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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens


In the Garden with Joan

On her In the Garden blog, Joan provides practical advice about designing, planting and caring for gardens throughout Santa Barbara, the Central Coast and the state of California.

Fall Planting: Nine Great California Natives

Only 22 new, California native plants later, and I'm ready to head home.

Only 22 new, California native plants later, and I’m ready to head home.

Just in time for fall planting, I’ve returned with a treasure trove of California native plants from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s Grow Native Nursery in Los Angeles.

With the evenings getting nippy and the ground still warm, now is a delightful time to plant natives. They’ll (presumably) get watered in with winter rains and be poised to take off next spring all on their own, and with only an occasional dose of irrigation from there on out.

I also have my fingers crossed that what I’ve chosen will be at least a wee bit unappetizing to the pesky deer that have made our semi-rural landscape their personal “garden of eatin.”

Pink-flowering sumac (Rhus lentii)

Pretty in pink, pink-flowering sumac (Rhus lentii) is one of my new favorite California native plants.

Pretty in pink, pink-flowering sumac (Rhus lentii) is one of my new favorite California native plants.

I fell in love with this plant a year ago last spring, during a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden tour of local native plant gardens, and had been searching for it ever since. What I found especially captivating were its dramatic pink clusters of flowers atop a big mound of clean, grayish-green foliage.

We grew a cousin, lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia), at our old house as a robust hedge and haven for foraging birds.

This particular sumac has a reputation for being temperamental, and I’ve been told that it can suffer sudden, unforeseen collapse.

Apparently frost is a problem, too, so mine will be going in the front yard, which has always been sheltered from the most severe winter cold.

Despite the warnings, I’m determined to give my four new, one-gallon specimens a try.

Pacific Mist manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’)

Still in its pot, and this Pacific Mist manzanita (Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist') is already revealing its characteristic, gnarled red bark.

Still in its pot, and this Pacific Mist manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’) is already revealing its beautiful, gnarled red bark.

Pacific Mist is distinctive for its rough, grayish-green leaves and white flowers, rather than the more typical medium-green leaves and blush pink flowers of most manzanitas. The mahogany-red stems are a beautiful contrast.

It’s one of the ground cover manzanitas, growing only 2 feet tall, but sprawling outward some 10 feet. It’s said to be a little leggy at first, then fill in over time.

It should provide excellent coverage on my back hill, beneath the filtered shade of our statuesque California sycamore where the deer have annihilated the Yankee Point ceanothus.

Pacific Mist also grows faster than most manzanitas, which is a plus. I planted Emerald Carpet years ago and it grew at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Hearst Ranch buckbrush (Ceanothus hearstiorum)

Spring-blooming Hearst Ranch buckthorn (Ceanothus hearstiorum) will hopefully prove to be unappetizing to our woefully personal herd of deer.

I’m counting on this spring-blooming Hearst Ranch buckthorn (Ceanothus hearstiorum) to be unappealing to our woefully up close and personal deer.

Am I asking for trouble, swapping one ceanothus for another, and expecting that the deer won’t gobble it up?

Despite the obliteration of our Yankee Point, I’m basing this choice on the experience of clients who live on Mission Ridge. While their resident deer have devastated their broad-leaved ceanothus, the voracious creatures have ignored their small-textured, rough-leaved varieties.

And Hearst Ranch has a tiny, tiny, rippled leaf.

Also, I have a whisper of a hope that since Hearst Ranch grows only 6 to 12 inches tall — while spreading 6 to 8 feet wide — maybe it will a little low for the deer to comfortably reach, since they seem to prefer grazing from 18 inches up.

Island bush poppy (Dendromecon harfordii)

Island bush poppy (Dendromedon) flourishes on our sunny, local hillsides.

Island bush poppy (Dendromedon harfordii) flourishes on our sunny, local hillsides.

I’ve admired this large native for years in the local back country and really don’t know why I haven’t grown it until now.

It bears stunning gray-blue-green foliage year-round, and flattish yellow flowers in spring and summer, and grows 6 to 10 feet tall and easily as wide.

As for the timing — perhaps I was inspired by the number of times I’ve called for it in my clients’ gardens.

Or more to the point, by the enormous swath of bare dirt on my hill that resulted from last weekend’s efforts to fill a dumpster with the tattered, dead and dying remains of Yankee Point ceanothus, velvet centaurea (Centaurea gymnocarpa) and yes, even California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), that the deer left in their wake.

