Visit the UC Davis Arboretum to Admire and Buy Plants

UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery

For many gardeners, spring causes a mad rush to nurseries; plants fly off shelves in a binge of blooms and foliage, driven by the barren dormancy of winter months. One of my favorite places to imbibe in this frenzy is the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery, which hosts four sales in the spring. Besides choosing from a wide selection of plants, you can also visit the Arboretum or the Honey Bee Haven Garden for free.

The first sale is held in early March and is for Arboretum members only, but you can join at the door and get $10 off your purchase, plus the 10% discount members receive with every purchase. Sales held on April 11, 25, and May 16 are open to the public (no membership required).  The nursery is located at 1046 Garrod Drive in Davis, California.

As fun as it is to grab every plant that tickles your fancy, having a plan of attack (and your own shopping cart) will be a great advantage. The plant sale inventory is available now on the Arboretum’s blog (see below). For those of you interested in the conservation of water and wildlife, the Arboretum has developed several plant lists, based on years of research, to guide your choices:

1. Arboretum All-Stars: Their original compilation of 100 plants with low or moderate water requirements, ease of care, year-yound interest, reliability in our climate, and resistance to most pests and disease. There is a searchable database at the Arboretum’s website (see below).

2. The New Front Yard: a list of over 40 species, mostly California natives, with wildlife value. The idea is to replace lawn with plants that will increase your garden’s ability to provide nectar, pollen, berries, seeds, and habitat. Most are drought-tolerant and easy to maintain. This list is available at the Arboretum’s website (see below).

3. 35 Low-Water Plants You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of: Yes, it’s a long title, but a great list! There is a strong mix of natives and exotics; most are low or very low-water use, requiring irrigation 2 times a month or less. Many of these beautiful plants are still uncommon in most retail nurseries. This list can be found at the Arboretum’s blog page (see below).

After the plant sale, you can tour the Arboretum. Considered the main source of horticultural information for the Central Valley, the Arboretum serves as a teaching and research institution for the university. The Arboretum contains over 22,000 plants, divided into 17 collections. Even if you don’t visit the entire Arboretum, the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden is just around the corner from the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, and contains low-water, Valley-wise plants for sun and shade. The Arboretum continues northeast from there, along the banks of the Putah Creek canal, ending (or beginning, depending on where you start!) with the new Native Plant GATEway Garden, which is planted with species native to the Putah Creek region.

Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Garden at UC Davis

On your way home you might make a jaunt across Highway 113 to the Häagen-Dazs Honey-Bee Haven, located adjacent to the Harry H. Laidlaw, Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road in Davis. Installed in 2009, this garden is filled with myriad plants to attract pollinators, particularly native bees. Species include shrubs, trees, groundcovers, vegetables, herbaceous perennials, and more. Admission is free, and open to the public 7 days a week from dawn until dusk.

The best plant selection can be had early in the day, so if you want to visit the Arboretum or the Honey Bee Haven, shop first and tour the gardens second. Come prepared with your own list of plants to buy and sites to see to make the best use of your time. Happy shopping, and happy gardening!

Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Garden

UC Davis Arboretum: Plant Sales

UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Blog

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.




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The International Year of the Soil is Here at Last

Soil is the basis for much of life on earth and certainly there would be no civilization without soil and water. Soil is the basis for all of our food, animal feed, and fuel and fiber production and for services to ecosystems and human well-being. It is the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity, and therefore requires the same attention as above-ground biodiversity. Many people do not understand that soil is alive with many kinds of bacteria, fungi, micro-organisms and animals. It is so important to understand how it all works and yet soil ecology is a very young frontier of science.  Since soil in great areas has been abused, eroded and destroyed over the past 10,000 years it is perhaps late to be doing this, but the UN has declared 2015 the international year of the soil.

The objectives are to:

  • Raise full awareness among civil society and decision makers about the profound importance of soil for human life;
  • Educate the public about the crucial role soil plays in food security, carbon sequestration, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development;
  • Support effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Promote investment in sustainable soil management activities to develop and maintain healthy soils for different land users and population groups;
  • Strengthen initiatives in connection with the SDG process (Sustainable Development Goals) and Post-2015 agenda;
  • Advocate for rapid capacity enhancement for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels (global, regional and national).

