Savoring the Fruit Harvest

Peach Salsa (see recipe below)

After spending time in the garden, I like to take a step back to my culinary roots and think about interesting ways to use the amazing variety of fruit available at this time of year. Pies, tarts, and jams are classic uses for our local bounty; if you are unfamiliar with savory (non-dessert) uses for fruits, now is a good time to start expanding your repertoire!

Beverages/snacks
Fresh fruit:  Fruit can be frozen on trays and stored in freezer bags for myriad uses later on. I also like to puree them, strain out the skins and seeds, and freeze in ice cube trays. This takes more effort up front, but it’s easy to defrost a few fruit cubes and stir into my homemade nut milk for a tasty strawberry-walnut or raspberry-hazelnut beverage!

Dried fruit: After making nut milk I like to “puree” the leftover nut meal (after dehydrating in an oven) with dried fruits, which I roll up, chill, and slice into bite-sized snacks (obviously you can use fresh nuts, too).

Salads/Appetizers
Fresh fruit: light fruits such as apples and pears are commonly found as salad garnishes where leaf lettuce is the primary ingredient. Grapegruit or orange slices are also good as a primary ingredient in salads without lettuce. Crunchier fruits such as apples and bosc pears are good in slaws because their crisp texture holds up well to being shredded.
Pureed fruits such as raspberry or pear can serve as a base for salad dressings. Just add olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and anything else you like.

Dried fruit: The sweet-tart flavor and chewy texture of dried fruits offer a nice contrast to the crispy texture of salad greens or rich, full-bodied cheese plates. The intense colors of dried fruits also add aesthetic appeal.

Fruit for lunch and dinner
Fresh fruit: A friend of mine taught me about apples on peanut butter sandwiches, and I have seen many a recipe for pear-gorgonzola sandwiches. We put tomatoes between slices of bread, so why not other fruits? 

Dried fruit: Cooked dishes often call for dried fruit, whose concentrated flavors are more complimentary. A classic example is Moroccan tagines where dried apricots or figs are stewed with chicken or lamb. A classic Spanish dish calls for sauteed spinach, plumped raisins, and pine nuts. Pilaf, with it’s deep, nutty flavor, loves dried fruits, especially cherries and raisins.

Condiments
Fresh fruit: You can make salsa out of any fresh fruit; peach salsa is one of the most delicious and versatile. I use mine for dipping chips or quesadillas, as a salad dressing, a topping for fish tacos, or served on crostini with cold-smoked salmon and avocado. Yum!
Pureed blackberries mixed with softened butter make a delicious addition to anything from grilled salmon to morning toast.

Dried fruit: To make dips or sauces from dried fruits, reconstitute  them in hot water (or cook in a flavorful liquid) and puree. Plum sauce for spring rolls, for example, calls for prunes soaked in hot water, strained, and pureed with chili sauce, rice vinegar, and fish sauce.

 Here is a simple recipe for salsa via Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food:

Peach Salsa
Yields 1.5 cups

2 ripe peaches
½ small onion, diced fine
1 serrano or jalapeno chili, seeds and veins removed, diced fine
juice of one lime
salt
1-2 Tbl minced cilantro
1 small avocado, cut into medium dice (optional)

1. Dip the peaches in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Slip off the skins, cut the flesh away from the pits, and cut into medium dice.

2. Combine all ingredients, stir to combine. Adjust seasoning, adding lime juice and salt as desired.

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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I LOVE Dahlias!

Three Bouquets

 

Nicole Jordan
Brush Strokes
 Wheels 

Bodacious

 

