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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Blog is for the Birds

They're nice to look at, sing wonderfully and eat insects. 

No, we're not talking about the Dixie Chicks on a fad diet.

It's the gardener's best friends, a backyard filled with birds.

No, not Bill and Venus. Although they are accomplished gardeners/writers, the Birds, publishers of the Sacramento Vegetable Gardening blog, limit their insect consumption to whatever is inhabiting their harvested fruit. Or drink.

We're talking about the family inhabited by warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrates, characterized by feathers and forelimbs modified as wings.

Yes, real birds will nibble on your cherries and grapes (that's why there's bird netting), but birds can help control the bad bug population in your garden, especially tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers and redhumped caterpillars.

Birds also control the spread of weeds by eating the seeds of unwanted plants; bigger birds, such as owls and hawks, will swoop down and devour rodents.


Birds require little in return from you for their labors: trees and shrubs for shelter, perhaps some berry-filled plants (cotoneaster, pyracantha, toyon and more) and fresh water.

    Birds aren't too particular about their watering sites. All they are looking for is a shallow pan, about two to three feet wide and no more than three inches deep, with sloping sides so they can ease their way in, placed in an area away from fence tops and foliage where they can keep an eye out for their main predator, Mr. Kitty.

    A birdbath can be as elegant as a thousand dollar, terracotta fountain with a waterfall; or, as simple as an old metal garbage can lid placed on the ground.

    Here are some tips for keeping the thirsty birds happy:

• Keep the birdbath water fresh and filled during hot weather. On freezing mornings, adding hot water can help break up the thin sheet of ice.

• Clean out birdbaths with a powerful jet of water from the hose; or, use a plastic scouring pad.

• Do not add chemicals, such as bleach, to control algae. Do not add antifreeze to keep ice from forming. If you must use bleach to clean an algae-filled birdbath, cover it with screening for a few hours to keep the birds away. Empty and rinse the birdbath after that and refill with fresh water.

• Birds are attracted by the sound of gently moving water. A simple drip irrigation mini-sprinkler installed adjacent to the birdbath will be a popular addition. Hanging a dripping bucket in a tree above a bird bath can attract birds, too.

• An exposed rock placed in the middle of birdbaths with straight edges give birds a place to land and check things out.

• If the only area you can place a birdbath is near dense shrubbery, it is important to put the bath on a pedestal for their protection.
• Situate birdbaths in areas where you can enjoy them, near a faucet for easy cleaning and filling.

• Then, sit back and enjoy the show!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Acorn Planting Time

It's been a "mast" year for acorn-producing oak trees. Acorns falling from the oaks are more numerous than in typical years. This fall is a great opportunity for gardeners with room for big trees to grab a bucket and start gathering. 

Acorns can be collected from the ground or harvested from oak trees, by shaking a branch with a pole. Generally, the healthiest acorns are those that are picked from trees.

Take the caps off the acorns and put the acorns in a bucket of water overnight. Keep only those that sink to the bottom. The floaters are probably damaged by insects or squirrels. 

At this point you can either plant the acorns directly into their permanent garden home, into one gallon or larger containers in a planting mix or store them for up to six months in a cool, dry place, wrapped in a bag with peat moss. A refrigerator is ideal.

Planting acorns directly into the yard now is best. Oaks quickly develop long tap roots; if allowed to remain too long in a container, the roots will quickly grow out the bottom of the pot. At transplanting time, these seedlings may die off if the roots are cut off. If you're starting oaks in containers, transplant them as soon as you see the first fully developed set of leaves.

All oaks like full sun; choose a planting area that also has good drainage. If planting acorns in the ground, loosen a wide area a few inches deep. Then plant the acorn either with the tip pointed down or sideways, about an inch deep. 

If planted now, normal fall and winter rains may be all the water that acorn seedling needs to get off to a good start. Water the new tree deeply but sparingly during the dry season, perhaps once every two weeks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Snails, Slugs Update

The UC IPM Online Program has updated their information on snail and slug control in the garden. Here's the complete report. 

The report reinforces much of what you already know about snails and slugs, as well as how to control them. But there are some interesting twists, including:

Copper Sulfate repels snails and slugs.
"Instead of copper bands, Bordeaux mixture (a copper sulfate and hydrated lime mixture) or copper sulfate alone brushed onto trunks will repel snails. One treatment should last about a year. Adding a commercial spreader or white latex paint can help the Bordeaux mixture remain effective for two seasons."

