Garden Priorities for June

The Eighth Annual Garden Faire happens today, Saturday, June 22, in Scotts Valley’s Sky Park. There’s still time to fit it into your schedule: it continues to 5:00 p.m. plus music until 7:00. Find all the info at <>.


Successful gardeners synchronize their work with the annual cycle of the plants. Here are some timely tasks for the month of June.

June is the ideal time to prune certain evergreen trees, particularly Arborvitae, Deodar Cedar, Hemlock, Pine, and Spruce. You could prune Atlas Cedar, Chamaecyparis, Fir, Juniper/Red Cedar, and Leyland Cypress at this time as well. This month is also the right time to pinch back the “candles” of whorl-branched conifers, e.g., pines, spruces and firs.

I have been trying to find time to prune four English Boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) in my rose garden: they are getting bigger than I like. The preferred time for that task is late winter to early spring, i.e., mid-February to about May 1st, when new growth begins. In fact, they can be pruned at any time in the Monterey Bay area, where we don’t have the prolonged cold weather that could damage freshly pruned boxwood.

It may be tempting to shear Boxwood with hedge clippers or an electric hedge trimmer, but that’s not good for the plant. Shearing can produce a formal shape but it stimulates surface growth that shades the interior of the plant, reduces air movement and interior leaf formation and leads eventually to the plant’s decline.

The better method emphasizes thinning. After removing any dead or broken branches, cut branches to open the interior of the plant to sunlight. This might create temporary gaps in the foliage, but they will fill in soon enough and the plant will be healthier for having had the opportunity to develop interior leaves.

It is important to decide why you want boxwood in your garden. If you want to achieve a formal look, or to create a topiary shape, shearing might be appropriate, but be aware of the plant’s need to have sunlight reaching its interior.

If you are more concerned with the plant’s vigorous good health, prune by thinning. This process takes more time than shearing, and yields a more natural-looking shrub that will enhance your garden in a less formal manner.

I’ll discuss other seasonal topics in future columns. The short message for rose care is (a) fertilize monthly during the summer months, and (b) respond promptly to signs of mildew, aphid, black spot or other insect or disease problems. Watch for the Rose Curculio (Rhynchites bicolor), which will punch holes through the buds of yellow and white roses. Handpick adults and destroy infested buds.


Here’s a link to an interesting discussion by Peter Deahl of The Pruning School, on pruning boxwood, with the emphasis on thinning rather than shearing.

From the same place, here are notes by Peter Deahl on pruning evergreens.

Reading the online advice of skilled gardeners can be helpful, but gaining hands-on experience is most valuable. Grab your pruners!

Coming Attractions for Gardeners

A fine event for gardeners is the Eighth Annual Garden Faire, in Scotts Valley, on Saturday, June 22, from 9:00 to 5:00, with music continuing to 7:00 p.m. The Garden Faire is a free-admission, educational event focusing on benefits of organic gardening and sustainable, healthy living. Included will be a unique assemblage of garden goods and materials, plants and services, plus many knowledgeable speakers, interactive presentations, food and beverage, live music and plenty of activities for everyone.

The Faire’s 2013 theme, “Growing Together – Nourishing Our Community,” will explore the importance of individual actions toward building the health of ourselves, our community and our planet, implementing new ideas and techniques that will assist and enhance the growth of plants, while sustaining our earth and our environment, resulting in organic/holistic food for body and spirit.

Each year, this event presents a unique mix of practical gardening ideas, visions of sustainability and one of the Monterey Bay area’s largest, most diverse plant sales. It also offers the family-friendly, positive vibe that avid gardeners generate when they gather.

For all the information, visit


A perfect example of the individual actions that the Garden Faire advocates is to recycle your greywater, which is water that has been used to launder your clothes. By installing a few plastic pipes from your washer to your plants, you could contribute in a small way to important goals of the community.

The benefits include reducing your water bills, participating in a wider program to conserve water and reduce energy needs, and helping your garden to thrive.

Such projects exemplify the individual actions that the Garden Faire advocates.

