Garden Decor

Gardens can be more than artful displays of plants: they can also include arts and crafts that reflect the owner’s tastes, interests and creativity. Collectively, such items comprise the garden’s décor.

The selections that we might encounter in gardens range from stunning works of fine art to found art to  “junktique,” with items such as plants growing in worn-out boots. This range could be defined in terms of cost.

For many home gardens, the most prominent décor consists of plant containers, which offer many opportunities for artistic expression. The more successful of these expressions present an interesting relationship between the container and the plant(s) it contains.

The less successful involve uses of nursery cans, which are typically black plastic. Such containers could be seen as an exercise in utilitarianism: they are valued for their usefulness and low cost.

Gardeners often acquire their décor often on the open market, but they gain the most satisfaction by making their own pieces. This requires creativity but doesn’t necessarily require artistic skill.

As an example, this “garden path medallion,” one of four in my garden, is a unique product that required care to build, but inexpensive materials and only a modicum of artistry. The medallion is four feet in diameter. My rabbit, Harvey, is sitting in to indicate the scale.

Pathway Medallion

Click to Enlarge

An important component of this project is a circular strip that retains the circle of bricks. I found this product on, marketed as the “EasyFlex No-Dig Tree Ring Kit.” This strip retains the bricks with a 1.5-inch high edge, low enough to hide under the pathway surface.

I purchased common bricks for the four medallions, each of which required 34 bricks. We installed the steppingstone and bricks in a bed of decomposed granite (also called path fines), which has angular grains that lock into a firm yet permeable surface. Beach sand has more rounded grains that stay too loose for such applications.

Common bricks are too large to form a tight ring around the steppingstone, so we used black, oval-shaped stones, sold as Mexican pebbles, three-to-five inches long. We installed them on edge, and used a rubber mallet to level them with the steppingstone and bricks. The last step was to sweep decomposed granite into the gaps and water it to settle it around the hard materials.

The costs for each medallion include the tree ring $10; 34 common bricks: $34; Mexican pebbles $16; cast concrete steppingstone $20, more or less, for a total of about $80 for a near-permanent feature.

Decomposed granite costs $40-to-$50 per cubic yard, but the amount required for this project would depend on the length, width and depth of the pathway.

A relatively new product for filling the gaps between stones is polymeric joint sand, which includes a water-activated polymer that forms impermeable joints. This product, available from masonry services, costs $15-to-$20 for a 60-pound bag.

For pictures of many do-it-yourself garden arts and crafts projects, visit and search for “steppingstones,” “garden crafts,” “garden arts” or related topics of personal interest. You might be inspired to adapt someone else’s idea or come up with your own unique creation.

However you proceed, décor could bring interest to your garden and provide creative opportunities fvor the gardener.


Because we are bulb-planting season, I will share a link with a recently discovered webpage, Tulips in the Wild, that presents a map of Europe and the Middle East, showing where various species of tulips grow, with photos of each species in its natural habitat. This website was developed by the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and the U.S. bulb seller, Colorblends. Browse to <> and click on “Interactive Map.”

If you enjoy tulips, this page provides a fascinating and informative display of the origins of many different tulips. If you thought that tulips come from the Netherlands, the truth is that only hybrid tulips come from growers in Holland. This webpage shows the real origins of this popular garden plant and could suggest a new idea for plant collecting.

Sharing Your Garden with Photos

This year’s Succulent Extravaganza exceeded its already high marks for learning about succulent plants and buying plants and garden containers. Experts from throughout California presented interesting talks on the practical care and use of succulent plants, and innovative uses of these fascinating plants in the landscape.

This column space isn’t enough for comments on each of the many specialists that Robin Stockwell attracted to Castroville, so I’ll feature just one: the prolific artist of garden photography, Saxon Holt, whose work appears in numerous books.

Photography and gardening have a perfectly complementary relationship: plants live in a constant state of change, while photographs store moments in time.

