Gopher Cats

The most devastating tragedy in gardening when a favored plant topples, suddenly dies, or even worse for a smallish specimen, disappears as it’s pulled underground.

The creator of such tragedies is the gardener’s nemesis, the pocket gopher. There are several genera and species of these creatures. In California, we most commonly have Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae), named after Paul-Émile Botta, a naturalist and archaeologist who collected mammals in California in the 1820s and 1830s. Perhaps he appreciated this particular mammal’s qualities and did not see it as just a pest in the garden.

Gardeners have access to multiple strategies, tools and commercial services for battling with gophers over territory. Some do-it-yourself tools, e.g., stainless steel gopher baskets, will cost almost as much as a plant at the garden center. Still, the basket costs less than replacing the plant. The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program has provided a useful overview of the problem of gopher in the garden. 

For several years, my garden has not had gopher visits. As I heard the frustrations and complaints from other gardeners, I felt that I had been lucky, or that my garden was somehow unattractive to gophers. I concluded that two feral cats that I saw in my garden were controlling the local population of gophers. My role was limited to tolerating and not feeding the cats: a well-fed cat would not be an effective hunter.

Eventually, I no longer saw the cats in my garden. I’d like to think another gardener has recruited them, or that they had wandered off for better hunting opportunities. Most likely, they retired.

Without the cats, I soon saw signs of gophers in my garden. After tinkering with traps without immediate success, I decided that a predator would be the ideal solution to the gopher problem. Gophers have many natural enemies, including owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks, badgers, bobcats, weasels, and snakes. These predators might visit my urban garden occasionally, but a more practical plan would be to have a well-oriented cat in residence, always watching for prey either for a meal or for amusement.

I have recently seen an unfamiliar cat roaming around my garden. Feral cats are, by definition, not accustomed to contact with humans, and tend to keep their distance. The challenge is to persuade such a cat to spend a lot of time in my garden, stay outdoors, and hunt for gophers.

Public and private agencies seeking to control feline populations will vaccinate and spay or neuter feral cats, so it would be best for a gardener to adopt a gopher hunter that had received such treatment. The attending specialists also could advise on training the cat for its role as a resident predator of gophers. My role might be limited to providing water and a place to sleep. As the cat becomes accustomed to my presence, I might show approval for a gopher catch, and disapproval of a bird catch.

I will add this gopher cat project to my resolutions for the early weeks of 2018, along with spraying my apple trees and pruning my roses.

Speaking of roses, last week’s column stated incorrectly that modern garden roses began in 1967. The correct date is 1867, with the introduction of the first hybrid tea rose, ‘La France’.

Best wishes for your new year in the garden!

Naturalistic Landscaping

Several months ago, wrote about a remarkable book by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West: Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Timber Press, 2015).

In that book, Rainer and West present interesting, insightful and inspiring ideas for landscape design. Central concepts include interlocking layers of plants that grow compatibly in nature, while creating landscapes that are naturalistic but “more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious, with less maintenance.”

Some of their concepts, in plainer language, are the following:

“Plants are social creatures” —This thought advocates close planting of natural companions, rather than isolating plants from each other, separated by areas of organic or inorganic mulch.

“Plants are the mulch” — This catchphrase points to the practical value of close planting as a strategy for blocking weed growth and thereby reducing time and effort.

The Rainer/West vision, while complex, is predominantly optimistic. Their book is certainly worth reading. My review, titled “Designing Naturalistic Landscapes,” is archived here.

A reader of this column who had previously read this Rainer and West book observed that the style they described emphasizes landscape uses of herbaceous perennials and annuals in a climate with year-round rainfall. By contrast, while California has “lots of shrubs and sub-shrubs with some annuals” and a summer-dry (Mediterranean) climate. The reader asked how to go about adapting the style presented in this book to our California climate, and where in California has such a garden been created.

These are worthwhile questions. The authors recommended drawing on locally relevant resources, e.g., the California Native Plant Society. Also, my column referenced a book by Glen Keator and Alrie Middlebrook: Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens (University of California Press, 2007).

There are more relevant resources available online, notably Thomas Rainer’s Grounded Design website.

Gardeners also have access to many books on Mediterranean climate plants and especially California native plants, but such books typically describe individual plants in alphabetical order rather than in the “interlocking layers” envisioned by Rainer and West. We encounter the same organizational model in mail order plant nursery catalogs and in local garden centers, so many garden designs amount to scatters of single specimens.

