Fall Open Garden Day at the Learning Landscape

Fall is a great time to get out into the garden and get those summer vegetable beds cleaned up and winter crops planted. It’s the time to plant and prune landscape trees and other perennial plants. It’s the time to get our gardens ready for the winter season.  As Master Gardeners, we are committed to educating the general public on sustainable horticulture and pest management practices based on traditional, current, and evolving research. One of the ways we do this is through our Learning Landscape demonstration garden located at the San Joaquin UC Master Gardener office.

We will be hosting our fall Open Garden Day event on Saturday, October 14, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The garden is located at 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Stockton, at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center just off Arch-Airport Road. This event is free and registration is not required. Light refreshments will be provided. In the case of rain, this event will be cancelled.

The Open Garden Day will feature pruning, irrigation, and planting demonstrations. You can bring your hand pruners down for a free tune-up at the tool sharpening table. If you are thinking about planting a winter vegetable garden, we will have vegetable plants for sale along with UC gardening publications that are great for any home gardener. There will also be a variety of other display as well as a kids’ activity for young garden enthusiasts. Master Gardeners will be available to talk about the demonstration garden and to answer questions that home gardeners might have about their own gardens. We hope that attendees will be inspired and leave with ideas of things that can be incorporated into their own landscapes.

The Learning Landscape began in 2008 and continues to expand and change. Over the years, Master Gardeners have transformed the originally barren, rocky site into a lively, vibrant garden. A dedicated team of Master Gardeners maintain and improve the garden throughout the year.  Plants are continuously changing as we learn what grows well here and what doesn’t (our battle with rabbits and voles is never-ending).

The goal of our Learning Landscape demonstration garden is to provide the public with research-based, sustainable gardening practices specific to San Joaquin County that are reflective of a variety of environments and gardening experiences. The garden has plants for different needs, including drought tolerance, color, sun or shade exposure, and height. There are ornamental and fruit trees, flowering shrubs, perennial flowers, California natives, vines, and groundcovers. The garden is home to many species of insects, and plants that attract beneficial insects are planted throughout the garden to eliminate the need for chemical pesticide sprays.

The garden also features many sustainable elements. There are water permeable walkways and decomposed granite paths that allow water to infiltrate into the soil. We use weather based irrigation systems that schedule watering as needed based on the current conditions. A drip irrigation system below the mulch allows for uniform watering throughout the garden with minimal loss of water to evaporation. Regular applications of mulch help to conserve water and suppress weeds; the mulch eventually decomposes into organic matter that is beneficial to the soil. Plants that are selected are low water users and are appropriate for the space provided. As a decorative touch, some re-purposed materials have even been turned into garden art.

The garden is composed of 6 distinct but interconnected gardens. Plant identification signs and educational signs tell the story of each garden section. The featured gardens are:

The All-Stars Garden: This section features plants from the UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars program.

The Foliage Garden: A garden with year-round interest that doesn’t depend on flowers.

The Edible Landscape: Demonstrates how to combine food-producing plants with regular landscape plants.

The Mediterranean Garden: Displays plants from the five regions of the world with climates similar to ours, and shows how to combine them for gardens adapted to our area’s climate.

The Pollinator Garden: This section is filled with flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Something is always in bloom!

The California Native Garden: Highlights a variety of garden-worthy native plants adapted to our region.

We invite members of the public to visit the Learning Landscape, and encourage you to visit multiple times to see how the garden’s features change through the seasons. The garden is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Service animals are allowed.

For information on scheduling a private tour for your group or organization, call our helpline at (209) 953-6112. For information about other Master Gardener workshops and events, call our number or visit the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County website at http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu.


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Now’s the time to enrich your garden beds with cover crops

The gardening season is winding down, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. After a busy spring and summer of planting, harvesting, weeding and fighting that endless war on pests, it’s time to take a gardening break, or is it? Allowing your garden to sit fallow during the winter means you are missing out on an opportunity to improve your soil.

Master Gardener Rich M. spreading the cover crop seed in our Learning Landscape

Garden soil can be abused during the growing season from tilling, weeding, harvesting, and foot traffic. One of the most important things a gardener can do to improve the soil is to add organic matter in the form of compost, manures or other organic materials, such as leaves, straw, or grass clippings. Earthworms, bacteria, fungi, nematodes and other forms of life utilize the organic matter to build a healthy soil. Planting cover crops is an economical and easy way to improve overall soil quality.

Cover crops are fast-growing plants that are grown from seed during the fallow times in the vegetable garden, often in fall and winter. Instead of being harvested, a cover crop is grown to provide vegetative cover for the soil.  It can be left on the surface as mulch or tilled while it is still green into the soil, becoming a “green manure”.

