Joining the succulent parade.

Succulents and cacti are a new world-to me. The word “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice, or sap and we are unlikely to be saps for liking these plants. Succulents have the ability to thrive on mist and dew, which makes them equipped to survive with scarce water sources. In our drought plagued California, gardeners are always looking for ways to conserve water and yet still enjoy gardening. So one way to do this is to get into the succulent and cacti craze. I have to admit that I have not joined in very well though I am interested in saving water. I have had Jade plants and Hens and Chicks (Echeveria) in my plant repertoire for about fifty years, but not too many other succulents.

So, I am writing this article as a novice in this area. Recently the University of California Master Gardener’s put on a Smart Gardening Conference at the Ag Center which was well attended and I

A collection of succulent starts in a beautiful cedar box---all compliments of the efforts of Master Gardeners at the Smart Gardening Conference in March.

particularly enjoyed the workshop on planting succulents. It was a power point presentation by several of our outstanding Master Gardeners who grow succulents followed by a hands-on planting of various succulent cuttings that were furnished by these gardeners and others. I took home my varieties of succulents in a cute little cedar planter box that was also put together for class attendees by a Master Gardener and her husband. I must say that the volunteer effort these Master Gardeners give to the community is amazing.

Here are some learning points I took away with me. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves, stems or roots. Succulents have evolved in a variety of environments and plant groups. Over 25 plant families have multiple succulents found within them. There are hundreds if not thousands of species of succulents in the world; a pretty large number to attempt to grow in a lifetime of gardening. Succulents grow well in California because of the similarity of climates to those where succulents have evolved.

A Sempervivum succulent of unknown species that I have had for many years.

Some succulents can be grown in soil outdoors and some in containers either indoors or outdoors. If grown in containers some things to consider are: the ultimate size and shape. Hence, small plant should go in small pots and shallow pots are good for most succulents. Good drainage is essential and be prepared to repot when they outgrow the container. A variety of containers can be artfully employed so use your imagination. Succulents can be killed with poor drainage and overwatering. If you have clay soils which don’t drain well then change the soil. Good soil for succulents contains almost equal parts of gravel, coarse sand and topsoil, with a healthy dose of good compost worked into a depth of 5-6 inches.

Water succulents only when soil is dry and they need less water when they are dormant. Some go dormant in winter and some in summer so you need to know that. Generally, growth is in the spring and fall and then they need more water. Ceramic pots retain moisture longer than unglazed clay pots and don’t leave standing water in saucers under the container. Overwatering is easy to do, so if in doubt don’t water. Remember they are succulents and have water in reserve for drought.

Most succulents don’t like direct Valley sun all day, so partial shade or afternoon shade is good for some and others like shade. Most don’t like freezing weather and some should be sheltered if it gets below 40 degrees. Most problems with succulents occur because of overwatering or under watering, or too much sun exposure or too little or because of temperature that are too cold or too hot. Succulents can be grown as houseplants or taken indoors for the winter if not frost hardy. Succulent indoors need 6 hours of sunlight, but avoid sunburn by placing in an east facing window.

For more information on common succulents that are popular and that do well under varying conditions see: A good book on succulents is Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing, and Crafting with 100 Easy-Care Varieties by Debra Lee Baldwin. She knows a lot about succulents. One of the joys of gardening is to keep on learning!

Speaking of learning, the San Joaquin County Master Gardeners are holding an Open Garden Day on Saturday April 14, from 9 AM until noon at the Robert J Cabral Ag Center at 2101 East Earhart Ave off of Arch Road. It will showcase the UCCE Learning Landscape, a demonstration garden created and maintained by the Master Gardeners. Come to learn more about pruning, composting, planting and seasonal garden chores and there will be summer vegetables for sale as well as UC publications (cash or check only). You can bring up to 2 tools for a free tune-up at the tool sharpening table. In case of rain, the event will be cancelled.

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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Here comes the sun (and what gardeners should know about it)

As I pondered a topic for this article, brilliant rays of sunlight penetrated the dark rain clouds, bathing my garden with a beautiful rosy glow. What perfect and timely inspiration.

With respect to gardens, our sun is far more than a “mass of incandescent gas” (term borrowed from the song “Why Does the Sun Shine?”); the radiation from our nearby star literally powers the engine of plant growth. Sunlight is the fuel that allows plants to convert water and carbon dioxide gas into glucose—a type of sugar—and oxygen—a vital component of the air we breathe. It’s a miracle of nature.

Sunlight and plant health are closely intertwined, so here are some things to consider during your spring planting and gardening chores.

A nursery plant tag with sun exposure information at the bottom (Kathy Ikeda)

All plants can be categorized by the amount of sun exposure they prefer: full sun (6 hours or more a day), part sun/shade, or full shade (1 hour or less a day). These distinctions are a standard part of nursery plant tags and reputable gardening references such as the Sunset Western Garden Book, for good reason. One of the most important factors for a plant’s health is sun exposure.

