Feb. 8 Is UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day: Six Open Houses

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Visitors enjoying the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

DAVIS–It’s like Super Science Day! Six rolled into one.

UC Davis’s fourth annual Biodiversity Museum Day, to take place Sunday, Feb. 8 from 12 noon to 4 p.m., will feature an open house at six museums: Bohart Museum of Entomology, Center for Plant Diversity, the Botanical Conservatory, the Paleontology Collection, the Anthropology Collection, and the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology.

“Each museum’s impressive research/teaching collection documents the biodiversity of life in California and throughout the world, whether it be plants, fossils, human culture, insects or birds,” said co-coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum.

All participating museums have active education and outreach programs, but the collections are not always accessible to the public.

Madgascar hissing cockroach crawls on arm of youngster at Bohart Museum of Entomology (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Biodiversity Museum Day is billed as a special day to go behind-the-scenes to learn how scientists conduct research; gain first-hand educational experience; and to see some of the curators’ favorite pieces. Visitors are invited to explore displays, talk to scientists and students, and participate in fun activities.

There is no admission and no parking fees. Visitors are encouraged to stroll or bike around the UC Davis campus and visit all six collections. All collections are located indoors.

Maps, signs and guides will be available at all the locations on the main UC Davis campus.

The locations:

The locations:

Bohart Museum of Entomology, Room 1124 of Academic Surge, Crocker Lane (off LaRue Road)

Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, 1394 Academic Surge, Crocker Lane

UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, Kleiber Hall Drive

Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Laboratory Building, off Kleiber Hall Drive, near Briggs Hall

Anthropology Collections, Young Hall, off A Street

Geology Collections, Earth and Physical Sciences Building, across from Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane

This is the skull of an Asian Elephant, Elephas maximus, displayed byt he Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology in the Academic Surge Building

For more information visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/UC-Davis-Biodiversity-Museum-Day/316198101914890?sk=timeline. For further information, contact Ernesto Sandoval at jesandoval@ucdavis.edu or call the Botanical Conservatory at (530) 752-0569.

Click to download map.

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Keeping Your Backyard Poultry Healthy

You may have heard that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5N8 avian influenzain a commercial turkey flock in Stanislaus County, California.

Avian influenza — commonly called “bird flu” — is a disease found in a wide variety of domesticated and wild birds. Once introduced into an area, infection can spread through bird-to-bird contact or through contact with contaminated clothing, shoes, hands, feed, water or equipment. Because waterfowl are reservoirs for avian influenza strains that can be fatal to domestic poultry (yet often show little to no signs in waterfowl), backyard and commercial chickens raised near areas commonly used by migrating waterfowl are at risk of transmission.

“Due to normal waterfowl migration along the Pacific Flyway, during the winter there are approximately eight times the number of waterfowl in California than what we will see three months from now,” said Maurice Pitesky, a poultry specialist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “There are lots of birds that winter and establish roosting and feeding habitat in California wetlands and agricultural crops. If you are a poultry owner — either backyard or commercial — and live in proximity to waterfowl and their habitat, your birds are at risk.”  This is the first finding of HPAI in commercial poultry during the ongoing disease incident in the Pacific Flyway. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada, or internationally, and there continues to be no public health concern.

Many residents of San Joaquin County have backyard birds. Although your typical backyard flock is not the same scale as a commercial poultry operation, it is important to keep your birds safe and healthy. If you or someone you know have backyard flocks make sure that they remain confined for the remainder of the winter and do not go onto the premises of anyone else who has birds.  This is spread primarily through wild birds coming into contact with domestic.

6 Ways To Prevent Poultry Diseases

Keep Your Distance: Restrict access to your property and your birds. Consider fencing off the area where you keep your birds and make a barrier area if possible. Allow only people who take care of your birds to come into contact with them. If visitors have birds of their own, do not let them near your birds. Game birds and migratory waterfowl should not have contact with your flock because they can carry germs and diseases.

Keep It Clean: Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes with disinfectant, and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird a rea. Clean cages and change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools. Remove manure before disinfecting. Properly dispose of dead birds.