Cover crops are easy to plant and require only basic care to thrive. The key is to allow adequate time for the crop to grow, cut it before it flowers to prevent self-seeding and taking up the very nutrients that need to be replenished in the soil, and allowing adequate time for it to decompose before planting the intended crop. Cool-season cover crops are usually planted from late September through late October. Locally, Lockhart Seeds is a good source for finding cover crop seeds. They carry a pre-made cover crop blend that would work well for most home gardeners.

Our 2016 cover crop did very well!

Cover crops have a place in the home garden regardless of garden size and provide many benefits including:

Soil erosion
The roots of a cover crop stabilize the root zone or surface of the soil, reducing the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The leaves and stems of the cover crop also decrease soil erosion by reducing the impact of rain and potential runoff.

Soil Compaction
Cover crop root systems can be used to combat both shallow and deep compaction. Cover crops with taproot (forage radishes) reach deep into the soil and can break up compacted soil layers. Likewise, the extensive root systems of grass cover crops (cereal rye) reduce surface compaction making it easier for vegetable roots to access essential water and nutrients that may previously have been unavailable.

Soil organic matter
Cover crop residues increase soil organic matter, providing numerous benefits to the soil and successive crops. Increasing organic matter improves soil structure, soil water holding capacity and infiltration, and soil aggregate stability.

Weed Suppression
Cover crops can provide weed control by out-competing weeds for light, water and nutrients. Research has found that cereal rye also exhibits an allelopathic effect on weeds, i.e., acts as a natural herbicide.

In general, cover crops are divided into two major categories: legumes (pea family) and nonlegumes (grasses and grain crops).

Legumes include peas, Fava beans, clovers and vetches and are generally grown for their ability to capture nitrogen and make it available to plants. Specialized bacteria on the roots of legumes take nitrogen from the atmosphere and “fix” the nitrogen in nodules that the bacteria create on the roots. In order to ensure that this fixation occurs, and that maximum growth takes place, it is important to attach the bacteria to legume seeds before planting. So when purchasing seeds, also buy an “inoculant” that contains the bacteria.

Nonlegume crops are small grains and grasses such as cereal rye, wheat, oats and barley. Nonlegume crops are generally planted to protect the soil from erosion, add organic matter to the soil, and suppress weeds. They do not have the capacity to add additional nitrogen but will scavenge nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and prevent them from leaching out of soil. When the green material is tilled into the soil, the green manure is broken down and nitrogen, phosphorus and other trace elements become available for use by future plants.

Regardless of garden size, cover crops provide an easy, economical way to improve soil and guard against erosion. In addition to the benefit of improved production from improved soil, a garden that is filled with green in mid-winter is much more appealing to the eye than a bed of winter weeds or bare soil!

For more information about cover crops or other gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or visit our website at ucanr.edu/sjmg.


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Seed swapping: a rewarding way to grow your garden









Fall is an excellent time to harvest and preserve seeds for planting next year.

Warm season vegetable crops are winding down their production, and those overripe or dried out squash, melons, tomatoes, eggplants, and more are a fantastic source of seeds for a “repeat performance” next year. Most spring- and summer-blooming ornamentals have flowers that have gone to seed and dried up, and they produce far more seed than needed to ensure a new generation of plants.

What to do with all those extra seeds?

Before throwing away or composting those spare end-of-season plants and their “babies-in-waiting,” consider saving the seeds and trading them with others. Seed swapping allows you to acquire new plant varieties to germinate and grow at no cost, and there are many other benefits as well.

Do you like sharing the beauty and bounty of your garden? Seed swapping is a perfect way to spread the joy.

Do you like making new friends? Depending on your level of involvement, seed swapping allows to you join local, national, or international communities of plant enthusiasts who enjoy growing their favorite varieties from seed.

Do you feel strongly about preserving ancient, hard-to-find, heirloom varieties of plants that were the foundation of modern-day agriculture and floriculture? Several seed exchange organizations make this a primary part of their mission.

We’re very lucky to have a hidden gem for seed swapping right here in in our county. The small but conveniently located San Joaquin County Seed Lending Library is housed in a refurbished antique cabinet at the Cesar Chavez Library in downtown Stockton. It’s stocked with seeds for vegetables, herbs, and flowering ornamentals. A short registration form is the only requirement for participation, along with the hope that you’ll contribute seeds back to the library in exchange for those “borrowed.” For more information on this innovative resource, see www.ssjcpl.org/programs/seedLibrary.html.

When sharing seeds, it’s an important courtesy to follow a few simple rules.