If a sun-loving plant is planted in an area with too much shade, it won’t get the light it needs for optimal health and growth. Conversely, a shade-loving plant will be severely stressed or killed if planted in an area where it receives too much sun.

Not all sunlight is created equal. Morning sunlight is less intense than the hot afternoon sun, particularly during our scorching summers. A plant that receives two hours of full sun early in the day lives in a far different and milder microclimate than a plant that gets full sun between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. Sunlight is essential for plant’s survival, but there can be too much of a good thing.

The angle of the sun and the length of day changes constantly throughout the year, so a spot in the garden that might be shady in the winter could get full afternoon sun for many hours in the summertime. This can have serious consequences for plant health. Make sure you understand the year-round conditions—including seasonal sun exposure—of any planting site, and then choose the plants for that location appropriately.

Heat and light are two distinct components of sunlight, and too little or too much of either can harm plants. Symptoms of inadequate sunlight include weak, spindly growth and pale leaves. Some types of damage caused by excessive sun include bud drop, leaf scorch, leaf tip burn, sunburn, sunscald, and wilting. Sunscald is one of the most serious injuries; with too much sun exposure, the bark splits, cracks, and peels away to expose the living plant tissue underneath, which then becomes susceptible to diseases, insect damage, and death.

Outdoor plants aren’t the only ones affected by sun exposure; houseplants are too. If they’re placed in a dark corner, they will start to appear sickly, and might develop long, straggly growth toward a nearby window. On the other hand, plants placed near a south- or west-facing window might sustain damage from too much heat or direct sunlight exposure in the late spring and summer.

Sunscald damage on a large Japanese maple branch (Kathy Ikeda)

The sun is also is factor in pruning. If you open up the structure of a tree or shrub by removing branches, the trunk and remaining branches or stems might suddenly be exposed to strong sunlight since they’re no longer shaded by foliage. Monitor the plant to see where the sun hits newly-exposed wood, then prevent sunscald by painting those surfaces with a protective solution made by mixing equal parts water and white, water-based, flat, interior latex paint. Paint only the parts exposed to strong sunlight—upper and southwest-facing surfaces—not those that are shaded. (Do not use “sealing compounds” or tar on branches or pruning cuts; they do more harm than good. Simply prune on a dry day and allow the cut surface to heal naturally.)

Keep the sun in mind when planning a vegetable garden or home orchard. Vegetables need at least 8 hours of sunlight per day for optimal growth and crop production. Fruit, nut, and citrus trees need 6 to 8 or more hours of sunlight a day in order to be at their healthiest and most productive, and heat is the most important factor in the ripening of citrus fruit.

Some cautionary notes about citrus: the bark of lemon trees is especially susceptible to sunburn, as are the fruits and leaves of Red Ruby grapefruit. Newly planted citrus trees appreciate some sun protection; loosely wrap their trunks with newspaper, or use the diluted paint mixture described above to coat the trunk and exposed branches.

Sun exposure should also influence your choice of garden mulch. Inorganic mulches such as stone and gravel can be appropriate in shady locations or when placed around heat-loving plants. However, rock retains far more heat than organic mulches such as bark. Under full summer sun, rock mulch absorbs heat during the day and radiates it throughout the night; this can literally bake plants, scorching their leaves, damaging their bark, and cooking their surface roots.

May sunshine brighten your days, and may you learn how to manage it in your garden!

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

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Keeping Your Pet Safe in The Garden

With spring just around the corner comes an increase in outdoor activities, one of those being gardening. You may be spending your day dreaming of plant combinations you

Cyclamen are toxic to pets

can use to enhance your landscape. However, besides beauty and functionality, we have to think about our four-legged family members who search for adventure in our lawns and gardens. There are some important things to consider when landscaping if you have pets.

Choose your plants wisely. Toxicity levels vary in different plants and cause different reactions that can be mild to quite serious (even deadly). Before you shop for plants, check the ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants website. Also, avoid planting thorny and spiny plants, which can cause serious eye injuries. In addition, beware of wild mushrooms in your yard. Many wild mushrooms produce aflatoxins, which can be fatal if ingested by dogs; if mushrooms appear, dig and dispose of them immediately.

Here are a few common plants that are poisonous to animals.

Daffodil-These flowers contain a chemical compound that triggers vomiting. Ingestion of the bulb or any part of the plant can cause, in addition to vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heart rhythm abnormalities and respiratory depression.

Tulip and Hyacinth – Compounds in tulips and hyacinths can cause profuse drooling, vomiting and diarrhea — leading to dehydration and additional problems.  All parts of the plant are toxic, but the lactones and alkaloids are concentrated in the bulbs, so make sure that your dog isn’t digging up the bulbs!

Lily -Some lilies (Peace, Peruvian and Calla) contain oxalate crystals that cause minor signs of toxicity, and true lilies (Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies) can be fatal. Cats are especially sensitive to lily poisoning, so be very careful to keep your cats away from lilies of any kind, including the Amaryllis, Easter lilies and Stargazer lilies popular around holidays.

