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Previous Features of the Week



 by Fred Hoffman

  Frantic calls have been coming into the Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors' offices in both San Joaquin and Sacramento County this summer, all asking the same thing: "What can I do about the grasshoppers that are eating my plants?"

Back in May, we mentioned here that 1999 might be another good year for grasshoppers, a bad one for rural and suburban homeowners and farmers whose gardens and crops are located near open fields. And it's turned out that way, perhaps the worst infestation since 1983-1984. On our rural property, we've counted 20-25 hoppers per square yard in the surrounding open fields. 8-10 per square yard is considered serious. "Near Grant Line Road, we counted 100 grasshoppers per square yard," says Dave Wilson, Sacramento County Farm Advisor.

"Grasshopper populations are cyclical," explains San Joaquin County Farm Advisor Gary Hickman. "In a year of normal rainfall and warm enough spring temperatures, there are plenty of weeds for young grasshoppers to thrive."

Two months ago would have been the most effective time to go after the little hoppers, either with carbaryl (sold as Sevin) or biological controls such as Grasshopper Spore. Now, the little hoppers are much bigger, stronger and developing wings.

Adult grasshoppers are literally in search of greener pastures now. "If hungry, they will eat anything green," says Hickman. "But this is the first year I've ever heard of grasshoppers causing ornamental tree damage."

So what's a homeowner to do? "Insecticides are expensive and it may be better to abandon the garden if the hoppers become too numerous," advises Hickman.

But if you have the money (as well as a county permit for larger quantities), Wilson says owners of acreage can thwart the grasshoppers' progress by treating areas of open fields surrounding a garden with a 20-foot wide band of insecticide and an attractant, a combination of carbaryl and bran bait. "And our grasshopper control tests have shown that carbaryl is the least toxic substance to birds," explains the Sacramento Farm Advisor. Natural predators of grasshoppers include birds, especially western meadowlarks and bluebirds, ground beetles, wasps, and praying mantids.

From the mailbag, Susan of Herald wants to know: "Grasshoppers have eaten the leaves of my escallonia. Can it be saved?"

There are a couple of steps that can help insure the long-term survival of trees and shrubs made bare by adult grasshoppers, who will begin dying off after laying their eggs this summer. "Water the area beneath the plant's dripline thoroughly with a soaker hose twice a month," says San Joaquin Farm Advisor Gary Hickman. "This can help alleviate water stress. A bare plant that doesn't get water could develop sunburn. In a few weeks, a plant that isn't stressed for water may be pushing out a new set of leaves." Another plant saving strategy: painting the trunk and stems with interior white latex paint, diluted 50% with water. This will reduce the bark temperature, keeping it from cracking. Otherwise, those cracks could allow beetles to bore in and lay eggs.

Two common garden practices that should be avoided when treating a leafless tree or shrub after a hopper attack: fertilizing or enclosing with a row cover to protect it. "The fertilizer may damage a leafless plant," says Hickman. "And if it's 100 degrees, a row cover may cause some heat-related problems for a plant."


 Shady Roses

by Fred Hoffman

During the winter, bare root roses will fill the shelves at area nurseries and garden centers. Most of the roses you may be contemplating need more than six hours of direct sunlight a day to bloom well. What's a rose-loving gardener to do with a backyard that has more shade than sun?

According to Sacramento-based Consulting Rosarian Pam Myczek of the American Rose Society, you may be in luck. She has compiled a list of roses that may be successful in a planting area that gets only four to six hours of sun each day. Look for these shade-tolerant varieties on your shopping trips:

* White roses: Gourmet Popcorn, Iceberg (pictured above), Madame Hardy, Sally Holmes, Sea Foam.

* Apricot-colored roses: Evelyn, Valencia, Buff Beauty.

* Orange-blend roses: Just Joey, Bill Warriner, Touch of Class, Victoria Park.

* Mauve roses: Angel Face, Kaleidoscope, Lavender Lassie.

* Red roses: Asso di Cuori, Mr. Lincoln, Playboy.

* Pink roses: Savoy Hotel, Secret, Baby Grand, Cape Cod, Flower Girl, Miss Ada.

* Yellow roses: Elina, Gold Medal, Graham Thomas, Mutabilis, St. Patrick, Sunsprite.

Valley rosarian Lance Walheim, author of the books, "Roses for Dummies" and "The Natural Rose Gardener" recommends these hybrid tea roses for light shade gardens: Brandy (apricot/orange), Garden Party (creamy white with a hint of pink), Swarthmore (red) and Voodoo (peach/yellow).