The Rainer & West style was published fairly recently, so there are few California landscapes that are based on this style. The Keator & Middlebrook book cited above approaches that concept by grouping native plants within particular regions of California (e.g., coastal scrub, grasslands, deserts, oak woodlands), but leaves it to the garden planner to adopt fully the Rainer & West style.

One might seek exemplary designs in gardens included in annual garden tours that feature California native plants:

  • Bringing Back the Natives —Gardens in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, early May (
  • Going Native Garden Tour—Gardens in Santa Clara Valley & Peninsula, San Francisco Bay Area, early April (

Although the Rainer & West style could take many different forms in California gardens, avid gardeners should keep watch for examples of this emerging approach to landscape design.

Pruning a Fig Tree and Other Plants

Pruning season is upon us. Garden priorities might simply be clearer this year, but the list of pruning tasks has grown dauntingly long.

Cotoneaster berries

Red Clusterberry

One of the most pressing tasks is to shape a Red Clusterberry (Cotoneaster lacteus) that began as a volunteer and grown to dominate one part of the garden. In the past, it has shrugged off significant pruning cuts. A common objective for pruning is to stimulate fruiting, but that is not a priority in this case.

This year’s pruning schedule began with controlling a rampant California wild grape (Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’), which had grown without pruning for a couple years, and found its way into the branches of nearby trees and shrubs. Whacking it back has greatly improved its overall shape and should result in a bountiful crop of grapes. I will resolve once again to cover it with netting to protect a fair share of the clusters from unknown midnight marauders.

I have also pruned the new growth on four dwarf apple trees and sprayed them with dormant oil to discourage codling moths. Friends with the California Rare Fruit Growers, noting that moths fly, emphasize the need for neighbors to spray their trees as well, but I see no other apple trees in the neighborhood. I have also planned to cut selected main branches on one apple tree (Malus ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin) to gain some freedom of movement around it. My related resolutions include another spraying one or two more times before bud break, and thinning the fruit when it grows to about the size of a golf ball, to support the development of larger fruit.

My rose pruning project is more than half completed. My approach to hard pruning roses is close to the shearing style described recently in this column. I am also shovel-pruning some under-performing roses and intending to install replacements, with a preference for “own root” roses. Pruning suckers from grafted roses is the downside of whatever benefits might flow from a superior rootstock. Related resolutions: fertilize in the spring and irrigate regularly.

My next pruning focus is a large fig tree (Dorstenia ficus ‘Black Mission’), which dates back to around 1768, was grown in the California missions, and is a very popular fig for home garden cultivation. Fruit tree specialists also recommend several other varieties. Fig trees generally produce two crops of figs each year. The first, called the breba crop, develops in the spring on last year’s growth. The second, the main fig crop, develops on the new growth and ripens in the late summer or fall. My tree has gone several years without pruning, sprawled into large size and produced relatively light crops. Its low harvest might indicate the tree’s age or the effects of drought, but it might simply benefit from pruning. I will prune it heavily during the current dormant period to improve its shape and hope to stimulate a larger main crop.

Here are the basic pruning recommendations.

  • Begins by removing any dead, diseased or otherwise unproductive wood and any sprouts growing from the base of the tree.
  • Then, remove any secondary branches that are growing at a too-narrow angle (less than 45 degrees) from the main branches.
  • Then, cut back the main branches by one-third to one-quarter.

Related resolutions include resuming an earlier plan to establish an espalier form by training branches to posts on either side of the tree, and netting the tree at the appropriate time to protect the ripening fruit from winged wildlife.

My list includes more seasonal pruning tasks, all of which should result in wonderful growth in the spring.

Adding Annual Plants to the Garden

Annual plants can add much to any garden: providing seasonal color for cutting or enjoying in place, discouraging weeds, preserving soil moisture, and feeding birds while growing easily and requiring only as much space as the gardener chooses to commit.

In addition, annuals can fill spaces in the garden temporarily or annually. That’s a priority for me, as I see areas in my garden that need brightening or just something interesting for next spring’s planned garden tour.

The easiest and least expensive way to add annual color to a garden requires simply choosing seeds from the garden center’s rack of packets, and planting the seeds according to directions on the packet. There are many options and planting is very easy. It’s almost as if the seeds plant themselves.

Wait, that’s actually what they do!

In my garden, this process becomes more complicated because of geographically organized beds. The area that needs the addition of annuals is the California/Mexico beds.

