The Dry Shade Garden

California native Spicebush grows well in full shade and little water

Shady areas have proven to be one of the most challenging areas to grow plants in the water-wise garden. There are plenty of moderate and high-water plants to choose from, but for those wishing to reduce their irrigation, the options are often limited. This has probably led to the demise of many a shade-dwelling lavender or sage, the victims of misguided attempts to grow low-water, full-sun plants where they cannot get the light exposure they need for healthy growth.

Plant adaptations to shade boil down to two things: maximized light-capturing abilities, and the efficient use of energy. This has resulted in physiological differences between shade-lovers and sun-lovers; it would be wise to take advantage of this in the garden, rather than to fight it. The extra challenge of dry shade makes it difficult, but not impossible, to have a beautiful landscape full of interesting textures and colors.

Within the shade community, there are varying degrees of tolerance. Plants requiring some sun to thrive but able to do well with partial days spent in the shade are called “shade tolerant.” These are plants you might find labelled “part shade”; providing 4-6 hours of sun will help them do their best. Plants labelled “full shade” are likely to be shade-loving (sciophilous), and might burn if exposed to more than a few hours of sun a day, especially in the afternoon.

The following plants are recommended for their hardiness in our climate and ability to thrive on a few deep soakings a month once established. Those marked with an asterisk* provide forage for wildlife, either directly (pollen, nectar, nesting material), or indirectly (habitat for insects eaten by birds, etc).

Buckeye butterfly nectaring on Santa Barbara daisy

Part shade (4-6 hours of sun)
Agapanthus (Agapanthus spp and hybrids)
*Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica)
*Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum)
*Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
*Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana)
*Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea)
*Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)
*Rosy buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens)
*Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus)
*Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus)

Our native Snowberry brightens shady areas with it graceful foliage.

Full shade (less than 4 hours of sun)
*Island alum root (Heuchera maxima)
*California pipevine (Aristolochia californica)
*Coffeeberry (Frangula californica)
Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius)
*Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens)
Daffodils (Narcissus spp)
*Evergreen currant (Ribes viburnifolium)
Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus)
*Pigsqueak (Bergenia crassifolia)
*Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
*Spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis)
*Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
*Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

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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Attracting a Diversity of Pollinators

Blanket flower

Humans love flowers for their aesthetic charm, but for pollinators, the need to feed is top priority. When out foraging, pollinators look for certain features indicating a plant’s potential as a food source. Nectar and pollen quality are important; so too is the flower’s shape, a determining factor for which species can access the goodies within.

Some plants appeal to a narrow range of pollinators while others are able to cast a broader net, aided by certain features:

  • Tiny flowers clustered together reduces energy output by the pollinator when moving from one bloom to the next. Abundant, small blooms also increases the number of insects able to feed at once
  • Extended anthers and stigma (a flower’s reproductive parts) makes pollen access easier
  • Flat-topped flower heads appeal to non-hovering pollinators, which need a “landing pad” while feeding (e.g. butterflies, many bee species)

In small gardens, selecting plant species that appeal to many will help support biodiversity, which is critical to the overall health of our ecosystem. Try some (or several!) of the following plants, all of which are hardy in the Central Valley:

Asteraceae family (Aster)
This is one of the largest plant families with approximately 23,000 species. Flowers in the aster family usually appear to have a single bloom on each stem; in actuality, each flower is a composite of tightly-packed individual tubular flowers. Some asters, such as dandelion and thistle, contain only tubular flowers. Others, such as daisies, also have ray flowers on the outside.

