Monday, January 25, 2010


  "Roses for Dummies" author Lance Walheim surveyed members of the Sacramento Rose Society and the Sierra Foothill Rose Society to get their answer to the question: What are the best roses for the Sacramento Area? These rose varieties should also do well in other climates with hot, dry summers in areas of low-to-mid humidity. The results:

"Sally Holmes". This white flowered is a shrubby climber...or a climbing shrub, with masses of flowers that look great  along a fence line.


"Moonstone". A hybrid tea rose featuring white petals with pink edges. Huge blooms for both garden display and as a  cut flower.


"Gemini". Pink blend hybrid tea rose. A fragrant, disease resistant rose with gorgeous coral and white blooms.

"Secret". A hybrid tea rose that is a great cut flower and smells wonderful. "Secret" combines form, fragrance and quick repeating pink blend blooms.

 "Grand Prize". This floribunda rose features a creamy white flower with a hint of pink and yellow. Makes a great border hedge.

“St. Patrick". True to the implication of its Irish name, this hybrid tea rose blooms with yellow-green colored flowers.

“Day Breaker". A short, floribunda bush-type rose, it is covered with unique peachy-yellow-orange flowers during our long growing season.

“Let Freedom Ring". A tall hybrid tea rose with long-stemmed, fragrant pinkish-red blossoms.

 “Veterans Honor". Gorgeous red blooms on this hybrid tea rose. Long lasting flowers, both on the bush or in a vase.

“Playboy". A reddish blend floribunda rose. Shiny foliage. The red blend blooms start off as yellow in the cooler weather, becoming more reddish-yellow with the heat of summer.

Other roses to look for now that placed high among local rosarians' recommendations included "Abraham Darby", "Berries 'n' Cream", "Lavaglut", "Crimson Bouquet", "Iceberg" (pictured at top of page - my favorite), "White Meidiland", "Flower Girl", "Black Magic", "Fourth of July" and "Altissimo".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Don't Take It Out on Your Trees!

     The big wind and rainstorm that hit California this week will be fodder for newspaper photographers and TV cameramen for several days. Pictures and video of large, downed trees, teetering against rooftops, has frightened homeowners. They may be asking themselves, "Will that large oak in our front yard come tumbling down in the next storm?" Their first line of response may be the wrong ones: topping the tree so that it stands lower than the house; or, removing the tree from the landscape.

The correct immediate response: inspect those trees (a subject tackled back in October in this FF Rant posting).

And when you see those fallen trees in the paper or on the TV news, your first question should be, "Why did those trees fail?"

And don't take the word of a reporter. Today's front page picture of a fallen tree in the Sacramento Bee was described as "uprooted". A casual reader might then infer that the tree fell over due to saturated soil. But take a close look at that picture. Do you see roots? Nope. That oak had snapped at the base. Take a look at the interior of that trunk. See all that black area? That's a sign of rot.

"It looks like a typical case of crown rot," says Consulting Arborist Analisa Stewart of Sacramento-based Arbor Entities. "And it was certainly not 'uprooted'; if it had been 'uprooted' you'd see a large root plate - usually twice the diameter of the trunk, hanging out all over the place. I'd suspect fungal decay, which could have been detected with a routine root crown exam."

     After seeing those news reports, a homeowner might think that the wise move may be to remove a large tree looming over a house as soon as possible. But you better think again, says Stewart.
     "A downed tree makes an exciting visual manifestation of a storm - so I think they're disproportionately covered in the media," she says. "The most expensive time to remove a tree is during or immediately after a storm event - because companies are paying overtime, and are paying emergency and hazard wages to their climbers and staff. People seem surprised by that. "
     "Trees have evolved to withstand wind. In a native forest environment, it's natural and normal for trees to fall apart in pieces. That's not desirable in an urban situation, which is why it's necessary to have a knowledgeable person responsible for maintaining trees.
     "Some tree species are more prone to wind failure than others. Down on the valley floor, we see more ash trees, elm trees and the occasional oak fail. In the foothills, pines are more likely to fail. Grey pine in particular is more susceptible to wind throw than other species according to the International Tree Failure Database.