Recently I bought a book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias written by Andy Vernon, a UK horticultural writer. He makes his case for why he loves Dahlias and I feel like I just met a kindred soul across the pond. Dahlias are so beautiful, colorful, varied in form, long blooming and prolific, so what is not to love about this exotic and versatile bloomer? There are over 20,000 named Dahlias, so if you planted a hundred every year it would take you 200 years to see them all and by then there would likely be another few thousands introduced. Dahlias are not that difficult to grow and unlike roses they have no prickles to stab you. I like roses too, but it is the Dahlia I love. Andy Vernon explained some things to me that I didn’t know about Dahlias. The reason there are so many sizes, forms and colors is due to polyploid chromosomes and the many possible resulting hybrids developed by breeders and hobbyists. Humans are diploid (2n) in chromosome pairing, but Dahlias have four times as many, being octoploid (8n). This apparently gives them lots of genetic possibilities that we are still learning about and many new cultivars are likely to be developed by plant breeders hybridizing new Dahlias from the 36 species of Dahlias found in the wild. Today I want to share a few of my favorite Dahlias with the included pictures. Of course, you can look at lots of pictures of Dahlias, but there is nothing like seeing the depths and colors of the real thing. Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, OR had Dahlia festival on their 40 acres last weekend, but alas, I never have time to go, but what a sight that must be. The time to plant is next spring about the time you plant tomatoes, when soil temperatures reach 60º F, but now is a good time to plan which Dahlias you want while they are in bloom. Dahlias for a cutting flower garden can be grown with drip irrigation which is very water conserving. You can purchase Dahlias at nurseries, but the biggest selection is from online catalogues. I always hear people exult the dinner plate sized Dahlias, but if you want Dahlias for making floral arrangements, smaller is better. I like the 4-6 inch and smaller blooms. Also, some of the large Dahlias have weak stems relative to a heavy flower and break easily.  For the past 2 months I have been picking Dahlia bouquets nearly every day to give to friends and neighbors and for my home. What a joy that is!

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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Why not garden organically? Part 2

From a health standpoint, limiting intake of potentially harmful pesticides by organic gardening and farming makes sense. It is also valuable to be a good steward of our soils and environment by gardening using sustainable practices to the extent possible. Hence, the why to do it is pretty easy, but how to do it is likely your next question.  It isn’t always easy, but the first thing to do is become familiar with organic gardening by reading and understanding a bit of ecology, biology and entomology. Organic gardening information should be available at your local library for starters.

One way to help get weaned from pesticide use, is to go to the Integrated Pest Management website at UC Davis for advice on lots of gardening problems. Integrated Pest Management advises use of common sense approaches that should work and advises resort to synthetic pesticides as the last option. This site is a great resource for lots of tips and information on gardening and landscape management.  One important point to understand, unless a pest is causing significant damage you can also ignore them.  For example, aphids will not kill a healthy tree or shrub.

Organic gardeners attempt to provide a diverse ecosystem which makes it more difficult for one species to have a population outbreak. A diverse landscape of plants can provide for beneficial insects which will often keep pests in check. When we spray pesticides we often kill the very insects that help control pests such as lady beetles, lacewings, soldier beetles and others, as well as bees necessary to pollinate our fruits and vegetables. If we must spray for aphids we can use soapy water or blast them with plain water, or resort to Neem oil which is an accepted organic product. Humans are self-acclaimed to be intelligent, so we should be able to outsmart snails, slugs, and insects, which are not very brainy, without resort to chemicals that are not in nature’s repertoire.

For fertilizing our gardens it is best to use manures and compost which will encourage soil invertebrates, bacteria and fungi that develop a good soil environment that feeds the plants.  Soil is alive!  Don’t kill off the soil ecosystem with excessive tillage or pesticides. Organic matter in soil should ideally be in the 4-6 percent range. In California’s warm climate, organic matter is loss over time, so more needs to be added yearly.  Another way to increase organic matter and enhance your soil is to plant an overwintering legume cover crop. Bacteria-inoculated legumes can fix up to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre. More information, including many great videos and products for organic gardeners, can be found at this website.

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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Why not Garden Organically?

Why not garden organically?

Recently, one of our Master Gardeners said she wants to learn to garden more organically. What do we mean by organic?  Living or dead organisms contain carbon and that is organic, so what is the big deal?  Well let’s use a definition of organic in the gardening or farming sense from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”

Can’t be done you say?  Well yes it can be done and lots of folks have been doing it. My mother used organic methods 70 years ago and the Romans did for hundreds of years long ago. In fact most of the world has farmed and gardened organically until the 20th century. There was a time not long ago when synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers were unknown. After WWII there were poison gases and compounds around that were developed for warfare. Naturally these chemical companies wanted to find a usage for them so why not use them for pest control. After a few years of applying persistent pesticides, the result was Silent Spring, a book by Rachael Carson about the unintended consequences to our environment by the widespread use of DDT, Dieldren, chlordane and other pesticides also known as biocides because they are toxic to life in general. The environmental movement was launched as people became concerned about what we were doing to our fellow species and ourselves.