Don’t Haul Disease Home: If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as at a feed store, clean and disinfect car and truck tires, poultry cages, and equipment before going home. Have your birds been to a fair or exhibition? Keep them separated from the rest of your flock for at least 2 weeks after the event. New birds should be kept separate from your flock for at least 30 days.

Don’t Borrow Disease From Your Neighbor: Do not share lawn and garden equipment, tools, or poultry supplies with your neighbors or other bird owners. If you do bring these items home, clean and disinfect them before they reach your property.

 Know the Warning Signs of Infectious Bird Diseases:

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge
  • Watery and green diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs
  • Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs (AI)
  • Tremors, drooping wings, circling,twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement (END) Early detection is important to prevent the spread of disease.

Report Sick Birds: Don’t wait. Owners of backyard chickens who observe illness or increased mortality in their birds should call their veterinarian, local Agricultural Commissioners Office at 209-953-6000.  or the California Department of Food Agriculture sick bird hotline at (866) 922-2473.

All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and to report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through your state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.  Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

The University of CA has a great website for Backyard Poultry including basic care, coop design and disease information.

Click here to watch a video full of helpful tips on keeping your backyard flock safe and healthy.


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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Carrots Make a Delicious Addition to Your Garden

Carrots come in many colors

Carrots, or Daucus carota, are a familiar and versatile vegetable. They are thought to be native to southwest Asia, though the exact location depends on who you ask. Biennial by nature, they would complete their life cycle in two growing seasons if left to their own devices, but are usually grown as an annual in the home garden. The most commonly consumed part is the taproot, a prominent root with few side branches used as food storage by the plant.

There are many different kinds of carrots. The standard market varieties require loamy, well-drained soil free of clumps and rocks to allow the roots to grow long and straight. For heavy soil, a raised bed or container should be employed, and short or medium varieties chosen to avoid forked or stubbed roots. For a list of carrot varieties, see the Sacramento Master Gardener webpage: <ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/Carrot_demo>

Carrots are cool-season crops, meaning they can handle light frosts and grow best when temperatures are in the 55°-75°F range. Seeds can be sown between February and September in the Central Valley. Choose a site in full sun, and amend the soil with compost and an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer. Avoid high nitrogen products to encourage plants to direct energy toward root development rather than excess foliage.

It is best to start carrots and other root vegetables from seed, as they tend to dislike being transplanted. It helps to mix the tiny seeds with cornmeal or sand to help them disperse more evenly. When seedlings reach 1-2 inches tall, thin to 2 inches apart and keep them consistently moist. Maturity takes 70-90 days; when the shoulders of the root are exposed, gently cultivate the surrounding soil before attempting to harvest to prevent broken carrots.

The carrot’s versatility in the kitchen comes from its mildy sweet flavor, which complements almost any dish. They can be used in anything from salads to muffins, though purple varieties are best used raw or roasted to avoid murky soups. Here is one of my favorite carrot soup recipes, courtesy of Crepes of Wrath:

Carrot, Potato, and Leek Soup
Serves 4

1 lb baby Dutch potatoes, unpeeled
4-5 medium-sized carrots, peeled
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only
5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
¼ C olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne, or to taste
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of sugar
8 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 carrot, grated, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven.

2. Cut potatoes and carrots into large chunks of similar size for even roasting. Cut leeks in half and rinse, then cut into 1-inch lengths. Toss vegetables, unpeeled garlic cloves, spices, and olive oil in a large bowl. Spread vegetables on a sheet pan in a single layer (use two pans if they are small).

3. Roast vegetables until fork-tender and lightly caramelized on the edges, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Peel the garlic. Puree vegetables with stock in a blender, doing it in batches for smaller blenders. Transfer to a large pot. Alternatively, place roasted vegetables and stock in a large pot and use an immersion blender to puree.

5. Heat blended soup to a simmer. Season to taste with salt. Adding a cup of milk, half and half, or homemade nut milk improves the texture, but isn’t necessary. Garnish with grated carrots. Serve hot.