Lily of the Valley -These plants contain sugars that affect how the cardiac muscle contracts. Ingesting any part of the plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased heart rate, heart rhythm abnormalities and possibly seizures.

Crocus –Both the spring and fall blooming varieties are toxic. These plants can cause vomiting and diarrhea when ingested.

Chrysanthemum (including Daisies) – The chemical compounds lactones and pyrethrins as well as other potential irritants in the plant can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract and affect the nervous system. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, increased salivation and incoordination.

Many lilies are toxic to pets

Cyclamen -The tubers or rhizomes contain the toxic glycoside cyclanin, which can destroy red blood cells. Ingestion can cause salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, refusal to eat, seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities.

Rhododendron -Resins bind to and modify sodium channels, which allows calcium movement into cells and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and refusal to

eat. The leaves are the most toxic, but all parts of the plant, including trimmings, are toxic.

Cycad (such as Sago palm) – Sago palm is a member of the cycad family.  All cycads are mildly to very toxic so should not be ingested by pets or children.  The toxic compounds cause vomiting and liver toxicity.

Other Things to Consider


Mulch has many beneficial properties, such as moisture retention, weed suppression, and beautification. However, certain mulches can cause reactions in your animals. Cocoa bean mulch is particularly toxic to dogs and is best to be avoided in the garden. Rubber mulch claims to be chemical free, but plastic is far from a natural substance. Also, some wood mulches may contain color dyes to which your animals may be sensitive. Use natural wood mulches as a safer choice for your animals but always keep an eye on your pets around mulch, especially if they like to chew.


Most fertilizers only cause gastrointestinal irritation when consumed, but there are some products that are more toxic.

Blood meal: If ingested this can cause vomiting, diarrhea and severe inflammation of the pancreas due to its high nitrogen content. Some types are also fortified with iron, which can result in iron overload, which is toxic.

Bone meal: This is what makes fertilizer so desirable to dogs. When consumed in large amounts, this forms a large bowling ball of cement-like consistency in the stomach that can block the gastrointestinal tract and require surgery to remove.

Rose and plant fertilizers: Some of these contain organophosphates which can cause buildup of a neurotransmitter that overstimulates certain receptors and is highly toxic to dogs in very small amounts.

Be aware of toxic risks. Remember, many things that are not desirable to people are readily ingested by dogs and cats. Learn to identify problematic plants and symptoms of toxicity.

Reduce access to plants. Consider the ability of the animal to jump and dig when making sure toxic substances aren’t accessible. For example, placing a house plant on top of a bookshelf may not be sufficient if there are cats that like to jump up onto high shelves.  Covering fertilizer areas with mulch may not be sufficient because dogs can dig and find the fertilizer or bulbs buried beneath. Always err on the side of caution when determining which plants to bring into the house or plant in the yard!

If you suspect your pet has ingested any of the following plants, call your veterinarian immediately or the APCC 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

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

Information for this article was taken from the UC Davis One Health Blog, 10 Garden Plants That Are Toxic to Pets.

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Composting—It is good for a more sustainable lifestyle and your garden by Lee Miller

Recently when I mentioned that I was collecting coffee grounds for compost, I was asked “What is compost?” I was a little shocked since being a gardener I thought everyone would know what compost is. Likely there are many people who don’t recognize the term, because they do not garden or, if they do, may find compost a foreign concept if they are hooked on using chemical fertilizers which are advertised widely. So what is compost?

Compost is essentially decomposed organic matter that can be made up from various organic components such as kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, weeds, plants from the garden, including coffee grounds, alfalfa meal, hay, straw and even wood shavings and sawdust. The process of biodegrading and recycling these organic materials into useful compost is called composting. It provides a recycled product that organically improves the fertility, condition and water holding capacity of your soil. Besides the value to the soil, composting is a sustainability practice that keeps organic materials out of landfills and instead recycles the organic material for your soil. If it once was alive, it can become compost. Nature composts leaves without our help in forests and grasslands.

Fall was a great season of composting for me and after leaf fall I had 7 piles of compost going. My new home is less conducive to composting the way I used to do it using a tractor with a loader to mix and turn the compost piles at my old farm.  However, I get a little more of a workout turning piles with a fork and I have learned a new way to make compost.

One of our Master Gardeners has introduced us to using stacked bins which appear to work very well.  So many bins are constructed so it is difficult to easily turn the pile from one bin to another. There are also bins which can be turned with a crank, but are not easily loaded or have inadequate holes to permit air to penetrate the compost.

The stacked bins are constructed by stacking 36 x 36 x 6 inch board bin components to contain the compost as in the picture. The boards are fastened at the corners with screws into 2 x 2 x 6.5 inch blocks which will create half inch gaps when stacked. I was fortunate to have salvaged some redwood fence boards and have repurposed them to make compost bins. Any width board from 5 to 7 inches can be used.

