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Planting, Maintenance, Prevention: October

October 6th, 2011
This blog is the second of a four-part series on Planting, Maintenance, and Prevention tips for the months of September, October, November and December. We’ve compiled the information from a two different articles, both written by Kathy Tomas-Rico, Solano County Master Gardener, in the newsletter, Seeds for Thought. Click here to see the original article and stay tuned for the rest of the post for this series!


Continue to set out edible seedlings, like onions or garlic for next year’s harvest. Sow annual seeds, like wildflowers, in a sunny spot for the best show in spring.

Sweet Pea

If you’re interested in ornamental varieties, plant anything that is not frost-sensitive, including sweet peas, ground covers, shrubs, trees, vines, perennials and natives.


Keep control of slugs and snails with bait containing iron phosphate, which is safer on edible crops and around children, pets and wildlife. Don’t forget about your lawn! October is the time to dethatch, aerate and fertilize your grass.

Veggie Bed

For vegetable beds, double-dig them by loosing the soil to a depth of 24 inches and adding compost.


If the rain has begun, check for areas of standing water because this is where mosquitoes will hang out. If no rain yet, continue to irrigate.

Lemon Tree

Keep tidying to reduce the debris that harbors insects and disease over winter. Apply copper or other recommended controls if you see brown rot or citrus blast on your citrus trees.


Planting, Maintenance, Prevention: September

September 6th, 2011
This blog will be the first of a four-part series of Planting, Maintenance, Prevention tips for the months of September, October, November and December. We’ve compiled the information from a two different articles, both written by Kathy Tomas-Rico, Solano County Master Gardener, in the newsletter, Seeds for Thought. Click here to see the original article and stay tuned for the rest of the post for this series!

Now is the time to seed delicate salad greens such as arugula, chard, kale, lettuce and mustard. Other vegetables to consider include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or spinach. Don’t forget about beets, carrots, leeks, onions, and peas, radishes, and turnips, which can also be planted now.

Purple Coneflower with a visitor!

Looking for some fall color? Try blooming perennials such as asters, chrysanthemums, gaillardia, gloriosa daisy, Japanese anemone, lion’s tail, purple coneflower and salvia. For some instant color consider calendula, forget-me-nots, pansies, primrose, sweet peas, or violas which are annuals that are to be planted at the end of the September.


If summer heat persists, keep up the watering schedule until the rainy season begins. Also keep deadheading annuals to keep the blooms coming. Keep up the slow, deep watering of citrus trees.


If you still have tomatoes that are producing, keep on pickin’! Dig or pull any plants that have finished producing or have become diseased. Add only healthy plants to your compost pile.


As the leaves and fruit start to fall, they may harbor disease and can attract nasty yellow jackets. Don’t let debris pile up!

Red Spider Mite

Little red spidery things on your plants may start to show up but you don’t want them. Red spider mites can be kept at bay with insecticidal soap, sulfur or an early-evening spray of horticultural oil.


Bring Honey Bees Home!

August 10th, 2011

The honey bee is the main pollinator of hundreds of food crops including nuts, vegetables, and fruits.

 Mary Gabbard, Solano County Master Gardener, wrote a great article in the Summer 2008 issue of Seeds for Thought, titled “Tips for a Bee-friendly Garden.” She was inspired to write this article because of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is a mysterious phenomenon where adult bees are abandoning their hives, never to return. It has been estimated that one third of the honey bee colonies in the United States have disappeared.  Click here to read more about Colony Collapse Disorder from the UCD Department of Entomology.

Encourage our bees back to California with some of Mary’s tips:


Chemicals for lawn and garden use might be contributing to CCD; therefore try using integrated pest management (Click here for the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website), or natural or organic fertilizers. If you do want to continue using pesticides, try spraying at night when bees are less active.


Use a variety of flowering plants with different colors, shapes and flowering times, which will help to attract many different varieties of bees. Planting flowers that will blossom at different times of the year is a clever technique to keep your garden bee happy over an extended period of time. Research shows gardens with ten or more bee-friendly plants support the most visitors and that bees are most attracted to blue, purple, yellow and white colored flowers, which makes pansies a great pick!


