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The Backyard Gardener Blog

This a round-up of our most recent blog posts.

You can find all of our blog posts at this site: The Backyard Gardener.

Recent Posts
  • Planting Garlic

    Nov 20, 2020

    Our local Master Gardeners have produced a video explaining how to plant hardneck garlic here in the Owens Valley.



    By Dustin Blakey
    Author - County Director / Farm Advisor
  • Persimmon Overview

    Nov 19, 2020


    One of the most beautiful autumnal sights is that of a leafless tree sporting a crop of brilliant orange, lantern-like 'Hachiya' persimmons ready for harvest. Not only is the fruit attractive, but many varieties sport spectacular fall leaf colors as well.

    People sometimes buy a persimmon from a store to see what it is like, take one bite and throw it away, shocked by the astringency which puckers the lining of their mouth, without realizing how delicious it would become if allowed to ripen!

    In a previous life a neighbor gave me permission to pick his 'Hachiya' fruit on condition that I take every last one because he did not like the wet, sticky mess that they made on his lawn. This became an annual event, and I would distribute dozens of fruits to neighbors.

    I usually kept three large trays of fruit for myself which gradually ripened over a few weeks – all from one 12ft tree. They looked beautiful dehydrated (and tasted good too) but I also loved them fresh. Looking back I was very lucky not to get a condition called persimmon bezoar which affects some people who eat a lot of this fruit, when the persimmon fiber hardens in the gut and causes a blockage!

    There are two basic types of persimmons: one that is native to eastern United States, Diospyros virginiana which forms a large tree up to 35 ft in ideal circumstances, and the Asian persimmon, Diospyros kaki which generally grows to only about 15 ft. but has larger fruit. There are many named varieties of this type, but fewer varieties of the American native types. There are also hybrids of the two types.

    The Asian fruits can be divided into two further sorts depending on the shape of the fruits which also coincides with their astringency. The 'Hachiya' is a large fruit, somewhat acorn shaped and is very astringent when firm, but will happily ripen off the tree to a very soft, mushy consistency at which point it becomes flavorful and sweet. 'Fuyu' persimmons are more rounded in shape, like a flattened tomato and about the size of a baseball. These are not astringent and can be eaten while still firm, although the flavor is better if slightly softened. There are several different varieties each with differing levels of hardiness, fruit color and astringency. 'Coffee Cake' is only non-astringent if pollinated by a different variety. Do some research on varieties before planting.

    Fruit produced on American persimmons is small – about 2.0” in diameter, but the trees are very cold tolerant and varieties such as 'Meader' which was developed in New Hampshire will ripen even in cool summer areas. 'Nikita's Gift' is a hybrid of American and Asian varieties which is also cold tolerant but needs to be soft before eating. It also has spectacular fall foliage color.

    Here is what you need to know about growing conditions:

    • Zones: 5-9 For American varieties. 'Fuyu' and its large hybrid 'Jiro' will grow in zones 6-10.
    • Exposure: Full sun with some protection from hottest sun in summer such as high shade.
    • Soil: Any good, well-drained soil, can tolerate some wet soil but can also do well in lighter soils. Resistant to Oak Root Fungus.
    • Irrigation: Regular watering is needed but can withstand some dry spells.
    • Pollination: Many varieties are self-fertile and will produce few seeds. Some do need a different pollinating variety and may then produce seeds.
    • Form: Trees need little pruning once the form has been established, removing dead or damaged wood, or cutting back any vigorous growth that might occur, and controlling the height. The wood is brittle. They fruit on current season's growth.
    • Harvest time: From late October through November. Izu ripens earlier than most.  Grafted trees will take about 3 years to begin fruiting.
    • Pests: The trees are generally pest free.

    As always buying a fruit tree is a long term investment so make sure that you study the information about growing conditions from a reliable source in order to avoid disappointment.

  • Start Your Own Nursery!

    Oct 20, 2020
    Copia rows nursery

    Some years back, I toyed with the idea of starting my own wholesale nursery business. We're not talking acres of palm trees in huge wooden planters here, just a few kinds of natives, wildflowers and grasses. I even got a business license and came up with a name, but eventually decided it was more work than I wanted to invest. I did sell a few dozen plants to Steve at Chalfant Big Trees, but that was it. Little did I know it at the time, but taking the beginning steps toward my own nursery was to transform my own gardening!