It is easy to turn a pile by just moving each bin segment and then filling it using a fork. Material is forked and turned into the new bin location until the pile is totally moved and aerated. Aeration is important to make the compost breakdown faster.  Of course materials will breakdown without aeration, but it takes a long time for that to happen. For quick compost, weekly turnings are good. However, it will not breakdown if moisture is not present, so keep moisture present at about the level of a wrong-out sponge.

What do you need to make compost? Composting occurs best when the ratio of carbon components and nitrogen components are about 30 to 1. Efficient composting depends upon a well-balanced mix of ingredients, which generally fall into two categories: ‘browns’ (high carbon), and ‘greens’ (high nitrogen). Mixing fresh lawn clippings, a green source which is about ratio of 20:1 with leaves which are about 60:1 will make an ideal mixture.

However, fresh lawn clippings are not always available in the fall when leaves are coming down. Instead, I recommend, and I use, coffee grounds collected from a local coffee shop to mix with the leaves. Coffee grounds are about 2 percent nitrogen and make a good source for green material along with vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Coffee grounds are a ‘green’ material that is, in fact, colored brown. Coffee grounds can also be used as a fertilizer, but I find them more useful to make compost. There are some things that are organic, but should not be in a compost pile: noxious weeds, Bermuda grass, pet feces that may cause disease, bones or meat and dairy products that might attract varmints.

Reminder: The Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers are holding their Smart Gardening conference on March 3 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. It is a bargain at $25 which includes lunch and an all day long program to help you garden smarter and better. The keynote speaker is  Ernesto Sandoval, Director, UC Davis Botanical Conservatory who will talk about low water use garden projects.  For more information on workshop topics covered, 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 at:

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Seed Starting Time is Here by Lee Miller

Correction: In last week’s column, the date of the Master Gardener Smart Gardener Conference was listed as March 8, whereas the date should have been listed as Saturday, March 3. For more information see the San Joaquin Master Gardener website.

Why start plants from seeds? It is fun and challenging for one reason. You also have more choices which can also be a learning experience, (one online tomato catalog lists more than 600 varieties—so many seeds to try and so little time!). You can save money as seeds are cheaper than buying plants and one seed package may last a few years and produce lots of plants.

Now is the time of year to think about tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds going into the seed starting pots or whatever you use to start seeds. Also time be planting parsley, basil, thyme and other herbs and flowers too. The best way to do this is using a heated tray or heat mat to provide about 70+ º F soil that is about right for germination. In February, the day length is too short to provide sufficient light, so I put the light on a timer to provide 14 hours of artificial light using fluorescent lights. The light should be kept within 3 inches of the plants as they grow. This will result in robust healthy plants. If you start your seeds on a southern exposure windowsill you can grow plants, but they will likely be scrawny as they reach for light this time of year.

Getting the right soil for seed starting is important. I have used some commercial seed starting materials and found them lacking in fertility which requires adding fertilizer as the plants grow. It is important to use a seed starting medium and not potting soil which works best for container plants, but not for seed starting. I have used screened fine compost that I have produced for seed starting and have had excellent results with it. Compost will feed the plant until planting time without the need to add a fertilizer. I have never sterilized the seed starting medium as some recommend and have not had any serious problems with damping off fungus which attacks plants just above the roots. Part of the reason for this may be keeping soil temperatures warm and definitely not overwatering.

You can make your own soil mix and I am always tempted to experiment, but using pure compost has worked for me for so many years, so I don’t try something different. However, here a mix recommended by University of Michigan Extension: “Mix one-third part sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir fiber with one-third part finely screened compost and one-third part vermiculite and add about 1 to 2 cups of worm compost to a 5 gallon bucket of this soil mix.” The vermiculite will help hold water as does the compost. The worm compost is a good nutrient source.

Whatever the soil mix used, it is important to have a deep soil mix because you are growing roots that will support the plant after transplanting. I usually start my plants in half gallon cardboard cartons that milk and fruit juice come in. I save them all year and then cut out one side and punch holes near the bottom for drainage. This provides a 4 inch deep rooting zone for healthy root growth. I transplant from these containers to 4 or 6 inch deep pots to ready them for sale or transplanting to the garden. A lot of commercial kinds of materials are available for seed starting.

After transplanting you can put the plants outside during daytime in March and bring them in at night if frost threatens. In most years, you can get by without frost in March, but it is good to pay attention to the weather reports, just in case and move them inside if frost threatens. Being outside will toughen up your plants and ready them for planting in the garden.

Garden Reminders: If you haven’t pruned your roses or fruit trees do it now and that goes for perennials like sages and Artemisia too. Also time to plant any artichokes, asparagus and strawberries or other bare root plants. Valentine’s Day is about the last chance to spray peaches and nectarines for peach leaf curl, a fungus that can cause all your new leaves to be deformed and drop off. It can affect young green shoots as well. Spray all sides of branches and trunk where the fungal spores may lurk to infect the buds. Available fungal fixed copper spray products contain a copper metallic equivalent rating on the label and the higher this number the more effective the product. It is advisable to add a tablespoon or two of horticultural oil to the spray to help make it stick better and provide better protection. Happy Gardening.


