Fall Chores to do and Not to do


Fall is time for raking leaves and composting them, but irrigation season is over so turn your landscape controller to off and save precious water. Also time to take down any battery operated electronic garden water controllers so they don’t freeze and break.   For the vegetable garden, do a cleanup of unused irrigation drip lines; weeds and debris go on the compost pile and of course keep after those winter weeds. If you let mallow go until spring, it is a backbreaker to get out. Dahlias stalks are usually cut back after frost or you can wait until spring which helps keep water out of the hollow stems that can cause rot.

Now is a good time to dig gladiolus bulbs and store them where they won’t freeze. Gladiolus bulbs can be left in the ground overwinter, but after two years become crowded and bloom less. Fall is a good time to establish new perennials. They will have a rainy season to get roots well established before next summer.Visiting nurseries is always a pleasant outing and if you visit now and order your bare root trees, you might get a discount for ordering early.

If you have frost sensitive plants in containers, like Hibiscus, Plumeria, Begonias or others, you should put them inside a greenhouse, garage or other place that is protected from frost or hard freeze conditions. If you have some plants in the ground you may be able to protect them with covers for frost, but maybe not a hard freeze. Some non-hardy plants that I love, like Mandevillea and Lantana, I treat as annuals and purchase them again next spring.

Don’t prune fruit or landscape trees in the fall unless it is to remove dead or broken tree limbs, which can be removed anytime. It is best to wait until January for dormant pruning of fruit trees and roses. Don’t prune climbing roses until after they bloom next spring. Citrus should await the end of cold weather before pruning in March or April. Citrus usually needs little pruning except for outliers to make the tree compact and keep it in bounds. After winter, any dead or freeze damaged limbs will be evident and can be removed then.

Pruning back herbaceous perennials should await the end of winter when warmer weather is here. Fall pruning of perennials makes for less freeze protection and they can be more easily damaged or killed. Fall is a good time to take stock of your garden tools. A coat of linseed oil on wooden handles will keep the wood in better condition. Also remove rust from tools and coat with some non-motor oil like canola, or linseed oil. Sharpen your pruning shears or buy new ones for the upcoming season of pruning. Soon catalogues will be coming for next year and you can relax by the fireside with a glass of vino and fantasize about beautiful dahlias or vegetables to plant next year. Gardening is a joy—most of the time.

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fall Harvest Time-Think Persimmons

Drying persimmons- author photoDrying persimmons- author photo

The squirrels are gathering nuts for winter survival. Winters are a pretty benign, short period in our wonderful Valley climate. It is also time for humans to take in their share of fall bounty. Seeing persimmons turn orange each year is enjoyable and birds are provided lots of food as they ripen. I have never liked raw persimmons to eat, though I do appreciate persimmon cookies made using soft-ripe Hachiya persimmons.

I grew up in New Jersey where wild persimmons grew in the woods and they were much more astringent than these California domesticated ones. They were often used in initiation rites for freshmen FFA when I was in high school—a very unpleasant taste and experience—having someone shove a wild persimmon in your mouth while blindfolded. Not a good persimmon experience!

However, I have discovered, after sampling some friend’s offerings, that I like dried persimmons. Consequently, by drying them for the last few years I now make a small dent in the abundant production of my two large, old, Hachiya persimmon trees. My home was built in 1895 and the trees were old when I moved here 38 years ago, so they are likely at least 60-70 years old, or more, and still producing abundantly.

There are basically two kinds of cultivated persimmons, the astringent varieties that make your mouth pucker and the non-astringent varieties that you can eat without the pucker before they become soft-ripe and lose the astringency. Fortunately, dried Hachiya persimmons lose the astringency when dried before they become soft-ripe. I also have a Fuju persimmon which some people enjoy because they are not astringent before becoming soft and can be eaten in a firm state like an apple. Both of these varieties do well here in our long hot summers, and both can set seedless fruit without pollination (parthenocarpic), hence no pollinator required.  However, having both varieties together can result in cross pollination that can produce a few seeds occasionally.  Both are grafted on date plum root stock (Diospyros lotus). The Fuyu attains a height of 12-18 ft. whereas the Hachiya grows to 20-24 feet. Persimmons are grafted and you can expect to pay around $40 per tree.

