern this winter and spring has created many challenges for Central Valley Gardeners this summer.  
These challenges are a result of longer, cooler spring with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s into April that slowed and extended the spring growing and ripening season. The planting time for transplants and seedlings was also delayed, leaving a short time window of ideal growing temperatures in the 70’s for new plantings.
Fruit and nut trees blossomed and set crops several weeks later than normal as did cool-season crops. Root vegetables struggled to develop fully in muddy, cold soils. Gardeners had to make tough decisions on whether and when to pull out cool-season vegetables and annual flowers that had yet to produce in order to plant for summer. The cool weather and late rains also prevented bees and other pollinators from doing their jobs. Many gardeners got excited when fruit and nut trees set lots of flowers this spring but were greatly disappointed with the reduced fruit set this season.  
Seeds and transplants of warm-season vegetables and annual flowers planted in March (which has become the norm during the drought years) were slow to develop root systems in the cool soil so that growth and flower set were delayed. Transplants of some varieties of heat-loving tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are still stunted in size and slow to gain vigor. 
Just as warm-season seeds germinated and early summer transplants finally began to grow, a good week of hotter temperatures in the 90’s arrived. We haven’t yet experienced the first brutal hot spell with temperatures above 100 degrees for several days in succession, but we know the heat spikes will be coming soon. Fortunately, it looks as though we won’t see a really hot spell with temps above 100 degrees until after the first week in June giving new seedlings and transplants just enough time to establish and develop root systems and set flowers.
Citrus trees that were chock full of flowers a few weeks ago shed excess flowers and fruit as temperatures abruptly rose into the 90’s in May.“June drop” or the annual, normal process of fruit and flower dropping in June on citrus trees was several weeks premature and seemed more pronounced this year.Some of last season’s citrus crop is still on the trees alongside tiny new fruit.
Another challenge is determining if and how to preserve and protect the lush growth of foliage and new branches on landscape trees and on perennial flowering plants like roses, gardenias, azaleas and camellias created by abundant rainfall for the first time in years. The temptation will be to keep soil moisture levels high rather than continue to practice water conservation. Keep in mind that water conservation practices including maintaining a 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch and infrequent, deep (rather than shallow) irrigation will actually help preserve the new growth, even during hot spells.
May 2023 Website Column


wet garden
Weather models are suggesting a 41% chance that next winter will be another wet one*.  The effects of abundant rainfall this last season are evident in our gardens.  Foliage is lush, shade trees show less twig and branch dieback, flowers are double in size and in number, and lawn grasses and weeds are knee high and bright green.  However, the persistence well into April of cooler than average spring temperatures with very cool nights has delayed the ripening and harvest of cool-season crops and early spring-flowering annuals as well as the planting of transplants and seeds of warm-season vegetables and summer-blooming annuals.  The cool temperatures have also delayed the springtime resumption of the decomposition process in our compost piles.  

The soil is still too wet to plant from seed in some spots leading to further delays in planting this spring.  Gardeners have gradually become accustomed to speeding up the spring planting schedule during these last 20 drought years in order to avoid the first heat spikes of the season that became common occurrences in April, rather than in mid to late May (as was the normal pattern during the drought years).  Central Valley gardeners have also become accustomed to a very long summer growing season which now begins in March and lasts until mid or even late November.  During the driest years with no winter frost and mild temperatures through the winter months some summer annuals simply did not die off and continued to set flowers and fruits.  At the end of this April many gardeners are still waiting to harvest their leafy greens and other cool season crops before pulling them out to make room for summer transplants.  

This planting season we’ll need to make adjustments to the schedule and to which varieties we plant.  Think of the adjustments as an experiment, perhaps keeping a journal or record of planting and harvest times and successes and failures in your garden this year.  If next fall and winter are as wet as this last season, the journal will be helpful in planning and in buying seeds and transplants with ripening or bloom times or ‘days to maturity’ that are more suitable for a shorter growing season.  Some weather models are predicting higher-than-normal temperatures in late summer and fall this year.  We’ll need to search for plant varieties with shorter growing seasons and a high tolerance for hot temperatures-not the easiest combination of attributes to find at the local nurseries or garden centers.  

  One major and very concerning effect of the long cold, wet spring has been the absence of bees and other pollinators in our spring garden until just this last week.  Anecdotal reports (from my neighbor Melissa, the bee keeper) estimate a 30% bee die off this season. It was really spooky to see flowers in full, beautiful bloom with few or no bees actively foraging for pollen.  We can only hope that pollinator populations recover soon.  Adding a bee count to your garden journal this year can help verify the effect of a really cold wet winter on pollinators.


