DIG THIS! SLO Landscape Strategies

Dirt’s For The Birds

 

...And even they will find it hard to swallow! 

I’m a stickler about using the word “soil” when others may feel content to say “dirt.” Simply put: Dirt gets on your clothes and coats your car. Soil feeds your plants through a complex system of living and dying organic matter. Soil is practically worth its weight in gold. In fact, I call one of the major components of good soil, compost, “black gold.” A new-to-me garden blogger, Greg Seaman, wrote a piece for his blog recently that will help explain the importance of this essential garden nutrient. Read it here.

Remember: Soil is what you use to build your garden, and dirt is what you track through your house when your garden is done.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Nick Wilkinson: A Little Farther Down The Garden Path

The image of a plant enthusiast is easy to conjure: A kindly bearded gent, ankle-deep in mulch, puttering in the garden from dawn til dusk, trusty trowel in hand. Here to break the mold, however, is Grow Nursery owner and plant fiend Nick Wilkinson. We featured Grow itself in December of ’11, but this time we’ll delve a little deeper into the man behind the rare and unusual succulents.

GBG: Were did you grow up? Why did you decided to move to the Central Coast?
NICK: I grew up down on the border, 100 miles east of San Diego. It was really hot: The town’s motto was “Where the Sun Spends the Winter.” I moved here from San Diego 6+ years ago with my wife to buy a nursery and have been able to make that pay the bills.
GBG: How would you describe yourself?
NICK: Forever full of energy, yet constantly out of money.


GBG
:  What is your favorite plant or flower?

NICK: SO SO SO hard. You know I love them all! I guess the plant I have the most of in my collection is Operculicarya decaryi. I could have 100 of them and be happy, but that is true of so many…

GBG: How did you get in plant business?
NICK: After years of finding myself spending every last bit of money I had on succulents and vintage pottery, I got the idea to buy a nursery.
GBG: Which succulents would survive the apocalypse?
NICK: Sempervivums- With a name that in Latin means “Semper (“always”) and vivus (“living”), there isn’t much else to say.
GBG: How did being an artist influence your career as a plantsman?
NICK: You know, this is what I think makes me different from most plantsmen. Instead of coming at this from a plant-first outlook, I come at this profession from a perspective rooted (no pun intended) in form, shape and design. I’m constantly bending plants over, torturing them and looking for the right planter to make them into a sculpture.
GBG:  When you were growing up what did you want to become?

NICK: Anything but a farmer which is what my father, grandfather, and lots of other family did for a living. Turns out that instead of farming alfalfa, I’m farming succulents.

GBG: Do you like to travel and where have you been?
NICK: YES! I’ve been all over Europe and more recently been traveling a bit in Mexico, especially Baja the past few years. I’d travel more but my family is young and it’s just not in the cards for me to be gone for long stretches. Luckily, I get asked to give lectures several times per year on various topics so to travel and document the trip can pay off… at least that’s what I tell my wife and accountant.
GBG: If you were an animal then what would you be?
NICK: (see below)

 

 

 

 

 

GBG: Would you rather have super strength or super intelligence?
NICK: Luckily, I was blessed with both.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Water Conservation Sweeping The Nation!

…Starting with our own KCBX!

Many thanks to Mike Bush of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden who, during his January 25th, 2012, interview on KCBX, mentioned a garden we completed with water conservation champion Mary Wilhelm. We were happy to be able to feature Mary’s garden in an article with the Tolosa Press, highlighting that due to her efforts to reduce her water usage, she hadn’t watered her garden at all during 2011. Take a listen to the SLOBG’s Executive Director as he discusses upcoming SLOBG events, signature qualities of Mediterranean climates, and the future of our inspiring local garden:

Mike Bush SLO Botanical Garden KCBX Interview 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Bare Root And Beautiful

As we button up our coats and wrap our scarves against the winds, Summer may seem like a distant memory–but try, for a moment, to recall last year’s array of sweet summery produce. Remember the delicious fruits: juicy plums, crisp apples, plump berries, and more? The way to get a head start on these summer crops is by planting your own fruiting trees now. How? With bare-root trees! Bare-root trees and berries are cultivated and nurtured throughout the year by growers around the country. Then, as the plants go dormant, workers gently remove dirt from the roots and wrap the root ball in sawdust, newspaper, or other insulating material, and prep it for shipping.

Now that you’ve acquired the taste for Summer, selecting the trees is the fun part! San Luis Obispo County residents have a huge diversity of trees available to them via local purveyors such as Bay Laurel Nursery and Farm Supply, and can easily plant themselves a kingly orchard. For the homeowner with less-than-ample growing space, consider multiple-budded trees, which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto them, meaning that one apple tree can provide you with early-, mid-, and late-season fruit.