Planting a variety of asters can extend your bloom season from spring through fall, giving pollinators plenty of forage:

  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is native to California and a great plant for low-water gardens. It’s evergreen foliage is frond-like and fragrant; graceful clusters of white flowers welcome myriad bees and butterflies to sip nectar from spring through summer. Good for full sun to part shade, growing to 1’ high by 2’ wide. Many cultivars and hybrids come in pink, magenta, or yellow-orange colors.
  • Frikart’s aster (Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’) fills a difficult niche by blooming at a time of year when there is little forage in the garden. It puts on a display of lavender-colored blooms from summer into fall, which can be extended by deadheading. Provide some summer water and full sun. Grows to 1.5’ tall by 1’ wide.
  • Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) is one of my favorite low-water plants with its cheery, red and yellow blooms that last from late spring until frost. Plant in full sun, removing spent blooms to extend the season. It forms compact mounds about 1’ high and wide. Blanket flower is an herbaceous perennial, and will die to the ground in winter. Watch for snails and slugs when they re-emerge in spring.
  • Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria/Jacobaea maritima/Cineraria maritimus) has a long list of botanical aliases. Whatever you call it, Dusty miller makes a wonderful accent with it’s silvery, fuzzy foliage and bright yellow flowers. An easy-care plant that is usually sold in nurseries like annuals (i.e. in 6-packs), they are evergreen and tough in our climate, requiring some water but having a decent amount of drought tolerance. Grows to 2’ high and wide, blooming late spring through summer.

Eriogonum species (Buckwheat)
Some of my favorite California natives are buckwheats; they are hardy, beautiful, and very attractive to native pollinators. Their tightly clustered flowers sit atop umbels rising 1 – 3 feet above the basal mound, depending on the species. Most species in cultivation are evergreen.

  • St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) is a real show-stopper, with it’s silvery-green foliage and towering flower stalks to 3’ tall. Atop each stalk sits a dinner plate-sized cluster of white flowers that attracts honeybees and butterflies; the flower heads age to rust as they dry, making a great accent for flower arrangements. This is a very large shrub, reaching up to 6’ tall and wide when in bloom. Requires little water once established.
  • Rosy buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens) is at the opposite end of the size spectrum. This 1’ tall, 1.5’ wide perennial produces beautiful dark pink flower clusters in summer, attracting bees from many different families. Water 2-3 times a month once established. Likes morning sun and some afternoon shade.

More information on buckwheats can be found at:

Ceanothus species (California lilac) are some of California’s most beloved natives, ranging in size from low-growing ground covers to shrubby trees. Most Ceanothus for gardens are evergreen with dark green, glossy foliage. Flower clusters are typically shades of purplish – blue, though a few hybrids have white or light pink flowers. Provide good drainage, full sun to part shade, and little water once established, allowing soil to dry out slightly between waterings.

Visited by many bee and butterfly species, Ceanothus blooms in late March through late April, a valuable time slot and a way to extend your forage availability into the early part of the growing season. Many species, hybrids, and cultivars are available in nurseries; the following are recommended by the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery:

  • Ceanothus ‘Concha’ is a medium-large shrub to about 6 feet tall and wide with dark blue flowers.
  • Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ is a large shrub to 20’ tall and wide with sky blue flowers. Can be grown as a small tree.
  • Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet’ is a 4-foot shrub with long lasting violet-colored flowers

For more information on providing for pollinators, visit the Honey Bee Haven’s 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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What’s in That Bag?

Chuck Ingels, Farm and Horticulture Advisor
UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento County

Organic soil amendments are products that are mixed into soil for the overall purpose of benefitting plant growth and crop production. Contrast that with mulch, which is placed on top of the soil surface to reduce soil moisture loss and water runoff, prevent weeds, and moderate soil temperatures.

Soil amendments improve coarse-textured (sandy) soils mainly by improving the water and nutrient holding capacity by the addition of organic matter. Fine-textured (clayey) soils are improved by creating larger soil pore spaces and improving soil aeration, which leads to better water infiltration and drainage.

Organic soil amendments contain plant nutrients, but most are not considered fertilizers because their nutrient content is often quite low, and because release of the nutrients to plant-available forms can take weeks, months, or longer depending on the product. The most important benefit of the organic matter additions is to provide an energy source for bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, as well as earthworms that live in the soil. These organisms create glues (polysaccharides) that hold soil particles together to create highly desirable soil aggregates. They also release plant-available nutrients as they die off.

