Use Smell-Good Plants to “Sweeten” Your Dog’s-Space!

Use Smell-Good Plants to “Sweeten” Your Dog’s-Space!

Cooper’s Space

Do you own a dog? If so, you probably have a designated outdoor space where your pet can relieve itself.

Our dog, Cooper is very much loved and VERY spoiled. Not only does she have a special outdoor space; she has her own lounge chair, her outdoor area offers both sun and shade, and she has full run of our home, with doggie beds in almost every room!

So, as I said, we DO love her, and we are careful pick up and dispose of her poop. However, her outdoor area has started to smell bad, and I am determined to see if I can fix that.

I’ve reached out to several Master Gardeners, done a fair bit of online research and talked to a couple of our local nurseries to see if plants can make a difference. Below are recommended options for pet owners to try.

Flowers: Phlox prefers sun but will tolerate a bit of shade; the plants are quite fragrant and come in white, pink, salmon, purple, red and bi-colored. Dianthus is low-growing, likes full sun and thrives either in containers or in the ground. It has a spicy vanilla-like scent. Try ‘Fruit Punch Sweetie Pie’ (pink) or ‘Itsaul White’. Stock is quite fragrant, can grow in part shade or sun and is available in many shades of pink, purple and white.

Shrubs for full sun: Roses are good choices. ‘Mr. Lincoln’ is scarlet-red with an incredible scent, and ‘Princess Charlene de Monaco’ has double light-apricot to pink flowers. Buddleia (Butterfly bush) will attract butterflies to your garden from mid-summer to mid-fall; try ‘Blue Chip’ (purple) or Miss Ruby (magenta). Peonies are shrubby perennials that go completely dormant in winter, but the gorgeous spring flowers and enticing fragrance make it well worth trying. Good choices are ‘Festiva Maxima’ (pure white blooms with crimson flecks), ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (medium pink double blooms) and ‘Shirley Temple’ (soft pink to ivory white).

Shrubs for part sun: Viburnum is a tough spring-blooming plant with a distinctive spicy scent. Check out ‘Spice Girl’ (pink),’Fragrant Snowball’ (white) or ‘Spice Baby’ (white). Daylilies grow in full sun to part shade, but only a few are known for their pleasing aromas — ‘Savanna Debutante’ (apricot-yellow), ‘Hyperion’ (lemon yellow) and ‘Chance Encounter’ (rose/mauve).

Tree: Crabapples like full sun, have showy flowers in the spring and provide fruit that birds absolutely love; try ‘Prairiefire’ (vibrant pinkish-red buds) or ‘Royal Raindrops’ (magenta flowers with deep purple foliage).

Trailing option for containers or rock gardens: Sweet Alyssum, works in full sun to part shade. Consider ‘Snow Princess’ (white) or ‘Dark Knight’ (deep purple).

Vines: ‘Scentsation’ honeysuckles prefer sun and are extremely prolific and fragrant. Birds and butterflies love this variety. ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis blooms from late summer to fall and has an intoxicating aroma; butterflies and pollinators love its dainty, white star-shaped flowers. Plant in sun to part shade.

Of course, many herbs provide a fabulous scent as well as culinary delights. Options include lavender, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, thyme, catmint and mint.

Most of the above options can be grown in containers — a great idea since most plants won’t survive (much less thrive) with the heavy concentration of nitrogen found in animal urine.

Even if you don’t own a pet, the recommended plants will not only brighten your landscape but entice you into the garden with their tantalizing scents! Think about using them near an outdoor dining area, gazebo, hammock or other area where you like spend time. You’ll be able to take plenty of time out to smell way more than the roses.

Grow Your Own Garlic – It is fun & flavorful!

Grow Your Own Garlic – It is fun & flavorful!

Other than with pies, cakes and pancakes, I use garlic in almost all of my meals. I love it in a breakfast frittata, as an aioli on my lunchtime sandwich and I can’t image cooking sautéed veggies, stirfrys or pastas for dinner without it.

Garlic, a member of the Allium — onion — family, is easy to grow and takes up very little space in the garden.

