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, www.rareplants.cnps.org/ 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

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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 arboretum.ucsc.edu/get-involved/.

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

For information on how you could help save a rare species: visit arboretum.ucsc.edu/education/plant-sponsorship/.

Are Your Plants Dying?

Of course they are!

All living plants age and eventually die. The only exceptions are plants that are man-made from plastic or other materials.

The aging process, called senescence, begins after the plant achieves reproductive maturity and ends when the plants dies.

Senescence is an inevitable component of plant cultivation, so gardeners should recognize and understand the process, and appreciate its benefits.

There are several kinds of senescence.

Whole Plant Senescence occurs when the entire plant dies after seed production. This occurs with annual and biennial plants, and also with monocarpic plants, e.g., the Century Plant (Agave Americana), which can grow for several years before producing seeds. The benefits of this kind of senescence include genetic diversity (each seed cycle combines genes from different plants) and increased survivability (the plant uses it resources for producing seeds, rather overwintering).

Sequential Senescence is typical of perennial plants, in which the leaves age and die, but the main shoots continue to produce new buds and leaves. This is characteristic of woody perennials, i.e., shrubs and trees, which build their roots and aboveground structure year after year, and thus increase their abilities to produce seeds and compete with other plants. A good example is the apple tree, and many other fruit-bearing trees. The tradeoff is less genetic diversity for the tree itself, although achieve genetic diversity through its fruits. Still, the tree is more vulnerable to rapid environmental changes and attacks of insects or diseases.

Shoot Senescence occurs with certain plants that die to the ground after flowering and fruiting, but retain their belowground stems and roots, which produce new shoots in the following season. Examples of such plants include the banana and the gladiola, as well as virtually all other bulbous plants.

Synchronous Senescence is controlled by environmental factors. In this process, temperate deciduous trees drop their leaves in response to seasonal changes in the temperature, typically as in late autumn. At this period, the leaves’ green chlorophyll decomposes, revealing the leaves’ carotenes, which may be yellow, orange or orange-red. In California, we look for fall color in elms, many Japanese maples, Chinese Pistach, Liquidamber, Bradford pear, flowing dogwood and others. The living fossil Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba) is noteworthy because in the fall its leaves change from green to saffron yellow, and then all fall not quite simultaneously, but within a short period.

Fall Leaf Senescence

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Woody plants also will self-prune during the growing season: leafy shoots that are not growing well die off, and the plant re-directs its nutrients to other shoots. I see this impressive self-regulatory function mostly with interior shoots that may lack sufficient exposure to sunlight. Similar, but less visible self-pruning also occurs with roots.

Gardeners need to be alert to dieback that can occur in addition to the natural processes of senescence. Such diebacks could result from controllable environmental impacts, from temperature, wind or sun exposure, insects, diseases, or herbivores; water shortages; or nutritional deficiencies. The first step in correcting a problem is analyzing its cause.

Garden Plants on the Move (Moving Trees & Shrubs)

Autumn in the garden is a good time to prepare for relocating shrubs or trees that would look or grow better in a different location.

If the thought of moving a shrub or tree troubles you, recognize that even good plants need not be permanent. Here are some reasons for moving a healthy shrub or tree.

  • The tree or shrub has grown so large it’s crowding a walkway or other plants.
  • Other nearby plants have grown so large that they are shading a plant that needs sun.
  • Other nearby plants are now gone, exposing a plant that needs shade.
  • The tree or shrub is needed elsewhere in the landscape.
  • The gardener wishes to install a new feature, and the tree or shrub is in the way.
  • The gardener has wishes to establish a thematic plant bed where an off-theme tree or shrub is growing.

When preparing to relocate a plant, first decide on where it will go. Examine the new location to ensure that it is the right place for this particular plant. Confirm that the soil is suitable, the drainage is good, and the exposure it right for the plant. Finally, make certain that the new spot could accommodate the plant when it is fully grown. Then, dig a hole twice the width of the intended root ball.

Ideally, prune the roots to protect against transplant shock. This involves digging a trench around the plant, outside the intended root ball, refilling the trench and watering to settle the soil. Root-prune in March for plants to be moved in October, and in October for plants to be moved in March.

Then, plan how to move the plant, taking its size into consideration.

Small Shrubs and Trees

For a shrub less than three feet tall, or a tree with a trunk is less than one inch wide, you could move it bareroot, i.e., without digging up a root ball. To move such a smaller plant bareroot, dig a trench around it, cutting the longer roots, wash the soil off the lateral roots, and use a flat shovel to remove the soil under the plant. Keep the roots moist until you are ready to transplant.

