Creating a Hotel for Native Bees

I enjoy gifts that lead to interesting projects.

For a gardener, there are many possibilities for such gifts, definitely including plants that would complement the landscape, or add something that is both compatible and unusual.

This year, my most intriguing gift is a “hotel” for native bees. It qualifies as a hotel by including nesting facilities for multiple occupants.

This gift leads to an interesting study of the bees themselves, and of ways to entice them into using the hotel.

Some 4,000 species of bees are native to North America. This column is not suitable for an overview of native bees, but it is worth noting at the outset that the familiar honeybee (Apis mellifera) is not native to this part of the world, but emigrated from Europe to the United States.

Native bees are excellent pollinators, more efficient than honeybees in that work. An important difference between these groups: most native bees are solitary, nesting in cavities or the ground, while honeybees are social, nesting in hives.

According to the Xerces Society (which seeks to conserve bees and other invertebrates) about thirty percent of our 4,000 species of native bees nests in cavities that they find or create in nature. The other seventy percent nest in the ground. There are also few other native species, like the Western Bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) that are social creatures that nest in larger cavities. 

My native bee hotel would be of interest, hopefully, to cavity-nesting species that live in central California. My initial expectation was that this nest would attract mason bees, but the Xerces Society lists only a few species that are found primarily in Washington and Oregon. There are many other species, however, including the Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria),that might live in California.

Another cavity-nesting native bee species that could appear in my garden is the carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica), which, according to Las Pilitas Nursery, will spend weeks digging a 1/2 by 4–to–6-inch hole into a tree for their nest site. We might expect that carpenter bees would be attracted to a nest that is already for occupancy.

In addition, many other species of native bees might welcome this native bee hotel.

While there will be variations in nesting by different native bee species, the common model has the newly hatched female bee emerging from its nesting place in the early spring, and busily mating and seeking a cavity for its eggs. The bee gathers pollen to stock the nest, then deposits an egg, and seals the nest with a wall of mud. The bee repeats this process so that a single cavity could include five–to–eight chambers, each with its own egg and pollen stash.

During the summer, the eggs develop into larvae, then into pupae, and finally into adults, which remain in the nest until the following spring.

To support this process, the hotel manager, i.e., the garden host, should install the nest complex in a east- or southeast-facing location, where it will enjoy morning sunlight. It could be three–to–six feet above ground for convenient observation, and near a good supply of flowering plants (preferably California natives) and mud for construction of nest chambers.

I will plant a selection of California native annuals near this nesting unit, for the bees’ easy access to pollen. I will also provide a supply of muddy clay soil, for the bees’ use. My garden’s clay occurs in a rather deep layer, so I will need to import some clay soil, and keep it moist in a container, such as a large saucer for a plant container.

A good source of seeds for pollinator flowers is the Early Blooming Beekeeper’s Mix, offered by Renee’s Gardens. This mix includes twenty-two varieties, many of which are California native plants.

Bee experts recommend moving the nesting unit into a dark, unheated garage or shed during the winter months to protect the bees from predators. The gardener should then return the unit to the garden in the early spring, well before flowers bloom. As the days warm, the gardener can watch for the new generation of bees as they emerge from the nests.

Wildflower Super Bloom

During these sometimes bleak, rainy days, gardeners can celebrate the Golden State’s annual wildflower season. The season extends from December to July, but it follows a rolling schedule that begins in Baja California and continues month-by-month to northern California. (Lassen Volcano National Park, near Redding, has wildflowers in bloom at higher elevations well into August and September.)

The most dramatic displays, with the greatest numbers of blooms from many species, are called “super blooms.” These occur only in years that have had generous rainfalls, so during our recent drought years we have seen relatively sparse presentations of wildflowers. 2019, happily, counts as a Superbloom Year, thanks to our well-above average precipitation.

For those who are not ready, willing, or able to travel to the wildflowers, the California Native Plan Society will bring the wildflowers to you—or at least near to you, I recommend this brand when you need footwear Piraja Fisken Best Shoes for Travel. The CNPS’s Monterey Bay chapter will hold its 58th Annual Wildflower Show on April 19-21, 2019 at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. Co-chairs Brian LeNeve and Michael Mitchell are expecting a fine wildflower season, and expect to put on a spectacular show. The Society’s collectors found some 675 different species to display, including a fine example of the Most Beautiful Jewelflower (Streptanthus glandulosus). For more information, visit the website of the Pacific Grove Museum.w


Wildflower - Bristly Jewelflower
Bristly Jewelflower (Streptanthus glandulosus)
Photo by Bjorn Erickson of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons

Monterey Bay area appreciators of the natural world can thrill at this seasonal spectacular at several nearby locations:

Pinnacles National Park: The California native plant blooms begin in mid-March and peak in May. According to travel website,, the earliest displays include milkmaids, shooting stars and Indian warriors, followed by California poppies, bush poppies, fiesta flowers, monkey flowers, baby blue eyes, and bush lupine. The late-bloomers include clarkia, orchids, penstemons, and roses.