From an environmental standpoint, using amendments from a local source can reduce fossil fuel use and air pollution compared to shipping products across the country. Consider producing compost at home, using well broken down local manure, or growing cover crops to add organic matter.

Soil Amendment Analyses (click on header to see amendment chart link)

In July 2012, UC Master Gardeners purchased nearly two dozen organic soil amendments, also known as soil conditioners, from several retail outlets in Sacramento County. Samples were bagged the next day and taken to Sunland Analytical Lab in Rancho Cordova, who provided a discount on our analyses in support of Harvest Day at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. A soil analysis panel was selected that included the following tests.

% N—percent total nitrogen. Products ranged from 0.7 to 2.1% N. There is no threshold for how much N should be in a product. More important is the C/N ratio.

C/N ratio—carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.  Ratios above about 30 (30% C to 1% N) result in nitrogen “tie-up” in the soil because soil microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi require both carbon and nitrogen in their diet. They feed on the carbon source (soil amendment) and extract nitrogen from the soil when the C/N ratio is over about 30.  This temporarily deprives plants of nitrogen until the microbes begin to die off which often takes about 2-3 weeks. With amendments below about 30, the amendment will readily begin to release its nitrogen to the soil. The lower the C/N ratio the faster the release.

pH—the measure of acidity or alkalinity of the amendment, with pH 7.0 being neutral. A pH of about 6.5 to 7.0 is ideal, but pH 5.0 to 8.0 may be acceptable depending on the pH of your soil. Low pH materials such as sphagnum peat moss are best for blueberries and some ornamentals such as azaleas and camellias, but there are questions about the sustainability of increased harvesting of peat bogs in Canada and the northern US.

% Organic Matter—the measure of carbon-based materials in the product. Ingredients other than organic matter may include soil, nutrients, and other inorganic particles. There is no threshold for % organic matter.

Conductivity—indicates the amount of salts present, also called electrical conductivity or EC. Many salts are essential for plant growth, but excess salts in soil may be detrimental to plant health, especially for seedlings, transplants, and salt-sensitive plants, and to soil microbes. The threshold of salts in amendments depends on many factors, especially the salinity of your soil and water. If you have soil or water with elevated salt content, use amendments with lower conductivity – about 3.0 or lower. In most of the Sacramento area, water is low in conductivity, so the threshold is higher – perhaps up to 10.0.

To see the Analyses of Selected Soil Amendments, go to:
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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Opposable thumb can be a green thumb

Squash bug and eggs; thanks to Google images

Many gardeners, too many I think, reach for the sprayer when faced with a pest problem. There are other ways to deal with pests. One way is to pick off pests and squish, drown or smash them. Our opposable thumb, which took three million years of evolution to develop, allows us to do that, so celebrate our thumbs by using them to be greener.

Squash bugs (Anasa tristis) are nasty pests of the cucurbit family; zucchini, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Adults (5/8 inch long) are dark brown or gray which keeps them camouflaged around plants. Adults and young nymphs, as they feed, inject a toxic substance that causes host plants to wilt. When feeding is severe, leaves become black and die back. This condition is often referred to as “anasa wilt” which closely resembles bacterial wilt, a true plant disease. They also stink when crushed, so be forewarned that drowning them in a container of soapy water is a good option.

I battled squash bugs for years by picking off overwintering adults and destroying their eggs when they showed up on my zucchini. I often had volunteer squash plants that I used as decoys to attract them and I would destroy the plant and the bugs. I did this for years and I usually lost the battle, but finally they met their Waterloo. I eliminated the overwintering adults before they could reproduce about 6 years ago. Since then, I have been free of squash bugs in my garden. I am fortunate that I don’t have close neighbors growing squash as a nearby supply of recruits might have undone my efforts, but I am so glad not to have to deal with this serious pest anymore.

