Thursday, December 31, 2009

Patience Needed After Frost

From The Fresno Bee, December 23, 2009, by Elinor Teague:

We didn't have snowfall on the Valley floor a couple of weeks ago, but we did have two nights of heavy or hard frost that turned our landscape into a white winter wonderland. The aftermath of the frost is not so pretty.

We are now seeing a lot of blackened or burned-looking leaves on frost-tender plants that were directly exposed to below-freezing temperatures.

Most gardeners' first response to frost damage in their gardens is to trim back their sad-looking plants to make them look better.

Cutting back freeze-damaged perennial plants now is not a good idea.

The dead leaves will act as a protective covering that will help to prevent further damage during subsequent freezing nights.

And there's really no way to determine the extent of the damage to branches and stems.

It's better to tolerate the sight of the melted wax begonias and the brown and flattened geraniums than to risk killing them by cleaning them up.

Some plants that were partially sheltered underneath overhanging eves, patios and large tree canopies may show signs of frost damage on one side of the plant.

Again, it's best to wait until new growth appears to trim away damaged portions.

Frost-tender tropical plants such as canna, bird of paradise, banana and elephant ears may look absolutely dreadful right now, and your neighbors might be insisting that you clean up the ugly mess.

Elephant ears sprout from a fairly frost-hardy tuber that is planted just underneath the soil. The root systems of birds of paradise, cannas and bananas are a little more vulnerable to frost damage.

If you choose to appease the neighbors and remove the dead leaves and stalks of these plants, the tubers or root systems can be protected on frosty nights with a blanket or a covering of old towels.

There are several evergreen or semi-deciduous perennial plants that lose their leaves after a hard freeze.

Leaves on some azalea varieties will turn yellow and drop if winter weather is really cold.

The below-freezing temperatures have triggered a type of winter dormancy. Branches look rather bare and spring-flowering will not be up to par.

Wait to fertilize cold-affected azaleas until after they've finished blooming in late spring.

That's when they'll start setting next year's buds and flushing out new leaves.

Plumbago plants also drop leaves after a cold spell.

Plumbago branches and stems, similar to bougainvillea, may sustain quite a bit of frost-damage. We just won't know the extent of that damage until the plants begin to sprout new growth in spring.

Before trimming in spring, use your fingernail or a small knife to gently scrape the bark at several points along the dead-looking stems.

Cut the stems back to just below the point where the stems turn brown.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Weeds--Annual Bluegrass

Annual bluegrass (Poa annua, a member of the grass family) starts out small, but can become quite a pest. It has more or less flattened stems that are spreading or erect. The stems are from 2" to 12" long, sometimes forming dense clumps. The leaves are bright green and thrives in lawns, gardens, cultivated crops, roadsides, and other open areas. It can be especially troublesome in lawns where it tends to grow faster than other grasses and once mature it dies, resulting in brown spots in the lawn.

Annual bluegrass is not considered an edible weed, unless you like to eat grass, I suppose! Hula hoe when it is small, dig it out when bigger, or some people would use a weed spray. If spraying, read the directions and use it carefully. It does product a lot of seeds.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weeds---Common Mallow

Common mallow (Malva neglecta; of the mallow family) and is a relative of cotton, okra, and hibiscus. Mallow has stems that are generally low spreading, the branches erect from 2" to 20" long. Leaves are rounded with a heart-shaped base, 3/4" to 3 1/2" in diameter. Flower petals are from white to pale lavender. The seed pod looks like a round or wheel of cheese, which gives it a nickname of "cheeseweed" or "buttonweed."

This is another edible weed. Edible weeds can give us added variety to our meals, besides some nutrition. The little cheese wheels can be eaten raw. They don't have a whole lot of flavor, but have a slight resemblance to okra. The leaves can be harvested and cooked like spinach. Mallow leaves are high in calcium and iron, and freeze well. Boil the leaves until wilted, drain, and freeze in large zip lock bags for later use. They have a thickening effect when added to soup (also showing the okra relation). The flowers are also edible, although they don't add much flavor, they are great for appearance. Both the flowers and the cheeses would make any salad look interesting.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, December 25, 2009:

January is the time to plan for the new year and to prune away unwanted vegetation.