For more tips on carrot cultivation, see the UC Integrated Pest Management webpage at <www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/veggies.html>. 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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A Growing Movement

Monarch nectaring on Mule's ears (Wyethia spp)

“A plant that has fed nothing has not done its job.”
        -D.W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home

This past September I had an opportunity to volunteer at the California Native Plant Society’s fall sale in Sacramento. Having arrived early to help set up, I felt that the plethora of volunteers made my presence unnecessary….until the sale began. The flood gates opened and customers came surging in, washing away almost the entire stock of plants in a matter of hours!

The surprising success that day reflected a growing awareness of our ecological impact and a desire for change, starting with the home landscape. I hesitate to call it a “trend”, which implies an ephemeral whim of fancy. Rather, the movement toward sustainable landscaping is based on sound scientific evidence and an obvious need to alter our relationship with nature.

As we continue to deepen our understanding of ecosystems and their fragility, it becomes apparent that our gardens filled with alien plants serve form, but not function. Yes, that privet can be kept in a 3’ x 3’ meatball-shape all year (form), but what does that do for wildlife (function)? Not a whole lot, and here is why:

1. Alien plants are not palatable to native insects. This is a function of evolution; insects co-evolved with native plants and developed ways of digesting them via enzymes or helpful bacteria living in their guts. Alien plants touted as being pest-free are as useful to insects as patio furniture (i.e. not at all). This may sound like a good thing to those who “hate bugs”, but it leads me to my next point…

2. Insects are essential to our survival. Insects can live without humans, but we wouldn’t last long without them. While pesticide manufacturers benefit from the ideal of a bug-free garden, it is far from healthy for anyone. Whether insects break down organic matter to be recycled into new life, or prey on other insects to keep populations in balance, we need them. Period.

3. Birds need insects. Birds can eat berries of some alien plants, but insects are an important part of their diet as well. As natural habitats have given way to agriculture, suburbs, and shopping malls, birds have become more dependent on the home gardener. A garden filled with alien plants cannot feed enough insects to support insectivorous birds, whereas native plants can create a veritable buffet, not to mention good habitat for nesting and berries for additional forage.

4. Butterflies and moths are host specific. Caterpillars are the most particular about their food. The plight of the monarch has been traced, in part, to the disappearance of milkweed (Asclepias spp), the caterpillar’s host plant. Almost everyone has a soft spot for butterfies and their graceful beauty. A butterfly garden can be a great starting starting point for the amateur native plant enthusiast, especially children.

My experience at the plant sale showed that people do care; not only that, they want to take action. Although native plant gardening has not yet taken off in San Joaquin County, there are great resources out there from organizations who are way ahead of us, providing support and leading the way forward:

California Native Plant Society, Sacramento chapter

Las Pilitas Nursery

Theodore Payne Foundation

Xerces Society: California region

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 Importance of Chill Hours for Fruit Trees

Cold weather is not everyone’s favorite, but chilly winters are crucial to the life cycle of California’s temperate fruit (and nut) trees, whose health and productivity affect farmers and backyard orchardists alike. The harvest of these trees are mainstays of the Central Valley’s economy and kitchen tables all over the United States.

The term “temperate fruit tree” refers to trees that go dormant in winter, preferring moderately cold winters without the killing freezes of the coldest zones. Dormancy begins in late fall and lasts into early winter, initiated by lengthening days and cooler temperatures; it is chemically wrought by hormones suppressing buds for next season’s foliage and flowers until conditions are right for tender new growth.

What is critical is how the tree breaks dormancy. Trees listen for the signal that yes, winter has arrived. The necessary signal strength varies between species, but is officially referred to as “chill hours”, or vernalization, when the temperature stays between 32°-45°F. The hormone responsible for dormancy breaks down in this range, allowing buds to develop into flowers or foliage when the weather warms up in late winter. Interestingly, temperatures below 32°F are ineffective and do not count; hours when temperatures exceed 60°F are actually subtracted from the accumulated chill hours.

When a tree does not receive the necessary signal to break dormancy, the buds tend to leaf out later, and the flower buds may appear irregularly, which can result in a longer bloom period. This may seem beneficial, but flowers are delicate things, and the longer the bloom period, the more likely they will be exposed to diseases such as fire blight and brown rot, meaning a harvest of fewer and deformed fruits.

