Gardening Science

The Monterey Bay area has an exceptional environment for agriculture, commercial horticulture and residential gardening. The combination of moderate climate, fertile soil and —usually—adequate moisture supports successful growing and attracts expert horticulturists and botanical researchers.

Last week, the 34th annual Eco-Farm Conference drew some 1,200 farmers, scientists and policy makers to Pacific Grove’s Asilomar Conference Grounds to learn from each other and advance the organic food movement another step into the future. We can all appreciate the work of these visionaries to protect our shared environment and produce healthful foods for our dinner tables.

One of the Eco-farm speakers, Michael Phillips, spoke of the holistic cultivation of tree fruits and berries, with clear vision and practical experience. Later, at Cabrillo College, he conducted a 3.5-hour workshop on this subject, sponsored by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. I will discuss his fascinating ideas in a future column.

Cabrillo College presents its own Horticulture Lecture Series in the fall. I will pass along information on the next series when it is announced.

Another local resource for gardeners is the UCSC Arboretum’s Ray Collett Rare & Extraordinary Plants Lecture Series. (Ray Collett was the Arboretum’s founding director.) The most recent talk was given by Tim Miller, PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, titled “A Brief History of Clarkia: What a Little Annual Flower Can Tell Us About Big Evolutionary Patterns.” Clarkia is a California native plant named for William Clark, who—with Meriwether Lewis—explored the western United States from 1804 to 1806.

One more science-oriented resource is the UCSC Arboretum’s California Naturalist Program. This program, now in its third year, introduces participants to the wonders of California’s unique ecology and engages them in the stewardship of our natural communities. This is an intensive program that combines a science curriculum, guest lecturers, field trips and project-based learning to immerse participants in the natural world of the central coast. Participants are certified as California Naturalists. This year’s program starts on Thursday, April 3rd. The last meeting is Saturday, June 7th. Lectures will be from 7:00- 9:30 pm every Thursday with most field trips on Saturday or Sunday.

Gardening is applied science, as well as aesthetic experience and healthful exercise.
A complete gardening experience includes occasional digs into the sciences.

More

The Ray Collett Rare & Extraordinary Pllants Lecture Series

Ray Collett Extraordinary Plants Feb-Apr 2014

Future talks (Arboretum Events Calendar)

California Naturalists

Dry-Weather Gardening

Local weather patterns have been quite unusual, recently.

The Monterey Bay area had a short spell of cold, relative to our familiar moderate temperatures, followed by very dry and warm days. Now, much of central California is officially in “extreme drought,” and likely to remain in that condition for the next several weeks.

The National Weather Service has blamed the recent weather on “a strong ridge of high pressure in control along the west coast,” and on January 21st reported “all signs point to the ridge off the coast rebuilding for next week…this will lead to more above normal temperatures (more records will likely be set) with all of the rain staying to the north. Long range is trending more pessimistic for rain chances out to February 7th…Unless there is a big shift in the pattern, this will go down as the driest January on record for almost all locations.”

The University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources specialists have recommended strategies for keeping edible and ornamental plants alive during this drought.

First, watch plants for signs of water-stress. The symptoms include

  • wilting or drooping leaves,
  • curled or yellowed leaves that fold or drop,
  • foliage that changes form green to grayish,
  • new leaves that are smaller than normal,
  • lawns that retain a footprint longer than usual.

Ornamental trees are generally in a dormant stage, at this time of the year, and will not require watering until they resume growth. One or two deep irrigations in the spring and summer will keep them healthy and resistant to diseases and insects.

Fruit and nut trees will require adequate moisture from bloom until harvest to produce a good crop. If that level of irrigation is not available, a few early-season irrigations will keep the trees alive, at least, although they might not produce much fruit.

Shrubs will need a thorough watering in the spring, and one or two more summer irrigations to be kept alive.

Most vegetables will need regular irrigation during flowering and fruit production. Squash, zucchini and other vines can be kept alive with irrigation once or twice weekly through the season.

