» Archive for September, 2012

Ceanothus – A true blue Californian

Friday, September 28th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Cover crops should be planted in the garden as soon as you pull out summer crops. They will feed the soil and prevent erosion over the winter.
    • When blackberry vines are done fruiting, prune back the canes which bore fruit this summer. Twine young canes around the fence or trellis.
    • Pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses can be planted now to replace summer annuals.
    • Fertilize lawns now to build up root systems for a healthy lawn.
    • Fall is for planting! Trees, shrubs and perennials planted now will grow twice as much next year as those planted next spring.

Ceanothus – A true blue Californian

One of the most popular groups of western natives is Ceanothus, or California Wild Lilac. California Lilacs are some of our most fragrant and colorful native shrubs. They are also evergreen and very drought tolerant, and some make excellent hedges! Many wild lilacs prefer coastal slopes and protected locations where they have some relief from the blazing summer heat. So it is important to choose the correct variety for your landscape needs.

In general, Ceanothus prefer coarse, well-draining soil, and most of them do not tolerate summer watering and may succumb to root rot if the soil is too wet. Most are fast-growing, particularly when planted from small container sizes, and develop into good flowering plants quickly. Once established, summer watering should be carefully controlled for best health and long-life. Whenever possible, locate Ceanothus on slopes and banks when clay soil conditions are present.

There are a wide range of choices among the wild lilacs to suit a variety of garden and natural landscaping needs. Flower colors include white, pale blue, deep blue, and purple. Once established they require little care and are relatively pest free. Most species respond well to pruning, not shearing, which should be done after the blooming period. Avoid cutting off branches that are more than an inch in diameter. Their fast growth rate makes them useful for quick effects and coverage.

Not all varieties of Ceanothus are deer-resistant. In fact, many native plants are natural forage for deer, so in unprotected areas it is important to choose varieties that are less appealing to the furry creatures.

Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ is one of the best in inland areas where deer are present. Growing 6 feet tall and wide, it has small, dark green leaves and electric, cobalt blue flower clusters that cover the shrub in spring. It needs full sun to retain its form and to produce the most flowers. This tough shrub tolerates heavy soil and summer drought. It makes a good informal hedge, screen or windbreak.

Ceanothus ‘Concha’ is a spectacular flowering variety growing 6 feet tall and as wide. It has beautiful deep blue flowers that cover the arching branches from March through May, obscuring the dense, dark green foliage. It is very adaptable to different soil and climate conditions. More tolerant of heavy soils and summer watering than most ceanothus.

Ceanothus ‘Skylark’ is a compact dome-shaped shrub to 5 feet tall and wide. It has abundant blue flower clusters in spring for a longer period and later than most Ceanothus. It takes more shade and water than most Ceanothus, and is also fairly tolerant of heavy soil.

Ceanothus ‘Yankee Point’ is a drought-tolerant shrub that grows 2-3 feet tall by 6-8 feet wide. It has arching branches and large, dark green leaves with large, sky-blue flowers that are very showy. It does best in areas with some coastal influence, but can also do well in hotter climates with some afternoon shade, and it will tolerate some irrigation. Unfortunately, this plant is not deer resistant.

An attractive, mid-sized variety is Ceanothus maritimus. Growing to 3 feet high and 6 feet across, it develops into a dense shrub with small, dark green leaves. In spring it is covered with clusters of light blue flowers. It is best suited to coastal conditions but adapts well to inland areas.

The myth of Ceanothus being short lived is primarily spread by gardeners that insist on drip irrigation, summer water and soil amending. Native plants hate all three. Expect a 20-25 year life in most gardens if you treat Ceanothus as the drought tolerant plants they are.

Ceanothus provide seeds eaten by bushtits, mockingbirds, quail and finches, as well as cover for birds.

Apples for many uses

Friday, September 28th, 2012 by Jenny Watts

There are hundreds of apple varieties grown in the United States, offering differences in flavor and texture that span the gamut from sweet to sour, and hard to soft. Because of these differences, some apples are better for cooking and some for fresh use. Here are some guidelines for choosing apples that suit your uses.

For fresh eating and crisp apple salads, it’s hard to beat Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Liberty, Jonagold and Honeycrisp apples. Red Delicious is probably the best known apple in the country. Its dark red skin is classic and its creamy aromatic flesh is sweet, crisp and flavorful. Golden Delicious is a long time favorite for its sweetness and flavor. The flesh is firm, crisp and juicy. Delicious apples live up to their name when home-grown!

Fuji apples are sweet, very crisp and flavorful. Gala apples have a nice blend of sweetness and tartness with a rich flavor, and an attractive yellow skin airbrushed with red. Liberty has a well-balanced sweet-tart flavor with an attractive red skin, and is disease-resistant.

