Garden Tips:Discourage Raccoon Pests

Raccoon family

Raccoon family (Photo by Jane Gates)

Looking at those little bandit faces, raccoons could fool you into thinking they are cute. In some parts of the country raccoons can be worrisome due to the fact that they can carry by dangerous diseases like rabies. But even where disease is not a primary worry, these curious-looking critters can be destructive and seriously bothersome. They can be vicious fighters with pets, fish pond destroyers and raiders of the garden. Raccoons have become highly adaptive to human habits and are thriving as the human population spreads. Protecting your property from their marauding is a good idea, so here are some garden tips: discourage raccoon pests! There are a lot of tricks that just don’t work since these critters are agile and smart. But there are some steps you can take.

If you allow food or trash to gather in your landscape you will be inviting raccoons into your property. Never leave pet food and water outdoors. Fasten down trash can lids if you have edible material to throw out. And plan to build barriers to protect fruit and vegetables as well as ponds that house fish. Fruit, vegetables and fish are gourmet meals for raccoons. You may even have to surround your pond with an electrified wire to discourage raccoon pests from nighttime fishing. These low-shock wires will make your pond harder to invade. But since the shock is not dangerous but unpleasant for humans, too, you might want to set your electric wire on a timer so it is ‘hot’ during nighttime hours when raccoons are active but people are less likely to come into contact.

Never intentionally leave food and water out for raccoons even if you do like their fuzzy masked faces. Also beware of keeping food – including pet food – in bags or other containers that do not block the scent of food in your garage. These garden tips should at least help you discourage raccoon pests from reeking havoc in your yard.

An Expert’s Tips on Growing a Bird and Butterfly Garden

Butterfly in butterfly garden

Butterfly on a Budleia flower

For those garden enthusiasts and professionals who missed the Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies VIII: Style & Whimsy in the Sustainable Garden Pasadena symposium, there were some excellent speakers at the symposium.  One of the speakers, Steve Brigham spoke on sustainable wildlife gardening, attracting birds to your garden and keeping them there. With his warm, gentle humor, he talked about how important it is to know your own environment and how that will make it easier to attract the wildlife you want. He focused on how to provide food, perches, nesting areas and how to incorporate life-giving water while making your garden beautiful and exciting for people, too. I was fortunate to be able to snap a quick interview with Steve after the seminar. This is just a sampling of what he had to say  in our unedited interview about tips on growing a bird and butterfly garden.

If you want to encourage birds and butterflies into your garden, remember to offer perching space, water to drink and plants that provide food. To attract the largest number of local wildlife it is important to offer a good selection of native plants. These provide the homes and food that are natural to the creatures that evolved in the wild. Planting a lot of imported plants are likely to attract some of the imported birds — many of which can be undesirable, like starlings.

Use your imagination to design interesting events that look good in the garden yet service the needs of these winged visitors. Archways, fences, sculptures and strung rope are all good for perching. Fountains, bird baths, mud holes and shallow pond beaches are fine for bathing and drinking. You aren’t the only one who can benefit from adding interesting decor and useful structures to the landscape.

Not only do butterflies and birds add color and movement to the design of your landscape, they are fun for children to watch. Additionally, most birds will be happy to peck off insect pests as a snack from your favorite plants. Consider the wildlife when designing and building your garden. It is all part of nature’s beautiful picture and you can enjoy the best of it with a little thoughtful garden planning.

Quick tips for growing carrots

Home grown carrog

This yellow carrot is only one of many colors you can grow in your home garden.

Carrots are not difficult to grow in the vegetable garden. Like many root crops, they are biennials, meaning they grow the first year and flower and set seed the second. Carrots need to be dug before they begin to form flower stalks or they will become hard, bitter and woody.

Grow carrots from seed. They don’t like to be transplanted so thin seedlings so there is space between plants for each to develop without crowding its neighbor.

Give carrots a rich, moist – but not wet – soil. They like compost but manure will cause roots to fork. Remove stones and plant them where nothing will interfere with roots growing downward. There are short-growing varieties that are best for stony or shallow soils.

Carrots grow attractive feathery foliage and can be grown among other garden plants if you don’t have a vegetable garden. They will need to be dug when they are large enough to be eaten, so if you plant them among other plants be sure to make sure you have room to dig without injuring their neighbors. You can also grow them in pots so long as they have enough depth for the long roots to grow uninhibited. Harvest them when they are big enough to be eaten. Younger carrots may be smaller, but they are tender and tastier than the older giants.

Not only are fresh carrots flavorful, but they are rich in vitamins. Look for wide, short, or round varieties or try one of the colorful cultivars in red, purple, yellow or white instead of the usual orange. Enjoy your garden carrots raw, cooked or store them in a cool dark place for the winter.


