The best rodent control devices are useless against gophers.

Punxatawney Phil retreated from his shadow on Gobbler’s Knob, predicting a late spring. That was more than two weeks ago, and we are still waiting for a late rainy season to start! Regardless, Punxatawney Phil did his job and has gone back home to hibernate, or whatever he does this time of year. If only all rodents would do the same. Gophers do not ever seem to take any time off.

There is little agreement on how to efficiently evict gophers from the garden. A rodenticide that can only be applied by qualified pesticide applicators is purported to be the most effective means of extermination for large scale landscapes, but is not available to the general public and is very expensive when applied by professional exterminators.

Thumpers, battery powered devices that emit low frequency vibrations at random intervals, are only moderately effective at repelling gophers, and look rather odd in a lawn. Those cheap plastic whirlie thingies that spin in a breeze, causing their wiry stems to vibrate, are probably just as effective if occasionally relocated to keep the gophers from getting too comfortable with them. People who do not consider them to be appealing lawn ornaments think that they are tacky though.

Flooding gopher runs with water, or leaving sharp objects or chewing gum in the runs are generally not effective. It is nearly impossible to flood a system of runs, which is typically equipped with drainage. Gophers who are unfortunate enough to cut themselves on something sharp will bleed to death because their blood does not coagulate, but they are careful to not do so. Likewise, gophers who eat chewing gum will die because they can not digest chewing gum, but they prefer to eat roots. Besides, who really wants make gophers die in such agony?

Good old fashioned McAbee gopher traps, which incidentally were invented in Los Gatos, are probably the most effective means with which to eradicate gophers. They are difficult to set for a beginner; so it is a good idea to get trained by someone with experience. It is also important to set the traps in pairs with one trap in each direction of the main run below the exit tunnel, instead of setting a single trap in the exit tunnel. It takes some extra digging but is worth it. Because each pair catches only a single gopher, the empty trap should be sprung when pulled from the ground to avoid hurting someone. Do not let dogs dig up traps!

Trapping is only a temporary solution. Eventually, more gophers are likely to move in, necessitating more trapping.


Freeze Damage Necessitates Selective Pruning

Warmth stimulates recovery from freeze damage.

Pruning at the proper time has been a concern all winter. Dormant pruning was timely as soon as defoliation began. It remains timely almost until bloom. Pollarding and coppicing are generally although unnecessarily a bit later within that range. Spring pruning begins soon after bloom. Pruning of freeze damage starts after the last reasonable threat of frost.

Frost is as variable as the many climates here. Generally, it causes more damage farther inland and at higher elevations. Conversely and generally, it causes less damage closer to the coast and at lower elevations. Many southern coastal climates experience no frost. However, frigid air drains downhill. Within any plateau, the frostiest areas are the lowest.

Last frost dates should help with scheduling of pruning or grooming of freeze damage to vulnerable vegetation. The last frost date for a climate is the average date of its last frost. Frost becomes increasingly unlikely afterward. That is the best time to add warm season vegetables and annuals to the garden. It is also when to begin grooming freeze damage.

If not too unsightly, freeze damage lingers until the last frost date for two primary reasons. It shelters vulnerable tissue below, including any new growth that develops prematurely. Also, removal of such damage stimulates new growth that would be even more exposed and innately more vulnerable to frost. However, priorities change soon after the last frost.

Then, it becomes important to groom or prune away freeze damage prior to generation of fresh new growth. For milder climates, it is already timely to do so. It might be a while for less mild climates. Even for frostless climates, this might be a good time to groom growth that is only incidentally shabby. Such grooming gets more complicated with new growth.

Many zonal geraniums are already extending new growth up through shabby old growth. Removal of such old growth or freeze damage without damaging mingling new growth is no simple task. If new growth stretches for sunlight below old growth, it might flop without support from the old growth. It may be more practical to cut all growth back to regenerate. Canna also develop similar complications.

Warm Season Vegetables Will Soon Replace Cool Season Vegetables.

Radishes grow nicely while the weather is still cool, but will eventually bolt and bloom as weather eventually warms through spring.

Suburban landscapes must seem like an incredible waste of space to those of us who enjoy growing vegetables. The climate and soil of the Santa Clara Valley are just as excellent for vegetables now as they as they were for the vast fruit and nut orchards that were here earlier. Not only are summers just warm enough for warm season vegetables without being too unpleasantly hot, but winters are so mild that cool season vegetables can be productive from autumn until spring.

While cool season vegetables are still productive, a few types that grow quickly can still be sown. Radishes, carrots and even small beets still have time to grow before the weather gets too warm. Peas sown now will get an early start for spring. If leafy lettuces are being exhausted, more can be sown to replace them. Only large vegetable plants, like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, need to wait until autumn so that they have a whole cool season to grow through.