Tasks--Apply pre-emergent herbicide to lawns and beds late this month. Keep an eye on the weather and deep-water trees and native plants if rainfall has been light.
Pruning--This is the time to work on dormant, deciduous plants--shrubs, vines, grapes and roses, plus fruit and nut trees.
Fertilizing--Always read labels carefully before application. consult a plant expert at a nursery or a master gardener, if you have question.
Planting--This is the beginning of bare-root planting season. It is difficult to visualize the potential of bare-root plants, but they usually come with pictures to give you an idea; canna, crocosomia; asparagus, cabbage and bare-root berries; snapdragon, English daisy (Bellis perennis), calendula, Chrysanthemum paludosum; azalea, camellia, Daphne.
Things to Ponder--This is a good time to look through seed catalogs.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule L., a member of the mint family) is an annual weed with spreading or weakly erect, square stems, and a much-branched base. Flowers are pink to purple and white, 1/2" to 3/4" long, and are borne in compact whorls in the axils of the upper leaves. The stems droop, turning upward, growing to as tall as 16 inches. Stems are square, green to purplish and can be smooth or hairy. Leaves are up to 1-inch long, dark green and hairy above, lighter below.

This is another edible weed, and it has no mint flavor. The tops of young plants can be used in salads or can be stir-fried as a spring vegetable. The flavor is best when the plant is in flower. The young shoots, leaves and flowers of this plant are edible and, once washed, can be simply cooked by adding to frying pan with a knob of butter some spring onions and plenty of seasoning.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Weeds--Almond, Pecan

This really isn't a weed, but it is in my yard (this one was at the Garden of the Sun). I have an almond tree and every fall the blue jays help harvest the nuts. They tuck the nuts all over the place (when we had a shake roof, the jays would push the nuts under a shingle, where it would sprout!) and usually in the ground somewhere. Then they sprout--all over the yard. Pecans are the same way. Although I don't have a pecan tree, someone in my neighborhood does. The almond whips are not too hard to pull out, but the pecans are. If you want to have nut trees, it would be best to buy them bare-root and plant them where you want them. Otherwise, you don't know how good of a nut tree you will have if you just let the birds plant them.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I have too much to do this week, so I don't have a checklist for working in my yard. I did go out to the Garden of the Sun (the Master Gardener's demonstration garden) this morning and took care of a lot of weeds. As people look out at their snow-covered gardens they may laugh at us (in the Central Valley of California) because we have weeds coming up in our yards. But, we can laugh right back at them because we have such a long growing season! I took pictures of some of the common weeds that are starting to grow at the Garden of the Sun, and hope it will help you as you work in your own garden.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media; which means little star, in the midst) is a member of the Pink family (Pinks are a type of flower, that includes Dianthus and Carnations). Plants can grow from 4" to 12" high and spread quite far.

Chickweed has a 1/4" white flower.

Chickweed is one common weed that we have in our yards every winter and spring. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it, to see the little seedlings that are just sprouting. This is the best time to get rid of this weed--a hula hoe works really well, just make sure the ground is not too wet. That will eliminate later weed pulling. Chickweed is prolific, meaning it throws out a lot of seeds.

This shows what Chickweed looks like as it grows bigger. It has creeping stems that root at the leaf nodes, anytime a node touches the ground. When pulling these larger weeds, the stems often break, leaving the rooted nodes to grow a new plant.

Chickweed generally grows in shady or protected areas, and can get quite large. This spot of weeds will need to be carefully pulled out, getting all of the nodes that are left behind.

Chickweed is a sweet edible weed and can be eaten right in the garden, as a spinach substitute or in a salad. It is very high in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, silicon and zinc. It is high in calcium, chlorophyll, phosphorus, potassium, protein, Vitamin A and fat. And it is a good source of Vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and plant sodium.

If you don't want chickweed around, then mulch is a great way to avoid this whole problem. If the mulch is thick enough, with no soil showing through, then the annual weed seeds cannot sprout as they need the sun to start growing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Limit Pests With Horticultural Oils

From The Fresno Bee, Dec. 17, 2009, by Elinor Teague:

Horticultural oils are among the gardener's best nontoxic insect-control weapons. An annual application of winter-weight horticultural oil in late fall or early winter, after deciduous trees and roses have dropped their leaves and entered dormancy, can significantly reduce insect problems next summer. The oils suffocate soft-bodied aphids, immature whiteflies, some immature scale insects, mites, caterpillars and caterpillar pupae, and also smother some overwintering insect eggs.