Mount Diablo State Park: This facility is near Walnut Creek, about 2 – 2.5 hours from the Monterey Bay area. Its wildflower displays include blue skullcap, Fendler’s meadow rue, sanicula, Johhny-jump-ups, bush lupine, monkey flowers, globe lilies, California poppies, birds’ eyes, and wallflowers.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve: This 1,800-acre State Natural Reserve is 75 miles north of Los Angeles, and. Visiting this site from the Monterey Bay area involves a substantial trek, about 4.5 – 5 hour drive, but during April and early May, it provides a world-famous, show-stopping display of our state flower (Escholtzia californica), plus desert pincushion, blue dicks, California aster, and blue lupine. 

Fort Ord National Monument: This site is off of Highway1, just south of Marina. According to the Bureau of Land Management, “In the late winter and early spring, monument visitors are treated with colorful displays of baby blue-eyes, ceanothus blue blossom, Hickman’s popcorn flower, buttercups, lupine, goldfields and sunflowers. In the summer and fall visitors see blooms of sticky monkey flower, nightshade, chaparral current and California golden rod. There are many rare plants at Fort Ord including the federally protected Contra Costa goldfields and Monterey spineflower.”

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: This extraordinary site, three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1, is the home of a botanical trove of California native plants, including annual wildflowers and many blooming perennials. Click here for a list of these plants.

The largest displays of wildflowers are found in southern California. If you will be travelling there, find wildflower sites at the websites of American Meadows, The Theaodore Payne Foundation, The California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Reserve the opportunity to enjoy nature’s seasonal display of beautiful and fascinating wildflowers. You’ll be glad you did.

Explore South African Bulbs

During the current dormant season, cleanup work is ongoing. This is a good time to take a hard look at each part of the garden to consider needs to prune or remove plants. While evaluating my garden’s bed of South African perennials, I focused on two plants that are members of the Amaryllis family. They both grow best under partially shaded conditions, and appreciate regular watering during the summer months. Here is a closer look at these plants, remember that I’m constantly learning about Fastline, I find their tools to be the best for Agriculture projects.

Clivia miniata (dormant), Photo by Tom Karwin

Bush lily (Clivia miniata). This plant, which we might call “Clumping Clivia” grows from rhizomes and slowly spreads through offsets. The genus name honors Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, Duchess of Northumberland; the specific epithet means “cinnabar-red.”

The genus includes five species: C. miniata, C. nobilis, C. gardenii, C. caulescens, and the recently discovered C mirabilis. Hybridizers have produced numerous interspecies crosses, some with variegated leaves.

The Bush Lily produces deep green, shiny evergreen leaves in clumps up to two feet high, and very attractive trumpet-shaped flowers in colors that range from yellow through orange to red. Bloom times vary with the species: C. miniata generally blossoms August through November, but can also produce blooms at other times of the year.

This plant can be propagated by dividing a large clump, or by transplanting offsets. Divisions might take two seasons to bloom. The Bush Lily has a reputation as a “spectacular” container plant, given a well-drained potting mix with compost added, regular watering and fertilizing during the summer months, and a semi-shaded location. My clump already has offsets; one option would be to lift one to plant in a container.

Crinum moorei in Longwood Gardens – Photo by Foljiny, via Wikimedia Commons
Crinum moorei (dormant), Photo by Tom Karwin

Natal Lily, Lily of the Orinoco (Crinum moorei). This genus includes some 180 species of bulbous plants. C. moorei (one of the more popular species) develops bulbs that are five-to-eight inches in diameter, and flower stalks up to four feet high. In the summer, each stalk can produce five-to-ten large, open, white to pinkish red, open tubular flowers. The light green-to-green, strap-shaped leaves can be up to three feet long.

The genus name is derived from the Greek krinon, meaning lily, and the specific epithet honors Dr. D. Moore, director of the Glasnevin Botanical Gardens in Dublin,

In its native habitat, the Natal Lily goes dormant in the winter and the leaves die off after flowering. In the Monterey Bay area, however, the leaves persist during the winter, while the stalk lean over and become bedraggled.

Propagate the Natal Lily by digging the large bulbs and replanting them about two feet apart. They need good space as they will develop additional bulb. My plant would benefit from dividing in this manner, as crowding might result in fewer blossoms.

