Renovating the Garden —Good and Bad Views

Renovating the Garden – Good and Bad Views

Tom Karwin

In recent columns on garden renovation, we have focused on planning, removing unwanted plants and hardscape, and analyzing the garden’s soil. This column takes a closer look at objectives for the landscape.

Earlier, we wrote, “Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.”

The intended uses are basic in landscape planning, but more specific objectives might be relevant to a given property. Here are two examples.

Block an Undesired View

Many homes are close to other homes, public buildings or commercial establishments, and garden renovators might wish to block the view of adjacent structures or activities. Blocking a view has creating privacy as its corollary.

This objective can be accomplished by installing one or more shrubs or trees to interrupt a sightline between a favored spot on the landscape and the undesired view, or between a spot where privacy is wanted and a place where an off-site viewer might be.

This strategic act will succeed most quickly if the renovator installs large plants, but that can be very expensive. The garden renovator should be patient enough to install plants of affordable size, and savvy enough to select shrubs or trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Resist any inclination to install a shrubbery wall to block the view to and from the public sidewalk and street. This landscaping device announces, “A recluse lives here.” Adjustable window coverings are better alternatives.

Frame a Desired View

The viewshed of some homes might include a field or forest or mountain or ocean or some other scene that pleases the eye. It might be the natural environment or a built structure. In such happy situations, the first landscaping objective should be retain or reveal the view. This might require removing poorly placed trees or shrubs, and not installing plants that would grow to obscure the view.

The second objective should be to develop landscaping that draws attention to the viewshed and to its best features. This might involve framing the view from a selected observation area, which might be inside the residence or on a deck or patio. Just as a picture frame separates a picture from it surroundings, carefully positioned trees can highlight a desired viewshed.

In time, an undesired view could become unobjectionable, and new construction could block a desired view. Whatever happens, your view shed rights stop at the property line, so manage your landscaping accordingly.

More

Trees that are fast-growing but otherwise garden-worthy.

Proving once again that the Internet provides access to a vast store of information, Clink this link to the website Fast-growing Trees. There are three pages of trees that are fast-growing and suitable for USDA Hardiness Zone 9, which includes the Monterey Bay area.

When selecting a fast-growing tree to install in your particular garden, consider (in addition to the hardiness zone) the mature height and width of the tree, appearance, and any other factors that are important to you. Some of the trees listed on the Fast-Growing Trees website are too large for a smaller property, and some are too small to be useful as a screen of an undesired view.

Here is a link to This Old House on Fast-Growing Shade Trees.

In my own garden, several years ago I planted three seedlings of Pittosporum tenuifolium fairly close together, to screen a nearby property. The seedlings, which had sprouted in another part of the property, grew rapidly to over 30 feet, which is taller than I expected, based on the available information. This shrub (also called P. nigricans, because of its dark branches) is evergreen and trouble-free, so it has been a very successful screen.

Here are those three large shrubs in my garden. doing a good job of concealing the house beyond (click to enlarge).

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Finally, here is a link to SF Gate for more information about this large shrub.

 

Renovating the Garden – More Planning

Gardening and landscaping involves planning before getting your hands in the soil.

Last week’s column, which was about renovating a garden, recommended four preparatory actions:

  1. Draw a Diagram of the Property
  2. Decide on Basic Design Concepts
  3. Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape
  4. Set Priorities for Development

Once the gardener has completed those actions, he or she still has to additional tasks to complete. Those tasks are the focus of this week’s column.

Remove Unwanted Plants

A neglected garden probably motivated the landscape renovation project. Neglect often includes trees and woody shrubs that have outgrown their space, lack a role in the new design, or are unhealthy. In some cases, this task will require contracting with an arborist or laborers. Check local ordinances before removing trees.

All herbaceous plants that are unwanted are defined as weeds. These include garden plants and grasses as well as common weeds. Pull or dig larger plants, then remove grasses and weeds efficiently with chemical-free solarization. This method covers the target area with clear plastic so that the sun raises the temperature of the soil, killing weeds, pathogens, nematodes, and insects. For details, see the University of California’s free online publication “Soil Solarization for Gardens & Landscapes.”

Removing weed plants with a do-it-yourself approach could be time-consuming and frustrating. Consider contracted services to get the job done quickly and thoroughly.

