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.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Avoiding Freeze Damage to Plantings

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr its cold out there

Kind of brutal on skin and the tender leaves of sub-tropical and tropical plants. Although it hasn't dropped down below 20 degrees, which is when I really start to worry, we have had some seriously cold nights.

Things to cover when it gets down into those cold temps are small Citrus, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, Orchids,  tropical pond plants and landscape plants, Pelargoniums (Geraniums), Cuphea, Mandevilla, Tree Ferns, Brugmansia, succulents and tender new plantings. Many flowering vines are subtropicals i.e. Trumpet vines, Bower vine, Hardenbergia- anti-desiccant sprays (see below) would be good for these.

Use cloth not plastic sheets to cover the plants and if you can, support the sheets off the foliage to avoid frost burn. Remove the sheeting in the day if it is sunny out. For further warmth you can use a light or single bulb below the sheets- this actually works believe it or not. Avoid contact of sheet to bulb!

There are sprays that can also help such as "Wilt-pruf" and "Cloud Cover" which are anti-desiccants
that help to keep leaves from "freeze drying". Follow manufacturers specs. for application and re-spray after rains.

Keep plants well watered between sporadic rains as this helps the leaves of all plants from becoming to wilted in the frosty weather.

Many plants will have frost burned foliage and go dormant in the cold weather but will recover in the late spring or summer growing from the roots or base. Leave any damaged plants well into the warm weather to make sure that they are really lost before replacing them.

The best advice is to avoid the use of plants not suited to your climate zone. We are having a significant climate change so have had good luck with sub-tropical here but hard freezes are cyclical so they are bound to hit gardens at some point.

Enjoy the frost and snow in the mountains- a pretty sight for Christmas time.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Living with Native Oaks

 I took these photos with my Iphone in Flood Park off Bay Road in Menlo Park. Not too shabby for a camera in a phone!
The park has gorgeous old Oak trees- Coast Live Oaks and Valley Oaks that are many hundreds of years old.
Coast Live Oaks are evergreen and have rounded leaves with slightly spiny edges. Valley Oaks have lobed leaves and are deciduous. These are the most common Oaks in our area and many folks have them in their yards or neighborhoods.

I wanted to blog about them because they are so much a part of our lives in the Bay Area.  Where I grew up in San Rafael we had Oaks all around our home and even one in the middle of the house! The home is actually built around a Valley Oak forming an "L" around the trunk. We climbed them, gathered the acorns to play games with and threw the galls at each other as kids. I have spent many happy hours gazing up into the branches of the contorted Oak covering our deck.

 We lost a huge Live Oak in the front of the home last year and it was heartbreaking. It was akin to losing a member of the family.  Although they seem to live forever they definitely succumb to age, disease and natural disasters.
Living under the canopy of an Oak is not always easy.  They are huge trees that drop leaves, acorns and spent blossoms. They are often the home of caterpillars and insects that can also cause honeydew drip, leaf drop and other assorted messiness.  Yet, we thank them for the shade, beauty and bird activity that thrives in their canopies.

That is actually the most exciting fact about large trees- they are a giant environment and ecosystem in their own right. Supporting birds, moths and insects, bacteria and fungus that larger animals live on that in turn are food for even larger creatures, these trees are a big part of the food chain. Shelter and structure is also a part of their role as well as the action of the root system in preventing erosion.
Pretty Bark!
 When living below an Oak it is important to remember that they are adapted to summer drought- which is very long here. It is dry from May through October most years in the un-irrigated areas and the native plants have the ability to survive in this climate. They do not like a lot of extra water in the summer, so irrigation systems often cause damage to native trees and plants due to overwatering. Oak also have a fungus that lives in unison with them called Oak Root Fungus. This fungus lives in all parts of the trees. Oaks can live fine with it as part of their lives, unless there is a lot of extra watering going on or a very rainy year. The fungus becomes over active with the increased water and can block the vein system of the Trees and other plants in the garden near the Oaks. 
You will often hear advice that Oaks should not be watered under the canopy and especially not at the base of the trunk. This is due to disease issues- crown rot, fungus' and even termite damage.

There are a lot of things that live in and among the Oaks that don't hurt them.
Lichen on a twig
 Pictured here is a twig with lichen on it. Lichen is a neat organism that is actually a fungus and an algae intertwined together to form one structure. You see it on rocks, trees, signs, roofs etc..... It only latches on to their supports and
does not harm the structure. Lichen is really a cool plant and I love the many colors and shapes it can have.

Often Oaks will have cavities where a branch has died out. The cavities may or may not be a problem for the tree- mostly not. These holes become homes for birds, bee hives, small animals and even other plants.
Do not fill the cavities with anything like concrete or tar- this can damage the trees. They heal up on their own.

Oak Gall
This funny looking ball is a gall. It is made by a wasp and is the nursery for their larvae. These are common in Oaks and do not hurt the trees. Some folks call them "Oak Apples" but they are not a fruit- well, maybe for the wasp larvae but not for us.
Galls are kind of interesting too. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and on an Oak you may find 5 or more different kinds of galls.