Most of the horticultural oils available are either paraffin or petroleum-based. Newer products use cottonseed oil as a base. These oils kill the insects or smother the eggs on contact; after the oils have dried, they have no residual effect that could harm beneficial insects or pets, aquatic animals and humans. Spraying in winter further reduces the chance that bees or other valuable pollinators could be affected.

You'll need to use some sort of pressurized sprayer to get the best results. The small sprayer tanks with an adjustable nozzle work just fine. These are available at garden centers, nurseries and home supply stores.

The oils should not be applied if temperatures are below freezing, just before or after a rainstorm, or during foggy conditions.

Wait to spray until all the leaves have fallen from the trees and bushes; insects often hide themselves and lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves and in leaf axils. They also hide and lay eggs in bark and branch crevices. A thorough drenching of all the bark surfaces is necessary. Clean up any leaf and twig debris underneath the trees and then spray the soil as well.

Read labels to verify which trees can be treated with oils. Citrus and avocado trees are not sprayed in wither when they are not dormant.

Lime sulfur is an inorganic fungicide and miticide that can be applied in winter on roses and fruit trees to control for powdery mildew, black spot, apple scab and other fungal problems.

Lime sulfur also reduces soil pH levels (very important in our area which has very alkaline, very high pH soil and water levels).

Lime sulfur can be mixed with winter-weight horticultural oils--one of the very rare instances that chemical can be mixed. Premixed formulations are available or you can make your own mix, following directions carefully.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, Dec. 17, 2009:

Cultivate beds lightly to prevent weed germination.

Tasks--Spray stone-fruit, apple, pear and nut trees, flowering trees and roses with dormant oil spray. Diazinon can be added to dormant spray for serious insect infestations.
Pruning--Remove leaves from roses to force them into dormancy in preparation for pruning next month.
Fertilize--cool-season annuals, perennials and vegetables with a light high-nitrogen or organic fertilizer.
Planting--This is not a big planting month unless you have purchased plants or bulbs and have not yet planted them; from seed: radishes, spinach; plum, cherry (Prunus) trees; forget-me-not (Myosotis), Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), fairy primrose (Primula malacoides).
Things to Ponder--Mulch over roots to protect plants.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frost Damage

The first picture shows how my ferns were topped by the recent frost we had. This stand of ferns is sheltered and faces southeast. It actually can be a "hotspot", where the sun warms it and is protected from the wind. We do have some lattice overhead, but it still lets in quite a bit of sun.

Here is a picture of the sad condition my peppers are in--I guess the growing season for them is over! I will start some new plants soon, for late spring planting.

My poor cannas! This happens every year, and then in the spring they come back in full force. These cannas have tiger-striped leaves that are really pretty. One time I got an interesting picture of the leaves--see below.

I love the colors and the stripes. The flowers are orange, but sort of pale in comparison to the leaves. So, they will become mulch for the garden beds, and be beautiful once again next summer.

If you have lost shrubs or trees to frost this fall, don't remove them just yet. See if there is new growth next spring, or even into summer. The plants have certain types of cells in line to make leaves or extend branches, which can be killed when frost-bit. It takes a while, during the growing season, for them to create new growth cells, so be patient.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My To-Do List . . .

I still need to get the Christmas tree decorated and presents wrapped. We got more rain the last couple of days--another inch--so the ground is too wet to be working in.


Planting by the Stars:

Tuesday-Wednesday--Libra–not good planting root crops; very good for above ground crops
Thursday-Saturday--Scorpio–2nd best for planting root crops; #1 planting above ground crops; good to set out fruit trees, flower bushes, vines
Sunday-Monday--Sagittarius–fairly good root crops, above ground crops; no transplanting

Friday, December 11, 2009


It rained last night and a bit today, for a total of 1 inch in my back yard! Happy day, we do need the rain!