It is still a bit early to sow seeds for warm season vegetables directly into the garden. However, seed for some vegetables can be sown in greenhouses or cold frames, to produce seedlings for the garden later. Although beans, corn, most squash and other fast growing vegetables should be sown directly into the garden during warm spring weather, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants prefer to get an early start as seedlings.

(Outdated information regarding gardening classes has been omitted from this recycled article.)

Summer Bulbs Require No Chill

Many bulbs are not actually bulbs.

Narcissus, including daffodil, started to bloom during all that earlier torrential rain. Those that bloomed after the rain stood up a bit better than those that started earlier. Crocus are stouter so are more resilient. Hyacinth are both relatively stouter and slightly later. While such spring bulbs contend with late wintry weather, it is about time to add summer bulbs.

Unlike spring bulbs that like to be in the garden early enough to benefit from winter chill, summer bulbs do not benefit from chill. Some actually dislike it. Also unlike spring bulbs, very few summer bulbs, or late bulbs, are actually bulbs. Almost all are rhizomes, tubers, tuberous roots, corms or other types of dormant but reliably perennial storage structures.

Summer bulbs do not grow through early winter to bloom later in winter or early in spring like spring bulbs do. They instead grow through late winter and early spring to bloom for late spring or summer. A few bloom for autumn. Several are more reliably perennial than the majority of spring bulbs. However, some bloom splendidly only for their first seasons.

Gladiolus is one of the most popular summer bulbs, but like many spring bulbs, it blooms only once annually, and is not reliably perennial. Planting in phases every two weeks or so through their planting season prolongs bloom. However, most corms do not survive to bloom for a second season. Those that do will synchronize for their subsequent blooms.

Dahlia blooms for a longer season from the middle of summer until the middle of autumn. Also, it is more reliably perennial. Tubers remain dormant through winter after stems and foliage die back. They generate new stems and foliage through warming spring weather. Overgrown or crowded tubers propagate efficiently and easily by division while dormant.

Summer bulbs are not quite as diverse as spring bulbs, but some types are too vigorous for much diversity. A few rhizomes of canna can become overwhelming within a year. Old fashioned white calla forms broad colonies that might exclude other perennials. Smaller and more colorful modern cultivars are fortunately docile. Crocosmia might get invasive, and is difficult to mitigate.

Houseplants Naturally Live Outside Somewhere.

Kalanchoe is a popular houseplant here, but grows wild in Madagascar.

The plants grown as houseplants may have serious disadvantages that prevent them from being happy in the garden, but have other advantages that help them survive indoors. They tolerate the lack of direct sunlight, the lack of humidity, the minimal fluctuations of temperature and the confinement to pots that they must endure for a domestic lifestyle. Their main difficulty in the garden is most are from tropical climates, so can not tolerate cold winter weather.

However, even happy houseplants like to get out once in a while. Even though most can not survive the coldest winter weather, the mildest winter weather is actually the best for them to get supervised outings. During clear and warm summer weather, sunlight can easily roast foliage.

Houseplants with glossy tropical foliage occasionally like to be rinsed of dust and whatever residue that they accumulate in the home. (African violets and plants with fuzzy leaves do not want water of their foliage!) Foliage can be rinsed in a shower or with a hose, but are more gently rinsed by very light drizzly rain.

Timing is important. Unusually cold or heavy rain should be avoided. Plants should be brought in before the sun comes out. It is probably best to not leave plants out overnight when it gets colder and they are not likely to be monitored. While the plants are outside, mineral deposits can be scrubbed from the bases of the pots.

The rain needs to fall this time of year anyway, so it may as well go to good use in as many practical ways as possible. It may be a while before it flows into the aquifer and gets pumped out to come back later for use around the home and garden.

So much of the water that gets used around the home has the potential to be used again. With modifications to plumbing and the sorts of soaps and detergents used around the home, used water, politely known as ‘greywater’, can be redirected, collected and distributed to the garden. Water may not be so important in the garden this time of year, but a Greywater Workshop happens to be coming up next week; and advance registration is required.

The Guadalupe River Park Conservancy’s Adult Greywater Workshop (for ages eighteen and up), ‘Greywater Basics: Reusing Household Water in your Landscape’, will be from 9:00 a.m. to noon on February 18th. The Workshop will be at the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens Visitor and Education Center at 438 Coleman Avenue in San Jose. Admission is $15, or $10 for members. More information is available, and reservations can be made, at  or by telephoning 298 7657.

Spring Pruning Breaks The Rules

Spring pruning allows bloom to finish.

Dormant pruning is the best pruning. It happens while the subject plants that benefit from it are dormant and unaware of such procedures. Such procedures would be significantly more distressing to plants while they are vascularly active. In comparison, spring pruning may seem to be cruel and tortuous. Nonetheless, it is justified for particular applications.