Not-so-small Shrubs and Trees

If you are preparing to move a plant that is between three and five feet high, decide how large a root ball to provide. For industry standards for transplanting different plants of various sizes, visit the website, americanhort.org and search for “root ball.” For example, moving a five-foot tree or shrub requires an eighteen-inch wide root ball. A root ball of that size could weigh 250 pounds, so plan for the appropriate equipment and helpers.

Larger Shrubs and Trees

Most gardeners will hire a tree service to move a tree or shrub that is larger than five feet high. If you prefer to do such work yourself, I will say “best wishes,” and predict that you will have professionals do your next transplant.

Really Large Trees

Even very large trees—up to forty-five feet high—can be moved successfully, if not cheaply. The widely available tree spade uses an array of large shovels to dig a conical divot to pluck a plant from the ground, and deposit it in a matching hole. For video clips of tree spades in various sizes, browse to YouTube.com and search for “tree spade.” To see an interesting DIY device, search YouTube for “Tree Toad 24 inch Tree Transplanter.”

Tree Spade

A mechanized tree spade makes transplanting large bushes and small or medium trees a much easier proposition. Photo: Dutchman Industries

 

A newer technology for moving larger plants is the “air tool,” which uses compressed air to blow soil away from a tree’s roots. This bareroot method avoids pruning or breaking the roots, so the plant experiences little trauma and quickly resumes its usual growth cycle. To see a brief video demo of the air tool, visit growingwisdom.com, click on “Trees & Shrubs” and scroll to the link, “How to Move Large Trees Using an Air Tool.”

After moving a tree or shrub, transplanting herbaceous perennials is easy!

Gardening in July

During this hot and dry month, the avid gardener should pursue seasonal tasks to keep the garden looking good and prepare for the change of seasons.

Irrigation should be a high priority to sustain plants that must have a ration of water during the drought. Pass by Mediterranean climate plants, which are accustomed to dry summers. A little moisture will perk up even these rugged individuals and extend their best days, but a better use of scarce water resources would target the garden’s thirstier specimens.

Roses, for example, could produce another bloom cycle during July if treated to a balanced fertilizer and watered deeply. Other candidates for regular watering are plants in containers, which can dry out fast.  First confirm that your water usage is within current restrictions.

If your garden consists mostly of Mediterranean climate and succulent plants, this year’s drought should not cause alarm. On the other hand, if you have a thirsty lawn, consider replacing it with plants of the summer-dry persuasion. The same strategy would be appropriate for plants from tropical, riparian or boggy areas.

Blossoms to enjoy in July include gladiolus, agapanthus and fuchsia, and fragrant Oriental hybrid lilies, e.g., pure white ‘Casablanca’.

Casablanca Lily

I am also enjoying blossoms of Chitalpa tashkentensis ‘Pink Dawn’ trees, which are crosses of catalpa and desert willow. They put on a show reliably around Independence Day, but opened a little earlier this year.

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The Corsican hellebores (H. argutifolius) have finished their winter-to-spring display, and leaned down their bloom stalks to drop seeds all around. The seasonal task is to cut stalks to their bases to make room for the new growth, which has already started.

The tall bearded irises also have finished blooming for this year. They will look best after the flower stalks are cut down, the leaves fade, and the rhizomes enter dormancy. Every four years, during the period from mid-July to mid-September, dig and divide the rhizomes to promote blooming for net spring.

In July and August, plant autumn-blooming blubs, e.g., autumn crocus (C. speciosus and C. sativus), meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale), and spider lilies: Lycoris squamigera with lilac or rose pink blooms and L. radiata with orange-red blooms.

Control cool-season annual weeds, currently going to seed: bindweed, chickweed, crab grass, knotweed, lambs-quarters, mallow, pigweed, purple deadnettle, groundsel, nettle, purslane, speedwell and spurge, as well as field grasses. Dispose of seeds in the green waste not in the compost bin! The invasive cheery yellow Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) has already faded, leaving clusters of bulbs to sprout next spring.

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

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.

 

Multiply by Dividing

September calls us to divide our herbaceous perennial plants.

We divide these plants for one or two or three reasons:

First, the plant has become too large for its space, crowding other plants or even spilling into a walkway. When encountering such situations, remember to install new plants with their mature size in mind.

Second, the plant needs room to grow, produce blossoms and stay healthy. Many perennials need to be divided every three or four years, or will reduce blooming or become misshapen. Ideally, divide your plants when they are still at their best.