There are snail and slug-resistant plants!
"On the other hand, many plants resist snail and slug damage including begonias, California poppy, fuchias, geraniums, impatiens, lantana, nasturtiums, and purple robe cup flower as well as many plants with stiff leaves and highly scented foliage such as lavender, rosemary, and sage. Most ornamental, woody plants, and ornamental grasses also aren’t seriously affected. If you design your landscape using snail and slug resistant plants, you are likely to have very limited damage."

And these are the plants they enjoy the most: 
"Because they prefer succulent foliage or flowers, they primarily are pests of seedlings and herbaceous plants, but they also are serious pests of ripening fruits that are close to the ground such as strawberries, artichokes, and tomatoes. They also will feed on foliage and fruit of some trees; citrus are especially susceptible to damage. Look for the silvery mucous trails to confirm slugs or snails caused the damage and not earwigs, caterpillars, or other chewing insects."
"Some plants these pests will seriously damage include basil, beans, cabbage, dahlia, delphinium, hosta, lettuce, marigolds, strawberries, and many other vegetable plants."

Another reason to turn off the sprinklers and turn on to drip: 
"Switching from sprinkler irrigation to drip irrigation will reduce humidity and moist surfaces, making the habitat less favorable for these pests"

Shopping for snail bait? The advice remains the same: Choose iron phosphate over metaldehyde.
"Baits containing the active ingredient metaldehyde are most common; however, metaldehyde baits are particularly poisonous to dogs and cats, and the pelleted form is especially attractive to dogs. Don’t use metaldehyde snail baits where children and pets could encounter them. Avoid getting metaldehyde bait on plants, especially vegetables. Some metaldehyde products are formulated with carbaryl, partly to increase the spectrum of pests controlled such as soil- and debris-dwelling insects, spiders, and sowbugs. However, carbaryl is toxic to earthworms and soil-inhabiting beneficial insects such as ground beetles, so it is better to avoid using snail baits containing carbaryl."

"Iron phosphate baits—available under many trade names including Sluggo and Escar-Go—have the advantage of being safe for use around children, domestic animals, birds, fish, and other wildlife, making them a good choice for an integrated pest management program in your garden. Ingesting even small amounts of the bait will cause snails and slugs to stop feeding, although it can take several days for the snails to die. You can scatter the bait on lawns or on the soil around any vegetable, ornamental, or fruit tree that needs protection. Iron phosphate baits can be more effective against snails than slugs overall and more effective than metaldehyde during periods of higher humidity. Snails and slugs tend to hide before they die, so you won’t see scattered empty shells or dead snails and slugs as you would if treating them with metaldehyde."

"The timing of any baiting is critical; baiting is less effective during very hot, very dry, or cold times of the year, because snails and slugs are less active during these periods. Irrigate before applying a bait to promote snail activity, and apply the bait in the late afternoon or evening. Sprinkle bait around sprinklers, close to walls and fences, or in other moist and protected locations, or scatter it along areas that snails and slugs cross to get from sheltered areas to the garden."

Saturday, November 7, 2009


The following are highlights from a Fair Oaks Horticulture Center Workshop presentation by Master Gardeners Caroline Hathaway and Cathy Coulter. Also see the UC/ANR publication, "Frost Protection for Citrus and Other Subtropicals."

Before a frost:
1. Identify cold spots in landscape by monitoring with thermometers. 
2. Identify plants at risk: citrus, succulents, tender perennials, tropical and subtropical plants.

3. Have supplies ready: sheets or frost cloths, lights, wraps for trunks, thermometers, stakes or framework to hold covers off foliage.

4. Prepare tender plants: avoid fertilizing and pruning after August to minimize tender new growth.

5. Rake away mulch to allow soil to warm up during the day and radiate heat at night into plant.

6. Monitor weather forecasts and note how low temperatures will be and for how long. 

Some terms you might hear:

Local frost: clear, dry nights; but, it usually warms up during the day.
Hard freeze: temperature inversion or Arctic front, can last for days/weeks, very damaging.

When a frost is forecast:
1. Move potted plants to a warmer spot next to house or under patio cover, especially on south side.

