Some Resources for Waterwise Gardeners

This is not meant to be a complete list, by any means, but here are a few publications and links that will be useful if you are selecting plants for a waterwise garden.

WUCOLS stands for Water Use Classification of Landscape Plants. This project, sponsored by UCDavis, California Dept of Water Resources, California Center for Urban Horticulture, lets you find out the water needs of over 3,500 landscape plants in six different regions of California. The most recent version WUCOLS IV,can be accessed at the following address:

http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/   Click on "Plant Search" Or you can use this link: WUCOLS IV

For information on growing California Native Plants, check out the Las Pilitas web site, laspilitas.com, or use this link: Las Pilitas Nursery.

Here are links to two articles on the subject of watering trees during a drought that were recently in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Trees Out on A Limb

Watering Trees in A Drought

Finally, here is a short list of books that you will find useful as you seek ideas and plants for a waterwise garden:

California Native Plants for the Garden, Burnstein, Fross, O'Brien, Cachuma Press, 2005.Photos, text on garden uses and care.

New Sunset Western Garden Book. I think the most recent is 2012, and it does have all color photos, which are helpful, but the text of couple of editions right before this one were a little more thorough.

Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates, Peter B. Dallman, University of California Press, 1998. Maps and charts show how the 5 mediterranean regions are similar and, importantly, how they differ, then explains the habitats to which many of our favorite plants are adapted.

 Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region, East Bay MUD, 2004. Inspiring photos and useful information.

The Random House Book of Indoor and Greenhouse Plants, Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, Volumes 1 & 2, Random House,1997. Despite the name, thiese two volumes cover mostly mediterranean and other subtropical plants that we can grow outside. The photos and text about the plants in their native habitats are very useful.

Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, Pam Peirce, Sasquatch Books, 2004.California garden history, plant origins, garden maintenance instructions, garden design, and a philosophy for a regional garden.


About the Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series

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A number of readers wrote in to ask where they could purchase the Bindens varieties I wrote about in my August column. The one shown above is Bidens Hawaiian Flare series 'Red Drop'. It and other Hawaiian Flare Bidens varieties have been available to wholesalers for at least two years, but are not often to be found in local nurseries. When I saw this variety last summer at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I asked them about it. They said their supplier was out. I neglected to find out its name, and without a name, I didn't have a way to search for it.

Then the manager of Flowercraft Nursery, in San Franciso, found it in a truck arriving from a wholesaler, thought it might be what I wanted and plucked some out for me. With the correct name, I could write about it, and with the proper name, we can ask local retailers to carry it.

A little research turns up the following information:Bidens Hawaiian Flare series was bred by Florsaika, a Japanese company see florsaika.com/bidens-hawaiian-flare/). It is available only from cuttings, and these are handled exclusively by Florexpo, a company based in Costa Rica that sells unrooted cuttings to brokers worldwide, but mostly to North America, Europe, and Japan. (See florexpo.net)  On the websites of both of these companies, you can see videos that explain their businesses.

From Florexpo, the cuttings go to brokers. Then a wholesale nursery buys them from a broker and grows the  plants up to the size retailers want. Finally, the wholesaler sends out plants, in some combination of what the retailer asks them to send and what they think a retailer will want.

Before I list a plant, I usually contact some local nurseries and make sure they are carrying it, so they won't be caught without it. But in this case, I think the plants are sleepers--great choices that have not become widely available. You might find them available locally, but if not, politely ask your local nursery for the plants by name. Tell them you'd like to have some Bidens Hawaiian Flare Series plants, now, if they can get any, next spring if they can't get them now. Then they will ask their wholesalers about the plants, and either get ones now or see if they can get a wholesaler to grow some for spring. (The nurseries that are most likely to carry these varieties are ones that buy plants from wholesalers, rather than ones that usually grow their own plants from their own seed or cuttings, since these plants have to be grown from purchased cuttings.)

Here is how Hawaiian Flare 'Red Drop' looks in my garden now (growing with blue annual Convolvulus tricolor and some chartreuse green nicotiana).

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The plants growing with them are Nicotiana in chartreuse and white and annual Convolvulus tricolor (blue).

Here is another Bidens Hawaiian Flare, 'Red Star', that I found in a nursery, not realizing at the time that it was in the same series as 'Red Drop'.

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It is growing here with some blue edging lobelia.