Remove Unwanted Hardscape

If your garden includes paving, e.g., sidewalk, patio, walls or outbuildings that are not included in the new design, remove them to free your progress. Again, consider contracted services to speed the work. This would be a good time to invite a disinterested friend to comment on your garden accessory collection, and to remove items that are no longer assets.

Analyze Soil Structure

The gardener should know the structure of the garden’s soil. An ideal soil would have 45% minerals (sand, clay, silt), 5% organic material (plant and animal), 25% air and 25% water.

Click to Enlarge

Soil Textural Triangle

The Soil Texture Triangle illustrates various combinations of sand, clay and silt that might be found in a garden. The mineral content of ideal garden soil, called loam, should be about 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. A simple method to analyze your garden’s soil texture, involves placing a sample of your soil in a jar with water, shaking  and then letting it settle into density layers. Here are Organic Gardening’s brief instructions for a soil texture test.  Also, check out this helpful article by the Marin Master Gardeners.

Notice that these preparations do not include buying plants! For many gardeners, the primary strategy for improving the landscape is to buy plants. That approach, without an overall plan, weakens the landscape design and wastes time and money.

Enjoy your preparation! The fun stuff (selecting and installing plants) comes next.

Preparing to Landscape

Gardeners might look at their gardens with a mix of disappointment, desire for a delightful display and despair.

The gardener might have recently acquired the garden from someone who neglected it, or neglected it his/her self. (Life can dissuade even the most ambitious gardener.)

Renovating a garden can be a formidable challenge, leaving the gardener baffled and frustrated.

Such situations call for a plan. Here are suggestions for the early stages of a process to take control, build confidence and produce evidence of progress. These initial steps create a foundation for actual landscaping; hands-on work happens a little later.

Draw a Diagram of the Property

A scale drawing of the entire property supports the design and installation phases of the renovation. Show the improvements: house, garage, driveway, walkway, pond, walls, outbuildings, etc. Show large trees and other significant plants that definitely will remain in place, but omit all candidates for removal.

Indicate which direction is north, to aid in planning for sun exposure.

Indicate major changes in elevation with contour lines that trace equal elevations, or with a separate drawing of a side view of a slice through the property. Visit ongardening.com for an example of a garden elevation change diagram.

This diagram (or “base map”) might be drawn on graph paper to ease measurements, and should be rendered in black ink to enable clear photocopies. Make several photocopies for sketching design ideas.

Decide on Basic Design Concepts

Write down your intentions to, for example, commit to organic gardening, establish a drought-tolerant landscape, adopt one or more thematic approaches to plant selection, or establish a wildlife-friendly environment. This exercise helps to provide direction to planning the renovation, but it can be revised during the project.

Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape

Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.

Set Priorities for Development

Break the renovation project into steps that are manageable in terms of time and money. Begin by visualizing the overall design of the landscape, emphasizing the hardscape elements: pathways; planting bed borders; stairways or walls (if there are important elevation changes); outbuildings, etc.

Subsequent priorities could focus on either specific zones within the landscape, or desired features.

These early actions will contribute greatly to the larger goals to take control, build confidence and demonstrate progress. Selecting and installing plants happens after investing in these preparations.

More

Here is  good example of a base map for a residential landscaping project. This image comes from Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has a web page on Landscape Design for WIldlife. That’s an interesting topic, too, but the base map has value an an example for a wide range of landscaping projects, including renovations.

 Base Map

Behind Schedule in the Garden

The garden does not wait for the gardener, but goes about growing, reproducing, aging and eventually dying whether or not the gardener meets the schedule of seasonal tasks.

My garden has proceeded this year on its natural cycle. As the weather has warmed, even the plants for which I should have cut back last year’s growth are producing abundant new growth

Salvias exemplify this failing. Best practice with salvias is to cut them to the ground in the late winter or very early spring, when new growth first appears. This practice rejuvenates the plant, and gives it a youthful look. When the pruning is done too late, it is very difficult to avoid cutting off the new growth and setting back the seasonal growth.

I cut back a few of the salvias in my garden, but left many more with their tired branches from last year.

Fortunately, perennial plants really do not depend on punctual gardeners. Salvias perform better when treated well, of course, but they will survive nicely even when neglected.