Everyone who tends a plot of land can effect a change and make a difference in the future of the planet depending on how we care for soil. Understanding that is a living space for lots of kinds of life is a good start. For more information on soil ecology see:

 By sequestering more carbon in the world’s soils we can also mitigate climate change. Plowing up prairie and other soils has resulted in a loss of perhaps 50-70 percent of the carbon which oxidizes into CO2, a greenhouse gas.

We need to work at restoring carbon to the soil, by less tilling and other ways yet to be discovered. One way we gardeners can help is to make compost and use it liberally to restore soil organic content. Treat your soil well; it is a living resource that supports much of life on earth and it might be the carbon sink that helps mitigate the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

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It is Time for Growing Spuds

Harvesting Yukon Gold Potatoes-photo courtesy Lee Miller

I didn’t know I had an Irish ancestry until I retired and researched my family history. It was long ago, before the potato famine, that my Irish family arrived, but maybe it’s those Irish roots that make for my love of potatoes. Every March I make sure I buy seed potatoes at Lockhart’s Seeds store and plant them to enjoy through the summer and fall. It is an easy crop to grow here as it does well in cooler spring weather. This year’s spring is so warm I could have planted in February. I am not alone in my love of potatoes. It is one of the most widely grown and widely consumed vegetables in the world.


It is wise to plant only seed potatoes grown for the home gardener. They are virus free and have not been treated to prevent sprouting as have grocery store potatoes. Grocery store potatoes will likely rot before sprouting and they may also have potato viruses.  It is possible to use leftover potatoes from your past potato growing efforts and this can work well most of the time as long as they have not picked up a virus along the way. I have had mixed results doing this and will usually opt for new seed potatoes.

If you like gourmet potatoes, there are places to buy exotic varieties having lots of flavor and good texture.  Seed Savers Exchange has several varieties and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has a 24 variety selection of organic seed potatoes. German Butterball and Russian Banana fingerlings are a couple of flavorful ones that I have grown and enjoyed.

I like both Yellow Finn and Red LaSoda for their flavor and texture and both make good potato salads. Yukon Gold makes great mashed potatoes, but that’s not my favorite way to enjoy potatoes, so I seldom grow it though it is a very prolific producer of large potatoes.

There are many ways to grow potatoes. They should be planted fairly deep in loose soil amended well with either compost or aged manure. A day before planting I cut the potatoes leaving at least two eyes on each cut section. Mostly I cut them in half, but if there is only one or two eyes, I leave them uncut. Let them air dry in the shade and plant the following day. Some plant them more shallowly and then hill up dirt around them in the row. One year when it was too wet to work the soil, I laid the potatoes on the soil and piled 6 inches of compost on top of them and it worked out fine.

Light can cause an excessive buildup of solanine, an alkaloid common to members of the nighshade family, Solanacea. It is associated with turning a green color. It is toxic, causing vomiting, headaches, hallucinations, so it is good to cover them well by hilling. After harvest keep them out of light. Green and sprouted? Throw it out!

I grow them in rows now, but initially I grew them in a big used tractor tire filled with compost.  It is also possible to grow them in containers, see: or in sunny spots in your landscape. You can use plastic garbage cans or potato sacks as containers. Potatoes are formed above the seed potatoes so as shoots emerge from the initial soil/potato layer in the container, you can add more seed potatoes and soil and end up with a few layers in a container. Harvesting is as easy as dumping the can and picking out the potatoes.  A good source of UC information on potato growing can be found here:

Potatoes can be harvested in June.  Yellowing vines indicate that they are ready. To harvest a digging fork is best, but a shovel will work too. Cutting off the water well before harvesting makes it easier to dig and clean them.

Storing potatoes is important to make your crop last as long as possible. After digging leave your crop covered in the shade for a few days to let them cure. Moist cuts can dry and not be an opening for invasive fungus or bacteria.  Potatoes severely wounded in the digging should be eaten first and not stored. If they rot, they will infect others. After curing they can be stored in cool, dry place.