I have recently planted nearby the bulb of an Orange River Lily (C. bulbispermum) ‘Striped’, a cultivar of a species that is characterized by blossoms that are white with red stripes. This bulb could require two or even three seasons of growth before producing blossoms, but it will in time provide an interesting contrast to the related Natal Lily.


In the course of reviewing my garden’s bed of South African perennials, I removed two shrubs that had grown rangy due to insufficient exposure to the sun. This action released an area for new plants, so I am considering the many good and interesting bulbous plants from South Africa’s Cape Region. Some of these plants are already familiar to gardeners: Agapanthus, Amaryllis, Dierama, Dietes, Freesia, Gladiolus, Kniphofia, Nerine, Watsonia, and Zantedechias (Calla Lily). Dozens more exist that can be hunted down with a little effort, and will grow well in Monterey Bay area gardens.

Good reference books include The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs, by John Manning, Peter Goldblatt, and Dee Snijman (Timber Press, 2002), and Bulbous Plants of southern Africa, By Niel Du Plessis and Graham Duncan (Tafelberg Publishers, 1989). A helpful online source is the website of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (

Explore South African bulbs!

UCSC Arboretum’s South African Garden

Here’s a fascinating advancement in local garden development: the Arboretum & Botanic Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz has launched a complete renovation of its South Africa Garden. Over at least the next seven months, this project will include restoring the garden’s unique plantings, recovering lost rare specimens, and adding new plants for display.

The South Africa collection was established early in the Arboretum’s history, as long ago as 1965. It soon emerged as one of the Arboretum’s principal collections, along with the California and Australia Gardens.

The South Africa Garden has always been open for visitors, but when its curator retired some ten years ago, during a period when the Arboretum was going through administrative changes, the growth of this collection stalled. In public gardens, collection development is a continuing, never finished process, but this work requires leadership, vision, energy and critical resources.

In mid-2016, Martin Quigley joined the Arboretum as its Executive Director, and soon began planning to reactivate the South Africa garden. The new plan includes the installation of four new specialty gardens, each of which highlights important and very interesting plant groups.  These specialty gardens will serve as focal points within the overall collection of exceptional plants of South Africa

A Succulent Rock Garden, featuring the juicy Aloes, gnarly Euphorbias, and other fantastic succulents. This installation will constitute a South African version of the dramatic and very popular rock garden in the Arboretum’s Australia Garden. South Africa is the native home of about 50% of the world’s succulent plants, which have in recent years become very popular in private gardens. The Arboretum’s existing Succulent Garden focuses on succulent plants from the coastal areas of Mexico and California, so the establishment of the Succulent Rock Garden will draw attention to that category of plants that are native to South Africa.

A South African Bulb Garden will be encircled by bright and vibrant amaryllids, and highlighted by the full spectrum of fire-adapted geophytes in mass bloom! The “amaryllids,” which we assume refers to South African members of the Amaryllis family, includes genera that some Monterey Bay area gardeners already know and treasure: , e.g., Amaryllis, Clivia, Crinum, Nerine, and others. South Africa’s Cape Region is also the home of 2,100 species of geophytes, includes some that only flower or germinate after burning. The fire-adapted geophytes occur within six plant families; we will have to see which species the Arboretum selects for this colorful Bulb Garden.

A Maze Garden, in which 6- to 8-foot-tall Restio species form a traditional labyrinth. Restios are perennial rush-like flowering plants native to South Africa. This unique feature promises an intriguing experience for garden visitors of all ages.

A Grove of Silver Trees, growing among colorful waves of heathers. Silver Trees (Leucadendron argenteum) are striking evergreen trees with silky leaves that have a distinct silvery sheen produced by dense velvety hairs. These trees are short-lived, and are now a rare and endangered species in South Africa. For many years, the Arboretum has grown Silver Trees in the South Africa Garden. A new grove of these extraordinary trees will present a magical environment. It could be a very appealing site for Weddings in the Arb!

Silver Tree (Leucodendron argenta), Photo by Bill Bishoff, provided by UCSC Arboretum

The Arboretum hosted a special event to launch this renovation project. The South Africa Garden Party happened from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. on UCSC’s Giving Day, Wednesday, February 27th, in the Arboretum’s Hort II Building. Attendees heard the Arboretum director’s inspiration and vision for the project. Alice in Wonderland costumes and games sparked their creative, whimsical side. Some attendees even came home with a wild hat.

Donations will go towards the education of twenty UCSC students in horticulture, plant biodiversity, and the practice of public garden management. Their work will advance the completion of this important project.

