Each spring, plants appear in my office. They are from co-workers, Master Gardeners or clients whose seed-starting ambitions exceeded their garden size. The first time this happened, I was not ready.
I placed the tomato plant in my living room, under the window with the best light. It grew big and strong but did not produce a single tomato! Learn from my mistake, and study up on the birds and the bees if you are caring for a vegetable garden, big or small, this year.
In winter, gardens more resemble a blank canvas than they do at any other time of year. Not yet in full glory are the warm colors of the yard– the reds, oranges and yellows which seem to bring the view closer to the viewer. Also not yet maximized are the cool colors, the purples and greens, which give the illusion of depth to small spaces. In this less distracting view, a landscape’s design can be evaluated, appreciated and recrafted.
Plants keep secrets, and holiday houseplants are no exceptions. Take the beautiful red flowers of the poinsettia plant, for example. Those are not flowers at all. And mistletoe? It takes advantage of others. Christmas cactus have a little something in common with mistletoe. Plus these plants often live under assumed names. Uncovering these and other plant mysteries is possible, with just a little bit of botany.
Poinsettias were used in dye making. The plant parts used to create reddish dye are often called flowers. But, the botanical secret of poinsettias is these plant parts are not flowers at all. They are bracts, or modified leaves.
Lovage is an herb. It can grow 6 feet tall, at least. When it does, someone has to cut down its collapsed stems in late-fall. This year in the Mariposa Academy school garden, that someone was Pamela Van Hoozer, a certified master gardener volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She had help, though.
Alejandro, a 5-year-old prekindergarten student was her garden shadow that day. She put him to work. They talked about lovage as they labored. They built finger claws and swords out of the herb’s trimmings.
Gardeners collect. We collect seeds and seed catalogs, gloves, aprons and tools. We collect plants, and we collect books too. Here are a few gardening books that adorn the shelves of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension staff and volunteer spaces. These books, and others, help us to grow healthy soils, plants and minds. They can help you too.
A good book to get started with as a new gardener is the Sunset Western Garden Book edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel. We have many different editions and variations of this title in the office and use them all. Another good book to begin with is Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities: A Guide to Methods, Tools, and Plants by Janeen R. Adil. This text will help you get your garden off of the ground throughout all stages and phases of life and ensure family and friends will feel right at home on your grounds as well.
Cutting a fresh Christmas tree is an incredible experience. It fosters a love of the outdoors. It strengthens the relationships among those on the outing, and it creates memories that last for years to come. To ensure the experience and the memories it fosters are as picture-perfect as possible, cut your holiday tree responsibly.
The first step in responsibly taking a Christmas tree is to purchase a permit. A permit allows tree-seekers to thin selected overstocked areas, improving forest health. Permitted cutting helps manage ladder fuels and reduce wildfire danger. Several local agencies offer Christmas tree permits.
Fall garden clean-up is underway, but before you kick yard waste to the curb, consider composting. Composting breaks down living matter under controlled conditions. When the process is complete, compost can be added to garden soil. Soil amended with composted organic matter holds water and nutrients better. This helps your plants.
Interested? Try hot composting. It’s efficient and safe. Its high temperatures speed up life cycles of compost decomposers, converting compost to soil more quickly. The process also discourages disease-harboring molds.
More than 170 years ago, a woman named Gertrude Jeckyll was born in Mayfair, London. Eighty-nine years later, she died. Gertrude filled the years in between to the brim. She created a line of flower vases, and she documented fading facets of 19th century life. Gertrude published more than 300 photos. She wrote more than 15 books and 1,000 articles. Gertrude was a painter.
She also created more than 400 gardens. Most of Gertrude’s gardens were in Europe; a few were in North America. She was among the first in her field to consider the color, texture and experience of gardens in her designs.
For botanists, a stem is a plant part. It provides structural support for buds and leaves, and it transports water, minerals and sugars. Plant stems can be long or short. They can be aboveground or below. But for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s 4-H After School club, STEM takes on a whole new meaning.
It refers to science, technology, engineering and math, and After School club members will show us what it is all about. They will lead a hands-on STEM demonstration constructing mini lava lamps to take home. The activity is for all ages. It will take place at Nevada Field Day, held 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 at 5895 Clean Water Way in Reno.
When I step onto my back patio, I find strawberries, tomatoes and onions. I can see the nearest grocery store from my front porch. It is three blocks away. I have access to fresh, healthy foods, but not everyone does. According to the USDA, 40 of our state’s census tracts are food deserts. Within those tracts live nearly 200,000 Nevadans, most of them in urban areas.
The USDA defines food deserts as communities that are both low-income and low-access. Low-access urban areas are those where more than one third of residents live more than one mile from a supermarket. For rural areas, the distance increases to ten miles.