Once you’ve picked out some favorites, it’s important to confirm that your choices will do well in your particular micro-climate. In much of the country, as air temperatures begin dropping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the Autumn, trees loose their leaves and enter a dormant period. Many fruit trees originate from these colder climates and need enough “winter chill hours” to send them fully dormant in the winter. The required number of hours that the tree spends at 45 degrees is considered its own personal “chill hours.” Fortunately for us, plant breeding has introduced trees that are “low chill” and do well with the reduced chill hours that our mild winter climate provides. Therefore, look for trees that are rated at 400 chill hours or less for best performance if your garden is in San Luis Obispo County.

Immediate coastal climates will require varieties with even fewer chill hours to do well (i.e. 1-200 hrs). Good selections for the foggier coast are figs, pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis, lemons, pineapple guavas and berries. If you’re gardening in North County, you have plenty of chill hours and need to be concerned more with winter hardy varieties that don’t mind freezing temperatures.When your trees and brambles arrive, take extra care with their delicate roots since they won’t be protected by soil and will easily dry out or freeze. Have some good compost on hand to amend the soil, and give yourself time to plant the trees the same day you bring them home. If you can’t plant them the same day, dig them partially into the ground or cover the root ball with layers of moist, insulating material. Come springtime, the plants’ well-established root system will provide you with happy, healthy fruit and flower production!

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Just Try To Keep Up With Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin photoIn the past several years, succulents have become a mainstay in drought-tolerant gardens throughout central California. Their practicality aside, the geometric shapes and colors ranging from sublime to electrifying create a definitive sense of place in a garden. One woman in particular has made a career of illustrating how to creatively plant and care for them. Best-selling author Debra Lee Baldwin has written books, penned countless articles, createdilluminating websites and blogs, excelled at photojournalism, and perfected watercolors–all in support of succulent plants. Through her books and lectures she has brought the succulent movement to established gardeners and curious novices alike. Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) allowed homeowners and professionals to see the many applications for succulents in gardens. Her popularity grew, as did that of the plants themselves, and Succulent Container Gardens (Timber Press, 2010) was born, encouraging plant-o-files in any location or climate to cultivate these remarkable plants.

Debra is a one-woman bibliography of plant wisdom and beauty. One of her websites, http://www.succulentchic.net (dedicated to these “fascinating fat-leaved plants and exploring their design potential”) features beautiful images of co-mingled succulents, channeling the love of plants into creative designs that are easy for anyone to execute. Her main website, http://www.debraleebaldwin.com/, describes Debra more thoroughly by listing her blogs, links, and CDs; sharing the progress of her own garden; and lists where to catch this prolific potter’s next presentation.

More personally, I’m truly inspired by the tireless way in which she has unified the leaders of the plant world and brings exposure to their work. She has captured and crystalized the succulent movement with her lectures, networking, and drive to promote these remarkable plants.
(Photos used with permission from www.DebraLeeBaldwin.com)
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sedges Have Edges (and Rushes are Round)

The beautiful climate of the California Central Coast gives us an abundance of outdoor activities that include trail hikes, beach-combing, and bird-watching at the estuary. When you’ve been out and about, have you ever wondered about the surrounding greenery, waving in the coastal wind? Some kind of grass you think–well think again! Let’s revisit this rhyme that may be familiar to some…

Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses are hollow, what have you found? 
Not being ones to shy away from the feel of things, we recommend the “touch test” to satisfy your curiosity. Gently roll the stem between your thumb and forefinger; if the stem and leaves are flat, you indeed have a grass. If you find edges making a very noticeable triangular shape, you’ve found yourself a sedge. And you guessed it; if the stem is round you’ve found a clump of rushes.
Next time you’re out for a bike ride or walk, don’t be afraid to bend down next to a clump of green and ask it to tell you its tale.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cage-Free Hen and Chicks

We love most every kind of succulent, and why not–they’re beautiful, drought-resistant, and if your conditions are right, they produce elegant little flowers. One of our favorite succulents is Echeveria. Thick, succulent leaves appear as petals in loose, concentric rings or rosettes. Echeveria thrive in the garden and are easy to grow. So easy to grow that they’re often called Hen and Chicks due to the abundance of small offsets (chicks) that the mature plant (hen) produces. The “chicks” are stunning in dish gardens for your home or to pot and give as elegant gifts to friends.

You’ll find echeveria in a kaleidoscope of unique leaf shapes, colors and textures. The leaf colors range from green to blue, purple to pink and even gray. In early summer you’ll find delicate bell-shaped flowers on pink stems; in winter, you’ll notice your Echeveria emerging for its seasonal drink.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Contain Your Compost!