I was able to prune my roses at the right time. It is possible to let rose shrubs grow without annual pruning during the dormant season, but they will have a more compact form and produce more blossoms when cut back about one-third each year.

Fruit trees are another matter. Happily, I pruned my apple trees in a timely way: I cut back last year’s growth just before blossoms appeared on the trees. There are just four dwarf apple trees in my garden, but skipping this annual task would allow sprawling growth and reduce the yield.

I did not, however, spray my trees as recommended to discourage codling moths. I did read about the life cycle of those pests, and made life a little harder for the over-wintering larvae by raking the mulch away from the base of the trees.

Weeds also are responding well to our limited rain and the warming weather. They are growing very nicely! I haven’t identified all the several weeds that make my garden their home, but I can always spot the bright yellow flowers of sourgrass, which expands its territory in my garden each year.

Wikipedia (always helpful) has this comment about sourgrass: “Indigenous to South Africa, Oxalis pes-caprae, the ‘Bermuda buttercup,’ is an invasive species and noxious weed in many other parts of the world, including the United States (particularly coastal California)…”

Ideally, gardeners should pull this weed when it first appears, before it produces countless tiny bulbs. Sadly, I am behind schedule again this year.

This experience yields clear lessons for gardeners:

  • Strive to keep pace with Nature’s rhythm
  • Appreciate the ability of plants to thrive despite neglect, and
  • Take satisfaction in the seasonal tasks you do complete.

Enjoy your garden!

More

Several books on year-round gardening are available through your public library, your bookstore or online. For example, a search of the Amazon.co website for “gardening year-round” yields 45 pages of books to consider. Many of the books listed focus on edible gardening; several also include ornamental gardening.

Before investing your time or money in a gardening book, make sure that it has information for your gardening environment. The most useful gardening information for gardeners in the Monterey Bay area will be specific to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9. Information in books oriented to “northern California” or “Pacific Northwest” will need interpretation for gardeners in Zone 9. Books intended for other parts of the United States or the world could still be helpful, but should be treated like exotic materials.

Still, given that awareness, some classic books on year-round gardening written by English authors can be very much worth reading. Examples, include books by Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Whether written by American or English gardening experts, the date of publication is not important: Nature’s seasonal patterns have not changed significantly.

Here are suggestions:

The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color (A Rodale Garden Book) (1994), by Susan A. Roth (Author)

Golden Gate Gardening, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California (2010), by Pamela Peirce (Author)

Gardener to Gardener: Almanac & Pest-Control Primer (2000), by Vicki Mattern and Fern Marshal Bradley (Eds)

A Yardscapes Year: Ideas and Plants for Bay Area Gardeners (1999), by Mia Amato

The Western Gardener’s Journal: A Three-Year Almanac (1998), by Margaret Moulton

A New Food Labeling Faceoff

The California Senate Health Committee recently approved Senate Bill 1381, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. This action is triggering new flows of facts and opinions by interest groups.

This bill renews the long-running debate between consumer groups and pesticide corporations and large-scale food producers. Californians for GE Food Labeling, representing many consumer groups, claims that grocery shoppers need to know what they are buying. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing the food industry, claims that labeling GE foods would be expensive and misleading.

This debate dates from 1992, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that GE foods were “substantially equivalent” to conventionally grown foods and therefore do not require labeling.

Ten years later, Congress created the National Organic Program (NOP) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NOP ruled that GE foods do not meet NOP standards and could not be labeled as “organic.”

According to SB 1381, more than 90% of members of the public want labeling of GE foods. Maine and Connecticut have passed limited laws requiring GE food labeling, and 20 other states are considering similar laws. Voters in California and Washington have considered GE food labeling measures, but the food industry waged massive campaigns opposing the measures and both failed by very small margins.

Sixty-four countries already have laws mandating labeling of GE foods.

Two other Senate committees—Agriculture and Judiciary—will debate SB 1381before the full Senate votes on it. While the bill moves through the California Senate, the California Assembly could consider a similar bill. Both bodies would have to agree on some version of this legislation before it could become law in California. This process could be lengthy, with vigorous arguments for and against.

At the federal level, a year ago, Senator Barbara Boxer and many co-signers introduced The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, but it hasn’t advanced at all.