Unfortunately some of the good ones just don’t have a long storage. For example, Red LaSoda starts to sprout in early fall which results in the potatoes becoming soft. However you can keep them firm longer by pulling of the sprouts frequently which is a tedious chore. It depends on how long you want to keep eating those ‘pommes de la terre’, French for ‘apples of the earth’; an apt description.

If you have a gardening related question, you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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What’s in a Name?


Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed Lettuce-Compliments of Territorial Seeds

In January, I attended the 35th Eco-Farm Conference in Asilomar which is a gathering devoted to organic farming and gardening. One speaker, Deborah Madison, was the founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco in 1979 and has written many influential vegetarian cookbooks. Her menus were driven by what was available fresh from local farms.  Deborah talked about the importance of naming the vegetables and fruits one sells whether in co-ops or farmers markets. She cited the example of one farmer who didn’t name one of his most popular vegetables for fear that other farmers would grow it and undercut his business. This was folly in Deborah’s view, for people need to know the name of what they like and enjoy. How else are they to get what they want if they don’t know the name?

I couldn’t agree more that names are important.  I will often give away plants and usually with a name tag, but a year later I will be asked “What was the yellow tomato that you gave me last year? It sure was good.”  Well since I grow about ten yellow tomatoes and they are all good, it is hard to put my finger on the one they liked.  When I am showing people around my Dahlia patch, they are amazed that I know the names of the Dahlias. If you have a sweetheart, you would know her name! If I have a Dahlia that I cherish and I want to grow more or replace it, I had better know the name. The name is just a handle on a particular plant DNA that will produce a species and variety that we want.

Names can be fun too. One of my favorite plant names that I ran across years ago is ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed Lettuce. No one seems to know how ‘Drunken Woman’ got into the name, but the lettuce is a savoy type, hence the frizzy-headed part. Then there is the tomato, ‘Charlie’s Radiator Shop Mortgage Lifter’, which is an open-pollenated, meaty variety that Charlie Byles of West Virginia bred in the Depression. He sold plants at a dollar each and paid off his shop mortgage of $6,000. It is still an heirloom favorite that is sold today by most seed catalogues with the shorter name of ‘Mortgage Lifter’. Names associated with a story supply fun to gardening.

Botanical names are scientific and come in two parts and hence are binomial. The binomial system of nomenclature was devised by Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. The language is based on Latin and since few of us learn Latin these days, Latin names are difficult to decipher and pronounce which is a ‘turn-off’ to a lot of people. However, it allows everyone to communicate in a common plant lingo. Latin is really not dead after all.

The genus is the first name part as in Echinacia and the second part is the species name purpurea. Echinacea purpurea has a common name that most of us know as purple coneflower, a commonly planted border perennial. Most of us use common names, but common names vary by region, time and language and hence are not as reliable as botanical names, so if you want to be sure of your plant material it is good to know the Botanical name.

There are many guides to botanical names on line which explain the words origin and pronunciation. One is Botanaria located in Dave’s Garden website: Another is at a  Fine Gardening Magazine’s website which not only provides phonetic spelling, but has an auditory button which delivers a voice correctly pronouncing the name: Botanical names can really help you with plant descriptions. Micro means small, phylla means leaf, and hence microphylla is a small leafed plant. Albus means white, so you can bet that blooms or some part of the plant is white. Learning these descriptors helps with plant knowledge over time.

There are over 20,000 named Dahlias, 7500 tomatoes, over 6500 rose varieties. There are about 1,000 new cultivars of daylilies registered annually with the American Hemerocallis Society, which means that there are about 73,000 now.  One has to wonder how people come up with new names. Examples from the daylily clan show the diversity. There are 137 with ‘plum’ in the name; for example Plum Crazy’, ‘Plum Cute’, ‘Plum Dandy’, ‘Plum Perfect’, and even ‘Plum Plum’.  Daylilies with “peach”  in their names number 314, and  148 daylilies use ‘cherry’, and 84 use ‘apple’.  I pity the registrar-of-names for these plant societies who have to keep track.

Keeping track of the plants we have in our own gardens is a chore and alas I have forgotten and lost track of quite a few despite my attempts at journaling plantings. I recommend it nonetheless, so when someone asks you ‘What is that beautiful blooming shrub?’; you will supply a correct name.