Other pests that we all deal with are slugs and snails. The brown garden snail, Cornu aspersum, is the nemesis of California gardeners. It was introduced from France during the 1850s for use as food. They do provide food for my chickens, but I’ll take a pass. I don’t know who brought them over, but likely someone with little knowledge of the ecological harm such introductions can do. Such is the case with myriad introductions. Starlings, Japanese beetles, various other insects in the USA and rabbits in Australia come to mind.

There are baits which help control snails and I have used both the metaldehyde bait which is not child or pet friendly and the iron phosphate bait which is safe to use around pets. However, four years ago I decided to remove snails by hand picking and I have been successful in reducing their numbers, but will likely never eliminate them.  I go out early in the morning, sometimes with a flashlight to do my snail hunting. The first year, 2012, I picked off 3,287 and in the following year, 3,747. In 2014, they were much harder to find and I only got 220. This year, I am at 230 and still counting. Since I reduced snail abundance, my iris leaves are unblemished.

Spotted cucumber beetle-Courtesy of Google images

About 4 years ago, I was besieged by spotted cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) which eat bean and cucumber leaves and Dahlia and Gladiolus blossoms. I didn’t care much about the leaves—I was willing to share, but Dahlias and Glads are another story. Ruining flowers was not tolerated, so I started crushing them on the bean leaves (they are a little slow on take-off) and after killing 450 the population was severely reduced to a minor nuisance. This beetle shows up in abundance in some years and in others it is barely present. What makes insects so very abundant in one year and barely present in another? This conundrum can drive scientists to distraction.

This year we had a much warmer than average spring and there were few aphids on rose buds. It could be cause and effect, but it could have been other factors. Complex environmental factors can affect different life stages of populations. As gardeners we can be glad the aphids were not abundant on our roses, but last summer I had problems with aphids on cucumbers, zucchini and melons. The IPM website,, lists information on cotton aphids (Aphis gossypii) that attack melons.

Unlike rose aphids, the cotton aphid thrives in hot weather. It can vector cucumber, zucchini yellow, and watermelon mosaic viruses, among others. These virus diseases may be more destructive than direct aphid feeding. Host weeds for this aphid include milkweed, jimsonweed, pigweeds, plantain, and field bindweed, so keeping these host weeds controlled may be helpful. If cotton aphids, which are difficult to control, will just not show up this year on my melons, cucumbers and zucchini, I will be one very happy gardener!

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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Fruit thinning and other orchard tasks

Aborted apples Photo courtesy of Lee Miller

Last year, a friend called me and asked what to do about a peach tree with the limbs breaking?  I asked in turn, “Did you thin the peaches earlier in the year?” Answer: “no” and since he didn’t do that, I told him that the best thing to do at this point was to prop the limbs to keep more from breaking. Thinning fruit trees in early spring is an often neglected garden practice.  Stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots usually require thinning when setting a large crop, as do the pome fruits; Asian pears, European pears and apples.


The time to thin is when the fruit are small. For stone fruit it is best done in early spring when the plums and peaches are ¾ to one inch in length. If the fruit load is heavy, then more need to be removed than if the crop is light. For peach trees the rule is to space fruit about 4 to 5 inches apart on the branch. Sometimes that can result in the removal of 5 out of every 6 peaches. The ground will look like it rained peaches and for the homeowner this may seem a catastrophic abortion, but deferred gratification will come when the fruit matures into good quality, sweet fruit. Thinning is usually done before May 1, so more of the plants energy gets concentrated in making larger and sweeter fruit out of those remaining. For plums and apricots, which are smaller, the spacing should be about 3-4 inches between fruit.

Apples and pears bear fruit in clusters, often 5 or more blooms on a spur, and if they are all pollenated, they need to be thinned to one fruit per spur at a spacing of about 6 to 8 inches apart. This is a tedious job and shears work well to cut the stems rather than run the risk of pulling the entire spur off the tree when pulling on the fruit. In the case of overloaded plum trees sometimes shaking the tree or using a pole to tap the limbs can remove lots of excess fruit load quickly.