  • Harvest, dry, package, and store seeds according to established practices (see resources listed below) to ensure that they remain viable and disease-free.
  • Label your donated seed packets carefully and accurately to help those with whom you’re sharing. Information should include both the common and scientific (Latin) names of the plant, the flower color(s) if applicable, and the date the seeds were collected. Be sure that all information is legible and written with indelible ink.
  • Be as consistent as possible with the number of seeds placed in each seed packet. A good rule of thumb takes seed size into consideration: approximately 10-15 large seeds (such as beans and peas), 25 medium seeds, 50 medium-small seeds, or 100 small seeds (such as poppies) per packet.
  • Do your best to collect and package seeds without much of the non-seed material known as “chaff.” This is easiest when collecting larger, easily recognizable seeds, and much more difficult with tiny or lightweight seeds. Lightly blowing on a wide container full of seed and dry plant material can help separate chaff from seed.
  • If you grow a plant with the intent of preserving the genetic purity of its seeds, it’s important to prevent cross-pollination by other similar plants. A guide to proper isolation of edible plants can be found at http://www.seedsavers.org/seed-saving-chart.

Some excellent resources for those who want to try seed saving and swapping are:

Dave’s Garden. This plant-lover’s website has an extensive article on seed saving and swapping at http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1505. The article includes several clickable links, including one to a “trade lists” page and another to a page of pre-designed, printable seed packets. Find those packets that match the plants you grow, or use the samples as a template for seed packet size and appropriate information. (Those contributed by member “pford1854” are the best examples.)

Seed Savers Exchange. This organization is one of the preeminent groups for both novice and experienced seed swappers and preservationists. Their mission is to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” If you’re looking for a hard-to-find vegetable variety or that special heirloom bloom, their seed exchange site—with more than 13,000 members—is one of the best places to look. Find them at www.seedsavers.org, or check them out on Facebook or Twitter.

Backyard Seed Savers. This organization’s focus is on organic, non-genetically-modified seeds. The home page of their website—http://backyardseedsavers.com—has easy-to-access links to a seed store, a seed exchange, a seed savers community, and a plant and seed information library.

Techniques for successfully harvesting, drying, and storing seeds vary from plant to plant. If you’d like to learn more about the art of seed saving, read the books Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or The Manual of Seed Saving by Andrea Heistinger, or consult the many resources available at the websites mentioned above.

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

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“Go native” at specialized plant sales

The fall planting season is here!

September, October, and November are ideal months to add new water-thrifty plants to home landscapes. Plants native to central California and to parts of the world with a Mediterranean climate are ideally suited to the hot, arid summers and cool, wet winters we experience in San Joaquin County.

Some species of California native plants can be difficult to find. Although many commercial nurseries now carry a small selection of natives, very few have a wide selection, so locating your favorites can be a challenge.

The upcoming events listed below are unparalleled if you hope to explore and purchase a wide variety of native and Valley-appropriate plants. Combine a plant sale visit with an exploration of nearby amenities, and turn your outing into a pleasant weekend excursion.

A portion of the “Valley Wise Visions” mosaic at the UC Davis Arboretum (© Kathy Ikeda)













California Native Plant Society (Sacramento Valley Chapter)

Fall Plant Sale and Art Show

Saturday and Sunday, September 23 and 24

10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Shepard Garden & Arts Center, McKinley Park, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento

Hundreds of native plant species—supplied by well-known Sacramento-area growers such as Elderberry Farms, Cornflower Farms, and Hedgerow Farms—will be available at this well-organized sale. CNPS volunteers are on hand to answer your questions, and many books on native plant gardening are available. Funds raised at this event benefit the ongoing activities of Sac Valley CNPS and its Elderberry Farms native plant nursery, so your purchases help support a wonderful cause.

New to the event this year is an “On the Wild Side of Art” sale. As the name loosely implies, the focus is on plants and animals indigenous to California. This inaugural sale features beautiful and innovative creations by Sacramento area artists in a variety of media (paintings, prints, photographs, fabric art, and ceramics).

For more information, see the event flyer at https://www.sacvalleycnps.org/images/Fall_Plant_Sale_New_ART_SHOW_2017.jpg


California Native Plant Society (North San Joaquin Valley Chapter)

2017 Fall Plant Sale

Saturday, October 21

9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Hughson Arboretum and Gardens, 7601 E. Whitmore Ave, Hughson

About 50 different kinds of native plants will be available at this sale; proceeds are earmarked for CNPS education and school garden projects. The sale is conveniently located at the Hughson Arboretum at the corner of E. Whitmore and Euclid Avenues, providing an attractive and welcoming setting for a native plant shopping trip.

About 50 different kinds of native plants will be available at this sale; proceeds are earmarked for CNPS education and school garden projects. The sale is conveniently located at the Hughson Arboretum at the corner of E. Whitmore and Euclid Avenues, providing an attractive and welcoming setting for a native plant shopping trip.

The North San Joaquin Valley chapter of CNPS maintains a small native plant garden at the Great Valley Museum, located on the Modesto Junior College campus (2201 Blue Gum Ave in Modesto, just west of Highway 99). If you visit their plant sale, consider making a side trip to this garden for inspiration, and to the adjacent museum and planetarium as well.