If you have a gardening related question, you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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CA State Soil

We all know California has many state symbols. The grizzly bear flying in the state flag, golden poppies and the valley quail are all symbols that connect you back to our golden state. Did you know that California has a state soil?

What is a State Soil?

A state soil is a soil that has special significance to a particular state. Each state in the United States has selected a state soil, twenty of which have been legislatively established. These “Official State Soils” share the same level of distinction as official state flowers and birds. Also, representative soils have been selected for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. California’s State Soil is the “San Joaquin” soil. It was designated the official state soil of California in 1997. California’s central valley has more than half a million acres of San Joaquin soils.

A little about soil profiles and textures

Soil Horizons

Soil is made up of distinct layers, called horizons. Each layer has its own characteristics that make it different from all of the other layers. These characteristics play a very important role in what the soil is used for and why it is important.

O HORIZON- This is the top layer of soil that is made up of living and decomposed materials like leaves, plants, and bugs. This layer is very thin and is usually pretty dark.

A HORIZON- This is the layer that we call “topsoil” and it is located just below the O Horizon. This layer is made up of minerals and decomposed organic matter and it is also very dark in color. This is the layer that many plants roots grow in.

B HORIZON- This is the layer that we call “subsoil” and it is located just below the A Horizon. This layer has clay and mineral deposits and less organic materials than the layers above it. This layer is also lighter in color than the layers above it.

C HORIZON- This is the layer that we call “regolith” and it is located just below the B Horizon. This layer is made up of slightly unbroken rock and only a little bit of organic material is found here. Plant roots are not found in this layer.

Soil Textures

Three types of particles are found in soil: sand, silt and clay. Soil texture is classified by the type of particle that makes up the majority of the soil. Each soil type has a distinctive textural feel and holding a sample of your garden soil in your hand may help you determine the type of texture that makes up your garden soil.

Sandy Soil: Sand is the largest of the particles found in soil. It is a sharp-edged material, giving the soil a gritty feel. When wet, it remains course and breaks apart easily. Beach sand is at the extreme end of sandy soils. Sandy soil holds almost no nutrients and does not retain moisture. Plants do not grow well in this type of soil.

Silty Soil:  Silt particles are smooth and smaller than sand particles. When wet, a silty soil feels mud-like; it’s smooth and has a silky texture. It’s rich in nutrients but retains moisture to the point where garden plants are unable to access oxygen. In a silty soil, plants wilt because they can’t breathe.

Clay Soil: Clay is the smallest of the particles and a clay soil will clump and feel sticky when wet. Air flow between particles is limited if not non-existent. When dry, the soil has a dusty feel to it and the surface is hard and dense, making it difficult to work the soil for tilling or digging. Although high in nutrients, clay soil is less than ideal for gardens. Plant roots may not be able to penetrate the dense soils to access nutrients and oxygen.

Loamy Soil: Loam is a combination of all three particles– sand, silt and clay–in nearly-equal proportions. The large sand particles promote drainage and air flow within the soil. The smaller silt particles are rich in nutrients and aid in moisture retention. Clay, also rich in nutrients, balances the poor soil retention of the sand and the excessive moisture of the silt.

If you would like to see what kind of soil you have, click here to start NRCS’s web soil survey.

If you are curious to see all of California’s state symbols from fish to gemstone, click here.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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Composting and Water Conservation

  • Author: Rob Bennaton
  • Author: Adapted from an article by the Alameda County Master Gardeners Help Desk
  • Published on: February 17, 2015

At this time of year, biodegradable organic matter such as tree and shrub leaves are often in big supply. Whether passively allowed to decompose or actively managed to speed up the composting process, and use the compost, we often turn to our backyard, community or school garden compost system as a repository for these materials. But, we may not always appreciate how the compost produced from organic materials such as fallen tree leaves, prunings and food scraps can help our farm or garden soil better hold water year-round.

