Secrets of Coast Redwood


The vast redwood forests of Northern California’s coastline are mystical. It is dark and romantic beneath these evergreen canopies, where I wandered during my early years in horticulture. There in the gloom, shelf fungi and mushrooms festoon old-growth stumps and disintegrating trunks that add to the gradual buildup of organic matter on the forest floor. — This was where I first encountered giant woodwardia ferns and rhododendron occidentalis in bloom wherever significant light penetrated the canopy. Even in these second-growth forests that rose up in the wake of 19th-century logging, the redwood trees are awesome in their beauty. It is here that I learned firsthand what Sequoia sempervirens desires to grow just about anywhere winters are no colder than 5 degrees F. While the north coast can experience enormous winter rainfall, it will be dry from May to November, without any summer moisture. Coast redwood is a native tree that proves one of the most well-adapted to container culture both at the growers’ and retail garden center. Many other natives are finicky about their roots and may be difficult to grow and maintain in containers over time. Despite the enormous size at maturity, redwoods lack a tap root in favor of moderately sized roots to just 10 feet deep. Their strength is, instead, due to a network of fibrous surface feeder roots that feed upon decaying organic matter at the bottom of the duff layer that builds up on the forest floor. Feeder roots are such active travelers that they invade mulch or soil stockpiles and have been known to work their way up into raised beds. This demonstrs while still very young. The duff layer, composed of dead leaves, cones and twigs, is the equivalent of an equal amount of mulch. Provide this for a young tree and the surface feeder roots thrive, spreading out in cool, moist ground protected by dufflike surface mulch. It explains why redwoods do better in groups of three or more, closely spaced trees, than they do as an individual specimen. The canopies shade each other’s roots and provide greater accumulations of litter that acidifies the soil underneath so it’s ideal for feeder roots to draw from. A garden of redwood trees is planted with species of shrubs and perennials adapted to acidic conditions on the forest floor. (SHNS photo courtesy Maureen Gilmer) When planting redwood trees, add a good deal of compost to the soil backfill to lure feeder roots beyond the rootball. Select compost rich in aged forestmpost rich in aged forest byproducts for ideal PH, and to introduce important microbes found in coniferous forests everywhere. After planting, immediately mulch the soil surface with a similar compost or planting mix, which may be largely woody matter. Spread it all the way to the outer tips of the branches, a point known as the drip line. Rooting will always be greatest within the drip line, and watering the entire zone is crucial to reaching the entire root system. Don’t pack down the mulch.
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Modern Cactus


  The orderly nature of modern design appeals to our need for simplicity in a progressively complex world. The simple lines of both modern architecture and interiors offers respite from strip commercial, traffic and media where color and image change faster than ever. There has been difficulty in understanding the relationship of plants to this style. But one group of plants seems intrinsically suited to modern design. It is the cactus, but not all of them. Specific types of cacti are so remarkable in their symmetry that it is difficult to believe they are living things. Moreover, their uniformity of growth is so rigid that many individual plants can be used to create pattern and shape on a small scale. Cacti best suited to modern design have round, symmetrical forms. These are often perfect globes that remain so throughout their lives. Only with time do they grow larger in size, but their surface details are static. At Sunnylands, the former estate of the Annenberg family, an innovative modern garden was completed just over a year ago. Within its confines are examples of cactus in modern architecture on a grand scale, illustrating how to exploit uniformity of growth. However, the Achilles heel of such rigid uniform plantings is the reality that these are plants, and plants will die or sometimes be unpredictable. If one of 100 identical golden cacti is lost, only a replacement of the exact size and age can fill the void. Cacti are perhaps even better suited to modern interiors. Whether an apartment in New York City or an expansive period restoration in Palm Springs, Calif., the role of cactus as interior decor remains paramount. So long as there is adequate light, and with most modern homes there is, these plants can become highly decorative elements. Here, too, the uniformity of growth allows multiplicity in design, with a series of identical plants emphasizing line or highlighting space. To use cactus for decorative elements, it is essential to understand their primary needs to maintain perfect health and appearance over time. Above all, cacti hail from areas of express drainage, which may be a ledge on a cliff face or a dry wash of nothing but sand and gravel. Any container selected to hold a cactus plant must be extremely well drained. Ensure this by choosing a pot with a very large drain hole in the bottom or with many perforations that enhance drainage potential throughout the soil mass. Cactuses are watered so infrequently that a saucer is unnecessary. The key: The entire soil mass must be saturated, which can be done only if the pot is moved to a sink or bathtub for watering. There, it can either be set in water to wick moisture upward through the drain holes, or watered from the top by filling and allowing it to drain through a number of times consecutively. Once saturated and entirely drained, the pot may be replaced to its original position. If you’re worried about damaging the underlying
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Broom Corn from Sorghum