When farming or gardening organically, naturally occurring materials can be used for pest control such as sulfur which is used as a fungicide. Naturally occurring substances are generally but not always less harmful to humans and the environment. You don’t want to get sulfur in your eyes-it burns! For fertilizing soil, compost, feather meal, fish emulsion manures and other materials will work and there is less chance of salts building up in soils as can occur with chemically formulated fertilizers. However, it is much easier to apply chemicals compared to compost or manures which are bulky and that is one reason that organic food is more expensive, because it requires more labor and care in growing food. The organic farmer/gardener feeds the life in the soil and that will feed the plants we eat.

One reason to garden and eat organically is to keep chemicals out of our bodies that might not be good for our health.  New formulations of chemical pesticides are less persistent and there are rigid standards established to minimize residues on our food and we hope they are enforced consistently. However, some residues do get in our bodies. There is no way of knowing all the synergistic effects of putting myriad foreign toxins into our bodies. Noted columnist, Bill Moyers, had his blood and urine tested for presence of alien chemicals and the list was 84 items long. That is not a reassuring result though he has lived past the normal male lifetime. Probably most of us have the same suite of alien chemicals in our bodies.

Gardening organically is a challenge to outsmart those pests that make gardening difficult, but it can be done. I will write more about how in my next 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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It is time for onions

You can grow onions from seed, sets, or from transplants. Seed requires a longer growing period than onions grown by other methods and the plants have to be thinned. However, it is the cheapest method and is the one most commonly used. Sets are small, immature onion bulbs that are planted the same way as seed. Sets are a good method for producing a quick crop of green onions. They are not recommended for the production of mature, dry bulbs because varieties used to produce sets are frequently not well adapted to California and/or they frequently result in bolting (going to seed) rather than bulbing. Transplants are also an easy method for producing an early crop, but you will probably have to raise your own plants as they are not always available from nurseries. Checking on line I noticed that several vendors were sold out of transplants already.

It is best to plant seeds to grow your own transplants or buy transplants from a nursery in early November.  If you start seeds for red or yellow onions to harvest next spring, now is the time to plant seeds in some flats.  Keep the seed media (I use compost) moist before and after seed germination which takes only a few days.  Also important is to use fresh seeds. Onion seeds more than a year old don’t germinate well, are worthless if over 2 years old.  When the onions are about pencil size thick around the end of October or early November, it is time to plant in the garden.

Onions are often grouped according to taste. The two main types of onions are strong flavored (American) and mild or sweet (sometimes called European). Each has three distinct colors — yellow, white, and red. Generally, the American onion produces bulbs of smaller size, denser texture, stronger flavor, and better keeping quality than European types. Globe varieties tend to keep longer in storage. Onions with high sulfur content tend to store well and are good for cooking, whereas those low in sulfur are milder tasting, but store for a short time only.

Onion varieties also have different requirements regarding the number of daylight hours required to make a bulb. If the seed catalog lists the onion as long-day, it sets bulbs when it receives 15 to 16 hours of daylight. These are onions that do best in the north and short day onions do well to the south.  We are on the edge of the long-short divide that is a line drawn between San Francisco and Washington, DC, roughly the 38th parallel in latitude. We can also plant intermediate day length onions that require 12-14 daylight hours and are well adapted to this area. The variety and the planting date are extremely important in the production of a good bulb crop. Don’t plant onions in the shade and expect any good results-they are a full sun crop. Before buying and planting, obtain advice from an experienced Master Gardener, your seed vendor, or your county Cooperative Extension farm advisor.  I would recommend onions supplied by our local seed store, Lockharts or online catalogues. But ask about the onion seed, as some may stock inappropriate seeds for this area.

Dry onions are ready to harvest when the tops fall over (approximately 6 months after planting). Pull onions and let them dry for a few days on the top of the ground. Cover the bulbs with the tops to prevent sunburn. When the tops and ‘’necks” are dry, remove the tops and store the bulbs in a cool, dry place. Or you can leave the tops on, braid them, and hang in a cool, dry place. If onions are allowed to form seed stalks, the center of the bulb becomes woody, undesirable to eat and not suitable for long storage.

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.

Resources for onions:

http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/onion.pdf

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/VEGES/CULTURAL/oniontime.html.

http://ucanr.edu/sites/scmg/The_Kitchen_Garden/Feature_Vegetables/Bulbing_Onions/

 

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Leaffooted Bugs: An Increasing Problem in Gardens

Fig. 1. Adult leaffooted bug, Leptoglossus clypealis.