Indoor Christmas Trees Gain New Life Outdoors

From The Fresno Bee, December 10, 2009--by Elinor Teague

In these difficult economic times, it might seem to make sense to spend a little more to buy a living holiday tree. It could serve double-duty; first spending several weeks inside the house covered with lights and ornaments, then planted into the garden in January to add to the landscape.

Most of the evergreens that are sold as living holiday trees, the Douglas firs and the Scotch pines, are grown in climates with long, wet winters and short, mild summers, the opposite of our climate conditions. There are several species of conifers, though, that are better suited to our Central Valley weather and soil, and most of those are available at local nurseries and garden centers.

Before listing some of the better evergreen tree choices, a few words of caution are in order regarding the keeping of live evergreen trees indoors for weeks at a time. You'll need to create a cooler, more moist environment while the tree is indoors. Placing the tree in the coolest spot in the family room, say next to a north-facing window, as well as daily misting and regular watering will help maintain the tree's health until it can be transplanted. The truly tiny everygreen trees sold as table decorations should be kept outdoors on the patio or porch for as much time as possible.

This rather short list of conifers suitable for our climate zones (8 and 9 in the Central Valley and 7 in the foothills) was compiled by the Fresno County Master Gardeners and these suggestions were downloaded from their Web site

Keep in mind that some conifers are very large at maturity.

Deodar cedars, Italian Stone pines and Canary Island pines can reach 80 feet. Austrian Black pines will reach 60 feet. For smaller areas, consider choosing a Bristlecone pine or a Japanese Black pine that top out at 20 feet. Japanese Black pines also make excellent container and bonsai plants.

Hollywood juniper is another smaller-growing species, but, like most junipers in the Central Valley, they are susceptible to insect and root rot problems. Aleppo pines aren't on the Master Gardener list, even though they are frequently planted in our area. their shallow roots have difficulty penetrating our clay soil, making the trees unstable at full height.

Some conifers, such as the Deodar cedar, are drought-tolerant when established. All of the conifers mentioned above require well-drained soil. Soggy root systems will quickly succumb to rot.

If the soil in your garden is heavy clay, or if there is a layer of impenetrable hardpan underneath the soil surface, the soil must be amended with large amounts of compost or humus and the hardpan must be broken up to allow for drainage. With the exception of the Deodar cedar, all the listed conifers will need supplemental irrigation during our long, hot summers.

[Top picture is of a Deodar cedar; the bottom picture is of an Austrian Black pine].

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, November 10, 2009:

Wood ashes are not beneficial in the garden. They have no nutrient value and only a limited value as a deterrent to slugs and snails.

Tasks--Water citrus trees well now to produce a good crop next year.
Pruning--Cut back chrysanthemums to 6 inches.
Fertilizing--Fertilize cool-season annuals, perennials and vegetables with a light, high-nitrogen or organic fertilizer.
Planting--Bare-root planting season begins this month. Consider the hardiness of the root stock when selecting bare-root fruit trees; potatoes, onions; nectarine, peach, pistachio nut (Pistachia); toadflax (Linaria maroccana), stock (Matthiola incana).
Things to Ponder--Use trimmings of magnolias, juniper, pine and redwoods for holiday greens. Deodar cedar, spruce and Western hemlock lose needles quickly.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The day before Thanksgiving I was working at the Garden of the Sun (the Master Gardener's demonstration garden) where I dug up the peanuts. I don't have a before picture (actually I did, but I accidentally deleted it) to show you, but the plants grow in the shape of dome (like half of a large ball) that covers about a 2 foot circle of ground. The peanuts grow at the base of the plant and below the flowers that bloom along the stems. Once the peanuts are harvested, they need to dry. Then you can use them raw or roast them. Be sure to save the best ones for planting next year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First Freeze

We got our freeze, but no snow. The picture above shows my lettuce and chives with frost. I think the lettuce looks really pretty with its ruffle edges! Once the sun came out the fall vegetables were just fine, they can tolerate light freezes without protection.

This shows my chard (with a couple of tree leaves laying on top) frilled with frost. It, too, is hardy in our area.

