Building a Pollinator Garden

It’s late February 2021 and we are running an online plant sale with our pick up date in SLO on March 20. CNPSSLO contributor Jen Lopez put together the following notes on creating a pollinator garden with the plant selections we are currently offering. 

These plants are appropriate for gardens throughout SLO County and most of California. All are drought resistant, tolerate some summer water, and will look beautiful when planted together.

Start with a slightly staggered row of shrubs along the back – possibly planted as a hedgerow with close spacing so that they intermingle as they grow

  • Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ (if you don’t have a deer problem) or Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ (if you’re in North County with deer) or Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ (if you’re in South County or along the coast and have deer)
  • Frangula californica syn Rhamnus californica – Although the blooms are almost unnoticeable to us, they’re essential to some of our smallest native insects. Very garden-tolerant, slow-growing shrub, with a neat and attractive appearance year round.
  • Prunus ilicifolia ssp. lyonii – Beautiful shrub with tremendous wildlife value.
  • Heteromeles arbutifolia –  Toyon is one of the most valuable wildlife shrubs, the others being willow, coffeeberry, and elder. Although sizable, you’ll never regret finding space for toyon in your garden.
  • If you have more space and clay soil or a high water table, add native elder and willow.

Next, add subshrubs in front and in between

  • Salvia leucophylla ‘Point Sal – will grow taller in partial shade, but stays low in full sun. Surprisingly tolerant of summer water and clay soils, but will rot in standing water.
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum ‘Warriner Lytle’ – buckwheats are some of the most valuable natives for our pollinators and are almost always buzzing with activity when in bloom. This variety grows2-3 times as wide as tall but its size is easily controlled by late-winter pruning.
  • Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’
  • Baccharis pillularis ‘Pigeon Point’

Complete your pollinator banquet with native perennials and deer grass

  • Epilobium canum – bumblebees cut hole in the base of the flowers in order to reach the nectar! These will spread gently but won’t wipe out surrounding plants.
  • Asclepias fascicularis – plant a minimum of three of these as they are essential food for Monarch caterpillars. More is better! If they begin to look weedy they can be cut back to stimulate new growth -but please leave trimmings at the base of the plants in case there are butterfly eggs present.
  • Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Blue Springs’
  • Sisyrinchium bellum ‘Rocky Point’
  • Muhlenbergia rigens
  • Solidago spp.

Garden Maintenance

My garden is small compared to the ones I manage in my horticulture business, but it’s still a hideaway for the birds, bees and native plants. It’s calming and is a source of tranquility for myself and my family. During difficult times, and I’m sure you have experienced them and know what I mean, the backyard can be a peaceful and serene place. Sometimes however, the garden can also create stress.

Gophers, spider mites and water bills, to name a few, can detract us from our beautiful garden. But keeping this in mind, we must remember we share this space with the critters and the insects. These are all part of the fabric of nature. Just like fertilizer and compost, gas and electricity bills, we have to budget for this special place. It doesn’t matter if it is a drought resistant native garden or even a cactus garden. There will be maintenance involved. Weeding can take us away from family and friends, however, I have found over the years, for me, the yard has been a great investment.

When I think about the hours of enjoyment I have experienced watching the birds, bees and plants in my garden grow, these times have been some of the best I ever had. So looking forward to the future and what it might hold, I’m hoping you will find that the investment of time, energy and money in your garden, is one that is well spent. Until next time, collect rain water and happy gardening.

John Nowak

What Does Low Rainfall mean for Your Garden?

Well, with our rainy season half ways over, the outlook is dire. Looking at the “up-to-date” records, we have received about half of normal rainfall, season to date. So what does this mean for those of you who have just put in those natives after the plant sale?

The bottom line is you will need to water your new plantings every other week deeply until the rains hopefully return. What does water ‘deeply’ mean? Depending on your soil type, deeply for sandy coastal soil means: fill the basin around your plant three times. If you live in Los Osos that means it could take up to 10 minutes for the soil to accept the first basin full of water. With clay soil, like in San Luis Obispo or Atascadero, one basin filling should be enough. Remember it’s always best to water early in the day.