Another practice that will help avoid broken limbs in the home orchard is informed dormant pruning. With removal of lots of the buds before fruit set, thinning will be a less demanding task. Peaches and nectarines are produced mostly on one-year-old wood and as high as 65 percent of one-year-old wood can be removed depending on tree vigor. A farmer neighbor long ago told me to keep fruit trees stubby and that is good advice. Stubby strong scaffold branches are preferred rather than long thin ones that can be leveraged to break with a heavy crop. Even after pruning properly and thinning, it is still not a bad idea to keep some props handy to make sure no limbs break near harvest time.  Growing new scaffold branches takes time, so it is a good idea to protect your tree’s integrity as harvest approaches.

This year I have had to prune fireblighted limbs from Asian pears and apples. While not as bad as fireblight last spring it is definitely a good year for blight. If you see new shoots turning black like they were blow-torched then you should cut these branches off well below where tissues are shrunken and obviously infected.

The nemesis of home apple and pear production is the codling moth. Codling moths overwinter as full grown larvae in cocoons under soil or debris under the trees. They pupate in early spring and emerge as adult moths in March and early April and mate when sunset temperatures are above 62 ºF. The female moth will lay 30-70 small disc-shaped eggs on leaves or spurs. The larvae will invade the fruit at the calix end or bore into the fruit and chow down.  Infested fruit will often drop from the tree earlier than uninfested ones. Codling moth larvae after eating will drop from the tree and pupate in the soil, on debris in bark crevices. There are usually three waves of adults per season in the Central Valley.

One approach that helps is to deploy codling moth traps which use a pheromone lure that traps male moths and disrupts breeding. Another approach is to bag up young fruit to keep larva from access. However this is very tedious to do, especially if you have more than one large apple or pear tree. One cannot expect to eliminate codling moth damage, but if it is greatly reduced more fruit can be harvested. For more information on codling moth management see the IPM website at:

To enjoy the fruit of your home orchard, it will take a little effort now, but you will have healthier trees and a better harvest.

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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So Many Seeds-So Little Time

Master Gardener Tomato Tasting

German Pink, the tomato that launched the Seed Saver’s Exchange.

I started my gardening vocation growing mostly vegetable and fruit trees. Vegetables are still a passion, but flowers have definitely joined and about a third of my vegetable garden is now devoted to flowers.  It is the time for tomatoes and I still love to grow lots of them, although I have cut back from 100 plants I used to grow to 72.  Tomatoes should be planted after the soil warms and this spring was exceptionally warm, so for the first time ever, I planted tomatoes in March because soil temperature reached 60 º F by mid-March.

A friend of mine liked to visit bars in Hawaii in search of the perfect Mai Tai. I have a similar, quest searching for the best tasting, perfect tomato. Of course the search is nearly endless as named tomatoes are almost as numerous as named roses. Wikipedia says there are 7500 varieties of tomato and the 2007 Seed Saver’s Exchange Yearbook lists over 5000 varieties. I grow a few new ones each year and it adds some excitement to the gardening experience to try new varieties. I also have some favorites that I grow every year that are good producers and good in taste.

Everyone seems to like Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato that is very sweet. It has been the top pick at our Master Gardener Tomato tasting for the past 2 or 3 years. The human’s sweet tooth is at work and cherry tomatoes, like Sun Gold and Sun Sugar are—well—sugary. When it comes to sweet tomatoes, Early Girl, a hybrid, is also high on my list and I think if I had only one tomato to grow this would be the one. It is an early bearer and keeps on producing all season, and the tomatoes are sweet and delicious. I once made tomato juice using only Early Girl and it was the sweetest, best tomato juice I ever tasted.

I am always amazed at how the tomato went from the new world after 1492 to Europe, Asia and then came back again with so many varieties. It is truly an international fruit. There are many with good taste and I am always willing to try those that score high in tomato tastings. The Cherokee Purple is noted for taste as is Brandywine, both winning many tomato tastings, but not noted for great yields. For good productions and good tastes, the heirlooms Ace 55, Druzba, Crème Brule, Italian Heirloom, Soldacki, Paul Robeson, Thessaloniki, Bulgarian #7, Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler, and Henderson’s Winsell all fill the bill. For beautiful colorful tomatoes on the platter, I like bicolors like Big Rainbow, Marizol Gold, Hillbilly, Gold Medal and Pineapple.  Then there are the pure yellow and orange tomatoes: Persimmon, Golden Queen and Golden Jubilee and orange slicers, Amana Orange and Kellogg’s Breakfast.

