Don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying

fruit tree blossoms

Decorative peach blossoms will set fine fruits if insects don’t wreak havoc on them!

Healthy fruit trees are the result of good care. One of the more important aspects of getting good fruit and having beautiful, blooming fruit and nut trees is the winter spraying regimen. This is a job all too frequently overlooked even in mild winter climates which offer plenty of time to do the job. There are many ways to protect fruit trees from destructive weather and pests but don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying. It should start in the autumn, as soon as trees drop their leaves, and continue until springtime opens the blossoms.

fruit on the tree

A fine crop of pluots

Fruit and nut tree varieties should be selected for your climate – or even microclimate. They all have different needs. Equally, fungal infections and insect pests have favorite areas and favorite host trees. For example, in warmer coastal parts of Los Angeles, citrus trees fall easy prey to scale, whitefly and mealybug. In others areas, black rot can eat into the limbs of stone fruit trees (plum, apricot, nectarine, etc.). Fire blight can turn branches of fruiting and ornamental pears black just about everywhere. And leaf-rollers and aphids can attack a whole assortment of fruit trees in warm winter climates where they are not killed off by frosts.

Garden sprayer

Find the sprayer that works best for you.

Just as you have a lot of choices with tree cultivars, you also have a wide range of tree protecting sprays. There are plenty of commercial products for sale, but I prefer to use the organic or old fashioned remedies that are less toxic and work as well – if not better. The best sprays to use in autumn and winter are the dormant oil sprays, usually lime-sulfur or copper-sulfate. These sprays will help suffocate over-wintering insects and can function as fungicides. Neem® is an organic spray that is also used safely to kill insect pests on edibles. Try to spray trees as soon as you can after leaf drop and, ideally, spray every three to four weeks until the flower buds swell. Sprays can harm pollinating insects, so avoid any treatments while trees are in bloom. Do not use lime in any form on apricot trees – especially after they bud up – since they are lime sensitive. For more sensitive and evergreen fruit trees growing in the milder regions, try using a lighter fine oil spray made for leaf contact. Most of these treatments are all-natural and organically acceptable.

It is best to spray when winds are not blowing. Coat the whole tree from branch tips to base. Some fruit or nut trees can also be sprayed after bud drop. Do a little research into the needs of your specific kind of fruit tree(s). Make sure you read the labels and follow directions carefully. It is important to use the right proportions when mixing with water.

fruiting peach

Healthy peach on the tree

Weather and timing are critical for fruit spraying to be most effective. Proper winter spraying of fruit trees can make the difference between beautiful, fruitful trees and struggling, nonproductive trees. Sometimes these treatments can even save a tree’s life.

Gardens can reduce noise pollution

decorative recycled fence

A stone-filled wire fence is an artistic solution to recycle local rock while blocking out neighbors’ noise.

You’ve heard the phrase “Your home is your castle”? Well, if your home is surrounded by unwanted noise, you’re certainly not living in luxury. Noise can come from surrounding industries or businesses, inconsiderate neighbors, machinery or construction sounds, proximity to heavy traffic, or anything else. Noise pollution can take a toll on your peace of mind and even your overall health. Your garden can help.

Build sound buffers into the landscape and you can cut down on outside noise as well as creating decorative features in the garden. Walls and barricades can be constructed with living or non-living materials. Smooth finishes reflect sound, bouncing it back whereas textured surfaces absorb sound.

Solid walls can be built with stone, brick, block or other building material. These are likely to be long-lasting and durable. They are also costly to build. But these walls are successful at keeping out wildlife pests and unwanted trespassers. They also help secure children and pets safely inside, performing double duty. Decorate these solid walls with colorful gardens, clothe them with climbing vines or set pots with cascading plants on the top of the wall to drape the surface with dangling stems, leaves and flowers. Or paint the wall with an ornamental mural, hang wall décor or cover the wall surface with interesting textural fabrics. Another option is to face the wall with plant pockets or trays to create a living wall or vertical garden.

Sound blocks with living materials can be created by using stands of trees, large shrubs or a mixture of high-growing, thick growth. The deep texture makes for excellent sound absorption. Not impenetrable, this kind of wall offers a natural, attractive sound buffer.

One more way to counter noise pollution is by adding your own sound effects. Adding music to drown out sounds of your neighbors is likely to only escalate a noise war. Music is only likely to work if you live where there are no close neighbors to upset and the noise is being generated by an impersonal source. White noise is a term used for a general overlay of sound that doesn’t noticeably intrude. The sound of wind through leaves, trickling or running water, or the tinkle of repetitive notes from wind chimes can distract from other noise pollution.