Gardeners often feel the urge to capture especially pleasing blossoms or landscape vignettes in photos, whether for their own viewing, or for sharing with family and friends. A few garden photographers, like Saxon Holt, can make stunning pictures and publish them for larger audiences to enjoy. For most gardeners, however, their photographs fail to satisfy for one reason or another. Today’s “point and shoot” digital cameras manage focus and exposure automatically, but performing those important functions well does not guarantee satisfactory results.

For that reason, Saxon Holt’s talk at the Succulent Extravaganza was a rare opportunity for gardeners to upgrade their photographic skills. Here are highlights of Holt’s advice.

Know your purpose. A close-up might showcase a plant’s shape or texture of the leaves or petals; a wider shot might demonstrate the interplay of shapes or colors. There are many possible purposes, making it worth the time to explore why you are taking the photo.

Control the light. Direct bright sunlight produces deep shadows and bright highlights that hide important details from the camera. Better results are achieved by photographing in early or late in the date, or by using a translucent panel to diffuse the light. Holt demonstrated the dramatic improvement provided by a collapsible disc designed for the purpose.

Fill the frame. Casual snapshots often include too much of the area surrounding the subject of the photo. The picture will be more effective when the photographer brings the camera close in, so that the subject occupies all the space.

Compose the image. Position the camera for an interesting view of the subject. Well-composed snapshots can become artworks!

A valuable—and really old— guideline for image composition is the Rule of Thirds. When looking through the viewfinder, imagine two lines dividing the scene into thirds vertically, and two more lines dividing the scene into thirds horizontally. Placing important elements of the image along these lines or at their intersections will produce a more dynamic and interesting composition. On the other hand, centering the subject in the frame tends to yield a static image.

The Rule of Thirds guided the composition of this photo of a group of Aloe polyphyllas,  seen at the Succulent Extravaganza. These fascinating plants are endemic to the Kingdom of Lesotho in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. (Click to enlarge).

Aloe polyphylla

Aloe Polyphylla

Holt emphasized the use of a tripod while composing the image, and recommended bringing the camera down to the level of the plant, rather than looking down on it from a standing position.

Successful photographs can extend the pleasures of gardening. As always when developing other skills, give your best effort to each session of garden photography and then study the results!


Several good books on garden photography are available on the website, and might be found in your local library or bookstore.

Visit Saxon Holt’s website to enjoy a selection of his photographs.

His impressive work also is represented in several garden-related books, which can be found by searching for “Saxon Holt.”

On Tuesday, November 11th, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden, Holt will present a hands-on workshop, “Composition and Balance,” This class is intended for serious photographers, who should arrive early with camera and tripods to work with Saxon as he tours the Garden. The morning shoot will be followed by a presentation, download of the morning’s work and an afternoon critique. Enrollment fee ($90/$75 for members) includes a copy of the Holt’s e-book, The PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop.

Info:, 510-642-7082.

Time to Plant Your Garden

Over the next few weeks, as we move into autumn, it is time to think about installing new plants in our gardens, and moving plants that should be in better places.

Installing or moving plants makes sense during this time of the year for two reasons. First, many plants that are good choices for Monterey Bay area gardens are entering into a dormant period, during which they can be moved with minimal trauma from one garden location to another, or from a nursery pot to a larger container or into the ground.

The second rationale for installing or moving plants now is that our familiar rainy season, beginning usually mid-October, will irrigate them during dormancy. The gentle rains of fall and winter have been a welcome gift to gardeners, who can attend to other tasks as plants develop their roots and generate new growth for the spring, as temperatures warm.

We still do not know if we will have a normal rainy season this year. Recent reports from International Research Institute for Climate and Society and the Climate Prediction Center, both trackers of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, indicate a relatively small impact on our fall and winter weather, around 60 to 65% of the historical norm. In other words, we should expect rain, but not as much as we usually enjoy.

That forecast is more vague than gardeners would like, but now is still the time to plant. The worst-case scenario is that watering by hand or drip irrigation might be needed to keep newly installed plants adequately hydrated.

Gardeners might be inspired to bring new plants to their gardens in the spring, when garden centers are displaying plants in bloom. There are real advantages of planting in the spring: bedding plants are available in abundance, blossom colors are evident, and the weather welcomes outdoor projects. One downside of this schedule, however, is that customers pay for nurseries to care for the plants during their early growth. Also, plants that have been boosted into bloom with synthetic fertilizers often under-perform once they have been moved into typical garden soil.