    One of the first things I did when I began to entertain the idea of my own nursery business was to set aside an area on our acre that I would use to field grow the plants. I rototilled, removed rocks, incorporated compost and laid out drip tape to this area. Though I never followed through with the business plan, I now had a nursery plot, and I have used it as such ever since. It is filled with dozens of types of plants, but the only customer this nursery is serving is me!

    You have probably had this experience. You see a plant at the garden store that you'd love to have in your yard, but you're not sure right now where you're going to put it. Or there's a six-pack of some of your favorites that you may not need right now, but down the road, who knows? In my yard, it's often a volunteer that's growing somewhere I don't want it permanently. I also grow a lot of natives and grasses from seed, and by late spring, when I no longer want to tend to trays of starts, the babies just aren't big enough to fend for themselves out in the big, bad world of my yard. For all of these situations, my nursery plot is ideal. It's a place where plants can thrive and grow—decent soil, steady irrigation and it's easy for me to keep an eye on them.

    The beauty of this is that I nearly always have an appropriate plant “in my inventory.” I am constantly working at perfecting my landscaping, trying to match my plantings with the conditions of each location. Dustin Blakey's wise words form Master Gardener training always come to me: “Right plant in the right place.” That's the way I see my job as caretaker of the landscape. Especially in the challenging conditions here at the edge of the Volcanic Tableland, I have to be like a coach. I don't get to choose my dream roster, but instead have to find a way to maximize the potential of each of the players I have been given. There is nothing in my nursery plot that will not survive in my yard given the right conditions. When I'm evaluating different areas of my yard, thinking of what plants would complement the existing plantings, I nearly always have something that will work a few feet away in my nursery garden.


    2 Pennisetum
    Pennisetum plant divided

    The past few years I have expanded this concept of a nursery garden, making use of bare spots in the main, tended garden at the back of the house to tuck in treasures that I find at the garden store, because there are so many things you know you will only see once locally! I always prefer to buy the smallest plants I can find. Not only is it cheaper, there is less risk of transplant shock. I'd far rather buy a six-pack or a 4-inch pot and grow it to size at home than pay through the nose for a larger specimen that may already be rootbound and stressed. Or, you can buy perennials and grasses in those one-gallon pots, divide them, and plant the babies into your nursery area. By the end of the growing season, you will have several new plants that are likely better candidates for transplanting than the “mother.”




    I suggest you give this strategy a try. It's not necessary to set aside a separate area in your yard. You can plant babies temporarily near existing plants, taking advantage of the irrigation that is already in place, and move them when the time comes. You can even repurpose a big pot—say maybe one you bought a tree in—and fill it with garden soil for a portable nursery.

    It's so great to have a ready, year-round custom nursery at your disposal. Rather than having to search time after time at the local garden store, you'll have just the plant you want right in your own yard!

  • Grow Your Own Pomegranates

    Oct 11, 2020

    If you enjoy pomegranates you may be delighted to know that they will grow in the Owens Valley. They originally come from areas such as Iran and the Mediterranean areas. There are many varieties available, each with its own characteristics – some are sweeter, some more acidic, some have soft edible seeds and others have harder ones, some are better for juicing while others are delicious eaten fresh. The fruits are high in polyphenol anti-oxidants, and flavonoids.

    Here is what you need to know about growing conditions:

    • Fruit-laden arching branches
      Zones: 7 -10 but must have long hot summers and if growing in the colder zones some protection from the north is advisable. If they get cut down by severe frosts most will sprout again from the base.
    • Exposure: Full sun.
    • Chill hours: Most need only 150-200 hours which our area easily provides.
    • Soil: Any good, well-drained soil, even if alkaline.
    • Irrigation: Regular watering is needed, but most can withstand some drought.
    • Pollination: usually self-fertile so only one need to be planted.
    • Form: Pomegranates grow as large bushes which can be pruned to 8'-10'tall and about as wide, but they can also be trained into a tree form. Some varieties are upright while others have more lax arching stems. There are some varieties that are dwarf.
    • Harvest time: Late summer for earliest varieties through fall. Once ripe they will split open after rains. If harvested at its peak fruit will store in a cool dry place for several weeks.


    Pomegranates have small leaves, and a twiggy habit so can be used as a screen. They have quite large reddish/orange flowers and look attractive in bloom, while the fruit generally comes in varying shades of red, from brilliant to a rich dark red, or even pink.