Going back to the land isn’t just about food, it’s a whole philosophy of life. For many, it’s a choice of living debt-free. For others, it’s about self-sufficiency. In the past, homesteads grew more than traditional vegetables. The more creative the farmer and his wife, the better life on the farm became. These women learned how to solve many of their own problems by growing or gathering plants. One tradition that originated in Britain was the making of besom brooms. The besom was the equivalent of our modern whisk brooms with a distinctive difference. When baking bread in a wood-fired oven, there were often crumbs and ashes that built up to burn while the next loaves baked, tainting them with carbon flavor. Early on it was learned that freshly cut bundles of shrubbery would not ignite so quickly against hot stone. The besom was gathered on or just before baking day and repeatedly dunked in water to keep it fresh. In between each batch of bread, the oven was swept clean. Cytissus scoparius, or Scotch broom, was commonly gathered for this application. It was also used for packing and no doubt protected fragile pottery and plates in the Mayflower’s hold. Everywhere crates of Irish whiskey were unpacked, broom seed fell to the ground and grew. This supplied many a pioneer with broom material, but it also introduced an invasive pest to sensitive ecosystems. For the household broom, the preferred material was quite different. Cooking over an open hearth or homes heated by a fireplace or wood stove meant that fuel wood was brought in by the armful. A clean house was dependent on a solid broom, but at the time those used were short-lived and all too soon turned to firewood themselves. It was the bane of every farmer to keep his wife supplied with new brooms. At the end of the 18th century, Levi Dickenson either tired of making new brooms or just wanted a cleaner house. Either way, he did something about it. Levi grew sorghum, known as corn, as did many early farmers who found it better suited to certain regional climates and soils than maize. The stems made fodder and bedding for livestock; the seed was nutritious for chickens and was even popped like popcorn. Each year farmers choose their best plants to produce seed for the next year’s crop. Over time this gradually improved the characteristics of their original strain, known as a landrace. Levi’s sorghum developed larger seed-bearing stems than other local strains. Once the seed had been threshed off and the naked stems were left to dry flat on the barn floor, Levi discovered that they grew stiff yet flexed without breaking. In the fall, he brought together all of his dried sorghum stems and tied them tightly to a handle made of strong ash to hopefully make a better sweeper. His wife was thrilled to discover that her new broom swept much finer particles than previous ones, and it lasted longer, too.
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A Tree for Sangre


He bought the big bay from the Miller Ranch remuda because he’d never seen another horse climb solid rock like this fellow.  They would never have sold such a capable colt, but he was crazy and none of the ranch hands wanted him.  Too much trouble, they all agreed.  He was a fighter.  He was too sensitive. There were too many others to ride. Arlo was thrilled to find a blood horse for pennies, but quickly learned that the bay was hell to saddle, and was even more resistant to the bit.  After the Miller boys tried the hard way with ropes, tie down and a blind fold, Sangre was having none of it.  He was as cold backed as they come, bucking like a bronc the moment the saddle was tightened.  He’d dump even the most capable vaqueros, and Miller couldn’t afford to lose a good man to such a rank colt. The old man did not ride Sangre back home to the Sierra Nevada foothills.   Yet the Spanish gelding followed his stout pack horse without a single balk, proving to be a well mannered and good tempered.  Arlo quickly discovered Sangre had a good mind and he wasn’t stubborn, he was just scared.   Scared of men. Those nights on the trail the old man got to know the horse a little better.  He began with touch, the sure soft pressure that was the language of horses.  As he ran his hands over the hair, Sangre would set the tip of his back hoof into the ground in preparation to jump away when the pain began. But the pain never came, and after a few nights the hoof was no longer poised to flee.  Arlo felt tension rolling off Sangre’s flanks like a waterfall. It didn’t take long to discover the colt wasn’t really cold backed or untrained, he was simply intolerant of the bit. No doubt a heavy-handed vaquero had torn his mouth up with a spade before the colt was far enough along in training to carry it.  So Arlo fashioned a bosal out of rawhide reata, creating a headstall that would sit lightly, but securely.  He used it as a lead halter day after day across the great valley of California. Once he’d arrived back home at his cabin on the Yuba River, he worked Sangre on the ground, restarting the colt with a gentle hand.  During those days he studied the places on either side of the withers that had turned white from the Californio saddles with their narrow forks.  He knew the old pressure points had healed.  So long as they remained pressure free, Sangre could carry both him and a saddle without discomfort.  But none of Arlo’s saddles nor any that he’d seen would solve the problem.  The colt’s front legs were wide set, granting him unusual power and stability. The only way to get that horse comfortable was to make a special tree.  It had to be wide as it was long
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“29 Palms” A new short story by Maureen Gilmer


Click here to access The Sun Runner online: See page 12 of this online version for Mo’s latest short story:  ”29 Palms”                  

Pin of the day! Rethinking Cone Wreaths


                  This great new idea reinvents the old pine cone door wreath into a beautiful alternative.  The snow flake design wired together is cheap and easy if you have a cone bearing conifer in your yard.  Or maybe you’ll find it along the road where cones are too often lost to being run over by cars!  Save the cones and get started today. For 1400 other cheap or free ideas for holiday decor visit the Small Budget Gardening Pinterest board and join the fun with 2200 other dedicated followers.  