When you bring new plants into your garden this autumn, choose plants that are drought tolerant and well suited for the local climate and growing conditions. Such plants are most likely to succeed under drought conditions with the only basic care by the gardener.

Remember: even drought-tolerant plants need water, just not as much and not as often.

Good opportunities soon will be available to find such suitable plants:

  • Succulent Extravaganza, September 26 & 27 (today and tomorrow); 2133 Elkhorn Road, Castroville. Info:, 831-632-0482.
  • Fall Plant Sale, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, September 28; 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. Info:, 510-643-2755.
  • Fall Plant Sale, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & California Native Plant Society, October 11; High Street at Western Drive, Santa Cruz. Info:
  • Fall Show & Sale, Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, October 18 & 19, 10 San Jose Street, San Juan Batista. Info:

Gardening success depends on the selection of plants that are appropriate for specific locations and growing conditions. You might change where you garden, but external forces could change your garden’s growing conditions. Plan ahead!

Gardening to Save the Planet

We are learning about humanity’s many impacts on the near and distant future of our planet. Some people are in denial about these impacts, while others are concerned and ready to do whatever we can to ensure that our Earth will support future generations.

To support and encourage such positive action, leading botanist Peter Raven will visit the UCSC Arboretum next week to meet with UCSC faculty and staff, and present a public talk, “Saving Plants, Saving Ourselves.” Raven will present an informed update on the increasing threats to Earth’s environment, and emphasize the special role of public gardens in conserving plants that could be lost through habitat loss and climate change.

Peter Raven has a long friendship with the UCSC Arboretum, and a national reputation as a conservationist and advocate of global biodiversity: Time magazine hailed him as a Hero of the Planet. His visit to the Monterey Bay area inspires us to reflect on the home gardener’s unique role in saving the planet.

Here are ten everyday practices that gardeners can apply to help sustain the environment and protect plant diversity.

  • Irrigate your garden wisely, using drip technology to deliver water only where needed, and mulch (organic or inorganic) to minimize evaporation and weed growth.
  • Recycle household water into the garden, using plant-friendly soaps and detergents.
  • Prune your acquisitions of consumer goods that bury our landfills and clutter our environment…and that you really don’t need.
  • Propagate plants that Nature’s pollinators (bees and other insects, bats and birds) love and need to survive. Clusters of flowering plants will enrich your landscape.
  • Conserve biodiversity by protecting endangered species and including rare and threatened California native plants in your landscape. (Visit the California Native Plant Society’s website, for info.)
  • Nourish your plants with organic fertilizers, and discontinue uses of artificial chemicals
  • Control plant-eating insects with insect predators and organic insecticides. Use physical barriers and non-toxic deterrents to control other plant-eaters, e.g., snails, gophers and deer,
  • Select plants that are native to California or other summer-dry climates, to enable their healthy growth, support wildlife and ease your gardening workload.
  • Compost the “carbon-rich” fantasies of climate change deniers with the “nitrogen-rich” facts of the world’s scientists to promote wise stewardship of the environment. (Alto, keep all biomass on the property by composting green garden waste!)
  • Cultivate these good practices among your friends and neighbors.

The UCSC Arboretum employs these practices regularly, and assigns high priority to its work in plant conservation.

pt sur Austin and Tim

Click to Enlarge

This photo shows UCSC student Austin Robey and Arboretum volunteer Tim Forsell as they replanted endangered California native manzanita shrubs on a steep slope near the Point Sur State Historic Park and Lighthouse. The Arboretum’s Brett Hall coordinated the conservation project.

Your practices in your own garden also could help to save the planet. A good start would be to attend Peter Raven’s talk..


Registrations for the Peter Raven talk sold out quickly. To receive timely announcements of future events at the Arboretum, visit

If you would like to sponsor an educational event at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, contact Jennifer Macotto, 831-427-2998 or

For information on how you could help save a rare species: visit

Pruning Roses

There’s no need to rush outside to prune your roses, but now would be a good time to prepare for that annual process.

