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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

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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

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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.

Onions & Garlic: Underground Magic

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California Early garlic bears a subtle flavor.

California Early garlic, a soft-neck variety, bears a subtle flavor.

In the kitchen, onions and garlic are a magical combination. But for me, the real magic of the sweet and savory edibles is out in the garden, below ground, where the tasty orbs begin their lives in the dark.

Plant your onions and garlic this fall, and they’ll begin their journey from the earth to your table by next spring or summer. That may seem an interminable amount of time.

But neither crop requires much space. Winter gardens are often empty. These members of the allium family are excellent companion plants, offering safe harbor to beneficial insects and repelling pests. And they’re easy to grow.

What to Choose

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of growing onions and garlic is having the discipline to select the right types for our climate.

Italian Red Torpedo heirloom onions

Italian Red Torpedo heirloom onions are an intermediate-day variety.

Onions, especially, can be temperamental. They fall into three basic types based on how much sunlight they need to mature.

Over a span of about 100 to 110 days, short-day onions require 10 to 12 hours a day; intermediate-day or day-neutral, 12 to 14 hours; and long-day, more than 14 hours.

Long-day onions are out of the question. They’re geared toward northern states and Canada, which have very long summer days because they’re so far from the equator. Here, our 14-hour days run from mid-May through July, a total of 75 days at best. You’ll end up with a lot of neck, but not much bulb.

However, our 12-hour days span mid-March through September. That’s plenty of sunshine for intermediates, which include Stockton Red, Candy, Super Star and Italian Red Torpedo; and short-day types, which are generally sweet and include yellow granex, Texas Supersweet, White Bermuda and Contessa.

Nookta Rose, a soft-neck garlic, packs a pungent punch.

Nookta Rose, a soft-neck garlic, packs a pungent punch.

Garlic is grouped according to type of neck, which also aligns with climate.

Soft necks are typically grown in warm, mild regions across the United States, Mexico, Spain, Italy and France. Papery parchment encases the scale-like bulbs and runs up the necks, making them easy to braid or hang.

They grow well in coastal areas, including Ventura and Santa Barbara.

Hard necks have a woody stem and stiff neck, have been bred for northern climes with cold winters and hot summers, and are popular in Russia and Central Asia.

They’re not suited for the coast, but are worth a try in hotter, inland areas.

How to Grow

Onions sets at planting time.

Onions sets at planting time.

Onions come as seeds, sets or transplants. Garlic is usually grown from cloves.

Good drainage is essential. Without it, your seeds might not sprout and your bulbs may rot. Avoid heavy clay altogether: if you have it, plant in a raised bed or a container filled with potting soil instead.

Best is a site in full sun. At a minimum, the bed should receive four to six hours of direct sunlight during winter and even more in summer. Loosen the top 8 to 12 inches of soil, then mix in several inches of well-aged compost.

Next, for onions, dig a fertilizer trench to run between your rows. The trench should be twice as deep as the recommended planting depth for the seeds, sets or transplants. Sprinkle a high-phosphorous product, such as a 10-20-10, into the trench, then fill it. Plant your onions about 6 inches from each side of the trench.

Break apart the cloves for planting this Early Italian garlic.

Break apart the cloves for planting this soft-neck Early Italian garlic.

For garlic, skip the side-dressing and simply use your finger or a trowel to shape a furrow a couple of inches deep and several feet long in your freshly amended soil.

Break open the bulbs, then plant the individual cloves tip-side up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart.

Water the bed gently, then keep it moist until winter rains begin.

Within a few weeks, your onions should begin pushing up green stalks and sending out shallow roots. Your garlic may show signs of life, too.

Next spring, longer days and warmer temperatures will trigger the bulbs to start swelling.

When the rains stop, water the bed about once a week. If the leaves become soft and yellow, you’re watering too much. If the soil cracks and the greens wilt, irrigate more often.

Onions also like occasional doses of nitrogen. Apply a mild, liquid solution every 2 to 3 weeks until 3 weeks before harvest. Late in the season, too much nitrogen may cause the maturing bulbs to split.

Harvest

Count the rings on these Stockton Red onions. Yes, there are 13!

Count the rings on these Stockton Red onions. Yes, there are 13!

A full-size onion typically bears 13 leaves, which correspond to the number of rings inside.

But more important than counting leaves is watching what they do.

Three to four months after emerging, the stalks should begin to yellow and flop. No longer a watering issue, the yellowing signals that it’s time for harvest.

As for garlic: come spring, the bulbs will begin to produce strappy leaves.

If you’re growing hard necks, harvest the scapes as they rise. When the leaves turn brown in mid-May or June, stop watering and brush away the soil to check the size of the bulbs and the condition of their papery wrappers.

Fall 2013

Fall 2013

Harvest when the bulbs are plump and only a few of layers of parchment remain.

Use a cultivating fork or trowel to gently lift out both crops. Spread them on screens in the shade for a week or two.

After curing, trim the tops to an inch above the bulbs. Store them between layers of newspaper or screens. Or retain the stalks, then braid and hang them in a cool, dry place.