Choices of persimmons to grow are not just restricted to these two but they are the two most commonly planted in California for commercial production. Now is the time to plan for bare root tree planting as that season is almost here. Bay-Laurel nursery in Atascadero, CA offers seven Japanese persimmons in their online catalogue: http://www.baylaurelnursery.com/persimmons.html. Another mail order nursery, Raintree, in Morton, WA offers 11 varieties http://www.raintreenursery.com/Fruit_Trees/Persimmons/.

One commonly planted variety is the astringent Chocolate persimmon which is red outside and brown inside. It is delicious and a good choice for connoisseurs.  There is also an early ripening variety from Japan which is named Coffeecake (Japanese name is Nishimura Wase). It is non-astringent when pollinated and ripens from mid-September to mid-October. For best flavor it should be pollinated by the Chocolate Persimmon.  There are other Persimmons to be found at these nurseries and more information on Persimmons can be found at: http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/education/fruitnutproduction/Persimmon/

Persimmons are definitely a healthy food. It is an excellent source of soluble fiber, vitamins A, B6 and C; potassium and manganese. One medium-size persimmon contains 118 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrates and less than 1 gram of protein and fat and 6 grams of fiber. If you don’t like persimmons there is one compensating factor—birds seem to love them, including my chickens. I am sure they benefit from the good nutrition and their eggs will better benefit us as well.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garden Timing is Important

When it comes to gardening, timing is important although perhaps not as critical as timing a swing in baseball. I thought about my timing this morning, because it is definitely off for a couple of plants I like to grow—peas and sweet peas. I should have planted them in late October and here it is nearly mid-November and I haven’t even cleared a spot for them in the garden.  Everything else got done in a timely way. The broccoli, cabbages, garlic, turnips, carrots and onions all planted on time, but I apparently didn’t mind my peas—no Q’s involved. With this unusually warm fall, I likely will get away with planting them now and if the weather continues warm perhaps the late planting will be fine and come show time next spring, I will harvest lots of peas and sweet pea flowers.

Master Gardeners often get questions about timing issues. When should I prune apricots, plant garlic or mulch landscape plants?  These are not trivial questions, because timing is often very important to successful gardening.  Two good garden rules are “Pay Attention” and “Be on Time.” One thing I love about gardening is how it connects us to seasonal changes.  Everything has its season-a time to plant and a time to harvest. This is a pretty basic and pleasant way to live and experience life that is as old as the Neolithic.

Answers to when it is appropriate to do these garden chores are available in a variety of publications and many can be found online via Google searches. If you put UC or UC Davis in your search topic you may get a UC Cooperative Extension or UC Davis site with the best science-based information if it is available on that subject.  One publication that contains a wealth of gardening information is the California Master Gardener’s Handbook, ANR Publication 3382 and it is available at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/ .  It is an excellent, comprehensive guide for gardeners. The Master Gardener Website also has a number of online publications dealing with vegetable growing, orchards, landscapes and other subjects.

Another source of information on when to do garden chores is Sunset Garden’s “Successful Gardening Month by Month.” It provides information for each Sunset climate zone in the West. Sunset subsequently has published a number of Western Garden Annuals that also list chores by zone and month.  You need purchase only one used copy when available at the local Friends of the Library book store and you will have a wealth of information on monthly chores.

I have to also tout our own quarterly Master Gardener e-Newsletter ‘Garden Notes’ which always feature a comprehensive synopsis of garden chores by month for each quarter.  It is free and an excellent local source of gardening information and recipes. It can be subscribed to at this link: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/Master_Gardener_newsletter/ .  A number of back issues are also available to download in PDF format. This Newsletter has won a State Master Gardener Award for Excellence and is an outstanding product of our San Joaquin County Master Gardeners who work to help fellow gardeners. Happy gardening and may your garden timing be perfect.