How to make your neighbors love you
Containers, containers, containers, so many to choose from. They’re usually designed either as an upright open bin box or closed container.  An open box design collects rainwater and makes it easy to add materials. However, it can attract rodents, bees and other insects, become too wet and potentially be an eyesore for the neighbors. Compost containers tend to be more aesthetically pleasing and many designs have rotating drums making them easy to mix and unload. You’ll also need a turning fork (unless you have a rotating bin) and a shovel to remove your garden goodness.
I’ve got my compost, now what? 
After cooking for several weeks, you’ll find wonderful rich ingredient ready for use.  It’s best to till your compost into the soil in fall and spring. You can also side dress compost into your garden throughout the season for a slow released fertilizer. If you sift your compost, it makes a great lawn fertilizer and will save you money and save the environment from chemical runoff. Compost can also adds a boost to potting soil making for happier and healthier plants.
Value added benefits…
Thirsty? Compost tea is yummy, for your plants that is! Just soak a bag of compost in a bucket of water for about an hour and you’ve got a supercharged plant food for your house plants or garden that will boost nutrient levels and help prevent plant diseases.
You can relax knowing that with a little effort you’re compost will grow healthier plants, save you money, and help the environment. That’s a lot of good!
Tags: , , , , , ,

Compost Part Two: Let It Rot, Let It Roll!

The great (digestible) outdoors! 
Outdoor composting includes both green and brown materials. Which is to say, all you really need is food, water, and air, and maybe a bin (if you want to impress your neighbors). Good compost is made of the stuff you’d usually just throw away: table scraps, yard waste, shredded paper, pruned branches, eggshells, and so forth. With the right mix, millions of microorganisms will convert your raw leftovers into rich, beneficial compost.
How can I be sure the composting has started?
The little mico friends that make compost possible need a balanced diet of green materials (high in nitrogen) for protein and brown materials (high in carbon) for energy.  Once these elements are in place, there’s no stopping them! The best combination is three parts brown to one part green.
GREENS:
  • Fresh green grass clippings
  • Kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, compostable plates and flatware)
  • Weeds and green leaves
BROWNS:
  • Brown dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks and straw
  • Excess mulch
  • Pruned branches
DO NOT ADD:
  • Pet droppings
  • Materials treated with herbicides and/or pesticides
  • Too much meat, especially if your pile is uncovered
When do I stop adding stuff?

Start with a minimum of a cubic foot of raw materials, and add as you go. More material is always better to generate the heat core necessary for rapid breakdown. Remember that compost needs time to cook down before you use it in your garden: Each time you add new material it’s like resetting the clock on harvesting your product. You wouldn’t buy a bag of potting soil with a rotting tomato inside, so don’t do that to yourself at home!

By adding leaves and natural ingredients, you’ve got all the bacteria and fungi ready and waiting to help.  If you want to give them a little boost, add a shovel of good garden soil to the mix. By regularly turning your compost you help the decomposition along and speed up the process.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Compost: The Lifeblood of Your Central Coast Garden

Our mild climate here on the Central Coast makes it easy to overlook the changing of the seasons. With all the back-to-school commercials, however, it’s clear that fall is right around the corner. One of the best parts of autumn is making use of all those leaves that Nature provides for us. Yes, we’re going to have to rake a little, but it’s worth it for the leafy reward! Don’t put your pile in the yard waste container. Instead, add them to your compost pile and reuse them as nutritious supplement for your garden, lawn or houseplants.
No compost pile of your own? Do any of these lines sound familiar?
“I’ve been meaning to start composting, but I’m not sure how.”
“My neighbor composts and her house plants and garden are stunning.”
“I try to eat healthy and I’d like to save some money and not use fertilizers for my fruit trees and spring vegetable garden.” 
Not to worry, now is the perfect time to start your compost adventure! First, to talk about why. Simply put, compost is decomposing organic material. While that doesn’t sound too appetizing, think about it this way. Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods and enjoyed the soft, springy soil, or the way sounds seem muffled and softer? You’ve been surrounded by compost! As plants die, foragers of all sizes (from larger mammals, birds, and rodents to worms, insects, and microscopic organisms) consume them. The result of this natural cycle is compost, a combination of digested and undigested food that’s left on the forest floor to create rich, usually soft, sweet-smelling soil. Mother Nature knows her stuff!
We all have a variety of organic material that ends up at the local landfill. But if we compost our table scraps, lawn clippings, and fallen leaves, we avoid the messy garbage heaps of rotting food by choosing to manage–and reap the benefits of–the decomposition process. Compost also cuts down the need for fertilizers and potential chemical pollution.
Win, win, win!
Our local clay and sandy soil doesn’t always hold the right amounts of nutrients, air and moisture for healthy and productive plant growth.  Enter compost (imagine if Stan Lee had a garden comic strip hero)!  Compost improves the soils structure and gives virtually all the essential nutrients, and it releases those nutrients over time to give plants a steady, consistent amount essential for growth.  Compost will transform our sandy soil and grow stronger plants that are more resistant to diseases.
Soon to come, answers to: “How do I start?”  “Do I need worms?” “Can I compost everything??”
Tags: , , , , , ,