Welcoming fall, and a look to the future

We’re only a week and a half into fall, but already it’s been a season of unexpected, roller-coaster temperatures, with record-tying heat alternating with unseasonably cool days and rain. Who knows what surprises are yet to come?

Master Gardeners welcomed in the new season this past Saturday, September 28 with Open Garden Day at our 0.4-acre demonstration garden.  It was a perfect day for members of the public to visit to our Learning Landscape; the weather was nearly ideal, and the attendance was absolutely fantastic. 

Visitors were able to enjoy the varied plantings in different sections of the garden, have their gardening questions answered by a team of dedicated Master Gardeners, select from a wide variety of informational handouts, enjoy complimentary garden tool sharpening, and much more. We thank every one of our guests for taking time out of their busy schedules to visit us, and we hope everyone left feeling inspired and happy, with new and helpful information in hand.

It was a rewarding and productive day for our San Joaquin Master Gardeners as well. A large and enthusiastic contingent of our newly trained 2019 program graduates joined veteran Master Gardeners in the morning’s activities. Together, we accomplished a thorough, top-to-bottom cleanup of the garden. Vegetable beds were rototilled and planted with fall crop seedlings; established trees and perennial plantings were carefully pruned; blooming perennials were deadheaded; irrigation systems were checked and prepared for cool weather; new plants were added to existing beds; and organic mulch was laid out for weed control, water conservation, and an attractive, refreshed appearance. 

I had the pleasure of talking with a few visitors while pruning perennials and shuttling buckets of green waste to the compost pile. It was heartwarming and encouraging to meet new people with a shared interest in sustainable landscaping practices; they all wanted to learn more about our many attractive and low-water-use plants, water-saving irrigation, and the effective use of long-blooming, pollinator-friendly plantings.

After the activities of the day were over, I had some quiet time to reflect on all the success of the event and to think about the positive impact each and every one of us can have on California’s environment. Little by little, day by day, every person has the power to help mitigate the habitat loss that has resulted from decades of human activity in our state—land clearing, industrial development, urban and suburban sprawl, and excessive pesticide use—and to prepare for the ever-increasing threat that climate change poses to native plant and animal communities and to human health and well-being.

Our individual efforts might be small, but collectively they can have a widespread and very substantial positive effect on our natural and human environments. We’re all an integral part of the web of life, and inseparable from it—we can’t survive on this planet if the ecosystems around us cease to function effectively. Native pollinators (myriad bees, beetles, hummingbirds, and other birds and insects) don’t just allow us to enjoy pretty flowers; without these small creatures, our food production systems and way of life would collapse. A diverse and healthy environment is truly the key our survival, and our actions can help ensure that it will be preserved for years and decades and centuries to come.

Consider for a moment some of the benefits of choosing and planting heat-loving, low-water-use, pollution-tolerant species of trees, shrubs, and other perennial plants. They can survive under challenging growing conditions, they minimize the use of precious water, they help to improve air and water quality, they reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, they provide valuable shade and/or have a cooling effect that lowers the urban heat index, they provide shelter and nesting spaces for birds and other wildlife, and last but certainly not least, they beautify our public and private spaces.

Green lawns might look attractive, but they are high maintenance monocultures and virtually devoid of wildlife value. Replacing areas of unused lawn and barren pavement with small native gardens can have tremendous, collective environmental benefits. A key concept: Native plants are most beneficial for restoring the health of local ecosystems, since they evolved alongside our native pollinators in a system of co-dependency. 

Along those lines, I was excited to learn about a new Homegrown National Park program being initiated by the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). It’s “a community driven effort to regenerate the health of our ecosystems by encouraging homeowners, schools, businesses, governments, farmers, community groups, and you to plant local native plants to support the natural biodiversity of our region.”

The Homegrown National Park program will eventually use a multifaceted approach to facilitate environmental awareness and encourage planting of beneficial native plants. Those interested in helping reverse the severe decline in pollinator populations will soon be able to use access a wealth of resources on the program’s website. A landscape certification program is being developed to recognize public and private entities that install landscapes with a high percentage of pollinator-friendly native plants that bloom in succession throughout the year. Another program element still in development is a citizen-scientist program; this will enable participating Sacramento and Stockton area residents to report observations about native plant and wildlife interactions.

Here are a few local and national resources available to individuals and groups interested in sustainable, regionally appropriate landscaping information:

This fall, try using your garden to inspire positive change, help maintain biodiversity, and ensure the health of our dear Earth!

For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or visit our website.

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