An Alameda Garden: April 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day to You!

Photo credit: Stock.xchng
Some 43 years after the very first Earth Day, the message should by now be quite plain: Tread lightly. This is the only planet we have.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

All the Dirt on Greensand

I have an article up on SFGate.com today discussing greensand as a soil amendment. Greensand improves the structure of your soil and delivers a longer-lasting benefit than most fertilizers. If you think your soil could use a boost, check it out.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Handle Daffodil Bud Blast

First, you cry.

You've waited through months of cold and rain with one thought in your mind: there will be daffodils. Eventually. There will be daffodils. And then, finally, there are daffodils. A few. But what there are a whole lot of are leaves and stems topped by brown, papery, dead-looking buds that never open.

You've just been bud-blasted.

It happened to me this year. And I was so ashamed! I thought I must have done something wrong. Most of my daffs have been in the ground for several years and aside from dutifully letting the leaves die down after blooming before I clear them away, I haven't done anything with them. I've added some compost now and then, but no special soil amendments. So I figured my neglect was probably the cause of these dead-on-arrival buds.

But after a bit of research, I've found that there could be some other reasons why my daffs suffered this fate. According to the American Daffodil Society, while lack of feeding may be to blame, other possibilities are not enough sun (they need at least a half-day of sun to set a bloom), unusual weather (heat waves or excessive rain) the previous spring when the bulb would have been forming the next flower, or a need to divide the bulbs if they've been in the same place for more than a few years. There are other possible causes having to do with planting or even viruses, but they don't seem to apply to my particular bulb problem.

So here's my plan for beating bulb blast next year:
  1. I'm applying a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus and potassium fertilizer now, while the bulb is getting ready to produce the bloom for next year. (The ADS recommends a 5-10-10 fertilizer.)
  2. I'm leaving the leaves and stems in place until they die back naturally. I usually tie them into bundles with string or rafia to keep them tidier and to keep me from yanking them out when I'm weeding.
  3. After the greens have died back completely I'm going to dig up ALL the bulbs and check them for signs of disease or decomp. Any mushy bulbs will get tossed. I'll divide the bulbs as needed and store them until the fall somewhere cool and dry. (I keep those plastic mesh bags that onions and other vegetables are sometimes sold in in the stores for just this purpose. They keep the bulbs together but still allow air circulation around them.)
  4. In the fall, I'll replant the bulbs in a different part of my garden where they're going to get better sun exposure. The bed that I had them in is now more shaded by a growing tree than it used to be. I'll feed them again at the time of planting.
With any luck, next year I'll be rewarded with the full range of daffodil blooms I've enjoyed in the past.



Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Ongoing Saga of the Tiny Door in the Elm Tree in Golden Gate Park

I posted last week about the news reports of a tiny door that a mysterious stranger (elves are assumed but I'm not sure fairies and gnomes can be ruled out) had added to one of the elm trees in Golden Gate Park. But it appears the story is still unfolding. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, workers of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department saw the door and felt that it violated park policy that prohibits bolting anything to trees, so they removed the door. There was a public outcry. (Of course there was--this is San Francisco!) Workers then re-attached the door to the tree, but Rec and Parks says that this is only temporary and the door will eventually be removed permanently. Apparently, Rec and Parks is waiting for the elves to relocate to someplace that does not violate their policies. Stay tuned for inevitable further developments. As these are San Francisco elves, I do not expect them to go quietly.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Ed Rosenthal's Protect Your Garden: Eco-friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants (Book Review)

It's nice when things you can really use just show up in your mailbox. That was how I felt when I opened up the review copy of the new book Protect Your Garden by Ed Rosenthal, perhaps the best guide I've come across to identifying and dealing with pests, diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and environmental stresses--in other words, all the nasty things that can happen in your garden.

You may know Rosenthal as the leading expert on the cultivation of marijuana. (Don't worry--I won't judge you.) Having written more than a dozen books on one of the greatest cash crops ever grown, Rosenthal is perhaps used to thinking of  garden protection in more interesting terms, but in this book he chose to focus on protection from the kinds of everyday threats that any gardener can come up against: bugs, vermin, viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Protect Your Garden is loaded with full-color photos so it functions first of all as a terrific aid in identifying the problems you may discover. You'll find information on how common the pest or disease is, what kinds of plants it attacks, what kind of damage it does, and how to control or prevent it.

Following the sections on pests and diseases (which comprise about half the book), there are sections on nutrients and environmental stresses so you can diagnose and treat nutritional deficiencies or problems like salt injury, frost damage, or overwatering.

The last section outlines a wide range of eco-friendly and biological controls, filling in more details about how the controls work, how they should be used, and who makes them commercially available.

Protect Your Garden is the kind of book you never want to need, but you will. Seriously, you will. There are only a few books that I would say this about: It should be on every gardener's shelf.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Berry-Greens Smoothie Recipe

One of the things that I'm looking forward to making with the raspberries I'll be harvesting from the 'Raspberry Shortcake' plant I wrote about yesterday is smoothies. I love how easy smoothies are to make and what a good pick-me-up they are either first thing in the morning or for a late afternoon burst of energy. There are a lot of recipes out there now for green smoothies, which use spinach, kale or any other kind of leafy green to add more iron and other nutrients. Here's a concoction I've been playing around with that has a nice, bright flavor without a lot of ingredients.