The advantages of the new Bidens varieties are, besides different colors and larger flowers than were otherwise available, that their more open, taller form allows them to drape and to mix with other plants in a border, and their height makes them more attractive to native bees and other beneficial insects.

Finally, here is a close up of the Bidens that used to be the main one available. The plant shown here is fairly young, so only has a few flowers, but when it grows larger, this plant will be a low mat covered with the one inch yellow flowers.

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It is growing under a taller feverfew plant that has similar, but larger, leaves.


Help Learning to Use Plant Scientific Names

There is another post containing resources for gardeners learning to use plant scientific names. You will find it if you search for "Plant ID". I have added the following new one today:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/2plants.htm Searchable list of common garden plant genera. Click on a genus name to get description and links to many photos of different parts and stages of the plant. It also links to another database, this one providing a simplified plant key for woody landscape plants.


Master Gardener Spring Sales--Mostly Tomatoes

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Master Gardeners will be holding spring markets in three Bay Area counties in April. As reported in my SF Chronicle Column of April 5, they will be as follows:

San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners will hold two sales. The first is on April 11, 9-1, at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Road, Redwood City. The second is April 18th, 10-2, at Central Park in San Mateo, and is part of an open house at the park on that day. For more information: 2015 San Mateo/SF Spring Garden Market Information

Marin County Master Gardeners are having two sales on the same day, April 18th, both 9:30-12. One is at the Bon Air Shopping Center, 50 Bon Air Ctr., Greenbrae, the other is at the Pini Market, 1535 S. Novato Blvd, Nave Shopping Center, Novato..For more information: 2015 Marin County Tomato Market Information

Santa Clara Master Gardeners are having their sale on April 11, 9-2 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose..:For more information: 2015 Santa Clara Spring Market Garden Information

All of the sales include tomato plants galore and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions and the  April 11th sales in Redwood City and in San Jose include other kinds of seedlings and garden talks, and  a "green elephant" sales.

Each of the Master Gardener Organizations have prepared lists of the tomato varieties they will be selling, with information on the qualities of each variety. Here are links to the three 2015 tomato variety lists:

2015 San Francisco/San Mateo Tomato List

2015 Marin County Tomato Varieties

2015 Santa Clara County Tomato List

 

 

 


New Chronicle Column

I'll have a column in the Food+Home section of the Sunday Chronicle starting March 1 and on the first Sunday of every month. It is billed as an almanac and will include photos, tips, calendar listings, new plants, books, or tools. I will be answering questions again, though with very short answers, but if you have one, send it through my contact page of this blog or send it to home@sfchronicle.com with my name in the Subject line. And if you have other information you think I'd like to know, pass it on.

 


San Bruno Mountain Plant Sale--Mission Blue Nursery

Mark your calendar on Saturday February 21st, 2015 to visit Mission Blue Nursery at 3401 Bayshore Blvd., in Brisbane, for a native plant sale to benefit San Bruno Mountain Watch. You can learn more about the sale, and about San Bruno Mountain, at http://www.mountainwatch.org/sbmw-plant-availability/. Indeed, as the link address implies, you can access a list of plants that will be offered for sale. There is also a link to driving directions to the nursery. (Brisbane is just south of SF on the Bay side of the Peninsula, nestled into the base of San Bruno Mountain on its east side.)

This is an opportunity to shop at a nursery that is usually only open to the public by appointment and with a $100 minimum. All proceeds from the February 21st sale will benefit San Bruno Mountain Watch, an organization that works to protect the mountain.

Bring boxes to carry plants that you select. You can pay with cash, check or credit card.

San Bruno Mountain is a San Mateo County Park that offers wonderful hikes. There are fine Bay and City views and a wealth of native plants to see as you walk. These hikes are especially enjoyable in spring, when so many of our native flowers are in bloom.

 

 


Fall Plant Sale--Master Gardeners of San Mateo/San Francisco

Coming soon is the fall plant sale of the Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco. Here is their announcement:

Please join us for our Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, September 20th from 9:00AM to 1:00PM.
 
We are offering an exciting array of vegetables, succulents, perennials, edible flowers, cover crop seeds and a wonderful choice of garlic seed and shallots perfect for your Fall Garden!
 