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


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What’s Growing On: Smart Gardening Conference, March 3 By Katie Walter

On March 3, the San Joaquin Master Gardeners will host their 2018 Smart Gardening Conference, where you can learn about optimal gardening practices for our area. This

2015 Smart Garden Conference

conference is just one of the ways this University of California program teaches community members to manage their gardens and landscapes in a science-based, sustainable manner. Master Gardener volunteers are trained to be effective community educators in gardening and environmental stewardship.

Master Gardeners work with the public to address environmental and social priorities such as green waste diversion, water conservation and water quality protection; reduce the impact of invasive species; and increase public awareness of healthy living through gardening. One of the many ways we extend this information is in the articles printed in the newspaper on various home horticulture topics.

The Smart Gardening Conference will be held at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Avenue, Stockton. The building is near the Stockton Airport, on the south side of Arch Road between Highway 99 and Airport Road. The cost of the conference is $25, which includes lunch.

Our keynote speaker, Ernesto Sandoval, Director of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, will speak at 9 a.m. on “Big and Small, Public and Private Low-Water-Use Garden Projects.”

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. with classes starting at 10 a.m. and running until 4 p.m. Master Gardeners will teach

Ernesto Sandoval will be our keynote speaker

one-hour classes on management of fruit tree pests, herbs, cold-hardy aloes, gardening for pollinators, tool care, summer vegetable gardening, composting, weed identification and management, and gardening in your golden years. The San Joaquin Master Food Preservers will offer classes on preserving and using strawberries, tomatoes and herbs.

Hour-and-a-half classes will allow participants an opportunity for hands-on learning about home irrigation, plant propagation and succulents. The Master Food Preservers will teach jelly and jam making during the period. Attendees of this class will take home one jar each of jelly and jam. Register soon to get into the classes of your choice. Some are filling fast.

Gardening books will be available for purchase at a discounted price by cash or check. A raffle to raise funds for the Master Gardener program will offer prizes such as books, tools, gift cards, and more. The program invites local businesses to assist the conference by providing monetary contributions or items for inclusion in the raffle. Call 209-953-6112 if you wish to help sponsor the conference.

To register or for more information on the conference go to There are two ways to register for the conference. You can pay online using our secured payment

We will have creative repurposed items that are great for the garden

site or by printing out the registration form and mailing it in with a check, money order or cash. The registration deadline is February 23, 2018. If you have questions, please call 209-953-6112. We look forward to seeing you there!

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






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It’s Citrus Season by Katie Walter

Anyone with a citrus tree or a friend with one is inundated with lemons and oranges now. Bags of lemons pass from hand to hand for use in lemon curd, limoncello liqueur, lemon meringue pie or just juice for the freezer. Oranges make fabulous fresh juice, putting the store-bought product to shame.

San Joaquin County hosts one of the best climates for homegrown citrus. Except for the occasional freezing nights in December and January when your tree may need a sheet or blanket for protection, citrus love our climate. If the tree is near your home, say against the house or in a corner surrounded by the house on two sides, warmth from the house will likely provide all the protection it needs.

Cold weather recently in Florida was devastating for the commercial citrus crop there. Even occasional freezes are incompatible with large-scale citrus production. A drive to Los Angeles on Interstate 5 shows where oranges and other citrus do well in the Central Valley. The orchards, on the left as you drive south, are a few hundred feet above the valley floor and out of the worst fog and cold. Microclimates matter.

If you are considering taking advantage of our climate and planting a tree or two, keep in mind that oranges and lemons are just the beginning. Limes provide a tart tingle to many drinks and make a delicious soufflé. Grapefruit are yummy for breakfast or in salads. Juice from key limes are the critical ingredient in key lime pie.

Bitter oranges are used for traditional orange marmalade. Kumquats are tiny fruit that look lovely on the tree. They have a sweet rind and sour flesh and make excellent marmalade. The well-named, dark-red blood orange makes fantastic juice. Or you might get exotic and plant the many-fingered Buddha’s hand.

Lemons are probably the most frequently planted citrus here because they are such a versatile fruit. The firm, oval “Eureka” lemon is the one most often found in the grocery store. The round, soft, thin-skinned “Meyer” is the variety typically planted in our backyards and is likely the one in most of the bags being passed around. The juice of the Meyer is much sweeter than the Eureka’s, which makes sense when you learn that the Meyer is a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin orange or a common orange. A very happy accident created our delicious Meyer lemons!

Nurseries and big-box stores are full of citrus trees in pots right now. Full-sized varieties give you lots of fruit but be careful about height. You want to be able to pick the fruit when the tree is fully grown. A dwarf or semi-dwarf variety is just the ticket for easy-to-pick fruit or if you are short on space. Labels on the potted trees are usually excellent for providing information on variety, anticipated size, and cold tolerance. After the tree is home and in the ground, cut it back by about one-third of its height. With luck, the nursery person will be knowledgeable about how much to cut your new tree back.