For an event flyer and plant list, contact cnps.nsj@gmail.com.


Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum Plant Sales

UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery, 920 Garrod Drive, Davis

Saturday, October 7

Members only sale — 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.; Public sale — 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 21

Public sale — 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 4

Public clearance sale — 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

These sales are ideal for anyone looking for regionally appropriate plants to incorporate into a landscape, or for those converting a lawn to a water-thrifty garden. California native plants, Arboretum All-Stars, and other low-water-use plants are featured at these very popular events.

Arrive early for the best selection, or become an Arboretum member (in advance or on sale days) to take advantage of members-only hours. Members receive a 10% discount on purchases, and new members get an additional $10 off the first purchase. The sales area is efficiently organized with small garden carts available for use onsite; volunteers can help shuttle purchases to your vehicle, or bring your own small wagon or large tote.

Be sure to allow time to visit the many beautiful gardens at UC Davis:

  • The Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, adjacent and west of the nursery sales area, is a small garden planted with perennials, shrubs, and trees well suited to the Central Valley.
  • The UC Davis Arboretum includes a 3.5-mile-long paved loop path along Putah Creek through campus, with different collections of plantings (Australia, California foothill, Mediterranean, and many more).
  • Nature’s Gallery Court, immediately adjacent to the nursery sales area, a stunning tile-inlaid wall featuring water-wise plants and associated insects.
  • The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located west of the main UC campus, is a publicly accessible pollinator research garden planted with a stunning variety of bee- and butterfly-friendly perennials and shrubs.

Sign at the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden at UC Davis (© Kathy Ikeda)



















For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.



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Evaluating garden successes and failures.

As summer passes it is a good time to count some of the successes and failures of gardening activities. One of my triumphs was getting rid of overwintering squash bugs early in the season, so that I did not have to deal with their offspring for the entire summer. Hence, we, and our neighbors, have enjoyed lots of zucchini and yellow crooknecks this year. I did this by flushing the plants with a hose and picking off the adults when they climbed up the stems and leaves. After 5 such episodes, I apparently got the last one. I also rubbed their eggs off the leaves before they hatched. This is the third time that I have had this good fortune and believe me it is not easy to beat this profusely reproducing foe.

Another garden success was planting All-American Selections 2014 award-winning, Chef’s Choice Orange tomato. This is an F1 hybrid created by crossing heirloom, Amana Orange, with another

Gold Medal, bi-color on the left and Chef's Choice on the right. Not red tomatoes, but both are good.

heirloom to create an even better one. It is a large orange slicer that is a tasty, meaty, earlier and higher yielding tomato than Amana Orange on a very vigorous 6 ft. plant with good shade protection. I recommend this tomato for next year’s tomato patch.

I also tried Black Zebra, a new cross of Green Zebra and a Black tomato. It is an open pollinated variety that is only 3-4 oz in size, but sweet with a rich tomato taste. My taste buds don’t work well, but my wife is a supertaster and declares this one a winner, but it was low in yield. Many gardeners complained about the lateness of tomato’s ripening this year and I too had that problem and have no explanation. It wasn’t for lack of warm weather.

My effort with Dahlias this year was a mixed bag. I had better luck propagating them from tubers than I did last year. Alan Fisher, Membership Chairman of the American Dahlia Society, informed me that if I got 80 percent success on tuber growing that would be good. I didn’t keep score, but I think I threw away about 40 percent of my tubers because they were either not sprouting or rotted after planting.

I had better luck storing them this year in my cellar where it was cool and damp enough that they did not shrivel. The previous year I stored them in moist sawdust and it did not work out well, likely because too much moisture caused rotting. In March, I packed the sprouting ones in potting soil in flats in the greenhouse along with new tubers I purchased and had fairly good success. At least I had enough successes to plant about 160 dahlias to satisfy my addiction for growing these beauties and I gave lots of good tubers to friends.

Dahlia bouquets abound this summer

Dahlias supposedly don’t do well in hot climates, but mine have been doing well despite the heat. Mites are a problem turning foliage bronze color in hot weather. Mites don’t thrive with moisture and can be diminished by spraying the plant foliage once daily with cold water during the warmest weather.

Starting brassicas (cole crop) seeds like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli is always a July 4 activity for me. Fall seems far away, but it is important to get these plants well grown for early fall and winter harvests. I violated my garden rule “pay attention” and got busy with other things about the time my July 4 planted seedlings were a week old. I missed watering them for one day and the high summer heat fried every one of them.  I should have put them in the shade. I had to plant them over and much later than I would have liked, but I have the gardener’s optimism that with good care they will succeed in providing a crop.