In our own garden, three hybrid tea roses - Pink Peace, Miss All American Beauty (pink) and Oklahoma (red) - are doing well on the north side of the house, where they get primarily early morning and late afternoon sun.

For more of Myczek's "shady roses" selections, visit the Sacramento Rose Society website.



The Banana Shrub: A Show for the Nose

by Fred Hoffman

Banana Shrub (Michelia Figo)

One of the major joys of gardening in our area is the proliferation of a wide variety of fragrant plants that do well here, providing olfactory pleasure year round. Many of these annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs are widely available. Most of us are familiar with the nose-pleasing scents of citrus trees, winter daphne, gardenia, star jasmine, stock, nicotiana, iris, rose and tuberose. A few months ago, we spotlighted other pungent shrubs that are not quite as common, but doing well at the U.C. Davis Arboretum: summer daphne, tea olive and the white ginger lily. Now, the evening aroma reminiscent of Juicy Fruit gum wafting through our patio door reminds us to add another plant to this list: the banana shrub, Michelia figo.

This member of the magnolia family should not be confused with its fruit-bearing counterpart in the Musa genus, the banana. Unlike that temperature sensitive plant from the tropics, the banana shrub has a neat growing habit (six to eight feet tall with a spread of three to five feet) and will do quite well in our climate, surviving winter freezes down to 15 degrees. This native of China is evergreen, with very little litter. Although its resistance to pest and disease problems is notable, it's the springtime fragrance of the banana shrub that should insure its position next to an entryway or window. The delicious aroma from its creamy yellow blossoms, edged in purple, is most prominent in the late afternoon and evening of late April and early May. A slight breeze will send its distinctive scent throughout the yard, prompting an unsuspecting guest to query, "Who's chewing gum?"

The cultural demands of the banana shrub are fairly easy to meet: a location that includes partial shade in the afternoon; a weekly deep watering in quick-draining soil; and, a spring application of a complete fertilizer, one that contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. The only other requirement: unstuffed nasal passages to enjoy the bountiful nose bouquet of the banana shrub.


 Planting Under Oaks


Oak trees that thrive here in the Valley, especially the native blue oak, coast live oak, interior live oak and the ubiquitous valley oak, are a definite plus in anyone's home landscape. Their statuesque beauty is complemented by the variety of tasks they perform, including providing screening, shade, protection from wind and serving as a wildlife habitat.

Because native oaks have adapted to our environment (especially in our hot, rain-free summers), oak trees have root systems than not only can go deep to find water, but also extend out beyond the canopy of the tree just below the soil surface. This sensitive root system is vulnerable to overwatering and physical injuries such as tilling beneath the tree. At most risk: those old oak trees that predate the surrounding homes. Old stands of oaks that are now part of housing developments may be threatened because of extensive plantings of thirsty shrubs, perennials, annuals and lawns -especially lawns - beneath them. Frequent waterings encourage root rot and root fungus in oaks, causing death by disease or by toppling in a heavy storm.

To maintain healthy oak trees, keep them out of the range of lawn sprinklers and lawns, don't use plants beneath oaks that require a lot of water, don't pave the area beneath the tree and don't compact the soil under their canopy by using tillers, shovels or trenchers.

There are, though, several plants that can be utilized in an oak tree-dominated landscape. Plant these (by hand) at least ten feet away from the trunk; plant them sparingly, as accent plants. Among the non-thirsty specimens that need watering once a month or less (when established) in the summer: manzanita, ceanothus, toyon, California buckeye, dwarf coyote bush, California buckwheat, creeping sage, yarrow, California poppy and lupine.



Everyone would like a yard studded with colorful plants. But who's got time for designing, planting and maintaining a yard suitable for the cover of "Sunset" magazine? Here are some plants for our area that are low-maintenance (requiring little pruning or deadheading), easy to grow in our area and will add a rainbow of colors to your landscape. All of these plants are readily available at area nurseries.

To help insure success and reduce your gardening workload, group these plants together by their watering and/or light requirements. Plants that require dry conditions still need water to get established and will thrive with a deep irrigation every two weeks through the hot summer months.

Plants for dry, sunny areas

African Daisy (Height: 10-12"). Celosia (6-15").Cleome (30-48"). Cosmos (18-30"). Dusty Miller (8-10"). Petunia (4-6"). Portulaca (4-6"). Verbena peruviana (4-6").


