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Posts Tagged: UC Master Gardeners

Replanting the Sierra Nevada after an ecological catastrophe

Given California's changing climate, should Sierra Nevada residents replant pine trees after so many died during the 2010-2016 drought? The short answer is yes, says Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor.

“We have every reason to believe that pines will continue to be an important part of mixed conifer forests in the Sierras,” Kocher said.

Dead trees can be seen in the foreground and on the distant mountain side. (Click on photos for higher resolution.)

Kocher spoke at a meeting for UC Master Gardeners, volunteers who provide landscape advice to the public in California. Questions have been coming in to Master Gardener hotlines from mountain residents wondering what to do after unprecedented tree loses in the last few years.

Most California forests are suffering from severe overcrowding due to 100 years of aggressive fire suppression and selective harvesting of the largest and most resilient trees. They were then subjected to five years of drought.

“There were just too many stems in the ground,” Kocher said. “The drought was very warm, so trees needed more water, but got less. These were optimal conditions for bark beetles.”

Western pine beetle is a native pest that attacks larger ponderosa pine and Coulter pine trees weakened by disease, fire, injury or water stress. Bark beetles are tree species specific, so other beetles target other species of trees in California's mixed conifer forests. Typically, bark beetles bore through tree bark and create long winding tunnels in the phloem. An aggregating pheromone attracts additional bark beetles to the tree, and heavily attacked trees invariably die.

Healthy pine trees can fight off bark beetle attach by secreting sap. Trees weakened by drought are unable to fend off an attack. In this photo, a pine beetle is stuck in sap that oozed from the tree.
 
Evidence of bark beetle attack are exit holes on the outside, left, and winding galleries under the bark.

During the drought, 102 million Sierra Nevada trees died from bark beetle attack or simply lack of water; 68 million of those died in 2016 alone. But after the abundant rainfall in the 2016-17 season, the bark beetle population seems to have crashed.

Landowners with 20 acres or more may be eligible for a state cost-sharing program to remove trees, reduce the fire hazard and replant new seedlings. Landowners in mountain communities who wish to revitalize their properties can contact local UC Master Gardeners for recovery advice.

UC Master Gardeners are plant enthusiasts who have passed an intense training program presented by UC academics. They participate in continuing education annually to update and maintain their knowledge. More than 60 Master Gardeners from Mariposa, Madera and Fresno counties gathered in Oakhurst in October to learn from UC scientists how to work with mountain homeowners whose towering trees have died. Similar training sessions, all funded by a grant from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, were held in El Dorado and Tuolumne counties in June.

UCCE specialist Jodi Axelson points out bark beetle damage.

“There is life after beetles,” said Jodi Axelson, UC Cooperative Extension forestry specialist at UC Berkeley.

“Eco systems are stretched, and then they come back,” she said. “You must remember the time scale of forest change is long and pines have been a major species in the Sierra Nevada for at least 28,000 years. As long as there have been pines, there have been bark beetles.”

The scientists suggest that people who own forestland take a step back and assess the landscape after their dead trees have been removed.

“We're seeing a lot of young cedar and white fir surviving the drought. Oaks seem to be doing really well,” Kocher said.

She suggests landowners thin young trees so available sun and soil moisture are focused on the healthiest trees. Water seedlings that are receiving more sun than before to reduce stress. Planting native conifers is the best option. Due to climate change, she recommends choosing trees from a slightly lower elevation to hedge against warmer temperatures in the future.

Pines are adapted to the California forest, but may need help to regenerate. When the ground is moist in the late fall or spring, plant seedlings 10 to 14 feet apart. New trees should be planted well away from homes to maintain defensible space and at least 10 feet from power lines.

“Please don't set them up for future torture,” Kocher said. “That's just sad.”

UCCE forestry advisor Susie Kocher, center, speaks during a field trip to a forest where many trees were killed by bark beetles.

To help the new trees become established, cover the ground around the tree, but not touching the bark, with two or three inches of mulch and irrigate weekly during the dry season for the first few years.

Questions about special circumstances may be directed to local UC Master Gardeners. Find the local program here: http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs/

Pouch fungus is evidence of a bark beetle kill. The beetles carry fungus into the cambial layer of the tree on their bodies. On recently killed trees conks issue from bark beetle tunnels to fruit on the outer bark of trees.
 
UC Master Gardeners learn from experts about replanting confer forests.
 
Posted on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 1:13 PM

UC Master Gardeners' 5 tips to boost beneficial bees

With a little care and planning, anyone can make their little corner of the earth safe and friendly for bees.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Clare Bhakta of San Joaquin County shared bee-friendly strategies during a community workshop in August, extending the reach of research information developed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"Lure bees in," Bhakta said. "If you make it comfy, they will come."

UC Master Gardener Clare Bhakta leads the "Buzz about Bees" workshop in San Joaquin County.

Bhakta is a newly minted Master Gardener, having graduated in June from the intensive training program presented by UC advisors and specialists. She is part of the San Joaquin County MG speakers bureau; the "Buzz about Bees" was her inaugural engagement.

"We want bees in our gardens," Bhakta said. "Ninety percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of human crops depend on pollinators, including bees. Bee pollination makes about $15 billion in human food in the United States each year."

What's good for bees also attracts other pollinators. Here a yellow butterfly lands on lantana in the San Joaquin County demonstration garden, 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Stockton.

About 1,600 species of bees are found in California, many of them natives. Most of the bee species live independently, occupying holes in trees trunks or branches, or in the ground. Their sizes range from inch-long metallic black bumble bees to tiny sweat bees 3 millimeters in length. These species rarely sting since they don't have hives to protect. 