To the many benefits of composting, add another: water conservation. When compost is added to bare soils as a thin layer, it is an effective barrier against evaporation of soil moisture, a practice called top- or side-dressing. Compost also reduces plants’ needs for water by increasing how much water can be held by the soil – only a 5% increase in organic material quadruples the soil’s water holding capacity.1

[A] 2000 study … found that increasing the water holding capacity of the soil by adding compost helped all crops during summer droughts by reducing periods of water stress. The amount of water in … 8 inches … of the compost amended soil increased to 1.9 inches compared with 1.3 inches in un-amended soil. Since vegetables require 1 inch of water a week, at field capacity, the compost amended soil held a 2-week supply of water.2

Compost is the result of a process whereby a large volume of organic matter is rapidly decomposed into a smaller volume that is then used to amend the soil. Soil particles occur in aggregates or clumps, unless they have a high amount of sand particles that do not hold together well. Soil structure refers to the arrangement of sand, silt and clay particles into larger aggregates.3 One can assess the soil structure for their home or community garden by doing the soil-ribbon test and the soils-sedimentation test. This video from Kansas State University tells you how to assess your soil texture by feel. The bottom line is that amending the soil with compost improves its structure, which significantly affects how well it holds water.

Compost is decomposed organic matter that has stabilized, yet, still continues decomposing, though, at a slower rate. The organisms that break down organic matter release glue-like substances that bind soil particles into crumbly aggregates. These irregularly shaped aggregates have air-spaces between them and can be penetrated and occupied by water, nutrients, and plants’ roots. Soils rich in organic material have a sponge-like quality that holds water and, thus, plants growing in them have lower water needs.4 In sandy soils with poor water retention, compost improves the soil’s water holding capacity by improving soil structure ie., aggregate stability.

Unlike sandy soils, clay soils are characterized by small spaces between the small clay particles. Clay soils have good water retention capacity, however, the spaces in between the particles can fill with water quickly, excluding oxygen and nutrients, and, essentially, drowning the plants. Water saturation in clay soils may also cause soil runoff because those soils cannot hold more water, but, adding compost aerates clay soils and increases its capacity to hold water, oxygen, and nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.

Ultimately, regularly amending with compost lightens clay soils, thus, reducing run-off, and increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils, hence, reducing the need for water. Adding compost as a thin mulch layer over bare soils reduces water evaporation, while also reducing the need for water by garden and farm raised plants. Top-dressing with compost in combination with a thin top-layer of straw mulch in food-growing areas, or a thin woodchip mulch in ornamental garden areas, can reduce plants’ water needs around their roots even more, where water is needed the most.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

1 Compost Fundamentals, Compost Benefits and Uses. Washington State University, Whatcom County Extension. Accessed on 28 January 2015.

2 M. Charles Gould. Compost increases the water holding capacity of droughty soils. Michigan State University Extension. Accessed on 28 January 2015.

3 Dennis R. Pittenger, ed., California Master Gardener Handbook (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2002), 36.

4 For the Gardener: Building Fertile Soil. Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA: University of California, no date provided).

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Vermicomposting – Composting with Worms!

Organic materials make up approximately two-thirds of the waste stream. While much of this is paper which can be used more efficiently or recycled, a large portion is material like food waste for which few beneficial options outside of composting exist. Fortunately, nature has provided one option that has been receiving increasing attention–vermicomposting.

So what, you may ask, is vermicomposting and how does it work? Well, “vermi” is the Latin word for worm, and worms like to feed on slowly decomposing organic materials (e.g., vegetable scraps). Vermicompost, or castings, is worm manure. Worm castings are considered by many in horticulture to be the very best soil amendment available. The nutrient content of castings is dependent on the material fed to the worms–and worms are commonly fed materials with high nutrient content, such as food waste and manures. The biology of the worm’s gut facilitates the growth of fungus and bacteria that are beneficial to plant growth. In addition, many chemical compounds are found in castings that are thought to promote plant growth.

The essential components of a home vermicomposting unit are an aerated container, some moist bedding, food scraps, and a few thousand red worms  or red wigglers (Eisenia foetida).

The worms: Mary Appelhof, author of “Worms Eat My Garbage” recommends two pounds of worms — about 2,000 wigglers — for every pound per day of food waste. To figure out how much food waste your household generates, monitor it for a week and divide by seven. Note: Some vermiculture experts advise starting out with a smaller amount of worms, which isn’t a bad idea if you are relatively new to all of this. Of course, you’ll have to reduce the amount of food scraps you put in the bin, until the population increases. One pound of redworms will easily take care of each half-pound of garbage. To add worms to the bin, simply scatter them over the top. The skin on the worm reacts to light and they will immediately work their way down into the bedding to get away from the light.