There are more than 600 varieties of garlic grown, and although China produces most of the world’s garlic, California produces more than any state in the nation.

Garlic is believed to prevent cardiovascular problems, reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and has been used to treat asthma, diabetes, atherosclerosis and a host of other ailments.

Santa Clara Master Gardener Sue Zaslaw, an expert on the stinking rose, says homegrown garlic is more nutritious and much more flavorful than supermarket garlic. By growing your own, you can choose the varieties based on size, shape and, of course, taste.

Sue inspired me so much that I planted seven varieties last fall. I was completely surprised by how different each tasted and the assortment of cloves sizes.

Most garlic is either hardneck, with a hard, woody center stalk, or softneck, which lacks a central stalk. Hardnecks tend to have fewer cloves — 4 to 12 — and have more flavor. They grow well in cooler climates, but don’t store as long as softnecks. They also produce flowering tops, called scapes, that are delicious when cooked.

Softnecks can produce up to 30 cloves and have a milder taste. The stalks can be braided for hanging storage. If you have both, use your hardnecks first as they will not last as long as the softnecks.

The best time for planting garlic is now through the end of November. Break the bulbs into individual cloves just before planting. Remove the outer papery wrapping, but be sure to leave the covering on the individual cloves.

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Keep on Saving Water!

Keep on Saving Water!

Although we did have a few wonderfully wet weeks last winter, El Niño didn’t really deliver the deluge we were hoping for. So, when it comes to water, how are we really doing?

The answer is mixed. Although we made great inroads into saving water we need to continue conserving.

Our rain-year runs from July 1 to June 30, and fortunately, we got 96 percent of the annual average. The numbers were so good that this spring the State Water Resources Control Board updated its emergency regulations, allowing water retailers throughout the state to set their own restrictions based on local conditions and requirements beginning in June.

Many water districts in the Bay Area chose to ease restrictions or drop them altogether. Santa Clara Valley Water District, for example, reduced its restrictions to 20 percent from 30 percent, while Fremont, Newark and Union City dropped their reductions all together.

Some worried that the savings we saw under the mandatory restrictions would evaporate when residents began relying on their best judgment on how much and how often they water their landscapes; however, recent numbers show that we are continuing to conserve.

In June, compared to the same month last year, San Jose Water Company cut water use by 27.8 percent, East Bay Municipal Utility District by 18.1 percent, Santa Cruz by 20.9 percent, Alameda County Water District by 28.7 percent and Palo Alto by 17.9 percent.

The majority of our water — 55 percent — comes primarily from snow and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. Another 40 percent is from natural groundwater and area reservoirs. The remaining 5 percent is recycled water — purified waste water. With or without restrictions, we must continue to work on reducing water use, and capturing and reusing water for irrigation, industry and agriculture.

“Our main message to the public right now is ‘Thank you’ for the tremendous response to the drought and the savings that have been achieved over the last year,” says Jerry De La Piedra, unit manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “However, one average year doesn’t erase four years of historic drought. We don’t know what next year will bring, so we’re asking everyone to continue to use water as efficiently as possible.”

Fall is a great time to rethink and replant your lawn, renew your garden, or make major water-saving changes to your landscape. By planting new eco-friendly sod or native and Mediterranean plants, you will not only significantly cut back on your water use, you will be providing necessary food and shelter to help save our endangered birds, bugs and bees.

Try replacing your lawn with a gorgeous array of plants and shrubs that produce flowers and create interest all year long.

If you just can’t bear to completely lose the lawn, try planting a smaller section of one of the many varieties of Delta Blue Grass California native sods. They roll out just like regular sod but require 50 percent less water. They also need to be mowed way less often, resulting in environmental savings well beyond water.

Look for city and county rebate programs that actually pay you to replace your water-guzzling lawns and replace older, inefficient irrigation controllers and sprinkler equipment.

You truly can go greener without the expansive, traditional lawn.

Rebecca Jepsen is a Santa Clara County Master Gardener.Native Bent Grass - 2

Keep on Saving Water!