Garden reminders: For fall rose blooms, keep deadheading roses, because new blooms will be on new growth. It is always good to cut off a long stem with the old bloom and cut to an outside leaf node to keep the bush open.  Prepare soil for onions, garlic and cole crops, by working in compost or manure. August to early September is time to plant lettuce and other greens—mustard, kale, spinach, chard, collards as well as beets, turnips and carrots. Year round gardening in our climate is a blessing for those who love to 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:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/


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The Summer Blahs: Beating the Heat in the Garden (By Katie Walter, San Joaquin Master Gardener)

Even the most passionate gardener gets tired at this time of year. This summer has been a doozy and the heat can feel relentless. Blue skies are lovely, but wouldn’t a few days of gray, drizzly London weather be a pleasant change? August in the Central Valley seldom offers a break from the heat, however. So what’s a gardener to do?

When you work in the yard, it’s always a good idea to wear a hat and sunscreen. Drink plenty of water and take lots of breaks. Take a tip from your dog and find a shady spot to take a snooze when temperatures peak in the afternoon. On the hottest days, skip the heavy tasks, such as turning compost or rototilling. Save them for another, cooler day.

When temperatures top 100, give your lawn mower a rest. Mowing the grass exposes newly clipped, tender tips to searing heat. The trim greensward you had in mind may instead end up looking like a blotchy tan patch. Wait until temperatures drop to mow again. In the summer it’s a good idea to set the mower blade higher. Leaving the grass longer helps to keep the soil cool and reduces water needs.

Most plants in your garden—flowers, shrubs and vegetables—shut down when temperatures exceed about 95 degrees. For example, tomatoes no longer set fruit. Even heat-loving plants may start to look wilted. Keep in mind that the wilted look isn’t necessarily a plea for water. Most plants will perk up and return to their normal appearance when temperatures cool in the afternoon or by the next morning. If they don’t, then it’s time to water.

Minimize planting when temperatures are high. I seldom plant anything between May and September. Many plants from the nursery or big box store have spent their lives coddled in temperature- and humidity-controlled greenhouses, or at least in a shaded environment. Setting them out in the sun in our dry heat is a shock to their fragile systems. If it’s essential that something get in the ground, improvise some shade cover for the first several days. In general, save yourself some money and don’t buy plants when it’s hot.

There are a few other garden tasks to avoid in the heat. Stressed plants cannot absorb fertilizer, and pruning can encourage plants to send out new tender growth that may be damaged in the heat. So you can skip fertilizing and pruning, but you can’t pass on weeding! That’s a job that always needs doing. Weeds compete with your veggies and flowers for water and soil nutrients. When it’s really hot, do your weeding in the early morning or evening.

Maintain your normal watering schedule. It’s tempting to drown plants when temperatures peak, but you aren’t doing them any favors. Water in the morning when temperatures are cooler, which reduces water lost to evaporation. Water deeply and infrequently. Mulch your plants to cool the soil and reduce evaporation. Your garden will also benefit as the mulch decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil.

When you are watering, pay special attention to plants in containers, which lose more water to evaporation and need more frequent watering than plants in the ground.  Your containers may benefit from being moved out of the sun and into a cooler, shady area during the hottest days of summer.

Regardless of the weather, always take the long view with your garden. Monitor your plants not just from day to day but also from month to month. Do you have a hydrangea that looks fried no matter how much you water it?  Is your Japanese maple not thriving where it is now? These are shade-loving plants, and it’s possible they are getting too much sun. You may also have heat-loving plants that look lanky because they are reaching through shade for the sun they crave. Consider moving any unhappy plants to a friendlier location, but wait a few months. Thanks to our temperate climate, fall is the perfect time to move plants. Temperatures are cooler, and your transplanted shrub or tree has all winter to settle in to its new home.

The news indicates that heat waves will become more frequent in the coming years, and drought is bound to return.  Shifting your garden away from fussy, high-maintenance plants to tougher, drought-tolerant ones might be a good idea. Dozens of books have been written on that subject, so I won’t belabor it here. But it’s a strategy to keep in mind, especially when you’re out gardening in the heat.

For gardening related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our websitehttp://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.


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It’s Almost Time to Get Planting by Katie Walter (UC Master Gardener San Joaquin County)

How is your garden growing? Tomatoes, peppers, melons, and of course zucchini are probably going strong, and zinnias and dahlias are flowering like mad, given enough water.  Other parts of your garden, no matter how large or small, may be looking a little peaked in the heat. Lettuce, spinach, and other spring greens have gone to seed. But luck is with you. Those tattered parts of the garden are ready for a refresh: It’s almost time to plant your fall garden.

Just last week I said I don’t plant anything between May and September. That’s a good general rule for gardening in the hot Central Valley unless you are prepared to provide some shade to protect your tender newbies. But by September the days are shorter and soil temperatures are still warm, the best time to plant many vegetables.