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.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Increasing Garden Biodiversity

Gulf Fritillary adult and caterpillar on passion vine, photo by author

We are living in the Anthropocene-a human dominated epoch- where human activities are likely to cause mass extinctions and a decrease in biodiversity.  Many animals are already extinct and   more are threatened with extinction.  It is hard for us as individuals to prevent deforestation, overgrazing, overfishing and other human activities, but we can do some things in our gardens to provide habitat for critters-in particular habitat for birds, beneficial insects, and pollinators like bees and butterflies.  Greater biodiversity increases stability in your garden ecosystem and lessens the outbreak of a pest when you have beneficial predatory insects and birds to keep them in check. Reach not for the sprayer, but instead build a diverse garden habitat and you will be less dependent on pesticides.

Recently at the UC statewide Master Gardener Conference, Dr. Doug Tallamy, an ecological entomologist at the U. of Delaware, talked about what we can do as gardeners to foster more biodiversity in landscapes. His research was done on the east coast, but the principles should apply everywhere.

One striking fact he presented was that there are 20 million acres of lawns in the U.S. and the biodiversity in this monoculture is near zero. It takes a lot of fossil fuels to keep all those lawns mowed as well as human energy, water and fertilizer and we don’t even eat the grass! The model for large expanses of lawn was the estates of English aristocracy who created large vistas of grass to highlight the grandeur of their palaces. The lawn became symbolic of wealth and power. Today, some lawn is useful for children and dogs at play, but otherwise is not functional.

One thing we can do is to replace lawn, where possible, and create a diversity of landscape plants that provide habitat for birds, pollinators and caterpillars. Yes, caterpillars that eat our plants, but caterpillars also become butterflies, moths and they also are sought by birds to feed their young.  Dr. Tallamy has noted that a decline in song birds is associated with a decrease in caterpillars that are used to feed young nestlings. One factor is the introduction of many non-native plants from Europe, Australia, etc. that have not co-evolved with native insects and are thus less likely to have their defenses broached by the native caterpillars.

Dr. Tallamy has written a book “Bringing Nature Home: How Native plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens,” which I think would be an enlightening read and is on my list. Unfortunately, his plant lists are not likely applicable to California, but native plant lists and information on nurturing biodiversity can be found at the California Native Plant Society. http://www.cnps.org/cnps/grownative/lists.php

Recently, one of my fellow MGs, Win Rogers, came to get some passion vine from my garden to rear some caterpillars of Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), a beautiful orange butterfly. Gulf Fritillary only lays its eggs on passion vine (Passiflora sp). When Win arrived and we began to harvest some definitely surplus passion vine, she found caterpillars on the vines and I got to see the first Gulf Fritillary adult as well. What a unexpected experience! I have had the passion vine for over 3 years now and this is the first time this butterfly has showed up, but it proves the adage—if you plant it they will eventually come.

When I was a graduate student many years ago I read a paper by a Russian scientist that predicted that someday only humans and their domesticated plants and animals would occupy the earth. We will have replaced the biosphere with the Noosphere where all is controlled and dominated by the human mind. Nature’s remnants would be confined to zoos and a few reserves. We seem to be well on our way there, but let us prove him wrong by sustaining nature in our gardens.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Wanted: Monarch butterflies, last seen heading south

ROSSER, Wash.—Researchers at Washington State University are calling upon the public throughout the western U.S. to report sightings of tagged monarch butterflies that are making their way from Washington State to as far south as Mexico.

This one was photographed In San Mateo on October 10th. It had flown about 270 miles south from Applegate in southern Oregon where it was tagged by Linda Kappen on September 30th. Looks like it could be heading to the overwintering colonies around Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove!

WSU entomologist David James has released close to 1,500 butterflies so far with plans to release up to 1,000 more by early October. Each butterfly has a small circular sticker attached to a wing. He wants to know where butterflies from the

Pacific Northwest go for overwintering.

“We are beginning to get reports of people seeing them but we’d like to alert more people to be on the watch for them in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona,” James said.



The butterflies released from Washington generally head to California but James believes they may get all the way to Mexico based on previous reported sightings of butterflies tagged with his email address. In 2012 one of James’ butterflies was reported from Utah, off course from California destinations but along the way to Mexico.

The insects head south to spend winter in warmer areas before making a return migration in spring. The tagged butterflies will live for up to 8 months.