In recent years, you may have seen a strange “new” bug in your garden, especially on tomatoes and pomegranates. These insects may be leaffooted bugs. Although they are native to the western United States and not new to California, leaffooted bugs seem to be occurring more commonly in gardens. These distinctive bugs get their name from the small leaf-like enlargements on the hind leg (Figure 1). They are medium to large sized insects that prefer to feed on fruits and seeds and are often found in groups.

Recognizing leaffooted bugs

Adult leaffooted bugs are readily recognized by their characteristic hind legs. There are three common species of leaffooted bugs in California:

Leptoglossus zonatus, L. clypealis, and L. occidentalis. Adults of all three species are about 0.75 to 1 inch long, have a narrow brown body, and have a white zigzag pattern across the wings. They have different feeding preferences, but management is similar. The brown, cylindrical eggs of all three species are laid end-to-end in a string-like strand on the host plant (Figure 2), often along a stem or leaf midrib. Eggs hatch into small nymphs that have dark heads and dark legs on bodies that range in color from orange to reddish-brown (Figure 3).

Leaffooted bugs overwinter as adults, typically in aggregations located in protected areas, such as in woodpiles, barns or other buildings, palm fronds, citrus or juniper trees, under peeling bark, or in tree cracks. Overwintered adults stay hidden from fall until late spring. When the weather gets warm, adults disperse to find food sources. Adults are strong flyers that may feed initially on the seeds of winter weeds and later move into gardens and landscapes in search of early-season fruit and a place to lay eggs.

Populations vary from year to year but are typically highest after mild winters that allow high survival of overwintering adults. Seasonal fluctuations in the number of bugs can also be related to rainfall, food availability, and the prevalence of

Fig. 2. Eggs of leaffooted bugs, Leptoglossus sp. on a pistachio.

natural enemies.

Damage to plants

Leaffooted bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts that extend more than half of the length of their narrow body. They probe into leaves, shoots, and fruit to suck plant juices. For most ornamentals and many garden plants, feeding on the leaves and shoots causes no visual damage and is of little concern. Feeding on small tomatoes can cause the fruit to abort, while feeding on medium-sized fruit can result in depressions or discoloration at the feeding site as the fruit expands and ripens. Feeding on mature tomatoes can cause slight discoloration to the surface of the fruit that should be of no concern to backyard gardeners. Damage is similar to that caused by stink bugs and other plant bugs.

Management

During most years, leaffooted bug populations are low enough that damage to gardens is tolerable and damage to landscape plants is negligible. When outbreaks occur, a combination of methods will likely be needed to manage this pest, which may include removing overwintering sites or the use of weed host removal, row covers, physical removal, natural enemies, and insecticides.

Fig. 3. Leaffooted bug nymphs on Hesperaloe parviflora.

Are pesticides effective?

Insecticides are rarely needed for leaffooted bug control because small blemishes on most fruit are tolerable in gardening situations and because landscape plants are rarely damaged. Also, leaffooted bugs are most common on edible plants near harvest, when applying pesticides to fruits to be consumed is undesirable or not allowed by the label. In addition, most insecticides available to homeowners only have temporary effects on the leaffooted bug.

However, in severe cases, insecticides can be considered as a last resort. If needed, insecticides will be most effective against small nymphs. The most effective insecticides against leaffooted bugs are broad-spectrum, pyrethroid-based insecticides, such as permethrin. However, these products are quite toxic to bees and beneficial insects. Insecticidal soap or botanicals, such as neem oil or pyrethrin, may provide some control of young nymphs only. If insecticides are used close to harvest, make sure to tell your customers to observe the days-to-harvest period stated on the insecticide label; and wash the fruit before eating.

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.

Read more about managing the bug in the newly published Pest Note, Leaffooted Bugs. It is available at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74168.html.

—Excerpted with modifications from the Pest Note by Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento Co., caingels@ucanr.edu; David Haviland, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern Co., dhaviland@ucdavis.edu

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Traps and barriers for keeping pests out

Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas  Published on: July 16, 2014

An assortment of traps and barriers are available at retail nursery and garden centers.

 

Traps and physical barriers can be excellent tools for detecting, catching, or preventing pest invasions. Most retail nurseries and garden centers carry a variety of these types of tools, often displayed together with other products to help customers implement a multi-pronged IPM program to most effectively manage their pests.