The FDA has proposed regulatory guidelines for voluntary labeling of GE foods. Consumer groups have dismissed this approach as not helpful.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association recently recommended federal legislation that would allow voluntary labeling of GE foods, allow describing them as “natural,” and preempt state laws that have different requirements.

Meanwhile, grocery shoppers could either buy only certified organic foods, or simply ignore the issue. Home gardeners could buy seeds from “Safe Seed Pledge” companies (listed by The Council for Responsible Genetics) and grow their own non-GE foods.

Food policies have become complicated!

More to come.

April’s Garden Events

April 2nd, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum: The Ray Collett Rare & Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series, 7:00 p.m. Fee. UCSC Arboretum, High Street/Empire Grade, Santa Cruz.

Plantsman Rodger Elliott will recount the development of the extraordinary gardens of Australia’s Royal Botanic Gardens Chadbourne. A strong advocate of Australian native plants, Elliot assisted the Arboretum greatly during its early years.

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April 5th, Monterey Bay Dahlia Society: 2014 Annual Dahlia Tuber & Plant Sale, 9:00–11:00. Upper Level, Deer Park Shopping Center, Aptos.

Amateur, advanced amateur and professional growers will offer easy-to-grow dahlias in countless delightful colors and forms. MDBS members will offer advice and cultivation tips.

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April 5, Monterey Bay Master Gardeners, Smart Gardening Fair, 9:00–3:00. Highway 1 at Rio Road, Carmel.

A marketplace of  “all things gardening,” the fair focuses on sustainable practices. Local businesses and community groups offer gardening goods, services, knowledge and passions.

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April 12th, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum: Plant Sale, Members, 10:00–12:00, Everyone, 12:00–4:00. Arboretum’s Eucalyptus Grove, High Street/Empire Grove, Santa Cruz.

Bring home some of the Arboretum’s dazzling colors and most drought-tolerant plants from California, Australia and South Africa. Come to the sale for ideas and advice to replace plants lost during our earlier freeze or replace a lawn with low-maintenance landscaping.

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April 12th, California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter: Plant Sale. Members, 10:00–12:00, Everyone, 12:00–4:00. Location: Arboretum’s Eucalyptus Grove, High Street/Empire Grove, Santa Cruz. (Yes, the CNPS and Arboretum sales collaborate.)

This event is the year’s best opportunity to find California native plants for your garden. CNPS volunteers have propagated these plants lovingly to encourage gardeners to cultivate plants that thrive in this specific environment.

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April 12th–April 20th, California Native Plant Society: Celebration of Fourth Annual California Native Plant Week, 2014. For a statewide activity list, visit the CNPS website.

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April 18th–20th, California Native Plant Society, Monterey Bay Chapter:  Wildflower Show. Fee. Pacific Grove Museum, 165 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove.

This annual display of hundreds of the Monterey Bay area’s native wildflowers broadens our appreciation for Nature’s bounty of beautiful and highly varied plant life.

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April 19th–20th,, Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society: Spring Show & Sale, 9:00–5:00. Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street, San Juan Batista.

An opportunity to see exceptional specimens and purchase fascinating plants for your garden.

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Enjoy your garden!

Spring is Here

This year’s puzzling weather has produced a few days cold enough to promote dormancy in plants that don’t need a real winter chill, and nowhere near enough rain. We still hope late rains will replenish aquifers and reservoirs, but there’s little promise in the forecasts.

The arrival of spring does not cause abrupt change in our gardens, but it does bring warm weather that takes plants out of dormancy and stimulates new growth. Plants need moisture at this time but water restrictions demand reduction of our water usage. The middle ground for gardeners involves watering plants efficiently and only when they show need by wilting a little. This means drip irrigation if you have it, or moving a hose or watering can from plant to plant. Store your wasteful wide-area sprinkler!

If you have been preparing for drought conditions, you have emphasized summer–dry plants, a category that includes California native plants and other Mediterranean climate plants.

This is not the best year to add summer-dry plants, however: newly installed herbaceous or woody plants need regular watering for two years to establish roots.

A more appropriate strategic response to this drought is to add succulent plants, which have developed ways to minimize transpiration and maximize water retention in their leaves, stems or roots.

