» Archive for June, 2016

Protecting Our Pollinators

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Star jasmine is an evergreen vine that prefers some shade. The fragrant blossoms fill the June air with their sweet scent.
    • Cage or stake tomatoes while still small so that you can train them as they grow.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.
    • Attract hummingbirds to your patio this summer with hummingbird feeders, so you can enjoy their iridescent beauty and charm. The new Big Gulp™ holds 40 oz. and is easy to fill.

Protecting Our Pollinators

More than 75% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects, birds or bats. Some plants need a specific pollinator, and others can be pollinated by a variety of insects. Most fruits and vegetables are pollinated by insects. With many of our pollinators in decline, it is important for gardeners to protect pollinators in order to insure good yields and good quality food.

We can protect pollinators by avoiding pesticides and providing food, water and nesting sites in our backyards and gardens. Bees and other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps are easily killed by insecticides. The new neonicotinoids pose the latest risk. They are a new class of insecticides chemically related to nicotine, and are much more toxic to insects than they are to mammals, birds and other higher organisms. Though they don’t normally kill bees directly, they may impact some bees’ ability to forage for nectar or find their way home to the hive.

Targeted insecticides, such as insecticidal soap, Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), neem oil or pyrethrins minimize damage to pollinators.

Since bees are major pollinators, you can help them by planting a bee garden. Bees like flowers, sunlight, warm temperatures and open spaces. Honey bees visit many different kinds of plants, while native bees are more particular.

Since native bees are around all through the growing season, it is important to plant flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer and fall. By grouping the flowers that attract bees together, you are more likely to draw bees to your garden. Gardens with ten or more species of attractive plants will attract the largest number of bees.

Wildflower seed mixes can provide forage in open areas. Perennials and annuals can be chosen so that there are always flowers in bloom. Some common plants that attract bees are cosmos, dusty miller, bachelor’s button, black-eyed Susan, blackberries and sedum.

Choose several colors of flowers. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Herbs such as borage, catmint, mints, feverfew and yarrow attract bees. In open areas you can plant shrubs and trees like redbud, California bay trees, coyote brush, Ceanothus, white sage, and tan oaks. Native asters, penstemon, wood sorrel and California poppy are good bee plants.

Protecting pollinators has many advantages. Many of the same plants that feed bees, birds and butterflies also provide refuge for ladybugs and lacewings. You can have both better pollination and fewer pests feeding on your garden. California poppy, coriander, fennel, sweet alyssum and yarrow will attract these beneficial insects.

Weeds can also provide nectar resources for bees and butterflies, and should be tolerated whenever possible, and when they are not a fire hazard. Allow cover crops, on fallow fields and in orchards, to bloom before plowing them under.

Let your garden be a little “wild” with a variety of plants to make a bee-friendly garden.  What’s good for the bees is good for our fruits and vegetables and a good thing to do for the planet. 

A beautiful garden starts now: Memorial Day means gardening for many

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Set out zinnias, cosmos, impatiens and begonias for lots of colorful flowers all summer long.
    • Asparagus plants should be fed with good, rich compost when you have finished cutting spears. Keep the bed mulched and weed-free all summer, and the soil moist.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants, or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of insecticidal soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • When you plant your vegetable garden, why not grow a little extra to donate to the Willits Food Bank this summer.

A beautiful garden starts now:
Memorial Day means gardening for many

It’s Memorial Day weekend and that means gardening for many people. Spend a bit more time getting your garden off to a good start and reap the benefits all season long. Proper planting and care means less maintenance, fewer pests and more produce and beautiful flowers in your landscape.

Start by selecting healthy plants and keep in mind that bigger is not always better. Look for compact plants with sturdy stems and good green color.

Prepare the soil before planting. Using organic matter is the best way to improve soil. Compost, manures, leaf mold, sawdust, and organic amendments increase the water-holding capacity, aeration, and drainage of both sandy and clay soils. These materials are decomposed by soil organisms releasing nutrients that become available to the plants. Dig one or two inches of compost, or other organic matter and a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer into the top 8 inches of the soil.

Now slide, don’t pull, the plants out of their containers to avoid damaging their roots and stems. If they resist, gently squeeze small flexible pots or roll larger pots on their sides over the ground. This loosens the roots, releasing the pot from the container.

Gently loosen any roots that encircle the root ball. Or use a knife to slice through girdling roots. This encourages the roots to move out into the soil beyond the planting hole. And a bigger root system means healthier plants that are more productive and beautiful.

Set your plants at the same depth they were growing in their container. Tall leggy tomatoes are the exception. These can be planted deeper or in shallow trenches to encourage roots to form along the buried stem. Cover the roots with soil and gently tamp to insure good soil contact.

It’s a good idea to throw a handful of bonemeal in the bottom of the hole when you plant your tomatoes. This will help prevent blossom-end rot, a condition where the bottom side of the tomato turns black.

Plant beans in a row or wide-row planting. Bush beans take up more space but require less work planting, staking, weeding and watering. They produce most of the crop all at once, which is great for freezing. Pole beans are space savers and you don’t have to bend over to harvest them. They mature later than bush beans and bear small amounts each day but will keep producing all summer long if you keep the mature beans picked.

Plant your corn patch in a spot that receives sun all day, with good, rich soil. Corn is wind pollinated. The pollen drops from the tassels on top of the plant onto the silks on the ears of corn. Each unpollinated silk results in an undeveloped kernel. For good pollination, plant corn in blocks of at least 4 rows rather than one or two long rows.

Water new plantings thoroughly, moistening the rootball, planting hole, and beyond. Spread a thin layer of mulch over the soil to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the roots cooler when hot weather arrives.

Check new plantings every other day and water enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Gradually reduce the frequency until your plants only need to be watered once a week in heavy clay soils and twice a week in loamy soils.

So get out and start planting to make this the best gardening season yet.