The bin: You can purchase a vermicomposting bin or make your own. Depending on how much food waste your house generates will depend on the size of the bin. A simple internet search will yield lots of worm bin results but here is one for a larger wood bin and one for a plastic bin made out of tote boxes. The container depth should be between eight and twelve inches. Bins need to be shallow because the worms feed in the top layers of the bedding. A bin that is too deep is not as efficient and could potentially become an odor problem.

When beginning a vermicomposting bin, start by adding moist bedding — things like shredded paper, dead leaves and other materials high in carbon (it’s should mimic the worms’ natural habitat, in dried leaves on a forest floor) — into the bin, and add the worms to their new home. Bedding is the living medium for the worms but also a food source, so it should be moist (something like a wrung-out sponge) and loose to enable the earthworms to breathe and to facilitate aerobic decomposition. Other common bedding materials can be used including newspaper, sawdust, hay, cardboard, burlap coffee sacks and peat moss.

Most vermicomposters avoid using glossy paper from newspapers and magazines, junk mail and shredded paper from offices, because they may contain toxins, which aren’t good for the system. Be wary of cardboard, as it cannot be used if it contains wax or plastic, which takes things like cereal boxes, and other boxes designed to hold food items, off the list.

Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40 to 80˚F. Red worms generally prefer temperatures in the 55 to 77 degree range. Another consideration: worms are like people in that they do not like a lot of noise or vibrations. Keep them away from high traffic areas.

What do they eat? First, and foremost, START SLOWLY. It will take time for bacteria to form and your bin can quickly become very smelly if you add too much food, too fast.  Worms will eat a wide variety of organic materials such as paper, manure, fruit and vegetable waste, grains, coffee grounds, and ground yard wastes. While worms will eat meat and dairy products, it is best not to feed these materials or oily foods to worms, due to potential odor and pest problems. Since worms have no teeth, any food they eat must be small enough to swallow, or soft enough for them to bite. Some foods may not be soft enough initially for them to consume, but they quickly degrade so that the worms can consume them. Worms have a gizzard like chickens so fine grit should be added to help the worms digest food. This gritty material includes cornmeal, coffee grounds and/or finely crushed egg shells (dry the shells and then crush). If you notice odors, cut back on the amount of food or try chopping the food up into smaller pieces.

Harvesting the castings: Once your compost bin is up and running, it requires little maintenance until little or no original bedding is visible and the contents of the bin are reduced in bulk and mainly consist of worm compost, which is brown and “earthy” looking. Once your bin has reached that point, it’s time to harvest the worm castings and give your worms new bedding. Castings can be harvested anywhere from two and a half months to every six months, depending on how many worms you have and how much food you’re giving them.

There are several harvesting methods. For those with the time and patience or little kids, you dump the bin’s contents onto a large plastic sheet and then manually separate the worms from the compost. Children usually love helping out with harvesting worm compost. Remember that your helpers as well as yourself should wear gloves. Once all the worm casings are removed, keep aside some of the compost to mix in with the new bedding and then the cycle starts all over again.

A more common way to harvest is to move everything – worms, castings, bedding, food – to one side of the bin. Pick out partially decomposed materials and push to the other side. Place some food on top of the partially decomposed materials. Replace the lid and leave it alone for a couple weeks. During that time, the worms should migrate over to the new food. Once they’ve gone to the other side, put on a pair of gloves and harvest the castings. Make sure you don’t remove any worms in the process. Then give the worms new bedding mixed in with some residual compost.

Vermicomposting can be easy, fun and rewarding once you get started. For alist of common mistakes, click here.

Worm Facts:

  • Baby worms hatch from cocoons smaller than a grain of rice.
  • Lacking lungs or other specialized respiratory organs, earthworms breathe through their skin.
  • Earthworms have 5 hearts
  • Worms have a gizzard to help digest their food
  • Worms do not have eyes, but light sensitive cells in their skin

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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User-friendly Weed Identification Tool

If you have been out and about in the garden you have probably noticed lush, green, thriving… WEEDS! Knowing what kind of weed you have plays an important role in

Figure 1. Weed Photo Gallery home page.

managing them. The UC IPM Web site contains many useful features to help identify pests and problems in the garden and home. One such feature is the Weed Gallery, which contains images and identification tips for more than 150 common weeds.