Berry-Greens Smoothie


1 cup greens (spinach, kale, or other greens)
1 cup of frozen berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or strawberries , or a mix)
1/2 cup green tea, brewed and cooled to room temperature or colder
2 ice cubes
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
2 heaping tablespoons of nonfat greek yogurt

Put all ingredients in a blender and puree completely. Serve immediately. (1 serving)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Raspberries in Containers: You Can Grow That!

Photo credit: BrazelBerries

When gardeners think of growing berries in containers, they usually think first of strawberries growing in classic strawberry pots. I'm growing my strawberries that way this year, having lost my usual strawberry bed to the encroaching shade of a growing tree. But I want more berries! There have been some good blueberry varieties introduced in recent years that are bred for container gardening, such as 'Top Hat', 'Sunshine Blue', 'Patriot', 'Peach Sorbet', 'Jelly Bean', and 'Northsky'. But I was really excited to see BrazelBerries come out with a dwarf, thornless raspberry called 'Raspberry Shortcake', perfect for container growing.

You can, of course, grow other varieties of raspberries in containers but they require some kind of support structure for the canes. And unless you plant a thornless variety, you have to place the container somewhere out of the way so that you won't constantly be pricked by thorns as you walk by. 'Raspberry Shortcake' requires no trellising or other support and because it's thornless, it would work nicely on a sunny deck or patio, even in a high-traffic area.

'Raspberry Shortcake' is intended for zones 5-9, although I'll be growing it in my zone 10a garden and I expect it will do fine. It grows to a 2- to 3-foot mounded shrub and fruits on second-year canes in mid-summer. It needs full sun, well-draining soil, and moderate water. If you plant it now (early spring), give it a couple weeks to settle in and then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. When it fruits you may want to cover with a net or remay cloth to keep the birds from robbing you of your harvest. After the fruiting period is over, prune out the canes that had fruit, so the only canes left will fruit next year. More canes will appear next spring that will fruit the following year. It's self-pollinating, but it's true of most self-pollinating fruits that you tend to get a heavier yield if you have more than one plant.

'Raspberry Shortcake' may not be easy to find yet in your local nursery, but if you can't find it there you can order it directly from White Flower Farm. I was really happy to find one at the booth for Wegman's Nursery at the SF Flower & Garden Show last month. I still need to pot it up in and I better do it this weekend because it's already leafing out quite a bit. I can't wait to taste the first berries this summer!





You can also check out last month's You Can Grow That! post about Swiss chard.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Site for Your Greenhouse

I did a guest blog post at the website for Advance Greenhouses today. Check it out to determine what essential elements you need to consider when deciding where to put a greenhouse in your garden. Then nose around their website and dream about the really cool greenhouse you could find the perfect spot for in your yard. This is called "window shopping for gardeners."

The Tiny Door in the Elm Tree at Golden Gate Park

I had to share this news report of a tiny door that has mysteriously appeared at the base of a tree in Golden Gate Park. I love how beautifully made the door is (whichever gnomes or fairies created it really know their craft!) but I also love how people seem to be reacting to the door. Watch:


Update: Click here for further developments regarding the tiny door.

Monday, April 01, 2013

6 Ways to Keep Gardening on a Rainy Day

We've been having off and on showers here today, making the garden off-limits for any of the weeding and planting I'd like to be doing. Spring is such a busy time for gardeners, it's hard to let any day slip by without accomplishing something garden-related. So I came up with a list of a few useful tasks that can be done indoors that will save you lots of time and possibly money when you get back out in the garden. See how many of these you can accomplish during the coming April showers:
  1. Start some seeds. Load up a plastic box or old dishpan with fresh potting soil, lay down some newspaper on your kitchen table and get sowing. This works particularly well when you're sowing seeds in small batches, which for most home gardeners is the best way to do it.
  2. Wash your garden gloves. Yuck! Those things are disgusting! Not only do they look awful, but they're almost certainly crawling with bacteria and fungi from dirt and sweat that can cause skin rashes. For pity's sake, take the opportunity of this rainy day to toss them in the washer and hang them up to dry. If they're cotton gloves, you can add bleach to help disinfect them; if they have synthetic materials, try adding a little vinegar to the rinse water.
  3. Research a garden problem. Have you spotted a pest or disease problem you can't identify? Or do you have a problem spot in your garden that's maybe so shady or has such poor drainage that you can't get anything to grow there? A rainy day is the perfect time to take to the Internet or your stack of gardening magazines and try to track down a solution. The answer is out there--you just have to dig it out.
  4. Clean and sharpen your tools. Again, spread some newspapers on your kitchen table and haul in your pruners, loppers, hedge clippers, trowels, shovels and spades (wipe them off with a dry rag first). Start by washing them with a wet, soapy rag or a Lysol cleaning cloth and drying them. Then take a sharpening stone and sharpen those cutting edges. Finally, wipe the metal parts using a cloth and some mineral oil.
  5. Write out some plant labels. How many of us actually take the time when we're planting to write out plant labels? I certainly don't. What I usually do is take whatever label came with the plant and throw it in a box in the laundry room, with the full intention of writing out my own label later. Now is the time! Stock up on one style of plant labels (check your local garden center or an online store like Gardener's Supply) and grab a permanent, waterproof marker and get busy. With the labels all written out, you can run around your garden after the rain stops and stick your neatly printed labels where they belong.
  6. Shop for more plants. A little rain should never stop a gardener from buying plants. If you don't feel like trudging around a drippy nursery, go online and shop in the comfort of your very dry desk chair. Try an online nursery you haven't ordered from before or for some varieties you're not likely to find anywhere else, check out one of my favorite mail-order nurseries, Annie's Annuals.

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