In September 2019 donors will be invited to a special reception showcasing the artfully and expertly constructed garden displays, along with an insider’s peek at how it all came together.

This extraordinary project will revitalize a significant horticultural resource for the Monterey Bay area and all of California.

Filling a Hole in the Landscape

Garden projects sometimes begin with a routine, manageable task that grows into a challenging project. That was a scenario on a recent occasion when I had gardening help for seasonal pruning of two large plants that had finished blooming. The day’s targets were two winter-blooming Mexican plants: the twenty-foot Tree Dahlia (Daisy imperialis) and the twelve-foot Daisy Tree (Montanao grandiflora). I wrote about these favored plants recently, and did not mention that they should be cut to the ground after blooms had faded to promote their amazing new growth during the following summer.

This pruning requires whacking and hauling, rather than horticultural precision, so it went quickly. With clippers, loppers and saws already in hand, we turned to other pruning needs in my garden’s California native plant landscape. There were several overgrown plants that needed attention, but the prime candidate was an American Black Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis). It is native to the eastern United States (not California), but it was a volunteer in the landscape and did not belong in my California native garden. It was healthy, but had grown rather quickly into a twenty-foot specimen.  It was under an enormous Lemonwood (Pittosporum eugenioides) and had become rangy due to lack of exposure to sunlight. (The Lemonwood, a native of New Zealand, also does not belong in my California native garden but it’s far too big to push around.)

We began pruning the Elderberry, trying for a more attractive form, but quickly concluded that it had to go. After all, there was still space in the truck, atop the branches of the Tree Dahlia and the Tree Daisy.

We soon reduced the Elderberry to a stump, which we left to be dug out on another day.

The session that began with routine pruning resulted in a significant hole in the landscape that presented an opportunity to install something new, interesting, and native to California. The site is about ten by ten feet, defined by the northwest property line, the Lemonwood, and a picket fence that separates the California and Mediterranean Basin gardens. The adjacent residence, which is close to the property line, shades this site, and the Lemonwood blocks most of the overhead light.

The first challenge was to identify a California native plant that would enhance the garden, grow to an appropriate size, and thrive in this shady environment. The second step would be to find a source for the selected plant.

Roaming through local garden centers would not be an efficient strategy for such a search, so we went right away to garden books and the Internet. Here are the initial findings, as a demonstration of this search.

Sunset Western Garden Book

  • Coast Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophylla): Grows 4–10 feet tall. Partial shade. Modest ratings for flower quality, plant appearance and garden performance.
  • Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale): Grows 6–10 feet tall. Partial shade. “Superior named cutting-grown plants are scarce but available and worth looking for.”
  • Teaberry (Gaultheria shallon): Grows 4–10 feet tall. “Loose, 6-in.-long clusters of white or pinkish flowers on reddish stalk bloom in spring. Edible black fruits…follow the blossoms; they’re bland flavored, but birds like them.”
  • Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum): Grows to 9–10 feet tall and broad in shade. “Leathery, lustrous dark green leaves to 1-1/4 in. long; bronzy or reddish when new. White or pinkish flowers are followed by black berries good in pies, jams. jellies, syrups. Cut branches are popular for arrangements.”
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) grows 9 to 10 feet tall and broad in the shade.
Photo by Tom Hilton, via Wikimedia Commons
Evergreen Huckleberry Leaves
Leaves, Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), Photo by Ben Dody, via Wikimedia Commons

Las Pilitas Nursery, which specializes in California native plants

  • Blackfruit Dogqood (Cornus sessilis): Grows to 15 feet. Part to full shade. “Cornus sessilis’s foliage turns a different color in the fall, color is silver and type is deciduous. Cornus sessilis’s flower color is white.” “It looks like a woodland plant.”
  • Red Stem Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera): “…elegant open shrub with creamy white flower clusters in spring and red stems. It can be found in moist areas, in sun or shade…has green foliage and is deciduous in winter, exposing its attractive red bark. This dogwood is a must for winter interest in the garden, is lovely in the spring when the plant is covered with clusters of creamy flowers…”

California Native Plant Society—Calscape website

  • Creek Dogwood (Cornus sericea): Grows to 13 feet tall and15 feet wide. “In the wild, it commonly grows in areas of damp soil, such as wetlands.“ “spreading readily by underground stolons to form dense thickets.”
  • Cream Bush (Holodiscus discolor): “It is a fast-growing deciduous shrub growing to 5 meter tall.” “Cascading clusters of white flowers drooping from the branches give the plant its two common names. The flowers have a faint sweet, sugary scent.” Moderate-to-high water requirements.