By all accounts, deer are said to walk right on by these drought-resistant plants.

I can only hope that proves to be the case in our yard as well.

Island snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa, aka Gambelia speciosa)

Perhaps the plumper-than-usual leaves on this island snapdragon means that the springtime flowers will be super-sized as well.

Perhaps the plumper-than-usual leaves on this island snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa) mean that the springtime flowers will be super-sized, too.

My previous experience with this plant has been in the dry shade beneath coast live oaks, which is where my new trio of one-gallon specimens will go, too.

However, the leaves on these particular plants are more than double the size of what I’ve grown in the past, and are more rounded than oval. Yet the label is simply “Galvezia speciosa,” with no special variety name.

If will be great if the scarlet, tubular, hummingbird-attracting flowers will be double the size of those that I’ve grown before, too. But I’m not sure about the spacing. Ordinarily, I’d expect the plants to spread 5 to 6 feet, but I’ll probably give these ones extra room.

What I won’t do is plant them in the back yard where the deer roam with impunity. Nope, these three potential pieces of deer candy are going beneath the coast live oaks in the front, where the deer don’t (at least yet — cross our fingers!) tend to saunter through.

Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’)

This pair of Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens 'Elk Blue') are further along than mine, but show the beautiful blue-gray foliage and pops of dried, rustling seed heads.

Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’) bears beautiful blue-gray foliage and tiny clusters of dried, rustling seed heads.

This stiffly upright native looks fabulous tucked in between Santa Barbara sandstone boulders or along dry stream beds.

In my garden, it’s about to go in at the base of a tall urn fountain that we just installed. The fountain is covered in small, sandstone-toned marble tiles and ringed in matching river rock. I’ll be writing a separate blog post about the fountain once we replant the bed that it’s in.

As for this little jewel — it’s amazingly tolerant of different conditions, content with everything from its feet being submerged in water at a pond’s edge to lounging in dry soil in the shade. It generally grows about 2 feet tall and can spread wider. It’s rhizomatous, so may run a bit. But in the confined space where it’s going, that should not be a problem.

Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius)

This Santa Cruz Island ironwood is just a tad further along than the wee little one I just planted from a one-gallon container.

This Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius) is just a tad further along than the little, one-gallon guy I just planted.

I’ve admired these towering trees for years, what with their dramatic, dark red bark and delicate leaves.

What finally spurred my decision was looking in on a new one planted next door to a garden that I designed and am now overseeing the installation.

A strong case of plant envy simply could not be tolerated any longer.

I planted mine on Saturday at twilight in an area that we tend to let go wild, just past the acre of land that we cultivate right around the house. The ironwood will take on a graceful silhouette over time, forming a slender column about 30 feet tall and 15 wide, with beautiful red, exfoliating bark gathering at its base.

But at the moment, it’s only about 2 feet tall. That’s because I specifically chose a one-gallon tree, as I’ve found that natives planted from smaller containers acclimate more easily to our native soil.

I also dug a broad hole and lined it with two layers of chicken wire to keep out the gophers.

I finished with a wide basin and a thorough hand-watering. I’ll give it a few more soaks, then leave the rest to the winter rains.

Fremont bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii)

While there's nary a bloom in sight now, this Fremont bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) should be enveloped in globe-shaped lavender flowers next spring.

While there’s nary a bloom in sight now, this Fremont bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) should be covered in globe-shaped lavender flowers next spring.

Here’s a plant that I know nothing about, other than a 5-gallon version at the Grow Native Nursery was enveloped in an enchanting haze of lavender flowers, and I suddenly had to have it.

According to the tag, it’s an upright, evergreen shrub (or velvety gray, actually) for naturalizing, which means it probably seeds out like crazy. It flowers in spring and summer, needs well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, likes full sun and is hardy to 15 degrees.

All that sounds good to me. My one-gallon guy is going on the back hill where it will have plenty of room and should look quite pretty backlit by the afternoon sun.

And I’m counting on those fuzzy, gray leaves to dissuade the deer.

Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei)

While it's not much to look at yet, this Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei) should...

There’s not much to look at yet, but I expect this Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei) to take off, once its roots touch the ground.

How could I walk away without at least one native sage? Besides, the deer have yet to nibble on a single one of the many sages that we already grow.

The one that snared me this time was Santa Rosa Island sage, a fast-growing, medium-sized shrub that grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide with tall whorls of dainty, pale bluish-lavender flowers. The leaves are dark green, hairy on their undersides and lightly scalloped along the edges.