Don’t expect to get a real crop for two to three years. Don’t let any fruit mature during that period. Pick them early and dispose of them. It takes a few years for the tree to settle in and establish a good root structure. Only then can the tree concentrate on producing high-quality fruit. Bon appetit!

Now for some bad news. You may have heard about the Asian citrus psyllid (pronounced “sillud”) and citrus greening disease, which the psyllid causes. The disease can kill a citrus tree in as little as five years. There is no known cure, although scientists are busy searching for one.

The psyllid is a tiny insect that feeds on all varieties of citrus, in commercial orchards and backyards. It damages the tree by feeding on new leaf growth and by introducing to the tree the bacterium that causes citrus greening disease, also known as huanglongbing. The psyllid first showed up in Asia and had made its way to Florida by 1998. By 2001, the insect was in 31 Florida counties and had spread to Texas. In 2008, the psyllid was Southern California. Today it is widespread in the Central Valley. A diseased tree declines in health and produces bitter, green, misshaped fruit until it dies.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has undertaken an extensive monitoring program to track the distribution of the insect and disease. Program personnel regularly check yellow sticky traps for the psyllid, in both residential areas and commercial citrus groves, in locations where the psyllid may be spreading. The program also includes frequent testing of psyllids and leaf samples for the presence of the bacterium.

Damaged fruit is safe to eat and not harmful to humans. If you think a tree on your property is affected, do not remove it or any plant materials from the area and call the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899. For more information on the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing disease, visit:

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

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Gardens as a metaphor for life

An acquaintance recently told me about a favorite and once thriving shrub that was in serious decline.  The problem: over time, branches from a nearby tree had grown and spread so widely that they were shading out the sun-loving plant. The only viable options: severely prune back the mature tree and destroy its structure, or risk digging up the mature shrub and transplanting it to a more favorable location. A major change was needed.

As ambulatory beings, we human beings are fortunate. If an environment is unhealthy or not to our liking, we generally have the option of walking away and putting ourselves in a better place. Not so with plants. They are permanently rooted to one spot—unless we move them—and they must adapt and thrive or wither and die.

In a natural setting, plants are completely at the mercy of environmental factors, living to old age only if conditions are favorable. On the other hand, plants growing in a garden setting rely on their human caretakers to provide for their needs: proper sun exposure, healthy soil, adequate water and nutrients. We must be vigilant over time, watching as plants grow and conditions change, because a landscape (like a growing child) is a living, dynamic, ever-evolving thing.

Commercially-grown plants have been raised under optimal conditions, with carefully scheduled watering and fertilizing, precisely engineered soil mix, efficient pest control, and constantly monitored air circulation. Once they make their way from grower to nursery to home, they must usually contend with less than ideal circumstances.

Annual plants—with lifespans of only a year—usually manage to complete their life cycle even if we mistakenly plant them in a poor place. But other plants—long lived trees, shrubs, and other perennials—need to be monitored to ensure that they remain healthy over the long term. It’s an approach equivalent to an annual medical exam.

To ensure that your garden thrives, begin by following the principle of “right plant, right place.” Each species of plant evolved in its own niche in the world, and thus has its own preferences for soil type (loamy, sandy, clayey, rocky), sun exposure (full sun, partial shade, full shade), water needs (low, moderate, high), heat and cold tolerances, and more. If you duplicate these conditions as much as possible and choose a planting location carefully, your chances of success are high.

Another element of the “right plant, right place” concept involves space. Each type of plant grows to a specific size when mature, so you should take this eventual size into consideration when formulating a planting plan.

A harmoniously designed, pollinator-friendly, well-maintained Mediterranean garden at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven in Davis. Plantings include Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus), (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Lislett’), Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’), Verbena, and more. (Photo by Kathy Ikeda)















A well-planned landscape should look somewhat sparsely planted in the first year or two. Once plants are well established, they will soon grow to fill in the empty space. Plants that aren’t given adequate space at the outset soon become overcrowded, and this leads to a host of problems: a need for excessive shearing or pruning, which stresses and destroys the natural form of plants; poor air circulation, which can encourage rot or pest infestations; and competition for limited soil nutrients, which results in sickly looking plants or a need for too-frequent fertilizing. (Many commercial landscapes suffer from such overcrowding; they’re planted densely to avoid any bare look from the outset, and that initially pretty appearance steadily declines in subsequent years.)

One approach is to think of a garden as a metaphorical neighborhood. Gardens tend to be at their best when plants are grouped with others that have the same or similar growing conditions, and when they are given space to be themselves. Would you choose to live in a crowded area with aggressive, hostile neighbors? (Wrong place.) Or would you rather be in a place with some space, with like-minded and/or respectful neighbors? (Right place.)