Monarchs rely on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and providing food for their young. The larvae, or caterpillars, feed on the leaves of the milkweed plants until they turn into chrysalids, later emerging as the familiar orange and black butterfly.

“As well as providing potential data points, these releases are making a significant contribution to the conservation of this American icon,” James said.

In the last 20 years, monarch butterfly populations are thought to have declined by more than 90 percent. This is due to loss of habitat. The application of herbicides is thought to have drastically reduced the amount of milkweed available to monarchs in Midwestern corn and soybean fields.

“We also have a milkweed problem in western U.S. too with road authorities in California and Oregon in particular routinely spraying most roadside vegetation including milkweed,” James said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College filed a legal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies in late August.

With the help of inmates at the Walla Walla Penitentiary who help rear, tag and release the butterflies, James and the butterfly enthusiasts who spot the colorful creatures are helping to solve a butterfly mystery.

To learn more about James’ work with monarch butterflies watch this video http://bit.ly/1qFLEDh and read this article http://bit.ly/WKHmhI. You can visit their facebook page here.

Report sightings to monarch@wsu.edu and visit the Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest Facebook page for updates: https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterfliesInThePacificNorthwest.


Sylvia Kantor, CAHNRS Communications

206-770-6063, kantors@wsu.edu

Source contact:

David James, WSU Associate Professor of Entomology

509-786-9280, david_james@wsu.edu

Article originally posted: https://news.wsu.edu/2014/09/11/wanted-monarch-butterflies-last-seen-heading-south/#.VFE3VBbp-jA


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mushrooms and Other Nuisance Fungi in Lawns

Newly emerged inky cap mushrooms, Coprinus comatus. Photo by R. Michael Davis.

Mushrooms, sometimes called toadstools, are the visible reproductive (fruiting) structures of some types of fungi. Although the umbrella-shaped fruiting body is the most common and well known, mushrooms display a great variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some other fruiting bodies encountered in lawns include puffballs, stinkhorns, and bird’s nests, descriptive names that reveal the diversity of forms among mushrooms. But regardless of shape, the purpose of all fruiting bodies is to house and then disseminate spores, the reproductive units of fungi.

Many fungi, including most that cause lawn diseases, have very small fruiting bodies that are hardly noticeable, and they don’t produce typical mushrooms or obvious fruiting structures. Most fungi in lawns are beneficial, because they decompose organic matter, thereby releasing nutrients that are then available for plant growth.


Clusters of Armillaria mushrooms. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.

Fungal fruiting structures release tiny spores that are easily carried on air currents to new sites. When spores reach a favorable place to grow, they germinate and send out long thin filaments called hyphae. Hyphae of some fungi decompose wood, fallen leaves, and other organic matter, absorbing a portion as food. Other fungi live in a beneficial association with plants, while others parasitize and cause diseases of plants. A single hypha is too small to be seen without magnification; however, in soil or beneath bark, groups of hyphae sometimes are visible as a mass of white or dark threadlike growth known as mycelium.

When mycelium has developed sufficiently, fruiting bodies such as mushrooms can be produced. Fungi generally survive in soil for years and produce fruiting structures only when conditions are favorable, such as after periods of prolonged wet weather


Because mushrooms are merely the fruiting bodies of fungi, removing them doesn’t kill the underground mycelia from which they are growing. Picking mushrooms, puffballs, stinkhorns, or other reproductive structures soon after they appear might prevent their spores from spreading to new sites. However, because most spores are windblown long distances, they can easily come into a lawn from neighboring areas. The primary reasons for removing mushrooms from lawns are to keep them away from children and pets and to improve a lawn’s appearance.


  • Do not eat wild mushrooms or other fungal fruiting bodies unless you are well acquainted with the different species. Many species are poisonous, and ONLY an expert can distinguish between edible and poisonous species. There are no simple tests that can be used to identify poisonous mushrooms.
  • Small children tend to put anything, including mushrooms, in their mouths, so remove all obvious fungal reproductive structures from the yard before allowing a child to play there. Pets also can be harmed by ingesting poisonous mushrooms.

For more information on poisonous mushrooms in California, see the Bay Area Mycological Society Web site.