As for deer resistance — even the venerable Betsy Clebsch writes in her ‘A Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden,’ “evidently deer never browse on it.”

Sold! I probably should have bought more.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Waiting for Fall: Start Planning Now

Just the right spot to ponder the possibilities for fall planting.

Just the right spot to ponder the possibilities for fall planting.


That’s the status of many Central Coast gardens during the first part of September. Other than harvesting the last sun-ripened summer vegetables, keeping pace with watering and pulling an occasional weed, there’s not much that demands our attention.

Which makes this the perfect time to prepare for fall. Whether you’re anticipating a simple tune-up or wholesale renovation, you can start planning now. Consider the overall layout and flow of your garden first. Then focus your attention on plants.


Hardscape is just about everything that’s not a plant, and includes such major projects as walls and driveways or as simple as placing a new bench.

And while installing a driveway is best left to the professionals, you can widen your drive for foot traffic over a weekend. Along the edge, excavate an 18-inch to 3-foot-wide band of soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Set aside the excess soil to create an interesting mound, if possible, somewhere else in your garden.

An 18"-wide band of gravel, plus a beefy strip of recycled plastic benderboard, are all it took to widen this driveway.

An 18″-wide band of gravel, plus a beefy strip of recycled plastic benderboard, are all it took to widen this driveway.

Lay down landscape fabric, followed by 2 to 4 inches of sand. Then set bricks, flagstones or pavers on top, matching the level of your existing drive as you go. Butt the materials together to minimize cracks for weeds to intrude. Or fill the gaps with gravel, decomposed granite or miniature creeping ground covers.

Or streamline the process by lining the perimeter with benderboard or river rocks, then filling the void with decorative gravel.

You can apply the same techniques to create “landing pads” in the planting strip between your sidewalk and street. Choose materials that match or are compatible with the rest of your garden.

How about walkways? Can you walk around your entire house without getting muddy after a rainstorm? If not, now’s the time to install permanent paths. Be sure to insert 2-inch PVC sleeves underneath, so that you can get water and lighting wiring from one side of the path to the other.

If you lack rain gutters and downspouts, install them. Or at the least, site your walkways so that your roof drains onto them, rather than pummeling your plants and the ground below.

Establish any new seating areas. A bench next to the front door is always a welcoming sight.

Replace any time-worn fences. If your back yard is fenced and there’s only one gate, install another one on the other side to improve access.

As the days grow shorter, think about outdoor lighting. Downlights will illuminate pathways, while uplights will highlight interesting branching structure — especially on deciduous trees.

The Plants

A ghostly white English walnut makes a bold statement.

A gloriously bare, ghostly white English walnut makes a bold statement.

Once you’re satisfied with your new layout and hardscape improvements, you can turn to my personal favorite, which is the plants. By late September, the weather should moderate sufficiently to begin fall planting.

Trees, the biggest elements, come first.

Deciduous types, which lose their leaves in the fall, work well on the south and west sides of a house, as they provide shade in the summer, then allow sunlight during winter. Pay attention to their eventual height in relation to overhead power lines. Beware of invasive roots, and plant at least a few feet from any walkways, patios, driveways or your house.

As to what size to purchase: balance your checkbook against how quickly the tree grows. For example, purple-leaf plums and queen palms from 15-gallon containers grow so fast — several feet a year — that you won’t gain much by buying larger containers.

However, pygmy date palms and most Japanese maples grow at such a glacial pace that a 24-inch box may be a wise investment.

Next up: shrubs, to fill large spaces, mark property lines and conceal bare walls.

Many shrubs grow at least 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Account for their ultimate size, especially if you plant from 1-gallon, rather than 5-gallon containers. Because the 1-gallons are so small at the outset, it’s tempting to plant them too close together. Use a measuring tape to ensure your spacing is accurate.

What's not to love about California poppies, here mixed with annual sweet peas?

What’s not to love about free-roaming California poppies, here mixing it up with annual sweet peas?

Plan to apply a 2-inch layer of mulch to span the gaps, hold moisture and moderate soil temperature. You might also sow California poppy seed or other native wildflowers to fill the emptiness. Poppies grow best in disturbed soil. Their slow fade after a few years will dovetail nicely with your new shrubs filling in.

Colorful vines will dress up plain fences and add instant height wherever you set a trellis or arbor. Most vines bloom best with heat and full sun, with their heaviest cascade of flowers facing south or west.