 2. Check that plants are well watered since dry plants are more susceptible to damage, and moist soil retains heat better than dry soil.

3. Cover plants before sunset to capture ground heat radiating upward at night, but remove covers daily if it is sunny and above freezing to allow soil to absorb heat.

4. Add heat by using outdoor lights: hang 100 watt drop lights or Holiday string lights to interior of plant. Use the old C7 or C9 large bulbs, not new LED lights which do not give off heat.

5. Wrap trunks of tender trees if hard freeze is expected, using towels, blankets, rags, or pipe insulation.

6. Harvest ripe citrus fruit. Generally both green and ripe fruit are damaged below 30 degrees, but there is some variation by species (refer to the chart in UC/ANR Publication 8100, "Frost Protection for Citrus and Other Subtropicals).

After a frost:
1. Identify damage: dark brown or black leaves and twigs.

2. Wait to prune out damage until after danger of frost is past, and new growth begins in spring.

Birds, Bees and Beneficials

One of my favorite blogs is Bill Bird's "Sacramento Vegetable Gardening". Bill is a jazzman with words. His blogs have a rhythm comparable to a Gene Krupa drum solo.

In one recent post, Bill waxed rhapsodic about a certain rose in his yard, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

      As I was reading this post about the trials and tribulations of growing this rose (and actually, the blog is more of a love letter to his wife, Venus), I was wondering how he was going to bring it back around to, if you will excuse me for being a stickler, "Sacramento Vegetable Gardening". 
     Bill did not disappoint. He tied into a neat little package at the end, exclaiming: "Our Lady of Guadalupe attracts a number of beneficial insects to the garden, including bees..."
     This is a subject we have tackled on these pages, as well: the benefits of having a wide variety of beneficial insect attracting plants in your yard to help you do battle against the bad bugs.  And, it's a topic covered more in depth at

    But Bill's apian accolade got me wondering: what other beneficial insects are attracted to roses? And, are there any beneficials that use roses for more than a source of food (housing, for example)? For that answer, the "go-to" guy has to be Baldo Villegas, an entomologist for the state of California, past president of the Sacramento Rose Society and Sierra Foothills Rose Society, as well as being a consulting rosarian.

     "Roses produce a lot of nectar, some more than others," explains Baldo. "Single-petaled roses are best for seeing what attracts insects both good and bad. Some of the best beneficials that I see are syrphid flies, tachinid flies, as well as numerous wasps, both parasitic and predatory. Among the parasitic wasps are the braconid and ichneumonid wasps and predatory wasps that are mainly those in the family Sphecidae. Then there are a lot of different types of bees such as honey bees, andrenids, halictids, megachilids (aka leafcutting bees), and anthophorids (including small carpenter bees). The only ones that use roses for housing and for prey gathering are two predatory wasps in the family Sphecidae. One of these wasps preys on aphids and the other one on flies."

For pictures and more information about these garden good guys, visit the UC Davis IPM Online Natural Enemies Gallery.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dog vs. Drip Irrigation

I'm not sure what the attraction is, but dogs and water find each other, wayyyyy too often. We've had more than one sprinkler mangled by our dog. Probably a combination of thirst, playfulness and boredom. Our sprinkler solution: put a tomato cage around the sprinkler head to keep a few inches separation between nozzle and muzzle.
     Les in Gold River has his own doggone water issue:
     "We are dog sitting my in-law's dog for awhile," Les writes. "I was thinking of re-doing my drip irrigation this year, but now my in-laws' dog has done my thinking for me by ripping up sections of the drip line. So before I try to put something back in place, is there something that you can recommend that I try that does not encourage dogs to chew it up?"
     You mean other than blame the psychoses of your in-laws for screwing up the dog? Nah, that's too easy. Other than burying the line, I can't think of any other deterrent; installing an enclosed dog run in another part of the yard, perhaps. You may want to check with the Dripworks website to see if they have any dogproofing ideas.

     The Dripworks catalog is a great resource for anyone tackling the problems associated with drip irritation...uh, irrigation. Just thumbing through the catalog can give you several "Aha!" moments for improving your own yard watering procedures. And the Dripworks online site has helpful tips and videos that can help beginner and pro alike solve their drip irrigation and yard watering woes. (note: I was not compensated for this endorsement, damn it.)