“Laundry-to-landscape” systems are simple, but need to designed and installed so that they work as intended and meet basic standards. Happily, free information is available for homeowners. The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District will present a Laundry-to-Landscape Workshop on Saturday, June 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 5 Harris Court, Building G, in Monterey. Residents of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District service area will receive a free laundry-to-landscape installation kit upon completion of the workshop.

The workshop prepares attendees to install their own greywater system on Sunday, June 23, with help from a Central Coast Greywater Alliance volunteer, and perhaps other workshop participants, friends and family. Alternatively, one could contract with a qualified greywater system installer.

For additional information visit Then, for installation contractors, click on “Resources/Greywater Directory,” and for workshop details, click on “Monterey Laundry to Landscape Workshop.” Check that website in coming days for links to similar workshops in Marina and the Salinas Valley.

Your washing machine could water your garden! Wouldn’t that be great?


Ecology Action and the Central Coast Greywater Alliance are sponsoring a 100 Greywater System Challenge to build community awareness about code-compliant greywater irrigation systems, landscape water conservation and drought/climate change preparedness. Here’s a link to full information on the Monterey Bay 100 Greywater System Challenge. 

Touring Local Greenhouses

Next Saturday, June 15th, presents a fine opportunity for avid gardeners to satisfy their curiosity about the greenhouse business, and about growing flowers, herbs and other plants for commercial purposes.

The 4th Annual Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House provides a unique educational experience, suitable for all gardeners, from novices to nerds.

Greenhouse growing is basically a straightforward and transparent process, but even inquiring minds will find much to absorb. There will be a rich flow of practical information about large-scale propagation, fertilizing, pest control, harvesting, as well as packing and shipping for the market. Most of the growers’ efficient, science-based practices are readily applied in home gardening environments.

At another level, visitor will gain insights into the commercial aspects of the business, including trending preferences for specific plants, flowers and herbs, seasonal variations, manipulating bloom times to meet market priorities, etc. It’s all quite interesting as a glimpse “behind the curtain,” even if you have no intent to engage in that field of endeavor.

There are six quite different greenhouses to visit during the day. You need not visit them all, and you may plan your own sequence of visits, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The greenhouses are these:

  • California Floral Greens: baby eucalyptus, ivy, leather leaf, hydrangeas, parvafolia, kangaroo paw, flax, star asparagus, along with additional ornamental greens
  • California Pajarosa: 150 varieties of hydroponic roses: hybrid teas, sweethearts, and spray roses
  • Jacobs Farm: 60 varieties, including common and specialty herbs and an array of edible flowers
  • Kitayama Brothers: Cur flowers, including lilies, gerberas, lisianthus, snapdragons, calla lilies, iris, tulips, gardenias
  • McLellan Botanicals: Orchids, ranging from the popular (Phalaenopsis, Oncidium and Miltonia) to the exotic (Paphiopedilum, Cattleyas and other varieties), plus ornamental eucalyptus foliage.
  • Succulent Gardens: Over 600 varieties of succulents on display in the greenhouse and on the grounds, with many available for sale.


  • Garden writer Debra Prinzing will sign copies of her new book, Slow Flowers. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on gardening, a popular lecturer and president of the Garden Writers Association. She also will demonstrate flower arranging at 12:00 and 2:30.
  • “As the Globe Turns…” Display of the unique Succulent Globe, at the Succulent Gardens Open House. This ten-foot globe has succulent plants defining the world’s continents. Stunning! This year’s San Francisco Flower and Garden Show featured the Succulent Globe, which is now on permanent display in the Monterey Bay area.

The 4th Annual Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House is a free admission event. For all the details and a map of the greenhouses, visit Alternatively, call (831) 274-4008 or email for up to date information about the tours.

Enjoy the tour!

Northern California Garden Tours

Visits to public and private gardens can be inspiring and informative, so when a reader asked for suggestions for garden visits in northern California, I was pleased to respond.

If you plan to travel within the Golden State this summer, consider including one or more of the following gardens on your itinerary. Information on these gardens, including travel directions, is available on the Garden Visits website.