Now we need to discuss your more matures trees and shrubs? Many of us already have old oaks, manzanitas, ceanothus and many other natives. Should I water them? If we don’t receive at least 2 inches of rain by the end of February, the answer is “yes”. I know you have always heard, “don’t water your oaks or natives.” This is somewhat true, but to clarify: Don’t water during the summer months of June, July, August and September. Watering mature oaks during these months can cause ‘root rot’ aka oak root fungus. However, during the winter months of December, January, February and March, our native plants, especially oaks, need rainfall to sustain themselves through the long summer months.

So in conclusion, due to the unusual deficit in rainfall that we are now experiencing, you may need to apply supplemental water to your garden. Keep an eye to the sky and if the rain doesn’t return (and you can afford it), you will need to help your garden out. Set out irrigation for established shrubs and trees as well as hand water your new plantings, every two weeks until the rains, hopefully return. Until next time, collect rain water and happy gardening. John Nowak

Garden weeds

The New Year always comes with the promise of happy times and lots of good luck. Well, for the garden, good luck means rain. And that great stuff helps our native plants grow. Unfortunately, rain also brings unwanted company to the garden in the form of weeds. A very smart person once told me, “John, a weed can be any plant growing in the wrong place”….. for example, California poppies.

I had a client whose yard was overtaken by California poppies. She said she had been told it was against the law to remove the poppies. I assured her that the ‘poppy police’ would not fine us and so we waited for the plants to set seed. I then removed the plants and collected lots of seeds, giving the seeds away. Needless to say the next Winter her yard was full of poppies again and is still to this day!

January is by far the best time for weed control in the garden. Nights are cool and the seedling weeds are small and easy to hoe under. Here are a couple of tips for weeding: First, wait two or three days after a rain event to weed, as wet soil is hard to hoe or hand pull weeds from. The soil will fall off pulled weeds easier when the soil is drier; Second, go after the largest weeds first, as these are usually the grasses which set seeds first. Compost weeds that are green and can really get your compost going. Third, do not use Round-Up unless it is absolutely necessary, and if so, follow the instructions closely. Lastly, when weeding, use a knee pad as kneeling is safer for your back then a bent over position that is hard on the lower back and will cause you harm. Start out slow and don’t over do it the first day. Finally, mulch after weeding, if you mulch too early it will cause you headaches when you try to hoe or hand pull weeds.

Well that’s a lot to comprehend. This weeding stuff requires a sharp mind and a weeding tool, as well. Until next time, happy gardening. If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: gritlys@gmail.com.

John Nowak

Your spring wildflower garden

The Garden Corner

It’s time to start thinking about planting your wildflower garden with the winter rains coming soon. As in years past, we are beginning our rainy season late with a dry fall so far. This doesn’t mean we will have a dry winter, but this dry pattern is important when it comes to sowing our wildflower garden.

The best gardens start with the onset of rain. But if we put out our seeds too soon, the birds will eat them and the sun will bake the rest. So keeping this in mind, we can still prepare the site to be planted by raking the area smooth. Soil amendment is not necessary. Go through the seeds you have acquired, which, of course, you bought at the plant sale. Get everything ready so that when the storms start to line up you are ready to sow your seeds. Two days in advance of a rain event, complete the following steps: First, rake the top one inch of soil to loosen it; Second, using a light hand, spread seeds over the area that is to be your wildflower garden; Third, using your rake, go over the area once again to ensure there is soil-to-seed contact. Finally, and the best part, ‘do the stomp’ by walking all over the area to compress the soil. Then wait for the rains to come.

It’s important to provide extra water, if necessary, at least every two weeks. Otherwise if the rains come, sit back and watch your wildflowers grow! Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions about sowing your wildflower garden, please contact me at: gritlys@gmail.com.