    They do take time to become established, often not even flowering for a few years, but then are reliable so long as there are no adverse climate conditions. The only variety that I have experience with in the Owens Valley is 'Eversweet' which was chosen because it needed the shortest season for the fruits to mature. It took about five years to begin to fruit and then presented us with grocery bags full and consistently cropped since, although this year it had only a light crop (shown).  So far it has generally been pest and disease free. There are some varieties which are claimed to begin fruiting earlier. 

    Many newer varieties have been introduced so it pays to read the descriptions in the specialist fruit catalogs to ensure that you are getting the features that you want.

    Finally we can be successful with a plant that does better in our hot summers than in the gardening Eden of the Pacific Northwest!


    For pest and disease information on pomegranates see: http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/fruitnutproduction/Pomegranate/Pomegranate_Pests_Deficiencies/Pomegranate_Insect_Mite_Nematode/ 

  • Second Spring

    Oct 7, 2020
    IMG 8067

    Though it's been hard to tell with the fire/weather we're having during this craziest of all years—September felt pretty summery—the plants in my garden have been telling me for a number of weeks now that summer is finally ending. The mornings are cooler, the days are shorter, and the garden is responding.


    Salvia greggii is a star in the garden all year, but their show this time of year has given them their common name—autumn salvias. And so many colors! Purples and other shades are becoming easier to find, expanding the palette beyond the pinks and reds. The New Mexican sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is finally showing that its bloom is worth waiting for. The spindly but strong stems looked so close to withered during the long, hot summer it hardly seemed worth the water they cried out for. The Gaillardias, who rarely seem to miss a beat, are gloriously responding to the more moderate temperatures and longer nights fall brings to our hemisphere.





    The grasses have been recast from supporting actors to leading roles. The light of the sun, now lower on the horizon, suffuses the flower stalks of silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides), deergrass and its smaller cousin (Muhlenbergia rigens and M. dubia), and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis and its named variety ‘Blonde Ambition' are both fabulous). And as the warm season fades, they will begin to shine more brightly. No group of plants can compare to the grasses in terms of solid year-round interest. Yes, they don't look great after their annual late-spring haircut, but by the time you cut them back, they should be very actively growing, so the awkward phase doesn't last long! After that, they provide a great green backdrop for the bloomers, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. Fall and winter is their time!


    You can see that your plants are happier, so this is the perfect time to establish new plants, and that is especially true for natives. Most of California has two seasons—hot/dry and cool/moist—a Mediterranean climate. While it's true no one would mistake the Eastern Sierra for the Central Coast, it's clear that this is our weather pattern too. So, our native plants build up their strength during the cool months, bracing themselves for the difficult, dry summer ahead. The dilemma one faces in starting native plants is that—though you are planting them so you won't have to water as much—that's only really gonna work out in the long run. In the short term, your new babies will require—like babies everywhere—a lot of attention. It's easier for them (and you!) that their formative days be spent under the milder days of October rather than an August inferno.


    IMG 8025
    The trick is to get them stabilized from transplanting well before the killing frosts get to them. Normally, waiting until the first week of October would make me nervous, but if September is the new August, then November is likely the new October, and September and October have been, in the past, the perfect month for transplants. Sure, we could have frost anytime, but a little bit won't bother most of them. There should still be plenty of time for little ones planted now to become established and be rarin' to go come spring.

    Some of your new plants may not look too happy, but don't get discouraged—the transplant success rate for many natives is not good, so just know that you are doing the best you can. Spring is normally the time natives look best, so focus on how gratifying it will be when you see fresh, green leaves after a long winter's sleep!


    These are some of the plants I am moving right now in my yard. Not all of them are Inyo County or even California natives, but all can deal with the tough environment the Owens Valley serves up:

    • Santolina
    • Salvias  -  S. greggii and S. clevelanii (marginal this far north, but worth the extra care!
    • Germander
    • Goldenrod
    • Gaillardias
    • Yarrows
    •    Young native grasses that are not yet blooming
    •    Pine muhly
    •    Deergrass
    •    Grama grasses

    Though I buy a lot of plants locally (I found goldenrod and a lot of other great stuff at High Country Lumber last week), other than the Native Plant Society's August sale, it can be tough to find native plants here, so I am always on the lookout for sources for plants when I travel. I've listed a few of my recent favorites below. But the best thing to do is to develop your own nursery stock. Watch this space for an article on that soon!


    Online (links to these from plants above)

    • Mountain Valley Growers
    • High Country Gardens
    • Annie's Annuals
    • Digging Dog Nursery
    • Plants of the Southwest (seeds only)

    In Person

    Links and sources posted are for information purposes. No UC endorsement is implied or intended.

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