Monday, December 28, 2009

Name That Bird!

When: late December
Where: rural farmland area of southern Sacramento County, California
What: Mystery bird, looks like a mockingbird, except slightly smaller and more gray. Likes to hang out in dense trees, such as magnolia (deciduous) and photinia (tall evergreen shrubs).
I have never heard this bird here before in the last 20 years!
Any help would be appreciated! Thanks! Here is it's three note song:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rose Pruning, California Style

    Late December through January is rose pruning time here in California's Central Valley. In this mild winter area of California, roses do not need as severe a pruning as some East Coast-based rose primers might suggest. Here then, are some "California Rules" for pruning hybrid tea, floribundas, grandifloras and miniature roses this winter.

By the way, ask 100 rosarians how to prune roses, and you may get many varied answers. Hell, rosarians don't agree on much when it comes to roses. Which goes to show you: ROSES ARE THE MOST FORGIVING PLANT IN NATURE.

  Give them the basics (sun, water, decent soil), and they can pretty much take whatever you throw at them, and come back blooming. They would appreciate a monthly fertilization during the growing season...if you remember.

• Prune out all dead, aged and weak growth. Gnarly stems and gnarly thorns indicate "Aged".


Remove any borer-infested
branches, as well. A hollow or blackened center of a stem may indicate the presence of borers. A solid, creamy colored interior is the sign of a healthy branch.

• Make no cuts on hybrid tea rose bushes or grandifloras below your knee, unless you're removing the cane completely.

• Leave as many primary canes as the plant can handle. Many cold climate rosarians might advise you to leave only three canes per hybrid tea rose bush. Here in California, a vigorously growing hybrid tea or grandiflora rose might have as many as nine healthy canes. Keep most, if not all of  those canes, for even more roses during spring through fall.

• Try to make all cuts without extreme angles. Nothing exceeding 45 degree cuts; 90 degree cuts (or as close to that as possible) is fine. This is especially true of thick canes. The low part of a 45 degree cut on these would extend past, ultimately damaging, weakening or killing the eye (new bud) you are trying to cut above. 

• All cuts should be made one-quarter inch above a dormant eye or intersection of two branches.


• Do not use glue, tree seal or paint on pruning cuts. A clean cut will heal much more quickly when left alone.

• When you are finished, strip all remaining leaves from your roses, then blow or rake all the leaves out of the beds and send them to the dump, not the compost pile. Since all the fungus spores and insect eggs are there from the last growing season, removing these from your yard now reduces next year's problems.

Visit the Lance Walheim website for information about his excellent rose books!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here Comes That Wednesday Morning Rainbow Again

"Here Comes That Rainbow Again" (Kris Kristofferson)

The scene was a small roadside cafe,
The waitress was sweeping the floor.
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee.
And two Okie kids by the door.

"How much are them candies?" they asked her.
"How much have you got?" she replied.
"We've only a penny between us."
"Them's two for a penny," she lied.

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder,
With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain't it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

One truck driver called to the waitress,
After the kids went outside.
"Them candies ain't two for a penny."
"So what's it to you?" she replied.

In silence they finished their coffee,
And got up and nodded goodbye.
She called: "Hey, you left too much money!"
"So what's it to you?" they replied.

And the daylight was heavy with thunder,
With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain't it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

After the Freeze, What should a Gardener Do?

After several days of bone-chilling mornings with temperatures dipping into the low-to-mid twenties, should shivering gardeners:

a) remove all plants that look frost-bitten; 

b) prune away all freeze-damaged plant parts;

c) Purchase and plant again this weekend those same varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals;
d) water the garden, even if the plants resemble toast;
e) fight the urge to prune and plant by staying indoors, next to the wood stove?

The answers happen to be the easiest to accomplish on a cold weekend: d) and e).

Even if plants in your garden look blackened and wilted now, new growth may emanate from the base of the plant when the weather warms up in a couple of months.

