Avoid problems with some smaller trees for shade and color.

A friend asked me recently if there are modest sized trees to plant for shade. Her recent experience was removing a Magnolia tree which had cracked up her driveway. The back-hoe operator, who took out the root-ball, said it was the largest he had ever removed. We have to be wary of planting trees that grow too large for their space or so large that they are very expensive to remove them when their expiration date comes around and all living things do have an expiration date. Recently, I removed three large, old evergreen conifers from the backyard of my new home to make room and sunshine for growing dahlias and vegetables. It was costly and made me aware that planting trees that grow to a large size can be a financial loser.

Red maples in my neighbor's front garden.

Eastern Redbud in full bloom in March at my old country home.

When it comes to planting the right size tree and a beautiful one there is a tree that fills the bill and that is Autumn Blaze Maple. It is a patented hybrid of red and silver maples. Whereas red maple (Acer rubrum) is a large tree to 120 feet in nature, the hybrid ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’), has a maximum height of 50 ft. It has brilliant eye catching red color, dense branching and rapid growth. It is fast growing, disease resistant, tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, doesn’t drop seed pods and is resistant to car exhaust pollution.

Another red maple cultivar is Acer rubrum ‘columnare’. It grows in a more column like manner, elliptical in form but spreading more in maturity. There is a beautiful pair of red maple trees across the street from my home and I think they have the ‘columnar’ appearance. Unfortunately, they were planted a bit too close to the house, but the current owner didn’t plant them and when he discovered how attractive they are in the fall, he decided not to remove them. For more information on Red Maples, see: https://www.thespruce.com/best-maple-trees-for-fall-color-2130844.

When it comes to selecting smaller trees that work for areas under power lines, PG&E has a list of recommended trees that are under 25 feet for you. You can find more about this and order a brochure from this website: http://www.pgecurrents.com/2013/03/07/in-honor-of-california-arbor-day-pge-says-%E2%80%9Cplant-the-right-tree-in-the-right-place%E2%80%9D/ .

One smaller tree that will not exceed 25 feet is crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). There are a variety of cultivars and the National Arboretum has released over 24 hybrids selected for cold hardiness, resistance to powdery mildew and other pests, and for varying heights, vigor, habits, flower colors, fall foliage colors, and bark characteristics. All U.S. National Arboretum cultivars have Native American names. Powdery mildew commonly infects older varieties.

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a good small tree for the Central Valley as it handles heat better than some Japanese maples. It will do better if afforded some afternoon shade, but it can handle full sun. It needs moist soil, so is not a drought tolerant variety, but will appreciate mulching to conserve moisture. Its maximum height and spread is about 20 ft.

Easter Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a beauty when it blooms in the spring. My country home was named Redbud Farm because the original owner had planted several redbuds on the property and they are now very mature trees. They bloom a gorgeous pink for about 3 weeks in the spring before leafing out and they attain a height of about 30 feet and 20 feet wide. Monrovia has a cultivar of the Eastern Redbud that is better adapted to the southwest named ‘Mexicana’ and for other small trees see: http://growbeautifully.monrovia.com/top-13-flowering-trees-for-small-gardens/.  The Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is a native and more drought tolerant than its eastern cousin, with a more intense magenta bloom, but grows more like a shrub than a tree   reaching only 20 feet.

Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) is an evergreen tree of 15 ft. height and as wide with edible flowers and edible fruit. They are deer resistant, if you live in deer country, and seem to be generally pest-proof. Once established they are drought tolerant and although self-fruitful, I have never had any fruit on my solitary tree so better to plant more than one if you want the fruit. They can tolerate some shade and require only light pruning to shape them. They make a good screen plant and can be pruned into a hedge though not recommended.

Whatever tree you plant, may it be beautiful, small and tidy.

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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Master Gardeners – we’re here to help you

The logo for the UCCE Master Gardener Program blends our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) with the pages of a book, representing the program’s focus on horticulture-related education.

Have you ever wondered where to go for advice about landscaping or vegetable gardening? Does a pest problem have you stumped? Do you need guidance on how and when to prune your favorite specimen plant or fruit tree? Master Gardeners are here to help!

