Maintenance Information

If you are searching for particular maintenance information, please see the blogs for the months that correspond to the time frame that you are searching. Also check the labels of the blogs (at the base of the blog page) for blog subjects that might be helpful.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rachel Carson's Legacy

I was listening to a program on NPR yesterday about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a ground breaking work siting the use of pesticides and their effect on wildlife. This year is the 50th anniversay of the publication of Silent Spring. Ms. Carson's work led to many positve changes in the application and use of pesticides and the banning of a multitude of products that remain in the environment over long periods of time leading to reduced birth rates and even extinction in birds and other animals and insects.The program noted that the EPA was also formed as a result of concerns that arose in the light of Carson's work.

When I went through my courses at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the early 1980's I studied "integrated pest management". This course was a direct result of the work put forth by Rachel Carson.  Rather than immediatly going to a chemical spray for pest problems the idea of integrated pest management was to use a combination of beneficial insects and bacterias, low toxicity sprays and more resistant strains of plants.  We did learn about pesticides but I was glad to see that many of the most hazardous materials had been banned.

The current movement towards organic produce and natural products for fertilizing and soil ammnedments is also a continuation of Rachel Carson's legacy.  As generations of consumers have become more aware of the dangers of lingering chemicals in the soil and water supply it has forced the large supermarket chains to demand more organic produce and also meats,poultry and fish.

As gardeners we can do at home what organic farmers are doing in the fields.  Promote an active bird and beneficial insect community. They help control the pests that eat our plants.  Rather than spraying with a pesticide try a mild soapy solution in a hose end sprayer for aphids, spider mites and mothes/larvae.  Gather up the snails in the evening instead of baiting. This actually worked a lot better in my garden than snail bait ever did.  Use natural fertilizers rather than chemical formulations. Luckily we now have several lines of great products for this.  Good old manure works well and compost from home. Be sure and leach before use (water down to wash away salts).
If you do use pesticide, do so sparingly. Usually 1 or 2 treatments will be enough to control a
problem.  Keep in mind that many pesticides and herbicides now available are held to a much more stringent standard so occasional use is not a horrible thing.

In our garden we always have an active ecosystem present because there are the basic needs of living creatures in the garden: fresh water available, flowers for nectar, seed heads too for birds, foliage for protection from predators, and fruiting trees.  Yes, we had some insect damage, some snails and the influx of wildlife but it all balanced out pretty well because there were beneficial insects, birds and bacteria to help out and Me, the gardener, keeping an eye out for problem spots.  My favorite helpers were the praying Mantis with their triangular heads and long legs! Very cool.

So yay- Rachel Carson! Thanks for caring about not only the birds and wildlife but our children as well. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gopher Resistant Plants

For my Senior Project at Cal Poly I wrote a manual on Deer Control in Ornamental Gardens subsequently I have used that work, mostly in the form of lists of plants that are resistant to Deer damage, to help me with my design service. My favorite lists were given to me by Bob Tanem at Tanem's Nursery in Santa Venetia (San Rafael, Ca.). Many of you may have heard his gardening program on KGO.  These lists are guides at best. When gardening in Deer Country it is a given that everything is an experiment and damage can be done on any plant.

Recently we have had a huge influx of gophers into the area (see my blog- Rodent Explosion) and I started to wonder if there was a list of gopher resistant plants.  As I said these lists are not fool proof but can help out.  On our landscape projects where gophers are a problem we have to use wire baskets for all the plants and wire under the lawn- costly!  I often help at my Mother's home where we have Deer, Gophers, Jackrabbits, Wild Turkeys etc..... and since she lives on a limited income we look for many cost cutting strategies.

After searching the Web and consulting sources I made this collated list of plants to try. If you have any additions or subtractions let me know as it is an ongoing trial.