Why all this talk about tree signals and deformed fruit? Climate change is making warm winters more frequent, resulting in poor harvests for certain fruit trees. As stated above, some require more chill hours than others, depending on species and varieties within species. Choosing “low chill” (requiring less than 300 hours at 32°-45°F) will hedge your bets, with the added benefit of getting more for your water and compost inputs when chill-needy trees have a low yield.

Figs, olives, and quince have the lowest natural chill requirements, followed by persimmons, pomegranates, almonds, and chestnuts. The more commonly grown fruits such as cherries, apples, peaches, and plums required breeding to develop low-chill varieties for folks living in areas like southern California where chill hours are minimal. Fortunately, us valley-dwellers can benefit from this horticultural achievement as well.

For a list of low-chill fruit tree varieties, I recommended visiting the UC’s California Backyard Orchard webpage:


Select a fruit and click on “varieties for planting in the home garden” and scroll down to the list of low-chill varieties, if applicable (naturally low-chill species such as fig and persimmon will not have a separate list).

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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Bare Root Selection Time

Brandy- Photo courtesy of Lee Miller

It is time to make selections of bare root plants and there are lots of choices to bring fruit, nuts, and beauty to your garden. The reason for planting bare root plants is that they are cheaper and will generally establish better than potted plants bought later in the season. There is also a wider selection available now than there will be in pots in June.


If I were to plant fruit trees, my first picks would be cherries, plums, pluots, peaches, nectarines and apricots. These trees are not as highly disease and pest prone as apples and pears. Peaches and nectarines need to be sprayed for peach leaf curl and bacterial canker can attack most of these trees. However, apples and pears are more difficult, because of the prevalence of fireblight and codling moth in our area. Not that I don’t have lots of them, but they do take more attention to keep trees disease free and to get a crop. Check out Sunset Western Garden book for listings of fruit tree varieties that will do well here.

Local nurseries like Port of Stockton carry a good selection of fruit and nut trees, black berries and blueberries.  Delta Tree Farm also carries bare root fruit trees. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: http://www.groworganic.com/  has a good selection of bare root products as does Raintree Nursery http://www.raintreenursery.com/  Big box stores also carry selections of bare-root trees and berries. One tip on planting blueberries—make sure that you lower the pH by using soil sulfur and compost, before planting them.

Roses are beautiful and great flowers if you don’t mind the annual pruning and dead heading chores. Some rosarians advise not to buy those bare root roses packed in wood shavings in plastic bags. It is true that this packaging can dry out, but this is rarely the case. Look them over carefully for dead canes or punctured packaging and best to buy #1 Grade roses. The secret to success is to buy them early when they arrive and before the warm store conditions cause them to break dormancy and sprout. Also, soak them in a bucket of water overnight before planting to rehydrate and then keep them watered consistently until they become established.

There are a few thousand named rose varieties in various growth styles from Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas, Polyanthas, Miniatures, Mini-floras, Climbers, Old Garden roses, and shrubs. The rose universe is growing with new varieties produced each year. Newer roses tend to have been bred for disease resistance, which is a good feature and fragrance is also making a comeback. Older roses with good reputations for flourishing and disease resistance are good too. The American Rose Society annually produces a handbook of roses that scores them based on scores by rosarians  across the country: Perfect; 9.0-9.9=Outstanding; 8.0-8.9=Excellent; 7.0-7.9=Good; 6.0-6.9= Fair. This handbook is produced annually and is available to members of the American Rose Society: http://www.rose.org/.  Few roses merit the perfect score, but I generally wouldn’t plant one that didn’t score well above 7.

Baldo Villegos is a renowned Rosarian living in Orangevale, CA who has grown hundreds of roses. He has put together a list of 100 roses recommended by the Sacramento and Foothills Rose Societies for growing just about anywhere. To access this list go to his website at: http://www.sactorose.org/isac_recroses.htm.  The Regional Rose Society District that consists of California, Hawaii and Nevada also maintains a list of regional favorites at: http://www.ncnhdistrict.org/bestroses.html

Some of my favorite roses would be: Hybrid Teas: Arizona, Aroma Therapy, Black Magic, Brandy, Dainty Bess, Double Delight, Honor, Mr. Lincoln, Oklahoma, Olympiad, Peace, Perfect Moment, Perfume Delight, Proud Land, Touch of Class, Tropicana;  Florabundas: Gene Boerner, Julia Child, Iceburg; Polyanthas: Cecile Brunner.  I don’t have many of the other types and those I do have are still on trial.  Rose blooms are most abundant in the spring and fall, but with diligent deadheading, they bloom all season.