San Francisco/Oakland Area


Farther North in California

If you will travel in June or July, consider the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program of exceptional private gardens in northern California (<> click on “Open Days/Schedule”):

  • June 8: Mendocino County
  • July 20: Contra Costa County
  • July 21: San Francisco East Bay

As always, enjoy your own garden and share it with friends and neighbors, but explore your choices of these public and private gardens for new ideas!

Contain Your Garden

For a break from maintaining your plants in the ground, and an opportunity to add interest to your landscape, try container gardening. Growing plants in containers gives gardeners many of the challenges and rewards associated with landscape gardening.

Container gardening projects often begin by identifying a spot for a focal point. This might be next to the front door, in the corner of a balcony or patio, at the end of a garden vista, or any of several other locations.

Other projects begin with an attractive container, possibly one already in the gardener’s collection, found online or in a garden center or even discovered in an antique shop. Choose from glazed ceramic, cast iron, cast stone, terra cotta, or even molded plastic; actually, any object that holds planting mix and drains water will do. Get creative!

Certainly, a container project could begin with one or more plants that inspire the vision for a pleasing display.

Container gardening novices need practical experience to generate confidence and stimulate ideas. For a good first step toward that experience, plant one plant in a twelve-inch wide container of your choice.

For the next step, plant three plants in a larger container, up to eighteen to twenty-four inches across. This project adds a flurry of variables, but a popular strategy uses one each of three kinds of plants:

  • Thriller: catches the eye with a big, bold and beautiful centerpiece.
  • Filler: grows lower and complements or contrasts with the thriller.
  • Spiller: sprawls over the side of the container, and softens the composition.

In this approach, plenty of options remain. Spend time at the garden center to consider possible combinations of color, texture and size. Feel free to assemble plants to see how they look together (put back those you don’t buy!).

When ready for an advanced project, select a large container, up to thirty-six inches across, place it at its ultimate destination, add planting mix, and add your selection of plants.

Basic guidelines for all these steps of container gardening: (a) use fast-draining planting mix, not garden soil; (b) include several plants, for a lush appearance, (c) keep the container watered, especially in hot weather, and (d) some displays are better than others, but there are no mistakes.

Enjoy your container gardens!


Explore the Internet to learn more about any aspect of container gardening. Here is a selection of useful websites to start with:

The Container Garden Picture Gallery provides photos of dozens of examples of container gardens, including several in unconventional containers. Most examples identify the plants that were used, but this site offers ideas, not “how-to” advice.

Home and Garden Television (HGTV) provides 307 articles (really, not a typo!) on all aspects of container gardening. The answers to your questions must be available somewhere among the HGTV articles on Container Gardening!

HGTV video clips on Container Gardening is a collection of brief video recordings showing skilled gardener’s techniques. Some of us learn better by watching demonstrations than by reading articles. (In fact, the absolutely best way to learn gardening methods is by doing them yourself!)

If you are feeling “crafty” try your hand a making your own unique, rustic-looking Hypertufa planter. Here are the step-by-step instructions for creating a container with a mixture of peat moss, perlite and cement called hypertufa.

Spring Pruning

Pruning is among the most challenging tasks for many gardeners, so timely reviews of this topic may be helpful.

One of the three most important times of the year for pruning is right now.

Our plants grow with seasonal cycles, so here are the dates that gardeners should know:

  • Spring Equinox (1st day of spring)       March 20
  • Summer Solstice (1st day of summer)  June 21
  • Fall Equinox (1st day of fall)                  September 22
  • Winter Solstice (1st day of winter)        December 21

Let us say we’re at mid-spring, because we don’t need to be obsessive. This is time to prune shrubs that flower in early spring.