Don’t store onions or garlic in a refrigerator, where the moist air can hasten their deterioration.

This article was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

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

Growing Hops: Time for Beer

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Pretty on the vine. Think of a caption later.

Roll plump hops between your fingers, then take a sniff. They smell wonderful.

“Fresh from the vine” is not a phrase usually associated with home-brewed beer. But grow your own hops, and you can claim just that.

In the garden, hops are fast-growing, perennial vines that can soar 20 feet tall in a flash. They’re also exceedingly deciduous, dying to the ground and vanishing each winter.

But in late summer or early fall, their female, cone-shaped flowers grow plump with lupulin — yellow, pollen-like granules — that preserve and add aroma and flavor to beer. The lime-green cones look similar to ornamental oregano and are quite pretty, even if you never harvest them.

Because beer-making is a year-round industry and fresh hops are available only during a slim window, brewers most often use bales of compressed, dried hops. But with craft beer enjoying immense popularity, some artisanal brewers have begun creating specialty “harvest” beers with wet or fresh hops.

Typically, wet hops go straight from the field to a brewpot within 24 hours, while fresh hops are dried, then used within a week. Either way, the idea is to capture clean, bright, grassy or floral aromas. Locally, the sweet spot for picking is August or early September. Further north, into Oregon and Washington, harvests may be as late as October.

Getting Started

Hops need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.

They also need very tall structures to support their exuberant growth. Commercial growers construct elaborate networks of cables for the vines to clamber. In Buellton, Bob and Colt Blokdyk at Windmill Nursery grow Cascade and Nugget hops on their suitably convenient, landmark windmill.

And yet another caption here

Simple A-frames and wire provide sturdy supports.

An even beefier commercial installation

An even beefier commercial installation.

However at home, heavy-duty twine attached to a south-facing chimney or flat, two-story wall will do.

Or use poles. In my garden, I pounded 12-foot-tall, round tree stakes 2 feet into the ground this past spring, to support new plantings of Cascade, Centennial, Liberty and Nugget hops. If all goes well, I’ll add extensions next year.

In addition, hops like loose, fertile soil. My garden sports heavy clay, so I dug holes 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep, worked in 6 inches of compost to improve the drainage and provide plenty of readily available nutrients, then mounded the mix so that each of my rhizomes had its own mini raised bed.

I finished by shaping basins around each, then began watering daily, as hops prefer consistent moisture, especially early on.

Think of another caption here.

Hops vines twist clockwise as they climb.

Ongoing Care

The first sprouts appear like wild, rambling berries, with each leaf a dark green, pleated and rounded at the base and pointed at the tip.

Then fairly quickly, the elongating stems exhibit twisting, twining characteristics, and up and out they go.

Once the stems are about a foot long, select the strongest two or three and use stretchy green garden tape to attach them to their supports, wrapping them in the clockwise pattern that they’re programmed to grow.

Snip off any remaining sprouts to encourage the plants to put all their energy into just a few vines, rather than many.

As the vines grow broader and taller, they’ll begin to shade their own roots and you can taper off watering. Just don’t let the soil dry out completely.

An inch or two of organic mulch will retain moisture longer.

Harvest & Beyond

Several weeks after the cones form, start checking the lupulin glands, which are hidden at the base of each overlapping scale. When the glands begin to swell and produce a strong fragrance, it’s time to harvest. To make sure, roll a few cones between your fingers to see if they release the powdery yellow lupulin along with an intense aroma. The cones should feel a little dry, make a slight rustle in the breeze and may even be turning light brown at their tips.

pretty is as pretty does

Almost — but not quite — ready for harvest.

Ideally, you should harvest individual hops as they ripen. But given that they’re intertwined with trailing stems and leaves that are busy scaling trellises or poles that are 15 to 20 feet tall, that may be rather impractical. Instead, yank down the vines and snip off the hops by hand. Chop up the stems and leaves, then toss them in a compost pile or use them as mulch.

Don’t get discouraged if your vines produce only a few dozen cones the first year. Yield will pick up the second year. By the third year, you should see peak production.

Add wet hops within moments of harvest to a batch of home brew that you’re already started. Or dry the hops for later use. Air drying is easy enough. Spread a layer of hops up to 6 inches thick on a window screen. Place it in a shady spot, out of the sun.

Fluff the hops daily to tease out the moisture. Once the cones are dry — which should take a week or two — pack them into heavy plastic storage bags. Store the bags in your freezer.

In early spring, just before your hops break dormancy, pull away the soil from their crowns and cut off any advancing roots or runners. Also continue to limit each plant to two or three vines when they sprout.

Do this faithfully every year. Otherwise, as your hops gain vigor, they may engulf your garden. Then add fresh compost to the soil mix and fresh mulch on top, and check that your trellising system is sturdy enough for another year.

Although the first year’s growth may appear puny, mature plants bearing ripe hops can weigh 20 pounds or more, which can easily snap thin twine or topple skinny poles. Mature plants also bear the equivalent of up to two pounds of dried hops. Just a few plants should produce enough to brew several very nice batches of beer. Cheers!