When added to a garden or moved within a garden, succulent plants come with their own supply of moisture, and need only minimal watering to settle their roots. They are quite resilient, but of course will need some water in time.

Succulents are far from compromises from an aesthetic perspective: they offer a range of blossom colors and foliage textures as well as low maintenance and drought tolerance. They have in fact become desirable specimens in garden beds or containers, even before our current weather concerns.

Happily, a major sale of succulent plants is less than one month away. The Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society will hold its annual, free-admission Spring Show & Sale from 9:00 to 5:00 on April 19th and 20th in the San Juan Batista Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street, not far from the Old San Juan Batista Mission.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 11.16.42 PM

The Society’s show will include members’ selected cacti and succulents, demonstrating plants that are very well grown and shown, and that display an amazing range of shapes, sizes and colors. The sale includes a great selection of mostly small plants grown by members or commercial growers, with reasonable prices. Society members also will be available to offer advice and answer questions.

Respond to this drought creatively: use this occasion to start or expand your collection of succulent plants.

More

If you are a beginning gardener of succulent plants, a helpful book is Debra Lee Baldwin’s newest book, Succulents Simplified. Her earlier books, Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens, are a more advanced, but still accessible for casual gardeners.

succulent books

Visit Debra Lee Baldwin’s website for inspiring photos and practical information.

Some Garden Thugs You Want Around

A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place, while a garden thug is a plant spreading without apparent limit, and overwhelming other plants it encounters. Garden thugs could well be landscape assets, given freedom to expand. Here are three examples from my South African succulent bed.

Thug #1: Aloe maculata (Soap Aloe)

Aloe-maculata-Soap-Aloe

Some 550 recognized species are included in the genus Aloe. One of them, the Soap Aloe (its sap makes a soapy lather in water) is among the most popular Aloe species in California gardens. The plant forms a rosette about a foot wide, made of pointed fleshy leaves about eight inches long. In the spring it sends up a two-foot long stalk topped by orange-red flowers in a flat-topped cluster called a raceme. So far, so good, but it also sends underground suckers that soon create a dense colony. I lifted ten plants for this month’s garden exchange, then put another eight in the green waste.

Related species in my garden include A. arborescens (Torch Aloe), also a vigorous grower; A. plicatilis (Fan Aloe), a slow-growing small tree; and A. ‘Christmas Carol’  (hybrid), a smaller plant with vibrant red colors in the leaves. In this group, Soap Aloe is the real thug.

Thug #2: Senecio mandraliscae (Blue Finger)

Senecio mandraliscae

Senecio is one of the largest genera of flowering plants, with about 1,250 species that present many amazing forms. Blue Finger, which might be a hybrid, grows twelve-to-eighteen inches tall, with numerous four-inch long blue-gray leaves shaped like fat bean pods. It produces uninteresting white flowers in summer but the foliage is the main attraction. The leaves will drop easily from the plant, and root to form new plants. The spreading stems also quickly establish roots.

A nice-looking succulent plant and a welcome addition to the garden, but one that needs regular whacking to keep it within bounds. My other Senecios are S. rowleyanus (String-of-Pearls) (showing the variability of this genus) and S. haworthii (Wooly Senecio). There could be other thugs in this large genus, but Blue Finger certainly qualifies.

Thug #3: Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s Ear, Paddle Plant)

Cotyledon-LSCotyledon-CU

This striking succulent has gray-green fleshy leaves with red margins, and coral red, bell-shaped flowers on stalks in early spring. The leaves grow on stout branches growing any way other than straight. This attractive plant spreads over time, and is considered invasive in some parts of the world. The plant has medicinal uses, but its leaves are said to be toxic to livestock, poultry and dogs. It works well in containers, which might well be the best place for this plant.

These vigorous plants will prove you have a green thumb, but they require control.

Garden Priorities for March

Despite our current, most welcome rains, we remain below the normal precipitation level for this time of the year and water conservation in the landscape continues to be important.

Conserving Water

For long-term conservation, plant California native plants or other drought-tolerant plants from the world’s Mediterranean climates. Succulent plants are increasingly popular for this reason, and for their varied forms, textures and colors, and low maintenance needs. (Desert conditions are not ideal for succulents: all need some water and quick drainage, and many enjoy partial shade.)