To read more about the differnet types of mushrooms and fungi you might find in your lawn, click here to go to the UC IPM website.

Applications for the 2015 Master Gardener Trainingare due by November 5th, 2014. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Proper winter season tree care during a drought

California’s drought is having a visible impact on lawns throughout the state as homeowners reduce their outdoor watering. Lawns can be brought back to life relatively quickly, but once a tree dies, its loss is irreversible.

Landscape trees may require extra care this winter if the dry spell continues.

As the amount of sunlight falling on trees is reduced with the change in the seasons, trees go into dormancy and require less water than during the hot summer months. But in exceptionally dry conditions, a tree may not have enough stored moisture to survive until drought conditions improve. Tree advocates and water officials today urged homeowners to educate themselves on effective tree care to ensure their trees’ survival in the months ahead – especially if California’s extended dry period continues this winter.

Representatives of the Sacramento Tree Foundation, California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) at UC Davis, UC Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) say a return of normal rainfall this winter might be enough to sustain trees without special care and watering. However, with no way to know how long the current drought will continue, the advocates said knowing when and where to water a tree can be the difference between its life and death.

“We are seeing locations in California where trees are dying because they haven’t been watered adequately,” said CCUH Director Dave Fujino. “While homeowners are trying to save water by letting lawns die, they need to continue watering their nearby trees.”

Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor, urged homeowners to follow these steps:

  • Dig into the soil 6 to 8 inches at a tree’s drip line – the area immediately below the widest part of the leaf canopy; if the soil feels dry and crumbly, it needs water.
  • Apply water slowly and uniformly using low-volume application equipment, such as a soaker hose that circles the tree at the drip line. Allow water to saturate the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches.
  • Allow the soil to dry between waterings; for most mature trees, one or two deep waterings per month is adequate. Fewer waterings – and perhaps none – are needed during the cooler and potentially wet winter months.
  • Add mulch (leaves or wood chips) between the trunk and drip line to retain the soil’s moisture.
  • Reduce competition for water by removing weeds and grass within 4 feet of a tree’s trunk.

Anne Fenkner, Greenprint Regional Coordinator, Sacramento Tree Foundation, said trees are essential to the health and beauty of residences and entire communities throughout the state. “Trees provide food for people and animals and shade that helps make hot climates livable,” she said. “We owe it to ourselves, our children, their children and the trees themselves to help them get through this extraordinarily dry period. When water supplies are limited, priority should be given to trees, then shrubs and perennials and lastly to lawn and annuals.”

Julie Saare-Edmonds, DWR’s Landscape Program Manager, said Californians are responding to the call in January by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.

But if a homeowner has allowed a lawn to dry up during the drought, trees growing in that lawn may not be getting enough water and may need more to help them transition into winter dormancy.

Anne Fenkner, Sacramento Tree Foundation, said trees have varying water needs depending on their species, age, size, slope of the ground beneath them and other factors. Homeowners can nurture their trees and improve their health by understanding tree care principles:

  • Older established trees may be starved for water as well as younger trees. The low rainfall last winter did not replenish the soil moisture adequately and they may need a moisture boost before winter.|
  • Avoid fertilizing trees now; it will stimulate new growth at the wrong time of year.
  • When planting new trees, choose species wisely. Consult a local urban forestry group such as the Sacramento Tree Foundation or check the Arboretum All-Stars list at UC Davis. We don’t know how long the drought will last, so consider selecting drought-resistant varieties and delaying planting until drought conditions improve. If the drought worsens in 2015, investments in new trees may be lost.
  • Improve the quality of the soil in which the trees grow. Aerate lawns so the roots of mature trees have good access to water and oxygen.
  • Consult the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners or a certified arborist if you have questions about the health of a mature tree.

Additional advice on caring for trees can be found at these websites:

Applications for the 2015 Master Gardener Training are due by November 5th, 2014. 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. Article was originally posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 by Jeannette Warneryt (jewarnert@ucanr.edu)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Asian Citrus Psyllid Quarantine Issued

Asian Citrus Psyllid


You may or may not have heard the the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) was recently found in Lodi and Manteca. On October 27, CDFA released a quarantine for these areas restricting the transportation of citrus fruit or leaves, potted citrus trees and curry leaves. (Click here to read the press release) Why do we care about this pest so much?

The Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) is a pest that acts as a carrier or vector spreading “huanglongbing” (HLB). Huanglongbing (HLB) is one of the most devastating diseases of citrus in the world. Once infected, there is no cure for disease and infected trees will die within ten years.

What does the pest look like?

ACP nymph producing curly waxy tubules

The Asian citrus psyllid adult is tiny – the size of an aphid (see photo above).  The wings are  brown along the edge, with a clear area. The psyllid feeds with its rear end tilted up at a 45o angle, making the insect appear almost thorn-like on leaves and stems. The tilted body and wing pattern is unique to this pest. Juveniles (nymphs) produce white, waxy tubules and are always found on new leaf growth or young stems.  The waxy tubules are unique this pest. The eggs of the Asian citrus psyllid are yellow and are found on the newest leaf growth, nestled among unfolded leaves. They are very tiny and hard to see without a hand lens.

What does the disease look like?

HLB infected trees are difficult to diagnose because the disease can take more than a year to cause symptoms in a tree and resembles other diseases (such as stubborn disease) and nutritional deficiencies (such as zinc). The first symptom in a

Blotchy yellow HLB-infected leaves

Asymmetrical yellow mottling of leaves and odd shape and greening of fruit, symptoms of Huanglongbing (citrus greening)

Huanglongbing-infected tree, and the most important one to watch for is yellowed leaves. However, citrus trees often have yellow leaves because of nutritional deficiencies so its important to know the difference. Nutrient deficiency causes a similar pattern of yellowing on both sides of the leaf.  HLB causes blotchy yellow mottling and is not the same on both sides of the leaf.

Asymmetrical yellow mottling of leaves and odd shape and greening of fruit, symptoms of Huanglongbing (citrus greening)  Later symptoms of HLB-infected trees include lopsided, small fruit, bitter juice and  excessive fruit drop.There is no cure for the infected trees, which decline and die within a few years.

What can you do to help prevent the spread of ACP & HLB

  • Do not move citrus plants, plant material or fruit in or out of the county (or city to city), across state or international borders.
  • Do not take samples of your citrus leaves to the Master Gardeners, Ag Commissioner or local nurseries.
  • Homeowners should inspect trees for the ACP whenever watering, spraying, pruning or tending trees. Slowly walk around each tree and inspect the new growth.
  • If planting new trees, purchase trees from reputable, licensed California nurseries.
  • Use only registered budwood that comes with source documentation.

For more information, please visit our website and the ACP page we have created. Applications for the 2015 Master Gardener Training are due by November 5th, 2014.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wildlife Benefits of Foundation Plants

Honeybees love Photinia

Trees and shrubs form the backbone of the garden, adding aesthetic and monetary value to any property. These are permanent plantings around which smaller, showier specimens are placed. Also called foundation plants, they can be evergreen or deciduous, and species are often selected for being tough-as-nails, a quality that is gained by being bred for vigorous growth.


"Meatball Landscaping" takes a lot of work to maintain and eliminates potential for habitat value


This last trait can prove ruinous for these poor plants, whose appearance is often considered rather bland in comparison to “eye candy” annuals and perennials. We have no compunction in practicing “meatball landscaping”, wherein all plants are subjected to constant shearing for size control or desired shapes (usually symmetrical and round). This opens them to disease, sends waste to the landfill, and ruins their natural shape.

Many foundation plants have value beyond bland outdoor furniture, particularly for wildlife. Like any other plant, they have the genetic drive to reproduce. This means flowers and seeds (though not all seeds are useful to wildlife). If left to reach a decent size, they can also provide cover for birds.

Some standard easy-care foundation plants with wildlife value include:
Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) – The trumpet-shaped flowers are great for hummingbirds and butterflies

India hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) – The bloom season is short, but still benefits bees with nectar and birds with berries.

Japanese Mock Orange (Pittosporum tobira) – The flowers of this slow-growing shrub are lightly fragrant and attractive to bees.