For most plants that benefit from dormant pruning, the worst time to prune is immediately after the best time. Such plants are most vascularly active while blooming and refoliating during early spring. They become more resilient to pruning as they finish bloom and their foliage matures. This generally applies to plants that benefit from spring pruning as well.

The primary difference between plants that prefer dormant pruning and plants that prefer spring pruning is their primary purpose. Several plants that benefit from dormant pruning produce fruit. Plants that benefit from spring pruning merely produce profusion of bloom. Dormant pruning concentrates resources. Spring pruning allows maximum spring bloom.

For example, flowering plum is like a sterile but prettier version of fruiting plum. It merely blooms impressively without subsequently fruiting. There is no need for dormant pruning to concentrate resources into fruit, or to compensate for fruit weight. When and if pruning becomes necessary, it can happen after any unwanted growth has contributed to bloom.

Flowering cherry, flowering crabapple and flowering quince may actually prefer dormant pruning like their fruitful relatives do. However, like flowering plum, they also bloom more abundantly prior to spring pruning. Unrelated dogwood, redbud, forsythia and even New Zealand tea tree likewise benefit from spring pruning, which is the same as late pruning.

In moderation, blooming stems of plants that get either dormant or spring pruning can be delightful as cut flowers. A few unpruned stems can remain after dormant pruning for that purpose. They only need proper pruning when harvested or after bloom. Likewise, plants that get later spring pruning after bloom can likely spare a few stems while still blooming. Alternatively, such stems should be conducive to forcing.


Rain is naturally and innately . . . wet.

(February 12, 2012)

More than a week ago, many of us were astonished to witness countless drops of water miraculously falling out of the sky! What could this be? Where did this water come from? It is actually not such a mystery. These unfamiliar falling drops of water are merely a type of weather known as “rain”. “Rain” is actually nothing new, and happens every winter. Typically, there should have been an abundance of “rain” by this late in winter.

The problem with “rain” is that it is wet. Whatever it encounters also becomes wet, and often messy. Wet dirt becomes mud. Wet roads are hazardous to traffic. It is uncomfortable to go outside to do any gardening when everything is wet and muddy.

However, “rain” is very important to everyone’s survival. It is what moves water from the oceans back onto land, so that it can be collected and used for the many things that water is needed for. “Rain” also brings needed water to gardens, landscapes, and even the forests outside of urban areas. In one way or another, every living thing needs “rain”.

But wait! There’s more! “Rain” so efficiently waters gardens and landscapes that no other watering is needed! Most watering systems should therefore be turned off as long as there is enough “rain” to keep everything wet. Even when the “rain” stops, cooler temperatures and higher humidity keep things from drying as efficiently as they would during warm summer weather. Consequently, most watering systems can remain off until after winter, when the “rain” stops until next winter, and the weather gets warmer.

Actually, the only plants that may want water are those that are sheltered from the “rain”, and perhaps a few large potted evergreen plants that continue to lose enough moisture by evaporation from their foliage to get a bit dry between periods of “rain”. Even these sheltered and potted evergreen plants use less moisture this time of year because they are less active, and evaporation from their foliage is limited by the weather.

Remember; for plenty of moisture that is one hundred percent natural and absolutely free, try “RAIN”!

Winter Bloom Might Be Scarce

Some camellia bloom sporadically for winter.

Oregon gardens get to display superior peony bloom for spring and summer. That is one of several advantages of winter chill. Some plant species appreciate a bit more chill than they can get here. It enhances their performance. However, chill also limits winter bloom. Not many plants want to bloom while the weather is cool, and pollinators are less active.

That is one of several advantages of mild winter weather. It allows flowers that bloom for autumn to bloom a bit later. It allows a few of the flowers that bloom for spring to bloom a bit earlier. There is not much time between the last flowers of autumn and the first flowers of spring. Winter bloom is not as important here as where winters are longer and chillier.

Even if less important here, reliable winter bloom might be a bit more challenging. Some plants that bloom for winter in other climates might be hesitant to bloom for winter locally. After all, they prefer to bloom while the weather is cool. Mild chill might be unsatisfactory. Cool season annuals are unpredictable, but are likely the most reliable for winter bloom.

Of the popular cool season annuals, cyclamen is actually perennial. If not removed at the end of its season, it goes dormant for summer, and regenerates for subsequent winters. It does not bloom as profusely as it originally did, but adds color to mixed small perennials or ground covers that do not bloom for winter. Some types of primrose are also perennial.

A few perennials bloom sporadically and randomly throughout the year, including winter. African daisy and euryops daisy typically do not bloom as much as they do during warm weather, but can. Euryops daisy may actually bloom best during winter. Bird of Paradise flowers mature so slowly that those that begin during autumn might finish through winter.