Although we did have a few wonderfully wet weeks last winter, El Niño didn’t really deliver the deluge we were hoping for. So, when it comes to water, how are we really doing?

The answer is mixed. Although we made great inroads into saving water we need to continue conserving.

Our rain-year runs from July 1 to June 30, and fortunately, we got 96 percent of the annual average. The numbers were so good that this spring the State Water Resources Control Board updated its emergency regulations, allowing water retailers throughout the state to set their own restrictions based on local conditions and requirements beginning in June.

Many water districts in the Bay Area chose to ease restrictions or drop them altogether. Santa Clara Valley Water District, for example, reduced its restrictions to 20 percent from 30 percent, while Fremont, Newark and Union City dropped their reductions all together.

Some worried that the savings we saw under the mandatory restrictions would evaporate when residents began relying on their best judgment on how much and how often they water their landscapes; however, recent numbers show that we are continuing to conserve.

In June, compared to the same month last year, San Jose Water Company cut water use by 27.8 percent, East Bay Municipal Utility District by 18.1 percent, Santa Cruz by 20.9 percent, Alameda County Water District by 28.7 percent and Palo Alto by 17.9 percent.

The majority of our water — 55 percent — comes primarily from snow and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. Another 40 percent is from natural groundwater and area reservoirs. The remaining 5 percent is recycled water — purified waste water. With or without restrictions, we must continue to work on reducing water use, and capturing and reusing water for irrigation, industry and agriculture.
“Our main message to the public right now is ‘Thank you’ for the tremendous response to the drought and the savings that have been achieved over the last year,” says Jerry De La Piedra, unit manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “However, one average year doesn’t erase four years of historic drought. We don’t know what next year will bring, so we’re asking everyone to continue to use water as efficiently as possible.”
Fall is a great time to rethink and replant your lawn, renew your garden, or make major water-saving changes to your landscape. By planting new eco-friendly sod or native and Mediterranean plants, you will not only significantly cut back on your water use, you will be providing necessary food and shelter to help save our endangered birds, bugs and bees.

Try replacing your lawn with a gorgeous array of plants and shrubs that produce flowers and create interest all year long.

If you just can’t bear to completely lose the lawn, try planting a smaller section of one of the many varieties of Delta Blue Grass California native sods. They roll out just like regular sod but require 50 percent less water. They also need to be mowed way less often, resulting in environmental savings well beyond water.

Look for city and county rebate programs that actually pay you to replace your water-guzzling lawns and replace older, inefficient irrigation controllers and sprinkler equipment.

You truly can go greener without the expansive, traditional lawn.

Rebecca Jepsen is a Santa Clara County Master Gardener.

Grow your Soil to Grow your Garden

Grow your Soil to Grow your Garden

Jul 20, 2016 | Rebecca in the Mercury News

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If you see holes like this in the ground, with debris around the entrance and little piles of castings nearby, there is a good chance they were created by earthworms, which help aerate and feed the soil. (Courtesy of Jack Kelly Clark/UC Statewide IPM Program)

Do you have an area in your yard where you just can’t get anything to grow? Have you struggled repeatedly with a prized plant or tree that just won’t thrive? If you know what type of soil you have and are watering properly, it may be time to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on.

Check your soil texture. It dictates the way your soil drains and the amount of nutrients available to your plants. Providing the appropriate amount of water across the entire bed and at the right time also is of utmost importance.

Soil compaction is the next thing to look for. When soil is compacted, the air pockets are compressed, making it harder for roots to expand and grow and therefore harder for the plant to take up water and nutrients. Soil becomes compacted by foot traffic, use of heavy machinery, working the soil in overly wet conditions or when proper amendments — organic matter — haven’t been added.

To improve your soil, apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost once or twice a year.

Aerating, especially in lawn areas, also can be helpful.

Soil pH is another important factor; it determines how acidic or alkaline the soil is, which affects plant growth, soil bacteria, availability of essential nutrients and soil structure as well.