Ground cover plants for Los Angeles gardens

Sun Drops are another ground cover plant great for Los Angeles gardens

Sun Drops are another ground cover plant great for Los Angeles gardens

Living ground cover is a catch-all phrase for a lot of low growing plants grown together to literally cover the ground. In most landscapes there are areas that need general soil coverage. You might want to replace a water-hungry lawn with another green alternative, maybe even one that can take a little foot-traffic. There are also areas that look best with low-growing plantings. And sometimes there is only room for low plants to grow. Whether you are looking to cover a large expanse of ground or just to fill in an odd spot, there is bound to be a ground cover plant that will work just right for your Los Angeles landscape needs.

Lawn is actually a ground cover since it (surprise!) covers ground. Even gravel, bark and pavers are technically ground covers and these non-living varieties are wise choices to fill in areas for beauty, usefulness and cleanliness on larger properties. But here is some information about the living ground covers that grow happily to fill in between regular garden denizens, the non-living, and open areas.

Ground covers need to be chosen for the right location. Moisture lovers will have a hard time living on hillsides as water tends to slip down the hill rather than penetrating. Good ground covers for hills should have tenacious roots and handle some drought. Although the beleaguered ice plant has lost its magic due to being overused, it is still a good choice for hillsides. By the way, if you’ve ever tried to walk on it – especially on a hill, you will know why it’s called ice plant! There are many varieties in many colors, though the usual purple-pink variety (Delosperma) is probably the toughest for more demanding locations. One way to create more excitement with ice plant is by planting it in patches along with another ground cover so it creates either a design, or natural looking flows rather than the big flat blanket style used so often. Another good plant for hillsides in Los Angeles city and county is the Myoporum parvifolium. It will give you a rich green low-growing cover tickled with small white flowers in the spring. This one handles areas that get light frosts and hot summer sun.  Vinca minor also offers a very low profile and blooms with more showy purple flowers. Although it prefers a little shade, it is occasionally seen doing perfectly well right out there in our hot sun. In the hottest locations it prefers a tad more water.

On the coast , or inland — If you do have some dappled shade –, there are some very colorful choices available for hillside or flat. Cerastium (Snow in Summer) has bluish green soft little leaves and riotously happy white flowers that create a light, cool gentle-looking carpet. Ceratostigma (Dwarf Plumbago) grows to about 10” in height with deep green leaves and shockingly blue flowers that echo the shape of real plumbago blooms (pictured above). This plant can be grown by itself in the garden or used as a larger ground cover. It spreads by runners and puts on a wonderful show from early spring ‘til autumn when the leaves turn a glowing autumnal red. Then it virtually vanishes for the winter, returning to do its cycle all over again in the springtime.

The old standby, creeping rosemary (rosmarinus o. prostrates) is a sure thing to fill in almost anyplace in full sun. R. ‘Collingswood’ is a variety that will give you brighter colored flowers. For one of the most intensely colorful prostrate varieties R. ‘Irene’ can’t be beat. Rosemaries are easy, low-maintenance ground covers for most any area, doing well even on difficult soils, however, they do draw bees, so you might want to think twice before using too much rosemary close to bathing areas. Another benefit of planting rosemary is that even the most decorative variety will serve well for cooking. And if you have wandering pets on your land, they just might return to you smelling wonderfully herbal after meandering around your property!

Verbena comes in not only a choice of colors, but a selection of varieties. There is the annual verbena that allows you to choose almost any color you want, but only for the short life span of any annual. Or there are perennial versions of reasonably drought-tolerant verbena usually seen in lavender colors. Verbena tenuisecta is a tougher variety, also in the lavender purple color range.  Verbena rigida, with its slightly taller and more course appearance is tougher still. This latter variety is very drought-tolerant and will do well in full sun, sometimes becoming mildly invasive with a little extra water. It runs with underground roots and pushes its rough-leaved shoots between other plants to show off its bright purple flowers over a long season. Verbenas are ideal for water conscious landscapes in the Los Angeles area.

You can always find the ubiquitous gazania daisy in affordable flats as a ground cover for large areas. The interior kalidescopic designs are fascinating and they do come in a wide assortment of colors.  Other ground covers may be less colorful, like using creeping red fescue to give a long shiny green-grass effect, particularly effective on hills. Flat areas can be seeded with mixed low-growing wildflowers to create meadows. Low growing succulents like some small sedums as well as the low mounding blue grass of the Festuca ovata glauca are drought tolerant and work wonderfully in Southwestern, Cactus or natural styled gardens. Some of the prostrate junipers will give you evergreen coverage that will require hardly any upkeep.