Lois' Cross Referenced List of Gopher Resistant Plants

Amaryllis belladonna
Anemone blanda
Aquilegia- Columbine
Artemisia- wormwood
Buddleja- butterfly bush
Ceanothus- wild lilac (deer eat these)
Chionodoxa gigantea
Coleonema-breath of heaven
Colichum-autumn crocus
Festuca californica-california fescue  'serpentine blue'
Galanthus elwesii
Hellebore-lenten rose
Hyacinthus orientalis, Hyacinthoides
Iris- the Iris Family  also Dietes Vegeta or Moraea
Juncus patens- California spreading rush
Lavandula- lavender
Lonicera nitida 'baggessens gold'- box honeysuckle
Mimulus-monkey flower
Narcissus and Jonquils- daffodils
Nerium olenader- Oleander
Onions and Garlic- also Society Garlic (Tulbaghia)
Ribes sp.- currants
Scilla siberica
Schinus molle- California Pepper Tree (latex- caustic sap)
Tagetes lemmonii- lemon marigold
Westringia-caost rosemary

maybe- mesembrianthemum family, oregano, thyme, Echium, Scabiosa, some Cornus sp.,
Punica, Leonotis

As you can see there are a lot of bulbs that the Gophers don't like and as with Deer, herby/smelly plants are not a favorite. Many of the plants on the list are also on the Deer resistant lists. Euphorbia lathyris (biennial) is know as "gopher plant" as it supposedly repels them with its caustic latex sap. Will have to try this.
I got an email from "Shake-Away" repellents about my Rodent Explosion Blog and they suggested their products to help out also. Remember that gophers are mostly underground.
I am excited to have this long list to experiment with and will let you know how it goes. I welcome suggestions/comments on plants you have had success with too.
 It should be a live and let live world out in the garden not a battle!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Maintenance

 Tops Jobs in the garden in summer are:

Deadheading- removing dead flower heads plus a bit of the foliage

Watering appropriately-
Water in the early Morning and avoid windy
Keep annuals moist watering every day in hot weather and every other day on mild days
On slopes- stagger watering times breaking time into 2 segments i.e. 10 minutes twice a day rather than 20 minutes all at once. This should help with runnoff.
Deep water fruit trees and other trees once per month until October leaving a hose running slowly out at the drip line (edge of canopy) for 1/2-1 hour.
 Lawns should be aerated to allow water penetration and leave blades a bit long for better heat resistance. Give plants a shower with the hose occasionally to wash off dust and pollution.

Remove diseased foliage (rust, powdery mildew or leaf spot) from plants- clean tools with clorox wipes to avoid spreading the disease.

Fertilize- every 4-6 weeks in the warm season with organic or regular fertilizer (10-10-10).
 Wash in fertilizer deeply and off of leaves to avoid burning plants.  Give lawn a nice top dressing of compost after aerating (1/4" layer).   
 Thin- fruit on edible fruiting plants and prop branches as fruit gets heavy to avoid broken limbs. Remove all the fruit from trees when ripe to promote health and vigor of the trees. Watch out for fireblight (ends of branches look torched) and prune out diseased wood cleaning tools inbetween cuts. 
I hope you have a lovely summer and enjoy your garden!   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ode to Kevin Likens

Yesterday I was scanning old photos of completed work into my photoshop portfolios and spent a lot of the time thinking about my old friend and colleague, Kevin Likens, whose installation work was pictured in so many of those photos.
Actually Kevin and Jane Likens were so kind to photograph our jobs and give me many of those excellent pictures. Without them I probably wouldn't have many old photos to scan!

I wanted to write a bit of a tribute to Kevin's worklife as he passed away a few years ago from Cancer. I miss him a lot and think of him often as I drive around going to jobs.
I think Kevin would appreciate an ode in that he was an English major in college and loved the written word. He didn't really like having attention drawn to himself but he certainly deserves much praise. Our love of reading was one of the things we shared.

It may have been his thoughtful approach to our projects that made him such a good contractor. His eye for detail and the aesthetic of the garden is unparalleled in my view and his ability to understand that simplicity and basic lines give the garden a calming effect.
I still visit many of the clients and gardens that Kevin and I worked on and the basic "bones" of the garden are in place and will carry through for many years to come. This is his legacy- the creation of beautiful landscaping and enjoyable spaces for people to enjoy.