     And that includes a helpful staff. I sent a copy of Les' e-mail to Cathie Nicolaus at Dripworks. And she responded:
     "I experienced my lab puppy doing the same thing, she liked the emitters the best because of the water spraying out. I had to redo my entire system on the deck! Here is something to try: Get a spray bottle and mix cayenne pepper powder and warm water and spray on the area that the dog is going for. You may have to make a small offering of tubing for the dog to get the idea, but he should rather quickly. For squirrels, we have in the past recommended petroleum jelly and cayenne pepper mixed together if you need to have it last longer on the tubing. In retrospect for our dog situation, I would have used the petroleum jelly/cayenne pepper mix around the emitters (being careful not to plug any holes) and tubing, since the water from the emitters was attracting the dog."


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cold Weather Houseplant Care


As the weather turns cooler, we begin to pay more attention to horticultural chores in the great indoors. Houseplants need a bit of TLC right now, as they adjust to the change of seasons. Houseplants tend to slow down their growth cycles now, so their food and water requirements are less.

        Many houseplant aficionados won't even feed their houseplants now, and won't resume a monthly fertilization until next spring. And because houseplants use less water now, change your irrigation habits. 

     Poke your finger or a moisture meter into the soil of a houseplant to make sure that the top few inches have dried before you add water. Another way to determine if your houseplant is in need of water: lift the pot. If it is as heavy as it was when you last watered, wait. When the soil has dried, that pot will be a lot lighter, a good sign that it's time to pour it on.

        During fall and winter, the sun is lower in the horizon. Help your houseplants cope with this lower level of light by moving them a bit closer to a sunnier window.

        There are some indoor plant pests that may be moving into your house this time of year. Aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, fungus gnats and scale are among the pests that are taking up residence with you, especially if your houseplants have spent any time recently outdoors or are new purchases. A couple of good books about houseplants, including lots of pictures of plants and pests, are "The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual" by Barbara Pleasant and "Successful Houseplants" by Ortho Books.

        And one reader is wondering about how to control another common houseplant pest. From the garden e-mail bag, Cynthia writes: "I have an indoor coleus plant in my bathroom, which gets indirect sunlight. All was well until yesterday when I discovered little oblong or rectangular-shaped, white, fluffy somethings on the plant. What are they and how do I eradicate them?"

     Those "fluffy somethings" might be mealybugs. These soft-bodied sucking insects are about one-eighth of an inch long, and are covered with a whitish, cottony wax. They especially like to congregate on the backsides of the leaves of houseplants, where the leaves meet the stems.

        There are several steps you can take to control mealybug populations on your houseplants. Step One: wash off the plant, especially the underside of the leaves, in the sink with a forceful stream of lukewarm water. Doing this once or twice a week for a few weeks may take care of the problem. Step Two: Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and remove the mealybugs by hand. Tweezers can help dislodge the ones you can't reach  with a cotton swab. If those two techniques don't do the job, apply insecticidal soap or a narrow-range horticultural oil to the infested plant area. But be careful: make sure your plant won't be damaged by the soap or the oil by testing it on a small, out-of-the-way part of the plant first. According to Lori Ann Asmus of Emerald City Interior Landscape Services in Sacramento, scrape away and replace the top inch of soil in the potted plant. That can help eliminate future mealybug populations.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What NOT To Do in the Garden Now

     In the interest of easing your garden workload as the busy holiday season approaches, here are some yard tasks you don't have to tackle this time of year:

Don't deadhead your roses. Many Northern California rosarians are now advising rose growers to let those fading October flowers remain on the plant. This will force the rose bush to form hips, which helps the plant slow down in preparation for the January pruning season. Because cold winters are not a certainty here, roses have problems entering complete dormancy in our area. Not pruning roses now tells the plant, "Time to take a nap!"

Don't prune your shade trees until the last leaf has fallen. Then, it will be easier to gaze up into the canopy of the tree to decide which branches need to be trimmed or removed. Good reasons for pruning trees include removing or cutting back branches that are rubbing each other or the house. Low branches that impede foot traffic or suckers emanating from the base can be removed at that time, too. If you think you won't remember the dead branches that will need to be removed when all the leaves are gone, go ahead and mark those branches now with ribbon or green tree tape.