John Nowak

Safe Insect Repellents

The Garden Corner

Spider mites, aphids, thrips, oh my! Sadly, along with fall colors comes an invasion of these pesky insects. And trust me, when it comes to bugs, things can go south real fast! Fall’s warm weather, often times referred to as “The Indian Summer”, creates the perfect condition for these destructive creatures to explode overnight. Before you know it, there could be a full fledged war happening in your backyard. Luckily I have some tricks up my sleeve to keep these bugs at bay.

Now there’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to repelling insects. This first thing to remember is that you’ll never be able to kill every single bug. Not to worry though, plants are able to tolerate a few insects here and there. Secondly, it’s highly important to be mindful of bees. The rule is: When flowers are present, there’s likely to be bees present. That’s why fall is an optimal time to spray for pests, as most plants are in a somewhat dormant state waiting for the winter rain.

When the bugs attack, the first thing I’d recommend is Neem oil. This organic pest repellent is made from the seeds of the Neem tree, and available at most nursery centers. Neem oil works by covering the insects’ breathing holes, and is also effective against leaf fungi on manzanita and toyon. Next on the list are soap sprays. I would suggest a simple soap spray made of potassium salts, which like Neem oil, smothers the bugs’ breathing holes. Lastly is Bacillus thuringiensis. This spray works exclusively on caterpillar insects like the ones that eat oak trees, and should only be applied in the evenings as it breaks down in the sunlight.
I hope this gave you a bit of insight on how to prepare for Fall’s creepy crawlers. Until next time, happy gardening! If you have any questions, please contact me at: gritlys@gmail.com

-John Nowak

The Garden Corner Oct 2019

As we march closer to fall, it’s time to think about preparing our landscape for the upcoming rains, cold nights and of course weeds. I thought it would also be a good time to think about tearing out overgrown shrubs and trees to replace them with new plants or the same thing.

Our chapter has always targeted our plant sale for November because it is the best time to plant with the winter rains coming, hopefully. But in a perfect world we can expect rains in January through March. So, what to do? Well, here are a couple of thoughts.

First, its time to take a walk through the garden and look closely at what you have already. Are you happy? Are some plants old and need to be replaced? Take a note pad with you and write down your thoughts. Sometimes I like to do this after work, when I’m feeling relaxed. I look at the yard and think to myself, “What would look really cool here?” This could take weeks, but knowing that the rains are coming, now is the time to, as my Dad used to say ‘Johnny, put your nose to the grindstone’. Second, prepare for the weeds, and this is best done by mulching. There are so many ways to mulch and there are some articles that say mulch can encourage weeds. In my experience, when mulch is applied too thin it is ineffective. A thick layer of three inches will put an end to most annual weeds. Perennials, such as Bermuda grass, will not be controlled with mulch, sorry. Further, it’s important to keep an eye on pests. Many pests will show up when you least expect them. I’m going straight to Neem oil now, with a soap spray every other treatment; very effective for spider mites, thrips and aphids. For loopers, which are prone to attack oaks, I use Bacillus thuringiensis. Spray at night, because it breaks down in the sun. It only controls loopers; therefore, it won’t hurt other insects.

This brings me to my last point. Whenever we spray in the garden, even with Neem oil that is totally organic, we need to watch for bees. If you see bees, the rule is to not spray. Spray late in the day when the bees have returned to their hives. I’ve covered a lot. So until next time, Happy Gardening.

– John Nowak, Plant Sale Chairperson.

Landscaping with California Native Plants

Landscaping with California Native Plants

Saturday, October 12, 2019, 9am – 1pm

The workshop is full and registration is closed. Please send an email to the organizers if you wish to be added to the wait list. You will be contacted by October 4 if space becomes available.

Email address melster@charter.net

This CNPS-SLO chapter workshop will provide a short lecture followed by field trips to local native plant gardens.

Learn about:

  • Which plants tend to be available and work well
  • Selecting appropriate plants based on site conditions
  • Plant/soil relationships
  • Learn from local landscapers and gardeners

Morning refreshments and coffee will be provided.