Pruning away the dead portions now exposes buds that may still be alive; another frosty morning could wipe out those survivors. 

The average frost season for Sacramento is about two months, primarily December and January. But temperatures below 32 have been recorded as early as the first week in November; as late as the third week in March.

So, keep the shears in the garage and let the dead portions of the plants protect the understory. It may take until mid-Spring before you see new growth; patience is key before you pick up the pruners.

Make sure your garden and potted plants remain moist. Water
gives off heat, and this can protect plants from freezing, especially borderline citrus trees, such as lemons and limes. Damp soil retains heat better than dry soil, protecting roots and warming the air near the soil.


Other frosty garden tips that bear repeating:
• If you still have cold-susceptible potted plants on the porch or patio, move them to a sunny spot indoors or to a west or south-facing outdoor wall.

• Another way to achieve a few degrees of protection: construct a tent around a freeze-threatened plant, especially citrus, using frost blankets or row cover material. Your local nursery will have several products that will do this job. Old bed sheets work well, too.

• The larger sized Christmas lights or a couple of 150-watt light bulbs located in the central area of an orange tree (or any other cold-intolerant shrub) may add two to four degrees Fahrenheit of protection.

• Harvest any citrus fruit that is ripe, especially on the outer

• Wrap any exposed plastic water pipes; cover outdoor faucets, as well.

• Adjust your pool, spa or pond filtration timers so that they are running when the chance of freezing temperatures is greatest, between 2 and 9 a.m. Moving water is less susceptible to freezing.

• Make sure the backyard birdbath isn't frozen over in the morning.

• Daily fresh water for dogs and cats is also a good morning habit.

And what about those plants that have frozen past the point of
return? Should you replace them with the same varieties? That frozen ficus may be Mother Nature's way of telling you: "Hey! This ain't San Diego! Pick outdoor plants that can take colder temperatures!"


From the garden e-mail bag, Rob asks: "A lot of my lantana was burned by the cold weather. Should I trim in winter or wait until spring?"
Lantana is from the tropics, so it is a borderline plant here.
A light frost usually just damages the outer leaves; but a heavy frost or freeze may kill the entire plant. The good news: it may come back to life with new growth from the base, but not until late in spring. In the meantime, do nothing. Those dead branches may be keeping the base alive.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Drain That Rain!

     The National Weather Service has the storm flag flying for Northern and Central California next week. Two storms are headed our way, according to the 16 km infrared Western U.S. satellite map : a small, cold one late this weekend; then, further out in the western Pacific, is a huge band of moisture that may or may not dump on us (depends on the northerly movement of the high pressure area over us now).

When storms come blowing and pouring through our area each winter, think about this: Where is all that water going when it lands in your backyard? If that precipitation is going nowhere, here are some tips to protect your prized outdoor plants located in low lying areas from getting waterlogged roots:

• Enjoy the rain...from indoors. Working in wet soil causes soil compaction.

 • If the source of the standing water is the runoff from the roof gutters that are dumping next to the house's foundation, buy some flexible plastic extension pipes and attach these to the end of the gutters, directing the runoff to another area less prone to flooding, at least six feet away from the house.

 • Amending your garden area with porous material also will aid drainage. When the soil is dry enough to work, add organic soil amendments, such as compost. Till these materials in as deep as possible.

 • Dig a sump. A hole that is dug in the lowest portion of your yard, a hole that penetrates through all the layers of hardpan (usually 2-4 feet below the surface), can help drain away stormwater. Line the hole with a non-porous material (hard plastic sheeting, for example) to keep the surrounding dirt from falling back into the hole. Fill the hole with small rocks, about one inch in diameter.

 • If it's the lawn area that's flooding, dig a trench and lay a drain line in the lowest area of the lawn. Don't do any digging immediately after a heavy rain, though; wait until the soil dries enough to avoid unnecessary soil compaction. Be sure to slope the perforated drain pipe, allowing at least a one foot drop for each 100 feet of length (one quarter-inch per foot). Dig backwards from where the water will exit the pipe, trenching back towards the source of flooding to help determine how deep to lay the drain pipe. Line the trench with a few inches of gravel, both above and below the pipe. For a lawn area, try to lay the pipe at least two feet below the surface.