Start by identifying which of your roses are Old Garden Roses, and which are modern roses. The OGRs are once-bloomers, growing on their own roots, while modern roses, e.g., hybrid tea roses, are repeat bloomers, grafted on sturdy rootstock (often ‘Dr. Huey’).

There are numerous rose species, varieties and hybrids, but pruning methods differ greatly between the two broad groups: OGRs and modern roses. Briefly, OGRs bloom on old wood and are pruned in the late summer, after their bloom period and before they set buds. Generally, prune OGRs in a limited manner, removing no more than one-third of the bush.

In comparison, modern roses bloom on new wood, and are pruned more extensively during the winter months, before new stem growth and buds appear in the spring.

Modern roses are hybrids, typically with species that evolved in Asia, where winters are not harsh, so dormancy is related more to winter’s shorter days than to its lower temperatures. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, modern roses can continue to grow through the winter months without a period of deep dormancy.

Still, even a relatively light dormancy gives modern roses an important rest period, and pruning during this period promotes new stems and large blossoms.

This year, despite December’s record-setting warm spells, we can rely on short winter days to enable our roses to enter dormancy. Defoliation (stripping a rose’s leaves) encourages that process and reduces the potential for continued top growth.

With that background, prepare to prune your modern roses at any time during January or February. The basic techniques have been described and illustrated many times in books and websites, so rather than providing a capsule version of those techniques, I have listed print and online resources on my website,, for your reference.

I will repeat my recent suggestion to relocate your roses, as needed, during the same period. Prepare the new location by digging a hole two to three times as wide as the root ball you expect to have, to support horizontal root growth. The new hole should be only as deep as the existing root ball, to minimize settling of the transplanted rose.

We ready to transplant the rose soak the new location thoroughly. Then, soak the existing rose, lift a good-sized root ball from the bed, and plant it in its new location at the same level as it was in its old location. Water it in.

Now is also the time to select bare-root roses for your garden, so next week I’ll review rose selection and buying.


There are many websites with good, free information about pruning roses. Search for “pruning roses” to see several options. Here are some that I found helpful:

All-American Rose Selections

David Austin Roses

American Rose Society (scroll down to the articles on “Pruning Roses”)

If you would prefer a book, look for these more general pruning titles in your local library or bookstore:

Pruning Made Easy – How to Prune Rose Trees, Fruit Trees and Ornamental Trees and Shrubs, by H.H. Thomas (2013)

This book will be published early in February 2014:

Pruning Made Easy – The Complete Practical Guide to Pruning Roses, Climbers, Hedges and Fruit Trees, Shown in Over 370 Photographs, by P. McHoy

Apples Without Worms, Part Two

Codling moths are serious insect pests of apples. If your apples have “worms,” you probably have codling moths.

Life Cycle of the Codling Moth

The codling moth’s life cycle has an important stage in the soil or organic debris around the base of your apple tree. The full-grown larvae of the moth, in silken cocoons, overwinter in this environment, and develop into adult moths around mid-March to early April.

The moths fly into the tree to mate and deposit their eggs on the leaves, spurs or immature fruit. They are one-half to three quarters inch long, with a dark band at their wingtips.  They can be difficult to spot because their colors blend with the tree’s bark, and they are active for only a few hours before and after sunset.

The eggs hatch in early to mid-May, and the young larvae tunnel into the core of the fruit and eat their fill, leaving behind reddish-brown frass (insect waste).

After they develop fully, the larvae drop from the fruit and tree to continue their life cycle in the soil or debris at the base of the tree.

A second generation often occurs in cooler coastal environments such as the Monterey Bay area, with the new group of young larvae attacking the fruit in mid-July.

Management of the Codling Moth

Organic pesticides for home gardeners are CYD–X Insecticidal Virus, which infects and kills the larvae of codling moths, and Spinosad, which is a nerve and stomach poison derived via fermentation from naturally occurring bacterium. These products might be found in a garden center; or can be ordered from or other online sources.