Tomatoes that don’t perform well or taste good go off my list and don’t get replanted.  This year I am giving Mamie Brown’s Pink, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Dester, Verlon, Trophy and Jaune Flamme a chance to make my favorites list. I have a greenhouse, heat mats and light stand, so starting tomatoes is easier for me than for gardeners with only a warm windowsill. Because I have a greenhouse, I started growing tomatoes and peppers for my Linden Garden Club’s Annual Plant Sale about 5 or 6 years ago and it has been interesting to introduce new varieties to our clientele each year.  Some are wary of varieties they never heard of and some don’t like yellow tomatoes, but nearly everyone likes cherry tomatoes. I never seem to have enough of them.

What to do with all those tomatoes? My record for a day of canning was 85 quarts of tomato juice and tomatoes. I also give lots away.  I also take samples to our August Master Gardener’s meeting for an annual tomato tasting. It is often disappointing, because I usually fail to cut back on the water as tomatoes ripen which enhances their flavor and sweetness.Someday I will get it right.

Tomatoes were once erroneously considered poisonous, but now are a health food. Tomatoes contain lycopene which gives them the red color. It is a powerful anti-oxidant that improves cell membranes and fends off free-radicals that can cause cancers.  Tomatoes are a source of vitamins A and C and folic acid. Tomatoes contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants in addition to lycopene, including alpha-lipoic acid, choline, beta-carotene and lutein. For information on health benefits see: Of course yellow tomatoes don’t have lycopene, but have more of other nutrients, so take your pick of what is important; see:

The tomato is really a fruit, but it is the most popularly grown vegetable in the U.S, so if you are limited in garden space take out some lawn and try a few tomatoes. Give them full sun, deep watering once or twice a week and enjoy for taste, health and the satisfaction of growing your own.

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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Happy Arbor Day!

Julius S. Morton

Julius S. Morton Photo courtesy

Plant a Tree to Celebrate Arbor Day! Have you ever wondered how this national (and international) holiday got its roots? Arbor Day is an annual observance that promotes tree planting and care and reflects a hope for the future. As a formal holiday, it was first observed in 1872, in Nebraska.

In 1854, Julius Sterling Morton moved from Detroit to Nebraska City, Nebraska. Morton was a nature lover and felt that Nebraska’s landscape and economy would benefit from the wide-scale planting of trees. He set an example himself planting orchards, shade trees and wind breaks on his own farm and urged neighbors to do the same.

Morton  became editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper and used the paper to share agricultural information, ideas on environmental stewardship and his enthusiasm for trees to a receptive audience. He was ahead of his time as his own version of a master gardener!

In 1872, Morton presented the State Board of Agriculture a resolution “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10 Arbor Day. More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. With this first tree planting holiday observance, J. Sterling Morton became known as the “Founder of Arbor Day.” Arbor Day did not become a legal holiday until 1885, when the legislature set aside Morton’s birthday, April 22, as the holiday.

Chinese pistachePhoto by Pamela M. Geisel

Chinese pistache Photo by Pamela M. Geisel

Today, National Arbor Day is celebrated in all fifty states the last Friday in April but many states observe Arbor Day on different dates throughout the year based on best tree-planting times in their area. As a state, California celebrates Arbor Day Week March 7-14.

For more information on planting and caring for landscape or fruit trees visit the UC California Garden Web website.

To learn more about Arbor Day, visit the Arbor Day Foundation 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.