As a child, I squirreled away unpopped kernels from the bottom of a bag of microwave popcorn. I hid them in the pockets of my summer dress until I could plant them under the swing set. I hoped they would grow into a fairytale secret garden. They did not.
As an adult, I had another well-intentioned but failed garden experience. I was gifted my first vegetable plant. A reluctant and novice gardener then, I took the bit of unwanted greenery and placed it inside on a table near a window. Then I wondered why it did not grow even a solitary cherry tomato.
Spring is here! The sun is shining, skies are blue and plants are… sticky? One cause of sticky plants, especially sticky roses and fruit and ash trees, is a sweet substance known as honeydew. Honeydew is excreted by small, soft-bodied insects called aphids. Aphids may be winged or wingless, and they come in many colors, including pink, yellow, green, dark blue, gray and black. Many aphids overwinter as eggs. They hatch in spring and begin to give birth to live young in one to two weeks.
Although landscapes are snowy, walkways are icy and winter winds bite anyone who ventures outside now, spring is not far away. To help Nevada gardeners and landscapers grow great gardens and luscious landscapes this year, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and its partners will offer several educational programs. Classes are varied and range from free to low-cost, from focused on the home gardener to crafted for the industry professional and from locally-presented to broadcasted via videoconference statewide.
As we travel, visit and gather this holiday season, host gifts are great ways to show our love and appreciation for the family, friends and others who have invited us into their hearts and homes. We can bring a traditional bottle of wine, flowers in a simple vase or a home-baked or specialty food item for a host gift that never goes out of style. Or, when we know the host’s hobbies, we can tailor our tokens of thanks and make a lasting impression.
Personalized presents for plant-lovers include an herb basket or succulent terrarium, a holiday blooming plant or potted houseplant or a winter patio or garden accessory. These items can all be purchased at your favorite local garden shop for quick gifts on the go. If you have more time, you can customize or even hand-craft these gifts at home.
Autumn is here, and harvest is well underway. It is time for fall yard maintenance tasks that yield healthy spring gardens and landscapes. Many “putting the garden to bed” chores come easily to mind: adjusting irrigation, removing debris, refreshing mulches, applying compost and protecting frost-sensitive plants. In addition to these quick-to-mind tasks, it is important to turn our efforts to turf too. While turf maintenance is frequently thought of as a spring and summer job, fall is the best time to aerate and fertilize lawns.
Gardens are where the miracles of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, experiencing nature, enjoying exercise, meaningful human connection, multi-generational life-long learning and beautifying and protecting the environment take place. In a world suffering from chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, gardens are places of healing, where the medicines of activity and nutrition are available. Gardens are where an outdoor classroom incorporates multiple academic disciplines such as literacy, mathematics and science to develop life skills, increase health and nutrition and change lives.
My world revolves around northern Nevada gardening traditions. I plant peas (and other cool-season crops) on Saint Patrick’s Day, and you won’t catch me putting tomatoes into the ground before the snow melts off of Peavine Mountain. Another tradition I enjoy as a battle-born gardener is attending Field Day.
Field Day is a University of Nevada, Reno event held yearly in fall to highlight the latest scientific breakthroughs in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition, natural resources and the environment. The event is an offering of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station; and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, with support from the Nevada Agricultural Foundation and Truckee Meadows Water Authority.
In recent years, the quest for sustainable food production unearthed a new way to grow edible crops. Those who use this new method reap crops that mature twice as fast and use less than one tenth of the water than those who sow using more traditional food production methods. And, this increasingly-popular technique is scalable—meaning it can be used at home to grow a countertop herb garden and it can be used on a large scale to produce fruits, vegetables and herbs for market. To a state suffering from prolonged and severe drought, the idea of gardening and farming on any scale with 90% less water sounds too good to be true, but it is not. There is a catch, however—fish!
One of my goals as a gardener is balance. I strive to balance my dream garden and the one I have time to plant and maintain. I seek harmony between what is beautiful in the landscape and what is functional there. I think every gardener shares the quest for balance. For example, a friend of mine holds a yearly argument with herself pitting her desire to grow every single variety of heirloom tomato versus her family’s capacity for tomato consumption. Nevada’s drought provides area gardeners with another balancing act to consider: the equilibrium between beautifying, enjoying and cooling our urban environment and responsible water use.
Do you long for outdoor areas that are useful, beautiful and simple to maintain? Do you worry your desire for a lush landscape is incompatible with drought? If so, native plants might be the answer to your landscape concerns.
A water-efficient landscape has functional lawn areas that are irrigated properly and plants grouped and irrigated according to their water needs. Plants native to our region can help with landscape water conservation because they are adapted to our dry climate, and they can be watered less frequently than landscape plants native to wetter climates. The key is to plant them in an area irrigated separately from the lawn and to use drip irrigation to minimize water evaporation.