People and plants are alike in many ways. An outdoorsy, sun-loving person won’t thrive in a dark and gloomy office. Someone who prefers cool, shady climates will wilt if relocated to a hot place. Those from dry locales can quickly become depressed when spending time in a rainy, soggy environ. Such comparisons can be extended to the plant world. All living things have specific and very individual needs in order to flourish.

Before you choose a plant, consult a reputable source such as the Sunset Western Garden Book, a knowledgeable nursery professional, or a horticulture specialist. If the size of your site and the planting zone and conditions coincide with the plant’s needs, chances are it will be happy once it’s in the ground… and it will be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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

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Dormant sprays can help reduce pests and disease in fruit trees

If you have a fruit tree, you know that gardeners are not the only ones who enjoy the bounty of the harvest.  There are many pests — such as scales, aphids and mites –

Peach Leaf Curl

that feast on the tender plant parts and these same pests overwinter on the fruit trees. Dormant oils help control these annoying pests and are safe for use on fruit trees.

Dormant sprays or delayed dormant sprays are a generic term for an application of pesticides—including fungicides, highly refined horticultural oils and oils in combination with a pesticide– that are  applied to leafless deciduous trees during fall, winter, and early spring. All fruit and nut trees and many landscape trees and roses are susceptible to aphids, mites, scale and specific insect and disease problems affecting fruit quality and tree health

Some dormant sprays are applied to control over-wintering insects, while others are used to prevent disease infection.  While dormant sprays are commonly used on fruit trees, they can also benefit roses and other ornamental shrubs that might develop insect or fungal disease problems as the warmer weather arrives in the spring. Dormant sprays should only be used in conjunction with good garden sanitation. Be sure to rake up and dispose of all fallen leaves and debris that may harbor fungus spores and overwintering insects.

Dormant oil is a refined petroleum product formulated for fruit tree use. It has been in use for well over a century in commercial orchards, and is still regularly used today. It is classified as an insecticide, and acts by coating over-wintering insects hiding in tree trunk and limb bark with a suffocating layer of oil. Oils used at this time of year include insecticidal oils, narrow range, supreme and superior oils. Dormant disease control applications use materials such as copper, lime sulfur, Bordeaux, and synthetic fungicides.

Dormant sprays provide efficient and economical treatment for a number of over-wintering pests and diseases such as: scale, peach twig borer, aphid eggs, leaf curl, powdery mildew and shot hole.

Here is a partial list for fruit trees:

• Apple and pear – dormant oil helps control scale, overwintering aphids, mite eggs and pear phyla.

• Apricot – dormant oil helps control scale, mite and aphid eggs and peach tree borer. Never use sulfur on apricots.

Shot Hole Disease on Apricot

• Cherry – is susceptible to oozing from gummosis (Bacterial canker) and may respond to dormant sprays containing fixed copper.

• Peach and nectarine – require repeated applications of fixed copper spray to control peach leaf curl. In December or January, prune off half to two thirds of last season’s growth to stimulate new fruiting wood. Spray the ground after removing leaves and branches. Use dormant oil if scale is present.

• Plum and prune -dormant oil helps control scale and overwintering aphid and mite eggs. Apply copper for shot hole fungus. Heavy pruning may be needed to help control tree size. Spray ground after clean up.

• Nut trees- remove any nuts still hanging on the tree. Spray with dormant oil to control scale. Oil sprays also help control peach tree borers and mite eggs.

Applying dormant or delayed dormant treatments

A dormant spray may not be required every year in the backyard orchard. For some insect pests and diseases, one dormant application may be adequate with good spray coverage. For other problems, up to 3 applications may be necessary for good control. Decide if you need to apply by noting the amount of insect and disease pressure during the previous growing season. If you decide to spray always read the label and follow the directions, more is not better. Make sure you dress in protective clothing, including long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, chemical-proof gloves, and safety goggles.

Treat at the beginning of dormancy in late November and again just before the buds begin to open in February or early March. One way to remember when to consider dormant spraying is to do so around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Once flower buds begin to open you may damage fruit and kill pollinating bees if spraying is done at this time. Therefore, it is important to spray at the proposed times before “bud break”. Spraying after pruning allows maximum coverage since there are no leaves to block the spray. A good time to spray is right after a period of rain or foggy weather but not during fog, rain or right before a freeze. Avoid spraying trees that are showing signs of drought stress.

Sprays can be applied with a pump sprayer or hose-end sprayer that is sized appropriately for the number of plants you need to spray. The sprayer should be clean, in good working order and not been used for any herbicides.  Spray the entire dormant plant taking care to saturate every branch, stem or cane as insects and the tiny dust-like spores of fungal diseases hide in the smallest nooks and crevices. Don’t use a dormant spray on any plant that has any leaves or is actively growing. Leaves, especially tender new growth, may be damaged by the spray from the impurities in the oils or the reflection of the sun off the oil.

Dormant oils generally won’t harm beneficial insects since they are applied at a time when beneficial insects aren’t present on fruit trees and have a low toxicity level to humans and mammals. Furthermore, dormant oils won’t leave harsh residue behind. It loses its ability to control pests once dried.