Traps

Traps may be used to monitor or detect a pest population, to catch and identify the pest, to reduce local pest density, or more than one of these functions. Commercial traps are available for controlling or detecting various moth species (pheromone traps), whiteflies and thrips (sticky traps), flies and yellowjackets, snails and slugs, bed bugs, spiders, cockroaches and many other pests.

Pheromone traps use attractants produced by an organism to affect the behavior of other members of the same species. These traps usually have a sticky surface or chamber for catching the pests. Pheromone traps are often most useful in monitoring the presence, location, or activity of pests but may not actually reduce pest numbers, so it’s critical to use the traps along with cultural, biological and chemical control methods as needed. Common pheromone traps include those for codling moth, clothes moths, pantry moths, and german cockroaches.

Many sticky traps, such as those for whiteflies, thrips, spiders, cockroaches, or fungus gnats, don’t use a lure or chemical pheromone to attract the pest, but instead intercept crawling or flying pests in areas they travel. Other traps that use a food or a chemical lure to attract flies or yellowjackets can help reduce these nuisance pests around the yard. Commercially available snail and slug traps can be baited using beer or a water/sugar/yeast mixture.

Depending on the pest, you may need to place several traps around the home or landscape to determine the pest’s location or level of infestation. Traps should be checked frequently and changed if necessary.

Barriers and Screens

Sometimes the best way to prevent pest damage is to keep the pests away with physical barriers. Caulking up cracks in homes and structures or installing door sweeps can exclude spiders, ants, and other crawling insects from getting inside. Keep

Applying sticky material can keep crawling insects such as ants out of trees

ants out of trees and shrubs by applying sticky barriers such as Tanglefoot to the trunks. Install copper barriers to keep snails and slugs from reaching plants in raised beds or from climbing up trees.

Place row covers, hot caps, and other types of plant cages over young plants to keep pests out. Covers can be removed after the sensitive seedling stage or left on for added protection from insects and birds.

Ask your home improvement store for assistance in finding items to help repair or replace openings and holes in window and door screens. Properly maintained screens help keep an array of flying or crawling pests such as ants, flies, mosquitoes, spiders, and rodents out of the house.

Use as part of IPM

It’s important to use these tools in conjunction with other methods such as cleaning up attractive food sources (rotten fruit, pet food spills, garbage); removing clutter, weedy areas, and other hiding places that may harbor pests; hand-picking or hosing off pests; properly irrigating, fertilizing, and pruning plants; and if needed, applying a pesticide that targets that pest but doesn’t harm people, pets, beneficial organisms, or the environment

For information about specific pests and how traps and barriers are effective in managing them, visit the UC IPM Website at www.ipm.ucanr.edu.

Modified from “Using Traps and Barriers for Insects and Other Pests” from the Retail Nursery and Garden Center IPM Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 3, October 2013.

 

A sticky glue trap

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Gardening and Social Media

Our program is always looking for new ways to connect with people in our community and recently we entered a whole new world…to us….social media. Gardeners are connecting with the each other and the world on all platform levels and we are trying to keep up. We figured it was time to get our information out to the world (or at least San Joaquin County) via social media.

We have always had a very informative web-site that contains many links to helpful and informative UC sites and information as well as other reputable resources. We have had a Facebook page for quite a while now and it is starting to grow in “likes” or followers. We started a Master Gardener Pinterest page. There is lots of information or “pins” on lots of useful topics. We’ve come to realize we need an extra day in the week just to tackle a small portion of our “pins”.

The most recent social media bandwagon we’ve jumped on is Twitter ( a little late we know) and we are looking for people to “re-tweet” and follow us. We will be tweeting and posting some contest opportunities in the near future so make sure you like us, follow us, re-tweet, re-post  and re-pin!

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Summer Management for Fire Blight

We’ve been getting calls this summer from gardeners finding fire blight damage in backyards and landscapes. Fire blight is usually associated with wet springs. Although spring 2014 wasn’t particularly wet, rain occurring when apples, pears, quince, cotoneaster, and pyracantha are in bloom can induce the disease even in dry years.

The malady is called fire blight because terminals of affected branches suddenly blacken and die as if they’ve been scorched by fire (Figure 1). The disease is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, which commonly enters trees and shrubs through blossoms in rainy weather. Ideal conditions for disease development are rainy or humid weather with mild daytime temperatures (75° to 85°F), especially when night temperatures stay above 55°F.