To support robust trumpet vines, tie several horizontal rows of flexible wire or heavy nylon fishing line to screw eyes attached to a fence or wall. Tighten the wires with tensioners or turnbuckles. Save your decorative trellises for daintier vines that won’t devour them.

Perennials and ground covers will boost your color quotient. Planted in fall, they may appear quiet at first. But their roots will be filling out belowground, making ready to support a bevy of blooms next spring.


Group your plants according to their watering needs. You’ll always have to irrigate to please the thirstiest plant. So if you plant without any regard to their needs, you’ll waste water on those that prefer to go dry.

In addition to receiving water via drip irrigation, these uber-thirsty annuals and perennials scavenge water that migrates away from the neighboring lawn.

In addition to receiving water via drip irrigation, these uber-thirsty annuals and perennials scavenge water that migrates from the neighboring lawn.

An easy trick is to place your thirstiest plants next to any lawn, so they can capture overspray from the sprinklers and moisture that migrates underground.

Popup sprinklers work best on lawns, ground covers and anywhere else where your plants are a consistent height.

Popups are less effective in mixed plantings, unless they’re on very tall risers. Otherwise, taller plants will block the spray.

Instead, shift to drip irrigation and its many permutations, which include emitters, shrubblers and mini-sprayers.

Automate your irrigation by installing a controller. Clocks on some inexpensive timers only go to seven days. If your plants only need watering every 10 days, two weeks or longer, invest in a clock that will accommodate those longer intervals.

Please don’t try to save money on a controller by inflicting math on the schedule. If you plant water-conserving plants that truly need only an hour-long soak once every two weeks, but instead water them half the time, twice as often, you will sacrifice their health and turn them into weak, shallow-rooted images of their former selves.

Seeds of Wisdom

Wait to starting planting until late September or early October. In the meantime, store any new plants in bright shade, out of the wind. Water them frequently, as black nursery pots tend to dry out fast.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Amaryllis: Those Lovely Naked Ladies

This hybrid amaryllis blooms in a gloriously gaudy shade of pink.

This hybrid amaryllis blooms in a gloriously gaudy shade of pink.

Love ’em and leave ’em.

That’s about all there is to successfully growing naked ladies in the garden.

Aside from the shock value of their name, the sight of the South African bulbs is downright inspiring. Each plump bulb sends up several bare, rubbery-looking stems about 18 inches tall. On top blooms a cluster of spectacular pink trumpet flowers. There’s nary a leaf in sight — giving rise to the common name, naked lady.

Equally amazing is that the bulbs require next to no care, blooming beautifully everywhere from carefully tended gardens to vacant lots, and subsisting entirely on winter rains.

Indeed, about the only way to kill your naked ladies is with kindness, by watering during summer, applying fertilizer or burying them in mulch.

By Way of Background

These blushing beauties rise, naked from the earth, in a more demure shade of pink.

These blushing beauties rise, naked from the earth, in a more demure shade of pink.

The genus Amaryllis contains only two species: our naked lady or belladonna lily, Amaryllis belladonna; and the more recently discovered, and still very obscure, Amaryllis paradisicola. Both species hail from rocky areas in the western part of the Cape of South Africa, where the Mediterranean cycle of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters matches our climate on the Central Coast.

But in one of those confusing moments where common names and botanic names don’t sync up, there are other, similar bulbs that go by the common name of amaryllis. These imposters actually belong to the genus Hippeastrum. They bear giant red, pink or white trumpet-shaped flowers at Christmas, rather than in summer. They’re native to South America, rather than South Africa. And they have hollow flower stalks, rather than solid flower stalks.

Further muddling the issue is that during the slave trade that started in the 1500s, seafarers and merchants rounding the Cape of South Africa dug up naked lady bulbs and distributed them across Europe and on sugar cane plantations in Brazil and other parts of South America. The true amaryllis bulbs have naturalized in South America so well over the past 500 years that it appears that they’re native there, too.

But in truth, the “real” amaryllis are native only to the Cape. And fortunately for us, the climate of their origin matches ours so completely that they’re a no-brainer on the Central Coast. Even better — while their native sites are rocky, they’ll do just fine in heavy clay soil, provided they’re not watered. They absolutely detest summer irrigation and will shrivel up and die if they’re anywhere near a sprinkler that runs on a regular basis.

Patience, Patience

Flamethrower, anyone?

Flamethrower, anyone?