The Master Gardener Program is administered by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), and is part of the University of California, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR). Our mission is “to extend research-based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California…”

Master Gardeners go through an extensive training program and background screening, and once certified, they must also complete annual requirements for volunteer hours and continuing education. In other words, when you enlist the help of a Master Gardener, rest assured that you’re receiving top-notch assistance.

One of the primary ways San Joaquin Master Gardeners help county residents is through our Help Desk, which is open from 9:00 a.m. to noon from Monday through Thursday. For general gardening questions, you may contact the help line at (209) 953-6112. If you need help with identification of a pest or weed, or diagnosis of a plant disease or problem, it’s best to contact our volunteers by email (anrmgsanjoaquin@ucanr.edu), or to visit our office in person at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Blvd., Suite 200 (off Arch-Airport Road in Stockton). When using email, it’s helpful to send a few clear photos along with a description. If coming to our office in person, please bring an intact insect or a large plant sample in a tightly sealed clear plastic bag or jar, to prevent potential spread of a harmful condition or invasive pest.

Our “UCCE Master Gardeners of San Joaquin County” website is another key part of our outreach, with countless articles, helpful links, and other garden-related information appropriate for our area. The information available is far too extensive to list here, so set aside some time to visit our site and explore its many resources.

A San Joaquin Master Gardener working in the Learning Landscape (photo by program coordinator Marcy Sousa)

Your local Master Gardener volunteers also participate in many local community education projects. These currently include:

  • The Learning Landscape, our volunteer-maintained demonstration garden at the Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center (address above). This garden is open to the public year-round, and its six miniature landscapes—All-Stars, California Native, Edible, Foliage, Mediterranean, and Pollinator—are designed to inspire and educate visitors. Plant specimens are labeled with both scientific and common names; informative signage explains the garden’s sustainable design elements and irrigation system. Visit the landscape on your own, or look for notice of our biannual public event: Open Garden Day, held in both the spring and fall.
  • Garden Notes, our quarterly newsletter. Both current and prior issues are available online; visit our website and click on the newsletter link on the home page.
  • The “What’s Growing On” blog—of which this article is a part—which is a series of weekly articles on a wide variety of garden-related topics. The full series of articles is available at http://blogs.esanjoaquin.com/gardening/.
  • Monthly workshops in Stockton and Manteca. Check our online “Calendar of Events” for locations, dates, and times.
  • The annual Smart Gardening Conference, which is next scheduled for March 3, 2018. Specific details and registration information will soon be posted on our website.
  • The School and Community Gardens Committee, with expert consultants that can help your organization establish and properly maintain an edible or ornamental garden. We currently work with the Boggs Tract Community Farm, the Stockton Emergency Food Bank garden, the garden at the LOEL Senior Center in Lodi, the Black Urban Farmers Association, and many other school and community sites throughout the county.
  • Community outreach. San Joaquin Master Gardeners volunteer their time and talents at various special events throughout the County: farmers’ markets in Stockton and Tracy; AgVenture programs in Lodi, Manteca, and Stockton; Arbor Day events throughout the county; Stockton’s Earth Day Celebration at Victory Park; the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi; and many more.

The statewide Master Gardener program also has a tremendous selection of online resources and other valuable information for the general public. Visit their website (http://mg.ucanr.edu) and click on the “Gardening Resources” icon to access a page with links to:

  • The California Garden Web, a portal to UC’s collection of garden-related research.
  • The California Backyard Orchard, with guidance on growing fruit and nut trees at home.
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM), on how to cope with garden problems while minimizing impacts to the human and natural environs.
  • ANR Publications, with a wealth of UC-published books and pamphlets.

Master Gardener volunteers throughout California have donated nearly five and a half million hours of their time—and San Joaquin Master Gardeners have donated almost 49,000 hours in the last ten years— to help people like you with garden-related questions and issues. We’re always glad for opportunities to serve you, because gardening is our passion!