Information and quotes cited in this blog can be found on Arbor Day Foundation &


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Make Every Drop Count Photo Contest

UC Agriculture & Natural Resources is having a photo contest! You could win their “Water-Wise Prize Pack” by showing them how you grow like a pro in California’s worst drought in history! They want to see your drip irrigation systems, drought-hardy plants, water-efficient landscapes and anything YOU do to make every drop count at your farm or home garden.

Here’s how to enter:

1. Take a picture of how you make every drop count in your farm or garden. 

2. Upload your photo to our link below with a brief description. 

3. On April 30th, one lucky winner will receive our “Water-Wise Prize Pack!”

4. To enter, click here


Deadline is April 30th, 5:00 p.m.

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UC Davis Picnic Day: Bring on the Bugs!

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey      Published on: April 13, 2015

DAVIS–A picnic without bugs just isn’t a picnic. Ask any entomologist.

When the 101st annual Picnic Day at the University of California, Davis takes place campuswide on Saturday, April 18, visitors will see plenty of insects and other arthropods from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at two sites: Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive and the Bohart Museum of Entomology on Crocker Lane.

Ants? Yes. Bees? Sure. Other pollinators? Definitely. The focus is on pollinators.

This is Tapinoma sessile, the odorous house ant. It is a very common species, but tends to be pushed aside by the introduced Argentine ant, says ant specialist/professor Phil Ward. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is Tapinoma sessile, the odorous house ant. It is a very common species, but tends to be pushed aside by the introduced Argentine ant, says ant specialist/professor Phil Ward. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Theme of the campuswide picnic is “The Heart of Our Community,” but over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the theme is “The Good, the Bad and the Bugly.” The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, will feature pollinators. The museum houses nearly 8 million specimens. It also houses a live “petting zoo,” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named Peaches, a crowd favorite.


At Briggs Hall, a new event is the Pollinator Pavilion, where visitors can see and learn about bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Pollination ecologist/graduate student Margaret “Rei” Scampavia is coordinating the project. “We’re going to have painted lady butterflies, monarchs, male blue orchard bees, and a live bumblebee colony,” she said. Other events at the Pollinator Pavilion will include puppet shows, a chance to practice pollinator observations, museum specimens, and information on how individuals can help support healthy pollinator populations (The Pollinator Pavilion replaces the termite trails activity)

UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management will give away lady beetles. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management will give away lady beetles. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Favorite displays or activities returning are the “Bug Doctor” booth, where an entomologist “is in” and will answer questions about insects; American cockroach races, where visitors can cheer their favorite cockroach to victory; maggot art, where participants can dip a maggot into non-toxic water-based paint and let it crawl (or guide it), on a white piece of paper.

Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey will portray “Dr. Death,” showing methods used in forensic entomology. The Phil Ward lab will assemble a display on the incredible diversity of ants. The Sharon Lawler lab will display aquatic insects and answer any questions about them.


Visitors can sample six different varietals of honey at a honey tasting table set up in the Briggs courtyard. The flavors are coffee blossom, meadowfoam blossom, buckwheat, creamed clover, cotton and chestnut said. Elina Niño, Extension apiculturist. A bee observation hive will be set up in across from the courtyard, where Niño and staff research associate Billy Synk will answer questions about bees.


Graduate student Stacy Hishinuma and forest entomologist Steve Seybold, a chemical ecologist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will display forest insects.

Medical entomology graduate students will set up displays about diseases vectored by mosquitoes and other insects.  The Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will provide an educational exhibit about mosquito abatement. Exhibits also will include such topics as fly fishing/fly-tying.

The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) will be giving away lady beetles, aka ladybugs, with the hope that the beneficial insects will land in someone’s yard to gobble aphids and other soft-bodied insects. UC IPM also will display pest management control books.

Entomology Club members will offer face-painting.  Another popular activity is posing as a bug or flower in a wood cutout.