I always told clients that Kevin's jobs always grew better. He gave a lot of thought to the needs of the garden and the future health of the plantings.  His quick response to any problems that arose showed that he took care in his work and wanted his jobs to be successful. Over a period of 25 years I designed many beautiful projects that Kevin installed and they are still some of the best projects that were completed. I will be hard pressed to find another contractor of that caliber of quality and such a wonderful colleague.  It was just luck I met Kevin in the first place, working on a job site and both of just starting out with our business'.

Being a landscape contractor combines many skills- working with clients and employees, managing schedules, completing business tasks, procurring quality materials, trouble shooting jobs and overseeing installation. Although Kevin often struggled with his people skills, being an insular introvert, his management ability and intelligence carried him through.  Even through his battle with Cancer over many years, he remained true and goal oriented to the task at hand and didn't let the disease suppress his abilities.

This ode would not be complete without recognizing Jane, Kevin's wife, who was indeed (as Kevin often remaked) his better.  Her help in running the business was a huge part of Kevin's success and he valued Jane and his family foremost as the center of his life.  It was with great pleasure that I to got know them as a family. Liam and Katelyn Likens are quickly growing up and are blossoming under Jane's care.

Here are a few examples of the work that Kevin installed over the years.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What to do with Food Packages

Millions of little Greenhouses

I hate modern packaging. There is so much of it, it is hard to get open and it is predominately plastics which don't really compost!  Ever the frugal daughter of a depression era mama, I am always looking for ways to re-use these many plastic containers as I am sure your are too.  Since growing stuff is my passion I started using the lidded muffin and berry containers as little greenhouses for seed starts. This is working out quite well! 
Easy to move around and fully self contained they are fun to have as a little project and I am happy to be getting the extra use of them.    Pictured here are an old cake package with Cat Grass grown from seed- very easy to grow- and a freshly started muffin package with seeds of Giant Marigolds just planted. The moisture from the lid drips down onto the soil and gives them some extra water.  Be sure and poke holes in the bottoms of the containers, keep them damp but not soggy and give morning light afternoon shade. To help keep them moist use a piece of cloth, old towel or several sheets of newspaper between the saucer and container. I like to use old lids as saucers or disposable plates.                          

This plastic tub was from some cookies and  I thought I would use it as a liner for my terra cotta pot so that when I want to replace the annuals in the pot I can just lift out the inner liner and bend the plastic on the sides to pop out the plants easily.
Another use of the containers could be for cuttings. Easy plants to grow from cuttings are succulents and pelargoniums or geraniums. They root easily just from the cut stem. If you want to try other plants make the cutting just below a leaf on about a 3-4" stem, remove the lower leaves and trim the other leaves in half to cut down water loss. Dip the tip of the stem in root-tone- a growing hormone availble in nurseries as a powder- and bury stem 1/2"-1". 

Starting your own plants from seed or cuttings saves some money but moreover it is just plain fun and a great project for kids. Useful plants to start in containers are small herbs like parsley, basil, cilantro or dill. Yum.
The spring weather is a perfect time to try this project. Happy growing!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eat your flowers everyday

Flowers are indeed lovely to look at but one does not often think to eat them. What a pity as some are delicious and add color perking up otherwise dull meals.  For Christine's wedding we grew and decorated her cake with pansies, nasturtiums, lavender flowers using mint leaves and fruit to fill out the ensemble and to give more dimension. So much better than icky icing flowers and her friends got to help out decorating the cakes, which they loved. She made a wonderful Carrot Cake for the main cake so it was a garden theme!

One of my favorite edible flowers are the petals of the Pineapple Gauva (seen here). Feijoa- Pineapple Gauva is a common landscape shrub.  The flower petals are like a soft gummy candy are yummy.  What a great treat for kids!