Ground covers can also be planted in pots and boxes. Using these creepers and trailers creates green and color to spill over the sides. This same concept can also be used to soften the top edge of a retaining wall.  The Calibrachoa (Million Bells) is a miniature perennial petunia that offers bright reds, purples and deep yellows. Bacopa dangles soft leafy green stems studded with little white or purple flowers. Ivy geraniums fill in bigger areas with reds, pinks and whites. They can ramble over hills and rough areas as well as dangling down from window boxes or overflowing pots. The Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron) is a delicate little daisy that will also work well for pots or protected areas.

Consider some of the low-growing thymes or the yellow-flowering dymondia to fill in between stepping stones or flagstones. You can plant drifts of different plants to cover large areas. And feel free to mix different sized plants to get a rolling feel to a design. You might want to use several different plants with various colored foliage, or different height plants that all bloom with similar colors. Some, like many achilleas (yarrows) and salvias tend to grow a little taller, and some, like ice plants and thymes are ground-huggers.

There are many more living ground cover plants available that can enhance a Los Angeles landscape. The style of your garden, your personal taste, your micro-climate, budget and the availability of material will all influence your choice.

New Year Garden Share Tips

Peruvian Lily

What New Year resolutions are best for you and your garden?

As the New Year approaches many of us start mulling over what we can do to make next year better than the on that’s coming to an end. Yes, it’s time to start thinking about those annual resolutions. If you are a gardener, there are a number of resolutions you can make to create a more successful and sustainable garden next year. Here is a list of just some potential ideas you might want to add to your list. These are New Year garden share tips you can share with your friends as well as doing yourself.


  • Recycle and reuse: consider materials from your attic, garage or basement or check out junk yards to see what can help you build artistic and useful fencing, walls, gates and other garden structures.
  • Start a compost pile to recycle kitchen and garden waste.
  • Find sustainable alternatives. Consider using gravel, decomposed granite, bricks, stone and other permeable materials rather than flat tar or concrete for open surfaces.
  • Replace some or all lawn with low water alternatives like permeable paving or drought-tolerant gardens.
  • Build in water catch systems. Add drainage ponds, underground tanks or set up rain barrels.
  • Share edible produce from the garden with friends and neighbors or donate your extra food to non-profit organizations.
  • Help someone else learn about gardening by teaching, taking children for a tour around your garden or writing gardening articles.
  • Grow your own cut flowers in a special cutting garden.
  • Plant a drought-resistant garden to replace a thirstier one.
  • Experiment with living walls and green roofs.
  • Grow an herb garden to use for cooking, health and craft-making.

These are just some of the many possibilities you might want to incorporate into your garden to make it even better in the coming year. Check up on some of the new ideas, products and inventions showing up in the green industry since attitudes about traditional gardening methods have started to change over the past few years. Think of what changes would be appropriate to your particular property. Share your New Year garden tips with friends and family. And add your new ideas to your own New Years gardening resolution list.

Build a raised garden bed: important tips

Block raised garden

Surround your garden with cast blocks and hardware cloth to fill with soil and protect from pests.

Since raised beds have so many advantages over planting on level ground, you might want to consider building your own. Here are some tips to keep in mind for people who want to create a do-it-yourself raised garden bed.

Unless you are specifically planning on planting shade-loving plants, choose a location that gets plenty of sun. For growing edibles, this is a must. And if you are growing fruits and vegetables or herbs, site your garden where it will be easily accessible from the kitchen. Building a raised vegetable bed is a very practical way of growing edibles.

If you have gophers, moles or voles in your area, line the bottom of your raised bed with ½” gauge hardware cloth so the sides of the material extend to the outside of the garden bed walls. In other words, lay the bottom liner and build your walls on top of it, effectively sealing off entry points. This way, pests cannot enter your raised garden bed from below.

For edible gardens do not use green wood, railroad ties or any other treated wood unless you line the garden bed with a durable plastic as you do not want toxins leaching into the soil. Not all processed woods have been proven to be dangerous, but it’s best to err on the safe side.

Make your construction into something attractive. Echo the design from the rest of your landscape in the materials you choose. A brick-walled raised bed with a decorative miniature white picket fence on top might look perfect in a cottage garden. Or a rustic, stacked stone raised garden may be just the thing for a woodland styled landscape. Have fun designing your elevated planting area. Not only will it resist pests and allow you to fill the interior with the exact kind of soil you want to use, but caring for the garden will be easier on your back since you won’t have to bend so much. Plus, with a little imagination, you can make it look decorative.

You can even construct a raised garden bed on a patio or balcony by stacking up artistically placed ready-made containers. Just make sure that however you build it. you factor in drainage and watering. Hopefully, these tips will help you design and build your own  garden bed more successfully.