» Archive for December, 2014

The Blueberry Family

Friday, December 19th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose living Christmas trees now. Most will be able to be kept in their containers and used for one or two more years as a Christmas tree before planting them.
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your peach and nectarine trees next spring.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Plant Paperwhite narcissus in pots this weekend for holiday gifts.
    • Primroses and pansies will add color to your flower beds and containers all winter.

The Blueberry Family

Blueberries, known botanically as the Vaccinium, are one of relatively few native American fruits. This large family of plants has edible berries, most of them are very tasty and healthy as well. They are known by their common names like cranberries, lingonberries, blueberries, huckleberries and others.

Vaccinium plants can be found in nearly all climate zones, but they all require acidic soil. Our native Huckleberry grows wild in the local redwood forests. Other California natives include California red huckleberry, grouse whortleberry and bilberry.

From the Ohelo berry, native to Hawaii, to the lingonberry, native to the northern states, Canada, Scandanavia and Finland, berries in the Vaccinium family are so acidic themselves that they are easy to preserve. They don’t need added pectin to jell, so it is very easy to make jelly and preserves out of them.

Cranberries are low, creeping shrubs or vines with slender, wiry stems and evergreen leaves. They were first used by Native Americans, who discovered the wild berry’s versatility as a food, fabric dye and healing agent. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.

Blueberries are the most popular of the Vacciniums. They are renowned for their health benefits and delicious fruit. The three general types of blueberries are Northern highbush, Southern highbush, and Southern rabbiteye.

Northern highbush blueberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall and have clusters of white bell-shaped flowers in spring, rich green foliage that turns deep red in the fall, and abundant crops of sweet blue berries in midsummer. They are the best known and the largest, sweetest and juiciest blueberries you can grow. These varieties, however, are native to Canada, Michigan and other northern climes. They prefer cool summers, where they have the best fruit quality, but are worth growing in our area in partial shade.

Southern highbush blueberries have an earlier ripening season and grow 5 to 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide. They are all self-pollinating, although the yields are higher with cross pollination. These varieties are suitable for areas from Florida to California because of their low chill requirement and heat tolerance. They grow in full sun or partial shade, and are grown commercially in the Central Valley.

Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the South. They are large bushes growing 6-12 feet tall. They are very tolerant to heat and drought, but need more than one variety for pollination and fruit set.

Blueberries need mostly sun and rich, acid soil that is high in organic matter. A pH of 4.8 to 5.0 is ideal. When planting, add lots of peat moss, equal to 50% of the planting mix. Dig a wide hole and add a couple of cups of soil sulfur per plant.

Blueberry roots are shallow and should not be disturbed. Mulch the plants with 4 to 6 inches of sawdust or compost, but keep it away from the base of the plant. This will keep down weeds and retain moisture. Keep replenishing the mulch all summer. Plants should be kept moist throughout the growing season.

Berries possess a high proportion of antioxidants and vitamin-packed flavinoids, and are among the healthiest fruits you can eat. Blueberries are a wonderful addition to your diet as well as your garden.

Make this Holiday One for the Birds

Friday, December 19th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Fruit trees can be planted now from containers while the soil is easy to dig.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after a week or ten days.
    • Spring bulbs can still be planted now. They make lovely gifts for friends and relatives.
    • Sasanqua camellias, like the bright red ‘Yuletide,’ have lovely, delicate flowers that bloom through the winter months. Find a place for one of these hardy shrubs in the landscape.
    • Merry Christmas from all of us to all of you. We wish each of you good health and abundance in the New Year!

Make this Holiday One for the Birds

Watching birds feeding, bathing and playing in your backyard is a joy for almost anyone. The birds are beautiful, of course, but their visits serve an important purpose, reducing plant damage from insect pests. Birds are a welcome addition to the garden.

You can attract birds to your yard with bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths.

There are different types of bird feeders. The best all-around type is the cylindrical plastic feeder. Fill them with a good birdseed mix and they will attract a wide variety of birds, including nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, rufous-sided towhees and sparrows.

Window feeders allow you to watch the birds close-up from inside the house. They stick to the window with suction cups. They are especially nice during bad weather so you can still enjoy the company of your feathered friends.