If you think you know the name of your weed, the gallery allows you to quickly access photos using common or scientific names to confirm identification. Just use the “List of All Weeds” link from the main weed gallery page.

If you don’t know what the weed is, the gallery will help you identify the plant using visual characteristics. First, narrow your search by selecting the weed category—broadleaf, grass, sedge, or aquatic plant (Figure 1). You will then see a collection of photos in that category.

Select the appropriate plant characteristic (Figure 2) to see another sub-menu of weeds that exhibit the traits of your weed. Scrolling over a thumbnail image on this sub-menu will bring up several photos of the weed—as a seedling, as a mature plant, its flower, and its seeds—to further aid in identification (Figure 3).

Once you think you’ve identified the weed, click on the link of the weed’s name, which will take you to a photo gallery page where you can read about the weed’s habitat, growth characteristics, and life stages (Figure 4). For many weeds, there is a link to a Pest Note that provides information about management, both chemical and nonchemical. In addition, each page in the gallery links to the Calflora Web site to show where the weed grows in California.

Figure 2. Plant characteristics page.


The gallery contains other features as well:

  • Want to know more about plants and their parts? Illustrated tutorials distinguish among broadleaf, grass, and sedge plants and define plant parts used in characterizing certain plant species.
  • Want to identify common weeds found in lawns or turf? The broadleaf and grass categories link to a dichotomous key, where users can pinpoint common turf (and landscape) weeds.
  • Didn’t find your weed? See the weed identification tool under “More information” to search the UC Weed Research & Information Center (WRIC) technical weed key.

You can access the weed gallery page from the left-hand column on any page on the UC IPM web site or from the many weed-related pages at To access the weed gallery directly, visit

Figure 4. Photo gallery page.


Figure 3. Sub-menu with thumbnail images and links to more details.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

This post was originally published on February 5, 2015.




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Preventing the Spread of West Nile Virus

Adult Culex tarsalis

Mosquitoes are often associated with summer, but recent warm weather has started mosquito season early. The itchy bites and annoying buzzing are usually all that concerns us, but mosquitoes can also transmit harmful pathogens to humans, domestic pets, and birds. Fortunately there are steps we can take to reduce their numbers and our risk of disease exposure.

In order to propagate, mosquitoes need water. Depending on the species, they may lay their eggs on standing water or on soil that will eventually be inundated. Eggs can be single or in “rafts” of 100 or more. Eggs laid on water will usually hatch within a few days; eggs on soil can stay viable for several years, waiting for a time when water floods the area, creating a favorable environment for the larvae to grow in.

When mosquito eggs hatch, they go through 3 larval stages. After the fourth molting they become pupae; they emerge from the final molt as adults. The process from hatching to adult is rapid, taking as little as 7 days. Males emerge and start mating whereas females, who are typically the bloodsuckers of the mosquito family, search for blood and the protein it provides for egg production.

California has over 50 species of mosquito, most of which do not bother humans. There are several genera, however, that carry harmful diseases:

Culex spp: vector for West Nile Virus (see below)

Anopheles spp: carrier for human malaria, vector for canine heartworm

Aedes spp: carrier of Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Japanese encephalitis, others

West Nile Virus (WNV) has been a major concern since its arrival in New York in 1999, and subsequent spread westward to cover the entire continental United States. Culex spp act as vectors, transmitng WNV between birds, humans, and domestic animals. Roughly 80% of people infected with WNV develop mild symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, or skin rash. However, about 1 in 150 of infected people develop severe neurological symptoms, which can lead to death.

One of the best ways to deal with WNV is to eliminate mosquito breeding habitat by dumping out standing water:

• Birdbaths should be emptied at lease once a week.

• Unused planting saucers should be stored upside-down; those in use should be dumped on a regular basis.

• Roof gutters can become clogged with debris, so clean a couple of times a year to keep water running smoothly.