     "It's a good idea to have large trees looked at on a routine schedule. A typical tree maintenance rotation for a homeowner would have a tree pruned about every three years. There are some trees that can go 5, 7 and in some cases even 10 years between pruning cycles. If a tree has been cabled, the cables should be examined every year by a certified arborist. It can't be done from the ground - the arborist actually needs to examine the cable attachments and make sure the cable is under tension. Cables don't eliminate tree limb failures - they do reduce limb failure by reducing the amount of weight and stress on a particular limb. If that limb does fail, the cable helps pull the limb back into the tree, instead of letting it fall away from a tree and onto a target, like a roof.
     "One of the things a certified arborist can do is evaluate a tree's hazard potential and recommend things to mitigate the potential damages. Remedies can range from routine pruning, limb cabling and targeting (what the tree or limb would land on if it failed) removal, not total tree removal. In some cases, there are very minimal risks of failure or damages and nothing at all needs to be done. In any event, if an arborist assesses a tree and completes a written report on it and the tree fails - the arborist bears the liability and has insurance to that end."

     "Things that increase the risk of tree failure during a storm include root pruning within the last 10 years (did you have to replace a water main? Were lots of roots cut on one side of the tree when you did?), incorrect pruning of the canopy (like topping), lack of maintenance (no pruning is just as bad as incorrect pruning), construction near the tree within the last 10 years, a history of surface watering, location of the tree (on a cliff that's been eroding for the last 7 years), changes in the tree's environment (a sheltering tree within 30 feet was removed, altering wind movement in the remaining tree) and overall age, condition and species of a given tree. Those are lots of variables, which is another reason to get a certified arborist out to look if a person has any concerns.

     There are tremendous benefits to trees here in Sacramento - and large canopy shade trees have exponentially larger benefits, according to the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

     "After our storm in January 2008 I saw a lot of gratuitious tree removals," says Stewart. "Large trees came down because people were scared, not because their trees posed a serious risk. Given my vocation its probably not surprising that I was saddened to see so many stately mature trees go, and am worried about the potential for a repeat. Mature trees simply give too much back to remove them needlessly. I'm not advocating people keep risky trees - I am advocating that they get some good solid advice from a certified arborist before they start a chain saw."

     The other urge worried homeowners need to control: tree topping. Dramatically reducing the overall height of a tree to lessen its threat to a roof may instead increase the risk to people and cars down below.

     According to the Arbor Day Foundation:  "Never cut main branches back to stubs. Many people mistakenly 'top' trees because they grow into utility wires, interfere with views or sunlight, or simply grow so large that they worry the landowner. Unfortunately, the topping process is often self-defeating. Ugly, bushy, weakly attached limbs usually grow back higher than the original branches. Proper pruning can remove excessive growth without the problems topping creates. In addition, many arborists say that topping is the worst thing you can do for the health of a tree. It starves the tree by drastically reducing its food-making ability and makes the tree more susceptible to insects and disease. The appearance of a properly pruned tree is like a good haircut: hardly noticeable at first glance."

Here are seven reasons from the Arbor Day Foundation why you shouldn't "top" trees:

1. Topping removes so much of the tree's crown that it temporarily cuts off its food-making ability. Good pruning practices rarely remove more than one-third of the crown.

2. Topping suddenly exposes the tree bark to the sun, possibly resulting in scalding to the tree trunk and any surrounding (and formerly shaded) shrubs or lawn.

3. The large stubs that are left after topping expose the tree to an insect or disease invasion.

4. Any new limbs that sprout after removing a larger limb will be more weakly attached. When the next wind and rain storm hits, it will be these branches that may land on your car or house.

5. Trying to control a tree's height by topping? Those new limbs that sprout will be more numerous than normal, so the tree returns to its original height in a short time with a far denser crown. Again, storm damage may result.

6. A topped tree is an ugly tree that will never regain its original grace and character, robbing you and your neighbors of a valuable asset.

7. Topping may be easier and cheaper than applying the skills and judgment necessary involved in good pruning. However, the hidden costs of topping include reduced property value, the expense of tree removal if the tree dies, the risk of liability from weakened branches and the loss of other trees, shrubs and lawn if they succumb to the dramatically increased sunlight.

Bottom line?
Trees: good.
Taking care of trees: better.
Having a professional (certified, bonded, insured) arborist take care of your trees: best.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Average Frost Dates for Selected California Locations

For the longest time, I have been telling anyone who would listen that the average frost season for Sacramento (the first and last dates of the garden year when temperatures may dip below 32 degrees) is Dec. 12 through January 27.  The record dates for earliest and latest frosts for Sacramento, however, stretch even longer: Nov. 4, 1935 and March 27, 1898. (source: National Weather Service Office, Sacramento.)
Like many statistics, those average dates are written in sand, depending on who you talk to (and, of course, location).