Here are a few popular members of this desirable group:

  • Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier ainifolia, a good choice for this area);
  • Slender Deutzia (Deutzia gracillis, a hydrangea relative with lots of white blossoms);
  • Hybrid Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia, several good cultivars);
  • Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’, a deer resistant native of China);
  • Honeysuckle or Woodpine (Lonicera periclymenum, favorite of hummingbirds);
  • Lewis’s Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii, a California native; the genus name comes from the Greek word for “brotherly,” like the Pennsylvania city);
  • Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris, the Descanso hybrids have been bred for mild winters);
  • Bridal Wreath or Shrubby Spiraea (S. x van houttei or S. japonica, butterfly magnet);
  • Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’, great lacecap flower heads;
  • Weigela (Weigela florida, several selection of cultivars)(don’t call it “why-gee-li-a”),

Prune these shrubs soon after their spring blooms have faded, because the plant then will develop buds for the next season’s blossoms. Do not prune after the Fourth of July, because you will remove the new buds and won’t have flowers next spring.

Generally, maintenance pruning for these shrubs involves cutting to the ground about one-third of the oldest branches.

Spring Pruning of Roses

Late winter is still the usual time for major pruning of roses, but there are situations in which some mid-season pruning might be appropriate. In particular, if a rose has grown more exuberantly than you wanted, you could cut it back at this time of the year.

Many roses alternate between heavy flowering periods and rest periods. The timing guideline is to prune between bloom flushes, just so you are not removing blooms.

At this time, you should also remove any suckers, which are vigorous branches that grow from the rootstock of grafted roses and “suck” energy from the primary plant. If you think you have a sucker, make sure it is not a desirable new basal stem from above the bud union: look for differences in the leaves and prickles of the desired plant. Then, pull the sucker off so it won’t grow back; cutting just encourages re-growth.

Enjoy your garden!


(more to come)

Cut Flowers from the Garden

As I write this week’s installment, a friend is cutting flowers from my garden to decorate a garden party this weekend. I rarely bring blossoms into my home, so I am pleased to see how a skilled flower harvester goes about this process.

Important activities precede and follow actually cutting flowers! To begin, select plants that you like for arrangements, bloom at convenient times and produce lots of blossoms. You might stick with familiar options, or favor more exotic choices. In either case, include foliage plants to complement arrangements. Visit for suggestions.

The design of a cutting garden emphasizes convenient access to the plants, more than the appearance of the landscape. Planting in widely spaced rows works well. You might locate your cutting garden in an out-of-the-way—and sunny—spot.

Cultivating a cutting garden involves only good basic gardening.

When you are ready to cut flowers for arrangements, here’s a few guidelines:

  • start early, when the plants are full with sugars and moisture;
  • use clean, sharp tools, and dipped in bleach between plants (a good idea if disease is evident, but a bit fussy otherwise);
  • cut from different parts of each plant, to leave a good appearance (important with flowering shrubs);
  • take long stems when possible (you can make them shorter later); and
  • immerse cut flowers promptly in cool water.

It may be helpful to gain deeper familiarity with selected plants, to understand better when and how to gather their bounty. For more on this point, see for links to useful websites.

For more in-depth treatment of this topic, here are three highly rated books:

  • Cutting Gardens, by Anne Halpin and Betty Mackey.
  • The Cutting Garden: Growing and Arranging Garden Flowers, by Sarah Raven with Pia Tryde (Photographer).
  • An American Cutting Garden: A Primer for Growing Cut Flowers Where Summers Are Hot and Winters Are Cold, by Suzanne McIntire.

Here’s a fine opportunity to learn more about cut flowers: a Cut Flowers Workshop, June 9th, 9:30 – 4:00 in the Alan Chadwick Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Join Zoe Hitchner of Everett Family Farm and Orin Martin, manager of the Alan Chadwick Garden, to learn how to select, grow and arrange cut flowers from your garden to create beautiful bouquets. The workshop will include both lectures and hands-on practice.

Costs: $75 for Friends of the Farm & Garden members, $85 general public. Pre-registration is required, online or by mail – visit for information, call (831) 459-3240 or email

For many, bringing arranging cut flowers in the home or gifting them to friends is the ultimate purpose of gardening. Whether you bring your garden’s bounty indoors or appreciate them outdoors, enjoy your garden!