Most online fall-planting guides aimed at the country as a whole recommend planting “10 to 12 weeks before your first killing frost….” We are fortunate in being able to ignore that advice. The Central Valley experiences very few if any killing frosts. A little protection for citrus when outdoor temperatures are coldest is all that’s typically required to get our gardens through the winter. Our temperate climate means we can plant in the fall and continue to replant to keep the fridge loaded with fresh-from-the-garden lettuce, radishes, broccoli, and other cool-weather produce.

September and early October are the perfect time to set out broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, leek, and parsley seedlings. Master Gardener Kathy Ikeda provided details two weeks ago in this blog on the proper way to put plants into the ground. The extra time you take up front, following her recommendations, will yield healthier, happier, and more productive plants. Beets, carrots, chard, collards, kale, leeks, lettuce, radishes, and spinach are best planted from seed. Onions and shallots can be planted from seed or “sets.”

Don’t limit yourself to orange carrots and purple beets. Carrots seed is available in an enormous range of colors from yellow to red to purple. Beets now come in yellow and red. Chard can be tinged with red, and cauliflower can be green. Get colorful in your vegetable garden this fall.

The number of days that various vegetables take to mature doesn’t matter as much here as in other parts of the country where gardeners have to worry about harvesting their produce before hard frosts kill plants. Still, it’s useful information and may serve as a guide for what plants to keep together in your garden.

The quickest to mature among the root crops, in approximately 30 days, are chives, bunching onions, and radishes. Broccoli, all kinds of lettuces, mustard, and spinach also mature in about 30 days. Root crops that take about 60 days include early carrots and leeks. Leafy crops taking 60 days include early cabbages, cauliflower, and Swiss chard. Beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, and shallots take 90 days, as do Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

You might consider asparagus if you have an area in your garden that can be devoted to this vegetable year-round. After all, Stockton claims to be the asparagus capitol of the world, and fall is the time to plant. One-year-old asparagus crowns are available from many nurseries in the winter months.

In the fall, look beyond your vegetable garden. The cooler months of October and November are the optimal time to plant shrubs, perennial flowers, trees, and new lawns. As I noted last week, fall is also best for transplanting trees and shrubs that are getting too much shade or too much sun in their current location. The soil is warm enough to encourage these plants to begin developing a deep, healthy root system. The rains of winter feed the new plantings so they are in their prime come spring and the heat of summer.

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to add some colorful annuals to your fall planting agenda. Pansies, primroses, cyclamen, and alyssum are just a few of the cool-season flowers that will bring spots of color to your yard even after the gray, rainy days of winter arrive.

For gardening related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our websitehttp://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.






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Essential winter vegetables; garlic and onions.

In maintaining a household there are some things that you should never run out of—like flour, salt, sugar, toilet paper, onions and garlic. Onions and garlic are pretty essential ingredients of most culinary efforts and both are easy to grow winter vegetables. I start my onion seeds in a flat of compost

Garlic maturing in the garden shed. Always a good annual happening. Photo courtesy Lee Miller

in August and transplant the seedlings about the end of October or the first of November. I cut back the tops to about a 4-6 inch plant and use a dibble to punch holes through newspaper mulch which keeps the weeds at bay through the winter. Neither garlic nor onions tolerate weed competition well, so mulching with newspaper helps reduce weeds without tedious weeding. A dripline under the mulch is practical way to irrigate with a row planted on each side of the dripline.

Garlic cloves are even easier to plant through 3-4 sheets of newspaper as there are no roots to deal with. Garlic should be planted earlier than onions. I usually aim for October 1 or certainly before Columbus Day. Garlic planted in November or December will not establish or grow as well as October planted garlic.

Both onions and garlic tolerate lots of different soils, but for best results, plant in a loose soil that is well drained and enriched with organic matter for nutrients. If you don’t have well drained soils then using containers or raised beds will solve that problem. Soil can be loosened by adding compost or manures which allow the onion or garlic heads to grow unimpeded. Planting larger cloves of garlic usually results in a larger heads at harvest. Garlic cloves should be spaced about 6 inches apart and watered frequently during rainless periods, as they are shallow rooted.

Not all garlic is equal in performance. Some do better in California than others. There are two kinds of garlic, softnecks (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) and hardnecks (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon). The softnecks are mild flavored and good choices for warm climates. California Early White and California Late White are two softnecks commonly planted. Hardneck garlics are more numerous and develop the largest heads when exposed to 40-50 ºF cool temperatures for several weeks in the winter and before spring temperature reach 90ºF. Hardneck garlics produce scapes (leafless flower stem) which when harvested while tender can be sautéed and eaten. Eaten or not, scapes should be removed to concentrate bulb growth.

Garlic can be mild in flavor or on the hot side and lots in between. Some dependable ones that I like are: Lorz Italian, Spanish Rojas, Chesnok Red, Russian Red and Kazakhstan Pink, which is an early maturing variety. For a rundown on the many varieties and characteristics, see: http://www.wegrowgarlic.com/7422.html .

