Master Gardener Training Coming Soon!

Do you enjoy gardening?
Do you live in San Joaquin County?
Are you willing to volunteer your
time and talent?
The San Joaquin UC Master Gardener program is recruiting new volunteers!


When and how do I apply to the program?
Applications are being accepted now! The application deadline is November 5th 2014. Applications can be found on our website or by calling the office at 209-953-6112.

How long does the training last?
The five hour classes will be conducted Wednesday mornings. (8:30 am to 1:30 pm). Attendance is mandatory at all classes.  Classes are held in the UCCE Office.

Who teaches the classes and what will I learn? All classes are taught by University specialists, horticulture advisors, and community experts. Topics include:

  • introduction to horticulture
  • soil
  • water and fertilizer management
  • ornamentals and drought tolerant plants
  • turf management
  • landscape trees
  • planting and maintenance
  • introduction to insects
  • integrated pest management
  • water quality
  • home vegetable gardening
  • plant disease diagnosis
  • weed identification and management
  • home orchards
  • fruit and nut trees
  • small fruits and grapevines
  • volunteerism
  • diagnosing garden and landscape problems

How do I qualify to be a San Joaquin County Master Gardener trainee?
Applicants must be residents of San Joaquin County. This Master Gardener program is administered by the San Joaquin County Cooperative Extension office. If you are not a San Joaquin County resident, contact your local Cooperative Extension office for training information. A past history of volunteering in the community is the main qualification we look for in applicants. The past volunteer activities do not need to be horticulture related. Prior horticulture training and/or experience is preferred but not required.

Is a fee charged for the training classes?
A fee of $180.00 to cover training and resource materials is charged for the training. (2015 class registration fee. Fees are subject to change.)

What happens after I graduate and become a Master Gardener? After attending all class sessions, and all the weekly quizzes and final exam are completed, trainees receive a graduation certificate. New Master Gardeners are required to contribute fifty hours of community volunteer work during the next twelve months. Every year thereafter, twenty-five hours of volunteer activity is required.

UCCE approved volunteer opportunities are available for Master Gardeners to extend University research based information to the gardening community in Sacramento County. Volunteer activities include conducting workshops, diagnosing plant problems, and speaking to community groups. We also dispense advice over the phone and with social and mass media. Each year twelve hours of continuing education is also required.

For more information visit our website or give us a call at 209-953-6112

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Buckwheats for Central Valley Gardens

Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) paired with Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)

There are a lot of great water-wise California native plants to choose from, and some of my favorites are members of the buckwheat genus (Eriogonum spp). California’s myriad native buckwheats are truly multifunctional; they act as the base for a mini ecosystem by attracting pollinators, predatory insects (the beneficial kind), and by extension, larger insects and birds that eat these pollinators and predators. Birds also benefit from seeds and the cover provided by larger buckwheats.

Buckwheats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, though their general growth habit is an evergreen basal mound topped with umbels of creamy, pink, or yellow flowers. Maintenance consists of trimming the umbels after blooming (wait until after seed drop for maximum wildlife benefit) and pruning out dead wood. Do not cut into old woody growth as they might not grow back. With proper cultural care, buckwheats suffer few disease or pest problems.  Here are some varieties that do well in the Central Valley:

Very Low water (1 watering/month during dry season)

St. Catherine's Lace

St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
This is the largest species available to Central Valley gardeners. It is also one of the toughest; it likes full sun, is adaptable to most soils, and will grow to 6 feet tall and wide or more. The blooms are white fading to a lovely bronze that looks great in dried flower arrangements. Blooms summer to fall.



California Buckwheat

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
The next size down and just as tough is California buckwheat.  This shrub’s moderate size, ease of care, and attractiveness to beneficials make it a one-stop-shop. Forms a 2’-4’ tall and 4’ wide shrub with creamy flowers fading to russet. Likes full sun; blooms in summer. Cultivars such as ‘Warriner Lytle’ and ‘Theodore Payne’ are lower growing and require more water.



Low water (2 waterings/month during dry season)

Red-flowering buckwheat

Red-flowering buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens)
This variety likes morning sun and afternoon shade in the valley. Forms a 2’ basal mound with lovely red-pink flowers from summer to fall. Good in a mixed perennial planting and an excellent choice for clay soil.




Coast buckwheat

Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)
Very similar to red-flowering buckwheat in shape and size, but with lovely cream to light pink flowers in summer. About 1’ tall and 18” wide. Prefers well-drained soil.



Moderate water (3-4 waterings/month during dry season)

Seacliff buckwheat

Seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium)
I love the beautifully delicate little foliage and creamy-white flowers of this species. It prefers full sun and is adaptable to different soil types. Grows to 2’, producing pinkish-cream blooms in summer.




Sulfur buckwheat

Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)
A low-growing buckwheat with yellow blooms from late spring to summer. At 1’ tall and 3’ wide, it does best in well-drained soil and full sun. Although it will survive on low water, it needs a little more to bloom well in our climate. Unlike other buckwheats, the flower umbels don’t hold up well as they dry and are best removed after seed drop.


Garden pairings
Purple-flowered plants offer a lovely contrast to the creamy whites and pinks of buckwheat. Easy-care, low-water California natives include Cleveland sage, ‘Margarita BOP’ Penstemon, and Lilac verbena. For moderate-water use buckwheats, try pairing with Hummingbird sage or Seaside daisy. If you are blessed with well-drained soil, you can also try Silver bush lupine, California lilac (Ceanothus spp), or Woolly blue curls. Other natives such as Deer grass and Liveforevers (Dudleya spp.) offer a nice foliage contrast.