Ground covers should be watered about monthly from April through September, with amounts related to local heat and dryness.

Lawns should be provided at least half the usual amount of water. Without adequate moisture lawns will go dormant eventually, but often can be revised with subsequent watering. Warm-season lawns (e.g., Bermudagrass, buffalo grass) are more drought-tolerant than cool-season lawns (e.g., tall fescue, ryegrass).

For now we can only wish for the overdue rain and water our plants at least minimally.

More

For the most up-to-date, authoritative information on local weather, click here to visit the website of the Western Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service. Click on “San Francisco Bay Area” for information that is closest to the Monterey Bay Area.

 

Selecting Roses

Local garden centers offer bare root roses for sale at this time of the year. Roses sold as “bare root,” i.e., without soil, are dormant, so they have less weight for shipping, take less space for storage, and need minimal care and feeding. As a result, they are less expensive than roses in nursery containers.

Larger garden centers will stock scores of roses, so list your buying goals. For example, you might want a yellow rose that is highly resistant to diseases. Those factors, color and disease resistance, would help to focus on a short list. Then you could compare the details on the labels of the two roses to learn how they differ.

One difference could be the class of the rose, i.e., Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, Floribunda, Climber, etc. Roses vary greatly in size across classes, and even within classes, so your new rose should be the right size for its intended location. Definitions of the standard classes are available from Weeks Roses. Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Plants” and then on “Roses by Class.”

An important factor not on the label is the plant’s suitability for growing conditions at the specific spot you have selected in your garden for this rose. Roses typically require ample nutrients, very good drainage and a minimum of six hours of sunlight every day. In addition, some roses will grow better in the particular climate of the Monterey Bay area.

Local garden centers should stock only plants that will grow well in the area around their location, so one approach is simply to trust the center’s buyer.

If you happen to be buying roses while away from your home ground, or looking for a rose you remember enjoying in a different climate, confirm that it is suitable for your garden.

The Monterey Bay Rose Society has recommended roses for local gardens: browse to www.montereybayrosesociety.org and click on “Easy Roses.”

Weeks Roses has recommended roses for the Pacific Northwest Climate, which is north of the Monterey Bay area, but more appropriate than the other climates listed. (The climate of Portland, Oregon, the “City of Roses,” is like that of the Monterey Bay area, but with more rain.) Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Rose Info” and then on “Climate Info.”

If you intend to buy several roses, you might want the American Rose Society’s “2014 Handbook for Selecting Roses.” Browse to www.ars.org, click on “Shop” then on “Books & Merchandise.”

After you have selected one or more roses for your garden, look to the American Rose Society for reliable advice on planting and caring for roses. Brose to www.ars.org., click on “Resources” and then on “Articles on Roses.”

Enjoy your roses!

Uprooting Plants

Recently, as I was digging up four boxwood shrubs, and cutting down a twelve-foot elderberry, I recalled that some gardeners dislike toppling mature plants or discarding healthy ones.

This is not about relocating plants. Certainly, there are situations in which a plant has outgrown its spot, or has failed to thrive because of a lack of sun or moisture or nutrition, or simply doesn’t look right where it is, aesthetically.

In such situations, assuming the plant is not too big to move, go ahead and transplant to a better location within your garden, or gift it to a friend. You and the plant and perhaps your friend will be happier.

We might ask, “When is it a good idea to decommission a plant?”

One justification would be that the plant is both unwanted (for any of several reasons) and too big to move without significant effort or expense.

Another justification arises when an unwanted plant is not too big to move, but no alternative location is available in your garden or in the garden of any friend.

The option that remains is to lift the plant with care and bring it to a garden exchange. These events are constructive and popular when someone steps up to the task of organization.

One should link to the local gardening network to learn when and where a garden exchange will happen. Join a club!

An important mindset when removing a plant is to avoid any sense of loss, and instead to recognize the opportunity to bring in a new and more interesting plant. Therefore, one should have (1) a replacement plant already in mind, (2) the confidence and knowledge to grow the replacement plant, and (3) the patience to let the plant to reach full maturity.