Photinia (Photinia spp) – An ubiquitous landscape plant, but produces large clusters of incredibly fragrant white flowers when not constantly pruned back. Bees swarm to my photinia in spring, and birds follow later to eat the seeds.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Perhaps the most drought-tolerant of all the species listed here, rosemary is loved by humans for it’s culinary value and by bees for almost year-round blooms.

Choose an appropriate location for foundation plants (or any plant, for that matter) to suit their mature size. A common mistake is to plant too close to a building so the plant has nowhere to go, resulting in constant, odious, size-control measures. See EcoLandscape California’s website for tips on proper plant placement:

Avoid pruning to control size; plant something smaller instead. Pruning should take place for the following reasons: 1) to remove dead or diseased branches, 2) to thin so light can reach parts that are getting shaded out, or 3) to maintain a healthy shape (removing crossing branches, etc). Waiting until after bloom or until berries have been eaten to prune will maximize wildlife benefits. If you dislike the mess made by berries (and the birds eating them), prune after blooms have finished but before seeds develop.

Lower growth removed from Pineapple guava for security

In areas where security is an issue, visual clearance is important. In this case it might help to remove branches closer to the ground rather than constantly cutting shrubs down from the top. This creates a shrubby tree, allowing easier pedestrian access around the plant, eliminates potential hiding places, and preserves pollinator forage.

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sage Wisdom for the Garden

White sage adds drama with it's fragrant, silvery foliage and tall spike of flowers

Sage is a familiar culinary herb, but there are many varieties to add beauty and wildlife value to your water-wise garden. Ornamental sages come in may forms; most are wonderfully fragrant, attractive to pollinators, and can perform myriad landscaping uses.

Also known as Salvia, sages are in the mint (Lamiaceae) family, which includes other fragrant herbs such as rosemary, lavender, and oregano. Sage flowers are small with an upper petal, or”lip”, protecting the flower’s reproductive organs until they mature, and lower petals spreading outward. Blooms radiate from a main stem, either loosely spaced or in tightly clustered whorls. Their powerful fragrance comes from oil glands and trichomes on the leaves and stems. Trichomes are also responsible for their fuzzy texture, in addition to preventing sunburn and reducing transpiration.

Caring for sages is easy, especially if you choose species that thrive with little water, which is what I will focus on here. They won’t need fertilizers, and prefer a restrained hand when it comes to irrigation. Decently-drained soil is preferred, but many will tolerate clay as long as they aren’t in standing water, especially in the summer. Most prefer full sun, except as noted below.

Evergreen sages will maintain woody growth and some foliage year-round. Most, however, will benefit from a hard-pruning in late summer or early fall, whenever their blooms have finished. Prune back so that at least two leaf nodes remain, but avoid cutting into old, woody growth. Some exceptions to this regimen are White sage (Salvia apiana) and Hummingbird sage (S. spathacea), which might do better with spent flower stalks pruned down to the ground if you find stems die back when leaf nodes are left behind. “Perennial” sages listed below die back in winter and need to be pruned to the ground.

Here are some suggested varieties for the Central Valley:
Large evergreen (4’-6’ or more)
Autumn sage Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’
Cherry sage S. microphylla ‘Hot Lips’
Cleveland sage S. clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’
White sage S. apiana
Medium evergreen/groundcovers (less than 4’)
Germander sage S. chamaedryoides
Hummingbird sage S. spathacea (needs afternoon shade in the valley)
Sonoma sage S. sonomensis (needs afternoon shade in the valley)

Blue Hill sage can be coppiced in September for a second round of blooms by October

Blue hill sage Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blue hill’ (needs a little extra water to bloom well)
Mexican bush sage S. leucantha ‘Midnight’

To find a good selection (plus help deciding which to choose), the UC Davis Arboretum has several plant sales a year, and there is one more this fall on October 25th. For details, see their website:

As a side note, if you have difficulty finding water-wise plants like those I have listed here, speak up! Let your local nursery know (kindly) how important saving water and providing for pollinators is to our community. Hopefully they will respond in kind.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
  • Blog Authors

    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

    Nadia Zane

    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
  • Categories

  • Archives