Witch hazel, daphne, heather, mahonia and winter jasmine bloom for winter, but perhaps not as impressively as for other climates. Some camellia bloom abundantly while others bloom sporadically. Bergenia may bloom later here than for other climates. Forsythia and some spring bulbs, especially daffodil, bloom so early that they seem to bloom for winter.

Renee’s Garden Still Provides Traditional Seed.

Old fashioned nasturtiums never really get old.

Before I was in kindergarten, my great grandfather gave me a few seeds from the nasturtiums in his garden in Sunnyvale. I really can not remember ever not growing nasturtiums since then. My first nasturtiums were the basic yellow and orange. In high school, I added some ‘Jewel Mix’ to see what other colors there were. As they too reverted back to the basic yellow and orange, I tried a few other varieties, and eventually realized that nasturtiums really are as excellent as I always thought they were.

‘Amazon Jewel’ is the first climbing nasturtium that I tried in many years. I typically do not like climbing types because they provide so much overwhelming foliage with fewer flowers. Yet this past year, I actually wanted the foliage to frame an exposed picture window through summer. By the middle of summer, the twining (annual) vines had already climbed string to the top of the window, and wanted to climb farther. Their bright yellow through orange, and even reddish orange flowers peeking in the window seemed to violate the privacy within, but were a pleasant bonus nonetheless.

‘Buttercream’ appealed to me because it was the closest to a simple white nasturtium that I had ever seen; and white is my favorite color. As the name implies, it is actually very pale yellow. It is striking because it is not striking. Who would expect such a profusion of pastel from a nasturtium? It means that there is no excuse for those who do not like flashy colors to shun nasturtiums. ‘Creamsicle’ is a bit more colorful with various shades of orange ranging from soft pastel to almost bright orange; another score for those don’t like the colors of a pinata.

‘Copper Sunset’ is as brightly colored as traditional nasturtiums, but only in coppery shades of orange uncluttered with yellow or red. ‘Cherries Jubilee’ is various shades or red and rich reddish pink.

In the past many years, the seeds for all my nasturtiums and almost all of my other flower seeds, as well as many herb and vegetable seeds came from Renee’s Garden at  . Few other seed suppliers market nasturtiums. Those that do have only very basic nasturtium varieties. Renee’s Garden specializes in all sorts of cool heirloom varieties, even those that may be stigmatized as old fashioned. (Aren’t ‘heirloom’ and ‘old fashioned’ the same?)

Of course I tried other flowers besides nasturtiums. Clarkia, feverfew and chamomile have actually naturalized over the past few years in areas of the garden that get a bit of water. The clarkia is almost a native, so is venturing even farther. The ‘Maximilian’ sunflower is perennial, so bloomed more impressively this past summer than it did in the previous summer.

Coppice To Renovate Overgrown Shrubbery

Coppicing stimulates vigorous new basal growth.

Pollarding is extreme pruning. It removes all but the most substantial of limbs and trunks. Coppicing is even more extreme. It leaves only stumps above ground. Both are common and respected arboricultural techniques outside America. However, they are vilified here. Actually, very few arborists here know how to pollard and coppice properly, or admit to it.

There are many valid reasons to pollard or coppice trees or big shrubs. Both techniques stimulate vigorous growth. Lush foliage of such growth is useful as fodder, particularly for silkworms. Elongated stems of such growth are useful for basketry and kindling. Species that bloom on older stems can not produce pollen or messy fruit after annual procedures.

Although silkworms, basketry and such are unimportant within an average home garden, proper pollarding or coppicing enhances vigor. This enhances the bloom of species that bloom on new stems. Vigorous growth of pollarded crape myrtle is atypically resistant to mildew, and also blooms zealously. Coppice pruning eliminates unsightly thicket growth.

Pollarding is generally useful for trees and large shrubs that retain primary trunks. Only a few of the many species that inhabit home gardens are conducive to it. Since secondary growth is initially structurally deficient, it will most likely need subsequent pruning during subsequent winters. Some vigorous pollarded trees are dependent on annual pollarding.

Coppicing is generally useful for large and vigorous shrubbery, and perhaps a few types of trees. Coppiced shrubbery is not as reliant on subsequent pruning as pollarded trees. They either benefit from pruning as they grow anyway, or do not get too heavy to support their weight. Both coppice and pollard pruning can happen only during winter dormancy.

Realistically, the majority of plants in home gardens are conducive to neither coppice nor pollard pruning. Cypress hedges die if cut back to stumps. Grafted plants, even if pruned above their graft unions, are likely to regenerate from their understock. However, some of the most popular hedge plants, such as privet, holly, photinia, osmanthus, English laurel and bottlebrush regenerate splendidly.