Small Budget Gardening Pin of the Day

Small Budget Gardening Pin of the Day

Grow Sweet Bay for Pantry Pesticide

sweet bay

The contents of a bin of flour does not move. Small black bugs should not gather at the bottom of a box of cereal. And though they are nearly identical to rice grains, small maggots may not take up residence in that bag either. Ditto crackers and dog food. The genesis of pantry moths and flour weevils are microscopic eggs that arrive in your kitchen inside all of these foods sealed into air-tight wrappers. Once you open the bag, oxygen and heat enter to make microscopic eggs hatch into larvae. These tiny maggots spoil the food, then move on to pupate into an adult moth or beetle to infest the rest of your kitchen.   All over America, flour bins are coming alive with the heat. It starts in early summer when the house itself heats up to the perfect hatching temperature. What grows in your flour may be any one of a dozen different insects that roughly follow this same life cycle. They were once pernicious residents of old grist mills, spread far and wide in the bags of flour. Such pests infested hard tack rations of every war, and a century ago they were so ubiquitous soldiers ate this rare protein source on the battlefield.   But all of this is a thing of the past because there is a simple, cheap plant remedy that will keep your grain bins free of such infestations without chemicals. It is the ancient bay laurel tree of the Mediterranean, favored for crafting victor’s crowns and bachelor’s laurels. This is the same bay leaf you purchase in the store when it’s old and dry and most of its oils have evaporated.   In front of my office were old bay laurel street trees the city clipped to keep from encroaching onto the sidewalk. Every year I’d watch for Public Works to start pruning, and then I’d go out to gather the cuttings. These were my first adventure in the world of bay leaf pest control.   Into every box, bag and bin I’d stuff a good sized sprig or bundle of rubber banded fresh leaves. The oils are potent enough to give you a headache if freshly crushed foliage is inhaled. The evaporation of the oil from leaves is enough to kill off pantry pests and discourage new ones. Not once did any residual flavor of bay tinge my baked goods.   If you grow a bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) tree in the yard, you’ll have an endless supply of this highly effective natural pesticide in its most potent state. Hardy to Zone 8, this tree grows easily outdoors and is tolerant of both heat and drought. If you live further north, bay trees adapt nicely to a large pot so you can bring it indoors for the winter.   When I lived in a cabin in the Sierra Nevada wilderness, I discovered a close relative called the California bay tree, (Umbellularia californica). It grew prodigiously in the cool hollows of the
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Life and Death and Agave


              For many people, their greatest achievements come at the end of life when they have gained great wisdom and experience.  This too is so with agaves, those extraordinarily tough succulents unique to our new world deserts.  Among them is locally native Agave deserti, with its twisted rosettes of blue leaves that contain a vital source of strong, yet soft fiber harvested a century ago by Cahuilla weavers. Newcomers to desert gardening discover their beautifully blooming plant cannot be coaxed to live after flowers fade.  This is because agaves bloom but once in their lifetime in a spectacular  effort to reproduce itself both by seed, and by cloning itself vegetatively just before death. The entire life span of an agave serves just one purpose: to store enough energy to produce an enormous flower spike.  Those grown for the manufacture of tequila are harvested just before the flowers form, when sugar content is highest to enhance the fermentation process. Some species produce branching spikes with tufts of bright yellow flower clusters at the tips.  Others are a single stalk sheathed in flowers.  It’s believed the highly held flowers allow their scent to lure pollinators over long distances across a barren desert.  Another reason for agave’s very tall spikes is bats, which relish the nectar.  Eco location makes it dangerous when agaves are in a habitat filled with many other spiny or thorny plants.  But with flowers high above the spines, bats easily find and feed upon the nectar, thus ensuring pollination. Each species of agave grows for a certain time span needed to accumulate these sugars.  The average is about 25 years, but some may live far longer.  Problems arise with short lived agaves because they may not last long enough to use in outdoor landscaping. One of our most commonly used species is dark green, vase-shaped Agave desmettiana.  It is the best example of many ways agaves reproduce to sustain the species in difficult climates.  After the bloom stalk sheds its flowers, small perfect plants called bulbils form where blooms detach.  They are the back-up plan for reproduction because conditions are so dry that it’s rare for some agave to grow from seed in the wild.  These bulbils are genetic clones of the mother plant, and when they get large enough they detach in the wind and fall, littering the ground around the mother.  Here they’ll root and grow to maturity unless gathered by an intrepid gardener. This bulbil production is only found in a few species, which coincidentally include our low desert tolerant Agave vilmorniana and Agave angustifolia.  When an agave is old enough to bloom it will do so in spring. My first bulbils were found in the parking lot where they littered the pavement beneath a blooming mother plant.  I rescued as many as I could, stuffing them into my purse to take home to plant in the sand and shade of my irrigated garden.  They were tucked into natural soil
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Use Flagstone For Greener Patios


Urban runoff carries contaminants, such as litter, food, human and animal waste, automobile fluids, industrial pollutants, fertilizers and pesticides to the beach, creating health risks for people, killing marine life and contributing to localized flooding and beach closures.

–City of Santa Monica

Our nation’s largest cities were founded as ports on waterways from rivers to bayous and oceans. Here storm drains were designed to carry rainwater runoff to large bodies of water. The problem t
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