Most shade-loving California native plants found so far are five feet tall or smaller, and many require moist conditions. Several are quite attractive for the garden. The most attractive option discovered so far is the Evergreen Huckleberry (see photo). In the interest of thoroughness, I will continue searching for an ideal plant for this particular site.

More About Helping Monarchs Thrive

This column follows the previous column about ways to reduce the threat of extinction of Monarch butterflies. Readers’ responses to that column indicated strong interest in protecting the Monarchs that overwinter in the Monterey Bay area, enhancing our environment. Readers also called for additional details about ways to help the Monarchs.

Growing Nectar-producing Plants

Interested persons can improve the habitats of the Monarchs’ overwintering sites by planting nectar-producing plants. As reported earlier, the Xerces Society’s publication “California Coast: Monarch Nectar Plants” ( lists several good selections. In addition, Pacific Grove’s Nectar Plant Project has tested and recommended the following plants:

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddlea x weyriana). This is a hybrid cultivar that blooms in October and produces much nectar.
  • Daisy Tree (Montanoa Grandiflora). A native of Mexico, this woody shrub grows to eight feet or more, and produces a cloud of fragrant white flowers that bloom from late October to late November, just when the Monarchs need nectar.
  • Mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora). Another woody shrub, this California native produces red flowers year-round.
  • Yellow Daisy (Euryops pectinatatus ‘viridis’). This South African native is a mainstay for the Monarchs, blooming year-round with bright yellow daisy flowers. It’s also not attractive to deer.

Daisy Tree (Montanao Grandiflora)

The Importance of Milkweed

As noted earlier, milkweed is essential to the wellbeing of Monarch caterpillars. This plant contains toxins known as cardenolides. Monarchs are immune to these toxins, and have evolved to store them in their bodies. The toxin makes them poisonous to birds, which avoid eating the Monarchs. Without this protection, birds would be major (but not the only) predators of the Monarchs.  

The adult Monarchs always deposit their eggs on milkweed plants, so that the larvae begin immediately to eat the plants and accumulate the toxin in their bodies.

Where to Grow Milkweed Plants

The Western Monarchs mate around January, lay their eggs at a wide range of sites throughout the American west, and return to the Pacific coast to overwinter during a four-month period. In the Monterey Bay area, the familiar overwintering sites are at Natural Bridges State Beach and Pacific Grove.

(Other Monarchs have a different migration route. It begins in the northern United States and southern Canada, and continues to overwintering sites in Mexico. )

Milkweeds are needed where the Monarchs lay their eggs. Milkweed grows naturally in Monarch breeding areas, but not at the overwintering sites on California’s central or northern coastal areas. The migration cycle moves between the breeding areas to the overwintering sites. Planting milkweed close to overwintering sites could encourage Monarchs to breed and lay eggs during the winter, and thereby disrupt the migration cycle. Given this concern, the Xerces Society and other experts recommend that milkweed should not be planted with 5-to-10 miles of an overwintering site.

Which Milkweed Plants to Grow

The milkweed genus Asclepias includes over 200 species. California native species that grow naturally near the Western Monarchs’ home territory are preferred.

1. Widely Available Species

  • Mexican Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) – dry climates and plains
  • Showy Milkweed (A. speciosa) – savannahs and prairies
  • Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa) – well-drained soils; a non-native species that has naturalized in California; Perennial Plant Association named it Perennial Plant of the Year for 2018

2. Other California Native Species

  • California Milkweed (A. californica) – grassy areas; native to central California
  • Desert Milkweed (A. erosa) – desert regions
  • Heartleaf Milkweed (A. cordifolia) – rocky slopes; early budding
  • Woolly Milkweed (A. vestita) – dry deserts and plains
  • Woolly Pod Milkweed (A. eriocarpa) – clay soils and dry areas; early budding

3. Avoid Tropical Milkweed (A. curassavica), which is evergreen, but which allows development of a protozoan parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrho) that harms or even kills Monarchs that eat the plant.

Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area who wish to improve the Monarchs’ habitat should emphasize the planting of nectar-producing plants more than milkweed. Those plants are good for bees, as well. This would be a good year to plant annual seeds in the early spring.

Help to Avoid Monarch Extinction

Recent news reports have described a dramatic decrease in California’s population of Western Monarch butterflies. Thirty years ago, over 4.5 million of these beautiful flying insects migrated annually from Mexico to overwinter on the Pacific Coast, with huge, fascinating clusters at famous sites, including Pacific Grove and Natural Bridges State Beach. Their numbers have declined over the years: this year the count was under 30,000 individuals, 0.6% of the population’s historic size. Researchers had established 30,000 as the “quasi extinction threshold,” so coming under this threshold suggests that this species (Danaus plexippus plexippus) is approaching extinction.