 • If it's the garden bed that's flooding, consider building raised beds this fall, lining the bed with 2X8, 2X10 or 2X12 redwood planks. Capping off the top of these boards with 2X6 redwood will give you a comfortable place to sit while harvesting vegetables and pulling weeds.

 • If you haven't planted in a flooded area yet, consider creating mounds first, planting trees and shrubs on the top of the mounds.

 • If you're still stuck with pools of standing water after heavy rains despite your best efforts, consider planting trees and shrubs that can take "wet feet". Water-tolerant trees for our area include birch, sweet gum, magnolia, tupelo and coast redwoods. Shrubs for wet areas include thuja and red twig dogwood.

Landscape designer Michael Glassman offers these tips for improving drainage in your yard  (downloadable audio segment runs 13 minutes).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hard Freeze Yard and Garden Tips

     A few weeks ago, we talked about strategies to protect your plants from any expected mild frosts, when morning temperatures dip just below 32 degrees for an hour or two. 

     But what if the often predicted December freeze, when temperatures fall into the 20's for several hours each morning, settles into the area?

     Many of us learned this drill back in 1990, when consecutive low morning temperatures of 22, 18, 21 and 23 in Sacramento descended upon us during the period of December 21-24. Temperatures did not get above 25 degrees in parts of the San Joaquin Valley for three to five days and all time record low temperatures were set at Sacramento, Stockton, and Bakersfield. Many records were set for duration of freezing temperatures. The agricultural industry was devastated as acres of trees, not just fruit, were destroyed. Thirty-three counties were disaster-declared.

     Homeowners learned which plants don't like it cold (hibiscus, geraniums and other plants popular in the Bay Area and Southern California); and, which plants were the hardy survivors (another reason the oleander was chosen for the Highway 99 median strip). 

     Here's a last minute checklist for your home and garden if the TV weather people tell you tomorrow's low will be in the mid-20's:
• If it hasn't rained, water plants thoroughly, especially container plants.
• If possible, move sensitive container plants next to a south or west facing wall.
• Cover citrus and other sensitive plants with burlap, row cover fabric or sheets (be sure to keep the sheets dry). Tent plastic sheets over the plants; don't let plastic touch plant leaves. A light bulb placed in such a plant can offer a few degrees of protection.
• If using an anti-transpirant polymer coating material such as Wilt-Pruf or Cloud Cover, apply at the warmest time of the day, or at least six hours before an expected frost. However, a study at Oregon State University concluded that these products may actually be detrimental to certain plants during a freeze. If using these products, thoroughly water the plant before applying.
• Disconnect hoses and drip lines, removing end caps. Lay out straight.
• To prevent broken grass blades, don't walk on a frozen lawn.
• Remove the lowest sprinkler head to drain.
• Cover unprotected faucets and pipes, including any spa or pool equipment.
• To prevent frozen attic pipes, let lukewarm water trickle out of the indoor faucet farthest from the inlet. Also, let faucets with pipes running along an outer, north facing wall trickle during the night. 
• Open cabinet doors to get more heat to the pipes. Close the garage door if water pipes pass through the garage.
• Setting your thermostat nightly at 55 can add needed heat to the attic pipes.
• If leaving the house for a vacation during an expected freeze, turn off the water to the house, and open up the faucet farthest from the inlet. Be sure to turn off your water heater.
• To prevent cracking tile, run your pool and spa equipment during the freezing hours.
• Don't forget about your pets during a prolonged freeze. Bring them indoors at night. Move or replace their drinking water. Break up any frozen water in bird baths.

Their is some good news connected with a possible freeze: populations of yellowjackets, eucalyptus-feeding red gum lerp psyllids and grasshoppers could be greatly reduced in 2010.