Class size is limited and advanced registration is required. 

Registration ends October 4th, 2019. Cost is $30 for members and $40 for non-members. We will meet at UC Cooperative Extension (2156 Sierra Way # C, San Luis Obispo) for the lecture and first garden tour. Other garden tours will be at native plant enthusiasts’ homes in SLO. Questions? Please email David Krause dkincmbria@aol.com

Please arrive by 8:45 for check-in and breakfast refreshments. Participants are encouraged to bring a sack lunch to enjoy at the last tour stop.

flyer

 

The Garden Corner

After months of rain we are finally in Spring! I’m sure most of you are knee deep in weeds and your mature plants are growing crazy which brings us to this month’s topic of pruning. As I mentioned several months ago, most California native plants bloom in March and April. Then they will began a vegetative growth spurt that will end in early September after which they will go into a dormant period due to our Mediterranean climate.

So how do we take advantage of the growth cycle to prune the natives in our gardens? My theory is to follow the bloom and seed transition. As I have discussed before, pruning during flower production is not productive. However, after flowers have gone to seed, it’s time to prune.

Pruning can vary depending on the genus and/or species of each plant. For example, Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush) can be cut to the ground and it will come back with a beautiful flush of new growth. On the other hand, Arctostaphylos species (Manzanitas) and Ceanothus species can be shaped but no more than what is needed to maintain their desirable size. Salvia species are late bloomers, so when they are finished blooming you can prune off the old flower stocks to promote a more compact plant. Perennials, such as Heuchera species and Iris douglasiana (Douglas iris), will respond to the removal of old leaves and flower stock pruning. California native grasses can also be cut back after their seed head production to create a more desirable appearance.

In summary, April and May are great months to prune California native plants lightly to promote a more desirable shape. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me. Hope you have an enjoyable summer. Until our next newsletter in the Fall, Happy Gardening.

-John Nowak, Plant Sale co-Chairperson

Seed Collection of Early Bloomers

I’ve collected my first seeds of 2019. Buttercup seeds are turning brown even as more buds open. Collecting will be an ongoing process which I can do easily since it is in my garden. This is just a reminder that seed season is upon us. As this newsletter is for both May and June and we won’t have another issue until October, this is my only opportunity to urge you to think of collecting seed for the seed exchange which will be held just before the chapter meeting in October.

We had more than seventy different species of seeds available last fall thanks to contributions from many of you. It would be fun to have more species and more people participating. We don’t mind duplicates. Perhaps there is genetic diversity between the seed from your yard and the seed from someone else’s. It all depends on pollen and the pollination. I have little ‘babies’ growing from seed I obtained at the seed exchange. I have a few Allium unifolium. The seeds did not germinate well for me and they don’t look happy. Time will tell. It’s fun to try though. The Ericameria ericoides are doing better.

Whether they will like my environment remains to be seen, but if they continue to survive I will have several to play with. It would be beautiful to have that splash of yellow in my yard. I planted Penstemon centranthifolius seeds from 2016 which were at our exchange several years ago. I made a mistake on that though. I planted them next to some Penstemon heterophyllus which germinates readily. I should have known better. Rain or watering may have knocked the seed into a different slot. It’s much better to plant similar things farther apart. Since my seed germination trays are out on tables by the garage and open to the wind and the birds I am not positive at this point that it’s really P. centranthifolius. It could be P. heterophyllus. Again time will tell. As they mature the plants will look very different.

I hope that some of you who got seed from the exchange have had success and will be enjoying the benefits of lots of plants with just a bit of time, soil and water. My favorite time is when the seeds first germinate. It’s fun to see what I can grow and what just doesn’t like my methods. It’s a bit of work to keep moving the plants up but once planted in the garden I can point to them and proudly say “I grew that from seed.” I hope to see you at the seed exchange in October.

-by Marti Rutherford