This picture shows a nice stand of hay in one of my unfinished garden boxes. This is the box I put my straw bales in while I was breaking them down and using them in my pathways. This bed was not mulched--the only things coming up in my mulched beds is what I planted, no weeds!. This is a green manure or cover crop that is cut and put on the ground as mulch, or dug into the soil, before it produces seeds. Because I don't dig in my garden, I will just lay straw over this grass to lay it down and stop its growth. This benefits the soil and the good organisms that are in the soil, plus next years crops.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My To-Do List . . .

The rain has arrived! The weatherman said there wouldn't be much rain with this system, maybe half-an-inch, but I think we have passed that by now (noon). The snow is suppose to get down to 1,000 feet tonight, and maybe we will see a little snow in the valley. A second storm will arrive in a couple of days and is suppose to be warmer and wetter.

My To-Do List:
--Stay indoors and enjoy the rain!
--Stay warm!
--Put the Christmas tree up!


Planting by the Stars:

Monday-Wednesday--Leo–not good for planting or transplanting; good to weed, make seed beds
Thursday-Saturday--Virgo–not good for planting or transplanting, good to weed
Sunday-Monday--Libra–not good planting root crops; very good for above ground crops

Remember that if the ground is wet, don't walk on the garden soil, much less dig or plant in it. Walking on or working the soil will compact it by removing the tiny air cells. The soil will become heavy like clay and need to be reworked once it has dried.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Transplant Potted Mums Outdoors

From The Fresno Bee, 2 Nov. 2009--by Elinor Teague

The potted chrysanthemums that decorated your table last week for the Thanksgiving holiday needn't be thrown into the green waste bin this week. Florist mums are one of the most easily transplanted indoor flowering plants. Although our temperatures are cooling significantly as winter approaches, daytime temps are still warm enough so that the mums' root systems should have a couple of weeks to begin to become established before we experience a hard frost. Before transplanted directly into a sunny spot in the garden, cut back the stems to about 6 inches. If the root ball is compacted either cut it into two or three sections or use your hands to gently pull apart the roots. Compacted roots will often remain in a ball, stopping growth of the plant.

Mums do very well in our climate. They'll tolerate full sun, but do require consistently moist soil during the summer months. One chrysanthemum plant can slowly spread into a large, 2-foot square flowering clump. Plan on dividing the clumps every two to three years. Cut back the stems to 6 inches a couple of times during the summer, feed lightly after trimming with a low-number flower food, and next fall you'll have free chrysanthemum bouquets to put on the holiday table.

Some of the flowering plants used to provide indoor color during the winter holidays take a little extra care. Azaleas, hydrangeas and miniature roses were never meant to spend much time inside our warm, dry houses. It's best to keep these plants outside on the porch or patio until just before the guests arrive. Again, the root balls of florists' azaleas and hydrangeas are very likely to be compacted; miniature roses may look as though they are a tiny rosebush, but most are groupings of cuttings with very small roots. All these plants may need daily watering during the time they spend indoors.

Miniature roses can be easily transplanted into containers or into the soil after the holidays. As you transplant, you'll see just how small the roots are. It may take several months for the roots to become large and strong enough to properly nourish the plant. Water when the top inch of soil is dry and feed lightly once a month from February through September with a low-number rose and flower fertilizer.

Because the hothouse azaleas sold during the winter holidays were forced into bloom out of season, they may not set flowers the first year in the garden.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Garden Checklist

From The Fresno Bee, Dec. 2, 2009:

A devoted gardener would rather give or receive tools, plants or a unique garden treasure than gold, diamonds or pearls.

Tasks--Monitor ground moisture, especially in beds under eaves and patios.
Pruning--Remove dead foliage and stems from dormant perennials.
Fertilizing--Fertilize cool-season annuals, perennials and vegetables with a light high-nitrogen or organic fertilizer.
Planting--Order bare-root perennials from catalogs; plant from seeds: lettuce, parsley; fig, walnut (Juglans), crabapple (Malus).
Things to Ponder--Enjoy the quiet of the winter garden.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Planting by the Stars

Wednesday-Thursday--Taurus–#1 planting root crops; not good planting above ground crops; good for all transplants
Friday-Saturday--Gemini–2nd best planting root crops, above ground crops, and transplants
Sunday--Cancer--planting root crops, above ground crops, and transplants
Monday-Wednesday--Leo–not good for planting or transplanting; good to weed, make seed beds