Shorter-term water conservation strategies include composting and mulching to retain water, using drip irrigation for efficiency, selecting vegetable varieties for low water requirements, eliminating seasonal weeds to reduce competition for scarce water, and irrigating only when plants need water. See “More” (below) for water conservation tips from Master Gardeners.

Fertilizing

Garden priorities for March include fertilizing trees, shrubs and perennials when they begin to show new growth.

For roses, give each plant two cups of a balanced fertilizer, i.e., 10-10-10 or 12-12-12, plus a quarter-cup of Epsom salts, two cups of alfalfa, and a half-cup of rock phosphate or bone meal.

There are differing views for fertilizing some plants. With bearded irises, for example, some growers recommend just a generous handful of a balanced fertilizer for each plant; others advocate low-nitrogen fertilizer, e.g., 6-10-10, plus bone meal and superphosphate. (The thinking is that adding more nitrogen could encourage root problems.)

Pruning

March is a good time for pruning still-dormant trees and shrubs, following recommendations for each plant. Here are examples from my garden:

Thin a large Wild Mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii) by cutting about one-third of the larger branches to the base of the plant.

Shape a large Milkflower Cotoneaster (C. lacteus) by removing old, unproductive limbs and spindly branches, and generally lifting the canopy to provide more sunlight to the understory.

Renew Salvias by cutting old growth to the ground when the plants begin to show early spring growth. Another shrub that responds well to this treatment is the Tree Daisy (Montanoa grandiflora), from Mexico, which can grow up to ten feet high in one season. This annual treatment might seem drastic but the plants otherwise will become scraggly.

A good book on pruning is The American Horticultural Society’s huge “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” (Revised edition, 2004), which briefly describes thirteen pruning categories and indicates which to use for each of 15,000 plants.

More

A thorough presentation on conserving water in the garden: “Guidelines for Managing Drought in the Urban Landscape,” was developed by Sonoma County Master Gardeners Susan Foley, Phyllis Turrill and Jerilynn Jenderseck, with input from Mimi Enright, Sonoma County Master Gardener Program Coordinator and Paul Vossen, UCCE Sonoma/ Marin Farm Advisor. (February 2014)

The following paragraphs, also from the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, provide brief recommendations for water conservation in the garden.

1. Compost, compost, compost! Add organic matter to the soil. If soil is sandy, the addition of organic matter allows the soil to hold more water. Organic matter also helps open up soil allowing roots to go deeper and find more water at lower depths if there is any. Higher soil nutrition helps plants produce better yields with the same amount of water. Avoid adding excessive amounts of nitrogen as this encourages lush leafy growth that requires more water to sustain.

2. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulch keeps soil cool, conserves moisture and reduces weeds. Use three to four inches on top of the soil. The larger the material size, the deeper layer you need to provide. Choose from straw, fallen leaves, hulls, shredded bark, grass clippings and newspaper. It is not advisable to use plastic sheeting as mulch because it deprives the soil of much-needed oxygen. Keep mulch two inches away from the base of the plant to avoid the possibility of rot. When hand watering, pull back mulch so that water goes directly into the soil.

3. Use a drip system. Learn about individual plant moisture needs and group plants that have the same need together on the same valve. If using in-line emitters in one-fourth inch tubing that use one-half gallon per hour per emitter and there is a length of ten feet with emitters spaced every foot, five gallons of water an hour is used on that section of tubing. Add up all drip lines to determine total water used. Install a timer. Install shut-off valves at the beginning of drip lines in order to turn them off when an area is fallow. Irrigate only as long as it takes to moisten the active root zone. Water, preferably, in the morning or in the cool hours of the evening so that soil stays evenly moist. Don’t forget the drip system once it is set up. Monitor and adjust it, as needed.

4. Be selective. Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables the family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa and amaranth.

Do not grow crops that need consistent moisture. Examples include most brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower and radishes), lettuce and other greens, beets, carrots and other root crops, celeriac, celery, leeks and onions. Avoid these unless a particular variety has been bred to need less water. Generally, cool season crops are not drought resistant and growing them during the heat of the summer requires lots of extra water to keep them cool.

Consider the following observations on which crops need the most water and when:

  • Some beans and sweet corn need considerable water to produce a good crop. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit.
  • Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development. Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.
  • Peas need water most during pod filling.
  • Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.
  • Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. (Note that after tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water).