The obvious choice would be California wildflowers, but there are hundreds of them, and very few can be found among garden center offerings. A fine mail order supplier is The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants ( ) a non-profit organization in southern California. This group offers seeds for a wide range of California native plants, individually and in mixtures.

I have ordered the Coastal Mixture, which includes annuals and perennials of various heights:

  • Arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) – 12–15” annual, purple & violet.
  • Beach Suncups (Camissonia cheiranthifolia)  – 6–12” perennial, yellow;
  • Blue Thimble Flower (Gilia capitata) – 15” annual, lavender blue;
  • Dune Poppy (Eschscholzia californica maritime) – 6–8” perennial, yellow;
  • Miniature Lupine (Lupinus bicolor) – 3–4’ annual, blue & white;
  • Mountain Phlox (Linanthus grandiflorus) –12–24” annual, pink & white;

Annual plants from Mexico that I’m considering include

Four O’Clock Flower (Mirabilis jalapa) – 36” perennial, various colors on the same plant. A popular garden plant that has been naturalized in a long list of countries of the world. A friend has provided seeds for this “pass-along” plant.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) —72” annual, Orange-red with a yellow center disk. This is a spectacular plant that I have grown before. It rises to full height in 85 to 90 days. Seeds are available online.

All of these plants would grow best when direct-seeded, but I will start the Four O-Clocks and Mexican Sunflower seeds in peat pots, so they could be placed in the garden by design without disturbing their roots.

This should be an interesting spring season! Consider annuals for your own garden.

A Note about Invasive Plants

In a recent column on pruning, I shared a photo of a Red Clusterberry (Cotoneaster lacteus) in my garden and mentioned that I had scheduled it for pruning. A reader advised that this plant is invasive and recommended warning readers of that fact. After checking, I agree and am glad to recommend against adding it your garden. This plant’s invasiveness is based on its vigorous growth, root-sprouting, and proliferous production of fruit. I have observed strong growth, seen only occasional sprouts come up from the roots, and watched birds feasting on the berries. Very few seedlings have appeared under the shrub, but the birds might have deposited seeds in their countless branch offices, out of my view. My garden has the more popular Orange Cotoneaster (C. franchetii) that has produced many more seedlings but has not been described as invasive. If you can’t abide such seedlings, get these plants out of your garden.

Renewing the Garden

Gardeners who accept the changing nature of plants have the most interesting and successful gardens.

Some plants can thrive—or just hang on—for many years. Plants with the shortest life spans are those we call annuals, which sprout, bloom, drop seeds, and fade away in a single season. Actually, these plants continue through multiple generations by going through seed phases each year. This life cycle differs from that of perennial plants, but it’s easy to perceive life continuing for these plants through their regular periods of “seed dormancy.”

Given favorable conditions of soil nutrients, moisture coupled with the desired degree of moisture retention, and the desired degree of exposure to sunlight, most plants will continue for many years.

We must acknowledge the importance of occasional attacks by insects or diseases, but healthy plants are generally capable of surviving such hazards.

The growing environment is most important. Some plants have evolved to thrive under specific conditions. We generally think of plants that grow best in good garden loam, with moderate moisture and six or more hours of sunlight each day, but there are many exceptions to this standard.

Some plants grow well in soil with greater proportions of clay or sand, or with minimal nutrients.

Then there are epiphytes: plants that grow upon another plant or object merely for physical support and live on airborne moisture and nutrients. Kinds of epiphytic plants include lithophytes, which grow on bare rock or stone; chasmophytes, which grow in the crevices of rocks, and cremnophytes, which can grow on cliff faces.

Some “aquatic” plants grow immersed in water. I have recently added an Erebus Canna (Canna glauca x generalis hybrid and an Anytus Japanese Iris (Iris ensata ‘Anytus’) to my pond. Conversely, “xeric” plants manage with very little water. Such plants include succulents, notably, e.g., cacti, aloes, agaves. There are many gradations within this wet/dry range.

Then, we have sun-loving plants and those that prefer very little sunlight and could even burn when placed in full sun. Again, plants have preferences for various levels of exposure.

Other habitat preferences of plants relate to wind intensity, site altitude, air salinity, etc.

All this variation raises the importance of the gardener’s research into a plant’s native environment. Plants have evolved for several generations to flourish under particular circumstances, so the gardener should select plants that could grow well under his/her specific garden conditions, or take reasonable steps to provide the plant’s preferred conditions. Fortunately, many plants can adapt to conditions that are not quite what may be best for them, but they will generally grow best in a spot that resembles their native habitat.