Plants for dry, part shady areas

Autumn Sage (Height: 3-4'). Sweet Alyssum (3-5"). Sedum (2-12").Dusty Miller (8-10").Hen-and-Chickens (1-2'). Mugo Pine (2-4'). Dwarf Myrtle (1-2'). Fortnight Lily (2-4').


Plants for full sun, regular watering

Ageratum (Height: 4-6"). Agapanthus (1-3'). Daylily (1-6'). Lobelia (3-5"). Nicotiana (12-15"). Phlox (6-10"). Pittosporum 'Wheeler's Dwarf' (1-2'). Salvia (12-24").


Plants for part shade, regular watering

Tuberous and fibrous begonias (Height: 6-10"). Coleus (10-24"). Impatiens (6-18"). Vinca (12-14"). Ageratum (4-6"). Lobelia (3-5"). Nicotiana (12-15"). Salvia (12-24").


Plants for full shade, regular watering

Begonia (Height: 8-12"). Bleeding Heart (2-3'). Plantain Lily (1-2'). Monkey Flower (1-4'). Baby's tears (1-4"). Easy Care Shrubs (full sun, regular water). Ternstroemia gymnanthera (Height: 5-7'). Evergreen Euonymus (Height: 8-10'). New Zealand Flax (Height: 9'). Bottlebrush (Height: 10-15'). Photinia (Height: 10-15').


Year-Round Tomatoes From Your Greenhouse


Jeanne, in the greenhouse, picking tomatoes on New Year's Day!(Those yellow cards? Sticky traps for the whiteflies!)

If you really want to demonstrate to your friends what a great investment your greenhouse is, nothing beats serving them home grown tomatoes...on New Year's Day!

Here's What You'll Need to Grow Greenhouse Tomatoes for the Winter and Spring:

The Right Tomato. For the typical hobby greenhouse (8x5, 8x10, 8x12), cool season "determinate" tomatoes are best. These tend to be fairly compact plants (under 4 feet tall) that do not put on lots of growth after they set fruit. Determinate tomatoes usually ripen at the same time; so, choose several tomatoes that will ripen at different times, going from seed to fruit in 50-70 days. To minimize disease problems, choose tomatoes that have "built-in" disease resistance. These will have the letters "V" (verticillium wilt-resistant), "F" (fusarium wilt) "N" (nematodes), "T" (tobacco mosaic virus) and "A" (alternaria fungus) after the variety name of the tomato.

A "Warm Greenhouse". This is one that maintains a nighttime temperature range of 55-70 degrees, preferably above 60 degrees for tomatoes. Daytime temperatures should range from 75-85 degrees. A heater, in conjunction with a thermostatically controlled vent fan, can easily provide that temperature range here in the Valley and foothills.

Sunlight. Tomatoes need full sun, at least six hours of direct sun a day. Try to position your greenhouse so that it can take best advantage of the low angle of the sun during the cold months, making sure the building isn't shaded by any evergreen trees or other structures.

Artificial light. Because of the lower intensity of the sun and the persistence of valley fog and low clouds during the winter, you may need a lighting system to supplement the natural light. Although there are many artificial lighting systems available, fluorescent lights are the most economical. Use four, 40-watt, 48-inch long fluorescent tubes side by side, keeping them 8-12 inches above the plants. Although standard "shop lights" are OK, investing in Gro-Lux wide spectrum fluorescent tubes will give your tomatoes more of the light spectrum that they can use.

Water. Although the cooler temperatures of the fall and winter will cut down on the amount of water that tomatoes need, a drip system connected to a timer will insure that the plants get the moisture they need. Four to eight gallons of water per week per plant should be plenty.

Soil. Planting directly into the ground of the greenhouse is OK, as long as the soil drains readily, has been amended with organic matter and isn't compacted. Building raised beds into the floor of your greenhouse works best. Make the sides of the raised bed 8-16 inches high, and at least 18 inches wide. The bed can be framed by a number of things, including untreated wood, blocks, bricks, or stacked old tires. Growing tomatoes in plastic 5-gallon pots and half-barrels work well, too.

Fertilizer. Because plants tend to slow down their growth in the colder months, cut your dosage of your favorite tomato fertilizer by half. For example, if the directions for a water-soluble fertilizer say to add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, pour that same tablespoon into 2 gallons of water during the winter feeding periods. A once-a-month application should be plenty.

A Pollinator. In nature, bees and wind do most of the tomato pollination in the home garden. In the greenhouse, you can accomplish the same task by either gently shaking or holding an electric toothbrush next to the plant; or, twirling a small brush inside a tomato flower to transfer the pollen.