California's most recognizable bee is the European honeybee, imported from the Old Country by settlers in the 1600s. The insects serve as efficient pollinators and produce more honey than they can use themselves - offering humans an abundance of natural golden sweetener with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Bees work hard to produce honey. It takes 2 million flower visits - about 55,000 flight miles - to make a pound of honey. An individual worker bee lives just six weeks and produces about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

Sharon Butler is the president of the Ripon Community Garden. She attended the UC Master Gardener workshop to get research-based information on bee-friendly gardening.
 

Sharon Butler, president of the Ripon Community Garden, attended the free workshop. The 2.5-acre garden at the corner of Vera and Doak avenues has dozens of raised garden plots. The community just added several bee hives. Butler asked at the workshop about an unexplained phenomenon in their first honey harvest. 

"A couple of racks had dark spots with honey that had a cinnamon taste," she said.

Bhatka said the variation was probably the result of nectar from different plants.

"I wish I knew what plant it is, I'd plant a lot more," Butler said.

The Ripon Community Garden allows local families to grow food, and allocates four beds to grow fresh vegetables to distribute to local senior citizens.

Creating a bee friendly garden may go against the grain for tidy gardeners. Bees don't prefer the well-trimmed plants and homogeneous color scheme of a formal outdoor space.

"Bees love herbs," Bhakta said. "I let my sage go crazy this year and I couldn't believe how tall they got."

Marbles in the water give bees a place to land and sip water.Bees like a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall planted in clumps to minimize their travel time. Sweetly aromatic blooms, particularly blues and yellows, will attract the most bees. 

For best results, don't over garden. Follow these five tips from the UC Master Gardener program:

  1. Rather than cover all soil with mulch, leave open areas for ground nesting bees.

  2. Keep a few dead tree stumps or branches. Particularly if it has holes, it makes an ideal nesting site for solitary bees.

  3. Let plants "go to seed," even when they begin to look overgrown and leggy.

  4. Provide a shallow water source. Filling it with pebbles or marbles allows the bees access to the water.

  5. Avoid using pesticides. Visit the UC Integeted Pest Management website for environmentally sound methods of controlling pests and weeds.

 

Posted on Monday, August 28, 2017 at 8:37 AM

Use compost for water conservation

Organic matter from the garden can be turned into compost and added to landscape soil to increase water holding capacity.
Some of the best practices for maintaining healthy home gardens and landscapes also cut water use, a particularly important benefit during the drought. That's the case with compost. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' environmental horticulture advisors and UC Master Gardeners have long encouraged Californians to liberally use compost to improve their soil.

“Adding compost to your soil on a regular basis increases the amount of water your soil can hold, therefore decreasing the amount of times you need to apply water to your landscape,” says Missy Gable, the director of the UC Master Gardener program, in the final installment of a six-part video series on water conservation in the home landscape.

Compost is organic matter – grass clippings, fallen leaves, spent bedding plants, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, etc. – that has been dampened and turned regularly so it is broken down by worms and micro-organisms. The finished compost, a dark black blend with a pleasant earthy smell, can be mixed into the native soil in the landscape.

Compost improves the soil texture, holds moisture, provides food for beneficial bacteria, and nutrients for plants.

View the video below:

Detailed information about the benefits of compost and instructions for home composting can be found in Composting is Good for Your Garden and the Environment, a UC ANR publication available for free download from the UC ANR publications catalog.

Additional videos in the UC ANR series on saving water in the landscape.

Prioritize your plants

Early-morning watering is best

Remove weeds from your landscape

Mulch the soil surface

Skip landscape fertilization

The videos are also available on the UC ANR YouTube channel.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, September 28, 2015 at 10:49 AM

How does your garden grow? In a drought, consider drip

Manual irrigation valve. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
--English nursery rhyme

How will your garden grow during California’s drought emergency? Gov. Jerry Brown says the state is facing the worst drought in its recorded history

We urban gardeners may turn quite contrary if our gardens don't grow.

Alternative: Consider installing a drip irrigation system.

Why a drip system? It’s target watering. It’s uniform watering. It’s non-wasteful watering. You don’t want to water the leaves, the space between the plants, or worse, water the sidewalk or let the water gush into the gutter.  

Drip irrigation is better for plant health. Plants thrive with drip because it waters them slow and deep where the roots are. You’ll likely minimize weed growth. In comparison to overhead sprinklers, the smaller, targeted area means that weeds will have less opportunity to spring up and try to take over your garden, Gangnam Style. And by not watering the leaves of your plants or allow them to collect standing water, you can reduce diseases. 

Drip irrigation is simply a network of pipes, tubing, valves and emitters. Water “drips” or “trickles” directly to the roots.  

The concept is not new. Back in the first century, Fan Sheng-Chih Shu wrote about what we now consider a “primitive” drip irrigation system, but one that definitely worked well: Farmers buried perforated unglazed clay pots and filled them with water. They refilled them as needed. 

Today’s modern drip irrigation system for urban gardeners includes an irrigation controller with automatic valves or a manual system (shown). If it's automatic, a timer controls the valves and waters the plants while you do something else -  like enjoying a glass of lemonade on the back porch, watching your favorite movie, or vacationing in Hawaii. Note: It's a good idea to set your timer for early in the morning, before 8. There's less evaporation.

Of course, there can be disadvantages to the drip system. The key disadvantages are the initial cost of the equipment and labor. Then, too, you must closely monitor the system to ensure the emitters aren’t clogged, or thirsty rodents aren’t gnawing through your plastic pipes. 

Find more about drip irrigation on the Sonoma County Master Gardeners website.

Bottom line: A drip irrigation system is often a better alternative to overhead sprinklers or the hand-watering method. Expect to conserve water, save on your water bill, grow healthy plants with fewer weeds and diseases, and save time and effort in doing so.

Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 10:56 AM
 
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