You can also help sound-proof your home to create peace from ambient outdoor noise. New windows and doors will help keep unwanted noise outside. Efficient, double glazed windows will save on energy bills and maintain indoor temperatures better. They will also make your home more attractive and safer.

specimen opuntia

Big specimen cactus plants can form a noise-reducing protective wall or fence that also keeps out intruders.

You don’t have to be a victim of noise pollution. These are just some choices that can make your life more comfortable, peaceful and even help make your home and landscape more beautiful.




How to kill or live with dandelions – your choice!


But do you want to?

dandelion weed

How bad is this weed?

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have proved to be one of the most successful pests of the gardener. They have adapted to lawns and gardens all over the world. Although there is a rare California variety (Taxacum californicum), these shaggy, yellow flowered weeds are not native to the United States – or many other places they now call home.

These brightly colored invaders delight in speckling themselves all over your carefully tended lawn, shouldering out your prize flowers and bullying your vegetables out of their rows. They are rarely welcome and even more rarely willing to leave easily. Here are some suggestions how to kill or live with dandelions. It’s your choice!

There are several reasons dandelions are so tenacious. First, they have long tap roots and even pieces of these roots can regenerate. They also grow, bloom and set seed very fast – often before you even notice them they have started to propagate across your landscape. Most types can develop seeds asexually so they are not dependent on cross-pollination and, once the seeds are set, they catch a ride on wind currents and travel aloft for impressive distances.

This means dandelions are well equipped to battle you for your garden space. It is your job to interrupt these growth advantages if you want to get rid of them.

dandelion seed head

The familiar seed head of a dandelion

Stop dandelions by killing the plant before it can set seed. You can use commercial herbicides, natural/organic weed-killing methods, or simply dig out the plant by hand. The safest method is hand pulling since you will be introducing no poisons into your environment. It is labor intensive because you must get all parts of the root out or it will grow from remaining pieces. If you opt for using an herbicide, make sure you follow the directions exactly. You will likely have to treat the weeds more than once using chemicals and remember toxicity can remain in the soil even once the weed is gone. Keep children, pets and edibles away!

Other suggestions are to water with boiling water or pure vinegar. These organic methods will require multiple treatments and won’t necessarily kill the whole plant. They can also injure surrounding plants. They are, however, very safe for people and animals and even the high acidity created by vinegar will not be long-lasting in the soil.

Snipping or pulling all seed heads early – ideally before they open – will keep dandelions from seeding all over your garden. But it will not stop seeds from neighboring properties from parachuting in.

Dandelions have some redeeming traits you can enjoy if you don’t want to battle them. These weeds aren’t all bad guys.

All parts are edible and nourishing. Flowers are attractive and the whimsical seed heads have captured the imaginations of lovers, children and photographers. The roots also offer up a tasty coffee substitute. But think twice before puffing away the spherical seed head in hopes of fulfilling your wishes. You will likely be setting free a whole army of seeds on their way to invade someone else’s garden!




Tips on how to create a beautiful garden for you and your pets

Pets are part of our family -- and garden.

Pets are part of our family — and garden.

We love our pets – until they tear our gardens apart. And our pets love us, until they get injured out in the garden.

Lucky the cat

Make the garden safe for cats and dogs.




Pets, gardens and owners can share a beautiful, safe and practical outdoor space with some guidelines kept in mind:

Border Collie Pepper

Paths encourage pups to stay out of more delicate areas.

Healthy pets are active animals; they naturally need space to run and play. If you don’t design space for them into your landscape they will create their own. You can have a lovely and successful garden for you and your pets. Build it with both your needs in mind.

Dogs often run along fence-lines, so give them a path where they will not damage anything. Offer them paths with thick plantings or fenced off areas to preserve growth between passageways. Cats love to climb. Give them big branches or tree trunks for scratching claws and curling up in high places. These can be decorative elements in the garden design.

Protect plantings that are precious to you. Raised vegetable gardens or garden planters can help avoid pet damage. Gates and fences can be colorful and decorative and keep more plantings safe. Cover soil with a grid-work of chicken wire or hardware cloth, or mulch with ¾ inch gravel to keep cats from using exposed soil as a cat box.

Keep your garden safe for pets by avoiding chemical sprays and powders. Don’t plant pointed or spiny plants that can injure playing critters.

cactus landscape

Spiny cactus is good for areas where pets don’t go!

You can even train your dog to use a specific area to eliminate or set up color-painted posts to entice male dogs to urinate rather than marking your favorite plants. Build a small sand box in a decorative shape for cat use.  Or dig a dog waste disposer to compost stinky poop.