Apply insecticide sprays as the eggs hatch and the larvae begin to attack the fruit and make the first “sting” (a tiny mound of frass on the fruit, marking a larva’s entry).  Timing can be tricky, because temperature and other factors affect the moths’ schedule. For example, mating occurs only when sunset temperatures exceed 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Good Reference

The primary source of information for today’s column is the University of California publication, “Codling Moth: Integrated Pest Management for Home Gardeners and Landscape Professionals.” For additional approaches to management of these pests, download this free publication at

Managing an established population of codling moths will require both insecticide sprays and additional methods. For example, sanitation, always a good practice, involves promptly removing infested and dropped fruit.

Eating a fresh apple from your own tree can be delightful, but you might have to compete with the wildlife.


Here is one of several Spinosad products that have been formulated and packaged for home gardening. This products is available in gardens centers and online from Peaceful Valley ,

Monterey Garden Spray Concentrate – Spinosad (Pint)
$19.99 + $9.99 shipping

pbi800-aSpinosad for home gardeners Use on vegetable and fruit crops, ornamentals, and turf to control caterpillars as well as beetles, leafminers, thrips, Colorado potato beetles, fire ants and more! Use 4 Tbs/gal water. Spinosad insecticides are nerve and stomach poison derived via fermentation from naturally occurring bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa. New chemistry represents an alternative to Bt for worm control and offers excellent control of targeted pests and low toxicity to non-target organisms, including most beneficial insects. Low mammalian toxicity, helps conserve beneficials.

Apples Without Worms

Each year, around now, I plan to spray my four small apple trees and indulge my optimistic vision of harvesting apples that are beautiful, tasty and—most of all—free of worms.

My apple trees include a small Fuji, a Gala espalier, a second espalier with eight familiar varieties of apple and my prize: a dwarf Cox’s Orange Pippin, originally from England. Here is Wikipedia’s description:

“Cox’s Orange Pippin is highly regarded due to its excellent flavour and attractive appearance. The apples are of medium size, orange-red in colour deepening to bright red and mottled with carmine over a deep yellow background. The flesh is very aromatic, yellow-white, fine-grained, crisp and very juicy. Cox’s flavour is sprightly sub-acid, with hints of cherry and anise, becoming softer and milder with age…One of the best in quality of the English dessert apples; Cox’s Orange Pippin may be eaten out of hand or sliced.”

The worms that ruin these great apples annually are the larvae of the codling moth (Cydia pomonella).

My usual plan of attack has been to spray the tree three times with horticultural oil, before it sets buds, to smother insects as they hatch. I have never accomplished this task in a timely and thorough manner, and never had satisfactory results.

This year, I learned that horticultural oil treatment can eliminate aphids, but has no impact on codling moths or other pests that attack the fruit. A fruitless strategy!

I mentioned my concern this week to a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers, who said he has a detailed regimen for treating the soil around his trees, has never sprayed and has no pest problems. At the moment, I couldn’t write down his method and it seemed like a long-term process anyway, so I researched the issue.

Valuable advice is available from Michael Phillips’ highly regarded book, The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist (2nd edition, 2005). He advocates treating the soil to promote the development of fungi that help trees to deal with pests and diseases. This might be the method practiced by my CNGF contact.

Apple farmers use two effective new organic products: Surround, a spray that coats apples with insect-repelling kaolin clay, and Entrust, based on Spinosad, a poison that is derived from naturally occurring bacterium. These products are sold in commercial quantities for licensed users.

Spinosad is also available in smaller quantities for usage by unlicensed home gardeners, in Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew, Green Light Lawn & Garden Spray with Spinosad 2, Monterey Garden Insect Spray and other products.


Entrust, a Spinosad product, is available only in larger quantities for commercial fruit growers. Here is an example of one such product, Entrust.

Entrust 80 WP – Spinosad (1 LB) – PBI400


Entrust - Spinosad

$599.00  This product qualifies for $9.99 flat rate shipping in the Continental US.

This is a special order item. Please call 888-784-1722 to place an order.