The gardener represents the greatest threat to a cultivated plant’s survival.

The dangers begin with the installation of a plant in a spot that lacks the conditions that the plant requires. This is “right plant, wrong place” problem. The eventual result is a plant that should be moved to a more compatible spot and perhaps replaced with a plant that would be better suited for that location.

At another level, we have plants that have outgrown their original location, so that they are crowding nearby plants, obstructing a garden walkway, or simply being out of scale for the landscape.

Whenever a plant has suffered under incompatible growing conditions or has grown beyond the intended or desired size, the gardener should recognize the problem and correct the situation decisively. A garden visitor might provide an independent yet diplomatic assessment of a particular plant’s misplacement. The gardener should avoid the view that plants are permanent assets or irreplaceable sentimental attachment, and instead accept the occasional need to transplant or recycle a plant, and welcome the concurrent opportunity to introduce a new botanical treasure into the garden.

Managing Weeds

Garden renovation can bring multiple rewards. Re-thinking your landscape can yield opportunities to exercise one’s creativity, pursue recent insights into botanical combinations, add exciting new plants, dismiss too-familiar vignettes in favor of new horticultural frontiers, and discover excuses to “shovel-prune” under-performing plants.

The process also includes several downsides: lots of work, heavy expenses, and the frustration of waiting for the new landscape to develop into its promise.

There’s another downside to consider: enabling the germination of unwanted plants in the weed seed bank.

Experienced gardeners know that their soil harbors an inventory of weed seeds that are lurking a few inches below the surface, waiting for a little sunlight, a little moisture, and presumably a little oxygen. Given those prerequisites, they will burst into growth and the production of another generation of seeds.

The weed seed bank developed in a variety of ways. It might have come from last season’s weeds, or the careless importation of contaminated soil or potted plants, or the tireless efforts of birds, who we suspect are spending their days moving seeds into our gardens. And there’s the wind, which transports the lighter-weight seeds to gardens where they typically are unwanted.

Some itinerant seeds are actually welcome in our gardens, but they are out-numbered by the weed seeds.

Regardless of the origins of the weed seed bank, the important fact is that the seeds are not far from the surface, and they can retain their vitality for years.

Given this reality, consider what happens with a garden renovation project. In my garden, this process included cutting down fifty feet of large shrubs and grinding their roots, digging and replanting scores of native irises, relocating a large number of bearded irises, and planting dozens of new plants from one-gallon and fifteen-gallon pots.

All of this activity has churned the soil and consequently liberated my garden’s weed seed bank. A clear contrast in weed populations can be observed between the disturbed and untouched areas. This requires hours of weeding, with the optimistic goal to pull weeds before they set seeds for next season.

An activity that parallels garden renovation is the sowing of seeds for annual plants, whether for edible or ornamental gardening. The usual advice for planting seeds is to loosen the soil, scatter the seeds, rake them in, water them in, and maintain moisture while the seeds germinate. If your goal would be to activate your weed seed bank, you would go through exactly the same steps!

The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants has sent the wildflower seeds I ordered and provided recommendations for leaving the weed seed bank in its dormant state. The basic strategy is to disturb the soil as little as possible and preferably not at all. The Foundation recommends digging or tilling no deeper than three or four inches. Better still, after clearing the planting area of existing weeds, rake the soil gently, scatter the seeds, and cover them with about one-eighth inch of garden soil or light potting soil.

Despite this careful effort to leave weed seeds dormant, the Foundation adds a tip for planting wildflower mixtures: plant a sample of the seed in pots in some fresh potting soil, so you could identify which seedlings in the ground are the desired wildflowers, and which are weeds to be removed. Even when the experts are most careful, weed seeds will germinate.

Battling weeds might be an unavoidable part of gardening, but it can’t deny us the joys of renovating our gardens from time to time and growing annual plants.

Weeding Ideas, Early Blooms

Gardening friends are pulling weeds that sprouted during our recent warm days and wishing for effective treatments. There are no quick and easy solutions to weed problems, but the longer view dictates “weeding before seeding.”

Ever optimistic, I am testing an organic pre-emergent herbicide that is based on corn gluten, a natural material that discourages the formation of roots. It’s neither cheap or 100% effective, but might be worth a try. For more information on a pelletized product, visit and search for “corn gluten.” For a liquid version, go to and search for “Green It.”