Professor Diane Ullman, with the help of a maggot, created this art work at the

Professor Diane Ullman, with the help of a maggot, created this art at the "maggot art" table. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey



A crowd favorite at the Bohart Museum of Entomology is Peaches, a rose-haired tarantula. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A crowd favorite at the Bohart Museum of Entomology is Peaches, a rose-haired tarantula. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Forensic entomologist Robet Kimsey as

Forensic entomologist Robet Kimsey as "Dr. Death" Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey



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The New California Landscape, part 3: Irrigation

Alas, irrigation is not the sexiest topic in this three-part series. It is, however, the most crucial element of any water efficient landscape (besides favoring drought-tolerant plants). An efficient irrigation system gets exactly the right amount of water exactly where it needs to be, with minimal losses to the street or gutter.

Taking steps to improve your irrigation requires you to pay attention rather than going into automatic mode. Here are things to look for when improving the efficiency of your system:

Stop overwatering!
Overwaterng is much too common. Lawns will be fine on two days a week in the heat of summer, and many established ornamental shrubs need less. The knee-jerk reaction to a limp plant is to grab a hose, but grab a moisture meter or a screwdriver instead and check the soil moisture several inches down.
Signs of overwatering resemble underwatering; ironically, both can lead to water uptake issues, the former because there is not enough water in the soil, the latter because root rot due to soggy, anaerobic soil reduces water-absorbing abilities.
If your lawn is dying on two days a week of water, there is most likely a cultural issue going on. It is better to water deeply but infrequently, rather than in short bursts several days a week. Shallow watering promotes shallow roots and drought intolerance. Check out the UC Integrated Pest Management Guide to Healthy Lawns for more information:

Proper maintenance
Do you know where your valve manifolds are? Do you know how to operate your sprinkler controller? Hopefully the answer is yes to both, because it will make testing and maintaining your irrigation system much easier!
Regularly check for leaks at all emitters and drip lines, and clean clogged heads and drip filters. Replace old, leaky hose spigots or hose washers that have become brittle and ineffective. Valve manifolds can also leak if sediment gets under the cap, leaking water even when turned off. This is tricky to spot and requires close inpection.
For information on irrigation:

Plants watered by the same valve need to have matching sun and water requirements, or someone is going to sulk (see overwatering section above). Do not water a sunny area and a shady area on the same valve, as the evaporation rates will be very different. It takes planning to do this properly, but will result in a healthier garden.
More information on hydrozoning can be found at:

Match emitter types
Avoid creating hodge-podge irrigation systems in which a broken emitter is replaced  with whatever is handy. Different emitters, whether drip or spray, have different water pressure requirements. Mixing things up often causes water to go everywhere (except where you want it).
Do not mix drip emitters with different flow rates on one valve. You can either place more emitters on plants that need more water, or divide two areas on the same valve using a barbed ball valve, available at irrigation specialty stores.

Run-off and puddling
We have all seen wet sidewalks and driveways when there was no rain, a sure sign that someone needs to adjust their timers! Concrete is not a living being, and so does not require hydration. Soils can only filtrate water so quickly, and run-off usually indicates too much water being applied all at once. Set your timer to water in cycles or switch to a type with a lower flow rate, such as drip or MP rotators for spray.
Puddling is caused by the same issue, and is exacerbated where there are low spots or the soil has been compacted after years of excess water and pedestrian traffic. Puddling can also occur at the base of a shrub that is blocking a sprayer. In the heat of summer, this water often evaporates before soaking into the ground.
Improving your soil can help with filtration:

For ornamental beds and vegetables, a 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch will help retain moisture, moderate soil temperatures, discourage weeds, and provide organic matter to improve soil aeration. Gravel is also good for moisture retention and temperature regulation in the winter. Avoid landscape fabric, which only works in the short-term to conrol weeds. Plastic inhibits rainwater filtration into the soil, looks unattractive, and creates a non-biodegradable mess as it wears down. Both make adding compost or other amendments difficult.

Re-thinking how we water our landscapes will be necessary for maintaining healthy gardens as the availability of cheap water becomes something of the past. Eliminating wasteful watering regimens and systems will be an important part of this transition, allowing us to retain the joy and beauty that plants bring to our lives.

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




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    Lee Miller

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

    Marcy Sousa

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

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