The four boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) I dug up had been intended to frame a rose bed, but these common plants had grown large enough to block the view of the roses. I will replace them with miniature roses, to be selected.

The elderberry was an unknown species, a gift that I planted before I realized how big it would get, and before I decided to devote that section of the garden to California native plants. A Pacific Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) might have stayed, but this shrub’s berries were not red, but black.

I will replace this shrub with a Silverleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylus silvicola), a beautiful very gray, and very endangered shrub that is endemic to the nearby Zayante Sandhills. It is also called the Santa Cruz Manzanita. I found a specimen at the Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay.  It’s in a one-gallon nursery pot, so it will need time to reach its mature height of eight feet.

Uprooting plants can release space for new botanical treasures.

More

Here’s a picture of the Silverleaf Manzanita, from the website of Las Pilitas Nurseries, a treasure trove of information on California native plants, as well as a great source of those plants. There are two locations: Santa Margarita (about 18 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and Escondido.

Arctostaphylos silvicola, Ghostly Manzanita with a beefly. This manzanita is native north of Santa Cruz.

 

Pruning Apple Trees

Recently, I joined about forty home gardeners for a presentation on fruit tree care. The question & answer session was conducted by Oren Martin, manager of the Alan Chadwick Garden at UC Santa Cruz (www.alan-chadwick.org) and Matthew Sutton, owner of Orchard Keepers, in Santa Cruz (www.orchardkeepers.com).

The event was hosted by the Santa Cruz’s Probuild Garden Center, which has an impressive collection of bare-root fruit trees, so some questioners were interested in selecting, planting and first-year care of these trees. Others—including myself—wanted to know about pruning their existing trees.

Martin and Sutton emphasized the goals of pruning: to control tree height, allow sunlight and air to reach the center of the canopy, remove poorly place branches, and renew older branches. They described and demonstrated two basic kinds of pruning cuts.

Thinning cuts remove a branch completely, with no regrowth. These cuts open the tree to more sunlight, and create and maintain fruit buds. Thinning cuts should not be made flush, but should retain the branch’s collar, which is the tree’s defense against the invasion of microorganisms.

Heading cuts stimulate the branch’s growth, shape the tree’s structure, thicken branches, or induce lateral branching. These cuts remove the branch’s terminal bud, which produces a hormone (“auxin”) that inhibits the growth of lateral buds. This phenomenon is called “apical dominance.” Removal of the terminal bud stimulates regrowth at the bud below the cut.

Heading cuts vary with the amount removed from the branch. A heavy cut removes 50% of the previous season’s growth, while a light cut (leader tipping) removes less than 25% of that growth.

This session was helpful, but left much to be learned. UCSC experts will offer three workshops of value for home orchardists.

Fruit Trees 101: Basic Fruit Tree Care will be offered twice. The first will be on January 18, 2014 at the Sierra Azul Nursery and Gardens, in Watsonville. The second will be on January 25th, at the UCSC Farm. Each two-hour workshop will cost $40 for general public. For details, browse to the website of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, or call 831-459-3240

Basic Pome Fruit Pruning, with a Focus on Apples and Pears, will be offered from 10:00 to 12:00 on Saturday, February 1st, at the UCSC Farm. Orin Martin and Matthew Sutton will advise on pruning your fruit trees to maximize health and production. The cost is $40 for general public, $30 for Friends of the Farm & Garden members. To register, visit http://pruningpome.bpt.me/, call 831-459-3240, or email casfs.ucsc.edu.

More

An excellent information source for home orchard gardeners is the University of California’s website, The California Backyard Orchard. The section on Pruning & Training complements this column; several other sections provide expert advice for other aspects of the care of home orchards.

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, ongardening.com, 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.

More

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 GrowOrganic.com 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 www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7412.html.

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.

More

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.

More

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.

More

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.

More

To learn even more about Monarch Butterflies, visit the Monarch Butterfly Website,  and MonarchWatch.org, 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