Seeds of Wisdom: Other Uses and a Warning

Fall 2013

Fall 2013

Aside from making beer, hops are a traditional herbal remedy and have been used for centuries as a sleeping aid and to treat restlessness. You can stuff a pillow with dried cones or brew a teaspoon or two of crushed hops for tea. Some folks even eat the fresh, spring sprouts like asparagus, which is an interesting approach to controlling the number of vines per plant.

But also note that handling the hairy vines can cause dermatitis, so you might wear gloves. Worse, hops are toxic to dogs and in certain cases have proved fatal.

This article was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of Edible Santa Barbara.

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

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

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

Limbo.

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

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.

Watering

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.

Asian Citrus Psyllid Found: Quarantine Imminent?

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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.

Sow Winter Cover Crops to Reinvigorate Your Soil

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Fall 2012

Fall 2012

If you’re planning to grow only a few vegetables this winter — or even none at all — don’t leave your garden beds bare. Instead, consider sowing a cover crop to rejuvenate your soil.

Sometimes called compost crops or green manure, cover crops have been used for centuries to replenish nutrients, loosen up compacted soil, control erosion, inhibit weeds and provide habitat for beneficial insects.

The technique faded away in the 1950s when the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides became widespread. But with recent interest in organic and sustainable growing techniques, cover crops are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

Getting Started

Cover crops come in two flavors: warm-season and cool-season. In all but the largest home gardens, the cool-season types are more practical. That’s because our warm-season summer vegetables tend to take up a lot of room. Think sprawling melon vines, robust rustling cornstalks and bushy, full-bodied tomatoes. Every last square inch of soil is generally consumed by one edible or another.

Come the cool season, many of our crops, including leafy greens, carrots and radishes, can be planted more intensively. Growing these smaller edibles often leaves a fair amount of bare earth, which is perfect for sowing a cover crop.

Crimson clover is an excellent source of nitrogen, provides forage for beneficial insects and helps control erosion.

As for what to grow: consider what you’d like to achieve. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil by grabbing it from the atmosphere and “fixing” it in nodules on their roots. Cool-season annual legumes include clover, vetch, field peas, alfalfa and bell or fava beans.

Grasses and cereal grains help to build the soil and boost fertility by adding organic material. They also improve tilth and fight erosion. While they can look a little straggly themselves, they help to crowd out weeds. Look for annual ryegrass, barley and oats.

Grow a mix if you’d like your cover crop to accomplish more than one of the above. For example, Bountiful Gardens, a mail-order nursery in Willits, California, offers a Compost Crop Mix containing wheat, vetch, rye and fava beans, while Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, also mail-order, has a Premium Soil Builder Mix composed of bell beans, BioMaster peas, yellow peas, purple vetch, hairy vetch and Cayuse oats.

In the Garden

Planting a blend of wheat, purple vetch and white-blooming fava beans adds nutrients, fixes nitrogen and improves the overall structure of the soil. It’s also pretty enough to harvest for a bouquet.

Cover crops are grown from seed. It’s important to sow the cool-season annual types in September or October while daytime temperatures and soil temperatures are still warm, which boosts germination and gets the seedlings off to a  strong start.

Here’s what to do:

• Rough up the soil with a stiff rake, garden fork or shovel.
• Smack any dirt clods to break them apart.
• Apply a specialized bacteria inoculant to any legume seeds.
• Scatter the seed at the rate suggested on the packet.
• Lightly rake in the seed to the recommended depth.
• Gently water the area.
• Mulch with a light layer of straw or shredded leaves, then water again.
• Keep the surface visibly moist for the first week.

Once the seeds sprout, start backing off on the water. As the seedlings begin to shade their own roots, ease off to once a week or so. When winter rains appear, stop watering entirely, unless a dry spell occurs.

Cool-season cover crops typically take five to six months to do their work and should be ready to be knocked down in March or April. But the weather ultimately governs their tenure. They may stall out during several weeks of cooler temperatures and rain, or speed up dramatically with a series of unseasonably warm, dry days.

Harvest Time

Below ground, alfalfa fixes nitrogen. Above ground, it provides excellent habitat for bees.

Regardless of the calendar, your cover crop’s time is up when it begins flowering and its roots are still fresh and pliable.

That point is critical. I once made the mistake of letting fava beans complete their life cycle, including setting seed and withering away. Then, digging into the soil, I discovered thick, fibrous roots. While it’s best to wait three to six weeks between harvesting a cover crop and planting new vegetable seeds or seedlings, no way were those tough ropes of roots going to decompose within a reasonable period of time. To plant new vegetables, I had to yank out the roots, which included their nitrogen nodes. Doing so defeated the purpose of planting the favas. Plus, it was extra work.

To harvest your cover crop, mow it, weed whack it or hack it to the ground. If you’ve grown vetch, trailing peas or any thick-stemmed plants, cut them up so they’ll break down faster. Let the spent pieces dry out for a week or two, then till them into the soil. Or rake up the dried top growth and add it to your compost pile. Later on, you can mix the finished compost into your garden soil, returning all those nutrients and goodness to the earth.

This article was first published in the Fall 2012 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

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

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