If you have any questions about the San Joaquin Master Gardener programs mentioned above, need help with gardening-related questions, or would like to become a Master Gardener yourself, please call our office at 209-953-6100, send us an email at anrmgsanjoaquin@ucanr.edu, or visit 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 – 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.

• 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:  ucanr.edu/sjmg




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Winter blooming plants to brighten the garden

Winter is a thankfully slow and sleepy season in the garden. Fallen leaves have been cleared away, lawns need less mowing, and busy gardeners can take a breather from the never-ending maintenance chores of the warm growing season.

Once the weather turns cool and cloudy, what better way to chase away the winter doldrums than to walk through your yard and see a splash of color?

This time of year, most nurseries sell favorite bedding plants such as cyclamens, pansies, and primroses, or standard winter-blooming shrubs such as camellias. But are you ready to try something new?

Rather than relying on the old standbys, think outside the box and consider planting one or more of these unique, reliable, and colorful winter-blooming perennials. There’s still time to plant these gems and take advantage of the prime fall planting season.


Helleborus ‘Peppermint Ice’ (Photo from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, www.anniesannuals.com)

Commonly known as “Lenten Roses” or “Christmas Roses,” these stunning, long-lived accent plants have large, distinctive, cup- or bell-shaped flowers that face outward or nod downward. They’re not true roses, but are members of the buttercup family. The blossoms come in an interesting range of colors­­—white, cream, pink, reddish, deep purple, even chartreuse—and they’re borne on long stalks that barely rise above the foliage. Once the peak bloom period is over, the flowers persist instead of wilting, and they turn green in color. Hellebores generally need moderate to regular water and rich, well-amended soil. In our hot-summer climate, these beauties should be planted in a shady or partly shady location without afternoon sun, such as on the north or east side of a house or under a deciduous tree. (Use caution where pets or small children are present, since all parts of Hellebores are poisonous if eaten; fortunately, the horrible taste discourages consumption.) Here are a couple of interesting varieties to consider:

Helleborus orientalis. The flowers of this species vary in color and are often purple-speckled; the foliage is attractive and toothed. It’s more tolerant of transplanting than other Hellebores, and will often self sow if in its happy zone.

Helleborus x hybridus. These have been bred for a wide range of flower color and form; especially pretty is the Party Dress group, with its ruffled double flowers. These Hellebores perform better in poor soils than most others; they will even do well in clay soils as long as they’re not water-logged.


Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ at the Fair Oaks Horticultural Center (Photo by Kathy Ikeda)

This ancient and attractive genus of flowering plants is native to Australia. They can range in form from spreading groundcovers to mounding shrubs to towering trees. Several Grevillea species perform brilliantly in our Central Valley climate. Their flowers are uniquely shaped; they begin as tight rolls then unfurl to a slender, curved form. The brightly colored, spidery blooms are usually held in compact clusters, and they’re irresistible to hummingbirds. Grevillea leaves can be needlelike, deeply cut and lacy, or stiff and oak-like. Some species bloom in winter; others have their prime bloom season in spring and fall, so choose your plant carefully. Most Grevilleas need well-drained soils, and are best planted in organically amended soil or at the top of a slope; some species are tolerant of clay soils.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’ (Woolly Grevillea). An excellent, low-growing, compact shrub with small fuzzy bluish green rosemary-like foliage and beautiful bicolor flowers that transition from deep rose to cream. It often flowers from December through spring, and thrives in full sun. It can also tolerate periods of wet soil.

Grevillea rosemarinifolia (Rosemary Grevillea). This large shrub has reddish-pink and cream flowers, and its leaves look like those of its namesake rosemary. Although it bears blooms most heavily fall and winter, it blooms sporadically throughout the year. It’s very adaptable to heat and dry conditions.


These California native shrubs are known for their distinctive reddish bark, stiff glossy leaves, and profuse winter blooms. The clusters of tiny urn-shaped blossoms are favored by hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Manzanitas generally prefer poor (rocky or sandy) soils to rich or heavy ones, and they must have good drainage and air circulation. One of the best for our Central Valley growing conditions is:

Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ (Vine Hill Manzanita). This species is covered with delicate pink blossoms from late winter to early spring. It’s an ideal large shrub for our area, since it is accepting of a wide variety of soils, needs very little summer water, and handles pruning better than other manzanitas.

Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry

Fuchsia flowering gooseberry at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden (Photo by Kathy Ikeda)













This showy California native gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) bears a profusion of pendulant scarlet-red flowers in late winter to early spring. The spiky round fruits that follow turn from mellow green to red-orange. The flowers attract hummingbirds, and the spiky fruits are attractive to a variety of birds. The plant itself has an attractive form, with long arching stems covered with small, lobed, bright green leaves. But beware: it’s also very thorny, and makes a good deterrent plant! This gooseberry requires partial shade and well-drained soil, and although it needs no summer water once established, it should be given some hot season irrigation to avoid summer dormancy and keep the foliage green and on the plant throughout the year.

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

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Good soil is the gardener’s best asset.

Gardening is not just about plants, landscapes, flowers and vegetables. There is always the basis of a great garden—the soil to consider. I always recommend to people who want to get back to the land or want to commit to serious gardening to check out the soil before they buy property. That said, I recently bought property

Black adobe clay soil makes these hard to break clods when soil is worked too dry or too wet.

without following my own advice. I got black adobe clay which is the soil I had for my first home in Stockton purchased in 1968. Had I known that was what I was buying, I might have had a few second thoughts.

Black adobe is a heavy black clay soil common to North Stockton. It is rich and fertile, but it is also tillable at noon on one day of the year, so some say. The rest of the year it is either too dry and unbreakable or too muddy and gummy to deal with. Clay soils have relatively low pore space compared to sand soils, hence they drain very slowly and if compacted, drainage is much reduced. However, I have dealt with black adobe before and can deal with it again. One way around it is to use raised beds filled with other soil as I mentioned in last week’s article and/or add lots of compost to help

Clay soils crack open in the dry season.

loosen it up.

Why are clay soils rich and fertile?  Soil can be clay, silt or sand particles or some combination of these particles. The combinations are loams and named according to the dominant particle type and thus we have: sandy loams, clay loams and silt loams. Loams are considered more ideal because they are easier to till and they drain faster than pure clay soils and less rapidly than pure sand soils.

Clay particles are the smallest of the three types and are bound end to end and side to side in extensive planes in a sandwich like matrix held together by electrochemical charges. A clay particle is about 250 times smaller than a medium grain of sand to give you an idea of how different these soils are.

Individual clay particles are negatively charged so they have the capacity to attract positively charged elements (cations) such as ammonium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and other trace elements that are necessary for plant growth. Sand, on the other hand, has single uncharged particles that do not attract cations and hence it is not a fertile soil. It is also why fertilizer leaches more readily out of sandy soil as there are no electrochemical charges to hold the cations.

While soil structure, the way soil particles are assembled as aggregates, is an inherent property of the soil type that cannot be changed, it can be improved. Clay soils consolidate over time into tight and sticky stuff. To achieve a more granular looser crumbly soil with ease of tilth, the addition of compost and organic matter is necessary. Cover crops which send roots deep into the soil and also add organic matter when tilled in also helpful. For more information on improving clay soils for gardens see: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/soil_managingclay.pdf.

One recommendation is to use a spading fork instead of a shovel to till clay soils and not to till when the soil is too moist, which will result in large clods and greater compaction.  Application of gypsum may help break up clay soils. It should be applied at the rate of 1 pound per 5 square feet. However, the benefits obtained, if any, will likely be temporary, because irrigation water will gradually dissolve the gypsum out of the soil. Applying lots of organic matter such as manures, compost and green cover crops will be a more long term fix.

Lawns in clay soil may suffer from shallow roots and compaction of the soil which may retard water penetration. Aeration of the lawn with an aerifier that removes soil core plugs 3 to 4 inches deep is a good way to improve the drainage and getting air to the turf roots. Fill the plug holes with fine compost or other fine organic material after aeration.