Some greenhouse tomato variety suggestions for the colder months:

Bush Early Girl VFFNT Hybrid. A bushy plant that produces 6-7 oz. fruit. Determinate, 54 days.

Bush Beefsteak. The fruit averages 8 oz. each on a compact plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Clear Pink Early. 2-3 foot tall plant produces pink tomatoes, about 3-6 oz. Determinate, 58 days.

Grushovka. A pink, egg-shaped, 3-inch long tomato from Siberia. Plants are under three feet tall. Determinate, 65 days.

Manitoba. The fruit is over 6 oz. in size, very productive and early. Determinate, 60 days.

Northern Exposure. A compact plant that produces 8 oz. "Big Boy" style tomatoes. Determinate, 67 days.

Oregon Spring V. Developed at Oregon State University for short season gardens. Medium sized fruit that is nearly seedless. Determinate, 58 days.

Pilgrim VFFA Hybrid. 8 oz. fruit on a compact plant that boasts excellent yields and good flavor. Determinate, 65 days.

Polar Baby. Developed in Alaska. 2-inch salad tomatoes. Determinate, 60 days.

Prairie Fire. 3-5 oz. tomatoes on short plants. Tangy flavor. Determinate, 55 days.

Red Robin. The plants get only 12 inches tall, producing cherry-sized tomatoes. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 63 days.

Siberia. A favorite of Canadian greenhouses, this bushy plant reportedly will set fruit at temperatures as low as 38 degrees. Fruit is under 2 inches in diameter. Determinate, 55 days.

Siletz. 10-12 oz. tomato developed in Oregon. Determinate, 52 days.

Sub Arctic Maxi. For very cold climates. 2 oz. fruit on a small plant. Determinate, 62 days.

Sweet Tangerine. Orange-red colored fruit. Determinate, 68 days.

Tumbler. Cherry-sized tomatoes in seven weeks. Good choice for hanging baskets. Determinate, 49 days.

506 Bush. Plants only get 18 inches tall, are drought tolerant and produce medium sized tomatoes. Determinate, 62 days.


For More Information about greenhouses and tomatoes:

Garden Grower's Greenhouses - (888) 929-8383

"Greenhouse Gardening" by Sunset Books

"How to Build and Use Greenhouses" by Ortho Books

Tomato Growers Supply Company - (888) 478-7333

Burpee Seeds (800) 888-1447

Park Seed Company - (864) 223-7333


Put the Brakes on March Gardening

(from 3/1/00)

The first week of 70-degree temperatures and dry weather will soon be here, promise the TV weatherfolks. And no doubt, on the first balmy weekend this month, gardeners will be flocking to the nurseries, in search of vegetable seeds and transplants, to be stuck into the ground that same day. And if you see knowing smiles on the faces of the cashiers, they realize that many of these early bird summer garden shoppers will be back, after those seeds and plants have croaked in their new cold, damp home.

Although the official beginning of spring is just around the corner (March 19), your soil still says, "it's winter down here." Soil temperatures in our area are hovering in the mid-50's, a pleasant enough climate to grow lettuce and peas; but still too cool for many of our summertime favorites such as tomatoes, peppers, corn and squash. These crops thrive in warmer soil conditions, when the garden hits 65 degrees, usually in the last week of April.

What will happen if you set out those seeds and transplants now? Not much. Transplants of tomatoes and peppers will not exhibit many signs of growth, nor will they be able to absorb much fertilizer due to the relative inactivity of soil microbes. This will make these plants susceptible to attack from insects and soil-borne diseases. Seeds of warm weather crops planted now, especially corn and squash may fail to germinate; if they do sprout, shoots may become decayed or might be attacked near the soil line by fungi, causing the young plants to collapse, a condition commonly referred to as damping off.

The obvious solution? Wait until late April to plant your summer vegetable garden outdoors.

But for us eager gardeners, there are some tricks to get a head start on the summer outdoor growing season:

* Plant in raised beds. Mounded soil, 12-18" high, has several benefits for the early bird gardener. Soil temperatures are higher and drainage is better, so plants and seeds don't have to struggle with a cold, damp environment.

* Use season-extending devices such as row covers or Walls of Water. The Walls of Water is an inexpensive, 18"-diameter plastic cylinder with water-filled tubes that fits over young plants. The sun heats the water in the tubes during the day, which warms the soil as well as offering a few degrees of protection during cold nights.