Use local or native plants as they are four times as likely to attract native bees back to your garden than exotic plants.

A native California Mining Bee


60-70 percent of California bees tunnel and live in the soil so leave some bare soil in your garden for bees and other useful organisms.

An easy way to make a wood nest


Building a wood nest will help encourage wood-nesting bees to visit your home gardens. To build a nest, drill holes about 5 inches deep in a non-pressure treated block of wood and hang it in a shady spot in your garden.

**Spencer Michels with PBS wrote a great article, in July of this year, on the progress California scientists have made since Colony Collapse Disorder was discovered almost five years ago. One of our very own UC Davis Entomologists, Eric Mussen, was interviewed for his insight into how “splitting” bee hives can helps us get ahead of CCD! Click here to find out more.


Controlling and Identifying Hornworms

August 9th, 2011

 Judy McFarland, Solano County Master Gardener, wrote an article in the Summer 2010 issue of Seeds for Thought, about how to identify and control pesky hornworms.

The tomato hornworm is closely related to the tobacco hornworm and both attack tomato plants. It is the larval (caterpillar) stage of the hornworm life cycle that does the damage. They are characterized by a large horn on the posterior end of the body. A tomato hornworm has seven white stripes, while the tobacco hornworm has eight white V-shaped marks, on their sides. These larvae reach about four inches in length.

Tobacco Hornworm Egg

The adult form is a large moth that lays her eggs on the tomato leaves (one egg per leaf), like the photo above. The moth generally flies after dusk and is therefore rarely seen.

Hornworm droppings

As soon as you see defoliation on your tomato plant, check the leaves and ground for small black droppings, similar to those in the picture above. If you find these you have active hornworms! To get rid of them cut them with garden shears or step on them, or have a little fun and toss them on your roof for the birds to eat! Beware that if you get rid of hornworms once, they will most likely come back again as they generally live two life cycles in one tomato growing season.

If you are unable to get rid of them by hand, you can try to gain control with Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt for short), which is a naturally occurring bacteria that causes disease in only the larva of moths and butterflies. That does mean if you use Bt, you will also put whatever butterflies come to your garden at risk.

Hornworm pupa

After tomato season, it is very helpful to dig up the soil around the plants to locate and dispose of any hornworm pupae which migrate underground only to reemerge the following summer as moths and start the cycle over again. The pupae are hard shelled, brown, and shiny and can be 2.5″ in length. They also have a curved appendage at one end that resembles that handle of a pitcher.


The Myths Your Mother Taught You

July 20th, 2011
In the summer 2010 issue of Seeds for Thought, Cheryl Potts, Solano County Master Gardener, debunks common garden myths. Click here to read the full article.
Myth 1: Organic pesticides/fertilizers are better for the environment because they are non-toxic.     

 Using organic pesticides and fertilizers does have its benefits, including minimal disturbances to animals, people and the environment, but many organic products are poisonous to people and pets if ingested. For example, cocoa mulch is becoming more and more popular but cocoa can kill dogs once ingested, and pyrethrum, used as an insecticide, is toxic to people and pets when used incorrectly.*  

*In an earlier post, Common Summer Vegetable Problems Solved!!, we suggested using pyrethrum sprays for squash bugs, so if you plan on using this please carefully read the labels, closely follow the instructions and always store properly!     

Myth 2: Nothing will grow under a spruce tree because the ground becomes too acidic due to the fallen needles.     

The soil under a spruce tree is the same as the soil in any other part of your yard. The reason nothing grows under the trees is because of the tree’s thick canopy which blocks any sunlight or water from getting to the ground directly below.     

Myth 3: Watering on a sunny day will burn the plant leaves, as the sun reflecting through the water acts like a magnifying glass.     

Leaves can dry out if there is a high amount of salt in the water and hot temperatures, but the burning does not actually have anything to do with the the water droplets themselves. The reason it is recommended to water in the morning is simply because higher sun causes more evaporation.      

Myth 4: Gravel at the bottom of a pot is necessary for drainage.     

Gravel is not necessary, nor is it a good idea, because it takes up room needed for soil and root growth and adds extra weight to the pot. Instead try placing a small piece of broken crockery over the drainage hole which will help hold the soil in but still allow for necessary drainage.     