Another aspect of living below Oaks and other large trees is compaction. Trees do not benefit from having a lot of traffic running over their roots. Paving below trees is hard on the trees and the paving!  Best to stay back from the trunks 8-10' or more with paving and path areas. This is usually impossible in our tight urban settings but if there is a choice this is the rule of thumb.

Last note on large trees and Oaks- attaching things to them isn't a great idea.  Building a tree house? Use posts and beams around the trunk and branches rather than nailing into the tree. Hanging a pot, swing or sign? Allow plenty of chain or rope instead of using a tight loop so the tree can expand and surround the chain or rope with rubber to avoid abrasion. Remove tight tree ties or bracing so the tree won't be strangled or girdled over time.

Think of an Oak as a huge community supporting hundreds of organisms and providing oxygen for hundreds more. An Oak is more than "just" a tree it is a complex living being and structure that asks for little and gives and gives and gives. Amazing!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Beautiful Garvan Woodland Gardens

 I recently visited my daughter in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she was working temporarily as a Zookeeper taking care of Bears, Cheetahs, Lions, Tigers, Capibaras!  As part of our sight seeing we visited an amazing Botanical Garden run by the University of Arkansas.  Garvan Woodland Gardens was a labor of love developed over many years by Verna Garvan. A successful business woman operating a lumber company and a tile and brick works. Verna Garvan with the help of her employee, Warren Bankson, brought her vision for this lovely property to life.

Today the garden is part of the University program and is the site of ongoing Horticultural training. The masonary on this site is amazing and the bridges are exemplary. The property sits on a peninsula in Lake Hamilton in Garland County near the historic town of Hot Springs. We were lucky to be touring the garden when a large glass exposition was displayed. The glass artist is James Hayes of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Throughout the garden chandeliers, orbs, sculptures and hanging ornaments were set into the trees and planted areas.

 The waterfalls cool the area and give this hot region a lovely respite. The sound of the water
splashing over the gray stones transport you to another calmer, quieter world.
As with many large botanical gardens this one has a variety of special areas including a bonsai and Asian garden, children's exploratory area, perennial borders, woodland trails, and large group areas.
I loved visiting Arkansas and seeing the lush green forests. They are a mix of Conifers and Broadleaf Deciduous Oaks, Maples, Alders etc...
The garden is full of stone and boulders quarried locally and set artistically throughout the grounds. We saw some really cool lizards too.
 The hidden cave below the waterfall is part of the children's exploration area and has a peep hole from above also.

The kids were enjoying being in and out of the water!
Luckily we were visiting on a mild day and the humidity wasn't too bad.

As you know- I love flowers!!!! This is a great example of a perennial border that is not too fussy in its care and water requirements. Notice the classic development of low plantings building to the taller shrubs and flowers at the back. Great design!!
Bonsai are a small world in a container. Meant to symbolize the greater these miniatures bring the woodland to a table or stone top. The Bonsai here were set into their own area in an alcove of large boulders and trees within the Asian Garden area.  Great bridge!

This is a quick visual and virtual trip to this lovely place but if you are in the region make the drive- its so worth it!  We had a wonderful visit.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Garden in the Summer

                                                     Summer Top Jobs in the Garden

The heat is on and the garden is flourishing!  In the cool evening go out and take a look and see what needs attention.

Things to look for:

Fruit tipping the branches dangerously close to the ground- thin some of the developing fruit and prop the branches with 2x4's. When ripe, remove all fruit from trees.

Wilting- check the watering system and make sure all the drippers are dripping and sprinklers popping up.  Give extra hand watering to suffering plants and wash the foliage of the garden overall.

Deep water your broadleaf trees and fruit trees.  In the summer lay the hose under your trees along the drip line in 4-5 spots and let run in each spot slowly for 30-60 minutes. Do this from June though September 1-2 times a month so that the trees and large shrubs get some deep watering. Irrigation is mostly surface watering.

Thin patches in the lawn. Check the watering system for coverage. Does the lawn have dry spots after watering? Increase the coverage on the head (open small screw on the top of the sprinkler nozzle).
or add heads as needed.
Sometimes these dry patches are grubs eating the lawn roots or greedy trees soaking up all the water.
Grubs can be treated with pesticide- see nursery for info.
For tree roots add sand or topdressing to bring up the soil level over the roots and over seed with lawn seed.

Fertilize, please!  Apply a slow release fertilizer or regular fertilizer to planting areas and wash in well to avoid burning. Blooming and leaf color will increase with food. Follow manufacturers instructions carefully.
Use "weed and feed" for lawns to control weeds and feed the grass.
Fertilize plants and lawn every 6 weeks in the growing season with regular fertilizer or every 6 months for slow release.

Put out shallow bowls of water for birds, insects and garden inhabitants. Its dry around here.

Remove dead flower heads for a better repeat bloom.

Control weedy plants so they don't overtake the other plantings.