This product is not registered for sale in the following states: PR

Pesticide ID # is required for all CA commercial growers AND all Nevada County, CA residents

Spinosad insecticides are nerve and stomach poison derived via fermentation from naturally occurring bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa. New chemistry represents an alternative to Bt for worm control and offers excellent control of targeted pests and low toxicity to non-target organisms, including most beneficial insects. Low mammalian toxicity, helps conserve beneficial insects.

Dry formulation of spinosad labeled for cole crops, corn, cucurbits, fruiting and leafy vegetables, pome fruits, potatoes, stone fruits, strawberries, bushberries and cranberries. Controls caterpillars, certain beetles, thrips and leafminers, including many pests prone to resistance problems such as diamondback moth, cabbage looper, fall armyworm and Colorado potato beetle. For Colorado potato beetle, use only every other year to help prevent resistance.

Apply .5 – 2 oz per acre.

Note: At the recommended application rate, one pound of Entrust would be enough for on treatment for between eight and thirty-two acres of crops. Other information sources indicate that multiple treatments may be required, because the coating can be rubbed or washed off easily.

Happily, Spinosad products are available in both commercial quantities and smaller quantities for home gardens. See the following essay: “Apples Without Worms, Part 2”


Surround, a spray based on kaolin clay, seems interesting for commercial fruit growers, but appears not to be available (yet) in quantities that are appropriate for small orchards in a residential garden. Here is an example of a commercial product:

Surround WP (Kaolin Clay)

$37.50/25 lb. bag at Planet Natural.

Made from modified kaolin clay, Surround WP Crop Protectant is sprayed on as a liquid, which evaporates leaving a protective powdery film on the surfaces of leaves, stems and fruit. Controls a long list of insect pests on vegetables, fruit trees, ornamental plants s and more. OMRI Listed for use in organic production.

Surround works to protect plants and deter insects in three specific ways:

  1. Tiny particles of the kaolin clay attach to insects when they contact it, agitating and repelling them.
  2. Even if the particles do NOT attach to their bodies, the insects find the coated plant/ fruit unsuitable for feeding and egg-laying.
  3. The protective white film cools plants by up to 15° Fahrenheit, which can help to reduce heat and water stress. Many fruits show improved color, smoothness and size with less russet, dropping, sunburn and cracking.

DIRECTIONS FOR USE:        Application rates are dependent on the amount of foliage
that needs to be covered. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 lb. per gallon of water (25 to 50 lb. per 100 gallons of water per acre). May be applied up to the day of harvest.

Active Ingredient:            Kaolin ….. 95.0%
Inert Ingredients:              5.0%


Surround WP Kaolin Clay – Insect Repellent

Description         Surround W. P. is made from 95% kaolin clay, a naturally occurring mineral. When applied to fruit trees, crops, and other plants, it forms a white film. Surround suppresses a wide range of pests, especially those that damage fruit crops including pears, apples, grapes, berries, and some vegetables. It can be applied up to day of harvest and is easily rubbed off when the fruit or produce is ready to eat.

Surround can help control pests such as: pear psylla, cutworms, pear midge, pear slug, apple sucker, climbing cutworm, eastern tent caterpillar, gypsy moth, Japanese beetle, June beetle, grasshoppers, green fruit worm, leafrollers, lygus bug, Mormon cricket, cicada, stink bug, tarnished plant bug, thrips, fabria leafspot, apple maggot, codling moth, plum curculio, rose chafer, aphids, naval orangeworm, husk fly, blueberry maggot, blackberry psyllid, flea beetles, orchards, grape leaf skeletonizer, bean leaf beetle, Mexican bean beetle, powdery mildew, cucumber beetle, boll weevil, armyworm, black vine weevil, and fruit flies.

How it works      Insects are repelled by Surround. It sticks to their body parts and encourages them to move on elsewhere. At harvest time, the white film can be removed simply by rubbing off.

General usage:     Use in orchards, fields, vegetable gardens.

  1. Directions for use:           Using a backpack sprayer:
    Mix 1/4 to 1/2 pound (approximately three cups) of Surround WP per one gallon of water. If your sprayer is not easy to shake, premix in a container and pour the mixture into your sprayer
  2. Add the powder slowly to approximately 1/4 of the water you will be using, stir and mix well by shaking vigorously for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the remaining water and shake for an additional 30 seconds.
  4. Shake the sprayer occasionally during application.
  5. When finished, spray until the sprayer is empty and flush the system. Leftover mix can be used within 2 weeks to avoid spoilage. Rinse the sprayer before the next batch.