Another organic approach is the application of vinegar, which can kill really young weeds. Household vinegar (5% acidity) has some effect but horticultural vinegar (20-30% acidity) works better but dangerous to the user.

Other organic weed killers are based on clove oil will kill at least the top growth of mature weeds.

Still, the best, cheapest and most reliable way to kill weeds is pulling or digging them out by their roots.

Take a break from weeding to anticipate the coming spring and enjoy plants that are in bloom now in your garden. As I look around, I am pleased to see these early bloomers:

Wagner’s Sage (Salvia wagneriana), a large sub-shrub from Mexico and Central America has gorgeous hot pink or pink and white bracts that are greatly appreciated by hummingbirds as well as gardeners.

Wagner’s Sage

Salvia blossom - scarlet

Big Mexican Scarlet Sage

Big Mexican Scarlet Sage (Salvia gesneriiflora ‘Tequila’), another treasure from Mexico and Central America, produces brilliant red flowers with a striking black calyx and grows about ten feet high in California gardens. My neighbor has a stand of this plant that has grown fifty feet wide and well over fifteen feet high with support from adjacent shrubs.





Wonga Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana), from Australia, is a vigorous, woody vine that climbs with support from a tree or large shrub, or a trellis of some kind. Its popular varieties have differently colored blossoms: ‘Snowbells’ (white), ‘Ruby Belle’ (pinkish), ‘Ruby Heart’ (cream with ruby blotch), and ‘Golden Showers’ (yellow). My specimen grows on 2” x 2” rail attached to a fence and produces white racemes. The plant usually flowers in spring; we’re still in winter, so this is an early bloom.

Other plants now in bloom include

  • Beach Sage (Salvia africana-lutea), interesting wrinkly, golden brown flowers, from South Africa.
  • Winter Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), delicate blossoms, fine fragrance;
  • Common Hyacinth (H. orientalis), one of the earliest bloomers
  • Trumpet Daffodil (Narcissus ‘King Alfred’ probably), a cheerful yellow blossom
  • Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii ‘Santa Cruz’), a large, frequent blooming evergreen shrub

A plant to watch is the Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla striata), which is now preparing for early blossoming. This hardy orchid, native to China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, is delightfully easy to grow. It is a terrestrial orchid that requires no extraordinary care and produces rose-mauve blossoms that resemble a miniature Cattleya orchid flower. An established clump will produce dozens of flower spikes. I recently moved several plants from too-shady spots into large shallow containers, anticipating the development of clumps in a couple years. They are not particularly frost-tender, but recent frost warnings encourage moving the pots under shelter.

As always, gardening involves the exercise of patience.

Wild Geraniums in the Landscape

Recently, I’ve dug a lot of geraniums of my garden because they had grown exuberantly in the wrong place. I will describe these interlopers later in this column.

Plants that grow where they are not wanted have been called “weeds,” but that’s not an appropriate name for these plants because they are garden-worthy in all respects. A better description would be “prolific,” which is a desirable trait for garden plants.

My project to manage geraniums in my garden prompts a brief overview of the Geranium family (Geraniaceae),

Let’s first review the confusion over genus names in this family. Today, we understand that the Geraniaceae includes three principal genera: geranium, pelargonium, and erodium. During the 1750s and 1750s, when Carl Linnaeus was naming plants, he included all three of these genera as geranium. In 1789, another botanist concluded that geranium and pelargonium were, in fact, different genera. Others later decided that erodium was also a separate genus. Despite this long-standing agreement on these names, many gardeners still call pelargoniums “geraniums,” although they are quite different, each with desirable characteristics.

The name “geranium” refers to the crane, while the name “pelargonium’ refers to the stork, but I actually do not find that helpful.

The true geraniums are often called “wild,” although many popular varieties are hybrids, or “hardy,” even though some geranium species don’t do well in winter. (Pelargoniums are not winter-hardy.)

The genus Geranium includes 422 species of annual, biennial and perennial plants. Most geraniums are native to the eastern part of the Mediterranean region, but they are found throughout the temperate regions of the world and the mountains of the tropics.

An excellent guide to this family of plants is the website Geraniaceae, which is maintained by Robin Parer, a very knowledgeable person in Marin County.

The site describes plants within the three principal genera of the Geraniaceae. It lists many species of Geraniums in the following groups (with numbers of species): Annuals (6); Borders & Bedding (169); Ground Covers (86); Rock Gardens & Containers (39); Scramblers & Crawlers (23); and Shade (83).