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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Know Your Place: Planning a Water-Wise Garden

Water-wise plants for sun: deer grass, ceanothus, blue fescue, lamb's ear, and lavender

Converting your landscape to a water-wise garden is both fun and challenging, but where do you begin? Many people start at the nursery or by flipping through a plant catalogue even though this often leads to impulse-buying and plants with mismatched cultural needs, overcrowding, and waste.

Start by identifying the elements that affect your site, a process I call “knowing your place” because you seek to understand your landscape and it’s limitations. These constraints can seem unpleasant, but they push us away from unsuitable options such as water-hungry lawns and toward water-wise plants for long-term benefits.

When getting to know your place, make note of the following elements:

Regional climate
Our long dry seasons, hot summers, and mildly frosty winters demand plants adapted to these three extremes. When researching your plant options, try to find resources created for Central Valley gardens (see below). Resources using the Sunset Western Garden zones are better for designating plant hardiness than the USDA zones, which are too broad to cover variations in local climate.

Dry shade garden: Heuchera, Douglas iris, Phacelia

Create hydrozones
Define planting areas around your landscape by how much sun they receive to maximize plant health. These areas should be given their own irrigation valve and planted with species that have matched water requirements.
Soil texture affects drainage and nutrient availability, among other things. Many water-wise species need well-drained soil to avoid root suffocation. If you have heavy clay, plant in raised beds or choose clay-tolerant plants. Water-wise plants tend to be low feeders; a layer of organic mulch will help improve soil texture and lower the pH to improve nutrient availability.

Dimensions and other Existing Features
It may seem easier to eyeball things, but consider how much plant-control you need to do later on. Once you have established your hydrozones, break out the tape measure and some paper. Sketch out dimensions, hardscapes (paths, arbors, etc), and plants you want to keep to scale. This will serve as your base plan to draw new plants and see whether you really do have room for two mature redbuds or just one. Try using this chart to group your plants.

Plant Selection
Now for the fun part! If you think water-wise gardening is only about succulents, you are in for a wonderful surprise; there is a multitude of shrubs, trees, perennials, and more to choose from. I don’t have space for a list here, but check out the following websites for information on water-wise plants for our region:

Native bees love Foothill penstemon

Water Efficient Landscapes (Regional Water Authority)
Easy Water-Wise Gardening (Sunset)
Water-Wise Gardening in the Gold Country
UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars
Water Efficient Landscape Plant List (Fair Oaks Horticulture Center)
Water Efficient Gardens in the Sacramento Region

If this all seems tedious, worry not. You will be amply compensated for your time, if not with a paycheck, then at least with a reality check, which is far more valuable as a long-term investment in the health of your garden.

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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Asian Citrus Psyllid and Huanglongbing

You may have heard about citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease destroying citrus orchards and threatening citrus production worldwide. It is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), so the two are often mentioned in tandem, like mosquitos and malaria.

The exact origin of HLB is unknown. Some scientists think the bacteria causing HLB may have originated in Africa before travelling on infected plants to India and China in the 19th century (transported by colonists).

It wasn’t until 1956 that Chinese plant pathologist Lun Kung Hsiang concluded HLB was an infectious disease and not a result of cultural practices (e.g. nutrient or watering issues). Philippine researchers demonstrated in 1967 that the Asian citrus psyllid was a vector, and in 1995 HLB became the official name for the disease. Over the last several decades HLB and/or ACP have spread to citrus growing regions all over the world. The ACP arrived in Florida in 1998, and HLB was confirmed in 2005.

In 2008 the ACP spread from Mexico to southern California, and in 2013 a handfull of sightings have been made in the south Central Valley (read more about the history of HLB on the IFAS website).

Symptoms of HLB
Huanglongbing is a disease caused by two species from the Candidatus liberibacter genus,
L. africanus and L. asiaticus (citrus growing regions in the U.S. are afflicted by the latter). The bacteria lives in the phloem of citrus and related plants in the Rutaceae family, causing the following symptoms:

• Leaves with uneven, yellow mottling
• New shoots yellow and die back, leaves drop off (defoliation)
• Fruit is small, lop-sided, and bitter-tasting
• Fruit may retain green on lower side
• Tree usually dies within 5 years

Nutrient and irrigation issues can also cause similar symptoms. Call the UC Master Gardener office if you are in doubt (see below for contact info).

Recognizing Asian Citrus Psyllid
The Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) and African citrus psyllid (Trioza erytrea) are  vectors for the bacteria causing HLB. In the United States we have the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) to watch out for. Psyllids are aphid-sized insects with piercing mouthparts that transmit the bacteria when feeding.



They have several stages: egg, 5 nymph stages, and adult.





Adults feed with their rears at a 45 degree angle in the air and can be found anywhere on the plant:





Nymphs are only found on lush, new growth. They are flightless and exude waxy tubules, making them easy to identify.



What you can do
Check the UC IPM page on Asian Citrus Psyllid and Huanglongbing Disease for more information. There is currently no cure for HLB, and prevention is a way of buying time until a solution can be found. There are biological and chemical controls being investigated for the ACP. Check your citrus monthly; if you see evidence of the ACP or HLB, immediately call your local Agricultural Authorities:

SJ County Agricultural Commissioner
(209) 953-6000

California Department of Food and Agriculture

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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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!

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).

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 complementary. 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.

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
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



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:


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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.


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

—Excerpted with modifications from the Pest Note by Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento Co.,; David Haviland, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern Co.,

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    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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