Advisories          Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below mean high water mark.

Application rates    General rate varies between 25 – 50 pounds per 100 gallons of water. Amount of water used will depend on amount of foliage to be treated.

Apple half-treated with kaolin clay

Apple with Kaolin Clay



Pruning and Moving Plants

Recently, with access to few hours of youthful energy, I pursued my gardening priorities. They were a bit early in the dormant season but too productive to postpone. Here’s a short list to encourage improvements in your own garden for the spring.

An Overgrown Shrub

A Glossy Abelia (Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’) had grown to seven feet, with long gracefully looping branches. It was an attractive, well-placed shrub that was crowding smaller plants. I had it coppiced, i.e., cut to the ground, to promote re-growth in the spring. This severe pruning method renews trees, particularly oak, hazel, ash, willow, field maple and sweet chestnut. It also works well with multi-trunked shrubs.

Plants in the Wrong Places

The Giant White Squill (Urginea maritime), notable for a huge bulb, is common in the Mediterranean basin but rarely seen in the Monterey Bay area. It is easy to grow, and can be moved at almost any time. Years ago, I planted a four-inch bulb where I later decided to reserve for California Natives, so I wanted to move it to the Mediterranean area. The bulb, which had grown to about ten inches in diameter, was easy to transplant.

Another wrongly placed plant was a Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata var. ledebourii), a California native. It had grown to about four by four feet, but in a place I later designated as the South Africa area, so it had to be moved. I learned that it too could be coppiced, so we cut it to six inches high and replanted it in the California Natives area. It could grow up to 10-to-12 feet high, so we placed it toward the back of a bed.

An Unruly Shrub

Wagner’s Sage (Salvia wagneriana) produces my favorite salvia blossom. The pink and white form has white bracts surrounding hot pink flowers, for a unique presentation. My plant grew rampantly to six feet high and ten feet wide. I had placed it in partial shade, where it thrived but didn’t flower very well. I also had failed to prune to maintain a smaller, denser form, so it had become rangy. Fortunately, it had also produced several seedlings. The solution was to shovel-prune the original shrub, transplant a couple seedlings to a sunnier spot for more blossoms, and schedule regular, late summer pruning for a more compact size.

Unwanted Shrubs

I have nothing against the Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), but I needed to move three of these Chinese or Japanese native plants to make room for the Twinberry Honeysuckle and other California natives. Lacking a good place for them, I coppiced and moved them into large nursery pots, for gifting to another gardener.

Consider seasonal improvements for your garden.


The Giant White Squill’s large bulb is proportionate to its leaves and its stalk of many florets (blooming in August). The bloom stalk can reach five feet in height.

Giant Squill - bulb

Giant Squill - planted

Giant Squill Blossoms

The Glossy Abelia responds well to severe pruning during the dormant season. The first  photo shows the result of coppicing a Glossy Abelia that had grown to seven or eight feet in height. The following photo shows the renewed growth of another Glossy Abelia that had reached a similar height, about six months after coppicing.


Abelia - coppiced

Glossy Abelia - renewed

Monarch Butterflies in Decline

At this time of the year, the Monterey Bay area—and especially Pacific Grove—hosts many Monarch butterflies during their annual winter hibernation.

The butterflies arrive in stunningly large numbers, but we in the Monterey Bay area see only Monarchs that live west of the Rocky Mountains—five percent of the total population.

The larger numbers flow between north Central United States and Canada in the summer and Mexico in the winter. The number of Monarchs has been declining alarmingly. Counting the individuals in a vast flight of Monarchs is quite impossible, so scientists measure them by the area they occupy, measured in hectares (2.47 acres), and then estimate the number of butterflies per hectare. In their prime years, some 450 million Monarchs roosted in Mexico. This year, lepidopterists have estimated that three million will arrive in Mexico.

The decline in the Monterey Bay area’s Monarch population has been less than that of the larger population, but still disturbingly great.