* SF Chronicle, April 18, 2023

February 2023 MG website column Elinor
E.Teauge February 2023
The springtime planting season in the Central Valley begins in February and ends when daytime temperatures begin to average 85 degrees and above, generally in mid-April until early May.Many gardeners concentrate on planting or transplanting perennials and summer annual vegetables and flowers as quickly as possible during the short spring planting season.Care for container plants including house plants is often overlooked or left until last.Spring is the best time to repot and shape or prune perennial container plants and to pot up new plants.
Check the soil level in container plants first.If the soil has subsided so that the top level is now well below the rim, the soil will need to be replenished. It’s easiest of course to just add more soil on top of the existing soil, but wet soil next to the stem or trunk will cause it to rot.It’s best to remove the plant from the pot and then add soil at the bottom where the roots are growing until the entire plant is raised up to one or several inches below the rim, depending on plant and pot size. 
Turn pots over to check drain holes for escaping roots.The best drain hole covers are coffee filters, but they decompose within a year or two and should be replaced.If roots are coming out of the drain hole it means that the roots have filled the pot, replacing the soil.The plant may need to be moved into a one-size larger pot or the roots may need to be trimmed or shaved to make room for more soil.Even small trees and large perennials can live for years in the same pot with regular annual or bi-annual gentle root trims using a sharp cutting knife.My mother’s Ginzu knife is still in use as a root shaving tool. 
Potting soil brands vary widely in formulation and quality.The most important consideration is the soil’s capacity to retain water and to drain excess water well.Finding the right mix is an ongoing experiment.Always use a potting soil specifically formulated for the plant type.African violets and other members of the Gesneriad plant family do much better in peat-based soils.Cacti and succulents need quick-draining sandy soils.Acid-loving shade plants including azaleas and camellias need the extra sulfur (which lowers alkaline higher pH levels) found in shade plant formulations.Supermarket orchids are often sold planted in light-weight mossy stuff which either dries out too quickly or never dries out.Replacing the mossy stuff with fresh orchid bark after buying and annually afterwards helps ensure a longer blooming life for the orchid.(As orchid barks decompose they lose their ability to hold water).
Remove the plant or tree from the pot as gently as possible to avoid damage to new roots that will be starting their spring growth spurt. Trim off any dead plant tissue or spent flowers and take leaf cuttings or divide favorite plants for starting new plants in spring.Container plants are dormant in winter and don’t require feeding from mid-October until February.Resume fertilization in spring with higher nitrogen foods for foliage plants and higher phosphorus foods for flowering plants.Nutrient deficiencies are common in container plants since watering washes away nutrients.Deficiencies usually can be remedied with an application or two of a high-quality citrus food and/or additional iron or sulfur.
January 2023 MG website column Elinor

rose for Elinor
January 2023 MG website column Elinor Teague 

January is a very busy gardening month here in the Central Valley.In addition to finishing up pruning chores before our short winter comes to an end in late January, valley gardeners need to tackle springtime weed prevention, order seeds for starting transplants of summer vegetables and flowering annuals as well as check out bare root stock in nurseries and garden centers.
Soil temperatures will be warm enough in late January to promote weed seed germination and if this season’s rainy winter pattern continues we could see a bumper crop of weeds by mid-February.In the pre-drought years, the application in mid-January of a pre-emergent to control germination of springtime weeds including poa annua or bluegrass and crabgrass was the standard recommendation.But the warm (essentially non-existent) winters during these last mega-drought years have allowed seeds for early springtime weeds to sprout in late fall, making a pre-emergent application in January application useless.It might be worth a try this cold, wet winter.
Mulches are still the best means of weed control.Maintaining a 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch will prevent sunlight from reaching covered seeds, but weed seeds on the mulch surface will sprout readily so keep your wiggle hoe handy to cut off weeds when they’re really small.And monitor mulch levels in areas where rain runoff can carry away the mulch.  
The good news for valley gardeners is that seed companies are continuing to add heat-tolerant and container-sized varieties to their selections; the not-so-good news is that not all garden centers carry a good supply of those seeds or transplants.We can expect heat spikes next summer, but can’t predict when they’ll occur and for how long they’ll last.Starting your own transplants from seed ensures that your vegetable garden and flower patch hold mostly heat-tolerant varieties.Container-sized plants tend to require less water than plants in the ground.That’s if (and it’s a big if) containers are filled with really good quality planting mixes that hold water better than the native soil and if fresh compost containing beneficial micronutrients and fungi is added when transplanting and monthly after transplanting.Experiment with several types of potting soil and keep track of which hold water for the longest time; brands differ widely in their water retention capacity.Containers can also be moved into full shade during heat spikes.
The Central Valley has some of the world’s best hybridizers and growers.Check local nurseries first for a wide selection of bare root plants that are grown locally (less travel time and stress for the plants) and which are most suitable for our growing zones (zone 7 in the foothills and zones 8 and 9 in the Central Valley).The Dave Wilson Nursery is one of the world’s best hybridizers of fruit and nut trees and several other plant species. Its website (www.davewilson.com). is a gold mine of information for home gardeners.Weeks roses ( www.weeksroses.com