Example of a beer trap for slugs


Myth 5 : Placing broken egg shells on top of the soil will prevent slugs from getting to your plants.     

Egg shells are unfortunately no match for slugs, as they can crawl right through them. Instead use a safe store-bought pellet or try the “beer method.” Slugs are attracted to the sweet scent of beer so bury a small wide jar (with the top off) full of beer in the edge of your garden. The slugs will inch toward this and eventually fall in and drown. See the photo to the left for an example of how to make a beer trap.     

Myth 6: Drought tolerant plants do not need water.     

Plants labeled “drought tolerant” are not actually drought tolerant during their first year and need just as much water and mulching as the next plant. It is only after the first year that the plant will start to fend for itself but a monthly watering should still be included.     

Myth 7: Drought tolerant and drought resistant are the same thing.     

Not quite. Drought tolerant plants can go for limited periods of time without any water, whereas drought resistant plants are naturally able to live and survive long periods without irrigation.     

Myth 8: You must stake a newly planted tree to ensure a strong trunk.     

Trees build their strength by flexing, so giving them artificial support does not give them a chance to strengthen on their own. Also the strapping can interrupt the sap flow which will cause problems.     



No Nutsedge Here

July 19th, 2011

Nutsedge is an aggressive weed, that most closely resembles grass. 

If you feel you are constantly fighting this weed to no avail, check out this article by Willa Pettydrove, Solano County Master Gardener, in the Summer 2007 issue of Seeds for Thought newsletter. Click here to read the full article or read on to see an abbreviated version that includes tips for what and what not to do.   

Immature nutsedge

What works   

  • Nutsedge loves water-logged soil so an easy fix is to correct your irrigation and soil drainage problems.
  • Prevent further tubular growth by removing the young nutsedge plants, which will only have five to six leaves. Simply pulling the weeds will work fine, but it is most effective to hoe by hand.
  •  If tubers are present, repeated removal of top growth will help to keep them under control as it is essentially starving the plant. Note that mature tubers (nutsedge with more than six leaves) can resprout as many as 10-12 times! These new sprouts will be weaker than the previous ones but they will gradually work together to resupply themselves unless removed.
  • If a plant is small the best way to remove them is to dig, by hand 8-14 inches deep to remove the whole plant. Remove and destroy any and all tubers (do not put them in your compost!). If you have nutsedge in smaller patches of turf, it is best to dig out a patch that is at least eight inches deep, refill, and then seed or sod the patch.
Left uncontrolled, nutsedge can form patches that spread more than ten feet in diameter.

What won’t work   

  • Using a tiller to destroy mature nutsedge. This technique will only cause the infestation to spread because it moves the tubers around in the soil, allowing them to resprout if they are strong enough. However, repeated tilling in small areas before the nutsedge matures will reduce populations
  • Systemic herbicides, like glyphosate, are a common misplaced effort of destroying the plant but because the herbicides really only touch the leaves, the tuber remain unaffected. Glyphosate might work on the younger plant in which the tubers have not formed.
  • Black plastic mulching won’t do the trick as the sharp, pointy leaves will go right through.

Nutsedge with tuber


**A tuber, as defined byMerrium-Webster, is a short fleshy usually underground stem bearing minute scale leaves each of which bears a bud in its axial (where the small stem joins the larger one) and is potentially able to produce a new plant.


Of Assassins, Soldiers, Damsels and Hovercraft: Four Beneficial Insects

April 27th, 2011

This is an abridged version of the article written by Darrell g.h. Schramm, U.C. Master Gardener, Solano County from the Solano County Master Gardeners Spring 2010 Newsletter, “Seeds for Thought.”    Click here to read the full article.

As the inhabitants of our injured world move increasingly from less toxic to non-toxic methods in agriculture and gardening, it is vital to be informed of insects in our landscapes that are beneficial to us. Spraying and fertilizing with toxins has too often destroyed our allies along with our enemies. If we recognize and befriend insects that are good for us, we may need not to work so hard on those that are against us. Among the beneficial insects that assist us in garden, landscape, and crops are the assassin bugs (Reduviidae), the soldier beetles (Cantharidae), the damsel bug (Nabis spp.), and the syrphid fly (Syrphidae)—also known as hover fly or flower fly.