The dates for the "frost season" are important to gardeners for many reasons, especially to determine when to gear up to protect those plants that may be damaged by the cold, especially citrus fruit and containerized subtropical plants that may need to get moved to a warmer location.
Another consideration: those frost season dates can help you ascertain how long to leave freeze damaged (or dead) branches on bulbs, perennials and shrubs. By leaving on those dead portions, the understory of the plant is given some protection to produce new shoots, especially near the base of the plant. You may have noticed, that as a delayed result of the December freeze in Northern California, many plants that looked OK immediately following that cold blast are looking rather sad right now.

But put away those pruning shears.

Take a close look at that suffering geranium, alstroemeria and hydrangea.

New buds and shoots are starting to pop out. Leave that dead foliage on until the danger of frost has mostly passed. Also, don't give up (or dig out) those plants that look bad but haven't produced any new growth yet. Some plants take their sweet time to send out new shoots, possibly as late as mid-spring.


For the weather geeks among you, here are more average frost dates in California.

Average Frost Season (50% Probability) for Selected California Locations
(source: National Climactic Data Center. Includes data for all states. Large file.)

Bakersfield: Dec. 11-Jan. 31
Chico: Nov. 15-Mar. 20
Davis: Nov. 24-Mar. 4
Eureka: Dec. 15-Jan. 30
Fresno: Nov 25-Feb. 22
Lakeport: Nov. 2-Apr. 20
Livermore: Nov. 13-Mar. 29
Lodi: Nov. 16-Mar. 6
Los Angeles: rare
Marysville: Dec. 2-Feb. 9
Modesto: Nov. 29-Feb. 21
Napa: Nov. 26-Mar. 20
Nevada City: Oct. 15-May 17
Placerville: Nov. 6-Apr. 25
Sacramento: Dec 1-Feb. 14
San Francisco: Jan. 5-Jan. 8
San Jose: Dec 25-Jan. 22
Santa Rosa: Nov. 19-Mar. 25
Sonora: Nov. 12-Apr. 14
Stockton:Nov. 22-Mar. 1
Truckee: Aug. 16-July 11
Ukiah: Nov. 10-Apr. 3
Vacaville: Nov. 18-Mar. 19
Willows: Nov. 23-Mar. 14
Winters: Nov. 27-Feb. 17
Woodland: Nov. 26-Feb. 28

But, wait. What if you are the gardener who truly takes that seed packet statement, "Plant after all danger of frost" very seriously? What if a 50-50 chance of temperatures falling to 32 or lower is too risky for you?  

Then heed this list of possible frost dates, which extends the frost calendar to include as little as a 10% chance of frost:

Bakersfield: Nov. 20-Mar. 3
Chico: Oct. 30-Apr. 23
Eureka: Nov. 15-Mar. 14
Fresno: Nov. 7-Apr. 1
Lakeport: Oct. 10-May 10
Livermore: Nov. 3-Apr. 27
Lodi: Nov. 2-Mar. 31
Los Angeles: Jan. 2-Jan. 3
Marysville: Nov. 14-Mar. 16
Modesto: Nov. 10-Mar. 20
Napa: Nov. 9-Apr. 20
Nevada City: Sept. 24-June 4
Placerville: Oct. 22-May 18
Sacramento: Nov. 14-Mar. 23
San Francisco: Dec. 1-Feb. 9
San Jose: Nov. 23-Feb. 19
Santa Rosa: Nov. 5-May 1
Sonora: Oct. 26-May 10
Stockton: Nov. 5-Mar. 30
Truckee: July 31-July 27
Ukiah: Oct. 25-Apr. 29
Vacaville: Nov. 4-Apr. 24
Willows: Nov. 8-Apr. 23
Winters: Nov. 13-Mar. 27
Woodland: Nov. 5-Apr. 1

Friday, January 15, 2010

To Mulch or Not to Mulch Citrus Trees in a Freeze?

I love mulch. That would be obvious to anyone who has ever talked gardening with me. Big piles, small piles, inches of mulch scattered everywhere. Love it!

The benefits of adding organic mulch (wood chips, shredded tree limbs, pine needles, compost, straw) to the top of your garden soil:
• retains moisture
• keeps soil temperature constant, reducing plant stress
• suppresses weeds
• gradually increases soil organic matter
• attracts beneficial organisms that improve soil fertility and porosity.
• Mulch encourages healthier plants, reducing the needs for pesticides and fertilizers.
• protects roots and plants from mechanical injury.
• On hillsides and around homes, it suppresses the spread of brush fires.

But a long-held recommendation from the University of California flies in the face of the "all mulch, all the time" rule regarding protecting citrus from the effects of freezing temperatures: "A cover crop or mulch can lower minimum temperature at night, posing an increased threat from freeze damage." 