Pruning time for roses is also at hand and pruning roses is a task that many approach with trepidation, but it is really not that difficult.  The goal is to thin, shorten and invigorate the plant. Keep the rose bush open for light penetration and air circulation and select for younger canes that will replace the older, spent ones. This will provide more blooms and larger ones from the more vigorous young canes. There are lots of good rose pruning guides available in books on roses. I found an excellent online guide by Baldo Villegos that is comprehensive for all types of roses: http://www.ncnhdistrict.org/culture/winterpruning.html

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 Match of Chickens and Gardens

Bonnie a Blue Andalusian-Photo Lee Miller

Over the years I have enjoyed keeping chickens. I live in the country so I can have more chickens than a city person, but if you are a city dweller you are allowed up to 3 females in most towns and cities in our area, but to be sure check your local city ordinance. Roosters have the inconvenient habit of crowing in the night and waking neighbors or, in my case, my spouse who nixes any roosters at our home even though we live where we could keep them.


Our last chicken experience ended badly. We had three hens and a pen which was getting old and tired. This worked OK until we got Happy, a standard poodle. Most people think poodles are fluffy, lap dogs, but they are really hunters and when the chickens got out of their pen, Happy discovered the joy of eating chicken.  That ended chickens for a couple of years until I got time to build another more Happy-proof coop and pen which I accomplished last year and this spring we got 18 one day-old chicks of 9 breeds via mail from a Midwestern hatchery. We used brooder lights for warmth and watched them grow into new feathered friends. They are now laying eggs and enjoying the kitchen scraps and greens that we use to supplement their organic food. Chickens can also be pastured with portable cages and coops, but we don’t feel safe doing that here with poodles and coyotes on the lookout for chickens, nor do I have time to do it.

So much for the chicken side of this story, the garden side is that chickens provide manure which is great for making those autumn leaves into compost. The manure is high in nitrogen; Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratio of about 10:1 which complements the leaves (C:N=60:1). Putting the two together achieve a C:N ration of about 30:1 which will get the materials composting at a temperature above 140 ᵒF. High compost temperatures degrade weed seeds and pathogens which might lurk in the compost materials and hasten the process. However it is important to turn the outside of the compost to the inside so that all parts of the pile achieve high temperatures.  This can be done by weekly or bimonthly turning the pile. It is important to do this to get compost free of most weed seeds.

Another side of the garden story is growing greens that the chickens enjoy and will help turn those egg yolks a bright orange and increase the amount of omega three fatty acids in the eggs. The greens can be weeds like oxalis, purslane, chick weed, mustard, and mallow or vegetables like chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, beet and turnip greens and arugula.  However since chickens love these garden plants, it is not a good idea to let them have free access to your vegetable garden. Fencing off the garden with chicken wire is prudent, but allowing them to roam your backyard landscape will reduce insects and weeds and what they find to eat will decrease your feed bill.

Chickens also eat a lot of kitchen scraps and are good city workers—saving lots of material from going down the garbage disposal or going to the landfill.  In fact, a city in Belgium has been giving away 3 hens to 2000 households to help hold down the city’s landfill costs. One chicken can recycle about 7 pounds of kitchen and lawn wastes per month. This calculates to a diversion by 6000 chickens of 252 tons of waste from sewage plants or landfills in a year and it is turned into nitrogen rich manure and compost to feed the landscape and garden plants. This is real recycling with a Win-Win outcome and fresh, healthy eggs as well.

Another reason to have back yard chicken is that it helps save some breeds from going extinct. By creating demand for chickens other than those few breeds used in commercial production, you can help preserve others. We have a Blue Andalusian, 3 Americanas, Silver and Gold Laced Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, Cuckoo Muran and others. Some of these breeds might be going extinct if were not for backyard poultry raising.