Enjoy the garden! Its the best this time of year.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Salvias or Sages- what to do in winter

Salvias or Sages are the beloved garden perennials  of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees These hardy, multi-season blooming plants are colorful and aromatic. There are so many hybrids now that I have a hard time keeping up with the new varieties.  Not to be confused with the short lived annual types, the perennial low and medium shrub versions are long lasting and diverse. 
These plants have aptitudes to both half light and full sun. Some are water loving but most like a dry location. Many are subject to frost damage. Check the Sunset Western Garden Book for information on zones and water requirements for any new salvias you purchase.
In the winter Salvias will go dormant with many having the whole top die back. All the shrub forms of Salvia should be pruned back at the tail end of the frost season (late February) to allow for the new top growth to develop. For many of the shrub forms, if look down at the base of the plant you will see the fresh shoots developing around the crown.  Leaving the old top growth over winter helps to protect the new growth from freeze. The good thing about plants that rejuvinate from the base or grow from the old wood is that you have a whole new, fresh top and flowering stalks each year. If not pruned back the plants will become woody, leggy and not bloom well or at all.  The hummingbirds will be really mad too! 
During the growing season dead head (cut dead flower heads) back, plus about 2-4" of the foliage to keep the plants looking fresh and promoting new blooms.  Fertilize lightly with "Osmocote" or other all purpose fertilizer. They dont need a lot of food or really much care.
Nepeta, teucrium, and daylilies have a similar type of care with the top growth dying back in winter and the new plants emerging from the base.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Citrus Care

Citrus are the easy fruiting trees. They are really big shrubs with a classic rounded shape. They store their fruit well and ripen slowely so that you can pick it over a long period of time.

January is a good time to feed your Citrus with all-purpose citrus food so that the spring rains will wash in the fertilizer.  This will help set the crop for next year. It is also a good time to give them a dose of chelated iron which is a soluble iron that is mixed with water and foliar fed or poured around the root area from a bucket. Feed Citrus again with iron in the late summer and water in well.

Be sure and pick all the ripe fruit each year and clean up any fallen fruit or "mummies" still hanging on the tree to help rid the area of diseases and pests that get into the fallen fruit.
Removing the fruit also helps next years crop to form in that energy isn't going into maintaining
the old fruit still hanging on the tree.

Citrus don't need a lot of pruning just trim any long branches that shoot out and keep them trimmed into a nice rounded, symmetrical shape. Avoid over-pruning as it opens up the canopy and allows the sun to scald the thin bark of the plants.

Prune other trees and shrubs away from your Citrus trees so they get plenty of light, water and nutrients on all sides.

Whitefly can be an issue for Citrus, if they are in an overcrowded area or are not getting enough light.
Hang traps for these pests and wash foliage frequently. Prune back any trees blocking the light to the Citrus.

In Summer, deeply water your Citrus twice a month by setting out a hose at the drip line of the canopy, letting the hose run very slowly for 20-30 minutes. Do this in 4 places around a large tree and two places for smaller trees. Even if you have irrigation the deep watering helps the trees develop juicy fruit- its mostly water after all!

When hard freeze is predicted in the winter cover the trees (if you can) with a cloth sheet (not plastic). Uncover as the freeze lifts.
Some folks put a light under the sheet to generate some heat for the tree.

If you can't eat all your fruit please donate it to the food bank- they really need the donations and appreciate it!

Enjoy the powerhouse of fruiting plants- Citrus!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What am I seeing Here?

Yes, that really is a California Blacktail Deer on someones roof!  This was contributed to my blog by Erin Sunkel of Belmont, who was amazed to look out her dining room window to see a Deer on the neighbors roof chomping on the tops of her shrubs.  Apparently this rascal had jumped from the slope in the back of the home onto the roof to have a buffet of the foliage overhanging the roof. 

Up at my Mom's house in Marin County we have had many amazing Deer interactions including:

A 3 legged deer who couldn't seem to stand up so my Mother (80 at the time) decided to help out and scared herself and the Deer. Luckily they both tottered off without harm.

A huge Buck getting his antlers stuck between the beams on the underside of the house.
So Mom was in the shower and heard a lot of racket from below. She exited the shower, dressed and went to investigate to find the animal in jeopardy.  With the help of the Marin Humane Society they got the Buck free but it ran off before they could determine if he was o.k.. At least he didn't come back.

When I lived at home I heard  crashing,banging noises coming from the woods out back. I came out the back door to find two Bucks doing a nature kingdom spectacular for me. They were butting their heads together at full speed with giant racks of antlers- Wow!  The energy was terrifying and fascinating at the same time.

One of my childhood friends in the hood found a struggling Deer in their creek and was horrified to find that someone had shot him with a arrow.  The Marin Humane Society (they get a lot of action) came out and tried to help out but this Deer also ran off before it could be sedated and taken to the animal hospital.  We always wondered how it got shot and where it went to.

My favorite though is the time Mom opened the front door to find a little doe laying on the front stoop perfectly comfortable and happy out of the rain and cold weather. She was startled but quietly closed the door and smiled.

For all my acrimony with Deer for the damage they cause to the gardens they are a big part of our lives in the old neighborhood and it wouldn't be the same without them.