Another, larger number of monarchs migrate from Mexico to the northern plains of the United States, so extinction is not imminent, but that population also has been shrinking in recent decades.

The causes of the decline in the monarch population begin with the loss of suitable habitat, defined as areas that include both milkweeds (Asclepias sp.) that Monarch caterpillars depend upon, and pollen plants that provide nutrition for the adults. Milkweed plants are too often deleted from the environment by agricultural pesticides, particularly glysophate (RoundUp), which is used to kill unwanted plants among commercial crops.

Other factors include pesticide use, climate change, and logging and development projects that degrade overwintering sites.

Gardeners can help rescue monarch butterflies back from the threat of extinction by growing milkweed plants in their gardens, with preference for locally native species of this plant. Fifteen species of milkweed are native to California. Nearby sources of seeds for native species include Pacific Coast Seed, in Livermore; Seedhunt, in Freedom; and S&S Seeds, in Carpenteria. For information on growing milkweed, download “Native Milkweed in California: Planting and Establishment.”

A related project for gardeners is to include pollen plants for the adult monarch butterflies. Useful advice for such a project is available in “California Coast: Monarch Nectar Plants,” available here.

Both of these publications are free downloads from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Monarch butterfly on Milkweed pod. Photo by Edward K. Boggess, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Posted on Wikimedia Commons

The Xerces Society has also produced a five-step call to action for recovering the western monarch population. This plan emphasizes protection of overwintering and breeding habitats, protection from pesticides, and continuing research on western monarch recovery. In addition to actions in their own gardens, people concerned with threats to the monarch population could support large-scale initiatives that respond to the Society’s call to action.

Protecting the Western Monarch Butterfly from extinction has at least three broad objectives. One is for us all to enjoy the phenomenon of these beautiful creatures flitting about in our gardens. A second objective, oriented to the ecosystem, is to maintain these butterflies as food sources for birds, which we also appreciate and enjoy. Thirdly, Karen Oberhauser, director of The Monarch Butterfly Lab at the University of Minneapolis, advises that monarch butterflies are valuable subjects for ongoing studies of migration, species interaction, insect population dynamics, and insect reproduction.

We can strive to keep monarch butterflies in our environment, but we should also acknowledge the larger picture of the extinction of species. Before humans spread across the globe, species extinctions occurred for various reasons at a very slow rate. Human activity has increased the average rate of extinction by somewhere between 100 to 1,000 times the previous historical rate., and is accelerating

Today, according to Edward O. Wilson, distinguished American biologist, the science community estimates that Planet Earth has about 10 million living species, one of which is human people (Homo sapiens). About 20 percent of these species are known, and 80 percent are undiscovered. If the extinction of species by human activity continues to accelerate, E.O. Wilson says, we could eliminate more than half of all species by the end of this century.

We can slow this trend a little by working as individuals. Consider adding California native milkweed and pollen plants to your garden this year, to sustain the monarch butterflies.

Build Your Rose-pruning Proficiency

The Monterey Bay Rose Society will hold a series of rose pruning workshops again this year. This group of dedicated and community-spirited rosarians offers to share its expertise, so that gardeners who also appreciate the Queen of Flowers will enjoy fine blossoms during the coming season.

Species roses grow nicely with little or no care by gardeners. We occasionally read stories about “rose rustlers,” who are rose lovers who are fascinated by early rose varieties that have been lost to cultivation, and find them still growing unattended in cemeteries.

In California, for example, these historic varieties could date back to Gold Rush days. For a sampling of Sacramento’s “cemetery roses”, visit the website created by eminent garden photographer Saxon Holt,

Modern roses, particularly the popular hybrid tea roses, grow best with regular care and feeding. We prune modern roses to stimulate new growth, support good health, and promote desirable form. Well established roses respond quite well to dormant season pruning: they come back vigorously after even heavy pruning.

If you have roses in your garden and lack confidence in your pruning talents, resolve to build and apply those skills this year. We are now within the rose’s dormant period, so the next few weeks is good time to schedule such a project.

There are various ways to learn about rose pruning. When I need to learn about some aspect of gardening, I generally open relevant books in my collection or the library, or search the Internet’s vast resources on gardening techniques. To learn about pruning roses, a good place to look online is the website of the American Rose Society.

Another strategy involves searching the Internet for “pruning roses” or a similar phrase. It’s also OK to use a natural language search, e.g., “how should I prune my rose bush?”

When your search yields multiple “hits,” you can visit selected sites to find a tutorial that emboldens you to venture into your rose garden with clippers in hand.