Several factors contribute to this decline, but the principal contributor appears to be loss of habitat. In particular, the loss of the milkweed plant that constitutes the source of both the principle food for Monarch caterpillars and the alkaloids that make the Monarch unpalatable to most predators. Large-scale farmers are using Monsanto’s Roundup® herbicide to wipe out a variety of weeds, including milkweed.

The decline of Monarch butterflies means we have fewer opportunities to see them in our gardens and other natural environments but the Monarchs are also an important source of food for some birds.

In the larger context, the impacts of commercial farming on the Monarch population are being repeated by impacts on a range of beneficial insects. The decline of honeybees, for example, has been attributed to a class of agricultural chemicals.

This is a large-scale problem that the public and private sectors, working together, should address over the long term. Meanwhile, home gardeners can support Monarch butterflies in two easy actions.

First, provide nectar sources for the adult butterflies by planting brightly colored flowers that are native to the Monterey Bay area.

Second, provide milkweed plants for Monarch caterpillars to feed on. The genus Asclepias contains about 140 milkweed species, including Asclepias californica (California Milkweed), which is native to most of this state.

To learn more, visit the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary (Off of Ridge Road near the Butterfly Grove Inn) for a docent-led tour, and attend the free Monarch Butterfly Talk at 1:00 p.m. at any Saturday, November-to-February.


To learn even more about Monarch Butterflies, visit the Monarch Butterfly Website,  and, where you will find fall and spring migration maps.

Monarch Fall Migration map

Monarch Spring Migration Map 

The website for the Center for Food Safety illustrates the areas in which the agricultural chemical glysophate is being applied in the Monarch’s migration path.

Monarch – Glysophate Maps


Garden centers have tons of tulips available for planting in the fall. There are countless hybrids on the market, including a seemingly endless parade of new introductions.

Tulips provide undeniably gorgeous blossoms, but they also present gardeners with the chill requirement, called vernalization. To set blooms, tulip bulbs must be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees for six-to-eight weeks.

Tulips originate around the Mediterranean Basin and in central China, particularly in mountainous areas with climates like that of the Monterey Bay area, but with cooler winters that provide sufficient chill during the plant’s dormant period.

For gardening in climates with soil temperatures that provide a sufficient chill period, tulips are reliable perennials that grow, multiply and bloom with little difficulty.

For climates with more moderate winter weather, such as the Monterey Bay area, vernalization requires refrigeration. This can be provided by the supplier, or by the individual gardener, usually in the family refrigerator or second unit.

Apples and other fruit releases ethylene gas, which is harmful to tulip bulbs, so keep fruits away from the tulips.

After tulips have bloomed, and their leaves have yellowed, the gardener must lift the bubs and chill them again to promote blooms in the following season.

The easier alternative for many gardeners is to purchase already-chilled tulip bulbs, and treat them like annuals. Many mail-order nurseries will chill tulip bulbs and ship them to customers at planting time.

There are a couple other choices for creating a early spring display in the garden.

First, some species tulips require less chilling during their dormant period. Tulip species in this category include Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, Tulipa clusiana (Lady Tulips), T. saxatilis (Candia Tulips) and T. sylvestris (Florentine Tulips). Species tulips have smaller blooms and shorter stalks than hybridized tulips, but they produce demure, colorful blooms. The plants are still great garden perennials that do not need lifting and chilling every dormant period. I will plant a few species tulip bulbs this year to learn more about this option.

The other choice is to plant spring-blooming bulbs that do not require vernalization. There are many bulbs in this category, starting with the narcissus, which is most popular. Others include allium, colchicum, crinum, crocus, gloriosa lily, hyacinth, kaffir lily, muscari, snowflake, spider lily, and watsonia. Most of these are members of the large lily family (Liliaceae), which also includes the tulip.

Now is the time to produce a display of color for your spring garden.


Brent and Becky’s Bulbs – species tulips

John Scheepers – species tulips

Willow Creek Gardens – species tulips

Pacific Bulb Society – information on species tulips (not sales)

Old Farmer’s Almanac – planting and growing tulips