So, our advice has been over the years, "rake away mulch from beneath citrus before an expected frost or freeze".

Now, the California Landscape Contractors Association is offering the opposite advice in a current release regarding frost protection: "Mulching with a partially composted material is one the best ways to protect plant roots because it helps insulate the soil, reducing heat loss and minimizing temperature fluctuations. Protecting the roots is necessary in order for them to survive the cold."

So, who's right? Sacramento County Farm Advisor Chuck Ingels says: keep on mulching!

"The CLCA is right on," says Ingels. "In our mild climate, mulch doesn’t protect the tree from cold because the soil and roots really don’t ever freeze. Mulch protects the soil for other well known reasons. Regarding that UC study: years ago I thoroughly researched this and wrote about it in "Protecting Groundwater Quality in Citrus Production". In a large orchard, the best orchard floor conditions for reducing frost hazards is bare, firm and moist soil. The sun hits the soil and re-radiates the heat at night, warming the air. Tall cover crops are worst because not only do those plants not hold much heat, but tall cover crops raise the level of cold air (cold air sinks), increasing frost damage potential."

"Perhaps with just a few citrus trees there may be some benefit in this regard," Ingels concedes. "But any difference is generally very miniscule. What happens on the surrounding five acres (asphalt vs. buildings vs. bare ground) affects the air temperature around your tree. So, mulch away!"

 When adding mulch beneath a tree, pile it three or four inches thick. The mulch should extend from near the trunk (but not touching the trunk) to beyond the outer canopy of the tree; that's where the majority of the tree's feeder roots are located. Why shouldn't that mulch touch the tree trunk? Placing mulch next to the bark of the tree encourages crown rot and allows easy access for mice, gophers and voles, which might girdle the bark around the base of the tree.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What to Add? An Easy Backyard Composting Formula

2 Brown and Dry + 1 Green and Juicy + Water + Oxygen + Bugs = BLACK GOLD

(courtesy of Project Compost at UC Davis, where you will find easy, step by step instructions for starting your own backyard composting system).

Thinking about getting a compost bin or tumbler? Watch This!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Advice from An Old Farmer

Yeah, this is one of those emails that has been passed around for years...but is still worth reading:


Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong. 

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than any tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered...not yelled.

Meanness don't jes' happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

Do not corner somethin' that you know is meaner than you.

It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You can't unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway.

Don't judge folks by their relatives, instead judge them by the friends they keep.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer, but you can always have an opinion.

Live a good, honorable life.. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.

Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't bothering you none.

Timing has got a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.

If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around..

Don't pick a fight with an old man.  If he is too old to fight,he'll just kill you.

Live simply ~ love generously ~ care deeply ~ speak kindly ~ leave the rest to God.

And remember: When you quit laughing, you quit living!


If I may add one from my own farming grandfather:
Education costs money!


And mine: 
Don't sleep with anyone whose problems are worse than your own.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Difference between "Playboy" and a Garden Catalog? Not much.

 As the seasoned garden catalog peruser knows, seed and plant descriptions are akin to Playboy "Playmate of the Month" Biographies: difficult to take seriously. For instance, the Playmate who says her favorite recreation is, "a walk along a secluded beach" can be safely translated as, "I want to go to Fiji and I want to go now!" Or, if she says her favorite male trait is "a sense of humor", that can be taken to mean, "chuckles to himself as he opens up his wallet to pay for that $25,000 diamond trinket."

In garden catalogs, here are some commonly used expressions, and what they really mean:

"vigorous": will not only take over your garden, but will house a large family of rodents by the end of summer.

"old time favorite": this may be the tomato that killed your great grandpa; we can't be sure, though.

"crack-free": the skin is as hard as a rock

"high yields": your neighbors will shut their blinds when they see you walking up their driveway, lugging that damn shopping bag...again.

"spreading vines": kiss your miniature poodle goodbye.

"self-sows easily": by any other name, a weed

"best for storage": slice it with a chain saw

"unique heirloom": old, ugly

"unusual heirloom": old, really ugly

"unusual nutty flavor": be prepared to spit.

And the pictures of those luscious tomatoes and perfect petunias? Ha! As one garden writer noted: those catalog pinups are probably the result of the work of someone with extreme Photoshop capabilities. And I concur: have your ever seen a truly perfect, ideally formed fruit, vegetable or flower? No ragged or slightly discolored leaves? No hint of the presence of a bug?  Only in the pages of a catalog.

But that's OK. This is still a great time to buy too many seeds for your summer garden!