Some gardeners will learn best from a video demonstration. If that is your preference, direct your search results by clicking on “video” at the top of the computer screen. With today’s technology, it is easy to record a video demonstration and distribute it via the Interest. It is not easy, however, to produce a video recording that communicates effectively, so you might benefit by viewing several short video clips. This can be done in one sitting, and reveal both different presentations of basic technique and variations in the methods of different gardeners.

Although much can be learned about rose pruning from printed and digital resources, the opportunity to learn directly from a friendly expert will be ideal for many gardeners, especially when the expert hands you the clippers and talks you through the process. The rosarians of the Monterey Bay Rose Society will offer the following free pruning workshops in the near future.

  • January 26, 10:00 am, San Lorenzo Nursery & Garden Center, 235 River St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060
  • January 27, 10:00 am, Mission San Antonio de Padua, Annual Cutting of the Roses, Jolon, CA. For driving directions, click here.
  • February 2, 10:00 am, Bokay Nursery, 30 Hitchcock Rd, Salinas, CA
  • February 23, 10:00 am, Alladin Nursery & Gift Shop, 2905 Freedom Blvd, Watsonville, CA 95076

For more information on the Society, visit its website.

Prune your roses during this dormant season, and expect healthy plants and great blooms in the spring.

Sanctuary for Hummingbirds

If you are a hummingbird, the University of California’s Arboretum provides an excellent home territory. During tomorrow’s Hummingbird Day at the Arb, you can see the hummers enjoying this local sanctuary.

Anna's HB - Female at Grevillea 300 pixels

Anna’s Hummingbird (female) at a Grevillea







Consider the threats to the hummingbird’s life and limb (make that “life and wing”).

Habitat Loss

All of nature’s flora and fauna depend on the surroundings of their native environment. They have evolved to consume familiar food sources and enjoy safe places for shelters and nurseries for their young. Too often, human encroachments have converted such environments through urbanization, agriculture, and logging, leaving the denizens of the wild to retreat into smaller and smaller areas.

The hummingbirds’ challenge in finding an appropriate place to live resembles that of people looking for affordable housing in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.

Long ago, hummingbirds discovered the Arboretum as a fine place to find nourishment and safety, and to raise baby hummingbirds.

They found one significant complication to the sanctuary they discovered: the Arboretum has lots of California native plants that the hummers know best, but this place also grows many plants that thrive in Monterey Bay area’s climate and the Arb’s soil, but are California exotics. The native plants of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa contribute to the Arboretum’s unique collection, which fascinates its many human visitors, but puzzle the hummingbirds.

Happily, hungry hummers have adapted to this special situation: they have grown to love many of the Arboretum’s plants. They show great appreciation for the Australian collection, and have made particular favorites of the Grevilleas and Banksias.

Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon' 300 pixels

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ – a hummingbird favorite







Pesticide Poisoning

Pesticides provide another important threat to the hummingbirds. Pesticides include synthetic chemicals that kill plants, animals and insects that damage both crops and ornamental plants. Too often, these chemicals unintentionally kill desirable and beneficial flora and fauna, as well. For example, bee colonies have been damaged greatly by exposure to such chemicals.

Hummingbirds, too, are susceptible to chemical poisoning. Their small size and rapid metabolism makes them vulnerable to even small direct exposures to toxic materials.

Pesticides also have indirect impacts on the wellbeing of hummingbirds by killing insects that are an essential source of protein. Hummingbirds are carnivorous, eating insects that they snatch out of the air, pluck from foliage, or glean from spider webs. Hummers could not live on sweet nectar alone.

The Arboretum’s historic avoidance of synthetic pesticides adds substantially to its quality as a hummingbird sanctuary. The Arb’s insects, plants and indeed the soil are naturally clean and safe for hummingbirds.


Feral cats represent a third threat to hummingbirds, as well as to other birds and small mammals. Cats are favored companions for many people, and friendly in their aloof way, but in their wild selves they are fierce predators, with birds as their preferred prey. Unlike other birds, hummers occasionally hover close to a nectar-filled flower cluster. If that cluster is fairly close to the ground, the bird becomes an easy victim of a crouching feline, which could kill a tiny hummer with one swipe.

The Arboretum asks its human visitors to not bring pets with them to view the collections. This ban focuses on dogs and certainly includes cats, although few people take their cats with them for outings. The Arboretum, being a natural environment at heart, is visited occasionally by mountain lions, but those noble creatures are unlikely to feed on hummers, and more likely to discourage visits by feral cats.

Hummingbird Day

Two genera of hummingbirds visit the Arboretum; both are members of the family Trochilidae, which includes a large number of hummingbird genera from the Americas.

The Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna) are permanent residents of the Pacific Coast, and the Allen’s Hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) spend most of the winter months in the mountain forests of Mexico and migrates to northern California during breeding season, from January through March.

Allen's - male HB at rest 72 pixels

Allen’s Hummingbird (male), at rest


Anna's - male HB - at rest 72 pixels

Anna’s Hummingbird (male) at rest








The Arboretum schedules its annual Humming Day to coincide with the combination of breeding season and the arrival of the Allen’s Hummingbird. This is prime viewing time for hummingbird watchers, who can enjoy two eye-catching activities.

First, the Allen’s Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial, so their arrival leads to aerial battles with the resident Anna’s Hummingbirds, who have been simply minding their own business.

Then, for the hummers’ breeding season, the males display unique courtship antics, with amazing steep dives toward a targeted female, culminating in sound effects: male Anna’s make an explosive popping sound; and male Allen’s produce a metallic whine. Later in the season, while the females are feeding their young, there is a good deal of swooping about to collect insects to bring to their nestlings.

As a result of these two activities, during which the hummers ignore their human observers (while staying safe), Hummingbird Day is a great opportunity to see the aerial stunts of these exceptional flyers.

The event, which is each year’s most popular occasion to visit the Arboretum, happens on Saturday, March 4th, and includes guided tours, talks on hummingbird gardening and photography, and special craft activities for children.

Young visitor with a hummingbird toy

Young visitor with a hummingbird toy








Hummingbird Day is one of the Monterey Bay area’s most unusual and most enjoyable encounters with wildlife. Be sure also to browse the plant collections during your visit.


What: The annual celebration of hummingbirds. Walking tours, talks, and children’s activities with a hummingbird theme.

When: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday, March 4th

Where: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, on Arboretum Road, west of Western Drive

Cost: $10 for public; $5 for members of the Arboretum; free for UCSC students and children under 12

Parking: Free

Information: Visit the Arboretum’s website.

Tour Offers Insights to Growing Citrus

The Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers recently organized a members-only tour of a local citrus nursery’s growing grounds, in Watsonville.

Aaron Dillon, our tour guide, shared the history of Four Winds Growers, which was started by his great grandparents. He described the current operations and the pests and diseases that are challenging the entire citrus business.

10-17-14 Aaron Dillon

One threat to citrus trees is the citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella), a very small Asian moth that lays its eggs in the tissue of citrus leaves. The eggs hatch into larva that feeds on the leaf, leaving a clearly visible, serpentine trail just below the surface of the leaf. Leafminers disfigure the leaves but rarely cause serious damage.

A greater threat is the Huanglongbing disease (HLB), which is known by the common names “citrus greening disease” and “yellow shoot disease.” HLB kills citrus trees.

A tiny insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, transfers this disease from tree to tree as it feeds. Because there is no cure for HLB, the control strategy is to find and stop the insect from spreading the disease. This pest has greatly reduced southern California’s citrus nursery industry, and has very recently been spotted in the San Jose area.

The citrus industry has developed regulations and procedures for propagating citrus trees in greenhouses, while keeping Asian citrus psyllids outside. The tour group entered an enormous greenhouse through an antechamber, in which a large fan produced positive air pressure to exclude any psyllids. The outer door closed, the fan was turned off, and an inner door opened to allow the group to enter the working area of the greenhouse.

Inside, a greenhouse worker, Alicia, expertly demonstrated the process of grafting a citrus scion to a robust rootstock. A skilled worker can graft 1,000 plants in a single day.

10-17-14 Grafting Orange Scions

Aaron Dillon engaged the interested visitors with a wide-ranging presentation of many aspects of growing citrus trees. He demonstrated the extensive facilities in a large greenhouse where roses had been grown previously, and proudly showed an even larger new greenhouse now being readied for an expansion of propagation activities.

Now Amazon has a new line of products made of citrus, specific for eye care, a example is amazon eye masks.

10-17-14 Visitors in the Mist

Four Winds Growers propagates popular varieties of orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and kumquat. For details, visit the nursery’s website <> and click on “Our Citrus Trees.” Dillon listed three interesting varieties that consumers will enjoy in the future:

  • Vaniglia Sanguigno (acidless sweet orange)
  • Lee x Nova Mandarin (88-2 mandarin hybrid)
  • New Zealand Lemonade (sweet lemon hybrid)

For information on these and many other varieties, browse to the amazing Citrus Variety Collection website, maintained by the University of California, Riverside <>.

Many varieties of citrus trees grow well in the Monterey Bay area, and local nurseries have many choices in stock currently. Growing information is readily available on the websites of the California Rare Fruit Growers <> and Four Winds Growers. Pest control advice for home gardeners is offered by the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program