Other edible flowers are roses, bachelor buttons, marigolds and Bellis perennis(english daisies). The flowers of herbs and some vegetables are edible too i.e. squash blossoms.  Probably the only problem with this idea is that most folks are so hesitant to eat the flowers when they are used as garnish or decoration. Considering the things Americans put into their bodies this is somewaht surprising! Anyway, we reassure folks when serving dishes with edible flowers incorporated and they choose for themselves. Try the them out and see what you think- a fun idea that is healthy too.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pool Remodels

Did you know that Lois designs pool remodels? Well yes, yes I do. Here is an example of a pool in need of a facelift.  The remodel will include a new waterfill spill wall at the back, an added spa area, new plaster, coping and pool deck. The overall cost will be around 15-20k.

Usually the discussion begins as a pool ages and needs work- new plaster, leaking bond seal, cracking or pop off tiles, rough surfaces or cracking pool deck. Some of these things can just be repaired but when the overall pool needs updating then the discussion of whether to do the work or just fill it in comes up.

I have been involved in both scenarios and it usually depends on what fits the family. In terms of resale value it is not really a selling point to have a pool as many buyers won't want it where as others will.
If you have a pool or have had one then you know that they are a lot of maintenance and cost around $30 a month in electricity to run the filters- heating adds onto this cost. Water evaporation is another cost as well as chemicals and algea control.   If your family does not use the pool and you need more general area in the yard for garden or patio then filling it in is a good option.
Filling in a pool usually costs around 8-13K and the process varies with different cities specs., access and pool type. This type of work is done by an excavating contractor or landscape contractor. As a landscape designer I give options and a plan for what will be in place of the old pool.

Pool remodels can revamp a dated pool and give it a more modern look.  Many of the pools I have worked on take advantage of the new pool interior finishes i.e. pebbletec or pebblesheen which give the pool a more natural look "more like a pond" than a pool.

A great website where you can see pool finishes and tile is the National Pool Tile website which allows you too insert different samples into a pool template to see different looks.

Often new coping and pool deck are all that is needed. In our old pool we had exposed aggregate concrete as the pool deck which was awful as it was rough and very hard on the feet- not slippery though!  New pool decks can take advantages of the more recently introduced stamped concrete or pavers that have a much more elegant look and are easy on the feet. Glare can also be reduced with a more neutral pool deck color and interior finish color.

The planted area around the pool can get quite worn looking and redoing those plantings areas can really improve the look without a huge budget.  With good soil prep., automatic watering and plants that fit the areas the whole backdrop of the view of the pool is improved.

If you are considering redoing a pool area and want to consult on options let me know and we can brainstorm some ideas!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fountain Grass- the good, the bad and the ugly

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'- Fountain Grass appeared in the nurseries with many other ornamental grasses a few years ago, but be warned, not all ornamental grasses are as inocuous and lovely to care for as they first appear.
I too thought this would be a wonderful and graceful plant to use in ornamental, dry gardens. What a mistake! Fountain grass became quite the problem. Growing to a huge height and overwhelming borders only to completely die off in winter creating a giant cleanup and pruning project.  That would not have been so bad in comparison to what was to come.

The worst surprise came when I took my dog in to see the vet. because he was scratching at his ear a lot. She extracted a seed head from his ear and said he had got a foxtail in his ear. I quickly spoke up saying we didn't have any foxtails in the garden. Then it dawned on me- this was not a foxtail but a seed from the fountain grass in the backyard.  With his droopy ears the seed had burrowed down and was irritating his ear canal.  This was awful. Not only had I hurt my dog but we had been using these grasses in lots of peoples yards. Horrible.