Finally, you want more of the same plant, either to place elsewhere in your garden or to give to friends. Dividing perennials yields new plants quickly and with little effort, and at lower cost than any other method except planting seeds.

Schedule a division project for cool weather, and water the plant in advance to make digging easier. Plan to replant the divisions soon, or prepare to store them in shade and kept moist.

Dig a trench around the plant, at the edge of the branches (the drip line). This will sever the longer roots cleanly, and retain the plant’s primary roots.

After trenching, dig under the plant from several angles, and lever the plant out of the ground. When dividing a large plant, slice from above to cut the root ball into two or four sections for easier handling. Re-fill the hole with compost.

Once the plant is out of the ground, decide whether to plant large or small divisions. Large divisions, e.g., halves or quarters, when replanted, will yield a full specimen in a single season. Many plants can be divided into many small plants that will grow quickly, but take longer to reach mature size.

In making this decision, remove the soil from the roots by gently shaking or washing, and examine their structure.

Perennial root types include offsets, surface roots, taproots, underground running roots, and woody roots. Dividing each of these requires a specific method that may be obvious upon inspection but for more about these methods visit ongardening.com.

Select healthy divisions for replanting or gifting. With perennial plants that develop a dead center, discard that section and choose divisions from the outer sections. Also discard any divisions that appear broken, weak or diseased, or that have minimal roots.

Plant the divisions where they will have their preferred exposure to the sun and space to grow to mature size. Dig a hole large enough to spread the plant’s roots, water in and keep moist until the rains begin.

Dividing herbaceous perennial plants can be a productive and satisfying project for the early fall.

Enjoy the season!

More

Fine Gardening magazine has posted Janet Macunovich’s helpful article on dividing perennials, including lists of specific categories of plants that should be divided in particular ways, as well as a few perennials that are best not divided.

The same magazine has posted a series of short video recordings that demonstrate methods for dividing perennials with different root types.

Bulbs for Next Spring

Now that the spring-blooming bulbs have enriched our gardens and faded away, it is time to prepare next spring’s display.

Spring-blooming bulbs should be lifted, divided and replanted every three or four years, so if your existing bulbs could stay in place for another year or two, you can take time off—or attend to other garden priorities that are waiting for attention.

If your garden is still a Spring Bulb Free Zone, or if you wish to bring new or additional bulbs into the picture, now is the time. Let’s review.

The Daffodil (Narcissus) is the most popular spring-blooming bulb. A multitude of great choices is available. The American Daffodil Society advises that there are between 40 and 200 different Daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 25,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids). These are divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system. Visit the ADS website, http://daffodilusa.org/, for full information on the divisions, which are the many delightful forms of the blossom. That website also has good advice on growing this garden favorite.

Visit Wikipedia (search for Narcissus) for fascinating (I think) information on sixteen selected species of Narcissus.

Another very popular spring-blooming bulb is the Tulip, which needs a chill period to grow well. The Monterey Bay area has insufficient cold days for Tulips, so plant pre-chilled bulbs. Most mail-order suppliers offer pre-chilled bulbs, and will ship them at planting time. Order early to be sure to get pre-chilled bulbs of the cultivars you prefer.

There are many beautiful spring-blooming bulbs beyond these favorites, so try other popular choices: Hyacinth, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, Allium, Siberian Squill, Crown Imperial, Snowdrop, Anemone, and Freesia.

Planting spring-blooming bulbs begins with choosing a location that has full exposure to the sun and is well drained. Build a berm or raised bed to ensure good drainage. If your soil is heavy with clay content, dig in a generous, three or four inch deep layer of organic compost. Bulbs that will remain in place for the next bloom season also will benefit from a top dressing of a good compost material.

Plant the bulbs deeply: three times the height of the bulb. This works out to four-to-six inches to the bottom of the hole for a typical daffodil. Water them in and place mulch on the surface to retain moisture and discourage weeds.

Garden centers are beginning stock spring-blooming bulbs now. As always, the selection is broader when ordering from a catalog or on the Internet.

In next week’s column, we’ll consider opportunities for creative landscaping with spring bulbs.

More – Mail order sources for bulbs

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs – Spring/Fall 2013 Catalog

John Scheepers, Inc. – Beauty from Bulbs

Van Engelen, Inc. – Wholesale Price List

White Flower Farm – Fall 2013 Garden Book

Touring Local Greenhouses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

Enjoy the tour!

Quick and Easy Gardening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The remaining pages provide useful information and a good index.

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

Enjoy your garden!