A friend asked for recommendations for handling a cut flower from an aloe plant. (I rarely get easy questions!) She asked specifically whether or not she should seal the cut end of the flower stem by fire. My best answer on the spot was to run a simple test: put a flame to one stem and not to another, then see which lasts longer in a vase.

When I searched the web for a more direct answer, I found a recommendation to enjoy aloe blossoms in the garden, and not in a vase, because they won’t last more than half a day. Better choices for succulent blossoms as cut flowers are  Bryophyllum (on the left) or Aeonium (on the right).


Here is useful advice on the web from Gardener’s Supply Company on creating a cutting garden, including twelve “easy-care favorites.”

More useful advice, this time from Real Simple, on the same topic.

Then, a third presentation on the basics, from

Here’s good advice on the actual cutting of flowers and keeping them as long as possible. It’s from the Royal Horticultural Society, which should not be questioned.

Seasonal Delights

Spring is in full swing: plant sales and garden tours keep us occupied in discovering new plants and encountering new ideas for the garden landscape.

At several recent sales, I accumulated twenty new plants and a big handful of dahlia tubers. One of my prizes is a “beloved serpent” (Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’, A. serpens X A. rugosa). This rare caudiciform plant from the Himalayas produces four-foot arching branches that are festooned with gorgeous pendant blooms. I had an A. serpens before, but sadly it expired.

After my plant-buying frenzy, I became immersed in a hurry-up project that has postponed installation of those plants. I must keep them watered!

Here are upcoming opportunities to gain inspiration and plants.

May 4th & 5th – Monterey Bay Iris Society Annual Show. Louden Nelson Community Center, 3013 Center Street, Santa Cruz. 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. Saturday; 10:00 am to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. This free admission event provides the year’s best opportunity to see outstanding iris blooms and decide which rhizomes to buy when opportunities arise. Click on the thumbnail image for a full-size the MBIS poster:

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 1.00.30 AM

May 5th – Marina Tree and Garden Club’s Sixth Biennial Marina Garden Tour. This self-guided tour includes six varied private residential gardens, two public water-wise demonstration gardens, and a community food garden with 89 raised beds. Visit the gardens from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., in any order. Tour tickets are $15. For information, and slides of previous tours, browse to <>.

May 11th, 12th and 13th – Cabrillo College’s 35th Annual Spring Plant Sale. This free event, billed as the largest annual college plant sale in Central California, will offer “over 1000 different organic vegetable starts, perennial edible crops, annuals, bedding plants, culinary & medicinal herbs, cut flowers, natives, perennials, salvias, succulents and vines.” On May 10th (Friday) there will be Presale and Silent Auction for Friends of the Garden. For info and a plant sale inventory, visit <> Memberships will be available at the gate for $25 (no surprise).

At last year’s silent auction, I acquired an uncommon Japanese dwarf crested iris (Iris gracilipes). It has been growing well in my garden, and I’m anticipating flowers in May or June.

May 11th – Annual St. Philip’s Garden Tour and English Tea Luncheon, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. This unusual occasion always includes exceptional gardens and a unique “full High Tea Luncheon of English favorites such as scones with jam and cream, a delicious and light carrot-cilantro soup, sausage rolls and finger sandwiches, and last but not least, English toffee and shortbread cookies!” Visit <> for a Ticket Order Form and request for a luncheon seating time.

Visit garden tours and shows with camera and note pad; visit the sales ready to buy and bring home new delights for your garden.

Virtual Tour of California’s Eco-Regions

I had the opportunity this week to get an intriguing glimpse of the Monterey Bay area’s offering of the California Naturalist Program for 2013. The occasion was a talk on California’s biodiversity, by botanist, ecologist and conservationist Todd Keeler-Wolf.

The presentation was at the UCSC Arboretum, and co-sponsored by the Ray Collett Rare and Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series and the California Naturalist Program. The Arboretum hosts both of these activities.

The California Naturalist Program’s goal is to “foster a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists, trained and ready to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education and restoration.”