Onion varieties to plant include mild red onions which are great raw in salads and sandwiches. They don’t store well so after harvest in June they are only good for about 3-4 months. Yellow and white onions will store longer, with white onions storing a little less well than yellow onions. White onions tend to be somewhat milder in flavor and can also be used raw in sandwiches and salads.

For this region, one should plant long-day onions. We are close to the line that separates long day from short day growing areas. Southern Californians should plant short-day onions. Most storage onions are long-day varieties with thicker skins and are higher in sulfur content and lower in moisture. The sulfur compound in onions is released when chopping or slicing and goes through several enzymatic transformations to a component that makes the tears flow. Using a sharp knife helps reduce cell damage that release the tear compounds and to further reduce this reaction, cut the onion underwater or near a flame, such as a candle or gas burner. Chilling onions in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or 15 minutes in the freezer will also help make the chemicals less volatile, hence fewer tears.

Seeds for onions can be found at most big box nurseries or at Lockhart seeds, our local seed store. Onion starts can be purchased around November 1 at Port Stockton Nursery. Lockhart also carries some common garlic varieties for planting. Garlic varieties can also be purchased from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: https://www.groworganic.com/ . Happy onion and garlic growing!

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:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/


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Planting for success: tips and techniques

In only a few short weeks, the prime fall planting season will be upon us, and now is the perfect time to plan.

Whether you hope to begin a major re-landscaping project or merely want to add a plant or two to your garden, consider the words of the late Kenyan social and environmental activist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai: “Anybody can dig a hole and plant a tree. But make sure it survives. You have to nurture it, you have to water it, you have to keep at it until it becomes rooted so it can take care of itself.”

It’s not uncommon for gardeners and landscapers to dig a just-wide-enough hole, wrench a plant from its nursery pot, and shove it unceremoniously into the ground. Sadly, this haphazard treatment makes it harder for the plant to thrive or survive later on.

While soil type, location, irrigation, and fertilization all play a role in a plant’s eventual health, proper planting techniques are instrumental in giving newly chosen foundation plants—perennials, shrubs, and trees—the best possible start.

Here’s a brief planting guide, beginning with a few important rules to follow when digging a planting hole:

  • The hole should be two to three times the width of the plant’s root ball. This creates a zone of loose soil for easier root penetration and establishment.
  • The hole should be shallow enough that the root ball can be set on undisturbed soil. This gives the plant a stable surface to rest upon and prevents later soil settling beneath the plant.
  • The hole should have an irregular shape with rough sides, to promote root growth into the surrounding soil. Round, smooth-sided holes encourage roots to circle within those limits, which eventually leads to a weaker plant.
  • Always call 811, the free underground service alert number, several days before any project that involves digging. This allows utility companies time to mark their buried facilities and helps you avoid potential damage or injury.

Severely constricted, encircling roots on a container grown tree (Dakota County Technical College)

After the hole is prepared, carefully remove the plant from its container, tapping the outsides to loosen it. Never pull the plant by the trunk or branches. Gently loosen the roots along the sides and the bottom by hand, or score the root ball with a few shallow, vertical cuts using a sharp, sterilized tool. Cut off any encircling or badly damaged roots. (Don’t buy plants with crowded roots that encircle the pot or emerge from the drainage holes, because this indicates a stressed, poor quality root system.) Then, set the plant in position, ensuring that it’s centered in the hole, leveled, and at the correct depth.

Proper vertical positioning of a plant within the planting hole is critical. Pay close attention to the crown of the shrub or the flare of the tree, the place where the main stem or trunk widens and the roots emerge. The crown or the base of the flare should rest at the same level as the surrounding soil line. A plant set too low, with its crown or flare buried, will be susceptible to rot. A plant set too high, with the upper surfaces of the main roots exposed, will quickly dry out and suffer permanent root damage.

Once the shrub or tree is properly positioned in the planting hole, begin backfilling the hole with the soil originally dug out, breaking up any large clods into smaller pieces before doing so. This helps prevent large air pockets from forming around the root ball, which can in turn dry out roots and lead to future ground depressions as the soil settles.

When backfilling the planting hole, first be sure to fill any gaps between the root ball and the base of the hole. Pushing the soil into place by hand is the most effective way to do this, because this is the best way to feel for voids.

Continue filling the hole in stages on all sides to help keep the plant in position and the soil level even. Periodically tamp down the soil to eliminate air pockets; do this firmly, but not so hard that the soil is compacted.

Contrary to popular belief, the soil removed from a planting hole should NOT be amended with additional organic matter; the material used to backfill the planting hole should be the same as the surrounding soil. Why? If nice, rich soil is used to fill the hole, newly spreading roots will stay in the “comfort zone” and the plant will never develop a healthy, widely spread root system in the poorer, native soil. (Note: Amending soil throughout a large site is an entirely different topic.)