Ground cover geranium

Geranium cantabrigiense

The geranium I dug out of my garden is G. x cantabrigiense. The species name is based on the Latin name for Cambridge, England, where the hybrid was developed. My plant is the cultivar ‘Biokovo’, which is a natural hybrid discovered in Croatia’s Biokovo Mountains. The Perennial Plant Association named this plant 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year. It is an excellent ground cover that grows up to a foot high and displays white blossoms with a pink throat and prominent pink stamens. The blossoms generally open in late spring and continue into the fall, but have appeared early this year.

This plant had spread in several parts of my garden. I had yards and yards of it! I removed a 3’ x 30’ bed that amounted to perhaps 25 percent of the total so plenty continues to grace the landscape and will need future control. I removed these plants because they were growing in an area I had designated for natives of California and Mexico; I have planted this area with seeds of two varieties of the Four O-Clock (Mirabilis jalapa), which is a Mexican native and another vigorous grower.

Geranium leaves

Geranium canescens

Another geranium in my garden is G. canescens, which is a larger, relatively rare South African species that has been growing in my garden for only seven months. The species name means “to become grey, to become old,” but the plant, which is luscious green and doesn’t appear to deserve that name. It has large, deeply lobed leaves, and will display pink flowers later in the spring.

To explore the garden possibilities for the geranium, visit or talk to Robin Parer in person at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, which returns to the San Francisco’s Cow Palace, April 4–8, (

Hardy geraniums can be fine additions to the garden landscape.

Selecting Cannabis Seeds

After happening upon a month-by-month checklist for growing cannabis, beginning about now, my curiosity took over and I searched for seeds for my first legal marijuana grow.

This column is intended for gardeners who have interest in personal (non-commercial) cultivation of marijuana, and lack experience in this area.

Seeds are easy to find on the Internet: just search for “marijuana seeds.” They are more expensive than the seeds of familiar garden plants because they are still new on the gardening scene. Weed seeds are all too easy to come by, but several cannabis cultivars have been brought to the market, each with a combination of desired characteristics, so the marketplace is thriving.

While exploring the options, the basics of seed selection and marijuana cultivation gradually came into focus.

An important option relates to the fact that cannabis is normally dioecious, meaning that it produces separate male and female plants. Occasionally, however, some plants can be monoecious, having male and female flowers on the same plant. Unfertilized female flowers produce the best buds, so some growers will either grow only female plants or identify and remove male flowers before they can produce pollen. With a little care, one could pollinate female flowers selectively to produce seeds for a subsequent generation of plants.

Cannabis breeders have developed “feminized” plants, i.e., without male chromosomes, which are available as an easy option for growing buds of desirable quality. These plants can only produce unfertilized female flowers. A gardener could either propagate cuttings from a feminized plant to produce another generation of plants or buy seeds of the same or different cultivar, choosing from wide and growing range of possibilities.

Another important option in seed selection involves the recently modified growth cycle. Natural (“wild”) marijuana plants are photosensitive and dependent on the onset of longer nights to trigger the development of the desired buds. Growers have had to simulate this transition from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage by providing high light levels during the vegetative stage followed by periods of darkness to prompt the flowering stage. Cannabis breeders have made this process easier by developing “auto-flowering” plants that progress to the flowering stage after the passage of a certain amount of time, rather than in response to light changes. Auto-flowering plants still grow during their vegetative stage best under high light levels, but such plants can be grown at any time of the year and without burdensome manipulations of light and darkness.

A third option concerns the mature size of the plant. Using wild plants again as our reference, the most popular species, Cannabis sativa, when grown outdoors without controls can reach or even exceed twelve feet in height. California law limits personal cultivation of marijuana to indoor sites, e.g., a greenhouse, where plants are less likely to grow to an unmanageable size and be trained to be smaller, bushier and more productive of buds. Still, breeders have developed so-called compact plants that will remain under four feet tall at maturity.

There are additional variables to consider in seed selection: the plant’s relative strength of psychoactive THC versus medicinal CBD; a given strain’s balance of C. indica and C. sativa; and the character of the plants’ effect on a user, which the individual user surely would moderate.

The curious gardener might wish to explore this horticultural byway. Those that do should comply with state law and local regulations regarding personal cultivation of marijuana.The Cannifornian website is a great source of information on regulations in California’s cities and counties.

Regard gardening as adventure!

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