Unfortunately in gardening this type of thing happens sometimes. A new plant is introduced and seems great but the reality is different than the first impression. I always used my garden as a testing ground for different plants to understand the growth, maintenance and disease resistance of plants in our area.  With the ornamental grasses the things to watch for are reseeding in an invasive way, unruly growth, and excessive maintenance issues. Most of my clients want low maintenance and if they have a gardener they may not know how to care for ornamental grasses.  Over watering can also be a disaster creating way too much growth and spread or the opposite- rotting out the crown. Over the years I have honed down the choices to many nice plants that are long lasting, stay trim and are fairly disease and pest free. Its taken awhile and new plants are always being introduced.  Gardening is a learning experience. Anyway, if I used a fountain grass in your garden I am sorry! It seemed wonderful at the time- wrong.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rose Pruning

Despite the lovely warm, dry weather the winter pruning must be done! Especially in mild years when plants are fooled by lack of cold and just keep growing and growing and growing. In the pictures above I have some before and afters of Roses trimmed and untrimmed (also note the poor staking of the tree rose- please use large.metal stakes when planting or this will happen to yours). Anyway the idea of doing winter pruning is to maintain good structure in the plants, prepare for the flowers and new growth in the spring and to prune out any dead or diseased wood also any crossoing branches (this is not always possible).
When pruning Roses always wear leather gloves preferably Rose gloves that have cuffs that cover your wrists and forearms too.  After many, many scratches and abrasions I finally have learned to always where my gloves. 
I don't really like to prune back into the old wood (branches with old bark and main trunk) so I try to keep up with the pruning each year so this doesn't become neccesary.  Roses are fairly forgiving though so a few wrong cuts aren't usually a disaster.
Start by pruning out the current years growth cutting back the green wood just above an active bud (one that is plump and not dead looking). I like to leave 2 active buds along the branches so as the Rose grows out there will be enough new growth.  Prune out any dead and damaged wood.
The old rule of thumb is not to leave the cut end of a dead branch any longer than 1/4" from the trunk.
As you prune open up the center of the plant so that as the foliage fills in there are not branches crowding the center and creating dark spots and poor air circulation that encourages pests.
As you finish pruning the Rose remove any leaves left on the plant and rake up below to remove diseased leaves that can infect the plant in the coming year.
For diagrams of the pruning see the Sunset pruning book which is very good or attend a class at a local nursery. I am happy to consult with local clients on garden care also.
A little care makes the world of difference in the flower production and health of your garden.
Enjoy and Happy Winter pruning!

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year is Bare Root Season

Happy 2012!  I hope the new year will be full of happy surprises and successful projects.  I recently relocated from Los Gatos to Redwood City and am happily settled in.  Livin' down by the bay in Redwood shores and lots of walking trails. Its so much fun to see all the shore birds and explore a new area. I was sad that I had moved to this beautiful area just as winter started but as it turned out it has been a warm,gorgeous month so have been out on the trails everyday.

So around the beginning of the year (Dec. thru Feb) is bare root season.  It is an awesome time to buy bare root plants i.e. roses, deciduous fruit trees and berries and some perennials.  Plants are more affordable as bare root stock and can get a better "root hold" in the soil when grown from bare root stage.

Bare root means that the dormant plants are sold without soil with roots exposed and just wrapped in shavings. Only dormant or deciduous plants can be sold this way- no evergreens.

When buying bare root plants look for plants that are still without any new leaves or buds that are opening, roots that are plump and full rather than shrunken or shriveled, and plants that have a goodly amount of roots (these will help to support top growth).

Saok the bare root plants in a bucket of water when you get them home and plant in well turned earth that is not soggy or saturated with water. Always add compost and slow release fertilizer when planting new plants. use your fingers to pack the soil around the tender roots filling in all air
pockets. After planting use a broom handle to probe soil areas around the root ball making sure all air pockets are filled in. This is very important.

Water in the plants after planting and repeat as needed if it is not raining much.  Use a shredded mulch layer over the root ball and soil to conserve water and keep weeds down. Pull mulch away from the plant crowns.

I often order Roses as bare root plants from Jackson and Perkins. They are excellent plants and I have had beautiful Roses for many years from these shipments.  

I hope you will be able to experience this rewarding way of growing plants also and have many fruits from your labors- ha ha.