Vegetables Varieties
Beets_Chioggia, Bull’s Blood, Golden, and Shiraz
CabbageAll Seasons, and January King
Broccoli_Quartina, Di Ciccio, Romanesco, Piricicaba, and Solstice
Peas_Maestro, and Alderman Pole Peas
Spinach_Giant Winter, Monnopa Low Acid, Monster of Viroflay
Lettuce_Outstanding Red Romaine, Bronze Arrow Looseleaf, and Arctic King Butterhead
Chard_Fordhook Giant, Rainbow Mix, and Perpetual Spinach Chard
Kale_Vates Blue Curled, Lacinato (Dinosaur), Dwarf Green Curled, Portuguese, and Russian Red
Bunching Onion_White Spear
Endive_Frisee Fine Cut
Mustard_Red Giant
Leek_Musselburgh
 
LOTS of GARLIC and SHALLOTS!!!
Artichoke Seed Garlic_Inchelium Red                                     
Rocambole Seed Garlic_Killarney Red
Porcelian Seed Garlic_Magic
Shallots_Dutch Red
 
Succulents and Perennials…too many to list
 
Cover Crop Seeds
 
Our sale location is 2645 South El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94403. Parking is limited so please park off-site.
 
Let us help you get your FALL GARDEN off to a good start.

Roly-Poly Problems

I got the following question through my web site. I'll answer it below. I was trying to wait until I had a good photo of these little critters, but I don't seem to have very many of them these days, so there's no photo for this post.

The Question:
My veggie garden has been besieged by roly polies.  When I check gardening blogs, most answer that roly polies do not eat live plant tissue but they are definitely eating the base of my cucumber and squash plants. I caught most of them early and taped the base of the stems so they couldn't continue to gnaw away...but they have!!!  They continue to move up the stem even though the stem is tougher than when they were small seedlings.  I have lost a few plants to them. My vegies are mulched with my homemade compost which is a cold one and probably supports the rolly pollies.  How do I rid my soil of them?  They are everywhere!!  BTW I live in San Rafael, Marin County.  Should I solarize the soil?

The answer:Too many garden how-to books and other guides are researched by reading what others have written, so we get the same information over and over. And wrong information over and over is frustrating.

Roly Polies will generally eat any living or dead plant matter that is soft enough, inlcuding much dead, decaying plant matter. If there are only a few of them, they may not damage crops much, but when their populations build up, they do significant damage. While I've never seen sow and pill bugs eat squash stems, I have watched them chew up the blossom ends of summer squash fruit and eat into ripe tomatoes.

"Roly Polies" is a general common name for both sow bugs and pill bugs, which often occur together in gardens. These are two different species of animal, both more closely related to shrimp than to insects. We call the species that can't roll up sow bugs, the ones that form a tight ball when disturbed, pill bugs, but their habits and management are about the same.

Your goal is to make conditions unpleasant for them and to reduce their numbers if they get so numerous that they are becoming pests. Start by pulling the mulch back from your squash plants, leaving a bare area a few inches wide around them. Try to keep this surface, especially, but all of your garden soil or mulch surface, as dry as possible, since these creatures need to stay moist to survive.

I doubt that solarizing the soil will help with sow and pill bugs. They would tend to run out of the hot area under the plastic. You might get eggs, but the adults are very mobile.

Sow and pill bugs tend to congregate in moist dark places in the day time. You have to move fast, but if you know where they are hiding, and see a lot of them in one place, you can scoop them into a plastic bag, seal it, freeze it, and compost them. Or you can leave out traps, in the form of anchored opaque plastic sheeting or cardboard, remove it fast, and start scooping. Try using a kitchen scoop or a deep trowel.

If you have many sow and pill bugs in an area you are about to clear and replant, try to reduce the population before you plant seeds or set out new seedlings there. Waiting a couple of weeks may be enough, but if you have many of the creatures, you may want to use mechanical means, as just described, or chemical means, as follows, to reduce the population.

I never use chemical means as a first resort, but you may want to supplement your cultural and mechanical methods by using a product called SluggoPlus. In addition to the iron phosphate that kills snails and slugs, it contains Spinosad, an extract from a soil microorganism, that is toxic to sow and pill bugs, earwigs, and cutworms. Use it according to directions, including not spreading it any more thickly than the directions indicate, as it is toxic to pets. (If spread according to directions, very thinly, it is less likely that a dog might eat enough of it to harm it, but do read the directions.)

Good luck reducing your roly poly problem!