Add in the benefits of kids learning how to care for chickens and learning where eggs come from. There is a social aspect too. Chickens are fun to watch. My wife and I have a two seated glider that we have by the chicken pen to watch their antics, which we call chicken TV. Our girls are quite tame and will perch on my arm without even an invitation. Add some excitement, entertainment and diversity as well as local, healthy eggs to your backyard garden with a few chickens. For more information on chickens see the book by Patricia Foreman, City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers, 460p. Also, Backyard Poultry, is a magazine helpful to backyard chicken aficionados.

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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Enjoying Fall Color

Thanksgiving Table Decoration-Lee Miller photo

This autumn is now history and the time of beautiful and colorful foliage is past, but it is a good time to think about planting foliage plants to enjoy next fall. The ancient Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) produces colorful yellow leaves in the fall, but make sure you buy a grafted male tree, because the female tree has horribly smelly fruit. Another shade tree with great red color is the Chinese Pistachio (Pistacia chinensis) which is a commonly planted street tree in Stockton. The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), is another foliage performer. I have two—one was bright red this fall while the other was yellow with orange highlights, so there is a lot of variation within this species. The red one has no leaves now, but the other one is still leafed and colorful. There are also many grafted cultivars of Japanese maples that are red most of the year.

Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) turn crimson and add foliage to their summer repertoire of color. Pin oak, scarlet oak, red maple (Acer rubrum “Red Sunset”), liquid ambers, redbuds and persimmons round out a cast of colorful trees. For more information on color in the landscape, consult Sunset Western Garden book or for trees http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/files/117115.pdf. After the persimmon leaves are gone the persimmons remain as colorful bird food if you can’t eat them all. Burning bush (Euonymous alatus) has very crimson foliage that makes it an autumn favorite. Make sure it has room to grow. Mine is about 7 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide, but it can grow larger. It is very tolerant of variations in soil and watering.

Virginia Creeper on oak tree-Lee Miller photo

The Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), a vine which grows on my large oak trees, was crimson and gorgeous once again, but welcomed winter storms soon put the red leaves on the ground. This is a plant to introduce with care as it can spread and will overwhelm shrubs and can be invasive as a ground cover or a tree clinging vine. It is not a plant for everyone.  However, I do enjoy the color each fall on my oak trees, despite its straying tendencies and it also has berries that birds feed on.

There are other plants that have colorful berries that persist into winter and provide birds with food. I have several tall, large Cotoneasters as west-side foundation plants and I don’t know what species they are, but they have endured for over 60 years. There are over 70 species of Cotoneaster ranging from short ground covers to tall hedge-like varieties. The tall ones are best for the birds and as I was writing this article, a host of Robins were feeding on the berries which will be gone before the New Year.  A Pyracantha and a native Toyon also supply colorful berries and bird food well into winter. Another plant providing color nearly year round is the Evereste crabapple. It was developed in France in 1974 and is a beauty. It has long-lasting blooms in spring and colorful small apples which stay on the tree into the winter and can be used for jelly, spicing up cider or feeding the birds.

Castor Bean-Lee Miller photo

One of my most colorful landscape plants is the castor bean (Ricinus communis). It has dark red-green foliage and beautiful bean pods that are red before they turn brown. Usually they are gone by early November, but this year we have had no frost and they are still blooming in the garden as well as a ‘Frequent Flyer’ Iris in full bloom on Dec 18. I have used castor bean florescence in floral designs and they are eye-catching and unusual. Two years ago frost came the earliest in my memory on October 25, but this year it has to be one of the latest for frost, as none showed up until December 26.  Early December, a year ago, we were covering up Citrus with temperature in the low 20’s. California weather is so predictably unpredictable!

For Thanksgiving I made an arrangement of Cotoneaster branches, persimmons, squash and some floral spikes of Castor bean which brightened the table. It was fun to do and took so little time to collect these items from my garden.

So take stock of your landscape and see if you have room for new foliage plants to brighten a gloomy autumn day or a berry or fruit producer to feed the birds next winter. They are enjoyably well worth having.

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 webte.