In late spring or early summer after blossoms are gone, damage symptoms appear on new tree growth. By this time, it is too late to effectively use pesticide sprays. However, summertime is a good time to prune rapidly advancing infections out of trees.  Pruning is the only way to remove infections in old wood and is a critical part of a fire blight management program. If you choose to prune in

Figure 2. Prune back fire blight-infected branches at least 8 inches below the infection as indicated here by the dark wood. Green wood is healthy.

summer, disinfect pruners with a 10% bleach solution to reduce chances of further spreading the disease. [In rainy years wait until all chance of rain has gone.

All discolored tissue plus healthy wood at least 8 inches below the damage must be removed (Figure 2). It is important to remove infected wood because it can be a source of new infections in subsequent years (Figure 3). Infections can also be pruned out in the dormant season when less extensive damage can be more easily detected. Inspect trees for scars left by fire blight and also prune out infected wood 8 inches below darkened areas in wood.

When planting new trees, those who live in fire blight-prone areas may wish to consider apple or ornamental pear varieties that are less susceptible; most edible pear varieties are quite susceptible. Varieties of ornamental pear trees that are less susceptible to fire blight are Capitol and Red Spire, while

Aristocrat is highly susceptible. Among the more susceptible apple varieties are Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Jonathan, Mutsu, Pink Lady, and Yellow Newtown. Also, too much nitrogen can increase fire blight, so be careful not to overfertilize.

For more information about managing fire blight and what to do in the spring, see Pest Notes: Fireblight at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7414.html.

Figure 3. Bacterial ooze on a twig with a fire blight infection.

 

Modified from “Wet Weather Increases Outbreaks of Fire Blight in Apple and Pear Trees” from the Retail Nursery and Garden Center IPM Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 1, March 2013.

 

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Tips for Gardening on Heavy Soils

Showy milkweed hosts Monarch butterfly adults and caterpillars

Most soil types have pros and cons, especially when it comes to heavy clay. California’s long dry season makes the water and nutrient-holding capacity of clay a big bonus, reducing irrigation and certain fertilization needs (depending on what you are trying to grow). The con we all know about is that heavy soil drains slowly and compacts easily, which can suffocate roots. All is not lost, however; you just need to know a few tricks.

A soil’s texture is defined by the ratio of sand, silt, and clay particles, represented as percentages by volume. Clay soil contains 40%-100% clay particles. You can perform a texture test on your own soil to see what kind you have, which is useful when scheduling irrigation (try comparing your results with the UC Davis SoilWeb, which indicates native soil).

You can’t change the texture of your soil, but drainage can be improved. Use organic mulches, especially worm castings, to feed soil organisms and increase organic content, both of which enhance porosity. A method used by farmers is to plant certain cover crops: the roots break up clay clods and the tops are tilled in as green manure. A method used in permaculture involves planting daikon radishes, which form a strong taproot that breaks up heavy soil and brings nutrients up from below. They can be left in place to decompose, or eaten.

Raised beds are best for growing edibles in heavy soil; when it comes to ornamentals, it’s even better to stick with plants that tolerate clay. There are a few plants that actually prefer heavy soils, such as Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), and Mule’s ears (Wyethia spp), all water-wise California natives.

Soil disturbance exacerbates compaction, especially when wet. Besides avoiding walking on heavy soil when it’s wet, you can also decrease disturbance by choosing “permanent” plants such as trees, shrubs, and other long-lived perennials. The UC Davis Arboretum’s All-Stars list includes natives and exotics that do well in a variety of soils, including clay. See the Theodore Payne website for a list of clay-tolerant California natives.

California has many clay-tolerant bulbs and grasses adapted to drought that last a long time without needing to be dug up and divided. Rushes (Juncus spp) need more water than true grasses (Poaceae spp), but last the longest without division, about 3-5 years. True grasses such as Purple three-awn (Aristidia purpurea), Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), and Purple needle grass (Nassella pulchra) should be divided every 3-4 years. See my blog on grasses for more info.

Try self-sowing annuals instead of the six-packs that need replacing every spring. The seeds provide bird forage and next year’s plants. If possible, cut dead annuals at the base, leaving the soil undisturbed. Add to your compost pile or leave on the ground as mulch. Some water-wise annuals for clay include California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), Arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus), and Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), among others.

Lawns grown on heavy soil are also managed differently. See this article for more info. 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

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    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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