Probably the most finicky aspect of growing naked ladies is the time that it takes for them to bloom for the first time.

Their natural cycle begins in winter, when they send up floppy clumps of strappy, green leaves that look somewhat like small agapanthus. By late spring or early summer, the leaves go brown, dry up and disappear.

In August, the show begins, seemingly overnight. Stout, brownish-purplish stems rise rapidly out of the earth. On top are big, brown tips with silhouettes like gas flames. Before you know it, those brown tips have split open, each firing up a bloom of three to 10 pink trumpets flaring out from the center.

In my garden, full-size bulbs have waited two years before producing their first flower stalks. That’s pretty typical. Even if you divide and transplant naked ladies that have been blooming in your garden for years, they may sulk for a year or two before they regain their bearings and start producing new, luscious blooms.

From seed, naked ladies require even more patience. They may sit quietly in the earth for three to six years before growing large enough to bear foliage and bloom.

Planting Time

Nothing short of exquisite.

Nothing short of exquisite.

The window of opportunity for planting — or dividing an existing patch — is late summer to early fall, when the bulbs are dormant. Interestingly enough, naked ladies are considered dormant even when they’re blooming: their dormancy is keyed to the leaves having shriveled up, rather than any flowering going on.

Full-size bulbs are the size of a tangerine or larger. Plant them up to their papery necks. This means about two-thirds of the bulb goes in the ground and a third stays up. Too deep, and they may rot. Or you may forget about them and accidentally dig them up or plant something else over top of them. You can mulch around the bulbs, but don’t cover their necks.

Once your amaryllis are up and growing, don’t worry about dividing them. Leave them alone, and they’ll continue to expand, flourish and bloom for decades.

If you do harvest any of the seeds, plant them barely beneath the surface of the soil, ignore them, and you’ll have a fun surprise several years from now.

Unlike some bulbs, naked ladies are not as content in containers.

However, if you’re squeezed for space or might move in the next year or two, plant one bulb per 6-inch or 8-inch pot, with the neck exposed. When your naked ladies are up and blooming, bring them out front and center. They can while away their down-time behind your garage or tucked in a corner. Make sure they receive at least half a day of sun, wherever they are.

Seeds of Wisdom

South African bulb expert Dick Doutt spent years hybridizing his beloved amaryllis, in search of a perfect circle. This is one of his beautiful results.

South African bulb expert Dick Doutt spent years hybridizing his beloved amaryllis, in search of a perfect circle. This beautiful spiral, with the top flowers still to open, is one of his creations.

The flaring, trumpet flowers of naked ladies usually form a quarter-circle and tend to face toward the sun.

Hybridizers, however, have been striving to create flower clusters that radiate from the stem in a full circle.

Renowned Southern African bulb expert Dick Doutt excelled in those efforts, and shared a number of his hybrids with me before he died in 2011. All of the amaryllis pictured here are results of his work.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Please Join Me on August 7, 2013

Just one of the beautiful gardens that I'll feature in my talk.

Just one of the beautiful gardens that I’ll feature in my talk.

On Wednesday, August 7, I’ll be the featured speaker for the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Horticultural Society.

My talk will be: “Digging the Good Life: Creating Colorful, Water-Conserving Gardens.”

I’ll describe how to create gardens in a number of different styles by using the wide range of colorful and interesting low-water plants that thrive in our mild, wonderful climate. Continue reading

Asian Citrus Psyllid Found: Quarantine Imminent?


Adult Asian Citrus Psyllids strike a distinctive pose, angling their backsides up into the air when they feed.

A tiny bug that can carry a deadly citrus disease has been found for the first time in Santa Barbara County — in Santa Maria — and a quarantine may be declared within the next few days.

An Asian Citrus Psyllid was caught last month in a yellow sticky trap hanging from an orange tree in a residential neighborhood three blocks north of the Santa Maria Town Center Mall.

State agricultural officials confirmed the find this week.

Why the Psyllids are Dangerous

While the psyllids on their own don’t pose much of a problem, they deal a lethal blow to citrus trees if they become infected with a bacterial disease known as citrus greening or huanglongbing (HLB). The disease deforms the fruit, makes it taste bitter, then kills the tree. The devastating disease, which has no cure, was detected in Florida in 2005 and has wiped out more than $1 billion in citrus revenue there. Since then, HLB has marched across a number of southern states, leaving thousands of dead trees in its wake. It reared its ugly head in California earlier this year, infecting a lemon/pummelo tree in Hacienda Heights.