Jonagold has “superb flavor” according to connoisseurs. It is a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious, yellow with a red-orange blush, and is crisp and juicy with a sweet-tart flavor. Honeycrisp is a delicious new apple that some say is “explosively crisp” and honey sweet with a touch of tartness. It is excellent for fresh eating and salads. Fuji, Liberty and Red Delicious have the added advantage of not browning easily.

When it comes to apple pie, we look for an apple with quite a bit of tartness that will hold up during baking and not turn to mush. Some good choices are Empire, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Rome Beauty and Jonagold.

Granny Smith is a pie favorite. It is quite tart but makes an apple pie reminiscent of Colonial days, and retains some tartness even with added sugar. Empire has crisp white flesh and a sprightly flavor that is slightly tart and becomes sweeter as the days get colder.

Pink Lady is very crisp with a good sweet-tart combination. A little cinnamon, lemon, and brown sugar is all you need to enhance their naturally good flavor. Jonagold is a sweeter apple that makes a very flavorful pie.

Cox’s Orange Pippin, Britain’s most popular apple, has a rich, complex flavor that is not as sharp as Newton Pippin and makes excellent pies. Rome Beauty tastes somewhat bland when eaten raw, however when cooked its flavor is enhanced. It makes a good pie or cobbler because it holds its texture and shape when baked. Remember, you can always mix two or more varieties together to make a delicious and unique apple pie.

Softer apples are best for applesauce, and it’s hard to beat Gravenstein. This late summer apple has a rich flavor that makes delicious sauce. It is juicy and sweet with enough tartness to make it interesting. It is not a keeper but this is a wonderful way to preserve the bushels of fruit that the large tree produces. Golden Delicious is used to make unsweetened applesauce, because its sweet flavor doesn’t need sweetening.

Granny Smith is a rather tart apple but it makes very good sauce. Braeburn makes a great, “sweet-tart” sauce with no added sweetening. Empire, Fuji and Jonagold also make good applesauce.

Baking apples are those that are baked whole, as in dumplings. These apples have some tartness so that the flavor doesn’t get lost and they hold their shape well. Rome Beauty is probably the best for baking, but Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Jonagold are also very good.

Apple juice or cider can be made from many apples but some particularly good varieties are Empire, Golden Delicious, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Waltana and Hudson’s Golden Gem. Golden Delicious and Jonagold are probably the most used for commercial juice, but you can find your own favorites by trying some other varieties.

Waltana is a late apple that is crisp, firm and juicy. It makes a fine cider. Hudson’s Golden Gem is a russeted apple. It has crisp, sugary, juicy flesh with flavor described as nutty by some, pear-like by others. It makes excellent cider.

Apple trees can be planted now or during bare-root season beginning in January. It may be good idea to order unusual varieties ahead for bare-root planting.

Enliven your taste buds with a variety of apples for every use in the kitchen.

Our Valuable Trees

Friday, September 28th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Replace tired petunias with bright pansies, snapdragons, calendulas and stock for garden color this fall and winter.
    • Dogwood, walnut, birch and maple trees can be pruned now because they won’t bleed sap at this time of year.
    • Plant cover crops in areas of the garden that have finished producing for the summer. Crimson clover and fava beans will grow over the winter and enrich the soil for next year.
    • It’s time to divide overgrown perennials that bloomed in the spring or early summer. It’s also a good time to choose and plant some new varieties.
    • Fall is for planting. Make the most of the nice fall weather and plant trees, shrubs, ground covers and bulbs now during the fall planting season.

Our Valuable Trees

Trees are living umbrellas that protect us from the elements, clean the air and water, and nurture a sense of well-being.

Trees provide air quality benefits in several ways. One of the most important ways is by releasing oxygen into the air as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Annual oxygen production varies depending on the type of tree, as well as its size, health and location.  

A healthy 30-foot-tall tree produces about 260 pounds of oxygen annually. A typical person consumes 386 pounds of oxygen per year. So two medium-sized, healthy trees can supply the oxygen required for a single person.

Trees also remove pollutants from the air. Sulfur dioxide is absorbed through the leaves, and transferred down through the tree into the roots and into the soil.

Human activities, primarily fossil-fuel consumption, are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, resulting in gradual temperature increases.  The effects of this global warming are a serious concern. Planting more trees is a simple but effective way to help hold back global warming.

Trees are important storage sites for carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. They store carbon dioxide in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots as they grow. In addition, trees near buildings can reduce the need for heating and air conditioning, thereby reducing emissions from electric power plants.

One study found that Sacramento’s urban forest of six million trees removes approximately 335 thousand tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually. City trees work tirelessly to improve human health and quality of life.

The benefits of trees are directly related to their size. Larger trees provide greater benefits than small ones. Select trees that will fit the space available, because healthy and vigorous trees are the most effective.

Fall is an excellent time to plant trees. While the soil is still warm, roots will grow out into the native soil. A tree planted in the fall will be better established and grow larger and faster next summer than the same tree planted next spring. 

By planting the right tree in the right place, and providing proper long-term care, you will help the environment and be rewarded with comfort and fresh air to breathe.