Acidic soil has a low pH, and extremely low levels can cause a plant to become stunted or die. Plants that thrive in acidic soil include blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, gardenias, camellias, crepe myrtles and pine trees. Adding soil sulfur, peat moss or iron sulfate will decrease the pH level.

Alkaline soil is high in pH and is generally deficient in nitrogen and other important minerals. A high-alkaline soil has higher levels of sodium that may be toxic to plants. Plants that grow in alkaline soil include clematis, heuchera, delphinium and dianthus.

If your plants have pale green or yellowing leaves, that may be a sign of nitrogen deficiency. Plants may be stunted or have much smaller leaves than normal. To increase nitrogen, add good-quality compost; grow cover crops, such as fava beans, borage and vetch, in the offseason; or add coffee grounds to the soil.

The amount of soil organic matter — decomposed plant and animal residues — really does matter. It has been called the most complex and least understood component of soils. High levels of soil organic matter improve water and nutrient retention; help fend off compaction and erosion; balance pH levels; and even bind harmful pesticides and trace elements, keeping them from polluting our watersheds.

To increase soil organic matter, apply compost and mulch, reduce tillage, leave grass clippings on the lawn and rotate crops in your garden.

Earthworms are an excellent and essential indicator of healthy soil. They create burrows in the soil, allowing water to move through the soil and roots to more easily expand and grow. Dig out about 6 inches of soil and count the number of worms you find. Three to five is a good indication of a healthy soil. If you don’t see any, your soil is lacking in organic matter.

Keys to Growing Healthy Trees

Jun 22, 2016 | Rebecca in the Mercury News

Knowing soil types and water requirements may help us grow healthy vegetable gardens and flowers, but it is also vital when it comes to trees.

Igor Lacan, environmental horticulture adviser for UC Cooperative Extension, says as we move toward warmer temperatures with less predictable annual rainfall, we will need to make smart choices about our landscapes.

“Even in a drought, it is essential to prioritize your trees,” Lacan says. “Trees not only support our native birds, bees and wildlife, they provide major ecosystem services to us as well. Urban trees lower the ambient temperature, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, provide stormwater capture, decrease pollution and enhance the property value and aesthetics of your home.”

START WITH SOIL

In order to practice responsible irrigation — using enough water to keep a plant alive and no more — knowing your soil type really does matter.

Soil type, or texture, refers to the proportions of sand, silt and clay particles in its makeup. Sandy soils are coarse and drain quickly. Plants in sandy soil need frequent watering and may need fertilizer.

Clay particles are very fine and become glued together when wet, and although clay soil can be slow to drain, it retains moisture and minerals, requiring little to no fertilizers.

The roots of newly planted plants may have a harder time getting started if the soil is hard and dense, but once established, plants tend to thrive in clay soils.

Silty soil is found along our riverbeds, lakes and other riparian areas. Particles are smaller than sand but not as fine as clay. It drains well and has good nutrient retention.

Loam represents a combination of sand, silt and clay and most of the Bay Area has clay or loam soil.

To tell what kind of soil you have, moisten a handful of it and give it a firm squeeze. If it holds its shape but crumbles when you give it a poke, you have loam. If it holds its shape without crumbling, you have clay. If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, you have sandy soil.

Knowing your soil type will guide you in how much water to apply and how often.

To gauge soil moisture levels, you will need to dig down to the root level. For trees, use a shovel or an auger to get 12-18 inches below the surface. After watering to this depth, soil should be moist but not drenched.

For mature trees, deep water infrequently, about once a month. Imagine refilling a 12- to 18-inch deep water reservoir around the tree’s roots.

It’s important to water beneath the entire canopy. Installing a Tree Ring Irrigation Contraption (TRIC) is a great way to accomplish this.

Newly planted trees may need only 10-15 gallons per week, but they may need additional water in extremely hot weather.

In all cases, a good rule of thumb is to water deeply and observe your tree. If the tips of the leaves and branches start to droop, it’s time to water again.

You will then be able to properly set up your automated irrigations systems. But remember, they need to be changed seasonally as the weather and temperature fluctuate. Online watering calculators can also be helpful.