Water a newly installed plant immediately after it’s in the ground. If the hole is large or deep, it’s best to water in several stages during the backfill process, to ensure that the soil is appropriately moistened. Use only enough water to dampen the soil; it should not be saturated.

Generally speaking, foundation plantings shouldn’t be given an initial fertilizing until after several weeks of establishment. This allows plants time to recover from the stress of planting without being forced into a too-sudden period of growth.

For more specific guidance, see UCANR Publication 8046, Planting Landscape Trees or the UC California Garden Web site about planting shrubs and vines.

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

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In defense of the (mostly) harmless spider

With apologies to those who suffer from arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), this week’s article covers a member of the animal kingdom that isn’t usually thought of as beneficial.

Spiders often get a bad rap. They’re portrayed as evil or deadly creatures in movies. Large, black bodies with eight spindly legs are commonly seen as spooky decorations during Halloween. Real-life spiders are viewed as frightful critters to be screamed at or smashed. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned from childhood to treat spiders with revulsion.

Not all cultures fear spiders. Spiders were symbols of wealth and protection from poverty in ancient Rome. The ancient Chinese believed anyone who saw a spider drop from its web was blessed with good luck. The spider-man character Anansi, the embodiment of wisdom and storytelling, is prominent in the folklore of west Africa, the West Indies, the Caribbean, and even the southern U.S. (as “Aunt Nancy”). Spider Woman is a powerful figure in the mythology of southwestern Native Americans.

While all spiders are predatory and make venom, very few spider species pose a serious threat to humans. Although spider bites can be painful, they’re more of a nuisance than a health threat. Furthermore, spiders typically shy away from people, and will bite only if disturbed.

Let’s examine some basics of spider biology. They’re not insects or “bugs,” (all of which have six legs, wings, and two eyes); instead, spiders are wingless and have eight legs and eight eyes. Spiders belong to the Arachnid family, a group that also includes ticks, mites, and scorpions. Female spiders lay eggs that hatch into spiderlings that look like miniature adults and grow to maturity in several stages.

A few of the most common spiders in California are the:

Orb-weavers or garden spiders: These spiders — often beautifully patterned or ornamented — spin the classic spider web, with a spiral of silk overlaid on spokes that radiate from a central point.

Jumping spiders: These fairly small and hairy spiders don’t spin webs; instead, they stalk and pounce on their prey. They can jump up to 50 times their body length by harnessing the energy of a chemical reaction in their hindmost legs! They’re also the largest family of spiders worldwide.

Black widows: This is one of many spiders classified as “cobweb weavers.” The female is a jet-black spider with a red hourglass-shaped pattern on the underside of her large, round abdomen; the male is smaller, brown, and non-poisonous. Black widows spin irregular, amorphous webs using silk that is extremely strong and sticky. If bitten by a female, seek medical care, since this is one spider whose bite can be harmful and sometimes even fatal to people (especially children, older adults, or those with compromised immune systems).

A well camouflaged crab spider capturing a housefly (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Here are some fascinating facts about spiders and the beneficial role they play in our ecosystem and lives:

  • Spiders are vital for controlling insect populations, and they eat other garden pests too.
  • Spiders are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Spiders are a crucial food source for many birds, lizards, snakes, and even some small mammals.
  • Many hummingbird species rely on spider silk to bind and anchor their nest materials.
  • Web-weaving spiders have special organs called spinnerets that they use to create “silk” from liquid protein. Many filaments are combined to make a single silk strand.
  • Spider silk is the strongest-known natural material; it’s pound-for-pound much stronger than steel, and it’s inspiring innovations in materials science and mechanical engineering.
  • Scientists are studying spider silk for various medical uses since it’s strong, biodegradable, and tissue compatible (not subject to rejection).
  • Chemicals derived from spider venom are used to treat several diseases.

Leave spiders in your garden where possible so they can continue to perform their beneficial role. If spiders make their homes in places where they’re a nuisance — inside homes, near entryways and porches, on outdoor seating, or in woodpiles — it’s best to use non-toxic methods of removal. Catch-and-release techniques and simple spider-catcher devices can be used to relocate spiders without harming them. Brooms, dusters, and vacuums can be used to rid an area of spiders and their webs. Sticky traps can control spiders in and near homes without poisons. Insecticides should be avoided both indoors and out since they’re minimally effective and potentially harmful. Rather than killing all spiders within reach, take a few minutes to watch them in action and appreciate the vital role they play.

For a fascinating time-lapse video of orb weaver web construction, watch this YouTube video.

For gardening-related questions, call the UC Master Gardener office at 209-953-6112, or use our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.

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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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