• Pools are great places for mosquitoes. Chlorine does not kill mosquitoes, so maintain water quality and keep covered. Do not let water collect on top of the cover.

• Poorly drained areas such as low spots in your lawn or on hard surfaces can collect water. Install drainage or fill in areas as necessary.

Taking personal precautions will also help to prevent bites. Avoid being outside when mosquitoes are most active. For Culex spp this is typically at dawn and dusk. If you must be outside, wear long sleeves, pants, and a hat. Use mosquito repellant containing DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Prevent mosquitoes from entering your home by maintaining screens on windows and doors.

Biological controls at the larval stage (larvicides) are the most selective method, meaning they target the mosquitoes while being safe for other wildlife, humans, and domestic animals. Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis) is a commonly used bacteria in water features without flowing water (moving water suffocates mosquito eggs and larvae). The mosquito larvae eat the bacteria, which kills them before they can grow into adults. It comes in solid and liquid forms.

Another biological control agent is the use of mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) in ponds or unused pools. These little minnows will eat mosquito larvae and are available free from the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District. In favorable conditions they can become established and provide long-term mosquito control.

There are also pesticides to kill mosquitoes at the adult stage, though these tend to be short-term solutions. Before using any product, always read and carefully follow all precautions and safety recommendations given on the container label.

Wild birds act as a reservoir of WNV, so the California Department of Public Health has set up a hotline to report suspicious dead birds and squirrels. Be sure to collect information on the location of the animal, a description (color, size, type), when you found it, and condition of the animal when found (intact, run over, etc). The hotline phone number is 1.877.968.2473, or visit the West Nile Virus and Dead Bird website at:

Other helpful resources are listed below:

UC Integrated Pest Management

SJ County Mosquito and Vector Control District (free mosquitofish)

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.





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Planning a Water-Efficient Landscape

A beautiful low-water shade garden in Sacramento

When we think about saving water in the garden, the first things that usually come to mind are irrigation systems and low-water plants. Another crucial factor is hydrozoning, or the grouping of plants by water and sun requirements; the ultimate goal is to place plants within these groups on the same irrigation schedule. Although creating hydrozones takes research and planning, it is essential for a healthy, water-efficient landscape.

Hydrozoning calls for you to step outside and make observations about your landscape. Even if you have lived in your home for many years, solidifying any vague conjectures about the various microclimates on your property will make planning more effective. There are three basic factors to consider when creating hydrozones:

1. How much sun is there?
Different plants have different metabolic processes; Each has an optimum light requirement to meet its needs for photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into food.

You can track available sunlight by watching when and how long the sun shines directly on various areas of your garden. Also note if there are extended periods when the sun disappears behind a tree or building before returning, and how the amount and intensity of light changes with the seasons as the sun is higher or lower in the sky.

2. How much water will your plants need?
Plants take up and lose water at different rates, as we all know, but other factors come into play as well. Moisture, temperature, and oxygen levels affect soil biology, a major component of plant health. Plants have various preferences, and while many species are quite tolerant of a wide range of environments, it’s a safe bet that mixing high and low water plants will result in someone being under- or over-watered.

Once you have divided your landscape into zones by sun exposure, you can decide whether these areas will be low, medium, or high water use. Watering issues account for a large proportion of plant problems, so designate water requirements before heading to the nursery.

Hydrozones designated by colored areas. Image courtesy of Mother Nature's Backyard


3. What plants do you want to keep?
This is really important if you have an established landscape and are looking to improve your water efficiency. First, look up at the established trees and shrubs that will form the foundation of your garden; these “keepers” will guide you when choosing other plant species to share that hydrozone.

You may have to make some difficult choices about what to keep, but in the long run, water-related problems will probably decrease once you organize your hydrozones. Plants that get their sun and water requirements met are more likely to reward you for your efforts.

Doing your research is essential to understanding what plants want. A great resource for determining the water needs of various plants is the Water Classification of Landscape Species tool (WUCOLS), a searchable database of plants that have been classified by water requirements according to the different climates of California:

To search for plants by function with a basic description of cultural requirements (and photographs), visit Water Wise Gardening in the Gold Country Region:

You can also create a plant list for your various hydrozones using this chart:

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.




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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

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    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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