 

 


Mendocino--Coastal Walk


This is part two of a plant photo report from our recent trip to Mendocino. The first shows some plant highlights from the Coast Botanical Garden. This one will show you some of the plants and views from a hike around the town of Mendocino on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To take this walk, one usually starts at the south end of the town, crossing the last business street will take you down near the bluffs. Just find a trail, turn right, and start walking, pausing often for views and closer looks at the plants. If you keep walking you will pass around the West side of town and come out at the northwest corner. Then you can turn inland and walk south back down the main drag.

     The wide swath of weeds and wild flowers follows the coast. Below the bluffs are inaccessible beaches between rocky cliffs. Wild waves splash around the many rocks near the shore. There are natural arches and even a blow hole. This beach aster overlooks one of the vertiginous views. .

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   If you are a food gardener, one plant on the walk is instantly familiar. It's a cole crop, probably collards. These plants have escaped from cultivation to grow happily in this maritime habitat much like that of the European coasts where they evolved. The waxy coating on their leaves evolved to protect them from damp air. However, while these are definitely collards, when I collected seed, some years ago, to see what would grow, I discovered that they produced plants with rather tough leaves. They have probably drifted from the more palatable cultivated ones that farmers originally grew nearby and are toughened by the cold, windy location and low water.

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 If you know plants and have sharp eyes, you will see that it is growing amidst a stand of poison oak, which is also common near this trail--whatch your step if you take it!

We were there at the end of May, when several iconic coastal California natives were in bloom. One is California poppy, a mid-California coastal variant, which is yellow.

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Another is Sidalcia, or checkerbloom, a low plant with flowers like miniature pink hollyhocks.

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The plants I've shown so far (except for poison oak) are all ones that have been brought into gardens successfully. This last one, not so much. Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, only grows where it can link its roots to another plant to share sustenance. To grow it you have to sow the seed next to a plant it can link to, possibly native bunch grass, or buckwheat. This isn't done often, but this wild specimen shows why it might be worth a try.

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Finally, we walked back to town, where the gardens include many old plants such as the ones mentioned in my book Wildly Successful Plants. This particular old cultivar of fuchsia shows no fuchsia mite damage at all, making it a good candidate for modern gardens or for breeding programs trying to bring back the old fuchsias lost to the mite.

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Gardening Up Close--Managing Self-Sowers, Plants with Runners, and Bulbs

Gardening: Up Close   What to do about plants that crowd eachother and themselves. 

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Garden plants do not just stand still and look pretty. Not only do they grow taller, but they also leap wildly from place to place, creep stealthily outside their allotted area, and sometimes bunch up until they are so close together they can barely breathe, let alone bloom. So one of the tasks of the gardener is to serve as a plant referee. This photo shows three plants that are competing for the same space. Not only that, but one of them is competing with itself! These plants also illustrate the three main ways plants reproduce: seeds, runners, and bulbs, and how a gardener might referee their competition.   

            The blue-flowered lobelia is an annual, a plant that grows only from seed, blooms in a couple of months, and dies in under a year. It spreads in a garden by dropping seeds. They might grow where they drop or may roll or be moved by water into new places. In my garden, dropped lobelia seed doesn't grow very often, resulting in only a few random plants a year, so it doesn't make a pest of itself. I watch for the  small lobelias with their first blue flowers, and either leave them unmolested where they choose to grow, or move them to a place I prefer. I left the one in the photo alone to grow where it voted to put down its roots. I thought it a nice touch at the base of the broken concrete retaining wall next to the creeping fern.

            Then the fern began to creep toward the lobelia. Its rhizomes crept forth, forming new plantlets every few inches. OK with me, since it makes a nice backdrop for the tiny sapphire blossoms. The fern is Blechnum penna-marina, a South American species that in cool moist locations, in mild winter gardens, makes a tidy perennial patch of low, leathery leaves.This one survived in a neglected corner of my garden for several years, just getting by, but has been growing happily in the new spot to which I moved it about five years ago. It has filled in its space and slightly enlarged the area it covered.

            As this past spring progressed, the lobelia got bigger, and then the fern began to creep under and past it, into the area where I have been growing some Babiana. Babiana is from South Africa, where it blooms after winter rains and can survive the  long dry summer. The leaves that emerge with my California autumn rains grow to about eight inches tall. Then in late winter flower stems reach a foot or so tall, each bearing about a half-dozen rosy-purple flowers. Very nice on an early spring afternoon with the sun shining through.