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Caring fr your Holiday Poinsettia

Poinsettias are the traditional Christmas plant, and with the introduction of long-lasting cultivars during the past several years, its popularity has increased. Here are some tips on choosing and caring for your Poinsettia.
Selecting your Poinsettia: The plant you choose should have dark green foliage. Fallen or damaged leaves indicate poor handling or fertilization, lack of water or a root disease problem. The colorful flower bracts (red, pink, white or bicolor pink and white) should be in proportion to the plant and pot size. Little or no pollen should be showing oil the actual flowers (those red or green button-like parts in the center of the colorful bracts).
Caring for your Poinsettia:
  • Light: If you get a potted poinsettia for your home or office, place it near a sunny window where it will get the most available sunlight. A window that faces south, east or west is better than one facing north. If placed outside,any location should provide adequate light.
  • Temperature: To keep the plant in bloom, maintain it at a temperature of 65º to 70º F. during the daylight hours. If theplant is indoors, move it to a cooler place at night ifpossible. Since root rot disease is more prevalent attemperatures below 60º F., don’t put the poinsettia in a room colder than this. Poinsettias are native to semi-tropical climates, so plants located outdoors should be moved indoors or to another warm area whennighttime temperatures remain below 50º F. for several hours. Avoid exposing the plant to hot or cold drafts,(e.g. furnace air outlets or windy outdoor locations) which may cause premature leaf drop.
  • Water:Examine the soil daily, and when the surface is dry to the touch, water the soil until it runs freely out thedrainage hole in the container. The amount of waterrecommended in the following table for use in various size containers insures that enoughwater will be applied so that some will run out the drainage hole. If asaucer is used, discard the water that collects in it. Do not leave the plant standing in water. Overly wet soil lacks sufficient air, which results in root injury.

10 Poinsttia Facts

  • California is the top U.S. Poinsettia-producing state.
  • Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.
  • Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.
  • The showy colored parts of Poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the center of the colorful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.
  • Poinsettias received their name in the United States in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1828. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. He sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.
  • In Mexico the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall.
  • There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. Poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.
  • The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and does about 50% of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.
  • The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. On the other hand, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.
  • December 12th is Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.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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Avoid Pruning Apricots and Cherries in Cool Season

Author: Chuck Ingels, UCCE Sacramento Farm Advisor

Most people think about pruning fruit trees during the winter since the branch structure is most visible and winter is considered the traditional time to prune deciduous trees. Actually, pruning fruit trees mainly during the growing season is a

Figure 1. Oozing produced by fungal infection of a cherry branch pruned during a previous cool season.

good practice and with some species such as apricots and cherries, pruning between September and March in northern California could lead to detrimental canker diseases. Cherries, apricots, and a few related species are particularly susceptible to fungal and bacterial canker diseases, including Eutypa dieback, Botryosphaeria canker, and bacterial canker.

Pathogens can be spread by rain or tree wounds – such as pruning wounds – during wet weather; subsequent infections spread through the wood for several years and may eventually kill the tree. When trees are infected, limbs or twigs may wilt and die suddenly in late spring or summer with the leaves still attached. Bark may be darkly discolored and amber-colored gumming may ooze (Figure 1). Infected areas in the interior of the wood are discolored brown (Figure 2) sometimes in wedge shapes; with bacterial canker the cambial area will turn red or speckled red and then brown. To remove such infections, cut infected limbs at least one foot below any internal symptom of the disease, preferably during the dry season when infection risk is lowest.

The best practice is to avoid pruning these susceptible species during the typical rainy period from September through mid-March. Rains after March can still lead to infections although tissue susceptibility to disease decreases with warmer weather. However, it is best to avoid pruning altogether until at least late spring.

If growth is very vigorous, the first summer pruning can be done in late May or June, at which time many strong upright shoots can be removed to allow sunlight to reach lower fruiting branches. Doing the final pruning in July leads to excessive regrowth later that summer. The main or final pruning should be in August, but heavy pruning, especially at that time of year, may lead to sunburned branches, so leave spurs and some other shoots to provide some shade. Alternatively, whitewash west- and south-facing branches with a 50:50 mixture of interior, white latex paint and water to prevent sunburn.

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.

[Originally published in the November 2014 issue of the UC IPM Retail Nursery and Garden Center IPM News]

Figure 2. A cross-cut into the infected branch reveals a large fungal canker in the wood; the infection continues into the trunk.

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