Two more important points about the Program: it includes nine talks and nine field trips during and April and May, and the 2013 session is already fully subscribed so latecomers can’t enroll. Keeler-Wolf’s talk was an exception.

If your interests focus on ornamental or edible gardening, this Program might seem a major stretch. Still, even hobby gardening is rooted in science, and organic gardening in particular is strongly connected to environmental protection and conservation. Gardeners are already engaged in these topics.

Keeler-Wolf’s talk about California’s eco-regions underlined the importance of location to success in gardening. We should learn about the native environment of each plant we grow, and strive to match that natural situation or provide something close to it.

A California native plant’s accustomed situation involves more than a region within this state: it includes the specific microclimate in which the plant has evolved to grow well.

Keeler-Wolf described California’s great biodiversity, and the ways in which the state’s eco-regions vary in terms of climate, topography, geology and vegetation. He described the woodland forests, scrublands, and grasslands that exist within California’s Mediterranean climate zone, and explained how they differ and which plants grow in each eco-region.

For example, when viewing a natural area from a distance, as through an airplane window, we see that vegetation on south-facing slopes differs clearly from vegetation on nearby north-facing slopes.

There are many more eco-regions: wetlands, montane conifer forests, subalpine zones, deserts and others. There were too many to remember, but still fascinating! Ultimately, the overall message about the state’s eco-regions has greater significance than the many details. The speaker made the point that the survival of many native plants is closely tied to a very specific natural environment, and when that environment is converted to commercial agriculture or paved over, the plants could be doomed.

You too could be citizen scientist, and discover new dimensions to your interest in gardening. You might even plan to earn a California Naturalist certificate in 2014.

Here is more information about the California Naturalist Program, including the 2013 schedule of lectures and field trips.

UCSC Arboretum’s California Naturalist Program

The University of California’s California Naturalist Handbook






Quick and Easy Gardening

When selecting a gardening book, look for content that aligns well with your needs and interests. That might seem like advice from Mr. Obvious, but it is easy to be drawn into material that is too specialized or too fundamental in terms of your gardening goals.

Many gardeners share an interest in low-maintenance gardening, so that is has become an inside joke for landscape designers and contractors.

In fact, several factors influence the level of effort that a garden requires. Certainly, landscape size and plant selection are significant contributors to the maintenance task.

Another very important factor that can impact the time and effort required is the gardener’s knowledge of gardening. Simply stated, if you know what to do and when to do it, your efficiency goes up, your error rate goes down and your successes multiply.

So, how does one acquire that knowledge? One way is to spend a lifetime with hands in the dirt and heightened awareness, but there are shorter roads to expertise.

If you regard yourself as a novice, you might enroll in Gardening 101, but such courses can be hard to find and time-consuming.

A good alternative is Sunset Publishing’s 2013 book: The 20-Minute Gardener: Projects, Plants, and Designs for Quick and Easy Gardening, edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel.

Despite its title, this book does not present a schedule for gardening in 20-minutes a day, but does provide good basic information on many aspects of gardening, so that one could use his or her time efficiently and effectively.

The first 40-plus percent of the book deals with Setting Up Your Space; Quick Fixes; Inspired Ideas, Easy Projects; and Techniques. Many sections within this part of the book begin with an action verb: Choose Easy-Care Plants, Keep Plantings Accessible, Plant Seasonal Containers, etc. This style amounts to setting clear objectives, always a good first step in getting work done.

The next section, which equals nearly half the book’s pages, presents brief descriptions of plants. There are countless gardening books that list and describe plants (gardeners apparently love lists!); the value of this section rests on the shortness of its plant lists in each of several categories. In this way, the book focuses attention on garden-worthy, easy to grow plants, but minimizes the pleasures of discovering and trying less familiar plants.

Such adventures might not be the novice gardener’s highest priority.

The remaining pages provide useful information and a good index.

Overall, the book offers clear and reliable gardening advice that could help the novice gardener establish the knowledge base for low-maintenance gardening, and lead to productive and satisfying gardening experiences. The 20-Minute Gardener is valuable resource for the targeted readers.

Enjoy your garden!