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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Managing Mistletoe in Trees

You may have seen Mistletoe hung in doorways over these past few weeks. It is a traditional holiday decoration, but when it’s growing on trees in the landscape, this parasitic plant may not seem quite as charming.

There are two types of mistletoe: broadleaf and dwarf.

Broadleaf mistletoe (Phoradendron macrophyllum) is an evergreen parasitic plant that grows on a number of landscape tree species in California. Hosts of broadleaf mistletoe include alder, Aristocrat flowering pear, ash, birch, box elder, cottonwood, locust, silver maple, walnut, and zelkova. Other species of broadleaf mistletoe in California include P. villosum, which infests only oaks, and Viscum album, which attacks alder, apple, black locust, and cottonwood.

Dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium spp.) infest pines, firs, and other conifers in forests, and can be a problem in forest landscapes such as in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Leafy mistletoes have green stems with thick leaves that are nearly oval in shape. Plants often develop a rounded form up to 2 feet or more in diameter. The small, sticky, whitish berries are produced from October to December.

Mistletoe plants are either female (produce berries) or male (produce only pollen). The berries of the female plant are small, sticky, and whitish; they are very attractive to birds such as cedar waxwings, robins, and others. The birds feed on and digest the pulp of the berries, excreting the living seeds that stick tightly to any branch on which they land. In most cases, the initial infestation occurs on larger or older trees because birds prefer to perch in the tops of taller trees.

After the mistletoe seed germinates, it grows through the bark and into the tree’s water-conducting tissues, where rootlike structures called haustoria develop. The haustoria gradually extend up and down within the branch as the mistletoe grows. Initially, the parasitic plant grows slowly; it may take years before the plant blooms and produces seed. Broadleaf mistletoes have succulent stems that become woody at the base. Old, mature mistletoe plants may be several feet in diameter, and on some host species, large swollen areas develop on the infected branches where the mistletoe penetrates. If the visible portion of the mistletoe is removed, new plants often resprout from the haustoria.

Dwarf mistletoes are smaller plants than broadleaf mistletoes, with mature stems less than 6 to 8 inches long. Dwarf mistletoe shoots are nonwoody, segmented, and have small scalelike leaves. While broadleaf mistletoe seeds are dispersed by birds, dwarf mistletoe seeds are spread mostly by their forcible discharge from fruit, which can propel seeds horizontally into trees up to 30 to 40 feet away.

Broadleaf mistletoe absorbs both water and mineral nutrients from its host trees. Mistletoes also can produce energy through photosynthesis in their green leaves. Healthy trees can tolerate a few mistletoe branch infections, but individual branches may be weakened or sometimes killed. Heavily infested trees may be reduced in vigor, stunted, or even killed, especially if they are stressed by other problems such as drought or disease.

In newly developed areas or in older established areas where trees are being replaced, the ideal method of controlling or preventing mistletoe is to plant trees believed to be resistant or moderately resistant to mistletoe. Avoid trees like Modesto ash, known to be especially susceptible to mistletoe infestation. Some tree species appear resistant to broadleaf mistletoe. Bradford flowering pear, Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, eucalyptus, ginkgo, golden rain tree, liquidambar, sycamore, and conifers such as redwood and cedar are rarely infested. These or other resistant species should be considered when planting in infested areas, or when replacing infested trees.

For treatment of existing trees it is important to remove mistletoe before it produces seed and spreads to other limbs or trees. Mechanical control through pruning is the most effective method for removal. Growth regulators provide a degree of temporary control but repeated applications are required. Severely infested trees should be removed and replaced with less susceptible species to protect surrounding trees.

The most effective way to control mistletoe and prevent its spread is to prune out infected branches, if possible, as soon as the parasite appears. Using thinning-type pruning cuts, remove infected branches at their point of origin or back to large lateral branches. Infected branches need to be cut at least one foot below the point of mistletoe attachment in order to completely remove embedded haustoria. It is best to call an arborist if mistletoe is infesting your trees and you are unable to reach it to prune it.

Mistletoes infecting a major branch or the trunk where it cannot be pruned may be controlled by cutting off the mistletoe flush with the limb or trunk. Then wrap the area with a few layers of wide, black polyethylene to exclude light. Use twine or tape to secure the plastic to the limb, but do not wrap it too tightly or the branch may be damaged. Broadleaf mistletoe requires light and will die within a couple of years without it. It may be necessary to repeat this treatment, especially if the wrapping becomes detached or if the mistletoe does not die.

Simply cutting the mistletoe out of an infested tree each winter, even without wrapping, is better than doing nothing at all. Even though the parasite will grow back, spread is reduced because broadleaf mistletoe must be several years old before it can bloom and produce seed.

For a list of Certified Arborists in our area or for more information related to mistletoe, you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:

This was excerpted from the Pest Notes: Mistletoe by EJ Perry and CL Elmore.

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    Lee Miller

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

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