About the size of an aphid, brownish-gray adult Asian Citrus Psyllids mass on the underside of a citrus leaf.

Right now, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) officials are trying to figure out whether the discovery of the single adult psyllid in Santa Maria was an isolated incident or indicative of a larger problem, according to Brian Cabrera, an entomologist at the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

“They set out more traps around the area to see how many more there might be, and how much of the area is infested,” Cabrera said. “Based on the results of their survey, they’ll decide what type of quarantine is going to be implemented.”

Choices include a quarantine with a 20-mile radius or a quarantine limited to Santa Barbara County, he said.

In the nymph stage, Asian Citrus Psyllids are dull orange, have red eyes and produce waxy tubules that direct honeydew away from their bodies.

Regardless, a quarantine would ban the movement of any type of citrus — plants, clippings, leaves and fruit — out of the area. The only exception would be commercially grown citrus that meets stringent requirements and receives approved treatment, Cabrera said.

Such a quarantine already exists for a portion of southern Santa Barbara County. After a psyllid was found in La Conchita in Ventura County in 2010, CDFA slapped a 20-mile-radius quarantine around the discovery. The ban is still in effect. It runs from the Ventura County line to Highway 154 and from the coastline high into the foothills, and includes Summerland, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, eastern Goleta and Painted Cave.

Where Did the Psyllid Come From?

Abnormal fruit produced by

Abnormal fruit produced by a citrus tree infected by Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening disease.

As for how the psyllid made its way to Santa Maria, Cabrera said that if it turns out to be a single find, it’s likely that it arrived as a hitchhiker.

“It was in a residential area, not near commercial orchards,” he said. “Probably someone went into an area in LA County or Ventura County, they got a bag of oranges from one of their family members and a psyllid was attached to one of the leaves. That’s why they call it a hitchhiker.”

But solo or not, ag officials are on high alert, and are actively monitoring sticky traps placed in neighborhoods and commercial groves, parcel carriers like UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service, and the inventory of various retailers, including big box stores like Costco.

Symptoms of HLB include yellow mottling of the leaves and small, hard fruit with a bitter taste.

Cabrera also encourages homeowners to keep an eye on their citrus trees for any evidence of the psyllids, which are tiny, winged insects that feed on tender, new shoots with their heads down and their bodies angled up at about 45 degrees. The damage may be what’s most apparent — yellow blotches on the leaves and misshapen, bitter fruit.

“Our office is happy to look at any samples. There are so many other things that could cause a citrus leaf to turn yellow,” Cabrera said, adding, “Tell everybody not to move any citrus around.”

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

First Tomatoes of the Season

Sweet 100s - ripening beautifully and positively delicious!

Sweet 100 tomatoes – ripening beautifully, and positively delicious!

July 4th is always our target date for picking our first fresh tomatoes of the season.

This year, we lucked out. We planted our tomatoes late — in early May, instead of late March or even April.

But a recent run of sunny days speeded up their ripening and sure enough, later today we’ll harvest what I’m sure will be the best tomatoes that we’ve ever tasted.

Of course the next time we pick them, they’ll once again be the best ever. As well as the time after that and the time after that… Truly, nothing beats a home-grown tomato in my book.

What’s interesting about our first tomatoes this year is that there are two very different varieties on the exact same schedule.

The first are Sweet 100s, which are not much of a surprise, since they’re cherries and always seem to ripen quickly, then produce forever.

But the other tomatoes are plump, medium-sized yellows on a volunteer plant.

Our mystery volunteer.

Our mystery volunteer.

Last year, we grew heirloom tomatoes in that bed, including two Yellow Pears.

Although I can’t find the remaining plant tags, I seem to remember the rest of the bed being comprised of Stupice, Carmelo and Black Prince, all in shades of medium to dark red, and all heirlooms as well.

Now the great thing about heirloom tomatoes — unlike modern hybrids — is that they’re true to seed. So future generations should bear like fruit.

So the big mystery is how plump yellows came to be. Since we grow our tomatoes shoulder-to-shoulder in raised beds, did our Yellow Pears somehow cross-pollinate with one of the other heirlooms? Or did a bird bring it in?

I may try to save some seed at the end of the season to see what results next year.

In the meantime, I’m more focused on what will be on our table tonight — perfectly delectable, perfectly sun-ripened, perfectly fresh tomatoes for the 4th of July.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

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