Several types of assassin bug inhabit the West, the most common being Robust Assassin Bug (Apiomerus spp.), Spined Assassin Bug (Sinea diadema), and Leafhopper Assassin bug (Zelus renardii). These long-legged insects have a small head with bulbous eyes and a syringe-like beak with which they inject a poison into their captured prey. While the adults do not fly well, they—like the nymphs—move quickly when disturbed. While they feed on many insects, they feast significantly on aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, asparagus beetles, Japanese beetles, and, regrettably, the beneficial lacewing. Some prey on termites.

If you wish to attract assassin bugs, grow Queen Anne’s lace, plants of the carrot and of the daisy family, goldenrod, alfalfa, oleander, and/or camphorweed. Provided you do not use toxic sprays, a combination of these plants is sure to host them. In the fall they seem to prefer yellow and white or all-yellow flowers.

spined assassin bug

An adult spined assassin bug. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.

The adults of the damsel bug are long, slender insects as well, about two-fifths of an inch, typically matte brown, grey, or somewhat yellow-tan. The body looks rather like a long, false fingernail. The head is somewhat like that of the assassin bug, small with bulbous eyes; the antennae are quite long. The nymphs look similar but are shiny in hue, unlike the adult. Both move swiftly when disquieted or stirred by outside stimuli. Tree crops, row crops, and roses welcome them. Why? Because they feed on aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, mites, thrips, and other bugs.

Like most beneficial insects, they prefer tiny flowers that offer both nectar and pollen. Some of the flowers that attract them are the following: coneflowers, sunflowers, daisies, asters, and cosmos; angelica, fennel, yarrow, and dill; lavender, goldenrod, hyssop, and other spiked flowers; evening primrose, poppies, and buttercups. Plant any of these generously, and the damsels will help you in your distress.

damsel bugs

damsel bug adult (top) and nymph (bottom). Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.

Soldier beetles help keep enemy pests in check and also pollinate. These half-inch, narrow insects sport flattened, leathery but soft wings covering their backs. Usually dark brown or black, sometimes grey, the wings contrast with the orange, red, or yellow head. Soldier beetles have long, thread-like antennae. Generally hatching in the spring, the larvae are dark, flat, and multi-segmented, the head rather rectangular and usually deep blood red. In litter, in soil, or under bark, they feast mostly on the eggs and larvae of beetles, grasshoppers, moths, and—sadly—butterflies, as well as on root maggots, aphids, and mites.

Want to attract them? As pollinators, they favor cluster-flowered plants in the sunflower and umbel families, such as milkweed, fennel, yarrow, goldenrod, and cosmos. They prefer a moist habitat. If you grow these plants, keep them watered to keep the soldiers around.

soldier beetle

Adult soldier beetle. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.

The syrphid fly is one of few insects that can fly backwards. Reminiscent of a honeybee, it wears black and yellow crossbands around its abdomen.  Drawn to aphids in gardens, landscapes, and agricultural sites, the females lay their eggs near or in colonies of aphids. The whitish or grey eggs, oblong and generally found lying on their sides, metamorphose into legless larvae that appear maggot-like, usually with a yellow stripe on the back from the tapered head to the toe. Up to a half-inch in length, they show a translucent skin that reveals internal organs. It is when syrphid flies are in the larval stage that they feed on insects—primarily plant-eating insects. One syrphid larva can consume hundreds of aphids a month.

California lilac (ceanothus), asters, buckwheat, fleabane, helianthus, roses, and slender sunflowers attract the fly. But they also feed on aphids found on citrus, grains, corn, alfalfa, grapes, lettuce and other vegetables. They do not sting. Welcome them.

Syrphid fly larvae on rose. Photo by Jennifer Baumbach.

Want to  learn more?  The Integrated Pest Management Program online has a fantastic gallery of beneficial insects.

Haggard, Peter and Judy. Insects of the Pacific Northwest. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2006.
Lavoipierre, Frederique. Garden Allies: Soldier Beetles. Pacific Horticulture. July 2008.
UC IPM Online. ‘Pests in Home, Garden, Landscape and Turf: Natural Enemies Gallery.’