Soil is more than the mineral particles. Soil is not dirt; that’s the stuff you pick up with a vacuum cleaner. Soil is a living substance with an entire ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, protozoans and invertebrates that include nematodes, earthworms. These living parts of the soil have symbiotic relationships with plants that help keep them nourished and disease free as well as keeping the soil healthy. So feed and treat your soil well as it is a living thing that makes your garden grow and shine.

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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What is your gardening style?

I have always been somewhat conflicted about human’s role in nature. I grew up with a 40 acre woodlot on our farm and always liked the wild woods I experienced as a kid. So I came to gardening with a mixed viewpoint. I wanted to garden somewhat on the wild side, but I know that nature does not always organize itself in pleasing ways to humans and this is certainly true of our gardens. Gardens, if not well planned and tended, can become a wild tangle or a weed patch.

I was forced to garden on the wild side when I had an extensive landscape, I only had time to make rounds every three years to prune and rejuvenate most ornamental shrubs and trees. Those areas definitely got a little wild. I was never tempted to do topiary, but I certainly appreciate the results of those who can spend the time it takes to maintain green elephants or other plant carved animals or forms. Of necessity, I annually kept roses, fruit trees and grapes well pruned for production.

Our choices of garden design styles and types are numerous. We can plant gardens of California native plants or drought tolerant Mediterranean plants that are well adapted to our dry summers. The home I recently purchased features a native plant garden in the front. There is no lawn to mow, but some deadheading required. The biggest challenge is getting to know the plant’s names and needs as I am not knowledgeable about California natives. This challenge keeps my brain active to learn new garden plants and their care.

In terms of garden styles there are cultural styles endemic to certain regions. Therefore, we have Chinese gardens, English, French and Italian gardens and within there are subsets such as Italian Renaissance gardens, English Cottage gardens and Victorian gardens. A Japanese garden is designed with an appreciation and respect for nature. The use of light and dark shades, texture, space and form, rocks, ponds are all used in a unifying mode. Japanese gardens have been around for 1500 years and have evolved over time, but always have respect for nature as the dominant theme. There is a Japanese garden near my home that I admire each time I drive by. One has to admire the beauty of a well planned, well planted and well maintained garden in any style.

Then there are other specialty gardens like container gardens, water gardens, pollinator gardens or raised bed gardens. We may engage several garden types in one landscape. Many of us nurture some container grown plants and perhaps some raised beds for vegetables, some flowers for butterflies and a water feature as well.  Water gardens can vary from a small fountain or pond to elaborate pump operated streams with water falls, fountains and ponds of Koi carp and various aquatic plants.

Two new raised bed for growing beds for growing winter vegetables constructed of concrete blocks and filled with compost and loam.

Raised beds can be of varying heights and for those who are disabled or have special needs; the raised bed can be at a height to permit easy access from a wheel chair for planting and harvesting. Raised beds can be constructed from a variety of materials. The choice comes down to preferences, availability and cost.  Many have been constructed of redwood, cedar or other naturally rot-resistant wood. Though lasting a long time, these eventually will need to be replaced. Raised beds can also be done more permanently in stone, steel, concrete, cinder blocks or bricks. For more information on pros and cons of materials for raised beds see: https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/16676705/list/8-Materials-for-Raised-Garden-Beds/

Recently, I constructed two new raised beds with concrete blocks for growing winter vegetables. Raised beds have the advantage of draining better in the winter, warming earlier in spring, easier to cultivate, avoiding soil compaction and provide for a change of soil if the native soil is stony, heavy clay or sand that is less desirable for growing plants. Some say they keep pests at bay, but in my experience don’t count on that.

If you don’t have room for a garden because you have a small back yard or live in an apartment, then perhaps a community garden will work for you. Community gardens have increased greatly in recent years. There are over 18,000 community gardens in the USA and Canada. Renting a small plot in a community garden provides an opportunity to grow flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Community gardens increase human interactions and build friendships and cooperation and provide a connection to a more natural environment. Some community gardens are tended communally and the bounty is shared among the participants. For more information on community gardens see the American Community Gardening Association website: https://communitygarden.org/.

Whatever your gardening style; may your garden days be happy ones.

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

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