Niger seed feeders, or thistle feeders, are tubular plastic feeders with very small holes for thistle seed. They are especially popular with goldfinches who will entertain you all day long as they squabble over the perches.

The feeding table attracts larger birds that like to dine together. Robins, finches and evening grosbeaks will gather happily at backyard feeding tables.

Hummingbird feeders are filled with sugar solutions that supplement their diet of flower nectar. Anna’s Hummingbird winters in this area so will come to feeders year-round.

Oriole feeders are bright orange and attract brilliant orange-yellow orioles to the garden, where you can enjoy their distinctive whistle along with their colorful plumage.

Birdbaths will attract birds throughout they year, both to drink and to bathe. Watching the activity at the birdbath can be very entertaining, and there are styles of birdbaths to go with any garden decor.

Birdbaths made out of concrete are very stable and make an attractive addition to the garden as well as providing water for the birds. Hanging birdbaths may work best in some locations. Site your birdbath near trees or bushes where the birds can retreat to dry off and preen in safety.

In addition to food and water, birds need a safe place to raise their young. Nesting boxes, or “bird houses,” will encourage the birds that visit you in the winter to stay. The size and type of the nest box and its entrance will determine which birds use it, because different species are attracted to boxes of different dimensions. Specialty boxes are available at stores that handle bird supplies.

Make this holiday one “for the birds.”

Gifts for Gardeners

Friday, December 12th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.
    • Spring bulbs can still be planted now. They make lovely gifts for friends and relatives.
    • Clean up the yard and compost dead plants. Replace them with pansies and primroses for winter bloom.
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kids’ gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Prune birches and maples, if necessary, before Christmas to avoid problems with bleeding as the sap starts to rise very early in these trees.

Great Gifts for Gardeners

This time of year we are all thinking more about our gift lists than our gardens. But whether it’s decorating your indoor space with houseplants and indoor fountains, or gathering gifts for those who love the garden, there are lots of things to discover at local nurseries.

For a gardener who starts her own seedlings, an Orbit® coil-up hose will keep the greenhouse tidy. The 6-pattern nozzle will gently water seedlings, or wash off the tables.

Watering cans are available for indoor or outdoor watering. The new, old-fashioned galvanized cans are rust-resistant and strong for a long life in the garden. Their classic shapes include the extra long spout for easy ‘long reach’ watering. Smaller watering cans make nice gifts for the indoor gardener.

An unusual gift for the person who takes care of the landscape is the Weed Dragon®, a propane torch that kills weeds safely and naturally without herbicides. It’s great for killing weeds between stepping-stones, in sidewalk cracks and along chainlink fences.

Looking toward pruning season, there are few tools more important to a gardener than a good pair of pruning shears. Felco® has long been the leader in pruning shears with a dozen different models to accommodate large hands, small hands, lefties, or equipped with a rotating handle to reduce fatigue. A Felco® pruning saw is a must-have for every orchardist. All Felco® tools come with a lifetime guarantee, and replacement blades, springs, etc. are available to keep them in tip-top condition.

A sturdy pair of loppers is a fine tool for tree work as well as pruning old rose bushes and climbers. With high-carbon steel blades, these tools last for many years, making large jobs easier.

Of course, a good pair of gloves is important to any gardener. The elbow-length, Thorngard gloves are great for pruning rosebushes and dealing with blackberries. The popular Nitrile Touch® gloves are loved by many gardeners. And the leather Bionic™ gloves are great for older gardeners as they give support and reduce fatigue for arthritic hands.

The Garden Bench and Kneeler is an excellent gift for those who find kneeling somewhat difficult. The padded bench can be flipped over to become a kneeling pad with upright supports that serve as handles to get up and down. The cushioned surface is gentle on the knees while working in your garden. The kneeler folds up for easy storage.

One of the most coveted garden tools is a good quality digging fork. Beautiful Spear & Jackson tools from England have a reputation for quality and durability, and are made to be used for a lifetime and passed on to the next generation.

Add a gardening calendar and you and your gardening friends can look forward to another great year of gardening pleasures. The Gardening by the Moon Calendar gives detailed timing for appropriate gardening activities, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac® is a helpful and fun book to have on hand.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season, and hope we can help you be successful gardeners in the year ahead!