After deciding what to grow, choose varieties that tolerate dry conditions. Look for the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in seed catalogs or on plant labels (note that “heat-tolerant” refers to above ground air temperature and is not the same as drought-resistant or drought-tolerant). Even these varieties require water. Some water is needed to start seeds or establish a seedling, and to periodically irrigate the plant through the growing season. Selecting varieties that are described as “widely-adapted” in addition to drought-resistant and drought-tolerant also may be helpful.

5. Consider days to maturity. A crop needing fewer days to mature requires fewer irrigations before harvest (e.g., 62-day ‘Stupice’ vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

6. Increase plant spacing. Spaced plants are not competing as much for water in the soil. Very deep, open soil or French intensive double dug beds allow vegetables to be planted closer together because the roots have more room to grow deeper and find water if it is present. Try increasing the spacing recommended in the SCMG “Vegetable Planting Summary,”iv by 50 percent or even doubling the spacing if you have room.

7. Eliminate weeds. Weeds compete for water. Be aggressive in removing them from growing areas.

8. Use light-weight row covers. Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew drops onto soil and keeps it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage, look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

9. Use shade. Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using shade cloth.

10. Use windbreaks. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

11. Determine when it is time to water again. Use a soil moisture meter. Or squeeze the soil in your hand: if it sticks together, it is still moist; if it is crumbly and falls apart, it is time to water.

The Future of Hybridizing

The future of hybridizing has already begun; we soon will see the transformation of Nature’s ancient methods, and the rapid introduction of amazing new cultivars.

The basic method for creating new varieties of ornamental and edible plants has been practiced by bees and other pollinators for a very, very long time. This approach, called crossbreeding, involves sexual propagation: fertilizing one plant with the pollen of another plant produces seeds that carry the traits of the two plants. When the seeds germinate, the next generation of plants shows combinations of the traits of their two parents.

Plant hybridization has advanced greatly since 1900, when modern genetics began on the basis of Gregor Mendel’s work, but still follows the natural process. Rather than combining plants randomly, like bees, human hybridizers try to combine the traits of two plants to produce hybrid plants that are better than either parent. With ornamental plants, for example, a hybrid’s blossoms might be larger, more attractively colored, more numerous, etc.

This process requires time for seeds to germinate, develop into new plants and reproduce to produce a marketable number of hybrids. Often the majority—or all— of the seedlings do not equal the hybridizer’s vision, and are discarded, so that the process begins again.

Genetic researchers recently have developed ways to hybridize plants faster and with greater control than has been possible with the bees’ method. The new approach uses “genetic marking,” a technique to identify the gene or gene combination that results in a desirable trait in the plant.

The modern hybridizer then crossbreeds plants with desirable traits, grows the resulting seeds, and analyzes the genes in the hybrid to determine if it exhibits the desired trait(s).

A second, related development is the seed chipper, a device that determines if seeds will produce plants with desired traits. This process of “breeding without breeding” greatly speeds conventional hybridization.

Monsanto Company is pioneering the new methods for accelerating and controlling hybridization. These new methods do not involve transferring the genes from one species into another species so they differ from Monsanto’s highly controversial work in genetic engineering.

The new methods have been applied to vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, broccoli and onions. Some “super produce” has already appeared in selected markets.

Given the progress of technology, we will see “super ornamentals” in the near future. Today, we can only speculate about how they will look and how they will grow.

New methods, new plants, and new questions!

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Basic “how-to” descriptions of the traditional methods for hybridizing plants are readily available. Search the Internet for “hybridizing plants” or a similar phrase. The methods are really the same for all kinds of plants, but find information for specific plants by searching for “hybridizing roses,” inserting the plant name of interest.

For example, the article, “Try Your Hand at Hybridizing Irises,” appeared in Fine Gardening magazine, and was published originally in William Shear’s book The Gardener’s Iris Book (Taunton Press, 2002).

For more information on the new technology for hybridizing, see Ben Paynter’s article, “Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie,” in Wired Magazine, or “Monsanto’s Technology Platform in Wheat,” on the website of Monsanto Company. More detailed information on this technology is available on the Internet. Search Wikipedia or the Internet generally for “marker-assisted selection” or “molecular breeding.”