When pets are outside, make sure there is always ample water and shade. If you live where your pets are vulnerable to predators, bring them in at night or when you aren’t around to watch them. Or provide protected runs, cages, pens or other areas where your animal friends will be safe. Fence in safe areas for them if you live where traffic can be a danger. There are some living spaces where it simply isn’t a good idea to let cats outdoors at all unless they are completely confined in a safe pen.

Colorful outdoor rugs and patches of artificial lawn can be both decorative and comfy spots for a pet to lay on. Shaded areas under trees or shade covers can be delightful for all — two and four-legged — on a warm summer day.

These are just some ideas that can create a peaceful co-existence between you, your garden and your pets.

wait at the gate

Attractive fence keeps Malcolm home

With some creativity and  imagination you can design the practical to become an artistic asset to your landscape.

Gardening for children

Helianthus annuum

Sunflowers grow quickly and the heads follow the sun as it moves through the sky.

Gardening for Children

How old is old enough for gardening? I’d say as soon as mud pies become interesting. I was fascinated with watching my mother garden even before I could walk. There is something magical about seeing a seed sprout, a flower bloom or watch a worm wiggling on the ground. That fascination can develop into a healthy respect for nature and the connectedness of all life – including the welfare of the planet itself. Sometimes I wish all our leaders in both the public and private sectors would have to take a course in gardening just to wake up to the wisdom Mother Nature has to teach!




a practice edible garden

Practicing planting with real vegetables makes young hands ready for growing edibles from scratch.

For children, gardening is not only is a teacher of some of the greater lessons of life, but it’s just plain fun and will give kids a project to do that will offer exercise and vitamin D from sunshine. It is an active way to get them out of the house and give them a healthy alternative to indoor technology.

Here are some good plants to grow from seed (or purchased already started from your favorite garden center) that will keep the interest of the young. 

Edibles: There’s nothing more fun than growing something you can actually eat!

  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Corn



Flowers: Watching seeds sprout, leaves appear and colorful petals unfurl is a form of magic.

  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtiums
  • Daisies
  • Marigolds
children's garden furniture

Make the children’s garden into a fun place for a picnic with recycled chunks of wood

Make your garden fun for kids. Use colorful vinyl, paint wood brilliant hues or cover things with brightly patterned outdoor fabrics.  Build with small size in mind, and use safe construction supplies. You can make the whole garden into a wonderland adding swings, tree houses and castles built from recycled materials, designed from plans discovered on the internet or bought ready-made.

Decorate the garden with fast-growing flowers and vegetables like those suggested above. Avoid poisonous plants and those armed with thorns or spines. Use recycled rubber chips rather than concrete or wood chips. They are long-lasting, flexible and add bounce to footing without the danger of hard edges or being toxic if swallowed.

Creating a children’s garden can be fun to build; it brings the kid out of us adults. And children will find a healthy way to have fun that will give them an awareness and practical sensibility that will serve them for a lifetime when they play outdoors in their own garden.

Sand garden

A variation of sandbox play can be adapted for seed and stone gardening.


Spring bulbs in the garden

Spring bulbs in the garden

Crocosmia is a colorful early-blooming bulb that gophers do not bother

Chasmanthe is a colorful early-blooming bulb that gophers do not bother

Here’s a little video showing you some of the smaller, early spring bulbs blooming in the garden. These bulbs were planted in the autumn to bloom in late winter or early spring. The ones shown here are Iphion, Oxalis, and Narcissus (Daffodils).  There are hundreds more you can plant depending on the color, height and habit of growth you want.

Design with bulbs in masses to make a bold statement, spot them between other plants for color and texture, or naturalize the smaller varieties in lawns where they can create an informal look. Although bulbs tend to bloom for a relatively short time, you can find so many different varieties that you can keep them blooming throughout the growing season.  As these early bulbs come into flower, you can start planting bulbs to bloom later in the growing season.

In areas where moles and gophers are a problem, plant your bulbs in wire baskets for protection. If squirrels tend to dig up your bulbs, lay some metal hardware cloth or chicken wire over the top as a flat piece until the new growth starts to grow through the holes. You can then lift the protection off. Most squirrels and other diggers (including cats) will be discouraged by the wire.

Bulbs give some of the showiest displays of flower in the plant kingdom. They are easy to plant and grow. If clumps become over-crowded, simply pull some of them up with a fork and plant the divisions elsewhere.

Also consider some edible bulbs:

Growing onions

Tips on growing garlic