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            Spring passes, summer comes, I cut the browning flower stems, then the dying leaves. Soon there is only a tidy brown stubble, awaiting another chance to grow. The bulbs, or in this case, the similar structures known as corms, have stored up food enough to send down fresh roots when the rains begin again, to start the process over.

            Babiana has been the perfect choice for this tiny strip of rather sandy soil between the brick patio and the retaining wall. It turned out that strip was so narrow that it was very difficult to keep moist all through the summer, but since Babiana is dormant all summer, it needs zero summer water.             

            As the fern runners continue their reach, fern roots are going to tangle with the perennial Babiana corms. I have no way of knowing if the Babiana will survive this overrunning of its territory, so I must consider taking out some of the competing fern growth.

            Mediating further in the direction of fern control now is the fact that the Babiana corms, have been multiplying in their appointed spot for several years. This plant, as is the case with bulbs generally, doesn't move around, it just becomes more crowded. The plant is fighting with itself to find more room. There are more and more leafy plants each year. At first, the stand just produced more flowers, but in the past couple of years, the number of flower stems has held steady, or maybe even decreased. The Babiana is succeeding so well that it has begun to fail.

            At this point, I need to dig up all the corms and divide them. This just means separating them--they are loosely connected--and resetting the largest of the bulbs with a bit of room among them. If there are too many large ones for the space allotted, I'll have the choice of giving the planting more room or giving some of them away.

            There will also be small ones that won't bloom for two or maybe three years. These can be interplanted with the large corms in a larger area, or can be grown in an out-of-the-way place until they bloom, when you can decide where you want a new bed of Babiana. Or, they can be given to someone who wants to wait while they reach blooming size, or added to compost.          

            The questioning mind might wonder: If bulbs that grow from year to year crowd themselves up until there are few blooms, what happens in nature? In the case of Babiana, I have been told that they got their scientific name from the fact that baboons like to eat them. They dig up the corms and chomp them down, probably in the dry season when it is easier to wipe them clear of soil and they provide a welcome bit of moist food. I imagine baboons eat the biggest corms first, but miss some and especially miss the small ones, naturally thinning the lot.

            In some cases, as with Watsonias, the corms eventually form a large circular mound. If some animal begins to bite or kick out a corm here or there, and some that become detached might don't get eaten, they might roll off to a new location to start a new stand of Watsonias.

            The same goes for plants like my fern that grow from rhizomes or runners. Some foraging animal might break some off and not do a thorough job of munching all the broken plant bits, so some broken bits could roll or blow to a new place and send down roots.

            But a garden is not part of an intact ecosystem, with an equilibrium between animals and plants, so when plants are fighting it out, the gardener must step in. I now need to legislate the locations of the running fern and the clumping Babiana. Where do I want to let them be? And do I want to let the innocent lobelia, which grew from a randomly dropped viable seed right between the fern and the Babiana live out its short life in peace?

            First, I will dig up the part of the fern that has overtaken the Babiana bed, pot it up and save it for a friend who wants to grow some. Then I will dig up all of the Babiana corms and see what I have there. I will probably dig some fertilizer, a bit of earthworm compost, into the place they have been growing. Then I'll replant some of the larger corms 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart. (I looked the best depth and spacing up in a book.)  What if there are more large ones than I need for my tiny space? Hmm. Then a decision needs to be made.

            I will not disturb the part of the fern under the lobelia right now, because it is such a cheerful spot of blue! Only when it begins to fade will I decide if I have taken out enough of the fern.  

            But for a while longer, I will simply enjoy the battle, letting visitors to the garden think that this handsome plant grouping is an intentional and stable garden arrangement, created by nature and my careful planning.

I'll show that first photo again and if your eyes are sharp, you will see two other situations developing that will need attention one day.

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Did you notice the different kind of fern, the one with the larger fronds, at the base of the broken concrete, just above the lobelia? There seem to have been fern spores in the crannies of the used concrete we got through Craigs List, and some of them have germinated. Chances are this wll be a large fern, too large for the space. I may not be able to priy it out to move it either, so when it starts to overwhelm the spot, I may have to just rip it out. Sigh.

And arching up into the cracks of the concrete above and to the right of that fern, you will notice the leaves of some creeping campanula that has reached down from the top of the wall. Nice now; it made a few blue flowers that were very winsome in the wall in June. But if the wall were to be covered with it you'd lose the charm of the wall. You got it, more ripping out in the offing.